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Archive for the ‘Main Dish’ Category

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Happy Wednesday, and welcome to one of our favorite quick-fix dinners, the source of many happy lunches of leftovers! I’ve made this Sweet and Sour Chicken several times, and each time we have happily enjoyed the satisfying, tangy-sweet-savory dinner followed by a few lunches that leave coworkers hungry and envious (mwahaha….).

The irony is, I actually never order Sweet and Sour Chicken when I’m in a Chinese restaurant. I find the scary/squishy breading and thick, ketchupy sauce a little alarming and… surreal. You know the Michael Pollan mantra — eat food, not too much, mostly plants? Most restaurant versions of Sweet and Sour Chicken don’t really fit that rule. Especially if it comes off a cafeteria-style assembly line of different Chinese dishes that all look suspiciously similar… you know what I’m talking about.

But just because many versions of Sweet and Sour Chicken are unhealthy and weird, doesn’t mean that the basic flavor profile — ketchup, vinegar, ginger, pineapples — is fundamentally flawed. There is a reason why people flock to the mall to eat this stuff — we all like the sweet and sour flavor combo, we just can’t find a version that doesn’t contain all our saturated fat content we need for the first three months of the year.

This Sweet and Sour Chicken has that familiar flavor profile, and even retains a satisfying coating on the chicken, without the scariness of deep-frying. The recipe comes from a guest post on Simply Recipes by Jaden Hair, who also writes a wonderfully amusing food blog of her own. As I said, I’ve made this recipe several times and have adjusted it below to reflect our favorite proportions. We love a lot of ginger and don’t use as much sugar as the original recipe recommends — the ingredient list below reflect those preferences — but really, the exact proportions are up to you and your tastes!

This is a very quick fix — I mix all the sauce ingredients in one 4-cup measuring cup while the chicken is marinating. The sauce will thicken as it cooks, and again as it cools (another reason why this makes such great leftovers!). If you like a thicker sauce, add a teaspoon or two of cornstarch to the sauce — this is meant to be a healthier Sweet and Sour Chicken, and I suspect that’s why it doesn’t use cornstarch in the sauce like so many other stir fry recipes do.

Sweet and Sour Chicken — Adapted from Jaden Hair, on Simply Recipes

Serves four.

  • 1 ¼ lb. boneless and skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1″ chunks
  • 2 egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks (keep the juice!)
  • ½ cup juice from the canned pineapple
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

In a bowl, whisk together the egg whites, salt and cornstarch. Add the chicken and stir to coat the chicken. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

To make the sauce, whisk together the pineapple juice, vinegar, ketchup, salt, and brown sugar – make this easier by measuring all sauce ingredients into the same 4-cup measuring cup, in the order in which they are listed above.

Heat a large frying pan or wok over high heat (Jaden explains that you’ll know it’s hot enough when you flick a drop of water onto the pan, and it sizzles and evaporates). Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the chicken and spread it evenly so that it browns in one layer. Leave the chicken untouched for 1 minute, or until the bottoms are browned. Flip and brown the other side for around 1 minute. Don’t let the chicken cook through – it should still be pink in the middle. Dish out the chicken onto a clean plate and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. Let the oil heat up and then add the bell pepper chunks and ginger. Fry for 1 minute. Add the pineapple chunks and the sweet and sour sauce. Stir well to combine. Turn the heat to high and let the sauce come to a simmer. Then add the chicken back in and stir to combine. Let the whole thing simmer for 1-2 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

You’ll know the chicken is done when you cut into a piece and it’s not pink in the middle, and at this point the dish is ready to eat. However, you may want to let the Sweet and Sour Chicken simmer for a few more minutes, to let the flavors combine and the sauce thicken. Serve with hot rice.

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There’s a lot of ways to spell this dish in English — and all of them are awkward — but no matter how you spell it, the eating is good! This is one of the first Korean dishes I ever tried, and I immediately fell in love. The dish itself is a really simple stir fry that showcases the most fundamental, amazing Korean flavor combinations: garlic, red pepper, sesame, and a little sweetened soy sauce.

To help break down the awkwardly spelled name (not surprisingly, the Korean alphabet is just so much better at spelling out Korean food words…), let’s begin with the star of this show: dduk. “Dduk” are Korean rice cakes, but as this post points out, that term really doesn’t describe anything about dduk — the chewy, pillowy texture, their use in savory dishes, the sense of satisfaction you get from biting into a hot, flavorful piece of dduk, etc. Dduk is just comfort food to me — and it will be for you, too, if you try it! The post I referenced above say they are equivalent to a Korean version of the Italian gnocci; a good American equivalent might be dumplings. You know, the kind of dumplings your great aunt puts in chicken n dumplings, or that your brother orders at the Cracker Barrel (“Yes, I’ll have chicken n dumplings, with a side of chicken n dumplings, and another side of chicken n dumplings”).

Maybe that’s just my family, though.

Speaking of my family, that’s where this recipe comes from — my sister-in-law, the first (and yet, not the last) source of all things good and Korean in my life. I requested she make this a lot when I used to live with her and my brother, and she recently passed on the recipe, which she had conveniently already worked up to make it totally clear to non-Koreans.

In terms of actually locating and purchasing dduk, I really think it will be at any Asian market you visit. Dduk comes in many shapes, but you can buy whatever shape you can find — long cylinders, short cylinders, discs, etc. — and if you need to, you can cut them to a bite-sized length after they boil.  You’d probably have the best luck in a Korean grocery, but Chinese would do as well, and I wouldn’t say no to trying a Japanese market. Head to the freezer section; somewhere in the midst of all those frozen dumplings, you should find clear, plastic, occasionally shrink-wrapped packages of frozen dduk goodness. When I buy my next pack, I’ll take a picture of it so you can see.

Incidentally, it’s traditional for Korean (and Chinese?) people to eat dduk to celebrate the New Year, which is right around the corner! Dduk gook (soup) is actually what is traditional, but I like to feel this is close enough 🙂 Give it a try — and let me know how it goes!

Ddukbokki — serves four

Hannah Croasmun

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. dduk
  • 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil (peanut, canola, veggie, etc.)
  • 1/3 lb. beef or chicken, cut into thin strips
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 small carrot, julienned
  • 1 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 green onions (cut into 2” long pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons gochoojang (Korean red pepper paste, available in Asian groceries). Add this carefully and to taste, since it can be really spicy!

In a large saucepan, bring water (around a liter and a half)  to a boil. Add the rice cake. Boil for 2 minutes, then drain and rinse them in cold water (in a colander, like pasta), and cut into 3” lengths (if necessary), set aside.

Heat cooking oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. When oil is hot, stir-fry beef or chicken until done. Add carrot strips & onion, stir-fry until tender. Turn heat down a bit, then add the dduk and cook for a minute.

Add the soy sauce, sesame seeds, sugar, garlic, and gochoojang. Stir to combine. Add green onions, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds.

If you’re still interested, I found another ddukbokki post here, which points out how quick and easy this totally satisfying dish is to make!

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That’s the stuff.

The long-awaited (ok, just since yesterday) sequel to our delicious but ugly quesadillas, this fried rice is definitely a winner. As I said yesterday, a lot of the credit for this dish goes to Sean, who is an invaluable inspiration in the kitchen as he is totally unhampered by self-doubt and irrational food fears. He also has a unshakeable belief that everything goes in fried rice, so when we found ourselves with more shrimp than quesadilla fixings, he immediately suggested fried rice. Given that I had reduced the amount of shrimp and increased the amount of liquid when I made the shrimp (this is reflected in my recipe posted yesterday, if you’re interested), we had a lot of yummy juices with which to flavor the rice. Another chipotle pepper took the flavor the rest of the way — it was a huge success.

Several notes on frying rice — (1) as everyone will tell you, old rice is better than fresh rice. Fresh rice is too moist and will deconstruct in your pan. Sometimes you just don’t have rice lying around, though, and you might have to do with freshly made rice, which presents a real problem. (2) Rice itself varies a lot in consistency (how sticky, how wet, how dry…) so generic advice about frying rice and how long it should take, etc., is sometimes just not helpful. (3) Without using a lot of oil (or an oil-seasoned wok), sometimes “fried rice” turns into “rice that is heated through with other ingredients.” I suspect that a very effective way to get a nice “fry” on your rice is to use more hot oil, but that obviously isn’t too good for you. Considering all these factors, frying rice is not really as simple as people who have been doing it their whole lives make it seem.

I have fried a lot of rice lately, and below is my best method for getting a nice fried rice that’s not terrible for you, mushy, or simply rice re-heated. This time, I had some rice in our rice cooker still warm, so I took it out before chopping the other ingredients and threw it in the fridge. I flipped it once, to let it all cool down and steam out a bit. This helped a lot. The key while stir frying is to not stir too much while the rice is still moist. It will lose moisture and soak up oil/flavor as it stays in the pan, as long as you don’t mash it and mix it a ton before it has a chance to steam out. Let it get a little firmer and crustier before adding the finishing touches — you’ll be glad you did!

Chipotle Lime Shrimp Fried Rice

The Parks

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup julienned carrots
  • 2 cups day-old rice, preferably cold
  • 1/2 lb (1/2 recipe) chipotle lime shrimp w/ reserved juices
  • 1-2 chipotles en adobo, chopped (stick with one if you don’t like things too spicy!)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and carrots. Stir fry until mostly soft, then add rice. Stir fry to break up clumps, but don’t overdo it or your rice will break apart or get mushy. Add the reserved juice from the shrimp and the chopped chipotle, stir fry to mix. Spread the mixture over the bottom of the pan in a single, even layer.

This is when you can let your rice hang out in the skillet for a few minutes, especially if your rice is fairly fresh. Let the moisture steam out and the rice get a nice crust before flipping it over and doing the same on the other side. How long you let it sit depends on your pan, the age of your rice, the heat of the burners, etc. Just don’t mess with it a ton… and conversely, don’t let it burn.

When rice is getting a little crustier, add the shrimp and stir to mix. Make two “wells” in the rice and crack and egg in each. Let it rest 30 seconds, then break the yolk and stir the egg up a bit, still keeping the egg in the wells. Cover the wells with rice and let stand for up to one minute.

Stir fry to mix the egg in, then remove from heat add some cilantro. Serve warm, topped with the remaining cilantro.

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This post is mostly a precursor to tomorrow’s, but it shouldn’t be. That is, this is one of those times that a dinner, made mostly from someone else’s recipe, rolled into the next night’s dinner, in an original creation — again owing to my courageous and creative husband! This post commemorates the first dinner, because without it, we wouldn’t have stumbled on the second one…. and really, on its own, this is a fantastic and yummy meal! We were just so excited about the results from the second one that this got a little overshadowed.

That, and the pictures kind of stink….

Alright already, before you all stop reading and just come back tomorrow, here’s the recipe for our Chipotle Lime Shrimp Quesadillas. The shrimp come from Ezra Pound Cake (again….. it’s a great site, what can I say?) and I barely changed the recipe (more lime juice, more adobo, de-tail shrimp, etc.). Some authentic mexican cheese and the extra liquid from the shrimp made the quesadilla version of these already yummy shrimp top-notch. We’re lucky to live in a hispanic neighborhood where such cheese is readily available. It’s one of the foods I loved most in Mexico City!

Come back tomorrow to see incarnation #2 of these great shrimp!

Chipotle Lime Shrimp Quesadillas — serves 2, with leftover shrimp for the next day

Chipotle Lime Shrimp

from Ezra Pound Cake, who got it from Cooks Illustrated

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound 21/25 shrimp, peeled, deveined, de-tailed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 4 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice (from two small, really juicy limes)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

To make the glaze: Stir together chipotle chile, adobo sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, and cilantro in small bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until smoking, Meanwhile, toss shrimp, salt, pepper, and sugar in medium bowl. Add half of shrimp to the pan in single layer and cook until spotty brown and edges turn pink, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; using tongs, flip each shrimp and let stand until all but very center is opaque, about 30 seconds. Transfer shrimp to large plate. Repeat with remaining tablespoon oil and shrimp; after second batch has stood off heat, return first batch to skillet, add chipotle mixture, and toss to combine. Cover skillet and let stand until shrimp are cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. You’ll have some liquid left — this is the good stuff, don’t drain!

Quesadillas

  • 1/2 pound (1/2 recipe) chipotle lime shrimp with reserved liquid, above
  • 2-3 cups shredded mexican cheese (queso chihuahua or oaxaca are my favorites… manchego is also nice, and let’s be honest, monterey jack is just fine too)
  • 10 small corn tortillas

Heat two tortillas at a time (or however many fit in your pan) in a dry skillet over medium heat, both sides (heating the tortillas through before adding cheese is a must! no more chewy tortillas!). Add a small handful of cheese to one half of each side, toss on three or four shrimp, a spoonful of lime-chipotle liquid goodness, and a little more cheese. Fold, flip, and heat until cheese is melted and gooey. Repeat until all quesadillas are made.

Enjoy!

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Jen’s Fish-Flavored Pork

Just pictures today — I can’t take any kind of credit for this recipe, but I had to write about it because we seriously loved it that much! I have been on a real Chinese food kick lately (a couple of friends are coming over tonight and when I said we’re having Chinese food for dinner, one of them asked “When was the last time we had non-Asian food?” and I have to admit, it was a fair question). I think my enthusiasm has to do with the shock and awe I produce (in myself) by actually being able to produce food in my own kitchen that tastes Chinese. It still amazes me that by following a few basic principles and sticking to some flavor profiles (pork + ginger, for example), I can produce something Chinese-tasting!

Anyway, since I’m in the middle of this Chinese cooking phase, I tend to scour use real butter for Jen’s Chinese recipes, which always turn out for me. I found this recipe with the auspicious (or suspicious) name Fish-Flavored Pork and learned something new about the dried mushrooms I have been using for a few months now… they’re not mushrooms. They are tree ears, or wood ears, or cloud ears, depending on who you ask. The package I bought says “Dried Black Fungus”…. I naturally assumed dried black chinese mushrooms, which is what I needed, but alas…. when rehydrated, they are thin and chewy and have a distinct flavor.

For months, I basically ignored this fact (the fact that somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew these weren’t really mushrooms), and continued using the suspicious black fungus whenever I needed dried mushrooms. For the most part, they filled that role really well, and actually the distinct texture is surprisingly nice, especially in soups where a little added texture is welcome. But when I recognized them in Jen’s post, I realized I had found them a new home…… a dish where they really belonged.

This is one of those dishes that takes 10 minutes of prep and 5 minutes to cook — the kind of thing we make all the time for dinner. A bowl of rice, a few Korean banchans (veggie side dishes), and it’s done: you have dinner. Head over to use real butter for the recipe — and remember, you actually can make Chinese food at home!

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Kimchi Fried Pork

Just as in my last post, I can’t really take credit for this recipe…. but luckily for me, I do get to claim it, because it came from my husband! Sean and I generally enjoy a nice synergy in the kitchen based on our natural talents and inclinations: I cook, he eats. We share a love of food, and although we come at it from different angles, we generally are happy to delight together in a successful meal — I because whatever new recipe I tried, has turned out; he because it just tastes so darn good.

Occasionally, though, we step out of our usual roles and he cooks while I eat. I have to admit that I struggle to give up the reigns in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking so much, and it’s both personally fulfilling to me as well as (I think?) healthy for us newly married people. Sean takes care of me so well — cooking for him is one of the few things I do for him that I think he honestly couldn’t do for himself! He totally ruins my theory when he takes over the kitchen and produces such successful food…… but that’s OK, because then I can slip right into his preferred role, the happy eater.

This is a really really simple stir fry that really doesn’t require a recipe, but in case you want to try your hand at Korean food at home, I’ll try to give a rough estimate of ingredients and some instructions.

Kimchi Fried Pork

Sean Park

Makes two generous servings

  • 1/2 lb (approx.) Samgyeopsal, or pork belly that is very thinly sliced and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 cups kimchi (depends on your taste preference). Chop the kimchi into 1-inch pieces if there are any big chunks.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Flick a drop of water onto the pan — if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough. Spread the pork onto the pan in one layer. After one minute (no longer), flip the pork over to the other side. When it is cooked through, add the onions. Fry the onions in the pork fat until they soften a bit, then add the garlic. Stir fry for 30 seconds, then add the kimchi. Stir fry to mix the flavors and until the mixture thickens a bit.

Serve warm with rice and banchan.

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Skillet Lasagna

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The. Best. Idea. Ever.

I seriously love lasagna but could never figure out why so much time must be spent layering its components and fussing about broken noodles and generally coddling a rather time-consuming casserole when all you do to serve it is dig into the beautifully constructed layers and then dump them unceremoniously onto a plate. In my family, lasagna was such a favorite that my mom would spend three hours making it and it would disappear in under thirty minutes. Come on, people. We can do better than this. If all the layers and flavors blend together when you serve and eat lasagna anyway — and that blend, after all, is what makes lasagna delicious — surely we can skip a step (or five) and come up with something a little better.

Meet Skillet Lasagna. Some might argue that it is less esthetically pleasing, given the absence of long, lovely layers, but…. just look:

IMG_0640

Who can argue with the creaminess of the ricotta, the spiciness of the sausage, the sweet aroma of tomato and basil? I think, personally, that it’s beautiful.

To be honest, this dish still did take a little longer to make than I usually spend on dinner (although it was less than an hour). Nevertheless, it was exactly the kind of meal that I love to prepare — the fantastic ingredients had me convinced from the start that the meal was going to be a success, so all I had to to was chop, combine, and occasionally stir. There was plenty of down time when I could walk away and do something else, and since there was no rush to get dinner on the table, I could just enjoy the process of knowing that a really nice meal was coming together. That sensation is one of the most rewarding aspects of cooking — it’s so creative, both in the imaginative sense as well as the sense in which each preparation takes raw components that may or may not be exciting on their own and creates something totally new and inspiring out of them. What other hobby lets you create something so pleasing and satisfying out of practically nothing?

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This was another recipe from Ezra Pound Cake……. get on over there for the full recipe! The only change I made was to use 1/2 lb ground beef and 1/2 pound spicy italian sausage. I wouldn’t use a full pound of the sausage, since my version had plenty of sausage flavor and plenty of spice, as well. I think the dish would be overwhelmed by a higher proportion of flavored meat. Perhaps a mix of spicy and sweet sausage would work… basically, you can’t lose with this recipe!

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