Dad’s Chicken Chimichangas

Chicken Chimi

As usual, I spent my Christmas in New Hampshire in the house I grew up in — with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, brother and sister-in-law — all of us packed into my parents’ house, with one shower. You can imagine the engineering project that is coordinating bathroom time! But it was a wonderful week full of family time and lots of eating, drinking and playing lots and lots of games. My family is big on games — including the somewhat obscure card game called whist, that you’ve probably never heard of but we play ad nauseum when we’re together. That and Outburst, Password, cribbage, Yahtzee, Trivial Pursuit…you name it.

Since my siblings and I all live elsewhere, my parents like to cook us all of our favorite meals when we converge back at Casa Whittemore. One of those is always my dad’s chicken chimichangas. He started cooking them with his guitar-playing friend Arthur back when I was growing up and they got together for jam sessions, and they’ve always been a stand-by. While traditional chimichangas are deep-fried, these are pan-fried, so you still get the crispy tortilla without so much fat. They’re spicy and full of cumin flavor, with melty cheese and crunch from the lettuce — I could eat them for every meal! I still don’t think mine are ever as good as my dad’s, but I make a valiant effort.

Chimi 2

TW’s Tips

  • Try adding in a can of black beans when the chicken is finishing up cooking, and heat through
  • I’m not a big fan of iceberg lettuce, but it’s perfect here since it’s so crunchy and crisp
  • Get two frying pans going to toast up the chimichangas if you have a bigger group partaking
  • If you have spice-sensitive people to feed, scale back the spices a bit and have a hot sauce like Chalula on hand for the spice-lovers
  • Warning — the spice measurements here are approximate. My dad never measures. I did about a tablespoon of cumin and chili powder, and 1/2 tablespoon cayenne, and it was still pretty mild (for me). Next time I’ll go more aggressive with my spice.

Dad’s Chicken Chimichangas

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 green pepper, sliced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (fresh or jarred)
  • Cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Curry powder
  • Ground cayenne pepper
  • Large flour tortillas
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack or Mexican blend recommended)
  • Lettuce
  • Salsa, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce

Directions

In a deep skillet over medium heat, add olive oil (about three times around the pan) and heat. Add about a teaspoon of each spice (cumin, chili powder, cayenne, curry) and toast for a minute or two. Add the sliced onion and peppers and a splash of juice from the jarred peppers if that’s what you’re using, or a splash of beer. Cook for a few minutes. Season the chicken with chili powder and salt and pepper. Add to the pan and saute to cook through. Add some more spices along the way, concentrating on the cumin and cayenne, to taste.

When the chicken is cooked through, turn the pan down to low and heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and a dash of cumin to the skillet. Warm a tortilla in the microwave for 15 seconds and pile the chicken filling in the middle. Add shredded cheese and wrap up like a burrito. Add the wrapped tortilla to the skillet with the loose edge of the tortilla side down so it doesn’t unwrap. Brown on all sides in the hot skillet (it will cook fairly quickly). Serve with shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.

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Mustard-Roasted Fish, Orange Pecan Wild Rice and Roasted Carrots

This meal was a HUGE winner in my book. I was looking for a fairly easy fish recipe, and found this one from Barefoot Contessa: Mustard-Roasted Fish. I loved that you cook it in the oven (no fishy house smell), and I’m a big fan of mustard, capers and Barefoot Contessa so I went for it.

Now, cooking fish can be scary — it’s so easy to overcook and turn the fish into a tough, chewy disaster. But don’t let that deter you. This is super easy, and when you’re cooking in the oven it’s easy to test the fish a few times to make sure you’re not overcooking it.

So…about this fish. Basically…it was absolutely delicious. It was so moist it practically melted in my mouth, and the sauce on top, made up of creme fraiche, two types of mustard for a great tang, shallots and salty capers, was perfect — creamy yet light, and with such a great mustard flavor. I’m in love with it. I’ll be making this again. Maybe next week. Seriously.

I paired the fish with a fancy wild rice, also by Barefoot Contessa, that incorporates grapes, scallions, orange zest and pecans for some nutty crunch. I’m not a big rice fan — I tend to find it boring unless it’s soaking up some delicious curry sauce — but now that it has been a part of my two latest posts (check out the mango-basmati rice salad in my last post) I realize you may not believe me! Let’s suffice to say that this rice has enough going on to make it interesting. In fact, when my friend Kim and I were eating this, I commented that I could eat the rice on its own for a meal — it was that good.

And then the carrots. I’m a big advocate for roasted vegetables. It adds such a nutty, delicious flavor to the vegetables while keeping a good firmness (no mushy veggies here). They caramelize under the high heat, adding a little sweetness…yum. I didn’t have any parsley or dill (I thought I did, but then I didn’t…bummer) so I used tarragon — not the best replacement, and I would definitely go for dill next time around.

TW’s Tips

  • I was cooking for two, so I cut the recipe in half; even then I still had a couple of meals of leftovers. I also cut the carrot recipe in half, and probably should have done the same with the rice!
  • I used tilapia for my fish — any white fish works. Mine also didn’t have the skin — worked just fine.
  • Buy your wild rice from the bulk section at the grocery store — I got the “mixed” type.
  • Creme fraiche can be hard to find but it’s worth seeking out — Whole Foods reliably carries it (look by the sour cream and/or milk) — nothing quite matches its flavor
Make this! You’ll thank me!
Mustard-Roasted Fish
Ingredients
  • 4 (8-ounce) fish fillets such as red snapper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces creme fraiche
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons drained capers

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. (You can also use an ovenproof baking dish.) Place the fish fillets skin side down on the sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Combine the creme fraiche, 2 mustards, shallots, capers, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Spoon the sauce evenly over the fish fillets, making sure the fish is completely covered. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until it’s barely done. (The fish will flake easily at the thickest part when it’s done.) Be sure not to overcook it! Serve hot or at room temperature with the sauce from the pan spooned over the top.

Orange Pecan Wild Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup seedless green grapes, halved
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced in rounds, white and light green parts (2 scallions)
  • 1 cup pecan halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Place the rice, chicken stock, 1 1/4 cups water, 1 tablespoon butter, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.┬áCover the pot and lower the heat to simmer (pull the pan halfway off the burner if you need to) and cook for about 1 hour, until the rice is tender and the grains begin to burst open. Stir the rice occasionally while it’s cooking, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent it from sticking. Turn off the heat, and allow the rice to steam for about 5 minutes.

Stir the remaining tablespoon of butter into the rice, then add the grapes, scallions, pecans, orange zest, orange juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper and toss well. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.

Roasted Carrots

Ingredients

  • 12 carrots
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill or parsley

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

If the carrots are thick, cut them in half lengthwise; if not, leave whole. Slice the carrots diagonally in 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. (The carrots will shrink while cooking so make the slices big.) Toss them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer to a sheet pan in 1 layer and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, until browned and tender.

Toss the carrots with minced dill or parsley, season to taste, and serve.