Pecan-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Sweet Potato and Arugula Risotto

Invited my sister and her family over for dinner on Sunday night and wanted something good-enough-for-company but easy-enough-for-family, if you know what I mean. A meal that made them feel a little bit special but that didn't involve me standing in the kitchen for the entire afternoon. I owed her bigtime thanks for the past few weeks anyway since my kids regularly found themselves on her doorstep in one way or another, looking for "auntly assistance"--be it an early-morning mango-strawberry smoothie for which she is famous, or to pick up an extra key after locking themselves out of the house (although nobody would responsibility on how this possibly could have happened but managed to cumulatively text me about 100 times to pass the blame in the midst of our late-season snow storm) or my eldest calling her for a ride, sympathy and maybe even dinner too after he passed out on the gurney while donating blood last week. One way or the other, Aunt Karen always manages to come to the rescue. Lucky for me.

So I flipped through the LCBO website (totally love their recipes and have never been disappointed in any of them) and went back to this old favourite, which I promise we haven't had for the past few months and which I knew their family would love and appreciate.

The recipe calls for pistachios and if you have them handy, they make for a very pretty presentation since their green tinge is a nice fresh balance of colour mingled with all the browns and taupes of the other nuts. Unfortunately, however, I didn't have any on hand and was, frankly, too lazy to make a special trip to the Bulk Barn to get some, so I made do with a combination of toasted pecans and almonds instead. Totally delicious but the aesthetics were slightly lacking in comparison to how attractive it could have been. But this was just (special) family, after all, so no big stress. A quick dip of the chicken breasts into a bowl of Dijon mixed with wine vinegar, coat with the nuts and them brown them in a skillet, and you're almost done. Slip into the oven to cook all the way through while you prepare the mustard-cream sauce in the meantime.

The risotto takes a bit more time, effort and stirring, but is easy enough to do by chatting with your guests in the kitchen or giving them a big spoon and delegate the stirring to them. I prepared it to the halfway point before they arrived and then gave it some last-minute attention and reheating as the chicken finished cooking.

Made some Oreo cheesecake bars for dessert... mainly for the kids (yeah, right). This was a baked cheesecake recipe, although my preference is usually for a refrigerated, non-cooked version, which is a bit lighter (in flavour, that is... no guarantees on calories or fat content). Overall, a nice meal to sit down to and reconnect with family over after a long few weeks.

adapted from LCBO

Serves 4

four 6 oz (175 g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup chopped almonds

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1/3 cup chopped pistachios

¼ cup chopped parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

3 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

Mustard-Cream Sauce

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tbsp chopped shallots

1 cup whipping cream

1 tbsp grainy mustard

1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gently toast the nuts and then combine them with parsley, thyme, salt and pepper on a plate. Mix mustard and vinegar together in a bowl and brush one side of chicken with mustard mixture. Set chicken, mustard-side down, into nut mixture. Pat chicken to coat evenly. Brush other side of chicken with mustard mixture. Turn chicken over in nut mixture, patting again. Shake off any excess coating.

Heat oil and butter in an ovenproof skillet on medium heat. When sizzling, add chicken breasts and saute until nuts are lightly browned on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Place skillet in oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until juices are clear.

While chicken is baking, combine wine and shallots in pot. Bring to boil and reduce by half. Stir in whipping cream and mustard and reduce until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and reheat when needed. Before serving, whisk in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over with chicken.

serves 4

1 small sweet potato, diced and boiled until firm; set aside 1 tbsp olive oil

1 small leek, white and light green part only, sliced thinly

1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

2 tbsp butter

1 1/4 cups arborio rice

1/3 cup Chardonnay or other white wine

3 1/2 to 4 cups hot chicken stock

1 cup tightly packed arugula leaves, torn into pieces, stems removed

1/4 cup whipping cream

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook leeks, mushrooms, thyme and rosemary, stirring, for 4 minutes or until softened. Transfer to a bowl.

Melt butter in a saucepan; add rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add Chardonnay and cook until absorbed. Add 1 cup (250 mL) hot stock; adjust heat so stock bubbles gently and is absorbed slowly. Continue adding 1 cup (250 mL) stock at a time, stirring almost constantly, for 15 minutes.

Add diced cooked sweet potato and mushroom mixture. Cook, stirring often, adding more stock when absorbed, until rice is just tender. Add arugula and cream. Cook, stirring for 1 minute, until arugula is wilted. Stir in Parmigiano and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Rest of the week

March 27 Pecan Chicken, Sweet Potato Risotto, Roasted Cauliflower and Carrots, Oreo Cheesecake Bars

March 28 Assorted sandwiches