I love when things go according to plan. Very rarely does this happen for me, it seems even rarer of late, but on occasion it does and it is like a gentle breeze that starts to blow at the moment just before beads of sweat start to appear on your brow. It is like exhaling at the end of a test you realized with confidence that you passed. This was my day yesterday. I literally took a day long test at work and passed. What a relief that was, just to get it over with, and I don’t have to worry about doing it again for another two years. Thank goodness. Whenever I have to do something like that, something that I must do but really don’t want to do, I build it up in my mind. It grows bigger and bigger until finally I am dealing with thoughts the size of a tidal wave. When the whole ordeal or event is over, I realized that it really wasn’t as bad as my mind had made it out to be, but for some reason I do it every time. It doesn’t help that I am a bit of a procrastinator and I believe I still have a little test anxiety left over from my school days.
Regardless of all that, after my test I needed to think about what to make for dinner. I was done with the test taking by 3 pm and had plenty of time to make something wonderful before Eric got home at 7 pm. It was nice to switch gears and muse about being creative in the kitchen. Despite having a plethora of cookbooks in my kitchen, I still have the occasional mental block when it comes to thinking of or deciding on something to make. I crave variety, it has to be delicious but also easy, like most women I don’t want to be slaving away in the kitchen. Eric had recently brought a larger than normal amount of chicken due to a recent sale and I had to come up with a way to use it up. Chicken is so versatile and is one of the reasons I love it so. We made pizzas for dinner last night and used chicken as one of the toppings on a base of tarragon garlic butter. It was Eric’s favorite.
Grilling four chicken breasts seasoned liberally with only salt I used one sliced up for the topping of my pizza. The other three I set aside. Since I had so much time I decided on making a second dinner that we could eat the next day. I had been thinking about creating a version of a rice dish that my friend Missy makes. I say version because it is not exactly like my dear friend’s delicious Puerto Rican rice. Many can probably relate to the story of Missy’s rice, a friend’s signature dish that is nearly impossible to duplicate. I have know Missy for most of my life. Her grandmother and my grandmother shared the same faith and lived in the same area. Growing up my mother, aunt, her mother and aunt were all friends. Naturally Missy and I were friends as we grew as well. We played in her backyard, dressed up like Madonna’s material girl dancing around her house to music videos, stayed up late watching scary movies and did a variety of other things typical of teenage girls. Food was lovingly prepared in their household and I also was fed to an extreme degree whenever I would visit. Her grandma would make the most delicious Puerto Rican rice. She would mound up a huge serving of rice, a meal in itself with bits of ham, olives, and pigeon peas. Each grain of rice separate from the next, slightly oily with a brownish red color from cooking oil infused with the color and flavors of achiote seeds. The plate of food also contained baked chicken, corn, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. “Eat, eat! You are too skinny,” she would insist. I am sure she would approve of my build now. The serving sizes of each element were always so much more then I could finish but I never left behind a grain of that rice!
Raised by her grandma or Nana as she was affectionately referred to, Missy carries on the family tradition of rice making. Her aunt and mother also make it but to me Missy’s tastes the closest to Nana’s. On one years vacation to the outer banks Missy’s aunt Lucy joined us. I made chicken enchiladas and Lucy made the rice to go along with it. My mom and I watched on eagerly. We watched closely and carefully as Lucy made the rice from memory. We were very excited to learn the secrets of making their family’s signature dish and paid constant attention to Lucy, asking questions and taking notes along the way. Even with all the note taking and eyes that stayed fixed on Lucy’s hands and what they were doing, something was evidently lost along the way. I tried to duplicate the recipe the next week but was unable to get the flavors and textures just right. Last night I attempted to make my own version. It has some of the same flavors of Missy’s rice but is different. I used Basmati Rice in my dish due to the great success I have had making it, thanks to a technique I learned from my Jerusalem cookbook. I used pancetta for the ham in the recipe, added grilled chopped chicken and a variety of spices. While I did use achiote seeds to flavor the cooking oil, I also added smoked sweet paprika from Spain, a premixed Sazon spice packet, and fresh tarragon that I happened to have in my fridge. It turned out to be a melting pot of rice. Inspiration from my friend, the memories of my childhood, combined with the flavors that I have grown to love as an adult, this pot of rice is going to be devoured tonight. By the time we eat dinner the flavors will have had 24 hours to further infuse and as a bonus each grain is already miraculously separate from the next. I love when things go according to plan.
- 1 tsp achiote seeds
- 3 tbsp sunflower oil
- 4 oz chopped pancetta
- ¼ cup tomato puree
- 2 fresh garlic cloves chopped
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 2-6 oz jars green olives drained
- 3 char-grilled chicken breasts
- 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
- 2 packets sazon spice blend
- ¼ cup chopped fresh tarragon
- 3 cups boiling water
- Add achiote seeds and sunflower oil to a small pan over very low heat. Heat for several minutes until achiote seeds have imparted their reddish color to the oil. Remove from heat, set aside for at least 10 minutes.
- After achiote oil is ready, remove seeds and add oil to dutch oven over medium heat. Add pancetta, garlic and tomato sauce and cook until pancetta has rendered some of its fat and starts to brown slightly.
- Add rice to pan and stir coating each grain of rice with oils.
- To rice add smoked paprika and sazon spice packet. Stir to evenly coat rice with spices.
- Coarsely chop olives from both jars and add to rice. Cook stirring frequently until rice is toasted and the bottom of the pan starts to be coated with caramelized bits about 10 minutes.
- Pour 3 cups boiling water over rice stirring quickly to remove browned bits from bottom of pan. Cover with tight fitting lid and place on smallest burner at low to lowest setting.
- Cook until rice has totally absorbed water about 15 minutes. Remove from heat leaving lid intact and allow to set undisturbed for 10 to 15 minutes more.
- Shred pre-grilled chicken breast.
- Add shredded chicken and fresh tarragon to rice stirring to combine. Serve.
- This may also be made ahead of time. Reheat in microwave or even better in iron skillet with a little achiote oil
Cooks Tip: In my Weeks Worth of Meals post, I changed a few of the ingredients in this dish so I could use the same things I had purchased for both this dish and my Taco Soup recipe. I omitted the chicken in this dish, used 1/4 cup stewed tomatoes instead of tomato puree, and substituted a mixture of fresh thyme and cilantro for the tarragon.