18 February 2010


I learned the rudiments of cooking at a pretty young age: by the time I was 12, I was frequently in charge of making dinner because my mother worked nights. So cooking was a trial by fire, sometimes literally.

(The burn scars tell some of the story. I also learned that if you break an egg into a quantity of really hot oil, the egg explodes magnificently.)

I worked in a restaurant for a couple of years in high school, which also helped me to learn a good deal about food prep, as well as the joys of locking people in the walk-in refrigerator, and sneaking pizzas to the other kitchen help.

By the time I was in college, I was sufficiently well versed in feeding large numbers of people that I was signed on to cook Monday night dinners for my sorority. It was actually fun and not a bad way to learn the virtues of budgeting and cooking for a lot of people with little money.

The sure sign that I actually liked the man I was dating at any given time was that I'd cook him dinner. Some had specific likes--one hoped I could pull off a nice curry--while some just couldn't believe that I would cook.

One of the dishes I made pretty frequently was one I'd actually found on the back of a Campbell's soup can: Chicken and rice cooked in mushroom soup. Today, it sounds fairly revolting to me, but 20 years ago, it was fast, it was pretty inexpensive, the presentation was attractive, and it tasted pretty good.

But even if I fell out of love with canned cream of mushroom soup--mainly because I learned to make my own, which was so insanely good that there was no going back to the can--I recognized that the basics of that chicken and rice recipe were sound, and I adapted it to suit my current lifestyle. And it still tastes pretty good.

Chicken and Rice with Mushrooms

1 Tbl. olive oil
1 c. red onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each breast cut in half if they're large
2-1/4 c. of low-sodium chicken broth or mushroom broth
1-1/2 tsp. of dried thyme, crumbled
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon, crumbled
1-1/2 c. long-grain rice
Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet with a lid. Saute onions and garlic over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add sliced mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms have released their liquid, 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and push the vegetables to the center of the skillet. Place chicken breasts in hot skillet around the edge and brown on both sides. Add broth, thyme, rosemary and tarragon, and bring to a boil, distributing herbs and onion-mushroom mixture throughout. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. Add rice, and stir gently to distribute throughout the pan. Return to boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the broth has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves six.

Go listen to some good music: "Lazy" from the album Earth, Sun, Moon by Love and Rockets. I was comparatively lazy. I'd originally planned to make that chicken into chicken curry, but could not face that and pulao rice and spiced green beans.

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