Friday, January 22, 2010

Balsamic Glazed Chicken and Vegetables & Herbed Couscous.. The Food So Nice They Named It Twice

On an off night where I was unprepared with a meal plan, I took stock of what I had in the fridge and pantry and whipped this number up. It just happens that I had found fresh basil in Dean & Deluca that day so it was an obvious decision I should do something Italian-ish and with balsamic vinegar.

1# Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast – cubed
1 lg Yellow Onion – diced
1 lg Bell Pepper (pref yellow or orange) – diced
3-4 Portobello caps – diced large
Olive Oil
Salt & White Pepper (TT)
2 T. Balsamic Vinegar Glaze
Small package of Feta Cheese – diced or crumbled
1 ½ c. Quick-cooking Couscous
Small bunch Basil – chiffonade (cut into thin thin ribbons)

In a screaming hot large saute pan, swirl some oil and saute onions & peppers for about 2 minutes until colored some. Then add mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes. Add 1 T balsamic glaze and toss to coat. Set aside in a non-reactive bowl and return pan to heat.
Season chicken with salt and pepper, add another swirl of oil to the pan and saute the chicken for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Add 1 T balsamic glaze, toss to coat and add vegetables to pan.

For couscous, bring an equal amount of salted water to a boil, add couscous and cover immediately. After 5 minutes all the liquid will be absorbed. Drizzle with some olive oil, fluff with a fork and toss in basil.

Pile couscous on a large serving plate, make a well in the center and top with glazed chicken and vegetables. Top everything with crumbled feta and serve immediately

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I went a bit overboard with the cheese, so it looks a little busy but my husband just loves the stuff!
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And I believe I already expressed my love for cilantro. I substituted it for basil the next time I made it and tried to make it a little neater but still failed going overboard with the cheese, lol
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About Couscous

Couscous is the very small pellet-like product of mixing together and rolling roughly two parts semolina with one part wheat flour. It's basically a tiny tiny pasta. The name is derived from the Arabic word “kuskus” which means “well rolled/rounded”. Indeed, couscous is consumed in many middle-eastern regions as well as in north Africa, near eastern countries such as Turkey and even in Spain, Italy and France. There is a larger [levantine] version (nearly 3 times larger) that is popular in Israel, but that version is toasted to give a nuttier flavor.

The product that most of us in western countries consume is a quick-cooking variety, in which the preparation is simply reconstitution. Traditionally couscous is cooked by method of steaming, usually over a pot of stew so that it can absorb the flavors of the dish it is to be served alongside.

Israeli Couscous
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It is wonderful with an array of vegetables, cheeses, meats and even fresh or dried fruits. Quick-cooking couscous is an exceptional pantry staple, ready to use on one of those hectic nights where your goal is to get dinner on the table quickly. It can even be eaten cold and/or as a salad. I can't help but love a product that is so versatile.

About Balsamic Vinegar

If you aren't yet acquainted with balsamic vinegar I hate to tell you but, you live under a rock. This delicious Italian condiment is basically the “wine” of vinegars. It has a truly unique process of production that it is kicked off by cooking and reducing white grapes (traditionally the “trebbiano” varietal) and is then left to ferment and age for at least 12 years – being passed through several casks of different size and wood type (ex: chestnut, cherry, oak, ash and even juniper).

The best balsamic vinegars are those aged for at least 25 years, and can go for as much as $400 for a 100ml bottle. However, the older the vinegar the less you need use.

True balsamic vinegar is produced in two regions of Italy – Modena and Reggio Emilia. This is very pertinent information when purchasing your vinegar. There is a product plainly called “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” that mimics traditional balsamic vinegar but is really just standard wine vinegar to which caramel color and thickeners have been added. So read your labels! Good vinegar is worth it!
Especially when you consider both the incomparable flavor AND health benefits. Yes, I said health benefits. Some of which are:
* aiding in digestion (AND nutrient absorption)
* combating diabetes and cancer
* source of antioxidants
* anti-bacterial & anti-viral properties.

You may find balsamic vinegars from Italy for cheaper than how I just described but they are most likely removed from the casks before the 12 year mark. Not to worry, even 8 year vinegars still pack a punch.
You can make your own balsamic glaze at home by simply reducing balsamic vinegar by at least ½ OR you can buy it bottled (which is what I used for this recipe – Casa Rinaldi Crema di Balsamico which is produced in Modena, Italy from what I suspect is vinegar aged less than 12 years considering the very reasonable price of $18 for a 500ml bottle).

Culinary Fundamentals pg 556 – Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts 2003