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A visiting basketball coach inspired a new family favorite for Cristen Clark -- chicken and rice. (Cristen Clark, Special to Agweek)

Chicken and rice experiment provides a new go-to recipe

When fall is cold and damp, I tend to bust out the slow cooker far too early. Chili seems to strike on the meal plan at least twice a week and nearly everything has a baked potato under it because I bought far too many in planning for holiday meals.

The comfort food season is among us but has been here for a good long while already. Sometimes it takes a little nudge to get out of the routine and back into experimenting and introducing new foods to family and friends.

Recently, I had an intervention and was inspired to get out of my comfort zone in the kitchen when we hosted my daughter's basketball coach, Charles, for Thanksgiving in our home. He is originally from Florida, near the border of Georgia and familiar home cooking is something he misses about being with his family that lives there. I express my gratitude for people through the food I make for them, so I asked Charles if there was a dish that I could make for him when he joined our family for dinner. He said one of his favorite dishes that his grandmother and mother made for him was a dish that he simply called "chicken and rice."

Charles was kind enough to ask the cooks of his family for the recipe on my behalf. He passed a text message along with ingredients included. There were no amounts of the ingredients indicated, so I had to put my culinary chops to this test by filling in the blanks. I saw the basics of chicken thighs, rice, butter, bell pepper, celery and various seasonings. I enjoy being challenged in the kitchen, so I focused on each ingredient and purchased what I needed at the grocery store before digging in.

Some of the spices that I typically use in a rice dish versus what were called for were a challenge for me to find. I could not locate one spice blend in particular at any grocery store in town. I was on a time crunch and couldn't order any, so I looked up the included spices in 'Soul Food Seasoning' online. I tried my best to make a suitable version from scratch that included paprika, lemon pepper, mild chili pepper, garlic powder and onion powder.

The final dish was absolutely outstanding and completely comforting. My family loved it as much as Charles seemed to and it will now be a staple at our Thanksgiving meal. The richness of the chicken and the jasmine rice are enhanced by the unique-to-the-Midwest spices added to the dish. The tip that was passed along to cook the rice in the liquid used to boil the chicken made the dish even more flavorful. This simple dish with new, delicious flavors has now become a regular staple in our dinner rotation. It is reminiscent of the flavors of gumbo to me, and oh-so-inviting.

I encourage you to branch out this year and try new recipes or swap recipes with family and friends and make new foods that can join the recipe lineup in your home and for upcoming social gatherings. Recipes from family and friends usually carry a history, one that can be fun to discuss at the dinner table.

Chicken and Rice

Adapted from the Young Family in Florida by Cristen Clark

2 pounds chicken thighs, (I used boneless, skinless from the grocery meat counter)

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

6 tablespoons butter, divided

1 quart of chicken stock

2-3 cups water

1 green bell pepper, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

3 green onions, chopped, divided

2 cups quality jasmine rice

Clean and dry chicken. Combine seasonings and rub into chicken. Let stand 30 minutes. Preheat a pot to medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of butter. Sear seasoned chicken on each side for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Add one quart chicken stock to cover chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce pot to a simmer. Check chicken to see that it is cooked to 170 degrees. Remove chicken from pot and hot liquid from heat. Pull chicken into shreds. Return chicken to pot with remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, 2 cups of water, chopped celery, white and light green parts of green onions and jasmine rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until rice is tender and cooked through. Rice varieties vary, extra cooking liquid like chicken stock or broth, or water can be added to accommodate extra cooking time for rice. Serve warm. Garnish with dark green part of chopped green onion. Serves 6-8.

(*I use the amount of rice that the leftover cooking stock indicates, but the recipe is never big enough so I add a bit more water and increase the rice in the recipe to make a bigger helping.)