Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chicken Penne with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Zucchini in Cream Sauce

This one's decadent. There's more than one way to make a cream sauce and for this one I like to use some mayonnaise... blame my French half, I guess. You do have to be careful not to overdo it with the mayo because with the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes it can get very rich.

You will need:

12 oz penne pasta
1 large chicken breast, cut into medallions
2-3 gloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
2/3 cup of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, sliced into pieces
2 large baby portobello mushrooms or 1 average adult portobello, finely diced*
2 zucchinis, cut length-ways and then sliced into half-rounds
2 leveled tablespoons of mayonnaise--I recommend the kind made with olive oil (less fat)
3 tablespoons of light sour cream
About a half a cup of nonfat or low fat milk (you'll be eyeballing this)

measuring cups
measuring spoons
a chef's knife (wide is best for crushing the garlic with the flat of the blade) 
large frying pan or wok
large crock pot
resealable container
wooden or other type of spoon for stirring

Boil and strain the penne according to the package instructions.

While you wait for the water to boil and for the pasta to cook, put the garlic in the pan or wok with the chicken and just a sprinkle of salt. Add about a tablespoon of oil from the sun-dried tomatoes. Start off on high heat, so you brown the chicken a bit. One you see some browning, lower to medium-high. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and zucchinis, and treat it like a stir-fry: let it sit for no more than a minute or two between stirs.

While that cooks, put the mayonnaise, sour cream, and about a third cup of milk in the resealable container. Make sure the lid is on tight and shake. Open it up. The consistency should be creamy but pourable, like thick blue cheese salad dressing. If it is too thick, add more milk and shake again.

When the chicken and vegetables are almost completely cooked, pour the cream mixture in with them. The zucchini are your best indicators, here. The centers should start to look seedy and translucent but the green of the skins should still be bright. Lower the heat all the way and stir.

Right about at this point the penne should be ready to strain. Dish out the penne with the chicken mixture on top. Enjoy!

* Portobellos can be spongy and unless you like that, cutting them into smaller pieces means they'll cook through and lose that spongy texture. Baby portos are less spongy than adult, in my experience.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Roast Chicken with Carrots, Peas and Brown Rice

This is a pretty typical dinner for us. You can of course substitute peas for broccoli or some other green vegetable, and brown rice for white rice, cous cous or quinoa.

You will need:

A whole chicken (we like free range)
4 carrots, chopped into large pieces
2-3 cloves of garlic
olive oil

2-3 cups* of frozen peas
1-2 cups* of brown rice

an oven dish
a meat thermometer
aluminum foil
2 to 4 quart pot with lid
optional: a rice cooker

This recipe will take about two hours.

Serves 3-4 people.

Preheat oven to 420 degrees F.

Prepare the baking dish as you prefer: I use some cooking spray to make it easier to clean later (although I don't spray far up the side or the spray can bake on and spot the dish). Put the chopped carrots in the dish first, spreading them out evenly. Make sure the chicken has nothing in the cavity, like the neck or livers. Put about a tablespoon of salt inside the cavity--a little more if you like salt. Put the garlic cloves in the cavity. Place the chicken on top of the carrots. drizzle olive oil over the chicken. You can rub it across the chicken with your fingers if you want--I tend to skip this step. Salt the outside of the chicken lightly. Pour about a quarter to a half a cup of water in the bottom of the dish--this keeps the carrots from blackening. Tear off a large sheet of aluminum foil, enough to cover the bird completely. Stick a meat thermometer though the foil in the area that will cover the chicken breast. Poke the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. Finish putting the foil over so it covers the bird and clings to the sides of the baking dish. Put it in the oven and set a timer for 90 minutes.

When the timer goes off, check your meat thermometer. It should be in the 160 degree range. If it isn't, put the chicken back in until it is (check every 10 minutes). Remove the aluminum foil. Put the chicken back in to brown, setting the timer for 20 minutes.

Time to cook the rice. I use a rice cooker, but you can also follow the directions on the package. One tip I've read for cooking rice to the right consistency without a rice cooker is to put in a lot of water, basically treating it like pasta, and to drain it out once the rice is done.

When the chicken's timer goes off, check the meat thermometer. It should be at least 180. If not, you will have to add more time. If it is, set the timer for 10 more minutes.

Put the peas in the pot with about a half a cup of water. Cover and heat over high until it boils, then lower heat to medium-low.

If you are using a rice cooker, you can use it instead of the last timer--when the rice is done, the rest usually is too. Use your best judgment.

Once the rice is done or your timer has gone off, turn off the peas and remove the chicken from the oven. Let the chicken sit while you dish out the rice and peas. Then carve the chicken. Once you've served some pieces of chicken you should be able to spoon out carrots and chicken juices onto the rice.


*Depends on the number of people you're feeding.