Every now and then you stumble upon something that is so unexpected and so delightful that you’ve just got to stop and tell someone. That is how I felt about last night’s dinner. You know the times when you really don’t want to cook but have to anyway - if you want to eat anything.
I had cooked all last week. I had cooked all day Saturday. I even replenished my chicken stock supply, experimented with a crust for gluten free mini pizzas, stuffed a pork tenderloin with feta and spinach, served it with a sweet potato casserole for supper Saturday night, and discovered the joys of making homemade applesauce. By Sunday, I was just plain tired of cooking. I was no longer hungry either, but ate because I was fidgety and had nothing better to do. Well, you know how it is, I had a ton of stuff to do, but didn’t want to do any of it.
By Sunday night I was ready to just relax in front of the DVD player with my husband and do absolutely nothing else until it was time to go to bed. But I knew the kids would be hungry and I really needed to cook the chicken I had before it went bad.
Here’s what I did and, as I said, the whole thing was designed so I would not have to cook. The kids could eat and I could carry on with my plans to completely bum out in front of the TV. What happened was we all enjoyed a delicious homemade meal that turned out to be one of the most satisfying meals I have had in a long time. My husband ate three plates of it and my three-year-old who had previously filled up on chips and Starburst candies (I found out about this later though) said, “This is delicious chicken!”
This made me completely happy inside and out of shear delight, I told him I had made it all for him. His eyes popped open and he asked, “All for me?!”
“Yes,” I said, “all for you. You may have as much as you like and you may also share it if you choose.”
He looked wide eyed at the four big pieces still in the pan and the half eaten piece on his plate as well as the servings on everyone else’s plate and smiled. “I think I’ll share it … if it is all mine.” Nothing warms a parent’s heart more than such a conversation. My husband and I exchanged glances and my teenage daughter reached over and kissed the top of his three-year-old head. We all said thank you to him and went on with our dinner.
I don’t know whether this meal could be repeated in the same way again or not; and I suppose that it doesn’t really matter. Each day is a new day and each meal is a new opportunity but I will try to recreate it as best as possible just in case I decide to make it again, or my dementia gets worse and I need something to remind me of what I did here. If you decide to try it or to use it as the springboard to your own meal, I hope it turns out as good for you as it did for me. At any rate, here’s what I did.
[A list of all needed ingredients are at the end of the post.]
- Place a liberal amount of Extra Virgin Olive oil in the bottom of a glass 9 X 13 inch casserole. I probably used 2 tablespoons. Dry 6 boneless chicken breasts with paper towels; place in the pan and drizzle another liberal amount of olive oil on the tops.
- Sprinkle the chicken with:
Just a touch of ground red pepper (cayenne pepper)
Ground black pepper
Dried parsley flakes
I didn’t really plan these ingredients, the onion salt, parsley flakes and sesame seeds were just sitting out on my counter from some other dish, so I picked them up and sprinkled them on. I just sprinkled them on as if I were salting a piece of meat or a fried egg or bowl of grits – just enough to look good without over doing any one item.
- Cover the pan with tin foil and place in a 350 degree oven. Mine had just started to heat up and was not quite at 350. Put the pan in anyway. And set a timer for 1 hour. I figured it would take 45 minutes to cook the chicken (my pieces were very large) and the extra 15 minutes would make up for the preheating time.
- Next put in a DVD and twist your husband’s arm to watch it with you. Make sure the children are happily making some sort of mess that you vow to deal with at some indeterminate time in the future – or tomorrow which ever comes later.
- Now RELAX. You have the timer with you.
- After about 30 minutes or so, call to your teenage daughter to put rice and water into the rice cooker and plug it in. We happen to have one of these handy contraptions as living in Asia does that to you. But if you don’t, stop the DVD for just a few minutes as you get a pot of rice arranged on the stove to simmer for about 20 minutes or so. Any amount of rice to feed your family will do.
- When the timer goes off (this is the original 1 hour), tell your teenage son to turn off the oven. Don’t touch the chicken. Unplug the rice cooker or take the cooked rice off of the heat.
- Get back to your movie and don’t give dinner a second thought until it is over and you have laughed your socks off or dried your tears or (and you know you have really been blessed) both.
Now, here is the fun part. Follow my instructions, in order and don’t ask any questions until it is all over. I promise in less than 15 minutes you will have a lovely dinner on the table, ready to be ooohed and ahhhed over by all.
- Wash two lemons. Remove the zest from one by grating off ONLY the yellow part of the outside of the lemon. Use the smallest grater you have for this and set the zest aside. (I grate and zest on wax paper for easy clean up.)
- Squeeze the juice from the two lemons, remove seeds and set aside.
- Peel and slice 3 to 4 cucumbers (or as many as you would like) in a bowl. Thinly slice a medium onion and add to the cucumbers.
- Take out a large non-stick skillet that will accommodate as many cups of the rice as you would like to serve. I served 2 adults, 2 teenagers, 2 children and said 3-year-old with 4 to 5 cups of cooked rice. (I cooked 3 cups of raw rice in the cooker but left about 1 to 1- 1/2 cups of cooked rice because my non-stick pan would not hold all of the rice.)
- Melt a few tablespoons of butter into a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. (I had a lot of rice to sauté). Add the cooked rice and begin coating with the butter and oil by stirring carefully.
- Now stir and toss to mix into the rice:
Some garlic salt (to taste)
Turmeric (1/2 to 1 teaspoon or so)
Curry powder (I ended up adding 1 to 2 Tablespoons of mild curry powder because it has a lovely smell, we love it and as I mentioned before, I had a lot of rice.)
The lemon zest
- When the seasoning is evenly distributed, taste and add more garlic salt or curry as desired. Ever since I read about the health benefits of turmeric, I sprinkle this in as often as I can. It is a natural with this rice.
- Pour in all of the lemon juice into the rice. Stir only to mix it in and to heat through. Put rice in a serving bowl and place on the table.
- Start calling everyone to dinner at this point, impressing upon them the need to find enough plates, forks and knives for everyone, something for each person to drink and oh yes, napkins if you have them.
- Go to the bowl of cucumbers and onions. Add enough unsweetened plain yogurt to coat. Season with black pepper and a very small amount of garlic salt. Taste first carefully though because you may like it without any seasoning. I, however, have an addiction to garlic and to salt. But don’t over do it. This is the raita type dish that will be served with the chicken and Curry Lemon rice. After tasting, my daughter suggested adding dill. I only had dried dill weed so I sprinkled in a couple of teaspoons of this. We all love dill.
- Bring out the chicken and serve in the pan. The spices on top look pretty and the broth is a rich amber color because of the paprika.
Have a seat, pray your husband has already opened a good bottle of wine, or a cheap bottle of wine is fine too; and sit down at the table and enjoy your meal.
Take your time and eat it slowly enjoying the juicy and tender chicken, the delicious smell of the lemony rice and the tang of the yogurt, cucumbers and onions. Mix and match flavors on your fork as desired for a completely enjoyable and no fuss easy chicken dinner.
While you’re eating, be thankful for simple things like baked chicken; a husband who doesn’t mind sitting through a few chick flicks if he knows dinner is coming and you’ll do the same with his action adventures another time; children who can make a bigger mess than you can possible deal with in one day; even Starburst candies and other forbidden snacks that keep the littlest from getting into too much trouble while you take a moment for yourself and a break from cooking…well sort of.
NOTE ON THE CURRY LEMON RICE
This curry lemon rice is the most basic. I left it at this because I didn’t want to spend much time on it. But you can make it fancier by adding any number of additional ingredients, my favorites being cashews, dried cranberries and shredded coconut. Be creative and enjoy the combination of diverse flavors. Some other suggestions would be chopped scallions, bits of pineapple or apricots, chopped dates, chickpeas, diced tomatoes, sliced black olives, hot peppers and the list goes on and on.
Or just enjoy it as I did here with curry, garlic and lemon. Just as I used the seasoning I had out on the counter for the chicken, use the ingredients that are available and that you are in the mood for with this rice.
NOTE ON THE CUCUMBER ONION RAITA
Raita is the same way. If you don’t want onions, just use the cucumbers. If you don’t like it as tart as I prefer, add a pinch or more of sugar. Use other herbs that you may have if you don’t feel like dill. Cilantro or even a small bit of fresh mint would do nicely. Combine pineapple bits with coconut or bananas; diced tomatoes with cucumbers; chickpeas and cumin with fresh cilantro are also nice. Raita is served with many Indian dishes because the yogurt tempers the spiciness of the hotter vindaloos and rogan joshes. They also serve any number of onion salads, which sometimes amount to nothing more than finely chopped onions rubbed with salt and minced cilantro. The trick to this dish is that you thoroughly mash the salt into the onions creating a juice that combines well with the cilantro. Tomatoes and cucumbers may be added to this as well. I love this Indian side dish, but I don’t like making it. The last time I made it, my hands smelled of onions for days. For this reason, I improvise and usually enjoy the raita instead.
In fact, the combinations are so mouth-watering and varied I am tempted to get out my Indian recipes just from writing this. I just spotted a basmati rice recipe that calls for saffron threads, cashews, finely chopped ginger root, whole cloves, hot green chilies, coriander (cilantro), shredded coconut and lime juice. MMMMMM…I love Indian dishes. And I love going from one cooking excursion to the next, as I seem to have done in this long post.
Happy eating to you all,
HANDY LIST OF ALL INGREDIENTS USED IN MY NO FUSS CHICKEN DINNER IF YOU ARE SO INCLINED TO TRY IT
FOR THE CHICKEN
6 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves (Mine were very big. If you have smaller ones, reduce the cooking time to 35 minutes or so. Still leave in the oven after turning off heat until ready to serve the dinner.)
Ground red pepper
Sesame seeds (about 1 – 2 Tablespoons)
FOR THE CURRY LEMON RICE
Cooked rice 4 to 5 cups to feed six and a toddler – If you have basmati rice, you will be in even better luck and not regret it.
Butter (approx. 3 Tablespoons)
2 lemons – all the juice and the zest of one
FOR THE CUCUMBER, ONIONS AND YOGURT
Bowl of thinly sliced cucumbers (I used 4)
1 med onion thinly sliced
Unsweetened, unflavored yogurt (about ½ to ¾ cup)
Garlic salt (again) or regular salt if you are not a fanatic
(Photos for this post are from istockphoto.com)