Friday, January 15, 2010

Variations on a Theme: A Chicken in Every Pot

Rachel here: For our final installment of variations on a theme this week we figured we should offer up an entree to assure you that we don't actually only eat appetizers and desserts (although neither one of us would be opposed). Since there are very few meat items that we both eat, we settled on chicken as the jumping off point. In my house, chicken is a staple of sorts, a go-to dinner ingredient due to its quick and easy-to-cook nature. My partner works and goes to school, I go to school (like it's my job...we are talking a majorly type A personality here) and often by the time we are both home and the rest of our lives have been dealt with, we crave something warm and filling with minimal effort (with effort for us translating also into number of dishes generated since we don't currently have a dishwasher...but, as I've said before, more on that later) and so, with regularity, we find ourselves staring at plates with chicken on them. Earlier in our relationship when all we wanted was to feast on dreamy stares across the table at each other our chicken was often similar: pounded, cut, marinated, cooked and served on top of salad. There was and is nothing wrong with this approach. These days, though, our chicken (oh, and our relationship) takes a little more effort to hold our interest. The recipe I've chosen to share below is an easy one with just that little extra pizazz to liven the dinner table up and leave us both feeling a little warmer and fuzzier after a long hard day.

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
serves 4 (half a stuffed breast per person)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1.5 oz. goat cheese
1 tspn. unsalted butter
3/4 tspn. minced chives
1/2 tspn. minced parsley leaves
1/8 tspn. minced thyme
1/8 tspn. lemon juice
1/8 tspn. minced garlic
salt and pepper
1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 egg
1 tspn. water
vegetable oil
1 1/4 T. paprika
1 T. garlic powder
1/2 T. onion powder
1/2 T. cayenne
1/2 T. oregano
1/2 T. dried thyme

Preheat your over to 350 degrees. Lay the chicken flat on your cutting board and, about 1/3 of the way down the thicker side of each breast, cut a deep pocket horizontally into the center of the meat, roughly 3/4 of the way down the side. Be very careful not to cut all the way through.
In a small bowl mash together the goat cheese, butter, chives, parsley, fresh thyme, lemon juice and garlic, adding salt and pepper to taste. Divide this cheese mixture between the pockets you cut into your chicken breasts and then press the edges of the meat to seal the mixture in. Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl (large enough to lay your chicken breasts flat in it), combine flour and all of the ingredients from the list above that follow the vegetable oil (paprika through dried thyme), adding 1 T. of salt and pepper each. In a second bowl of comparable size beat the egg and water together.
Lightly dust the chicken on both sides with the flour mixture, dip it in the egg and water mixture (shaking to remove excess), and then place the chicken in the flour mixture a second time. Shake off excess.
In an oven-proof skillet (if you don't have a cast iron skillet, you can buy them at your local hardware store for less than $20...I highly recommend owning one if you don't and have found that searing is never easier than in cast iron), heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and sear until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side.
Place the skillet in your pre-heated oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 7-10 minutes.

As you can see in the photo above, I usually serve this chicken with a simple salad. It makes a hearty and nutritious dinner that tastes like way more effort than it takes. I whisk together a little oil and vinegar to make a simple salad dressing, add some local seasonal veggies (or, this time of year, some mandarin oranges) and serve the chicken and salad together. The meal is a bit of a staple in my house. Though I have yet to branch out beyond this version, I imagine you could stuff the chicken with any number of delicious cheese-based combinations. Any ideas? Anyway, hope you enjoy!

Janet here: Okay so my daughter decided to show me up making something that looks gorgeous on the plate for this meat staple. A little annoying, but while we are doing this blog together, the underlying theme is obviously Who is the Better Cook? It's a competition I don't intend to lose. Anyway, I'm in a cook-ahead mode of life for a variety of reasons, so this chicken stew satisfied that need and also my need to make something with chicken. I didn't actually follow a recipe but rather made this up after looking over some other recipes. In other words, there's lots of room for experimentation. Instead of tomatoes, for instance, why not try a white sauce to hold it all together? You could also make it more like a chili by using more southwestern spices, like chili powder, red pepper flakes, that kind of thing. The point is don't be afraid to branch out.

Chicken Stew
serves 4-5

1 yellow onion, diced
3-4 potatoes, cubed into bite-size pieces, skin on (I hardly ever remove the skin even when I make mashed potatoes; lots of vitamins there)
1 to 1 1/2 cups diced carrots
2 skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-size pieces
1 16 ounce can diced tomatoes
spices to taste: salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, basil

Saute the onion, potatoes, carrots and chicken in a large pot with the spices. Once they're nicely sauteed, add the tomatoes. Adjust spices to taste.

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