Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Revisiting the Ghost of Leftovers Past

Today a good friend of mine came over for lunch and girl talk.. I had an idea in mind for a simple menu, but alas, the items I needed were no longer in the refrigerator.

So back to the drawing board. What is in the refrigerator? I had some leftover Chicken and Couscous from last week that needed to be used up so I quickly formulated a plan of action:

First, gently reheat the casserole in the microwave.

Next, I trimmed some fresh basil from the herb garden to freshen the dish up.

Now, I separated the couscous mixture from the two chicken pieces that were left. The (boneless) chicken got diced and set aside in a bowl. The couscous was freshened up with the basil, which I cut into ribbons, a.k.a. chiffonade.

The chicken pieces were now going to be a tasty chicken salad, after the addition of about 3 Tbsp mayonnaise, and a hint of mustard, about 2 tsp. Stir to combine, correct the seasoning if necessary, and viola! Yummy chicken salad.

I served the chicken salad on toasted buns that I rubbed with a clove of garlic for an extra layer of flavor. Since the couscous already had the tomatoes and mushrooms mixed in, our lunch turned out quite balanced and delicious.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Art of Pantry Foraging

We've all been there; staring at the contents of your refrigerator or pantry wondering, "What do I make for dinner"

Luckily I'm the kind of gal that always has canned tomatoes and rice, or in this case, couscous, in the cupboard. Also, luckily for me the herb garden is bursting with basil right now. That set the gears into motion..

I remembered seeing this dish on Rachael Ray's show before and decided to use that as my inspiration. Since I didn't have the soft cheese for the inside, I thought the couscous mixed with the pesto sauce would make a nice substitution. I also didn't have any pine nuts, so I used almonds instead.

Stuffed Chicken with Pesto Couscous

4-6 Chicken breast or thighs, boneless and skinless
1/2 cup slivered almonds (or pine nuts)
8-10 large sprigs of Basil
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup couscous
1 cup chicken stock
2 medium onions, diced
1 large can of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce
1 small can of sliced mushrooms, drained
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.

Start by toasting the nuts lightly in a skillet over medium heat, you do not need oil. Stir or toss often so that they do not burn. Pull the nuts off the heat when they start to turn toasty brown and release their delicious aromas and set aside.

Next start the couscous, bring 1 cup of chicken stock with about 1 tbsp of olive oil to a boil. Once the liquid comes to a boil, quickly stir in the couscous and remove from the heat. Cover the pot and let sit for 5 minutes.

Sweat a quarter of the diced onions in a medium saute pan with olive oil. Season with a small amount of salt and pepper. When they are translucent set aside for the Pesto sauce.

In the same pan, saute the remaining onions in another Tbsp of olive, again seasoning lightly, until they are translucent. Add in the can of tomatoes and bring to a simmer. To break down the diced tomatoes a bit you can use a potato masher to smush them and break down the chunks. Add the can of mushrooms last. Simmer over medium heat until you are ready to assemble.

To start the pesto, take the basil leaves off of their stalks and do a rough chiffonade, to help the food processor get started. Add the basil, nuts, onions, grated Parmesan cheese, and a few tablespoons of olive oil into a food processor. Pulse at first to combine, then puree until smooth, adding olive oil as necessary to make a paste. Combine the pesto paste with the couscous and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

To assemble: Spoon a small amount of the tomato sauce into the bottom a large glass casserole pan to help prevent sticking. For chicken breasts, slice the piece almost in half so that it opens up like a book. For boneless thighs, they should open up in a similar fashion, if not slice them open as well. Season the insides with salt and pepper. Scoop a large spoonful of the pesto couscous mixture onto the chicken pieces. Roll them up and place into the pan, seam side down. If there is any left-over couscous mixture, tuck it around the chicken pieces. Top the chicken with the remainder of the sauce. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake in the oven on the middle rack for 50 - 60 minutes, or until the chicken pieces are done.

Please note that for this recipe some measurements are estimated; I assembled this with the end result in mind, so please use your best judgement and adjust the amounts to your tastes

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Classic Chicken and Mushroom Casserole

My take on the classic casserole. I start the dish on the stove top and finish it in the oven. It takes a good hour and a half total prep and cook time, but can be prepared in advance and frozen for later. You can use white or dark meat, use your preference, or what was on sale at the market. What I consider 4-6 servings would equal 3 or 4 large breasts or up to 6 thighs.

Classic Chicken and Mushroom Casserole

2 cups water
1 cup brown rice
Chicken, enough for 4-6 servings
approx 4 Tbs EVOO
1 large onion, diced
1-2 stalks of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
(1/2 cup white wine, optional)
2 cups white button mushrooms, roughly diced
2 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
about 1 cup of milk or chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

First, preheat the oven to 350* F, then start the water for the rice and add rice when it comes to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, undisturbed for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot or dutch oven, brown seasoned (salt and pepper, both sides) chicken pieces in a little bit of olive oil over medium high heat. Your pot should be able to go from stove top to oven; if the handles are not heat proof, cover them with aluminum foil before transfer it to the oven. The aim is to sear the chicken and get a nice yummy brown crust going. They may stick a little at first, but should come loose as the crust begins to develop. When they have browned on both side, pull the pieces out and set aside on a plate. (Use the cook time of the chicken to dice up your veggies)

Next into the pot should be your onion, celery, and carrot, all diced. (This trio is also know as trinity, and is considered to be a good all around aromatic addition to many dishes) Reduce the heat to medium and season the veggies and allow them to sweat, stirring often. You may need to add another Tbs of olive oil. As the vegetables sweat they should pick up the flavor left in the pot from the browned chicken. If they need help to pick up the color, deglaze the pan with white wine. The wine will dissolve the residue left from the chicken, and add a subtle layer of flavor in the dish.

When the first three vegetables have cooked down, add in the chopped mushrooms. Season these lightly and allow to cook down as well. Once the vegetables have become soft, you can add the seared chicken pieces back into the pot, along with any juices they have leaked onto the plate.

Add in the two cans of cream of mushroom soup and about 1 cup of milk or chicken stock, however much you need to loosen the soup into a thick sauce, and mix well. Put on the lid to your pot and put the whole kit and kaboodle in the oven.

When the rice is al dente pull it off the heat and add the entire contents of the pot to the casserole in the oven. Stir well to combine, and continue to bake, checking every 30 minutes or so for doneness. The chicken should be done when the juices run clear, or when it hits 165* F internal temperature.

When the casserole is done, pull from the oven and allow it to cool a bit before eating to avoid any burn tongues. However, it will smell so good, you won't want to wait. Don't say I didn't warn you!

N.B. If you are making this ahead, proceed through the recipe up until the point you put the whole thing in the oven. at this point you will want to transfer the mixture into a pan or casserole dish that can transition from the freezer to the oven. Stir in the rice when it is ready and wrap the dish in tinfoil, cool to room temp and then freeze for later. (Do not put the dish in the freezer while it is still hot, that would only raise the temperature in your freezer and potentially cause food born illness due to the other frozen items thawing and re-freezing)

To re-heat the meal, bake in 350*F oven until warmed through.