Chicken, Rice, and Beans- Cuban Style!

David is from Miami, and has been deprived of Chicken Kitchen and Pollo Tropical for many years. He loves those places. Me? Not so much. But when his cravings for rice and beans became too much to bear, we discovered the perfect solution. I like it too, especially because it takes ten minutes to cook.

A can of cuban-style black beans from Trader Joe’s is the trick to making a very fast and flavorful dinner. It’s a great base for this really simple recipe. First, dice some chicken breasts into bite-sized cubes. Two breasts were plenty for us. Then, brown them in a skillet with olive oil over medium heat, just until they get some color.

Once your breasts are nicely browned, pour in the whole can of black beans and some corn kernels and peas for extra sweetness and color (frozen is fine). To make the beans even more flavorful, add some ground cumin and cayenne pepper (spicy). Stir everything around, and lower the heat so the liquid simmers.

After about 8 minutes of simmering, your chicken should be fully cooked.  Cut a piece in half just to be sure! Serve your chicken and beans over rice, and top with fresh cilantro (if you have it). Ten-minute meal? Take that, Rachael Ray!

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Apple Chips: Easy, Crunchy, Healthy, and Surprisingly Filling!

I love snacks, especially crunchy ones. Because I snack so much, it was a hallelujah moment when I finally mastered the apple chip- a satisfying, healthy, one-ingredient treat. Not a single drop of oil ever touches these chips! I have also made pear chips before, and I’m sure you can apply this technique to other fruits and vegetables with similar textures (stay tuned for sweet potato chips coming later this week).

There are two pieces of equipment that are essential to making the perfect chip: a mandoline and a silicone baking mat. First, preheat your oven to 280ºF. Then, slice one apple using your mandoline. While you want your slices to have uniform thickness so they finish cooking at the same time, whatever thickness you choose affects your final chip. Thin slices make very crispy, fragile chips while thicker slices make much sturdier chips. You can also vary the direction you slice the apple in. I sliced my apple crosswise to create stars in the middle because I have nice memories of my grandmom cutting apples this way when I’d visit her house.

Then, lay your apple slices out on a silicone baking mat. The silicone baking mat is essential because nothing sticks to it and your apple slices will peel right off after they’ve cooled down. If you bake your apple slices on tin foil and don’t want to use oil to prevent them from sticking, then you have to peel the slices off as soon as they come out of the oven and set them to cool elsewhere. If the apple slices cool on the foil, then they will become too crisp to peel, and you’ll end up with very delicious crumbs.

Put your apple slices in the oven for approximately 30 or 40 minutes. As I always say, your nose should know when they’re done cooking because your kitchen will smell like caramel and applesauce. As soon as you start getting this smell, pull your apple slices out and test them for doneness. Because the slices won’t crisp up until they’re cool, you should peel one slice off and wave it around above your head. I’m not trying to make you look crazy, it’s the real way to tell (well, you can wave it at arm level if you want). If your chip still has some soft spots, put the tray back in the oven for a few more minutes.

While you’re waiting for your apple slices to cook, I encourage you to utilize/eat any extra slices. This slice found second life as a photo prop, and I had big plans to eat it when its work was done.

But happy-Stella got to it before I did. She liked the finished product too.

One not-so-great thing about these chips is that they don’t stay crisp for more than a few hours. You shouldn’t have trouble gobbling them up right away, but if you do happen to have leftovers, you can re-crisp them in the oven for a minute when you’re ready for round two.

While these chips are great on their own, they’re also good crumbled into salads or used as a decorative topper to a bowl of ice cream. If you’re willing to stray from the 1 ingredient glory of these chips, you can also add seasonings like cinnamon before baking. Happy snacking!

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Better than Restaurant Risotto

This risotto is so good that I expect to receive marriage proposals every time I make it. But that’s not the only reason why it’s such a staple around here. It’s also incredibly delicious and endlessly customizable. You can make it with just about any ingredients you have around, and it will come out superbly each time. I’ve never been satisfied with risottos from restaurants, but this one hits the spot. Even better, it makes a great next-day lunch if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers.

First, prepare the vegetables/chicken/seafood you want to add to the risotto. I steamed some asparagus, zucchini, and peas for this batch and warmed up some leftover chicken. Then, heat 1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock in a covered pot with herbs like thyme or rosemary. Once the stock starts simmering, turn the heat down low.

steamed veggies, so green!

Add 2 tbsp. of olive oil to a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Throw in a diced onion and minced garlic, and mix them around until they become translucent. Next, add 1 cup of arborio rice to the pot and mix it around to coat it with the oil. One cup of rice yields two very generous main-course servings of risotto. After it’s coated, pour in 1/4 cup of white wine and stir until the rice absorbs it. You can add beer instead of the wine for a different take on the risotto!

onion, garlic, rice, and white wine

Then, add 2 ladles of your heated stock to the pot of rice and continuously stir until the liquid is largely absorbed. All the stirring is a great arm workout, second only to the one you’ll get when you move your fork from the bowl to your mouth when it’s time to eat. Continue this process until all of your stock is used up. I’ve found that 1 quart of stock is the right amount of liquid to cook 1 cup of arborio rice to perfection. Your rice should be slightly loose and tender, neither mushy nor hard, when it’s done.

asparagus risotto from another batch

Turn off the heat and mix in the ingredients you prepared earlier along with 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and the zest of 1 lemon. You can also experiment with different zests to add flavor (you already know I’m a fan of parmesan, pepper, and lemon). Orange zest is particularly good if you used beer instead of wine before adding the stock! When plated, “Top Chef” says the risotto should spread. Using the ratios I provided here, you should attain the elusive spreading, but even if you don’t, your risotto will be the best you’ve ever had!  Well, at least it’s the best I’ve ever had.

I referred to these sources when perfecting my risotto recipe: Ina Garten and Whole Foods.

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