Sunday, January 6, 2008

Creamy Chicken & Rice on a Gloomy Winter Night

What was it I said earlier in the week about eating healthy and clean? Seems that idea's already been kicked to the curb, right along with our poor, pitiful, dried up Christmas tree. My kids started ski lessons today and I knew they'd need something warm and filling after a long afternoon on the slopes, and 'clean and healthy' wasn't gonna cut it.

So, here's what we're having tonight. It's one of my favorite wintry comfort dinners; a creamy chicken and rice with a toasty breadcrumb topping. Mind you, I'm NOT a casserole girl (canned soups -- eeeewwwww), but this dinner kicks some serious butt! Another bonus: it freezes beautifully, so I made a pan for tonight and put one in the freezer for another wintry day.
Back to 'clean and healthy' tomorrow. Chicken and Rice and a big green salad tonight!!

Source: The Best Make-Ahead Recipe, From the Editors of Cooks Illustrated
Serves 8 (personally, I think this serves about 10)

4 T. butter
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
1/4 t. cayenne
1/4 c. flour
6 c. chicken broth
1 c. heavy cream (I use half & half with no real difference in creaminess)
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 5 breasts)
1 1/2 c. long grain rice
1-1lb. bag of frozen peas and carrot medley (about 3 cups)
2 c. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 T. fresh lemon juice
Ground black pepper
1 recipe Toasted Bread Crumb Topping (see below)
Fresh minced parsley for garnish

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and 1 t. salt and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about a minute. Slowly whisk in the broth and cream.

Add the chicken breasts, partially cover, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover completely, and cook 10-15 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked through. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool.

Stir the rice into the pot, cover, and continue to cook over low heat, stirring often, until the rice has absorbed much of the liquid and is just tender, about 25 minutes. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite-sized pieces.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the chicken, peas and carrots, cheddar, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture into a 9x13 pan (or, as I do, divide it between two smaller pyrex pans). Sprinkle the pan with the crumb topping.

Bake the pan in the middle of the 400 degree oven until the sauce is bubbling and the crumbs are crisp, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

TO STORE A PAN OF CHICKEN AND RICE: Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap, the cover with foil. Freeze up to one month. (If frozen, the casserole must be thawed completely in the refrigerator, about 24 hours.) Preheat the oven to 400; remove the plastic wrap, and recover with the foil. Bake for about an hour (or until hot throughout), remove the foil, and continue to bake until crumbs are crispy, about another 15 minutes.

Makes 2 3/4 Cups, enough for one 9x13 pan.

4 slices good quality white sandwich bread, quartered
2 T. butter, melted
2 T minced fresh parsley leaves
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 325. Pulse the bread and butter in a food processor to coarse crumbs, about 6 pulses. Spread out over a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden and dry, 20-20 minutes. Let the crumbs cool, then toss with the parsley; season with salt and pepper to taste.

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