Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April 1: Chicken Chile Rellenos

I am struggling with...well, with everything, I guess. My job is really pretty awful lately. Our house search has stalled out. We have a couple of small vacations planned, but they are all a million miles away (with the exception of my best friend's baby shower later this month, which I am REALLY looking forward to.) I live with a not-quite-three-year-old tyrant who is challenging my notions of life with a three-year-old (I suspected it would be awful; I underestimated dangerously.) My husband is preparing to start graduate school and is facing some fairly substantial challenges at work this year. I am partially in a rut and partially bending under the weight of my daily life, and that, on top of not being pregnant, still...I'm having a tough time.

So, there's that; plus, I'm on a diet. That always sets me up for an excellent frame of mind. When my soul is feeling beaten up like it has been, I usually like to soothe it with food that gets my endorphines firing--chips and salsa and guacamole, chile rellenos, steak fajitas, spicy glazed pork tenderloin. Mostly, though, I've been able to resist this time around, since these aren't exactly the greatest thing for being on a diet.

In 1999, I had just broken up with a guy who I had been ass-over-teakettle for. I had a job I hated and housemates that annoyed me beyond all compare. I was living without internet access and I was drinking entirely too much too often in an effort to make me mind the rest of this a little less. One of the things I did about it was to invent this recipe in an effort to ease the pain.

I like to cut my own chicken cutlets rather than depend on what's in the grocery store. Take a boneless, skinless chicken breast half and place it on a cutting board. Put your hand on top of it to hold it in place. Take a sharp knife, hold it parallel to the counter, and slice through the chicken breast, more or less evenly. Then take each breast half, wrap it loosely in sturdy plastic wrap, and pound it to a more or less even thickness with a meat pounder, heavy can, or rolling pin.

Also, thin-sliced bacon works better in this recipe--it crisps up nicely and the chicken doesn't dry out while the bacon cooks. I would serve this sort of overly-decadent dish with garlicky white rice and some fresh fruit like mango or pineapple.

Chicken, bacon, cheese, peppers: all good for what ails me. Especially when what ails me is a monstrous case of the early-spring blahs.

Chicken Chile Rellenos

3 chicken breast halves, sliced horizontally into halves and lightly pounded
salt and pepper
4 oz. brick style cream cheese, softened
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 can chopped green chiles, or 3 roasted, peeled, and chopped poblano peppers
12 oz. shredded cheese: cheddar, pepper-jack, Monterey jack, brick, or queso quesadilla are all good choices, divided
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
6 slices bacon

Preheat oven to 375.

Lightly salt and pepper chicken breast halves on both sides. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, onion, chiles, 10 oz. shredded cheese, and bread crumbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

Put 1/6 of the cheese mixture on each of the chicken breasts across the widest part of the breast. Starting from the rounded "top" of the breast, roll up the chicken breast tightly around the cheese mixture.

Use a toothpick to anchor one end of a slice of bacon near the bottom of the chicken "roll." Wrap the bacon around the roll and anchor at the other end with another toothpick. Arrange the bacon-wrapped chicken breasts on a wire rack over a sheet pan.

Bake until bacon is browned and crispy and chicken is cooked through, 25-35 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes, serve.

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