duh-NUH. duh-NUH. duh-NUH. [Insert classic Jaws theme music rising to a heart-stopping crescendo here....] PICKY EATER!!!
Don't look now, but it's the number one fear of the bravest of cooks: a picky guest. Jess' longtime friend Chris was in town on business, and of course we wanted to have him over for a home-cooked meal. Jess (by way of Chris' wife, her good friend Molly) warned me that back in Chris' college days, he ate exclusively hamburgers - no cheese. I was worried. This Fearless challenge could implode on me in an instant.
A few choice quotes from Chris:
"Cheese on my burgers? I might go there now, once in a while."
"I don't like salad. Lettuce in general kinda skeeves me out."
"I like chicken stuffed with stuff."
Well, that last quote was all I had to go on, so - with Jess' input - we came up with a suitable menu. Once we ran it by the Mrs. on the phone, Jess got all the groceries and we were as good as committed. Besides, according to Molly, married life has had a very positive effect on Chris' palate, since Molly has instituted an If-You-Don't-Like-It-Then-Make-Your-Own-Damn-Dinner policy.
FEARLSS FACTOR: 9. Downright terrifying.
I made Feta, Mushroom, and Sun-dried Tomato-Stuffed Chicken, with herbed olive Couscous and roasted garlicky Broccolini. It was a Mediterranean-inspired meal that might make even adventurous eaters a mite nervous, so I wasn't sure how it would all shake out. Read on to find out....
4 skinless, boneless, fresh (not frozen) chicken breasts
4 oz. feta cheese with Mediterranean spices
3 medium portobella mushrooms
1 jar julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
1 1/2 c. dry whole wheat couscous
1 1/2 c. chicken broth (for couscous)
6-7 pitted kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1 lb. broccolini
3 cloves garlic
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. chicken broth (for sauce)
dash cayenne pepper
1/4 c. honey
2 T. butter
Slice the chicken breasts in almost half lengthwise, but not all the way through. Lay them flat on a cutting board, cover them with Saran wrap or wax paper, and flatten them out with a meat tenderizer until they're thin enough to work with easily (about 1/2" thick in most places). Salt and pepper the inside.
Chop the mushrooms. Drain a little of the oil out of the sun-dried tomatoes, leaving enough to cook the tomatoes and mushrooms in. Add them to the pan with the mushrooms, adding a little salt and pepper, and saute them on medium heat for about 8-10 minutes. Then drain them on a paper towel to remove the excess oil.
Place about 1 oz. feta cheese on one half of each chicken breast. Top with some of the tomato-mushroom mixture. Flod the other half of the chicken over the top, lightly salt and pepper the outside, and place in a baking dish. Bake at 375 for about 25-30 minutes.
Trim the tough ends off the broccolini and place in a baking dish. In a saute pan, heat 2 T. olive oil and saute the garlic until it's fragrant. Then pour the olive-oil-garlic mixture over the broccolini and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Bake at 375 for about 15 minutes (you can just put it in there with the chicken).
In a saute pan over medium heat, toast the raw pine nuts for about 5 minutes, until they begin to brown. Chop the parsley and the olives. In another pot, cook the couscous according to the package directions, substituting chicken broth for the water. When all the liquid has been absorbed by the couscous, stir in the parsley, pine nuts, and olives.
In a saucepan over high heat, combine the balsamic vinegar, chicken broth, cayenne pepper, and honey, and reduce by 2/3. Stir in the butter and allow to cool and thicken for a few minutes before serving over the chicken. Enjoy!
Chris, the Picky Eater in the flesh, is in the middle in the photo below. As it turned out, he cleaned his plate, and had only good things to say about the meal! I was flattered and relieved. He was a delightful dinner guest.
Jess: I wasn't confident that this meal would turn out well. I mean any meal I helped come up with, you just never know. But it was really one of the best meals you've made in a long time. I thought the pine nuts were going to be a weak flavor addition to the couscous, but it was really good.
Chris: This was really good. I even liked the couscous, and Molly said I wouldn't eat it all! This was definitely good "chicken stuffed with stuff."
Ross: Mmmmmmmmmmm. Mmmmmmmmmmm.
MY VOTE ON MY DISH:
I give it 8 stars. Pretty tasty. The chicken was not overcooked, the flavors worked well, and while I thought the broccoli was a bit salty, overall everything was good. I thought for sure the sauce was going to be too sweet, but the sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes made it complementary.
I'm so glad everything turned out well! After dinner, we braved sub-zero temperatures to have a beer at the BOB (not just a cozy neighborhood fixture but a DESTINATION when friends are in town).
Thanks to Chris for being such a great guest! I'm glad you got to see Chicago in all its wintry glory.
Thanks for reading! more soon....