Aloha, mon! Or...something. Anyway, this meal was inspired by island life. Maybe it's because I just got back from the beach (check me out below, I'm the one on the surfboard), maybe it's my last-ditch effort to stop the inevitable creep of winter's chill, but for whatever reason, the spirit of the islands possessed me for this dinner. So turn on some Bob Marley, wear your flip-flops around the kitchen, and dig in.
Ross, one of my two esteemed judges this evening (and also my boyfriend), requested a dish with chicken, so I went from there. I knew I had some nice Japanese-style bread crumbs at home, and a bag of cashews in my purse (an airport impulse buy). I found some great pineapple, and the rest is culinary history.
WHY IT'S FEARLESS: Well, I basically know nothing about "island food," and every time I make a so-called cream sauce (like the one I tried to make here, with pineapple), it comes out differently. I had also only used cumin one other time.
THE KNOWLEDGE BASE: I knew how to make chicken crispy by breading it, and I knew I loved bok choy, so I just went with it!
Here's what I used:
3 chicken breasts
3 bell peppers (I got the orange/yellow/red 3-pack)
1 package baby bok choy
1 container diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup wine
2 bags boil-in-bag brown rice
Japanese style bread crumbs (I used Ian's brand, Italian-seasoned)
a couple tablespoons milk
a little olive oil
salt and pepper
a few dashes of crushed red pepper flakes
a few dashes ground cumin
a little chopped onion (I had some in the fridge, so I threw it in)
crushed cashews (totally optional, but then again so is everything)
Preheat the oven to 375. Boil some water in a large pot for the rice.
Crack the eggs on a plate and add a splash of milk; beat it together.
On a separate plate, pour some bread crumbs out.
Make a little assembly line, taking the chicken breasts (they have to be fresh, not frozen), and dredge (that means roll) the chicken in the egg mixture, coating it, then dredge it in the bread crumbs. Repeat that one more time. Set the chicken aside in a shallow baking dish. Repeat for the rest of the chicken. Place in the oven.
Put the rice in the water to boil.
Wash the bok choy, and trim off the tough ends. Chop it into 1-inch pieces. In a skillet over medium-high, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and add the bok choy. Add a little salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and a couple pinches cumin. Sautee for about 7-8 minutes, until it's no longer tough.
Rinse the peppers. Cut the tops off and remove the seeds and white-ish ribs from inside. Keep the pepper tops for later. If needed, cut a sliver off the bottom of the peppers so they sit evenly. Place in a small baking dish.
Remove rice from boiling water, drain, and discard water. Pour the rice into the pot, and add some salt, pepper, and another pinch of cumin. Add a pat of butter and let it begin to melt. Pour the cooked bok choy on top and stir to combine.
Chop the reserved pepper tops into small pieces. Chop a little (1/4 cup) of onion. In the same pan the bok choy was cooked in (not yet wiped out), add about a teaspoon of olive oil, and cook the peppers and onions about 5-6 minutes, until tender. Chop a little extra pineapple (about 1/2 cup) into very small pieces, and add to the rice mixture. Stir the peppers and onions into the rice and bok choy mixture.
Chop the pineapple chunks into smaller pieces. Chop the mint and cilantro. In a medium saucepan, combine chicken broth, wine, pineapple chunks, salt and pepper, another pinch cumin, mint, and cliantro. Boil until reduced by half.
Fill the empty peppers with the rice mixture, smushing down the rice and mounding it over the top of the peppers. Place them in the oven beside the chicken, to cook until the chicken is done.
When the pineapple-wine mixture has reduced, add about 1/2 a small container heavy cream, reducing the heat and stirring constantly. Bring it back up to a boil and let it cook for about 5 more minutes.
Remove chicken and peppers from oven, and let the chicken rest for 5-10 minutes (so the juices redistribute back into the meat - this really makes a difference). While the chicken is resting, turn the heat off of the pineapple sauce and let it cool for just a few minutes too. Crush the cashews (I used the bottom of a durable plastic cup and just left the nuts in their original bag). Place the chicken and stuffed peppers on a plate, and drizzle with the pineapple sauce. Top with remaining chopped mint and cilantro, and finish with a little of the chopped cashews.
Here's what my dear judges (Jess, my roommate, and Ross, my boyfriend [and roommate]) had to say, over that $2.99 Charles Shaw Chardonnay I mentioned in my recent wine posting (the one that won awards):
JESS: I love it. I love the mint. But I would add more pineapple to the rice-stuffing mixture. And the chicken-to-breading ratio is off - too much chicken.
Note: I somehow bought the world's largest chicken breasts - accidentally. I mean the chicken, when it was living, must've been about the size of a brontosaurus. I barely ate half of mine.
ROSS: Tastes good. But I want more cream sauce. Is there any more sauce?
Note: Ross loves sauce.
MY VOTE ON MY DISH: I thought it was pretty good. I'd say 7 out of 10 stars. Truthfully, I would've liked it with more salt (I love salt), but it's probably better that I didn't add more - gotta keep that sodium in check. It was light, healthy, and packed a lot of veggies, protein, and vitamins. I mentioned earlier that my cream sauces come out differently every time I cook them. This one was pretty liquidy - it had the consistency of Tom Ka Soup (that Thai coconut milk soup). When I poured it on the plate, it got almost immediately absorbed by the chicken breading and the rice, so next time, I'd make more of it and I'd make it thicker (which usually just entails starting with more liquid and cooking it longer). Also, next time I'd buy canned pineapple instead of (or in addition to) fresh, because I missed out on all the great pineapple juice that you get in the can, which would've added a great element of sweetness to the cream sauce (and also help with the reduction of all the ingredients).
TOTAL TIME TO MAKE: About an hour.
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: I'd say 2 out of 5 stars. Just the usual chopping, etc.
Notes: That chicken was a beast! Try not to buy chicken breasts as big as your head - they take forever to bake, and they're just generally pretty sketchy if you ask me. Mine were supposedly "all natural," but those breasts seemed about as all-natural as Pamela Anderson's. I was iffy on the mint - I'm not crazy about fresh mint, but I do think it was a nice bright flavor compliment to the other ingredients. As for the award-winning wine, it was pretty good. I'm actually not the biggest fan of Chardonnay (I really prefer red wine in general), but I enjoyed it. I mean, award-wine for three bucks??!!! You can't do better than that.
Overall, it was a great meal with my favorite people. The wine was nice, the company was entertaining, and the chicken - while gargantuan - was delish.
Thanks for reading! More soon.