Chicken, Main Dishes, Recipes, Rice, Sides

Zin-Zen Chicken

I don’t even want to tell you when I made this stir fry originally. It’s too embarrassing. But it is what it is, and even though time has gone by since this dish graced our table, its goodness hasn’t gone away. [Did that make any sense to anyone but me?] ANYWAYS…. Ben, especially, loves stir fry. I can’t say that it was my favorite dinner as a kid, but I’m starting to appreciate it more and more these days since it’s quick, healthy, and flavorful.

Zin Zen Chicken |

What makes this stir fry SO good is the combination of the orange-flavored rice with the gingery and garlicky chicken and vegetables. Ya know, the zin/zen thing. Rachael Ray was up to something with her recipe title, I do believe. 🙂 Another good thing about this dish? It uses up some of that Chinese five spice powder that’s probably languishing in your cupboard. Please tell me I’m not alone in that. Mmmmkay, thanks. As always, enjoy! 🙂

one year ago: Guacamole Salsa
two years ago: Peanut Butter Pretzel Granola Bars
three years ago: Oreo Truffles

Zin-Zen Chicken [from Rachael Ray]
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  • 1 cup white rice
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into chunks
  • cracked black pepper
  • 3 cups chopped bell peppers [I used red, orange, and yellow]
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch grated gingerroot [or 1 teaspoon ground]
  • 1 red or yellow onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup Zinfandel wine or chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
  • 4 scallions, sliced on the bias


Combine rice, chicken broth, and orange zest in a medium pan. Set to high heat, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until liquid is absorbed.

In a separate large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute chicken, seasoned with black pepper, until golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and cover with foil. Place bell peppers, garlic, ginger, and onion in the pan and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the veggies to the chicken, then melt butter in skillet. Whisk in flour and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the wine/chicken broth, soy sauce, and five spice powder and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium low. Put the chicken and veggies back in the skillet and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes.

After the rice is cooked, add scallions and orange juice and fluff with a fork. Serve the chicken and vegetables over the rice.

Time: 30 minutes.
Yield: 4-6 servings.
Note: For four, this amount of rice is perfect. For six, doubling it would be best.

Linked up with: Weekend Potluck.

Recipes, Rice, Sides

Mexican Rice

Oh my goodness. This RICE! Normally, rice is Ben’s obsession, but this time, it’s mine. This Mexican Rice is seriously amazing. It’s the closest restaurant-style replica recipe that I have ever successfully made. Ben agreed, and thought this was better than something you could get at a restaurant. And for a guy who likes to eat out, that’s saying something!! So many recipes online or in cookbooks claim to be restaurant-worthy, but most of the time, they’re lying. Well this one? Not so much. It’s just like the rice you’d get at your favorite local hole in the wall Mexican place.

Mexican Rice | The Pajama Chef

When I first saw that the recipe called for three jalapenos, I have to admit that I was a little nervous [even considering my recent love of spice]. But really, I needn’t have been afraid–this rice had the perfect amount of kick. Not too spicy, not too bland. Stirring in cilantro at the end and adding a squeeze of lime juice to each serving definitely balanced out the flavors and gave the rice a little something special.

Mexican Rice | The Pajama Chef

At first glance, this Mexican Rice recipe might look a bit intimidating. Even if it has good flavor, isn’t it a bit overkill to go through all these steps of rinsing and sautĂ©ing the rice, then cooking it on the stove and in the oven? NO! Not at all. Don’t skip a step–each is necessary to make this light and fluffy without a bit of gloopy, gloppiness that can all too easily happen when a bunch of stuff is added to rice. The texture isn’t sticky or mushy. It’s just perfect. And when paired with homemade tacos and refried beans, well, it’s just like eating at a restaurant  But at home, for a fraction of the cost… and with all the leftovers you could want. 🙂 I know I’ll be making this rice over and over again for many tacos nights in our future, and I hope you will too. Enjoy!

Mexican Rice | The Pajama Chef

Mexican Rice [from]
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  • 1 can diced tomatoes [15 ounces]
  • 1 medium onion [yellow or white]
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3 medium jalapenos, minced and divided [deseed as desired–I deseeded two]
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, minced
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lime, wedged


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor or blender, combine tomatoes and onion. Puree until smooth, then pour into a measuring cup and reserve 2 cups. Discard excess [or save for something else, like salsa, or eat with a spoon…].

Add oil to a large [10-12 inch] straight-sided sautĂ© pan or Dutch oven [with a tight fitting lid] and set over medium-high heat. While oil is heating up, place rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water for about 2 minutes or until water runs clear. This is similar to rinsing quinoa–it removes the starch from the rice to make it nice and fluffy. Do not omit this step! Shake rice to remove excess water.

Next, drop a few grains of rice in the oil. If they sizzle it is ready. Add rice to oil and cook for 6-8 minutes, constantly stirring, until rice is lightly golden and translucent. Reduce heat a little if the oil starts to splatter, and add up to another 2 tablespoons of oil if it seems too dry.

Reduce heat to medium, then add 2 jalapenos and garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.

Stir in pureed tomatoes and onions and chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Remove from heat, cover, and transfer to oven. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove and stir well.  Return to oven for another 15-20 minutes, or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Remove from oven and stir in remaining jalapeno and cilantro. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with a wedge of lime to squeeze on each serving before enjoying.

Time: 55 minutes [20 minutes active].

Yield: 8-10 servings.

Notes: You can use 12 ounces fresh ripe tomatoes but since I made this before tomato season, I opted for canned. If you use fresh tomatoes, the recipe recommends supplementing with salsa if you need to get up to 2 cups AND to add 1 tablespoon tomato paste to the mix as well.

Linked up with: Weekend Potluck.

Recipes, Rice, Sides

Brown Rice, Feta, and Tomato Salad

I can’t believe it’s almost September! Yikes! Not just because the clock is continually ticking down to when I absolutely have to, have to, HAVE TO have my thesis done (December 15th, no exceptions) but because the end of my favorite produce season is almost near. Oh summer and your juicy peaches, sweet corn reminiscent of candy, fantastic watermelon, sweet tomatoes, crunchy peppers, how I love thee! Not that I don’t like the apples and pumpkins of fall [I mean, hello, I’m a pumpkin-obsessed girl here] or anything like that… but summer means relaxing strolls through the farmer’s market while dripping in sweat because we went running beforehand getting the absolute best fruits and veggies imaginable. And I’ll be sad to see that end. However, there’s still plenty of time to gather yummy summer foods so I’m going to do my best to share all my new favorite summer dishes now, before it’s too late.

This simple rice salad is one of those fabulous summer dishes that I wanted to be sure to share.

Brown Rice, Feta, and Tomato Salad is filled with pantry staples like brown rice and chickpeas, but is spiced up with three of my favorite things on the planet: cherry tomatoes, feta, and mint. Oh goodness, that combination gets me every time!

It is so so so good. You should have seen me trying to maneuver my bites as I ate this salad for lunch on campus last week. I was sitting in the shade of a huge maple tree, balancing my Kindle on my lap while trying to carefully construct each bite to contain a piece of tomato, a chickpea, some feta, and some mint, all while avoiding the rice clusters that I ate last because they weren’t as exciting. I’m sure I looked perfectly ridiculous… and for the record, this is all 100% true, even if that might sound a bit fabricated for the sake of a blog post. Eating outside while reading is pretty much what I do everyday it’s nice outside. I’m trying to break myself of the habit of eating at the computer/while I’m working, to give myself a break in the day. So far, it’s working pretty well. I’ll be terribly sad when late fall comes and it’s too cold to do that… but maybe soon after that I’ll land a great job in a warm climate and I can eat outside year round! That would be nice!

But until then… there’s this fabulous salad, with a wonderful mix of sweet and fresh flavors, paired with hearty grains and legumes [I just looked it up, chickepeas are legumes, fyi] and a little feta for some salty flavor. I think it’s best that I make it it again before tomatoes return to their dreary out-of-seasonness… and it would be remiss of me to not encourage you to do the same!

Brown Rice, Feta, and Tomato Salad [adapted from PBS Food]
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  • 1 cup brown rice, uncooked
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • freshly ground black pepper


Prepare brown rice according to package directions. After brown rice is ready, set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, combine chickpeas, feta, tomatoes, and mint in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and brown sugar.

Add about 2/3-3/4 of prepared rice to chickpea mixture and stir to combine. Don’t worry about being precise, just eyeball the amount. I was probably closer to the 2/3 mark. Pour dressing over and toss to coat. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve warm or refrigerate for a cold lunch or side salad.

Time: 45 minutes [10 minutes active]

Yield: 4-5 servings.

Chicken, Main Dishes, Recipes, Rice, Sides

Jamaican Jerk Chicken & Pineapple Black Bean Rice

Let me start off with a huge disclaimer: this jerk chicken is not authentic. Just wanted to get that out in the open. I mean, it’s cooked in a crock pot and not smoked in a pit… so that’s a pretty big difference. And furthermore, traditional jerk seasoning has a lot of heat to compliment the sweet, smoky flavor of the myraid of spices [primarily allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg] that make up the jerk seasoning blend. Or at least, that’s what my cookbook said. 🙂 My jerk seasoning blend has more sweetness than heat, but that departure from the norm isn’t bad… it just means you can enjoy what’s there instead of burning your mouth to bits.

jamaican jerk chicken and pineapple black bean rice on a plateNow that we have established that my version has been adapted, shall we say… let’s get on with it. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, let’s focus on what we do: this Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Rice is amazing. It’s sweet and smoky with a little bit of jalapeno-induced kick. Plus, this crock pot cooking method does not require traditional overnight marinating that most jerk chicken recipes do… meaning you can whip this up on a whim, no planning required! Though if you are thinking ahead, I bet marinating the meat would take an already fantastic dish absolutely over-the-top!

If I do say so myself though, the marinating to take things over-the-top-bit might not even be necessary. I got you covered on that over-the-topness. Instead of serving this pulled meat [almost type “slow cooked” meat… you remember how I feel about that!] on boring rice or a sandwich bun, I decided to fancify my regular white rice with some Caribbean-inspired ingredients like more allspice, crushed pineapple, black beans, and cilantro. The rice was undoubtedly my favorite part of this dinner [and the chicken Ben’s, but he’s a meatloving man so that’s not surprising].

I mean, how fantastic does this look? Sweet, smoky, fresh, substantial rice paired with sweet-hot pulled chicken. What else would you want? If you figure it out, please do let me know because I don’t have a clue. 🙂 Enjoy!

Jamaican Jerk Chicken & Pineapple Black Bean Rice [chicken adapted from Slow Cooker Classics from Around the World by Victoria Shearer, rice is a TPC original!]
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for chicken

  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • sprinkle salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 jalapenos, sliced [deseed if you wish–I did]
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 4 pounds cut up chicken pieces, bones and skins removed

for rice

  • 1 1/2 cups white rice
  • 3 cups liquid [drained pineapple juice + water or chicken broth]
  • 1 1/2 cups black beans, rinsed and drained [1 15 ounce can]
  • 1 20 ounce can crushed pineapple [fruit + juice]
  • ~3/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
  • pinch cayenne pepper


Place all ingredients for chicken in large crockpot. Cook on low for 4-5 hours, or until chicken is cooked through and shreds easily.

About thirty minutes before eating, prepare rice. Drain pineapple, catching liquid in a large measuring cup or bowl. Add extra water or chicken broth to make 3 cups liquid, then add liquid and rice to a large pot set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes or until rice has absorbed liquid. Stir in black beans, reserved pineapple, allspice, and cayenne pepper. Just before serving stir in cilantro.

Serve shredded chicken over rice, or on sandwich buns.

Time: 5 hours.

Yield: alot of food!

Notes: This recipe can be halved and cooked for 3 1/2-4 hours in the crock pot. I did make the full amount of rice so if you’re cooking for a crowd, the rice may need to be doubled or tripled.

Chicken, Main Dishes, Recipes, Rice, Sauces, Sides

Best Burrito Bowls Ever

So, the internet is filled with a plethora of copycat recipes for everyone’s favorite chain burrito restaurant. I’ve even made my own version before. Those were good. But these… these are better. Mucho better.

Dare I say… even better than Chipotle? Different, for sure. But better? It depends on what you’re after. [Let me tell you now… you want to be after this.]

If you’re after light, fluffy, airy brown cilantro-lime rice, then stick around. Yes,brown cilantro-lime rice!! This rice is prepared in a slightly different fashion than regular brown rice so it isn’t thick and gummy. It’s boiled, then steamed. A little butter, cilantro, lime juice, and garlic stirred in makes a knockoff winner.

If you’re after the typical burrito bowl mix-ins like spicy chicken, filling black beans, salsa, cheese, and sour cream, then stick around. You can have them! I promise. I know they’re a necessity. If chicken isn’t your thing, sub beef or pork or tofu, or even add extra black beans instead. Don’t limit yourself to the norm though. Try some corn, red bell pepper, avocado, and baby spring mix in there too–they won’t bite.

And lastly… if you want to top this full bowl with a bit of cilantro, be my guest.

As long as it is cilantro chutney, aka my new favorite way to enjoy cilantro, that is! Cilantro chutney can be whipped up in a couple minutes and is an out of this world dressing delight. It’s smooth, tangy, and spicy all at once. A savory and unconventional condiment to which I am now fully addicted. I may or may not have consumed nearly a quarter of the batch by the spoonful. Whoops.

I know this post might be overwhelming. The recipe might be long. The rice may be cooked in a new way. But please, do yourself a favor, and enjoy this for dinner at your earliest convenience. [That should be now.]

Don’t you see? Sometimes different is better. Right? Yes, right.

The end. 🙂

Best Burrito Bowls Ever
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for cilantro-lime rice [adapted slightly from with a Side of Sneakers]

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder

for cilantro chutney [adapted slightly from Genesis Winter‘s comment on this post]

  • 1 1/2 cups packed cilantro leaves, rinsed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 pinches garlic salt

for chicken

for serving

  • baby spring mix
  • perfect black beans
  • corn
  • chopped avocado
  • chopped red bell pepper
  • shredded pepperjack cheese
  • salsa
  • sour cream


Begin by making the rice. Bring a large stockpot to boil. Then add rice and boil, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Yes, you read that right. While the rice is boiling, make the chutney.

Combine cilantro, onion, and lime juice in a food processor or blender. Pulse until well combined. Then remove to jar or small bowl and stir in cayenne pepper and garlic salt. Adjust seasonings if necessary.

Next, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and taco seasoning and cook until chicken is no longer pink. Turn off heat, then cover and set aside.

When the rice has cooked for 40 minutes, turn off heat and drain rice [don’t worry about draining all the water, but get most of it out]. Return rice to pot, add butter, then cover and let sit off heat for 10 minutes to steam. Stir in cilantro, lime juice, and garlic powder.

Serve up! I layered baby spring mix, rice, black beans, chicken, corn, avocado, red bell pepper, and pepperjack cheese, then topped with a little salsa and sour cream, and a lot of cilantro chutney. Amazing!

Time: 60 minutes [20 minutes active].

Yield: 4 servings.