Adventures in Cooking: Chicken and Creamy Rice

Some time ago, I was listening to NPR’s “Science Friday” podcast; the episode where Ira Flatow interviewed Jeff Potter, the author of Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food (available from Amazon here). After excessive amounts of hinting, my wonderful husband bought it for me, and I slowly worked my way through it. I’ve never thought that I was a very good cook, since most of what I make is either easy to the point of being simplistic or comes in a box, bag, or can. One skill I am quite proficient at is ordering takeout, and we’ve been doing quite a bit of that of late. At least, until the money started to run out. Summer is tough when you’re a college student, because although financial aid does help pay for living expenses, they don’t give you any during the summer break. Therefore, I’ve had to be a bit innovative, which is not something I undertake lightly when it comes to food. I’m fortunate that my husband is a trained chef who loves to experiment and will eat almost anything, but after a long night of cooking for everyone else, he’s been known to neglect cooking any dinner for himself. This is problematic for two reasons: 1. He is a diabetic and should therefore not skip meals, and 2. He takes his diabetes and cholesterol medicine with his last meal of the day (which means that if he skips dinner, he doesn’t take his meds). After several weeks of nagging him that a granola bar was not the full meal he was supposed to be eating, I “blew up” one night last week and said, “You know what? I’m sick of nagging you to take care of yourself. Therefore, I’m going to cook dinner for you, and you will eat it, and you will take your pills, and I will not listen to any arguments.” And that, as they say, was that; I’ve cooked dinner every evening since that night. Mostly, I’ve been just tossing cut-up pieces of veggie burger patties on top of noodles (I’m convinced that Robert would eat almost anything if you served it over a bed of noodles or rice), but tonight, I wanted to do something a bit more. Here is the recipe I started with:

Creamy Chicken and Rice – Oven 350°F

8 tbsp. (one stick) butter

1 c. regular (not instant) rice

1 can Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup (low sodium preferred) + 1 can water

Seasonings to taste (salt, pepper, and garlic powder recommended)

4 FROZEN boneless skinless chicken breasts or 6 FROZEN boneless skinless chicken tenderloins

  • Line 13X9″ baking pan with aluminum foil

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • While oven preheats, melt butter in pan

  • Whisk into melted butter all ingredients except chicken

  • Top with chicken; season chicken as desired

  • Top pan with foil and bake at 350°F 30-35 min.

  • Remove foil and bake 45-50 min. (total baking time should be about 75 min.)

I got this recipe from my mom; we ate this quite frequently while I was growing up; it’s tasty. And it seems simple enough, right? The only problem was that there was no regular rice in the house – all we had was a bag of organic brown Basmati rice that had not done well in the rice cooker we got as a wedding present (to be fair, that thing was not really designed for brown rice). So I had to substitute, but I know brown rice takes longer to cook. I also knew that chicken is obscenely easy to over-cook. So, after consulting with my resident chef, I decided to pre-cook everything except the chicken for forty-five minutes (with the foil on top) before adding the chicken. I also decided, on the spur of the moment, to add some chicken-flavored TVP that we had tried the night before (available here; we had a 1/2 c. sample bag). So I dumped the whole sample bag into the mix, and added additional water as per the website guidelines. The site recommends 1 part TVP to 1 part water by weight, so I got out my scale and figured out that I had 60 oz. of TVP, so I weighed out 60 oz. of water and dumped that in too.

It smelled really good while it was cooking, and it tasted pretty good too. It wasn’t quite perfect – the rice was a bit under-done, and the chicken a bit over-done. In true geek fashion, I’ve thought hard about what might have gone awry, and how I might modify the recipe to get a bit closer to what I had envisioned. Therefore, here is what I learned, and my plan for modifying the recipe for next time:
  1. The rice needed to cook a bit longer – two hours wasn’t quite enough. Next time, I think I’ll try cooking it two and a half hours. Also, because the dish was a bit “watery” when it first came out of the oven, I don’t think I need to add any additional water to compensate for the increased cooking time.
  2. The chicken cooked a bit too long and was pretty dry. Part of the problem is that the original recipe called for breasts, not tenderloins, and the breasts are bigger. I cooked the chicken for the full hour and 15 minutes of the original recipe, but I think I might try cooking tenderloins for only an hour, and then (because I’m terribly paranoid about under-cooked meat) make sure I take the chicken’s temperature, to make sure it’s cooked through.

I also have a separate plan to make the recipe in a slightly different way, by eliminating the chicken altogether and adding more TVP. The Cream of Chicken soup has a few little chicken pieces that somehow manage not to get dried out in the oven, and they’ve always been one of my favorite parts of the dish. A few years ago, I asked my mom what she thought about cubing the chicken before adding it to the dish, and then you’d get something that was really mostly rice (which is all of my family’s favorite part anyway). She said I’d have to be super-careful not to overcook the chicken (and I’m certainly seeing the truth of that!). However, the TVP didn’t over-cook, despite the fact that it was in the oven for the full length of time. So I also want to try the recipe with about 2 c. of TVP and then skip the chicken, and see how that turns out (as a plus, TVP is a lot cheaper even than frozen chicken, and every dollar counts right now).

To me, cooking is a really inexact science. I know that’s not really true; it’s actually a very exact science, but you have to account for an inordinately large set of variables, such as air temperature and pressure, humidity, and all sorts of little fiddly things like that (many of which I have no control over and no way to measure). Not to mention the fact that I live in a small apartment with a “skinny” stove that has hot spots, cold spots, and calibration issues (although the calibration issues are much better since my dad came to visit and helped me adjust it, and I also have an oven thermometer). So it’s really difficult for me to get consistent results, but I’m going to keep trying. As much as I might prefer to give up, I know that both my husband and myself need to continue to eat regularly, so therefore, I need to keep trying.

2 Comments

Filed under Cooking and Eating, Personal, Testing Hypotheses

2 Responses to Adventures in Cooking: Chicken and Creamy Rice

  1. Rob

    Tis true, cooking is really an exact science. Most especially with terms of baking and such. One thing I learned to help with dry chicken is to marinate it. A lot of times what it does is incorporates the flavor and depending what is in the marinade, can actually start to chemically cook the meat. I don’t know either if it’s true or not , but I feel like the marinade creates a nice barrier to keep it from drying it out too quickly. Anyway, I think you do just fine and I appreciate you very much.

    • CelticGoddess1326

      Is there a way to marinate frozen chicken? I’m thinking you’d have to marinate it first, and THEN freeze it, or something.

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