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I just realized I haven’t done much baking this week…fixing that in a bit, me thinks. I had the random idea for a cinnamon roll but with fresh blueberries in the filling that is itching at me to play with. The wetness of the blueberries was my hang up, all that wet will soak into the bread part and make it ookie, but my subconscience decided to tackle that one while I slept, apparently, because I woke up with what seems like a reasonable solution in mind. If they come out as I am seeing them in my head they are going to be some next level treats, if not I will post pictures of the train wreck for your enjoyment.

So, getting my head out of the flour canister & blueberry bushes, its Penguins Play Off time. For those who are’t in the loop this means that hockey is going to be on my TV pretty much all the time from now until the Stanley Cup Final Game 7 (if it gets that far) because I am a hockey nut. The very best team in the universe is clearly the Pens – I mean really how could they not be – but I’ll still watch all the other series; there are few things on this earth that grab me like hockey played at this level does. I love it and I love this time of year for it. Today is actually Game 3 of the series with Philly (vomit) and we lost the first 2 on home ice (more vomit); puck drops on their turf at 3pm today (hand wringing and cold shakes have already started) and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous (replacing all that I have vomited with ALL OF THE JUNK FOOD). It is a brutal time of year and I don’t even freaking play, being a fan is hard.

So how does my hockey/Penguins obsession effect you? Every other night more gut-wrenching hockey occurs prodding me to make dinner quick or at least in stages that can be prepared during inconsistently timed commercial breaks and finished during intermission. I know, first world problem, right? But if you substitute hockey for kids, homework, family, pets, twitter, Tiny Towers, telephone, Angry Birds or whatever else you find interrupting you during the dinner making process our problem is kind of the same – wanting to have a tasty & home cooked meal on the table and don’t have 3-6 hours to dedicate to making that happen – or Tuesday as some folks like to call it.

I call these Quickies, one because I’m 12 and that makes me giggle and two because thats exactly what they are. A lot of what I cook this time of year, for hockey and awesome weather related reasons, falls into this category.  An entire multi-billion dollar industry was born on the back of this concept – fast one-skillet meals – think Hamburger Helper, Tuna Helper, those Lipton Noodles & Sauce things, the frozen “meal packs”, boxed mac & cheese etc. I don’t limit myself to just one skillet, sometimes that just isn’t feasible, but I also don’t add a bunch of random and weird preservatives and crap to my food either, the end result of trying to shoehorn most of those dishes into being cooked all at the same time in the same pan in 3 easy steps. Believe me, I was fed more than my fair share of Hamburger Helper over the years, even now I get the random & odd craving for it, but nostalgia does not make for a healthy or yummy dinner, even if it tastes like childhood.

The concept is solid and one I can appreciate – but riddle me this – why are you spending so much money to buy economical “convenience food” that takes just as long to prepare as fresh food? It took me less than 40 minutes total to make this fried rice dish, about 30 of it actually doing stuff, it would have taken just as long to make cheeseburger macaroni. In most of those cases you are adding the fresh meats & vegetables yourself anyway so what are you buying? Powdered or gelatinous neon colored “cheese” mix? Some dehydrated vegetable pieces? Bottom of the barrel powdered chicken flavoring? The cheapest rice/pasta known to man? A foil pack of “mystery sauce”? Frozen vegetable? A pretty cardboard box or plastic bag? Tell ya what, take the money that you ordinarily would spend on these ever so helpful yet wasteful meal options and pick up some pantry staples and you can create the same convenient food in the same amount of time minus all the I-couldn’t-pronounce-it-if-I-wanted-to garbage AND you can cater the flavors to make your family happy.

Asian flavors are very well suited to Quickies, you can add flavors with huzzpah with minimal ingredients – the sauce for this is soy, ponzu & honey. They also pair so well with different proteins, vegetables and of course rice – healthy, light and quick. The core ingredients can be mixed up with whatever you have on hand, I used chicken breast, broccoli & cashews but this is also good with all vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, shrimp, steak…tweak it out and make it your own.

More important than you would think – the rice. I used Basmati. Basmati is an Indian long grain rice variety that is amazingly fragrant and flavorful, a personal favorite, I use it all over in place of boring white rice. Because it is a long grain rice it isn’t at all sticky, the grains tend to be kind of free and fluffy after they are cooked, so it lends itself amazingly well to things like quickie fried rice. Regular white rice needs work –  sautéed onion, bay leaf and stock – to give it any real depth of flavor to build off of, basmati does not. It very simply goes in a pot with water, salt & pepper and a dab of butter, is brought to a simmer, allowed to rest once the liquid is absorbed and fluffed – most challenging part is measuring the rice.  Jasmine rice, more or less the Thai version of basmati, is a bit stickier than basmati but also very good in this recipe and divine all by itself. For serious – the only thing that I use standard white rice for is the dogs; every now and again belly problems require that I have to chef for them, too, when I do its boiled chicken & boring rice. People shouldn’t eat boring rice…it’s, well, boring and there are many other options that are not boring. Go with not boring. 

This recipe makes enough for decent 4 servings; this isn’s one that I dig for leftovers, like most Chinese food it is never as good the next day as it is the day of. In all honesty the amount of stuff could easily take more rice if you wanted/needed to stretch it; make 1.5 cups of rice instead of 1, and do the sauce recipe x 1.5 so you it still tastes good. That would be enough for 6 people or 4 man portions. Ingredients are grouped by task, recipe written for total meal execution.

Chicken Broccoli & Cashew Fried Rice

  • 1 cup Basmati or Jasmine Rice
  • 1 3/4 cup Water
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Ponzu Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Honey
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
  • 1/2 medium Sweet or White Onion, julienned
  • 1-2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp Sesame Seeds
  • 1# (ish) Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast – I used 2 that were +/- 9oz each
  • 1 head Broccoli, cut into small florets
  • handful Roasted Cashews, mine were salted
  • 2 Tbsp Butter (yes, written twice on purpose)

Put the rice, water, butter, salt & pepper in a pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and lid. Cook until all the water is absorbed, about 12-15 mintes, turn off the heat and let it sit until you are ready to use it. You can fluff it if you want to, but it’s not necessary.

Mix the sauce up in a small bowl, let it hang out until later. Get all the veg cutting prep done. Cut the chicken into cubes or strips. My chicken breasts were large so I butterflied them and cut into a 1/4″ thick strips. By this time the rice should be cooked & also hanging out.

Everything can stop at this point and hold until you are ready to cook, even the rice. This dish is made over high heat quickly – once you have started it you are tied to the stove for about 15 minutes, give or take on either end.

Heat up a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the 1st butter and the sesame oil and let it get HOT. The butter should foam and there should be some sizzling going on. Add the onion and garlic. Keep it moving in the pan over high heat – you want to get the onion seared while maintaining some texture while the garlic cooks and most importantly to NOT burn neither. When the edges of the onion are starting to take on some color and the garlic smells sweet add the sesame seeds and saute until they start to take on a little bit of color, too.

Next into the pan is the chicken. Keep the heat high and toss it with the onions. Break it up with a wooden spoon so it starts to brown. Let it set for a minute before tossing it so the chicken can sear some, but you have to keep shit moving to keep the onions from getting too dark.

When the chicken is mostly cooked toss in the broccoli. Let it cook for 3-4 minutes, getting nice & green and starting to cook. Add the sauce, keep the heat cranked and toss it all together. The steam from the sauce finishes cooking the broccoli and the hot reduces it to coat all of the things.

Add the rice, cashews and last 2 Tbsp of butter, mix it all up with a spoon over high heat. Toss it all around for a few minutes, let the sauce get stuck to the rice, flavors marry and the rice crisp up some fried-rice-style. Serve with some soy sauce.

Start to finish just as quick as any meal from a box and oh so much better for you :)