Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chicken Chili

Sometimes I can’t quite get this blog together.  I do the cooking, I take the pictures, I write up the recipe, but then sometimes the words simply don’t flow.  Or the words do flow, but rather than flowing like a delicate creek, they flow like muddy water, bursting out of a sewer drain. 

I’m not sure where this blog post falls in that spectrum; however, I can tell you that the recipe was rather tasty.  This chili is definitely not the most beautiful food to come out of my tiny kitchen, but it certainly went down easy.  I have been pondering the concept of chicken chili for a while.  There are so many options: white chicken chili, green chicken chili, chicken chili with beans, tomatoes, etc.  It was a tough decision.  I knew I wanted a chili with some body to it; I personally don’t like chili that has lots heft in terms of the ingredients, but it all swims around in a thin, non-descript liquid.  I also knew that I wanted chunks of identifiable chicken breast, rather than mysterious ground poultry.

Additionally, I decided against white chicken chili in favor of something with more vegetables so that the chili could more or less be a complete meal.  Green chili was tempting, but I ultimately could not deal with shucking all the necessary tomatillos, nor did I want the responsibility of finding respectable tomatillos.  Nothing is more disappointing than having your heart set on a particular ingredient and all you can find at the market turns browned, bruised and undesirable.  I felt this was a realistic concern with tomatillos, and therefore eliminated them from my list of potential ingredients.

Essentially, I organized chili attributes according to what I did and did not want, and my hearty chicken chili grew from there.  It turned out to be loaded with green peppers, spiced with jalapeno, sweetened with tomatoes and corn, thickened with a touch of flour, and made hearty with chunks of chicken and white beans. 
Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Well, it was.  To avoid the wateriness I was previously griping about, I lightly dusted chopped chicken breasts with flour before sautéing it in olive oil.  At this point, don’t worry about the chicken sticking a bit to the pan or being completely cooked through.  Plenty of liquid will be added later that will pick up those browned bits.  It’s more important to let the chicken brown and form a bit of a crust.  Once the chicken has browned, aromatic vegetables were added along with a jalapeno and dried spices.  The medley was then simmered with some chicken stock, canned tomatoes, beans, and sweet corn kernels.  After bubbling for a bit, it was topped off with some shredded cheese.  What could be bad?  I think the key to this dish was that little bit of flour.  You would never know it was there, but this chili had very pleasing texture.  A generous amount of shredded Monterey jack doesn’t hurt the chili, either. 
A note on chopping jalapenos: be careful and wash your hands.  Once, I put in my contacts after chopping a jalapeno.  My family can confirm I actually shrieked from the pain.  So, be sure the wash your hands carefully and/or wear gloves.  The heat from fresh peppers is a little uneven, and I found that it mellowed out in this recipe after the chili sat for a day or two.  If you are concerned about the chili being too spicy, you can remove all or part of the seeds and ribs to reduce the heat.     

Chicken Chili

1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
2-3 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, minced (remove all or part of seeds/ribs to reduce heat)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
Garlic salt, Lawry's seasoned salt to taste
1-14 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1-14 oz. can small white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels (no need to thaw)
2-3 cups chicken stock
Accompaniments:  Shredded jack cheese, hot sauce

-       Chop chicken breast and toss with 2 tablespoons of flour.
-       Add to soup pot, preheated over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
-       Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper.
-       Brown for 5-10 minutes
-       Add chopped onion, bell peppers, garlic, and jalapeno.
-       Add cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper, and other seasonings (like Lawry’s seasoning salt, my favorite) if desired.
-       Stir occasionally, and cook for 5-10 minutes.
-       Add diced tomatoes, beans, frozen corn, chicken stock*.  Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally
-       Top with desired garnishes.

*Start with 2 cups of stock, adding more if your chili looks too thick.  You can always add more when reheating, as well.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Snow Day Part 2

Sometimes, Wednesday morning can feel like Sunday morning.  I’m sure you’re scratching your head, wondering: how is this impossible feat accomplished?  I will tell you.  It’s due to a rare and wonderful circumstance: the second of two snow days consecutive snow days due to sub zero wind chills!  Doesn’t it sound wonderful?  Let me tell you, it is.  I had a weekend in the middle of my week, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

When I woke up on this “Sunday” morning, I felt that I needed to prepare some sort of luxurious breakfast, as opposed to my usual English muffin and hard-boiled egg in a hurry.  The day before, I had purchased some mushrooms.  I was shopping for my roasted chicken dinner (see previous post), but I added the mushrooms to my cart so I could make a mushroom omelet the following morning, based on the unlikely chance that school would be cancelled again.  I was concerned that my presumptuousness about a second snow day would certainly jinx this possibility, but I was wrong.  And in this type of circumstance, I love being wrong.

When I woke up that morning, I decided against an omelet for my leisurely breakfast, and started toying with the idea of a breakfast sandwich.  Vegetarians frequently praise mushrooms as a meat substitute because of their hearty texture and flavor.  I would say there is a distinct possibility that the first veggie burger was actually a grilled portobello mushroom cap on buns.  In light of this, I thought it might work out well to add sautéed mushrooms to a breakfast sandwich with some cheese and an egg.  This is exactly what I did, and I was pleased by the results:  meaty, savory, and satisfying.
First, I sliced up about 5 button mushrooms, and added them to a hot pan with some olive oil.  I know the pictured pan looks a little big for that amount of mushrooms, but they brown much better if they have a little breathing room.  Plus, the bigger pan will allow you to cook your egg in the same pan, and cut back on dirty dishes.  Also, refrain from salting mushrooms until they have browned.  Salt draws out water, so if mushrooms are salted in the beginning, it will bring out extra water, and it will take the mushrooms longer to brown.  (Conversely, it always good to salt onions immediately when you just want to cook them, but not brown them, for the same reason.  When you’re making a soup or sauce, you just want them softened, and salting them immediately will bring out their liquid and prevent them from browning).  When the mushrooms were done, I added a little fresh dill along with the salt and pepper.  The dill is completely optional; I just happened to have it in the fridge, but it could be left out of substituted with another herb. 
Then, I pushed the mushrooms to one side of the pan, added a touch more olive oil and one egg to the pan.  I made my egg over medium (maybe even over medium-well).  For breakfast sandwiches, I don’t like the yoke to be too runny because I want to be able to pick it up and not mess about with a fork and knife.  However, of course cook your egg in whatever way you see fit. 
While the egg was cooking, I toasted one big piece of sour dough, and put a slice of cheese on it while it was still hot.  I used Swiss cheese, but any cheese would do.  I then topped the cheese with the shrooms, then the egg, and last one more slice of cheese, and sprinkled the whole concoction with a little more dill and pepper.  Maybe it sounds like sort of an odd combination, but I thought it was one great big yum, and would encourage anyone with time and mushrooms on their hands to pursue this as a delicious breakfast option.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day

Although my student status technically remains, as I am not yet gainfully employed or anything normal like that, I no longer function as a student in the classic sense of going to class, writing papers, and taking tests.  No, no, I am now done with that.  Now I am essentially “playing house” as a speech pathologist, tagging along with a real speech path in a public school, working with students, dabbling in the paper work, and trying to soak up every last bit of knowledge I can before I am expected to fend for myself (and get a pay check).  Unfortunately, I am essentially paying tuition to work 40 hours a week, but there are some bonuses that come with it.  Like free time at night and on the weekends.  That is huge.  And even better: snow days!

On Monday afternoon, I received the information that school was cancelled for Tuesday.  Imagine my elation of having a surprise mid-week mini break, when the bona fide weekend had ended not even 24 hours earlier.  School was cancelled due to extreme cold temperatures, basically because children can’t be expected to wait for the bus with a wind chill of 35 below zero.  Some criticize this decision, but I have no complaints.  I prefer children to be safe (and time off). 

That evening, I went out for a drink to celebrate, but I immediately started plotting and scheming the perfect menu for frigid temperatures.  It had to involve the oven blaring at high temperatures for a few hours.  My apartment is poorly insulated, and thus quite cold (I am currently wearing wool socks, two pairs of pants, 2 shirts, and a scarf).  Not surprisingly, my ancient oven is also poorly insulated, and it not only cooks food, but it belches heat out into the apartment.  It’s great for winter, not so great for summer, but summer is not of great concern right now.   

Alas, I decided to make lemon-dill roasted drumsticks, which I find so comforting.  My love of chicken on the bone runs so deep that it is slightly disturbing.  In hindsight, brisket would have been a good choice since it takes at least 4 hours in the oven, not including preheating time, but I spent too much time out of the house to pull it off.  So, after fighting through the wind and cold to Whole Foods to get my chicken (8 drumsticks), I whipped up a marinade, consisting of loads of fresh lemon zest and juice (2 lemons to be exact), about 3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh dill, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, a heaping teaspoon of honey, about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a generous shake of Lawry’s seasoned salt, and freshly ground fresh pepper.  I whisked the ingredients together, and put the mixture and the chicken into a large Ziploc bag to marinate for an hour or so.  (See picture below, and try not to be too grossed out by the raw chicken). 
In the meantime, the oven was preheating, and heating my apartment, set to about 400 degrees (375 would probably do on a functional oven).  After they marinated, the drumsticks went into a foil-lined pan with an extra dusting of Lawry’s and pepper, and into the oven for about 45-50 minutes.  I like to rotate the pan occasional for even cooking. 
While the chicken became browned and blistered in the oven, I proceeded to make one of the coziest side dishes known to man: risotto-style orzo pasta.  It consists of orzo, delicate, rice-shaped pasta, cooked slowly in chicken stock so that it releases its starches to make the end product creamy and luxurious.  The chicken stock makes it so flavorful, and onions sautéed in butter at the start of the dish don’t hurt the flavor factor either.

First, sauté a half of an onion, diced, in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft, but not browned.  Season the onions liberally with salt and pepper at the start of cooking, and stir frequently. 
Then add 1 cup uncooked orzo pasta, stirring for about one minute until it is evenly coated with the butter, and starting to toast a bit. 
Then add two cups of chicken stock (I buy one 14 oz. can of stock and make up the difference with water).  Bring the mixture to a low simmer, then cover, and allow it to cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You can always add more water if it starts to look dry or too thick (just a tablespoon or two at a time).  When it’s done, douse it with freshly grated Parmesan (about ½ cup) and ¼ cup of chopped flat leaf parsley.  Frozen peas are also a nice touch, especially if you don’t have parsley on hand, but it definitely needs something green at the end.
I served my chicken and orzo with a simple baby arugula salad, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, a spritz of fresh lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and just because I had it on hand, some fresh dill.  And as if this meal wasn’t delicious enough, I received some news as I was about to start cooking that made it taste even better: I had another snow day the following day!  Please curb your jealousy.  You can simply make this delicious meal, and live vicariously through me.