Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chicken & Rice Casserole

So chicken and rice casserole doesn’t exactly get the mouth watering. Chicken and rice casserole isn’t one of those recipes you’re just “dying” to try. It’s never something you’d order at a gourmet restaurant. Nobody gets excited about chicken and rice casserole. Why I even bothered to bookmark this recipe, I don’t know. Maybe because it was so easy. And because I already had all the ingredients. In fact, that’s the only reason I actually decided to make it. I was too lazy to stop at the store, and I knew I had everything at home already.

But you know what? This casserole is frickin’ good. Yeah, frickin’. It was such a pleasant surprise. I had steeled myself for something bland and boring, but this recipe is full of flavor. The chicken breast got a little dry, but that was the only complaint I had, and that was probably just a length of cooking thing. Actually the original recipe called for chicken thighs, which were probably more juicy. One thing that really sets this recipe apart from other casseroles is that it doesn’t call for a can of condensed soup. Something about that makes it seem so much more healthy, although I’m not sure that’s the case.

Chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine
1 1/3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cream
1 cup raw white rice
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon each of Italian seasoning and poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon paprika  
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Lemon juice

We actually didn’t have mushrooms, so we made it without. I’m sure it would be very good with them, though, so I’m keeping them in here. You could also substitute other hardy veggies like broccoli if you were so inclined.

Heat olive oil in a pan to brown the chicken. Sprinkle a little salt on the bottom of the pan. Apparently, this keeps the chicken from sticking. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper and then brown the chicken. It doesn’t need to be fully cooked, so you just want to get good color on it. About 2 minutes per side. Set aside the chicken and lower the heat to medium. Add more oil if necessary and add the onions, cooking about 3 minutes until they are clear. Then throw in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Put this onion/garlic mixture in a 9x13 casserole dish. Saute the mushrooms if you are adding them, just browning them lightly before putting them in the dish.

On medium heat, add the sherry or white wine to the pan and scrape off all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan to mix into the wine (apparently this is called “deglazing.”) I used white wine and enjoyed it. Not sure what sherry will taste like. Let this reduce down to about one tablespoon and then add the chicken stock. Remove from the heat and add the salt, cream, sour cream, stirring until it mixes. It wasn’t completely incorporated for us and it turned out fine. Put the raw rice in the casserole dish and then add the stock mixture. Mix in all the seasonings and stir everything so it’s evenly distributed.

Finally put the chicken on top of the rice in a single layer, cover it with aluminum foil and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes. If it’s liquidy (ours wasn’t) take off the foil and let it cook a few more minutes until the liquid is all soaked in.

So upon eating this, Steve and I both thought, "This is good. But it's missing something." Based on all the Top Chef we watched we decided that it needed some "acid." (I swear, they say that all the time!) So we sprinkled some lemon juice on top of the casserole and it was fantastic! In the future, we might try slicing some lemons and cooking them in the casserole, but the sprinkle method was so successful, I'm not sure we need to change it.

I know this seems pretty complicated, but it’s really not as hard as it sounds, and the casserole is definitely worth it. I feel like this is one of those recipes you could play around with as well—particularly the herbs. You could add Cajun seasoning instead of poultry seasoning to give it a little Nawlin’s feel. And the best part—it’s still good the next day. It's the perfect lunch to take to work. And when someone asks you what smells so good you can shock them by saying, “Just a plain old boring chicken and rice casserole.”

(Click here for printable recipe)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lime Cumin Jalapeno Grilled Chicken

Like I've said before, I love to grill out in the summer. The other night I was searching for another grilled chicken marinade recipe, and I came across this Big Oven recipe that I had saved as one of my Internet Bookmarks. Since I had all the ingredients I decided to give this a go. Plus I love to utilize some of my vegetables growing in my garden. I cut this recipe in half since I'm cooking for just myself, and I must say it was very delicious. The chicken was moist and juicy. I did not use fresh sage, but about 1/2 tsp of dried sage. However, I probably did use about 3 tbsp of fresh lime juice. And, I used 2 of my jalapeno peppers from my garden. And, I marinade the chicken for about 2 hours. It was a very good grilled chicken recipe. You can get the recipe here. Enjoy!

3 tablespoon Lime Juice Fresh Squeezed Is Best
1/2 cup Canola Oil
1 teaspoon Cumin Ground
1 Jalapeno Chile
1 Bay Leaf Fresh Is Best
2 Sage Leaves Fresh Is Best
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 dash Black Pepper Freshly Ground
4 large Chicken Breasts Skinless, Boneless

Place all marinade ingredients in blender jar and blend to uniform mixture. Next make a diagonal slits with sharp knife about 1/8" deep and 1/2" apart on both sides of each breast. I placed the chicken in a ziplock bag to marinate for about an hour or two. If you can remember turn the chicken every half hour. Prepare your grill. Grill until inside of breasts are just done, check with fork or remove when internal temperature is 160F. I removed the breasts from the grill and let them stand for about five minutes before serving.

(Click here for printable recipe)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spicy Shrimp and Pasta

The girls like to give me a hard time for making shrimp twice for our Iron Chef competitions, and winning both times (Iron Chef Citrus and Iron Chef Wine.) But I like to point out that I don’t get to vote on my own dish, so if I keep winning, it’s because they keep picking my food. Besides, did the Bulls stop playing Michael Jordan because he was the key to winning so often? No, they didn’t. And yes, I did just compare Michael Jordan to shrimp.

Anyway, the point is—people like shrimp. It’s one of those foods that can carry pretty much any flavor. It’s a little different from normal household fare, so you don’t get the boring feeling that chicken can give you. And it’s relatively healthy and light. Maybe not so much paired with a big ol’ pile of pasta, but hey, every little bit helps.

This is one of our favorite meals to make. It came from allrecipes.com in its original form, and is meant to be grilled on skewers. It was definitely fantastic prepared that way, and I recommend it, but Steve and I wanted to make it into a heartier meal, so we added the pasta. Slam dunk! (See how I kept the MJ metaphor going there? Yeah!)

2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Angel Hair pasta, cooked
Shredded parmesan cheese

This is the modified recipe. However, I almost never actually measure anything and it always turns out fine. Add more garlic if you want, or more lemon juice. Use less cayenne if you want something less spicy. At the same time that I’m mixing up this marinade, I make a second, slightly smaller batch that we throw in to coat the pasta.

Mix the first five ingredients together in a bowl. If you are buying frozen shrimp (which is what I do, and is probably a culinary no-no, but it’s just easier and cheaper for me) make sure you drain the shrimp before adding it to the marinade or else it will dilute the flavor. Once you add the shrimp, stir to coat, and let it sit for no more than 25 minutes. The lemon juice starts to cook the shrimp and it could end up tough and chewy.

We cook the shrimp in a large skillet, but they are excellent grilled on skewers as well. Make sure to keep an eye on them as they cook very quickly. Only about two minutes each side. As soon as the shrimp look opaque, add the cooked pasta to the pan and pour the second batch of marinade in as well. Cooking the pasta in the sauce helps it to soak up the flavors, more than if you just ladeled it on top. In fact, I’d recommend this step on any pasta you are making. Heat just about a minute, and serve with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. It’s a great tasting, quick & easy meal for a weeknight. And in any food competition, it’ll probably have an unfair advantage.

(Click here for printable recipe)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pimento Cheese

I was so excited to try this recipe and it did not disappoint. First, I love pimento cheese! Second, I got the recipe from NPR, which I just thought was interesting. Third, it gave me the opportunity to use my food processor for the first time. I tried the make the picture a little "artsy" since pimento cheese is not the most attractive food. And by artsy, I just mean the picture was purposely slanted.

2 bags of shredded 8oz sharp cheddar cheese
1 bag of shredded 8 oz Monterey Jack cheese
2 kosher dill pickles
2 or 3 cloves of garlic (Beware!! I used 1 large garlic clove & 1 small one and it was some serious garlic for the recipe)
1 4-ounce jar of pimentos, drained

Cut all ingredients except the cheese & pimentos into large chunks. Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse just long enough to roughly chop. Do not puree the ingredients, just make them pliable for the next step. I have a 9 cup Food Processor and it didn't all fit. I would recommend breaking up the recipe into two batches to run through the Food Processor.

Put in large bowl and mix with about 3 healthy tablespoons of mayonnaise.

(Click here for printable recipe)