Friday, January 9, 2009

Jenny Craig's Moroccan Chicken and Orzo: Floppy Hats and Decent Food

When I went away to college in the cold tundra of Western New York, my parents bought me three cookbooks for the journey: Betty Crocker’s Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today, a colossal and ancient compendium of Christmas dishes, and Jenny Craig’s No Diet Required: Recipes for Healthy Living. Betty’s book is still invaluable, the Christmas tome went for $3 in a Williamsburg stoop sale in 2006, and Jenny, well …

I owned No Diets Required for six solid years before ever cracking it open. When it finally happened, I was rewarded with two things: 1) pictures of decent-looking diet food, and 2) pictures of hilariously made-up white women.

Though published in 1997, the pictures of Jenny & Co. could have come from a Kentucky Derby party in the Reagan era. You’ve never seen bigger shoulder pads or floppier hats in your whole life, and the cosmetics are … prominent. But those are just the first few photos. There’s also Jenny on the Beach, Christmas Jenny with the Grandkids, and Jenny Enjoying a Warm Cup of Whatever. Even the more subdued pics are rife with bedazzled mom jeans and intricately embroidered vests, giving the whole affair a vibe of Country Weekend with the WASP Family. Good times.

Here’s the thing, though: when I finally got down to making it, the food was pretty good. No one’s ever going to mistake it for an evening at Le Bernardin, and the salsa recipe calls for a jar of prepared salsa, but still. For someone just learning to cook, it beats the crap out of Hot Pockets.

Located on page 150, somewhere between Cinnamon Chips and Lemon Sorbet Cups, is Moroccan Chicken and Orzo. I first whipped it up a few years ago, when “the kitchen” was still an unfamiliar place of burnt fingers and witchcraft. The recipe called for crazy ingredients like “turmeric” and “cumin,” which at the time, could have read “gorilla spit” and “googly googly goo” for all I knew. (Note: as it turned out, they were readily available in the supermarket.) The whole shebang ended up well, though, and it was a triumph for a culinary nitwit like myself.

Fast forward to 2009, and the dish still holds up. Granted, the spices had to be doubled along the way, but for a quick, one-pot weeknight meal, it doesn’t get much better. Warm and filling, it’s also stellar cold and aces for office leftovers.

In the end, I bow to Jenny and her big ol’ hat. They may look funny, but they know of what they speak.

P.S. Some of my spices come in bulk from the local Muslim grocer, so they might be less expensive than store-bought brands.

P.P.S. Jenny provided the nutrition numbers, so only the price is calculated here.

P.P.P.S. I knew I forgot something last night. I was too busy laughing my face off at 30 Rock (particularly A Blaffair to Rememblack), that I didn’t upload a picture. Until I can get to my camera, please make do with this picture of Tracy Jordan from his famous ‘80s novelty party video, “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.”

P.P.P.P.S. Edited to add: the photo's been added as of 8:45 EST. Viva la France!

Moroccan Chicken and Orzo
Makes 5 1-cup servings
Adapted from Jenny Craig's No Diet Required.

1 cup orzo, uncooked
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric or 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large clove garlic, minced
14-16 ounces chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces (1" or smaller)
2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil
1-1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1) Cook orzo in salted water until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

2) While orzo is cooking, get out a medium bowl. Add paprika, cumin, salt, turmeric, cinnamon and garlic, and stir to combine. Add chicken and stir until poultry is entirely coated with mix. 

3) In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion. Saute about 4 minutes, until it's a little soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Add chicken. Brown chicken, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 more minutes. Pour in broth and raisins. Drop heat back to medium and let it cook for 5 minutes.

4) Kill heat. Remove skillet from burner. Pour cooked orzo into skillet. Stir until the whole shebang is thoroughly combined. Top with fresh cilantro and serve.

Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
327 calories, 4.3 g fat, 2.4 g fiber, $1.18

1 cup orzo, uncooked: $0.40
2 teaspoons paprika: $0.08
1 teaspoon ground cumin: $0.02
1/2 teaspoon salt: $0.01
1/4 teaspoon turmeric or 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads: $0.02
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon: $0.01
1 large clove garlic, minced: $0.04
14-16 ounces chicken breast: $1.99
2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil: $0.07
1-1/4 cup chopped onion: $0.30
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth: $0.50
1/4 cup golden raisins: $0.45
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped: $0.99
TOTAL: $5.88


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