August 28, 2013

Herb Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Wilted Green Beans

There are few scenarios that rain on a home cook's parade like fixing dinner after an exhausting day of work. In my experience weeknight cooking has not been the hobby type of pull-every-gadget-out-and-labor-hours cooking but the I-just-got-home-and-everyone-is-hungry-NOW type of cooking. Oh, yeah. Been there, survived that.

With the back-to-school bustle underway, this herb stuffed chicken breast recipe is a great solution to quick weeknight cooking. I've only made it a handful of times, but it's so simple that I don't even use the recipe anymore. You can easily play around with different herbs and specialty goat cheeses. (I recently tried a peppadew variety on closeout at Kroger.) And if you're not up for experimenting, the recipe (click here for the original) will do just fine. 

Now, is this a first class dish? No, it's not. I would love to tout this picture perfect meal otherwise, but I've been let down by the hoity toity descriptions of too many recipes to likewise disappoint (ahem, deceive) other home cooks. What I can say is that it's a great standby. It feeds hungry tummies. It uses ingredients you may already have on hand. And it can be thrown together in about 30 minutes. Oh, and since it's from Cooking Light, it's around 300 calories per serving. 

Since the chicken bakes after you sear in all those yummy juices, you're left with about 20-25 minutes wait time. Just enough time to whip up a wilted green bean salad while you wait. The name may sound weird to you, but this is hands-down my new favorite vegetable side. It's so good that I considered giving it a separate post! Suffce to say it is simple and very tasty.

Here's a quick run down: lightly boiled green beans are tossed with bacon, shallots, cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. Oh, I almost forgot--you drizzle bacon grease on top. So. good. The recipe calls for scallions, which wouldn't hurt, but just look at those fried shallot bits!

Of course the great thing about chicken is that is goes with almost anything: wilted green bean salad; roasted asparagus tossed with butter, salt, and pepper; steamed broccoli garnished with chopped green onions and lemon zest; lightly salted spinach sautéed in olive oil. The greener you keep your side, the more vitamins and nutrients you feed to your work-worn body. No need for empty starches here!

Back to the chicken. The goat cheese stuffing lends a nice creaminess, which should help most picky eaters get past it not being a more ordinary cheese. I have to admit that I sometimes double cheese amounts when using a Cooking Light recipe. But I would discourage you from doing so here. The goat cheese is rich enough that you only need a little dab in each chicken breast. Otherwise, the tartness overwhelms the other flavors.

One thing picky eaters may not be able to overlook is the texture of rosemary. I recommend chopping it up as small as possible, whether fresh or dried, before mixing with the cheese. Or you can substitute your favorite herb mixture. As always, though, I suggest going the fresh route. Not only will the flavor be better, but the texture will also be softer and better able to meld with the melting cheese.

In 30 minutes, you've got a nutritious and filling dinner. Not bad for a weeknight!

Cooking Light's

Herb Stuffed Chicken Breasts

1/4 cup (2 ounces) goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 ounces Canadian bacon or smoked ham slices, divided in four
4 (6-ounce) boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Cooking spray

Preheat oven (or toaster oven if you find yourself in the oppressive summer heat) to 400°. Gather a cutting board, sharp knife, small mixing bowl, toothpicks, a baking tray, and a large skillet. Coat baking tray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In small mixing bowl mash goat cheese and rosemary together with your fingers. Divide mixture into four and press each mixture into flat little cheese rounds, probably no bigger than an inch squared. Fold ham slices in half and tuck flattened cheese rounds inside. Set aside.

Cut a horizontal slit through the fattest part of each chicken breast, taking care not to pierce through top, bottom or other sides. Open the chicken pocket with one hand and with the other nestle ham and cheese folds inside each chicken breast. You don't want your filling falling out while you sauté the chicken, so secure the pocket with a toothpick or two inserted on the diagonal. 

Coat a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium or medium-high heat. Add chicken, top side down, to pan and cook about 4 minutes. Add chicken, seared side up to baking tray and bake at 400° for 25 minutes. Let chicken rest 5-10 minutes before cutting. Serve as is or slice for pretty presentation. Don't forget to drizzle yummy juices left in the baking tray over each plate! Yield: 4 servings.

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