Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chicken, Sweet Peppers and Onions - Dinner for Four

We all want to eat well, and in this day and age most of us don't have hours to devote to cooking each day. This meal will feed four, is healthy, colorful, and delicious. Most of the work consists of chopping the vegetables and chicken. I estimate about 1 hour from start to finish, before you can all sit down and eat. So without further ado, let's get started!

Chicken, Sweet Peppers and Onions

NOTE: Please read the whole recipe including that for the sides of rice and collard greens, before starting.

Trim and chop into bite sized pieces (1"x1" to 1"x2" or so):

2 medium yellow onions
3 sweet bell peppers (1 red, 1 yellow, 1 orange looks great)
(note: don't use green peppers for this dish, totally different flavor)
1-1/2 lb. chicken breast

Set each group of chopped items aside.

Note 1: Save the vegetable trimmings and put them in a jar in the freezer, for later use in making vegetable stock.
Note 2: I keep frozen chicken tenders as backup for when I don't have fresh chicken on hand. I can bring out the ones I will need the night before to defrost overnight in the fridge.

See the White Rice, Collard Greens and Sauce for Greens items below, get all of those items ready since we want to start cooking everything at the same time. Now it is time to start cooking:

Start the rice and collard greens cooking, as described below.

Place 2 tbsp olive oil into a large frying pan. Add:

2 tsp each: fresh coarsely ground black pepper, oregano, thyme and sage
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (or a pinch)

Put on high heat until the oil is hot (you can test by dropping a single drop of water and see if it sizzles; please be very careful when doing this! hot oil is very hot and can jump out of the pan! so just a very small drop of water please!). When it is hot, drop the chicken pieces into the pan and sauté, leaving the pan on high heat. Use a spatula to turn them while cooking and keep them separated. When the chicken pieces are white and coated with the oil and seasonings, remove them from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

Now add another 1-2 tbsp olive oil to the pan, leaving it at high heat, add the onions and peppers and sauté until the onions begin to become clear. Add the chicken back into the pan, add 3/4 cup white wine, turn down to medium heat, and let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes to let the alcohol cook out. Test the flavor and add salt to taste.

Note: I tend to salt lightly, letting people salt their food to taste at the table. The last time I made this dish we used low-sodium soy sauce at the table instead of salt and it went very well with the dish.

Serve by placing rice on the plate, then the chicken with pepper over the rice, and the dressed collard greens on the side.


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White Rice

1-1/2 cups dry uncooked white rice
2-3/4 cups water
1/4 tsp. salt

Rinse the rice by placing it in a strainer and running water over it until the water runs mostly clear. This removes the powdery coating that is on most rice, and keeps it more fluffy and less sticky. Set aside until ready to start cooking -- about the same time you start to sauté the chicken and peppers.

When ready to start the rice: Place the water and salt in a pan, bring the water to a boil over high heat, then put the rice in the boiling water. Leave it on high until it comes back to the boil, then reduce heat to low, and cover loosely. From this point it will take 20 minutes for the rice to cook and absorb the water. DO NOT stir the rice while it cooks; DO check the rice and make sure the heat is LOW -- burning the bottom of the rice is disastrous, as the burnt flavor will make its way through the entire pot. Finally, rice expands a lot while cooking, so make sure the pot has room.

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Collard Greens

Collard greens are my second favorite green, after beet greens. One of the nice things about collard greens is they are very thick and strong, so they can take a good long cooking -- no need to hover over them and make sure you haven't overcooked them. The trick is not to undercook them!

Take 1 bunch collard greens, remove stems and chop into bite sized pieces -- 1"x1" to 2"x2" in size, more or less. Remove the stems, and also the thicker part of the center of the leaves. After they are chopped, place them in a colander and rinse thoroughly, ensuring there is no dirt or grit in the greens. Set up a pot with a steamer, put 1-2 cups of water under the steamer (not enough to come up through the holes of the steamer), then place the collard greens in the pot and set aside. You will start cooking this at the same time you start the rice. Once they start to steam, turn down the heat and let them steam for 20 minutes until tender.

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Dressing for Greens

This is my standard dressing for cooked greens. It always gets rave reviews.

1 tsp. dark balsamic vinegar
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. to 1 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place above ingredients in a small metal pot (I use a metal 1/2 cup measuring cup for this) and place over heat, holding the pot in your hand and moving it to swirl the sauce while the butter melts. Remove from heat when the butter has fully melted.

Note: you can use all dark, or all white balsamic vinegar. In a pinch you can substitute apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar -- it won't be quite as wonderful but will still be a tasty dressing for the greens.

When the collard greens are done, reheat the sauce slightly, then put the greens in a bowl and toss with the sauce until the greens are fully coated.

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