Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Chicken and gravy, rice and wilted spinach

Good Evening Everyone!
My post is late tonight because I went to go see The Cmpleat Wks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) special, friends and family performance at Theatre Baton Rouge.  I have friends who are in the show and it was hilarious and I loved it. If you live in Baton Rouge, you should definitely go see it.  It did however delay my post and for that I apologize.
Tonight's recipe is created using one of the mutant chicken breasts that you can get from Costco and is actually a recipe that I got from my ex-mother-in-law; a woman that I still adore and who gave me some wonderful recipes.  This recipe is, hands down, my favorite of hers.  She always called it smothered chicken, but my husband hated that name - as it always reminded him of the smothered chicken that he used to serve at Bennigan's when he was a bartender there and he didn't particularly care for the dish. So we have renamed it chicken and gravy in my house.  Change in name or not, this recipe is delicious. 
It also took me at least 10 tries to get it right and make certain that I had the right amount of ingredients because my mother in law would just "judge" the amount of ingredients without measuring them.   This, I find, is the sign of a woman who cooks a lot. My great grandmother was also someone who just put "a little of this" and "a pinch of that" in her recipes and it took our family forever to measure and write down some of our most cherished family recipes from her. I myself do the "eyeballing of ingredients" and, with this blog, I am really having to stop and measure what I put in my dishes.  Tradition kept- my great-grandmother would be so proud!


Chicken and Gravy with Rice 

1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken pieces cut into bite size pieces (My ex-mother-in-law would actually purchase a fryer chicken and cut it apart into pieces and would serve the pieces whole, as in she would cook breasts, thighs and legs.  I found this a little time consuming so I just substituted chicken breasts.)
Creole seasoning to taste
1/4 cup cooking oil (I personally like corn oil for this dish, but I saw her use many kinds of oil.)
2 tbsp. sugar
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1tsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water

1.  Cut the chicken into bite size, one inch pieces and place the pieces on a plate.  Sprinkle the chicken with Creole seasoning.  (This is really per your personal taste, but I usually use about 1/2 tsp. and then add more if I feel the chicken isn't covered enough. A little goes a long way, so I would experiment with small amounts and then work your way up.)
2. Cover the chicken and let the seasoning soak in for an hour.  (My mother-in-law always just left it on a plate on the countertop and I do the same.  If you are worried that practice may not be safe, you can put the chicken in the refrigerator for an hour.)  While the chicken is "soaking" prepare your vegetables.
3.  In a large, heavy duty cooking pot or cast iron Dutch oven/pot  with a lid(I prefer the cast iron and she would swear by cast iron and wood cook it in nothing else.) put in the sugar and the cooking oil.  Turn heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly.  IT IS VERY IMPORTANT YOU STIR CONSTANTLY!!!
The sugar will start getting clumpy.  Keep stirring. 
4.  Continue stirring until the sugar is smooth and caramel brown in color.  (I think of this in my mind as making a sugar roux.  It is not something that you can rush.  Cook the sugar too fast and it will burn and ruin the taste of the dish just be patient and your taste buds will be rewarded.) As soon as it reaches this stage, CAREFULLY put the chicken in the pot.
5.  Turn the chicken constantly, I know this is counterintuitive for many cooks who are proponents of the one turn only method, but you have to do this to get the sugar coating on the chicken properly.  Your chicken will start to turn a beautiful brown color.  Keep turning until all of the chicken is evenly coated and all of the pieces are a beautiful, rich, dark caramel brown.
6. Put in onions and garlic, sautéing until softened.  This should take anywhere from three to five minutes, you will know the onion is ready when it becomes translucent, again you want to be stirring constantly or your garlic will burn and become bitter.
7.  Slowly add 2 cups (or cans) of chicken broth/stock stirring as you poor in the broth/stock.
8.  Lower your heat to medium low.  Cover partially with a lid, leaving a space of about 1/2 an inch. Let it cook down for at least 45 minutes.  At this point, you do not have to stir it or do anything.  Just leave it alone and let the ingredients simmer and work their magic with each other.
9.  When the chicken has about 20 minutes left of cooking, prepare one cup of white rice according to the package directions.  Most rice directions will have the rice finishing about the same time that the chicken is done cooking.
10.  Once chicken is done cooking, remove chicken from the pot with a slotted spoon or tongs and place on a plate.
11.  In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup cold water and 1 heaping teaspoon cornstarch.  (If you are out of cornstarch you can use flour.  If you use flour, start out with 1/2 teaspoon flour and put it in 1/4 cup hot chicken broth rather than water.)  Stir with a fork until smooth.
12. Pour the cornstarch/flour mixture into the gravy mixture in the Dutch oven and whisk until it starts to smooth and thicken.
13.  Put the chicken back into the gravy.   Serve over the white rice.

Wilted Spinach

I'll be honest with you, I do not like cooked spinach.  But (sigh)  I am trying to expand my diet and eat healthier.  This means that I  am trying to include more vegetables in my diet--despite the fact that I think that most vegetables taste like grass or dirt.  I cannot eat canned spinach (I am allergic) and there is only so much raw spinach that you can eat before you start to feel like a rabbit, so I came up with a recipe for wilted spinach.  I still don't love spinach, but I can eat this.  This was a recipe that I originally saw on a Rachel Ray show on the Food Network and then modified so that I could eat it--eventually turning it into another recipe entirely.  But the idea came from her originally so, there you go.

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. spinach, washed and with the stems removed OR two ounces baby spinach
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
When I want to be bad, I also cook three slices of bacon and crumble it and then I cook the spinach in the bacon grease rather than the olive oil. It makes the spinach delicious, but it sort of defeats the purpose of trying to eat healthy if you do this to a vegetable.

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. 
2. Add 1 clove minced garlic and sauté for two to three minutes.  Remember to stir constantly because you do not want your garlic to burn. 
3. Add spinach to pan in stages, about a handful at a time.    The process should be:  add spinach to pan, turn in warm oil until they wilt, add another handful of spinach, etc. until all of the spinach is in the pan.  Season the spinach with  salt and pepper to taste.
4.  While the spinach is wilting, combine the balsamic vinegar, lemon and other clove of garlic. (Since this garlic is uncooked, it will give a different garlic flavor than the one cooked in oil.)
5.  Once all of the spinach is wilted, turn off the heat and pour your balsamic vinegar dressing over the spinach, and toss with tongs until all of the leaves are covered.  Serve warm.  (If you are doing this with the bacon, this is also where you add the bacon crumbles.)

I hope you enjoy the meal! 

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