Saturday, November 11, 2006

Tonight's Experiment in (Cooking) Terror

A couple of weeks ago, I brought some meals home from work (shout out to the employee discount!). I figure I should practice what I preach at the shop, i.e., that it's a Good Thing (ha!) to have some backup meals on hand in the freezer for those "too busy to cook days." Honestly, the food at SS is not bad...some of it looks kind o' unappetizing in the preparation, but then we cook it up for staff lunch one day, and I'm amazed at how tasty it is. (It also could be that we're really hungry from running our fannies off, but let's just keep the other fantasy going, shall we?)

Besides, the food at SS is not supposed to be gourmet by any stretch. According to the franchise founder's philosophy, she's just trying to get busy people and their families back to the dinner table without a lot of fuss and muss. So, that means quick to assemble and quick to cook 2-day sauce preparations for these folks!

Another plus to the assemble-it-yourself meals is that it helps with portion control. How many times have I (and probably you too) made something that should be 4 servings, and the two of us polish it off in one sitting? (Not talking about dessert--that doesn't count!) Granted, we're both on odd schedules and probably didn't have either breakfast or lunch and are making it up at dinner, but still...not good for the ol' waistline. With the planned meals, you get either 3 or 6 portions of meat, depending on whether or not it's a half or full meal (which feeds 4-6), and the meat is usually 4-6 ounces, which is some recommended guideline, et cetera, et cetera. We actually had a customer who told us that she had been losing weight and was attributing some of it to the portion control that she got by making her meals with us. I'm all for whatever works.

We had one of the meals, Baked Chicken with Cornbread-Cranberry Dressing, from last month's menu, and it was pretty good. So, I'm trying to re-create it this evening. How hard could it be? It's basically an herbed cornbread dressing/stuffing mix with a little melted butter, chicken broth, diced celery and onions, some Craisins, and seasonings. You mix that all together and place the mixture in a rectangular Pyrex pan and put 2-3 chicken breasts on top. Cover with some foil and toss in a pre-heated 375-degree F oven and bake for 35-45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Viola! dinner!

Weeeellll, it's not quite working out like that. First, I think my chicken is way bigger than what we use at work, so I think it's taking longer to cook. I did pound it out to help it cook evenly (and work out some frustrations over the lack of a real job/real income), and I usually do that for all my chicken dishes. Plus, I got a new mallet from IKEA, and you know I have to use it whenever possible. It's been in the oven forever now, and it doesn't seem to be cooking correctly. However, I must confess that I thought it didn't take quite as long to cook as it really does...helps when you go back and read the actual cooking directions for the actual original dish. Thunk...head meets table.

And, I live in fear of overcooking the chicken now, because I seem to do it every time I have to cook it for a practical. So, I'm getting a little obsessive about it. It's finally the exact amount of time that the SS recipe called for, and it's looking pretty good. I don't think it was as flavorful as the original one, but I think it's because of the stuffing mix. I may have to experiment with another brand--I used Pepperidge Farms, and the one we use at work is an Uncle Ben's, which I couldn't find at the grocery store.

Here's the recipe in case you are interested...

Baked Chicken with Cornbread-Cranberry Dressing (approximately 3 servings)

2 1/2 cups dry herbed cornbread stuffing mix (get a "good" brand--no @$%!#$^! Stovetop!)
1/2 cup diced fresh celery
1/2 cup diced fresh onions
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoons dried sage (rubbed or leaves, not ground)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup melted butter for dressing mix (optional)
1 cups chicken broth or more to make a moist mixture
2-3 boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoons butter for brushing on chicken (optional)
1 teaspoons seasoned salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

1. Mix together the stuffing mix, celery, onions, dried cranberries, sage, pepper, the 1/4 cup of melted butter, and the chicken broth. The mixture should be moist, and you may need to add just a little more chicken broth.

2. Spray an 11x7 Pyrex-type baking dish with cooking spray, and spread the stuffing on the bottom.

3. Pound out the chicken breasts so they will cook more evenly. I cut mine in half because they were so big. Place chicken breasts on top of stuffing mixture and brush with melted butter and sprinkle a little seasoned salt on top.

4. Cover pan with foil and bake covered for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10-15 minutes more, or until the center of the stuffing mix reads 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer (get one--you need one!). Cooking times may vary, because of differences in ovens.

You could serve it with a salad and some cranberry sauce on the side, but we just ate chicken and those one pot meals, even if they aren't really. Haute cuisine it is not, but it ain't bad. And the best thing, is you can freeze this. If you need to freeze it, just cover it tightly with foil and pop it in the freezer after you assemble it. Then, thaw it out completely (or you'll have to add another 20 minutes cooking time!) and proceed with Step 4.

And, I meant to take a picture of it, but I forgot until after we ate it. So, let's look at a picture of my new mallet instead. It's a fine little kitchen weapon, I mean implement, don't you think? Nice heft and easy to grip. And, it has a name: Koncis, which I prefer to pronounce "konk-kiss," as in "conk" you on the head and "kiss" it to make it feel better. (It's late or rather early, since I have insomnia, so you'll just have to put up with my ravings.) I also have the tasty little garlic press as well, which has a removable cup thingy for easy cleaning.
And, it was only $4.99! The meat mallet was $6.99. IKEA rulez!

(Although, technically, I don't use the garlic press as much, because since I'm a culinary student, I'm supposed to mince my own garlic, blah, blah, blah, but it still comes in handy for large amounts and where I need some garlicky juice. And, who am I turn away a kitchen gadget?)


Linna said...

Thanks for the chicken recipe! I've been looking for something new to make for dinner. And this is a good time of year to look for stuffing mixes at the store. I always use the Pepperidge Farm Herb stuffing mix for Turkeyday, but I flavor it with a lot of sausage (and sausage grease!) so I don't notice any limitations it might have.

We all think about money more at this time of year. Christmas desires always out-run cash flow. *Sigh* The real problem with food service jobs is that they pay squat. I think that's because so many women and minorities are willing to do them (you can start as a dishwasher and get on-the-job training). This whole Celebrity Chef craze disguises the really steep pyramid with just a few guys (and a couple of gals) at the top making all the big bucks.

Personally, I'm happy to go to the office every day. I would cut myself with all those sharp-sharp knives. Garlic press is definitely the way to go.

But it sounds like you get a lot of good social interaction at SS. (You need a Superman logo with two S's in it!) And it's physical exercise, unlike sitting in a cube. So there are positive/negative tradeoffs.

I've started baking Christmas cookies. I made Lemon White Chocolate Chip cookies (which need lots of chopped candied lemon peel), Espresso Chocolate cookies, and butter cookies from a cookie press with a thumb-print of apricot filling. Three down and a zillion to go! I cannot find cinnamon chips anywhere. I guess they are "out." I finally ordered them from the (King Arthur Flour). God bless the Internet!

Linna said...

P.S. I also made some gingerbread cut-out cookies (recipe from the King Arthur Flour catalog) which were TERRIBLE. Even chilled over night they were difficult to work with. The dough stuck to everything -- I rolled it between sheets of parchment paper. The dough had a nice taste (of course), but the cookies were kind of crunchy in a wooden sort of way. Joseph ate one and then ignored the container left on the counter.

Now I remember why I never make cookie-cutter cookies.