Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quick and Easy Mediterranean Chicken

As I was thumbing through my overstuffed but mostly unconsulted recipe book looking for party foods this week, I happened upon the Chicken Mareno recipe I made for a "bring food day" in high school French class. It was large and complicated, involving two whole chickens and several steps. Too much for a weeknight dinner, but I got a craving for the flavors it involved. Inspired by the chance to put a dent in my dinner rut, I decided to shoot for the same effect in a quick, easy, staple-using version. The result was colorful, tasty, and the kids who actually eat real food ate it all up, much to my surprise. I wish I'd taken a picture! I served it over brown rice, so it was also a pretty healthy, low-fat dinner. Yeah, yeah, I know you think you don't like brown rice, but it's good! Just try it. It tastes great with this recipe.

This made 4 good-sized servings plus two kid-sized, but you could easily increase that by adding another chicken breast and can of tomatoes and adjusting the seasonings a little. Oh! This also gave me a chance to use some of the fresh herbs growing in my new courtyard herb garden, but you can easily use dried or whatever you have on hand.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into about 1-inch cubes
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 cup garbonzo beans (I used half a can because I'm skittish, but you could use more or less)
1/2 cup green olives, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp capers, optional
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
dash white wine or vermouth if you have it
1/2 cup to a cup chicken broth (I'm telling you, keep a box in the fridge to use as needed)
sea salt, red pepper, dash of turmeric if you have it (gives it a pretty and authentic-looking yellow sheen), fresh herbs like parsley, oregano, thyme, or a little dried of whatever similar you have on hand.

Start your rice cooking. I used 2 cups uncooked brown rice in a rice cooker, which took about 45 minutes.

In a large, deep-sided skillet or Dutch oven, heat a Tbsp or two of olive oil and brown the chicken. Add garlic and sautee for about 30 seconds. Add wine or vermouth if using (vermouth is just shelf-stable, fortified wine--you didn't know that, did you?) and/or chicken broth and stir a minute until slightly reduced. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, and all remaining ingredients EXCEPT fresh herbs if using. Simmer, covered, over medium heat for 20 minutes or until rice is done. If using fresh herbs, you should always wait to add them in the last 5 minutes or so of cooking, because high heat destroys their flavor. Serve over rice (pasta would work too).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Asian-ish Beef and Broccoli

I have only developed a taste, or even tolerance, for Asian food in the past couple of years. The problem is that a lot of Asian food, especially the Americanized kind, hits on two of my biggest food issues: sweet and savory together, and random bits of crunchy unknown veggies in my food. I realize this make me a freak, but I do not find the idea of sugared meat to be even slightly appealing. This means I don't like anything called "glazed" that is not a doughnut (and even then, eh), or anything called "sweet and sour" or "hot and sweet." If it's not dessert, I don't want it to be in any way sweet. So you see how that could be a problem with the Chinese takeout.

However, with a bit of experimenting, I've found a few things that I enjoy, and recently I've ventured into cooking some Asian-inspired dinners. Now, let's be clear. I do not in any way think these dishes are authentic, but they're generally quick, easy, and tasty. I made this a week or so and it was a hit. I've since made a version with chicken instead of the beef, and it was also good but slightly less flavorful.

1 lb (or more) beef stew meat
marinade of some sort
fresh garlic, minced
2-3 cups frozen broccoli florets
*other veggies like onions and sliced red peppers if desired
chicken broth (I buy the boxed kind that can stay in the fridge so you use as much as you need)
corn starch
Hoisin sauce
2 cups uncooked white rice
Soy sauce

I cut my stew meat into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Into a gallon-sized zip-lock bag, I put a little olive oil, a little dale's (beef marinade that is too salty and strong to use straight, but great if you add just a little to other stuff), some Asian five-spice powder, soy sauce, a dash of rice vinegar, and a little water, mixed it all up, tossed in the beef, and let it all sit for a while.

At cooking time, I put my rice on to cook. I recently read that adding a tbsp or two of rice vinegar to the cooking water significantly lowers the glycemic index rating of the rice, and I was all proud since I was already doing that because Warren told me to, and he knows how to make sushi. You can make more rice if your kids will eat a lot of it. Meanwhile, heat a little oil of some sort in a large skillet or wok. I don't own a wok yet, so I just used my big deep skillet. Mince your garlic and throw it into the oil, then about 30 seconds later, add your beef. When beef is browned on all sides, add some chicken broth, (we'll say a cup? I do not actually ever use a recipe and I don't measure anything, so...), about 1 tbsp Hoisin sauce, and the broccoli. Season as desired and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until meat is cooked through and broccoli is hot but not too soggy. Thicken broth with a little corn starch (follow the directions on the box for thickening liquids). That's it! Serve over rice with soy sauce and Rooster sauce on the side if you like it spicy.