As a child, I never had much of a taste for meat and ate it only on rare occasions. Even then, I could only stomach very particular types. Hamburgers had to be extra-lean. Hot dogs were only eaten out, never at home (turns out my mother was trying to sneak inferior turkey dogs into our diets, which accounted for my aversion). As far as chicken, I’d only eat the white meat and then only when it had just been cooked, no leftovers. I know, it sounds like a parent’s nightmare and I’ll surely be punished with even pickier children myself. Around age 12, I made an semi-deliberate decision to just stop. If I didn’t like meat, if I was just forcing myself to make the best of something I didn’t enjoy, why bother?
So from age 12 to about age 27, figuring that it was what I liked best, I followed a wholly vegetarian diet. So what happened around age 27? I was given the opportunity to live in Norway for six months to do research on my doctoral dissertation. As part of the preparation for this trip, I flew over for a week to meet with my collaborators, who greeted me at the airport with promises (in my mind, threats) to take me to the best fish restaurant in town that night. Not only was there nothing purely vegetarian on the menu, but my dinner companions recommended the whale or reindeer. Horrors! Ill at ease and in something of a panic, I spent the next few minutes trying to figure out what fish on the menu would arrive on my plate as an innocuous filet, rather than an intact specimen, eye staring up at me, tail frozen in time. It was then that I realized it would be a long, unsocial six months were I to try to adhere to a strictly vegetarian diet while in Norway and I started reintegrating chicken and seafood into my diet.
I’ve grown to like chicken and fish in the intervening few years, but it’s still harder for me to get excited about making them, as opposed to trying a new grain or pasta dish. I tend to use chicken and fish as a way of filling me up so that I don’t eat quite as much of the sometimes less healthy vegetarian dishes I love so much. Case in point, after an American-themed dinner party this past weekend, we ended up with a tray of fabulous mac and cheese to last us through the week. While there’s nothing I’d like more than to sit down with the entire tray and a fork, it seemed wiser to exercise some portion control by coming up with a protein to temper all the delicious cheese and carbs.
Enter this recipe for balsamic chicken and pears, which I found in a quick and healthy recipes piece on MSN recently. Having toted around a folded up, ratty print-out of the recipe for days, last night finally seemed the perfect time to make it. It was, as promised, quick as can be to put together- you could probably do the whole thing in 15 minutes, were you in a huge rush. And as it turned out, the chicken ended up being more than just a healthy foil to the true star of the meal, the mac and cheese. With tender sauteed pears, sweet dried cherries, and a tangy balsamic-based sauce, it was something I enjoyed not just because it’s healthy, not just because it gives me some much needed protein, but for its blend of the sweet and savory. So perhaps this recipe, simple and unassuming as it might be, may convert the picky eater in your life as well.
Balsamic chicken and pears (serves 4)
2 tsp vegetable oil
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 Bosc pears, unpeeled and each cut into 8 wedges
1 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup dried cherries or raisins
1. In non-stick 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tsp vegetable oil. Add chicken breasts and cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until juices run clear when pierced with tip of knife. Remove chicken to bowl.
2. In same skillet, in 1 tsp vegetable oil, cook pear wedges until lightly browned and tender.
3. In cup, mix chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar until blended. Add chicken-broth mixture and dried cherries to skillet with pears. Heat to boiling; boil one minutes. Return chicken to skillet, heat through. Garnish with rosemary to serve.