Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some Kinda Crazy Chicken & Rice Thing

Minimal housecleaning was accomplished today. And by minimal, I mean however much would keep it from being "none." I did get dinner accomplished, though, and that makes 3 nights in a row of home-cooking for my family (we had leftovers of Husband's Delight Casserole last night), and lately? That's saying something.

I started with a Spanish Chicken And Rice recipe, sent to me via Twitter by Angella. I started out only intending to change the white rice to brown rice, but that required pre-cooking of the brown rice, which in turn required altering the amount of liquid in the recipe, which I think changed the acid balance of the recipe, requiring lime juice, which made the whole thing cry out for additional spices. To cut to the chase, I'm just going to print what I made, instead of the original plus my changes. You may want to stick with the original. I'm not sure what I'd call this, but it wound up having a much more Mexican flavor to me than Spanish, but it was still good, and while it wasn't a hit with Bella due to the bell peppers and onions, Alex went back for a second helping, and I liked it.

Not-Quite-Spanish Chicken & Rice Skillet

3 cups cooked brown rice, cooked in stock (chicken, turkey, vegetable)

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 chicken breast halves
2 Tbsp chopped or minced garlic (I used jarred, pre-chopped)
1 medium onion, chopped coarsely (I used chopped, frozen onions & peppers)
1 bell pepper, sliced (I used a tri-color medley)
1/2 cup white cooking wine
1 14-oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 bag frozen peas & carrots
Kosher salt & coarse-ground pepper to taste
Ground cumin to taste
Paprika to taste
Juice of one lime, or to taste

Got the brown rice cooking first--Alex does NOT like brown rice, so I have to cook the fool out of it for him to accept it. I cooked mine in some gorgeous turkey stock* that I made a couple of months ago out of this guy, and a bit of a new butter blend that I really like. While that was simmering, I started the chicken in the skillet.

I heated the skillet, and then the olive oil, to just a tick over medium heat, and placed the salted and peppered breast halves to sear in the skillet on both sides, then lowered the heat a bit, covered the skillet, and allowed the chicken to cook through a bit more.

browning chicken breasts

I added the onion and peppers, which, I am not at ALL ashamed to admit, came from this frozen package.

Dear Kroger, I am a fan of this concept

I am not much about cleaning and chopping on weeknights, you know? These frozen bags of "recipe starters" are genius, and I'm going to be chopping and freezing some of the sweet Vidalia onions that are in season right now, for just such use in the future. I also cheated on the garlic, using jarred, minced garlic. Sue me. Chopping is for chumps.

add onion and peppers

Once the onion and peppers had softened up, I added the white cooking wine, diced tomatoes, rice, salt, and pepper. The lid went on that and it continued to simmer for 20 minutes.

add rice, cover, simmer--this belongs three pictures ago. figure it out.

Next came the frozen peas and carrots.

toss in frozen peas & carrots, shred chicken while veggies steam

While those were steaming and heating through, I used two forks to pull apart the chicken breast halves, then added lime juice, ground cumin, paprika, and stirred it all well and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so. And it was good.

stir in spices, season to taste

*Everyone has their own method of making stock, and my way is just one of many, but I must say, I had ZERO issues with this stock turning cloudy or retaining fat in the broth--I have a freezer full of it, and it's just deep golden, clear, and lovely. This is all I did: When Alex was done filleting all the meat off the turkey, I took the frame (back, neck, wings), cut it into pieces small enough to fit in my giant Crock-Pot, and covered it with water. I added onion, celery, and carrots, and left the whole thing to cook very, very slowly all day long. I turned the heat up for the first couple of hours, just to get the frame cooked, but then dialed it down to low for 10 hours or so. When it was done, I rapid-cooled the whole crock in a sinkfull of ice-water, then filtered the liquid through a coffee filter into freezer bags for storage.

heating up the previously frozen turkey broth

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Beginning Of Organization, And...Just YUM.

I've got to start posting here again, because ever since I stopped, things have really gone downhill around the house. Apparently I need some accountability. I've tried, repeatedly, to pin down the cycle of despair, to find a starting point--you know how it goes: You can't get one area, like cooking healthy meals, in order, because the kitchen is a mess, and you don't have time to clean the kitchen because the laundry is backed up, and you can't put the laundry away because the closets are a mess, and you can't deal with the closets because the bedroom is a wreck, etc. What? Oh, that's just me? Well, so be it. It ends here. Or maybe I go down in flames--we shall see what we see.

Since everything is so interconnected, I finally just bit the bullet and chose an arbitrary place to start, and that place is meal planning and preparation. I have a week's worth of dinners and lunches planned and ingredients stocked, and the next natural step is cleaning and organizing the kitchen...again, we'll see. Bella and I have tomorrow to work on that, and I WILL be posting progress here. I'll also be regularly reporting on what we're cooking/eating, and the recipes we use, starting with tonight's dinner, which was SO YUMMY.

Last night, I put out a call on Twitter for "your go-to after-work meal," and got several great responses, most of which were quick, creative one-dish meals. This one came from Jenny (who adapted it from an old cookbook) at We're Not In Kansas Any More, Toto (she totally IS in Kansas), and she calls it "Husband's Delight." I'm printing her recipe as she sent it to me, with my minor modifications in parentheses. My changes in no way made the dish any better than Jenny's version, just slightly different.

Husband's Delight Casserole:
one bag large egg noodles - 12 or 16oz. (I used "dumpling" style noodles)
2lbs ground beef (I used ground venison)
1can tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar (I forgot this)
salt, pepper, etc.
1 can diced tomatoes, plain or Rotel-style, according to personal taste (I omitted this)
1 bunch chopped green onions--the bulb end

16oz. (2 cups) sour cream (I used reduced-fat)
8oz. (1 cup) cream cheese, softened (I used Neufchatel)
other end of the green onions, chopped (I whirled the chives in food processor)
shredded cheese (I used about 2 cups of RF sharp cheddar & a sprinkle of parmesan)

Boil pasta. At same time, start the ground meat and chopped onions in a skillet. Brown, drain, return to skillet, add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, salt & pepper, and whatever else you like to season.

Separately, mix up the sour cream, cream cheese, and green onions. When the ground meat mixture is cooked and has simmered for 10 minutes or so, start layering noodles, ground meat, and then cream mixture into two casserole dishes that have been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray. You can probably fit two full layers. As the final layer add the shredded cheese. Pop it into the oven at 350 or so for 15-20 min or until cheese is melted on top. Since it makes two casseroles, you can freeze one for later or give to someone else. If you freeze it, it's best to not add the cheese until read to cook.

My changes: I used ground venison because we had some on hand and it is extremely lean. I left out the diced tomatoes and just used tomato sauce instead, because everyone in my family, myself included, picks out chunks of tomatoes in any dish. I know, we're freaks. I also added garlic to the meat mixture, because venison, being so incredibly lean, does need a little "boost" in flavor.

Bella made the sour cream sauce, and pronounced it "super-delicious," which it totally was. I chose Neufchatel instead of cream cheese because it's softer even when cold, and lower in fat than cream cheese. I whirled the chives in my Magic Bullet for about 2 seconds, so that more of the chive-y goodness would be released into the sour cream sauce.

Instead of making two casseroles (which this recipe absolutely would make), I used my giant deep-dish casserole and just made one big whopping double-decker one, with a layer of shredded cheese in the middle as well as on top. I froze half of it after cooking, and saved the portion we didn't eat tonight for leftovers tomorrow. It's a LOT of food. I served it with green beans, and it was a hearty, hearty meal.

Husband's Delight, recipe from Jenny

While I do like the lasagna-type presentation of layering the ingredients, it's a little fussy to assemble that way when you're pressed for time, so when I make this dish again (and I WILL make it again, because, as I said: YUM), I will probably mix everything together, including most of the shredded cheese, before putting it into the casserole dish to bake--I'll likely mix the sharp cheddar into the dish, and top it with a sprinkling of shredded Parmesan.

ADDENDUM: Jenny writes to say that she has tried preparing the dish as I describe in the above paragraph, mixing it all together, and that it monkeys with the texture of the sour cream sauce. So you're probably best off making it AS DIRECTED. I'm a hardhead, so will probably try it the other way at least once, and wind up emailing Jenny to say, "Hey, remember when you said not to do that, and I did it anyway? YOU WERE RIGHT." Because that's how I roll.