Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Chicken ...and a little Perspective

For anyone who doesn't know me, I'm extremely cheap (or should I say money-savvy?). However, I know I'm not the cheapest person ever because I was raised by two loving parents who were even more tight with their money than I am. It bothered me when I was younger. We couldn't eat out because we didn't have any coupons. I couldn't buy that shirt because it wasn't on sale yet...

While it frustrated me when I was younger, I'm now really thankful that my parents taught me how to live on less and save money for more important things. However, my cheapness is almost to a fault when it comes to buying groceries. I watch the ads and sales almost religiously. I have 6 coupon apps on my phone and also clip coupons. I compare oz to oz price down to the cent to make sure I'm buying the cheapest brand, and I plan most of our meals around what's on sale that week.

Here's one example of my cheapness. This week I bought tomatoes, looked at my receipt when I got back to my car, and realized they charged me for vine-ripened instead of roma tomatoes. What did I do? Well I, of course, marched right back into the store to get my 60 cents back. Worth it? Absolutely.

Saving money is great, and God has called us to be good stewards of what he has given us, but I need to work on getting priorities straight. Getting upset because you missed something when it was on sale, accidentally bought the slightly more expensive brand, or let your coupons expire is not ok. Get some perspective! What's at the root of all that? I think there are a couple of things. First, I'm seeking self-worth in saving money. It's a nice pat-on-back when you look at your receipt and see how much you've saved, but our self-worth should be found only in Christ. Without Him, we're sinners and really aren't worth much at all. Second, it's pride and my need to control things. I plan and organize and do my "best", but guess what? My plan isn't always God's plan. He's in control, not me, and I won't always get to buy things at their cheapest price. Get over it! Thirdly, I elevate money and things to some kind of idol. I've never thought of myself as much of a "things" person, but living in our society, we are all "things" people. "If I save more money buying groceries, we can get that new juicer, or car, or take that trip to Europe!" I need to remember that money and things aren't that important in light of God's bigger picture and the gospel message.

Point being: money and saving it is a good thing! I will always be a thrifty shopper and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when our motives are wrong, and we're being greedy with our money and our things (consciously or not). I hope this challenges you to think a little bit about why you do the things that you do, and if you are seeking God's righteousness or your own righteousness in those things (Matt. 6:33). Check out Matthew 6, especially verses 19-21 and 25-34 to get some serious perspective. This is gonna challenge me for a long time!

All that to say: eggplants were on sale last week, so guess what? I cooked with eggplant. Yummy! First was eggplant parmesan, but I still had half of the eggplant left, so I had to find something else to make. This was what I found. I wasn't even planning on blogging this recipe, but after tasting it, I had to. Aaron told me it's going in my recipes hall of fame. Yeah, it's that good.

Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Chicken
Adapted from smitten kitchen

1/2 of a large eggplant, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 medium (about 1 lb) chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
3 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
8 oz orzo pasta, uncooked
2 tbsp tomato sauce
2 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tbs fresh)
1 tsp fresh lemon zest (this might sound strange, but it adds an awesome flavor, don't skip it!)
4 oz monterrey jack or mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
3 tomatoes, diced
1 1/ 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Sprinkle eggplant with salt and let drain in a colander for about 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes, rinse and pat dry with a paper towel.

Prepare other ingredients while waiting on the eggplant to release it's water.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add about 2 tbsp of olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add eggplant. Fry for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.

Add carrots and celery to remaining oil (add more if needed) and cook for 3 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium and add onions and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in orzo and tomato sauce and cook for 2 more minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and add chicken, oregano, lemon zest, mozzarella, parmesan, tomatoes, 1 tsp salt, pepper to taste, and chicken stock. Mix well.

Pour mixture into a 8x11 or 9x13 baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. You can adjust the ratio of foil-on to foil-off time if you prefer a crunchier or less crunchy top.

Note: this is really easy to make vegetarian. Just take out the chicken, use the entire eggplant, and use vegetable instead of chicken stock.

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