Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Too many apples . . . ?

It is the season of apples, that's for sure! We bought apples the other day because the Jongolds just looked too good not to get. Besides, we only had one Red Delicious left in the house. Then some friends gave us apples, and the children picked a few of the apples off our tree. So we had quite a few apples, but it wasn't overwhelming. Then our kids went on a field trip to an apple orchard, and each child got a whole bag of apples that they picked themselves. It was starting to get a bit crowded....

And then friends of ours who are moving asked if we wanted to clear off their trees as they weren't going to have time to before they left. Um... yeah, we do want free apples! So we picked two grocery bags FULL of even more apples. Now we have lots and lots of apples.

Lately I've been wondering what to DO with all these apples. After all, we're not going to "just eat" all of them. While I could make applesauce, it tends not to get eaten and also all my canning stuff is still packed Somewhere In A Box. Alright, what else can I do with apples?

I went online and looked up chicken and apples, because that's what I had a lot of for cooking with. I found a wonderful recipe which I tweaked and turned into the following delicious meal for our family.

Chicken, Apple and Onion with Rice

* 2 lbs chicken meat, cut in strips or medallions
* 2 large or 3 medium apples, sliced very thin (preferably in different colors)
* 1 large or 2 medium onions, halved and sliced
* 2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed
* 2 leeks, OR several green onions
* 2 medium carrots
* 2 cups thinly shredded cabbage (any type)
* about 1 cup of sweet red wine (I prefer Sangria myself), OR apple cider
* butter, olive oil, water, and spices as needed

In a large cast iron pan, drizzle a bit of olive oil and a pad of butter (if desired... we like the flavor it imparts to the onions) and allow to heat up but not brown. Add onions and saute until soft, then add apples. Continue to saute until they begin to cook and the pan begins to dry a bit. Add enough wine to moisten the pan (and more oil or butter if necessary) and cover with a loose fitting lid. Cook until the onions and apples are soft and translucent but not falling apart. Carefully spoon out the mixture and add to the bottom of a roasting pan or large dutch oven. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F while doing the next step. Take your chicken (I used medallions because we had chicken breast from a sale, but you could easily just stir fry this) and brown it lightly in the pan you just took your onions and apples out of. I cheated and used a bit of no-stick spray to keep them from crisping. The idea is not to cook the pieces through, but to brown them on both (all) sides to seal in the juice and flavor. Places the cooked pieces on top of the apples and onions in a single layer (if possible; we had to double up in spots). When all the chicken is done, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a bit of Hungarian paprika, pour the remainder of the wine or cider over it, then put into your pre-heated oven for about a half hour (this will be ready when your rice is ready).

Browned chicken on onions and apples.
After thoroughly rinsing your rice in a colander (this can take up to ten minutes!), let it drip dry for a moment while you heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan you just used for the chicken. Don't worry that there's a bit of chicken or onion in it - this only adds to the flavor! Add the rice and heat it well in the oil, stirring it constantly until it is evenly coated with the olive oil. Meanwhile, boil 4 cups of water in a saucepan with a tight lid, and then add the hot, oiled rice to the water and cook per the package instructions. If there are any grains of rice in the pan, wipe them out with a paper towel (but do not wash the pan!).

As your rice and chicken are cooking, you can prepare the rest of the meal. Thinly slice your green onions or leeks (I used leeks, pictured left) and yes, they go back into that same cast iron pan you've been using. Add a bit more oil or spray, and saute until the leeks begin to come apart, but before they get mushy. Using a peeler, peel off strips of fresh carrot, making little curlicues. These go into the pan with the leeks. The little inner core that you have left can be fed to children or munched on yourself, because you can never get that last piece to peel.

Add the cabbage and some hot water (about 2 tablespoons worth, but be prepared to add more as the pan deglazes under the veggies). At this point, any vegetable could be added to the mix: mushrooms, celery, squash, peas, corn... Your imagination is your only limitation. I happened to have carrots, leeks and savoy cabbage from our last run to the farm co-op, and so that's what I used. These should be sauteed until soft and perhaps a bit browned, but not mushy. Sprinkle with spices to taste. Again, I used salt, pepper and paprika, and nothing else.

When the rice is ready, mix the vegetables and the rice together well. Your chicken should also be ready, and can be scooped onto a large platter or into a bowl. The finished product should have a somewhat sweet flavor with a hint of salt to it. The rice will be savory, but because it was all cooked in the pan you started with, it should have a hint of the sweetness of the wine as well. We served this with a side of buttered kernel corn, which seemed to round it out well. It was successful enough that I was asked to make it again sometime, and I was also asked to make the apple and onion mixture as a stand-alone side dish! It turned out pretty, smelled heavenly, and the flavors were both delicate and delicious. This served three adults and two (very ravenous) children with one plate worth of leftovers (and lots of left over rice, but that's never a problem).