Caramelized Chicken

One of my very worst peeves is when I make kitchen plans and for whatever reason, they fall through.

When I get an idea in my head to cook something, I am determined to be able to follow through with it. If I can’t, it just makes me straight grumpy. As Tim Gunn would say, I just try to “Make it work.”

I mean, there was that one time that the pretzel dough I made dissipated into gelatinous goo in the boiling solution and was beyond all repair. Sometimes I still stop and have a moment of silence for that loaf of banana bread that was raw and for whatever reason, stayed raw even after I nuked it in the oven for hours And, who could ever forget that time I set my oven on fire the first time I made naan?)

But we’re not gonna focus on those tiny missteps, guys. The main takeaway here is that usually, I can fix it. Usually I can think quick on my feet, adapt and still get what I want out of a dish. Case in point would be today’s recipe.

Alright so, boom. It’s summer time, and I really wanted to make chicken skewers. I didn’t have any wooden skewers in the house and I still haven’t gotten around to buying the metal set I have bookmarked on my Amazon wishlist. But I didn’t figure that was too big of a deal. Since it is summer, and people tend to enjoy grilling kebabs during the summer, I thought that I’d most likely be able to find a pack of wooden skewers just about anywhere, right?

Right?

Heh.

Yeah, no store I went to had wooden skewers. I mean, none. How rude.

The real gag was, I had already started the prep work for this recipe. I was so confident I was going to find the skewers, that my marinade was already done and put together, AND the chicken was already cut into the cubes for the skewers and soaking in it, ready to be skewed.

And I had…no skewers.

Were my initial plans foiled? Yeah. Was I annoyed? Most definitely. Did I give up?

Tuh. You guys know who this is.

I wanted chicken skewers. True, I wasn’t going to get the skewers part of that equation…but there was no way I wasn’t still going to have chicken. This was one of those times where I knew that I could make it work.

So right off rip, I’ll let you guys know that this is a dish with primarily Asian flavors. The marinade itself has that pungent, salty flavor from the fish & soy sauce, but ti’s well balanced out with the OJ and brown sugar that lend sweetness, and the ginger that gives it a bite. Once that flavor is given time to develop in the protein, you can move onto the really good part, which is the sauce. The sauce is where the ‘caramelization’ in the recipe title comes in; it’s tangy, sweet, and slightly thick. When it’s brushed onto the chicken in the final stages of cooking at a high temp, the sugars in it form a thin crisp, slightly blackened layer on top of the chicken that deepens the flavor and makes the sauce sticky.

I didn’t have my wooden skewers. My plans were thrown off. And I still walked away with this dish, which by the time all was said and done made me forget that I was upset about it in the first place. It was easy to ‘make it work’. In the recipe below I do give instructions for how to cook the chicken with and without skewers just in case the grocery stores in your area want to be rude like mine were and act like this isn’t prime grilling season. Whether you choose to make it over a grill, under a broiler or in a skillet or wok, I think you should try this dish. It’s quite good and has become another addition to my collection of Happy Accidents.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #187, co-hosted this week by Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju.com and Sadhna @ Herbs, Spices and Tradition.

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Caramelized Chicken

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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For Marinade

  • 2 1/2 to 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into large cubes (as close to the same size as possible)
  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce

For Sauce

  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger root
  • Sesame seeds and scallions, for garnish, optional
  • Wooden skewers, soaked overnight if broiling

 

Directions

Place the cubed chicken in a resealable gallon size bag. Combine all the remaining ingredients In a small bowl, then pour over the chicken. Seal the bag and turn over a few times to make chicken evenly coated.

Refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.

Combine all 8 ingredients for the sauce together in a saucepan. Bring to boil, then lower heat and allow to simmer until thickened, about 10-15. minutes. Remove from heat. Divide the sauce in half in two separate containers.

For Cooking: If you’re using a broiler/skewers, place the marinated chicken onto the skewers. Heat the broiler, then spray your pan well with cooking spray. Broil the chicken until just nearly done. Towards the end (when the outside is no longer raw) brush one half of the sauce on top of the chicken. Allow to broil further until the outer coating becomes caramelized.

You can also cook the chicken in a skillet or wok; heat canola/peanut oil in skillet, cook the chicken over medium high-high heat then towards the end, pour the sauce in and toss to combine.

Serve the chicken sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions and the other half of the sauce.

Chicken Bulgogi

It is hot.

I don’t think y’all heard me the first time, so let me say it again for the people in the back.

It.is.HOT. Unbearably hot. I am not okay with this.

I’ve never been one that does well in extreme heat. It’s not a pretty picture. For one, it makes me straight up cranky. I start sweating, which makes me feel gross.  My hair gets frizzy at the roots, and other Black women will know just why and how much of a problem this is for styling & manageability. My sinuses swell and my nose starts getting congested so it’s harder for me to breathe. It’s pretty miserable.

This is also an apt description of the weather here for the past week. The upper 80’s are already uncomfortable when you’re standing or walking in the sun without any shade. This week, the temperatures climbed all the way up into the mid to upper 90’s, and today, peaked in the 100’s.

Normally, I try to take my niece out for at least a few hours a day to play outside in a park nearby our apartment, or we’ll go downtown to the library, then walk back home. Needless to say, our plans for this week were disrupted by the heatwave. Even if the mere idea of going out in that kind of heat didn’t make me want to melt, it’s just too hot to take a small kid out in without the risk of them getting dehydrated or heat stroke. So, we switched up the routine a bit and spent some time in Berkeley where my sister’s working for the summer, where the temperatures are MUCH cooler. The U of C campus there is very pretty and she was able to ride her scooter around on it.

With such extreme weather, I’m sure that the very last thing most of us in the States feel like doing is switching on an oven, whether you have air conditioning or not. I’m certainly not gonna do it. Fortunately, today’s recipe doesn’t require you to.

Let’s just get the obvious question out of the way first, shall we? For those who don’t know off the bat (and no, I didn’t know either before cooking it myself) it’s pronounced BOOL-GO-GEE. It refers to a Korean dish where the protein is sliced thin, marinated, then cooked over high heat over a grill or on a stove top. The marinade usually has soy sauce, sesame oil and garlic in it, and is usually also slightly spicy.

There are several Korean restaurants in our area, but I thought that a nice way to introduce us to bulgogi, rather than pick a random spot we found on Yelp and hope for the best, would be to instead follow the basic guidelines for it in terms of the process and form a recipe suited to our tastes who’s ingredients still qualified as ‘bulgogi-fied’. That way, I could make adjustments to fit our palates, not waste money and still come out with a good result.

The most obvious change I’ve made from a traditional bulgogi is that I’ve used chicken rather than the typical beef or pork.  You guys already know I’ll swap chicken in for just about anything if I can get away with it, and I really do think I got away with it here. The flavors of the marinade I think would work well with any meat and white bird meat is usually more inexpensive than red cow or pink pig.

I usually set my meat in an overnight marinade to let the flavors really absorb into the meat but if you’re crunched for time or trying to make this into a weeknight dinner, I think a quick marinade would still get the job done and deliver results that everyone will like. The sauce that gets drizzled on top of the chicken is outstanding: it’s got that earthy saltiness from the soy sauce and added fish sauce, the sweet from the brown sugar and mirin, then it’s given just enough of a kick from the ginger and five spice. Some people like to eat their bulgogi over rice. We ate ours in tacos shells, drizzled with some of the glorious sauce and some shredded carrots and green onions. I even added some spicy kimchi on top of mine: it really was a PERFECT bite.

Sharing this at Fiesta Friday #177, co-hosted by Ai @ Ai Made It For You and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook. Stay cool guys!

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Chinese Bulgogi

Recipe Adapted from FoodNetwork.com

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Ingredients

  • 3 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into strips
  • 1 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • A few dashes of fish sauce
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese fivespice
  • 6 scallions,plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Vegetable or canola Oil
  • Tortilla shells for serving
  • Shredded cabbage or lettuce, matchstick carrots, daikon radish, for serving (optional)

 

Directions

Place the chicken in a gallon size re-sealable Ziploc bag.

In a blender combine the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, sesame oil, fish sauce, garlic cloves, minced ginger, five spice and 6 scallions. Puree until smooth.

Set aside about half of the marinade in a bowl. Pour the other half over the chicken. Seal the bag securely and shake, making sure to coat the chicken evenly with the marinade. Refrigerate overnight or at least three hours.

Heat vegetable or canola oil over medium high heat in a large Dutch oven or non-stick skillet. Add the chicken in batches, frying in the pan until golden brown and crisp at the edges. When finished, place in a bowl and keep the bowl covered with aluminum foil.

Strain the remaining marinade to rid of excess bits, then place in a small saucepan over high heat. Whisk in the cornstarch and allow to cook until reduced and thickened into a sauce, about 10-15 minutes.

Spoon the chicken into tortilla shells and garnish with cabbage, carrots, radishes, scallions or desired toppings.

Chinese Braised Beef

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Hi. How are all of you doing?

So….climate change is not a hoax. It is not something you can ignore or put away to the back burner and pretend as though it’s inconsequential. It is real.

The man who lives in the White House (at least PART of the time, when he’s not golfing at one of his tacky resorts) is a corrupt, shameless, puny buffoon. A disgrace. He’s unfit for office and a menace to this country.

I didn’t vote for him. I despise him, completely.

There. Just wanted to make it clear to all of you where I stand on that. We can get back to the food now.

I like Chinese takeout. There’s just something about the food that, in spite of the msg-laden/syrupy sauces/mystery ‘meat’, I just can’t quit. It’s not fancy, God knows it’s not healthy and sometimes it’s not even that cheap, but if the president of your country is determined to give the middle finger to valid, proven scientific research that could be the difference in preserving this planet for future generations, what’s the point in turning your nose up at a little msg, eh?

However, there are times when I’m a ‘good girl’ and instead of picking up the phone to order takeout, I go into the kitchen instead to cook what I want instead.

My number one entree go-to at a Chinese takeout joint is Sesame Chicken. I haven’t gotten around to trying to make that on my own yet, but it’s definitely still on the radar. A meal of Sesame Chicken, Lo mein and egg rolls for me is pure comfort food. I’m pleased to say that this recipe is getting added to that list.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t quiiiiiite what I would classify as a ‘takeout style’ dish. Most wok-style takeout dishes use lean beef like flank or hangar steak that cook quickly at a very high heat. This recipe doesn’t come together quickly, because it’s a braise of a fattier cut of meat like bottom round, chuck or short ribs that require a low-and-slow cooking to make them fall-apart, fork tender.

There’s still lots of good news to go round: first, once you get the meat seared off and the sauce blended together, the oven does most of the rest of the work. Second, all of the ingredients you use for this dish are popular staples that should be easily found in most grocery stores (which isn’t always the case).

The only ‘downside’ is that you have to wait for the beef to braise for a couple of hours and once the smells start to waft up from your oven, into the kitchen and the rest of the house, waiting to dig in may get increasingly difficult as the hunger pangs start to settle in.

This dish is alternatively known as Chinese Red-Beef, and if I had to compare it to another cuisine I would say it’s in the same vein as Hungarian Red Goulash,  American Beef Stew, or a French Carbonnade. All are essentially braised hearty beef stews with incredible sauces with flavors that develop over the long cook-time in the oven.  The sauce in this dish is very reminiscent of Chinese takeout flavors to me; it’s sweet, acidic, salty and slightly spicy.   The fresh ginger really comes through and that bit of gelatin and cornstarch also helps to give it that sticky ‘takeout’ consistency. Like all beef stews/braises, this would also go wonderful with a starch on the side. My personal preference for a side dish to Asian food is brown rice and steamed brocoli, but I think white rice, or even noodles would be great mixed in with this sauce.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #174 this week.

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Chinese Braised Beef

Recipe Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

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Ingredients

  • 3 pounds of chuck roast, bottom round, or boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 4-inch lengths
  • Salt, pepper and onion powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
  • 2 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin on bias
  • About 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 dashes of fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Sesame seeds, optional for garnish

 

Directions

In a  large pot or Dutch oven, pour about 1 tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil and bring to high heat.

Season the beef with the salt, pepper and onion powder evenly. Sear in the Dutch oven over high heat until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate or bowl and cover with aluminum foil. Leave the drippings in the pan.

Add the onion to the pot and saute until softened and limp. Add the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300°.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in the Dutch oven and allow to sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.  Allow for gelatin to melt, then stir in the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, molasses, ginger, onion and garlic mixture, red pepper flakes and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer and stir together with a wooden spoon. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Stir in the beef chunks.

Remove pot from the heat, then cover tightly with aluminum foil, then Dutch oven lid. Transfer to oven and cook until the beef is tender when pierced with a fork, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring halfway.

When finished remove the beef to a bowl. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer and discard the bits. Separate/skim off as much fat as you can from the top, then place back into pot. Cook over medium high heat, until reduced to about 1 cup, about 20-25 minutes.

In a separate bowl combine the cornstarch with about 2 tablespoons of water, mixing together with a fork. Add this to the reduced sauce and allow to cook for about 5 more minutes, until thickened and syrupy. Return the beef to the pot and stir to combine with the sauce. Sprinkle with the scallions and sesame seeds and serve with rice and/or broccoli.

Sho Nuff Noodles

Sho Nuff Noodles1

Am I the meanest? Sho’nuff! 

Am I the prettiest?  Sho’nuff!

Am I the baddest mofo low down around this town? Sho’nuff!

Well who am I? Sho’nuff!

Who am I? Sho’nuff!

Sho Nuff Noodles4

Oh, hi guys. Don’t worry, I’m not crazy or full of myself. The above is a movie quote. I decided to open up this post with the direct inspiration/reference for this recipe. Kudos/gold stars/props to anybody out there that knows it on their own. You and I would probably be best buddies if we knew each other outside of the blogosphere.

In 1985, record label executive and legend Berry Gordy and the folks at Motown produced a martial arts/musical movie called “The Last Dragon”. Although it wasn’t exactly a critical success at the time of it being made, it is now considered to be a cult classic of Black cinema. And rightly so; it’s one of my favorite films,especially when you’re watching with a crowd of friends who can quote the movie with you.

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As it turns out, the film is also well-loved by one of my favorite celebrity chefs, Marcus Samuelsson. I follow him on Pinterest/Twitter and one day I saw a recipe pop up in my feed. It wasn’t just the picture that caught my attention, although that was mouth-watering enough to draw me in. It was also the name that he gave the dish that made me immediately want to look into what I would need to make it. Any “Last Dragon” fan worth their salt knows the name of the antagonist of the plot: Sho Nuff.  He’s the kung-fu neighborhood bully who is constantly challenging the protagonist, Leroy Green to a winner-take-all fight. He also travels around with an entourage of people, where he constantly makes them say his name like some kind of a pep rally cheer- hence, the quote.

Once I saw the dish, I knew I had to try it out just to see how Chef Marcus would translate the bold and bodacious personality of the character, into food. It’s not the first dish of his that I’ve tried to interpret and like all the others, this one did not disappoint either.

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I will admit however, the one “draw-back” to this recipe is that in order to make it, you will probably need to purchase the majority of the sauce ingredients from an Asian market. If you don’t have one of those, then online ordering is gonna have to be the way to go. To be honest, I’d never heard of some of them before seeing this ingredient list– but I will say that when combined all together, they make a sauce that is friggin DELICIOUS.

So yes, it is worth it.

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Another awesome thing about this recipe is that it’s versatile enough for those who are watching their carb-intake to still be able to enjoy it. So to adapt this recipe with my own personal spin, I took the liberty of making this dish with both regular lo mein noodles AND Shiritaki noodles. Both turned out fabulously and I’ve included the preparation directions for both in the recie. Also, because I’m also a carnivore you guys know I had to throw some meat in there for the added protein to make this more of a filling meal and less as an appetizer. Also, I threw in some sesame seeds because…why not?

Should you go the extra mile and make this dish? Sho Nuff.

Happy Fiesta Friday #119 and thanks to our co-hosts  Ahila @ A Taste of Sri Lankan Cuisine and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

Sho Nuff Noodles

Recipe Adapted from Marcus Samuelsson

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Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp black bean sauce
  • 1 tbsp kecap manis
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp shaoxing wine
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp yuzu kosho
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1⁄4 tsp ground caraway seeds
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 4 oz shredded cabbage
  • 1 baby bok choy, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 bunch scallions, 3⁄4 cut into 2″ pieces
  • 8 oz cooked lo mein noodles (OR 8 oz. Shiritaki noodles, drained; see directions below on how to prepare for this recipe)
  • 1-1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, diced (or any other protein you prefer)
  • sesame seeds, optional

Directions

Mix black bean sauce, kecap manis, oyster sauce, shaoxing wine, soy sauce, cornstarch, rice vinegar, yuzu, ginger, and caraway in a bowl; set sauce aside.

Heat oil in a 12” wok or nonstick skillet over high; add cabbage, bok choy, and 2” scallions and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.

Add noodles and chicken cook one minute more. Add reserved sauce cook 2 minutes. Garnish with sliced scallions and sesame seeds.

*If you’re using Shiritaki noodles: place noodles in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for about 65-70 seconds. The noodles will be ready when the scent of the fluid they’re  packaged in is gone. If it’s still there after the first minute, you can heat them for another 60 seconds, which should get the smell out. Use a knife to roughly chop until they’re loose and untangled. From here, they can be prepared in the same way as regular lo mein noodles for this recipe.

Asian Turkey Meatballs

Asian Turkey Meatballs

You guys are all seeing the Internet hoopla about “The Dress” aren’t you?

For those that aren’t, you should so you can join in on the conversation. Here ya go: check it out.

See? Now, let’s say it all together. What colors is the dress?

BLUE AND BLACK.

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Wait, what?! I know some of you guys aren’t like Jas and ACTUALLY see white and gold? What’s the matter with you? The Dress is blue and black; blue and black, I tell you!

This actually sparked a debate in my house last night; me and Ashley stand by the assertion that the dress is blue and black. Jas and my mom are convinced it’s white and gold. We were split right down the middle. I just couldn’t see it. I didn’t understand. It was a mystery.

But apparently the whole thing boils down to the ability of the cones in our eye retinas to mix and process colors through out brains. The people that see blue and black have cones that are better able to do this; people that see white and gold have cones that are…different.

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(Ha ha Jas.)

But in all fairness, since last night I have taken another couple looks at the picture (this is all  over social media by now so it’s kind of impossible not to) and I will admit: if I try really, really, REALLY hard…then I can see the dress as white and gold. It’s like mentally flicking a light switch on in my brain and literally ‘forcing’ myself to see white and gold. It only lasts for a few seconds, but it does work. Honestly it reminds me of one of those optical illusion pictures where there are actually two drawings within one and depending on whether or not you’re left brained or right brained, you see one or the other.

My first instinct with this dress will always make me see blue and black, but if I try to, then I can see white and gold.

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I know what you’re thinking: “Jess. What does The Dress have to do with this post?”

I was getting to that. See, this post has been in my Posts folder on the WordPress dashboard for nearly a month. I’ve been purposely passing it over in favor of other recipes and at one point, considered deleting it altogether. It’s not that this is a bad recipe; it’s actually delicious.

The problem was I just didn’t like the way the pictures turned out. Or at least most times, I didn’t.

Photographing brown food is really hard, guys. If you have crap lighting, then forget about; it’s not gonna work. But even under the best lighting circumstances imaginable, there’s still the risk that the dish you’re shooting will turn out looking…not appetizing.

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I did what I could to prevent this from happening; including other colors,making sure my sauce was fresh and shiny and sticky, and creating texture with sesame seeds…but when it was all said and done I still wasn’t sure.

At one point, I would look at these pictures and think that the meatballs looked good. Then the next day I’d look at them and think they looked like….

Well, you get it.

But today I feel like they don’t look too shabby. And considering I DID put in the work in cooking and photographing them, I figure I’d make it worthwhile and just put the friggin post up regardless. You guys be the judge.

Just think of it like The Dress photo; give it a few tries and see if you can see things differently than my more negative/self-depreciating side. Let me know if it works. And if it doesn’t, then do me a favor: don’t feel obligated to point it out. Just don’t tell me. Deal?

Oh yeah and Happy Fiesta Friday #57 at The Novice Gardener.

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Asian Turkey Meatballs

Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

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Ingredients

For the Meatballs:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cups thinly sliced green cabbage (about 1/4 head)
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 ounces shitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 large eggs plus 1 egg white
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
  • 4 scallions, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 2 -inch piece ginger, peeled and finely grated (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha chile sauce
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 head Boston lettuce, leaves separated

Directions

1. Make the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Transfer the cabbage to a plate to cool.

2. Wipe out the pan, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and the mushrooms. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to the plate with the cabbage to cool.

3. Lightly beat the eggs and egg white in a large bowl. Add the pork, scallions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and cornstarch. Add the cabbage, mushrooms and a few grinds of pepper and mix with your hands until just combined (do not overmix). Dampen your hands and shape the meat mixture into 18 balls (about 2 inches each); arrange on the prepared baking sheet.

4. Make the sauce: Mix the hoisin sauce, Sriracha, vinegar, sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a bowl; set aside 1/2 cup for serving. Brush the meatballs with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake until cooked through, 18 to 22 minutes. Serve in lettuce leaves with the reserved sauce.

Chinese Chicken Salad

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I went to a popular restaurant in our city for breakfast with my mom and sisters one day a few years back. It was a pretty good day, I was in a pretty good mood, and ready to eat some food that was more than pretty good (actually it’s fantastic, so if you’re ever in the Lansing MI area then make sure you go to Sophia’s House of Pancakes).

When we were seated, I noticed that there was an elderly couple that had also been recently seated in the booth just behind ours. The woman was sitting with her back to me, while the man was sitting on the opposite side, facing me. As well sat down, he smiled at me. I thought it was a very nice, kind smile, and even though the strangers I’ve come across normally didn’t throw out smiles like that, I decided to go ahead and throw a great big smile back at him. I didn’t really think too much of it after that, focusing my attention on ordering m food and engaging in conversation with my family.

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I think it was a few minutes after the food we’d all ordered had come out- we were about mid way through, when suddenly our waitress comes over to our table. She bends down and starts murmuring to us quietly, “Excuse me: I know this is our of nowhere, but I’ve just been told to let you now that your meal’s been completely paid for.”

TimeoutwaitWHAT?!

That was about the collective response at our table. When we asked her if she was sure about that, she nodded and pointed across the restaurant, “Yes: it was that gentlemen over there. He said that he just wanted to cover your bill for you because of how nicely you,” She nodded at me, “Smiled at him when you came in.”

You guys, I’m not the type of person who gets embarrassed easily. I think I’ve blushed a grand total of three times in my entire life.

Well, that was one of them.

At hearing that, my face got all hot and pink, I started grinning like an idiot and I paused long enough to swallow my mouthful of pancakes to choke out a sheepish, “Oh my God, are you serious?!” I was in a state of mild shock.

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I looked up to find the elderly gentleman and his wife and saw that they were just then leaving the restaurant. He waved at all of us as we shouted out a collective, stunned “thank you!”. I still remember the way that he grinned at me and mouthed, “Keep smiling!” as they went out the doors.

It’s the year 2015. Everywhere I look, I see people posting about New Years resolutions to accomplish things that (if we’re being completely honest with ourselves) are almost entirely superficial. I’l be upfront with you all and even admit that I’ve made similar resolutions to myself in past years. It’s easy to focus on what’s ‘wrong’ with you as a person and resolve to change it. Heck, that’s not always a bad thing.

However, this year I’m hoping for more moment like that day in Sophia’s House of Pancakes where I come across people like that kind elderly man and his wife that aren’t too old, jaded or bitter to notice and value the important of seemingly little things like kind smiles and random acts of generosity to strangers. I’m also hoping that this year I can do more to take my focus off of myself and be like that elderly man was in noticing the beautiful things of life that are far too often taken for granted. I believe that days and moments like the one I just shared are a large part of why we’re here on this Earth in the first place. They make the world seem brighter and filled with hope. They’re what’s really important in life.

Chinese Chicken Salad2

I’m still keeping things light and healthy this week with a salad that’s become a new favorite of mine. Although the recipe is originally for chicken, we are just coming off of the holidays and if you still have some leftover turkey in your fridge (like I do) then you can definitely sub that in. The dressing is both tangy from the vinegar and ginger, and also earthy from the flavor of the peanut butter. The chipotle gives it a nice little kick of heat in the aftertaste. If you can’t find dry crunchy Chow Mein noodles where you are (they’re usually in the Foreign Cuisine aisle of the grocery store) then using peanuts would also give the same ‘crouton’ contrast of textures that you’re looking for in a salad.

I’m taking this salad to Fiesta Friday #49 this week, hosted by Angie@TheNoviceGardener and co-hosted this week by Mr Fitz @CookingwithMrFitz and Kaila @GF Life 24/7. Happy New Year everyone!

fiesta-friday-badge-button-i-party

 

Chinese Chicken Salad

Recipe Courtesy of Bobby Flay

Print

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle pepper puree
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 head Napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 head romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1/4 pound snow peas, julienned
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
  • Handful of Chinese crunchy chow mein noodles

Directions

1. Whisk together the vinegar, peanut butter, ginger, chipotle pepper puree, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, and canola oil in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

2. Combine cabbage, lettuce, carrots, snow peas, cilantro, and green onion in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to combine.

3. Transfer to a serving platter and top with the shredded chicken and chow mein noodles.

Sambal Chicken Skewers

Sambal Chicken2

So, I have a confession to make.

I’m a really bad griller. It’s true. If you ask me to grill you something, I am probably, most likely, almost definitely going to mess it up.

I’m sure that the whole thing is probably easy enough to do if you’ve got a gas grill, but we only have a charcoal grill at my house and for the life of me, I cannot keep that thing hot enough to cook the food. Don’t get me started on using smokers and special types of wood and all those other fancy doohickies (did I spell that right? I don’t think I did.)

I remember one Memorial Day a couple of years back where I tried to help my Mom grill. When we couldn’t keep the coals hot enough, we finally got the idea in our heads that we needed something to feed the flames since the coals obviously weren’t cutting it.

Don’t ask why, but for some reason, we decided to go with old newspaper.

Sambal Chicken3

Well, it got the coals hot enough, for sure. It all just started going south AFTER we put the meat on the grill…and the newspaper started flaking and flying up all over the place, sticking to the food.

Good times, Good times.

Long story short, we ended up rinsing off the meat and just finishing it all in the oven and slow cooker that day. But it still served to teach me a very valuable lesson: I’m NOT a griller. At least not now. Maybe one day I’ll just sit down and force myself to learn. I could also just find a guy to date who knows how to do it and just leave all that grilling business to him. Either one would work.

Sambal Chicken1

I say all of this because it’s very frustrating for me when I see or find a recipe that I would reeeeeeeeeally like to try, but it’s supposed to be grilled. My culinary shoulders give a little slump every time I see that and I just think,

“What? It’s supposed to be grilled? But…but…I don’t know how to grill. I suck at grilling. How am I supposed to do make this if it’s supposed to be grilled? No fair!”

Most of the time, I just end up putting said recipes aside for the day that I do end up learning to grill. But not this time. This time, I just couldn’t put it aside. I wanted to make this recipe, darn it. And I didn’t want to let grilling get in the way of me and my food.

Sambal Chicken4

Bon Appetit is such a dangerous website for me. I can browse it for 5 minutes, and suddenly I want to cook absolutely everything I see there. That’s what happened with this recipe. I saw it, and I just knew, people. I knew I had to make this, come hell or high water.

I may not know how to operate my charcoal grill…but my oven? She and I are on very good terms with each other.

I made this recipe work for me, people. And really, I’m so glad I did. Because grill or no grill, it’s really so friggin delicious. The marinade is what really makes the flavors pop. The rice wine vinegar gives a slight tang and acidity to the chicken that is somehow tempered by both the saltiness of the fish sauce and the sweetness of the ginger and brown sugar. The hot chili paste doesn’t bring as much heat as you would think it would- I would describe it more as more of a smoky flavor. The Sriracha is where the heat comes in, sneaking up on you in the back of your throat even after you’ve swallowed the chicken. I’ve eaten a lot of chicken breasts and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy to inject them with much flavor. But this really does do the job.

Sambal Chicken5

I did make some modifications to this recipe for my own purposes: first, I obviously baked them in the oven rather than grilling them. But the original does call for them to be grilled, I can see how they would taste even better if they were. So if you’re good at grilling, then by all means, go for it. Second, rather than just putting the marinade on the meat the same day as cooking, I did let them it sit overnight in the fridge, just to make sure all the flavors would fully permeate. However, if you’re in a hurry this isn’t necessarily mandatory. Third, the original recipe called for you to take the used marinate, bring it to a boil over the stove, then brush it over the finished chicken.

Yeah…I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I know that boiling the marinade is ‘supposed’ to take the bacteria out of it. But my paranoia and just the idea of eating something that raw, uncooked chicken sat in made me feel queasy. I just re-made the whole marinade and warmed it up over the stove. That way I don’t have to worry that I’ve poisoned myself and my family.

So, Grill. We managed to avoid each other once more. Perhaps we shall meet one day- but that day is not today.

Guys, I give you…Sambal Chicken.

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Sambal Chicken Skewers

Recipe Adapted from BonAppetit.com

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
  • 1/4 cup Sriracha
  • 2 teaspoon finely grated peeled ginger
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch–2-inch pieces
  • Sesame seeds, optional
  • 8 bamboo skewers soaked in water at least 1 hour

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Whisk brown sugar, vinegar, chili paste, fish sauce, Sriracha, and ginger in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Thread 4 or 5 chicken pieces onto each skewer.

3. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, and place a wire rack over it. Spray rack with non-stick cooking spray. Lay chicken skewers on rack and bake in oven for 25-30 minutes, until chicken reaches inner temperature of  165 degrees.

4. While chicken is baking,make a second batch of the marinade and warm in a saucepan over the stove.

5. Brush sauce over finished chicken and sprinkle with sesame seeds.