Pollo con Chile Rojo (Chicken with Red Chile Sauce)

This is the first installment of my "Menus for when People Come to Visit" series.  Stay tuned for more in the series!

Yield: 3 1/2 cups (about 6 servings)

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 c. onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. ancho chili powder
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 c. reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano or regular oregano
freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts or thighs, trimmed of fat, patted dry, and cut in half

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large ovenproof skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic; cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Stir in ancho chili powder, paprika, and cumin; cook and stir for 1 minute more (if necessary, reduce heat to prevent spices from burning).

Add tomato sauce, broth, and oregano to skillet; bring mixture to boiling.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of chicken; nestle chicken in the tomato mixture.  Cover skillet with lid; place skillet in the oven.

Bake chicken for 30-40 minutes or until tender, turning chicken pieces once halfway through baking time (alternatively, if you don't have an ovenproof skillet, you can reduce the heat on the stovetop until the mixture is just simmering, cover your pot, and cook for about 30 minutes).  Remove chicken from tomato mixture; set aside to cool slightly.

Place skillet with tomato mixture on range top over medium heat.  Simmer tomato mixture, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally (mixture may splatter as it thickens; reduce heat as necessary).  Remove pan from heat.

Cut chicken into bite-sized strips or shred it.  Return chicken to tomato mixture, stirring to coat.

Do you have a standby dinner plan for when folks come to visit?  Something that you pretty much know by heart, always have the ingredients for, and can easily double for LOTS of people at your house?  This is it for me.  We love Mexican-inspired cuisine, and with all the recent opportunities we've enjoyed to have family and friends in town, I've made up a batch of this chicken in sauce a number of times.

So yes, I am admitting that I pretty much always fix the same thing when preparing dinner for friends and family.  Now you know my secret.  But please don't tell everyone.

I serve it with Mexican Red Rice and Poblano Pinto Beans (recipes coming).  Then I also have corn or flour tortillas (these homemade tortillas if I have time, though more likely storebought), sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, chopped lettuce, chopped onion, cilantro, and sometimes chips for a build-your-own soft taco dinner.  If I'm feeling really adventurous (or if I know my guests will be up for it), I also prepare these Spicy Sweet Potatoes.

Let me tell you why this is a go-to for company:
1. there is a lot of convenient ingredient overlap in the recipes - chicken broth, onions, garlic, spices - and the other condiments require no preparation.  Sometimes, I even serve the sour cream right out of the plastic tub - another secret that I'd prefer you not broadcast.
2. all three dishes can be made ahead of time and kept warm in a crock pot or oven (so that I don't have to keep my eye on the stove while helping my visitors settle in.  In other words, I won't be quite as likely to burn dinner)
3. they are just really delicious, and leftovers are great
4. who doesn't like Mexican food?
5. it is an extremely versatile menu when I find myself cooking for those with food sensitivities.  Dinner can be dairy-free, gluten-free, low-carb, or vegetarian, depending on what combinations of foods my guests put on their plate.  And I only had to cook once to achieve all of that!

With family in town last week, we soaked up special time together and spent our mealtimes discussing what we'd be eating at the next meal, and if we should do anything productive in between!  Ha - just kidding.  We did squeeze in some great sightseeing, a drive-by of a beautiful rose garden after a rain, lunch downtown, a picnic in the park followed by swinging, walks around the neighborhood, grilled burgers and homemade ice cream, and a round of putt-putt.  Not bad for two days of visits!

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