Panic carrots

Slow-Cooker Garlic Chicken with Couscous

Here I come to save the day!

Here I come to save the day!

I’ve already said I’m a food safety nut.  I’m also pretty into fire safety.  I don’t want to get into it because it’s sad and this is not the place for it, but there was a fire in my old neighborhood that killed some people in an apartment building and it stuck with me.  No, I don’t have an escape plan, but thank you so so so much for putting that into my head.  Guess what you’re doing tonight instead of watching TV, D?  I digress…  Because of this fear of fire, I’m nervous about leaving my slow cooker on all day.  (I can hear your eyes rolling.)  My slow cooker has a big warning in the manual about making sure the slow cooker is filled at least halfway.  I suppose they are trying to say that you shouldn’t put a single pork chop into the cooker, crank it to high, and leave it for several hours and expect it to work out.  My fear is that a less than half-full slow cooker would cook down, start to smolder, burst into flames that climb up the kitchen cabinets, reach the walls, and engulf the apartment and my kittens in smoke and fire.  All this was running through my head as I rushed to get the dinner into the slow cooker and out the door to go to work.  I didn’t leave myself enough time, so I was frantically carving the super cold bird and chucking pieces into the cooker, all the while gauging the crock for whether it had reached the magic halfway mark.  I finished loading the carrots and chicken and it was only (ominous music here) 1/3 full.  So I did what any sensible person would do, I panicked.  I grabbed a pound of carrots from the fridge, washed them and hacked them into long pieces.  I stuffed the carrots under the chicken pieces to raise the food up to the halfway mark.  Then I turned the cooker on and dashed out the door, 15 minutes late to work.

That moment of panic turned out to be doubly awesome.  First, the house didn’t burn down.  Second, those carrots were completely delicious.  I mean they were the best part of the entire dish.  I’m not just saying that to justify what I did.  The lack of a house fire was justification enough for me.  I mean that the onions, garlic, and rendered chicken fat all turned those carrots into sweet and savory little flavor bombs.  I highly recommend adding carrots to this recipe, even if you’re already at the halfway mark on your crock or if it never occurred to you to worry about such a thing, you foolhardy, devil-may-care, ne’er-do-well, you.

Actually, it was triply awesome.  Baby J loved those carrots.

Panic carrots: one. Fire: zero.

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Herbed Couscous

www.marthastewart.com/338178/chicken-breasts-stuffed-with-herbed-cous

September 2007, pg. 105

Ok folks, there are many types of things that I would recommend stuffing inside a chicken breast.  Asparagus with tomato, basil and fontina: Absolutely! Ham and Cheddar: Fabulous! Herbed Couscous: No thanks!

It’s not that it didn’t taste good.  Because honestly it was tasty, but it was such a pain to prepare and cook that it really wasn’t worth it.

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I served it with the Quick-Marinated Yellow Squash Salad. More to follow on that in a later post.

First of all, couscous is not easy to jam inside a small slit on a chicken breast.  I much prefer a stuffing method that more or less involves butterflying a chicken breast and then wrapping it around the fillings.  Shoving tiny little beads of pasta inside a meat pocket is not so convenient.

I don’t mind going out of my way to use intricate methods in my cooking if it actually improves the final product, but this just resulted in a caked together lump of couscous instead of the soft and fluffy type I love.

I also found the herb options a little dull for my tastes so instead I used diced prunes (That’s right! Don’t knock ’em until you’ve tried ’em!) and toasted almond slices.  That on its own was delicious and I think next to a nice sautéed chicken breast would have been lovely, but no, I had to stuff it inside.

Not only did I not like the outcome, the stuffing made it so much harder to judge when it was finished cooking.  I can usually tell with chicken by poking it (I cook a lot of chicken) but I resorted to the quick-read thermometer with this and it still somehow managed to be undercooked!

Needless to say, this is not a recipe I plan on making again.   Oh well, on to my next experiment: Marinated Bocconcini!

Zucchini fish dish

Steamed Flounder with Vegetable Couscous

Bachelor chow?  Not bad.

Bachelor chow? Not bad.

This recipe explains a lot about why I love(d) Everyday Food.  The issue B and I chose is one of the issues that went with my husband, D, during our brief academic separation.  Let me back up.  I went back to school in the fall of 2009 to get a master’s degree.  D stayed in Chicago while I went downstate because we thought it would only be a year and why uproot two lives.  So we had to divide up our stuff.  Lots of it went in my parents’ basement, lots into his parents’ basement, then the truly essential things were split between my new place and his new place.  Which brings me to Everyday Food.  Our collection of the magazine was split between us so that neither one of us would have to be without it.  I’ve been a subscriber since my mom transferred her subscription to me the fall that I started law school.  It was the fall right after I got married and the fall when I first moved to Chicago with that husband and got our cats.  This magazine is as old as my adulthood.  It taught me how to cook something besides macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, and 2-mustard chicken (a delectable dish involving…wait for it…two mustards).  So it’s important, ok?!?!

Because this recipe is from an issue that was in D’s custody during that year, he is the one with all of the experience cooking it.  In fact, he cooked it again this time.  I asked him for his thoughts about the recipe as someone who has made it so many times.  I asked him why he made it so often back in his semi-bachelor days.  He told me that it was a good choice because it is quick (that’s true, this dish really only takes maybe 15-20 minutes.  Not cookbook 15-20 minutes.  Real 15-20 minutes), and it gives you a lot of chunks of hands-off cooking time when you are free to unload the dishwasher, set the coffee for the next day, and clean up after yourself.  Plus, it is delicious.  He’s definitely right about that one.  It has a real Mediterranean flavor to it with the selection of vegetables, the couscous, and the oregano.  That makes it wonderfully light, but flavorful.  It is also nicely moist.  One does not think of things cooked in the microwave as being particularly moist, but this fish was perfect.  He also noted that this recipe uses pantry staples (dried oregano, olive oil, couscous) and things that store well for a long time (bell peppers, zucchini, and, if frozen, fish).  That makes it a good one for a semi-bachelor who doesn’t always have time to make it to the grocery store on a regular basis.

Another reason why D likes this recipe so much, he said, is because it does well with substitutions.  You’ll note that the recipe calls for flounder.  D always makes it with tilapia.  Why?  Because that’s what they sell in the big bags at Aldi.  You can also swap in other steaming-friendly vegetables without losing much.  I can imagine green beans in this dish.  This time around, D also substituted whole wheat Israeli couscous for the usual couscous.  This was completely delicious.  This did require one change to the cooking time.  You need to steam the veggie and couscous mixture for another minute if you’re using Israeli couscous.  That’s it!

A family classic worthy of becoming a staple long after we’ve reunited.