Lest you think that all I ever make are sweets and baked goods, I thought I should post this exceptionally tasty creation. I wish I had a better photo with which to show off the yummy chili and cheese filling, but it was suppertime on a rainy day and I had to use the flash on my camera. And my children were hungry and clamouring to eat, so I had to shoot quickly and get these on the table!
The inspiration for this recipe came about in a rather circuitous fashion. I’d been wanting to use my crockpot for something other than yogurt and was perusing a not-very-interesting Crockpot recipe book that I (or rather Santa) had put in my husband’s stocking a few years ago. I’m not sure why I bothered, as the recipes are about as interesting as reading the phone book, and probably about as flavourful as eating it. But a recipe for carne rellenos, which called for wrapping cream cheese-filled chilies in a big hunk of flank steak, somehow caught my eye. It’s a classic Crockpot meal – very few ingredients and extremely easy to make, but it likely yields a tough piece of meat with very little flavour. Still, it planted a seed, and when I stumbled across a recipe for stuffed chicken breasts, the seed began to sprout.
The original plan was to cook these in the crockpot, but as the recipe took shape in my head, I began to favour baking them in the oven for a more crispy exterior. The funny thing about crockpot cooking is that the best recipes always seem to require a few extra steps outside of the pot, like browning the meat. It rather defeats the purpose of the crockpot as an easy, one-pot meal-maker. I love the idea of tossing all the ingredients in, turning it on and walking away, but I’ve rarely had a decent meal that way. And I did not want tough chicken with soggy breading for these rellenos, so I decided that the oven was the better choice.
For the filling, I intended to use chopped jalapenos for a little heat, but as almost any parent can tell you, small children are intensely spice-adverse. In the end I went with a can of mild green chilies so that I could enjoy a family dinner without hearing the “It’s too spicy, I don’t like this” refrain. I did sneak some chili powder into the breading, and apparently I got away with it…this time, at least!
The Results: Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I am extremely proud of this meal. It was delicious! Even with the scaled-back spice, the filling was wonderfully flavourful. The chicken was juicy and the breading crisped up nicely and didn’t overbrown. The child with the most sensitive palate (he’s a gringo through and through, that one), declared it his favourite chicken dish. It was fairly involved, but definitely worth the effort. As a dish for the whole family, I wouldn’t change a thing. It could easily be spiced up a bit for those who like it hot, by subbing jalapenos in the filling and chipotle powder in the breading.
Sadly, the crockpot still hasn’t seen much use besides being an ad hoc yogurt maker. I suppose I will keep looking!
Chili and Cheese Chicken Rellenos
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded monterey jack, cheddar or a combination
1 can diced green chilies
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp cilantro, minced
salt and pepper to taste
5-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp lime juice
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp butter, melted
Spray a 9×13 inch glass baking dish with vegetable cooking spray.
Stir cream cheese, shredded cheese, chilies, garlic, cilantro and salt and pepper together until well-combined.
Pound chicken breasts between layers of plastic wrap to an even 1/4 inch thickness. Season with salt and pepper.
Starting at the wider end of each chicken breast, spread 2 tablespoons of cheese mixture about halfway down the breast. Roll each breast up tightly from the wider end towards the narrower end. You may end up with some filling left over, set it aside.
Place each roll, seam side down, in prepared baking dish. Make sure that the rolls are not touching, they need space to cook through evenly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until filling is firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 425F.
Mix any leftover filling with yogurt and lime juice and spread over the top and sides of each chicken breast.
Combine breadcrumbs and chili powder, and sprinkle over top and sides of each breast, pressing lightly with a spoon to make sure they stick. Drizzle with melted butter.
Bake in the middle position of oven 35-40 minutes, or until center of chicken roll reaches 160F.