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A Chinese Takeout Classic at Home – Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts

Let’s face, we all love the convenience and taste of most Chinese takeout. There is nothing quite like getting an egg roll, some fried rice and one of a dozen or so classic Chinese takeout meals to make things easy and tasty on a weeknight or weekend. I admit we get Chinese takeout about once a month now, mainly because I have found that anything that we really like I can make at home and have it cost a lot less and often times taste better and fresher.I had come across this recipe in the New York Times a while back for a classic Chinese menu meal of Gong Bao chicken with peanuts. This one is so easy to make and only takes a few minutes of your time and you can have a meal that tastes better than your favorite takeout.

Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts

For the Chicken:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

3 garlic cloves

1-inch section of fresh ginger, peeled

5 scallions, white parts only

4-6 dried chiles

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper

1/3 cup roasted peanuts

For the Marinade:

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon dry sherry or dry vermouth

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

For the Sauce:

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into half-inch strips, then cut the strips into small cubes. Place the chicken in a small bowl. Add all of the marinade ingredients and 1 tablespoon of water to the bowl with the chicken. Mix well and set the bowl aside.

Peel and thinly slice the garlic and the ginger. Chop the scallions into chunks as long as the chicken cubes so they match in diameter. Snip the chiles in half or into sections, discarding the seeds.

In a small bowl, combine all the sauce ingredients and mix well.

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the vegetable oil, chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until the chiles are darkening but not burned. Remove the skillet from the heat if necessary to prevent the pan from overheating.

Quickly add the chicken and stir-fry it over high heat, stirring frequently. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic and scallions and continue to stir-fry everything until the garlic and ginger are fragrant and the chicken is just cooked through, about 2 or 3 minutes. You can test one of the larger pieces of chicken to be sure it is done.

Give the sauce a stir and add it to the ingredients in the skillet, continuing to stir and toss the mixture. As soon as the sauce has become thick and shiny, add the peanuts, stir into the mixture and remove the skillet from the heat. Serve.

There are a few things about this dish. First, if you can’t find Sichuan pepper (and it may not be readily available), there is a Sichuan oil that you can get instead to use. It doesn’t add any heat to the dish but has a lemony flavor to it. you can always omit it from the dish if you can’t locate anything else. The peppercorns are often used in Chinese five spice powder. The same goes for the dried chiles. My family does not like things very hot, so I simply went with red bell peppers and added some chili oil for a little bit of heat. One thing you do need in this dish is the peanuts. Michelle and I both agreed the peanuts made the dish. They add great crunch and flavor. You can buy already roasted peanuts in the store or you can roast your own in a 250 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Just watch them closely because they can burn pretty easily. I stir-fried some green beans, mushrooms and carrots in a separate skillet so we had some vegetable with the meal and also served it with white rice. I loved the flavor of the sauce and marinade and the peanuts really gave a lot to the dish.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for some more recipes. I had hoped to get some Halloween stuff together, but it just didn’t happen with other things going on around here, so maybe next time. however, I did make some homemade peanut butter cups which I will share next time. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal and have a happy Halloween!

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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Cooking, Dinner, One Pot Meals, Poultry, Sauce

 

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Back to School: A Cook’s Illustrated Stir Fry Primer

I make a stir fry dinner about once a week, mainly because it is one of the easiest meals you can put together in a short amount of time. While any stir fry can come out tasting okay, you want yours to taste great every time you make one so it seems different and special. While it’s true that a stir fry often stems from trying to use up the leftovers in the refrigerator, you can also put some planning and strategy into what you use and how you make it. In the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, they have a wonderful article on steps you can take and follow to make a great stir fry every time.

A good stir fry usually starts with three basic components – some type of protein, vegetables and some type of sauce. Of course, you can vary this to fit any type of taste, but ideally you want to try to mix up texture and color as much as you can to create a vibrant, enticing plate. Another thing to remember is that while having lots of color can make the plate look nice, having too much can really clutter things up for you. If you can limit the types of produce you use to three at the most it will help avoid this and advance the flavor of your dish.

For proteins, you want to keep the quantity to around 1 pound of whatever you choose and select tender cuts that will soften up faster with this type of cooking. Sirloin tip steaks, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pork tenderloin or shrimp are just some ideal examples that you can use. To make things even easier for yourself, try freezing your protein before cutting it so you can slice easier and get more uniform cuts. Generally about 30 minutes of freezing should suffice. You also want to make sure you take some time to pre-treat the protein you are using. it can really help to tenderize the protein and give it more flavor.Try soaking the protein for 15 minutes in 1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water. Don’t go longer than the 15 minutes or it will start to break down the protein too much and be sure you rinse the protein off before you start marinating it.

You want to marinate the protein in some type of salty liquid. This will help to brine the meat and boost the flavor. Just make sure you drain it well before you cook so you can make sure the meat will brown nicely and not steam in any excess liquid. Soaking the meat for 15 minutes in just 2 tablespoons of soy sauce or fish sauce can make a big difference. For shrimp, salty marinades can be a bit overwhelming. Cook’s Illustrated recommends using a simple mix of 3 tablespoons of oil, 6 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for 30 minutes to get great flavor from the shrimp.

For vegetables, again you want to stick to about a 1 pound limit of whatever combination you choose. Some vegetables, like broccoli, carrots, snap peas or cauliflower, need longer cooking times, about 3 to 7 minutes. Softer vegetables like mushrooms, onions, snow peas, peppers or asparagus need only about 1 to 3 minutes of cooking time. Smaller, more tender vegetables such as frozen peas, scallion greens, water chestnuts, tomatoes, bean sprouts or greens like spinach only need 30 to 60 seconds. Try to cut everything to a uniform size so that it all cooks evenly.

Lastly, you want to have some type of sauce to cook it all in. The sauces you buy in the jars in the store may work fine for some people, but I find them to be very sweet and loaded with salt. You can very easily make your own sauce in a minute or two with a few ingredients. A classic sauce, which I used in the chicken stir fry recipe below, has chicken broth, dry sherry, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, cornstarch and sesame oil.

I followed this simple recipe for a great chicken stir fry, but you can follow the same pattern for beef, fish or even tofu.

Easy Chicken Stir Fry

Sauce:

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup dry sherry

3 tablespoons hoisin or oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Chicken:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons soy sauce

6-8 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/3 pound broccoli, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/3 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch slices

1 small onion, sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/3 cup frozen peas

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon ginger, grated

For the sauce, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside. Heat a large, nonstick skillet over high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil and heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken slices, breaking up any clumps, until browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a bowl and cover it to keep it warm. Repeat the process with another 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil and the remainder of the chicken. Remove the chicken to the bowl and cover to keep warm.

Add another 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan. Add the broccoli and cook until seared, about 3 to 5 minutes.Remove the broccoli from the skillet and add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until seared, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the carrots and add the onion and bell pepper, stirring occasionally, until seared, about 1 to 3 minutes.Remove the onions and peppers from the skillet and add the frozen peas to the skillet and heat until seared, about 30 to seconds.Add the broccoli, peppers and onion back to the skillet and toss.

Clear the center of the pan and add the garlic, ginger and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Mash the mixture until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds, then mix it into the vegetables. Return the chicken to the pan. Whisk the sauce to re-combine, then add it to the skillet and toss constantly until the liquid is thickened, about 30 seconds. Pour the stir fry into a serving bowl and serve with white rice or fried rice.

There are a few other tips you may want to follow when making a stir fry. First, as I have said before, while it is nice to have a wok, I don’t think they are very effective for cooking at home. unless you have a professional stove with the right kind of burners, a round-bottomed wok won’t work nearly as well as a large skillet when it comes to browning. Second, don’t put too much in the pan all at once. A crowded skillet won’t give you the searing that you want for a stir fry; it is just going to steam everything. Take the time to cook everything in batches and you will be well rewarded with nice browning. Third, try not to stir everything too much. I know it’s called a stir fry and everything tells you that you should be stirring constantly, but the thing is that most stoves don’t give you the kind of heat you get at an Asian restaurant’s stove or flat top so by moving things around all the time you don’t allow them to brown well. Give them a chance to cook and stir infrequently. Finally, remember that you don’t have to cook everything fully during the searing process. You want to remove items just before they are done. Everything is going to finish cooking in the end when you add it back into the pan with the sauce.

Of course you can do things in many combinations or try different sauces instead of this classic sauce if you want something different. You can vary things up each time by using different seasonal vegetables as well to make things different or top the final product with scallion greens, toasted seeds or nuts or whatever herbs or oils you may find appropriate or like. The combinations are endless here, so you can have a  lot of fun with it.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for some new recipes I have tried recently, including a very simple Italian bread salad and a great bay scallops I used recently. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!

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Asparagus and Chicken Stir Fry

Since it is spring and asparagus has been in abundance lately, I have been buying a lot of it. It is a vegetable we all like in my family and in a variety of ways. I have had a lot of it around the house this week and decided last night to make some use of it with this chicken and asparagus stir fry recipe I found at Food Network. It’s light and easy, only taking me about fifteen minutes to prepare, just enough time to cook up some rice to go along with it.

Asparagus and Chicken Stir Fry

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, cut into thin matchsticks

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch plus one teaspoon

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon dry sherry

3/4 cup chicken broth or water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 bunches medium asparagus (about 2 pounds), woody stems trimmed, sliced into 1-inch pieces

1 bunch scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced

Freeze the chicken breasts for 20 to 30 minutes and then thinly slice the chicken against the grain into strips. Toss the strips with 1 clove of the garlic and about half the ginger, the soy sauce, sugar, 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the sherry in a bowl. Marinate at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Mix the remaining corn starch with the chicken broth or water.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the asparagus, scallions, remaining garlic, remaining ginger, 1/4 cup of water and season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Stir-fry until the asparagus is bright green but still crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Heat the same skillet until very hot and then add the remaining 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the chicken and stir-fry until it loses its raw color and gets a little brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Return the asparagus to the pan and toss to heat through. Stir in the reserved cornstarch mixture and bring to a full boil to thicken. Mound the stir-fry on a serving platter and serve with white or brown rice.

The great thing about any stir fry is that you can add whatever you like to it. There are many other spring vegetables you could add to the mix right now, like fresh peas, or you can go with any of your favorites, like mushrooms, onions, carrots, green beans, sprouts, broccoli… the list can go on and on. You could also substitute for the chicken and use shrimp, pork, beef or no meat at all and just go with the vegetables if that is what you are looking for. I think any of the options are good, but I really liked this recipe as it is. The asparagus was nice and crispy and the chicken tasted great from the marinade. I think the fresh ginger really made the dish and the cornstarch mixture put  a nice glaze on the chicken.

Nice and simple for today. Today being Wednesday and usually a busy day around here, I don’t often cook anything new. We either have leftovers or something equally as simple, like burgers. I do have another chicken recipe I will be using later this week as well as the recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie, so check back for those towards the end of the week. Until next time, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!

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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Cooking, Poultry, Vegetables

 

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A Few Good Articles and Stir Fry Chicken

I’ve been busy the last couple of days so I haven’t had time to post anything, but tonight I’ll write about a couple of good things I saw today and our dinner tonight, which was Stir Fry Chicken and Vegetables. The first article was one posted by the Food Network and was all about what should be in your pantry for every day use. I have written about this before myself, and if you want to read my post on it, you can check it out right here. The Food Network pantry has a few things in it that I don’t usually have in mine, but they are all good staples to have around. If you have all these things, you can pretty much make dinner on a moment’s notice for yourself, your family and any unexpected guests. If you want to see what they suggest, you can check out there article right here.

The second article I read today was in the New York Times today. It’s written by Julie Moskin and it is all about being a cookbook ghostwriter. She writes about how the days of the famous chefs sitting down to impart their cooking wisdom on everyone are over, and that most cookbooks may have the name of a famous chef on the jacket, but they are actually written by someone else who gets a lot less money and no recognition for their work. It’s a very interesting article to read. What she says makes sense in that today’s chefs with television shows and multiple restaurants couldn’t possibly crank out books as fast as people like Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray do in today’s marketplace. It’s nice to see the little guys get a little recognition for their work. If you’re interested in checking out the article, you can find it right here.

Lastly, tonight I made a simple stir fry chicken and vegetables with white rice, which I have made before and posted about on here. I’ll post the recipe again, and you can also check it out here if you want. The nice thing about stir fries is that you don’t really need any recipe at all to make one. You can add any kind of protein (or none at all), whatever vegetables you may have on hand or left over, make a little sauce, and you have a great meal pretty quickly. We eat a lot of stir fry dinners for these reasons.

Stir-Fried Chicken and Vegetables

2 cups broccoli or cauliflower florets and stems, cut into bite size pieces

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 pepper (any color), seeded and sliced into strips

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 medium onion, sliced

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into 1/2-inch wide strips

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce 1/2 cup chicken stock, white wine or water (your choice, I am using stock)

Put a large, deep skillet over high heat. Add half the oil, swirl it around and immediately add half the garlic and ginger. Cook for 15 seconds, stirring, then add the onion and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and pepper and cook over high heat until the vegetables are tender but not at all mushy, about 5 minutes. Add the scallions and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Turn the heat down to medium and remove the vegetables. Add the remaining oil to the pan, then the remaining garlic and ginger. Stir, then add the chicken. Raise the heat to high, stir the chicken once, then let it sit for 1 minute before stirring again. Cook stirring occasionally, until the chicken has lost its pink color, 3 to 5 minutes.

Return the vegetables to the pan and toss once or twice. Add the sugar, then the soy sauce; toss again. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add the liquid. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is reduced slightly and you’ve scraped up all the bits of chicken, about 30 seconds. Serve over rice.

So that’s all I have for today. Tomorrow is our meat-free meal of the week and I’ll be making Cream of Broccoli Soup for dinner. It promises to be very tasty. I’ll have to pick up some crunchy bread in the morning to go with it. Enjoy your evening and enjoy your meal!

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in Cooking, Cooking Websites, Dinner, Pantry, Poultry

 

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