The battle between winter’s grip and spring prying a seasonal hold has been a challenge in many ways. Waking in the morning, choices have been: spring jacket or winter coat; dry roads or hoping not to slide; taking a long hike or staying indoors?
It was a weekend in March when it looked like spring was getting the upper hand on winter. Temperatures in the 50s, clear sky, soft breeze; the waterfalls, down the trail from Hamburger Rock campground, were flowing. A purely perfect setting for crossing out another name on the to-do list of San Juan County adventures – the rock art of Hog Canyon.
Located three miles west (mile marker 4 on Highway 211) from Newspaper Rock, there is a short pull-in area for parking. The trails up to the walls (Blue Grama aka Blue Gamma – popular to crack climbers) are well worn, but the soil is loose. Following the rock art itself entails maneuvering up and around boulders, sometimes squeezing between one that has split in two after its fall from the wall.
Carved onto stone, drawn into the desert varnish, there are square-bodied humanoid figures, mountain sheep, insects, long leaves resembling ferns, circles and many other shapes and figures. There is the occasional signature of those who settled or visited in the early 20th century (1911 – Ralph Hurst and Bill Dalley). While many the modern day traveler thinks that the Indian rock art is nothing more than “ancient graffiti”, they fail to understand that it was the earliest form of the “written word” for these cultures.
Why the name “Hog Canyon”? In Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names (Steve Allen), there is a reference to “Pete Steele noted that the canyon was fenced with knit wire (sheep wire) to hold the pigs that used to pasture in the canyon. The fence still stands. (1821~)”. In the December 10, 2014 issue of the San Juan Record, Albert Eugene (Pete) Steele’s obituary states, “One of his jobs growing up was punching cows for the SS Cattle Company rooted deep in San Juan County’s history. His tales of the Old West and the history of San Juan County were a treasure to anyone lucky enough to hear them.”
Since I’m writing about challenges, let me get to my next challenge which relates to food. Many times I have seen recipes posted on Facebook that have the same name, but a slight difference with ingredients. One such recipe (2 variations) was “Bacon Wrapped, Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts”; now that’s a mouthful just to say. I looked both recipes over and basically they had one difference; while one used chopped green onion, the other used chopped jalapeno peppers. I threw down the gauntlet, or oven mitt, and challenged myself to make this recipe more intriguing. I thought back to a sandwich I had enjoyed at Sweet Cravings in Moab; how a mixture of jalapeno jelly and cream cheese had brought great flavors to roasted turkey breast. Why not do that with chicken!?!
Looking in the pantry, I found a jar of both mild and hot jalapeno jelly. While I intended on using some green onions, I also diced up red onions and a multicolored selection of bell peppers for their natural sweetness.
The chicken breasts need to be pounded out to about 1/4 inch in thickness. Always use the flat side of your meat tenderizer, or you can purchase a flat sided mallet. Do not use the mallet directly on the chicken; place it inside a plastic bag, or between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Also, placing a clean linen towel over the plastic will most definitely ensure that the tender poultry meat will not shred, but extend out smoothly. Gently pound out the chicken to the desired thickness; this is not the type of meat to take your aggressions out on.
After pounding out the chicken, spread one tablespoon of the mild jelly (green) or the hot jelly (red); leaving about a half inch border from the edges. A tablespoon of cream cheese was spread on next; in the other recipes, only two tablespoons of cream cheese was used for the stuffing. I pressed about two tablespoons of the bell peppers with red onions; only green onions; or bell peppers with green onions into the cream cheese.
Now you might be wondering why no salt sprinkled over the chicken; bacon is going to take care of the salt issue. In the recipes I read, they called for the bacon to be partially cooked before wrapping around the chicken. The use of totally raw bacon helps it to be pliable enough to fully wrap around the rolled breasts; allowing the fat to baste the chicken and keep it moist as the bacon begins to crisp up in the oven. A roasting pan with a rack allows the bacon to crisp up on the bottom as well as the top, so no need for a broiler later on. Preheat the oven to 400F; line the roasting pan with aluminum foil and add two cups of water to keep any bacon drippings from burning and smoking. Spray the rack with nonstick spray and place back inside the pan. Now for the chicken rolling...
Carefully begin to roll the chicken and if any filling begins to ooze out, just push it right back inside. Take a slice of bacon (you'll need 3 for each breast) and wrap it lengthwise around the chicken. This will help keep the filling from coming out the sides while roasting. The bacon will overlap a bit and seal against the chicken meat, so no toothpicks will be necessary.
Lay two slices of bacon on your board, about one inch apart, and carefully lay the rolled breast with the first bacon slice's seam facing upward. Wrap those two slices around the chicken and let the ends come together to form a seal. Carefully pick up the bundle and lay it, bacon seams side down, on the roasting rack. Leave about an inch in between each bundle, so the bacon can crisp up on all sides. Place the roasting pan inside the oven and let it cook for 40-45 minutes; until the internal temperature reaches 165F.
There you have it, Bacon Wrapped, Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts. The jalapeno jelly and cream cheese mixture combined to form a decadent stuffing which enhanced the natural sweetness of the bell peppers and red onions. With the green onions, they combined with the jalapeno jelly to give that Southwestern flavor sensation. The bacon kept the chicken moist, yet seasoned it at the same time.
Sometimes less is more, but with this new version of the recipe, more of more is just what you want. Enjoy!