Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stuffed chicken breasts - Saturday night restaurant food at home

I was very, very pleased with tonight's dinner, a fact made even more notable because this meal wasn't in my original plan for this week. My family and friends will know that every weekend, I plan out the coming week's dinners and then we grocery shop accordingly. Last night's scheduled meal was homemade panko-breaded chicken fingers and sweet potato oven fries. Sounds awesome, right? Yes indeed - and labour-intensive, too. Both Chris and I spent most of the week fighting some sort of bug that had us napping every day when I got home from work just to make it through the evening. So when Chris picked me up from work yesterday afternoon, his suggestion that we perhaps go out for dinner, rather than cooking, was music to my weary ears. We mulled it over and eventually opted for Nokham Thai on Richmond Road, which I've written about before, where we ate fish cakes and Pad Thai and red curry duck and mango ice cream, and all was well.

The chicken breasts languishing in the fridge, meanwhile, needed to be eaten in short order. But today, I didn't feel like chicken fingers and fries. Today I felt like something a bit more elegant, and, more importantly, something that involved cheese. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but we like cheese in this house. Fortunately, in my recipe-surfing I recently came across something that was unaffectedly dubbed Chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes that sounded perfect for a Saturday night. I made a few changes on the fly, because I was cutting my chicken breasts off the bone and it ended up being easier to remove the fillets and pound out the chicken to even thickness, then spread the stuffing on it and roll it up, rather than cutting a pocket in the chicken as the recipe called for. I find that method unreliable at best, anyway, based on past experience - the filling tends to leak out, and it just doesn't provide for a good stuffing-to-meat ratio. So pound I did (so good for stress relief!) and I even got to use my Food Loops, a remarkable little invention that I found in my christmas stocking a couple of years ago and had yet to use. They came in very handy tonight, and now that they've proven their worth, I'll be using them again soon, methinks.

I played with the stuffing recipe a bit, too, subbing the white and light green parts of three green onions for the shallots, and adding the balsamic as I sauteed them in the pan. I mixed them up with the tomatoes and cheese, then rolled up the chicken bundles and seared them on all sides on the stovetop before removing the pan to a preheated 400-degree oven for 22 minutes, turning the chicken once. Once they were done and plated, I quickly reduced 1/4 cup of balsamic in the pan, deglazing as I went, instead of making the more formal sauce. A side of whole wheat couscous was the perfect foil for this. (Fear not, vegetable hounds: we each had a big bowl of homemade vegetable soup beforehand, but steamed or sauteed veggies would go beautifully with this.)

The look of the rolls was gorgeous, and the taste even more so. This was something I'd order in a restaurant and feel good paying for. The sweet and tart elements were perfectly in balance, and the chicken impeccably cooked, neither dry nor pink but juicy and tender. Not to blow my own horn, but this rocked, and it wasn't that hard or that time-consuming. I started at 5;35 p.m. and we sat down to eat it at 6:15. That included cutting the chicken off the bone and chopping everything for the stuffing. Such a big payoff for so little effort - that's what makes this dish a keeper. Long live Saturday nights.

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