August 3, 2011

The Boy Bakes: When Things Go Wrong, Completely Change Your Plans

Today is the first guest blog by the one and only Cookies and Kale boyfriend, MG. He's been cooking and baking since he was a teenager and has quite a few notches on his cutting board. He's definitely been an inspiration to me in the kitchen (cue: aww) and I know for a fact that his famous raspberry-rhubarb pie (with real homemade butter crust!) has earned him more than a few groupies among our friends. So without further ado: MG.

The plans you make in the kitchen will not always work out, that is an ironclad rule of the space. There have been too many times to count when I have burnt a screw-head from the oven door into my leg because I was wearing shorts and forgot where I was and times when my produce has been too past its prime to use. At these times, once the cursing dies down and salve is applied, you basically have to completely change what it was you were going to do that day.

Sunday was a day like that for us. The intention was for me to start on my Bread Project and then we would go for a late lunch using a coupon we had and end with a nice one-pot dish for dinner. None of those things happened exactly as we had planned. The bread I attempted to make was the famous no-knead bread. I failed, miserably. The yeast never woke up and performed its magic, I suspect it was a combination of it either being dead yeast (a distinct possibility) or that day was simply too hot and humid (also a likely culprit). That failure was quickly followed by another.

The face of failure. 

I re-read the coupon and lo and behold, it couldn't be used until after 4 p.m. At least I looked before we left with a meal in mind. That left one viable option: it was lunch time and we would just have to move up the dinner idea. The Tex-Mex Arroz con Pollo was indeed a success and I know first-hand that it can take as little as an hour to prepare (and you can take a quick shower while it's in the oven to no ill effects).

Bubbly now, delicious later.  Homegrown hot peppers from a co-worker.
Fresh is better, no?

The finished product.   Served with a side of fajita-style veggies.

Tex-Mex Arroz con Pollo
Adapted from Prevention Magazine's Easy One-Dish Meals via Esther's mama

2 tsp olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, diced*
1 med. onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
12 oz. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks
3/4 cup long-grain white rice
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/8 tsp ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 cup chicken broth*
1/2 cup water
14-oz can chopped green chilies, drained*
1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup diced tomato*
Fresh cilantro or parsley sprigs for garnish*

Servings: 4-8*

*Lots of notes: 1. We used a green pepper because I bought the wrong kind, no harm, just a little different color. 2. I actually used Better Than Boullion and it worked fine. 3. We used fresh cubanelle peppers because Esther's co-worker generously shared some with us. 4. We used a whole can of diced tomatoes, some of the liquid drained. 5. I hate cilantro, so we didn't use it. We had parsley, but didn't use that either. 6. The servings would be gigantic at 4, lunch-sized at 8, we went with 6 and were more than satisfied.

As a general rule for me, the seasoning measures are a suggestion. I like things spicy, so I used a bit more cayenne and added some homemade hot sauce to the diced tomatoes (Esther didn't know that when I made it). I also like to organize my cooking area so that everything that gets added in the same step is together. All the veggies are in their own bowl, all the spices and rice, etc. It makes adding things a little easier and saves time.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In an ovenproof pot or pan (I used my trusty 5 qt Dutch oven), warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell peppers, onions, celery, garlic and bay leaf (do it, I know it seems out of place), if you use fresh green chiles add them now and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the chicken, reduce the heat to medium (I did not do this since my pan was pretty crowded) and saute for 3 minutes (or around 5), or until the chicken is lightly browned or no longer pink outside. (I turned the heat down to medium once I was done with the chicken, you should too at this point).

Stir in the rice and remaining spices, cook for 1 minute, or until the spices are fragrant and have coated everything.

Add in broth, water and canned chiles (if using). Cover and bake for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, uncover, stir in beans and tomatoes. Leave uncovered and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until beans are heated. Add garnishes if you desire.

The recipe is fairly straightforward. Esther's mom made it on the stove (as opposed to in the oven), and it turned out fine - the veggies might be a little softer. We ate it with a side of fajita veggies I just whipped up from an onion, a summer squash, some peppers, a tablespoon of vegetable oil, spices and heat.

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