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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cashew Chicken

If you are anything like me, then you have wondered what Asian restaurants do to get the chicken in their stir fries so tender. Any time I made a stir fry, my chicken would get tough.  Well, I was tired of tough chicken and some time ago I did some research and found this recipe with a magic trick to get your chicken tender - SUPER tender - no - UBER tender.  The secret is baking soda!  Can you believe it?  Well trust me.  It works, and it makes your average stir fry so much better.  The rest of this dish is pretty amazing as well.  I made a few adjustments, including quadrupling the sauce ingredients because we are a sauce-lovin' kind of family.  The more sauce the better.

Cashew Chicken
adapted from Gimme Some Oven

Stir-fry Ingredients:
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins, cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 cup cashew nuts
1 green bell pepper, cut into about 1″ pieces
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 yellow onion, cut into 1/2″ dice
2 scallions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. corn starch
1/2 tsp. rice wine (or rice wine vinegar)

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tsp. rice wine (or rice wine vinegar)
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
2 teaspoon sugar

In a bowl, marinate the chicken in the baking soda for 15-20 minutes.  Then rinse the baking soda off the chicken completely.  Pat the chicken dry and add the corn starch and rice wine and marinate for another 15 minutes.

Heat 1 Tbsp of canola oil (or use peanut oil for lots more flavor) is a large pan.  Add the chicken a cook until it turns white.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Heat another tablespoon of canola oil to the pan and then add the ginger, peppers, and onions and cook until the onions are cooked.  Return the chicken to pan along with the garlic scallions, and cashews.  Cook for another five minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Then add the sauce and combine.

Serve with rice.  Also, if you were wondering why there are mushrooms in the picture above, it's because I made some oyster mushrooms with bok choy as a side dish.  BONUS RECIPE:  Just throw some minced ginger, garlic, and scallions in some hot oil.  Rinse the mushrooms and add to the pan with the water still clinging to them.  Add some trimmed baby bok choy.  Cover the pan.  Uncover and stir occasionally until the bok choy is tender.  Add a Tablespoon of reduced sodium soy sauce and a little of the cashew chicken sauce if you have some to spare, but it isn't necessary.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Cookies

If you are not a regular visitor to my blog or a friend of mine, then you probably don't know what a fan I am of Deb Perelman.  She was the first to capture my interest in the world of food blogs and was an inspiration for doing my own.  I have made so many of her recipes and her adaptations of recipes - so many of which have become regulars of mine.  I have already posted a number of them on this site, but there will be many more to come.  Even when I try desperately to branch out, I find myself staring at a Deb Perelman post.  For example, when I had the urge to find cookie recipes using coconut, I had a specific idea in mind.  I wanted the coconut to be fine so it would be texturely unnoticeable (because Jim hates coconut due to its texture.)  I figured a shortbread or sugar cookie would be the best bet, but set out to find some options using food blog searches and trying some different food sites.  I ended up where I probably should have begun my search.  This recipe is exactly what I had in mind and it came out exactly as I imagined it would.  They taste buttery and coconutty.  As I was making them, I felt like I was in Hawaii.  All I could smell from start to finish was toasted coconut.  Yum!  In the future, I may attempt this with some macadamia nuts thrown in.  How could that not be good???

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Cookies
from Smitten Kitchen adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2004

This recipe produced only 18 cookies for me.  (I think my 3-inch cookies cutters were 50% bigger than the ones used in the original recipe.)

1/2 cup (about 1.5 ounces) unsweetened shredded (I used flaked) coconut*
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (3/4 teaspoon if using sweetened coconut*)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and spread the coconut on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 4 minutes until golden (the recipe called for 8, but mine were done after 4.)  Remove from the oven and cool completely.  Using a coffee/spice grinder, grind the coconut until coarsely ground.

In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat until well combined.  Add the salt and vanilla and combine.  Add the flour in two batches and combine.  Form the dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least one hour and up to two days.

Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for a while before rolling.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough 1/4-inch thick.  Cut out your cookies with your preferred choice of cookie cutter.  Gather up your scraps, roll out again, cut out more cookies and continue this process until you have no more dough remaining.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread coconut on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until coconut is light golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Cool completely, then grind in a coffee grinder, food processor or blender until coarsely ground.

Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Mix in salt and vanilla. Beat in flour in 2 additions. Stir in toasted coconut. Gather dough together, flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out dough disk on lightly floured work surface to scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using 1 3/4- to 2-inch-diameter cookie cutters, cut dough into rounds. Transfer cookies to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Gather dough scraps and reroll; cut out additional cookies.

Bake cookies until light golden, about 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool completely. (Can be made ahead. Store airtight at room temperature up to 1 week.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Healthy Strawberry Milkshake

I love my green smoothie, but I like to switch things up occasionally (not to mention that sometimes I run out of greens and haven't had a chance to go shopping.)  This is a delicious substitute.  There are no greens, but there is fruit - so it still fits that bill.  It ends up tasting like a strawberry milkshake - I swear I'm not kidding!  You could play around with it - sprinkle some graham cracker crumbs on the top, add whip cream, a couple of slices of strawberry - but as is, it's a great, no fuss light breakfast.

Healthy Strawberry Milkshake
serves 2-3 people

1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen mango or peaches
1 banana
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
2 cups 1% milk
1 cup coconut water
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The "Best" Chocolate Chip Cookies

Those quotation marks around the word "best" are NOT sarcastic quotation marks.  This recipe is actually called "the best chocolate chip cookie" recipe, and according to all the reviews I have read, people agree.  So what does the BEST chocolate chip cookie taste like?  Well, the desire to know the answer to this question is what has made me try this recipe and so I set out to make the "best" chocolate chip cookies.  I even spent a fortune on the chocolate disks at Whole Foods.  The price was shocking and unexpected, and I hesitated and thought about just going with the good old Ghirardelli chips that I use for all my baking.  So then I compromised and went halvsies.  Well, the result is an amazing chocolate chip cookie.  I myself am not an expert, but my husband's first words after he took a bite were "these are the best chocolate chip cookies."  I can't make that bold of a statement because I haven't made that many chocolate chip cookies, but they were amazingly indulgent - full of chocolate and butter, and a touch of salt.  It's official that these are in fact some of the best chocolate chip cookies in existence.  I am definitely glad I splurged on the chocolate disks.  If you are able to get them, then go for it.  They made for a delicious layer of chocolate throughout most of the cookie.  I will say that the best part of this recipe is the sea salt.  I will forever sprinkle sea salt on top of every cookie I make.

Apparently the key to amazing cookies is letting the dough rest for at least 24 hours.  I decided to test out this theory.  I cooked a couple of cookies after letting the dough rest only 12 hours (overnight) and then cooked the rest after an additional 24 hours.  You could taste no difference.  I will also say that if you do let the dough chill in the fridge overnight or more, give yourself the additional time to let it warm up a bit so that you can form your balls of dough.  I left it out for an hour and still had to use a knife to break off chunks to roll.

And another thing...The recipe says to make big golf-ball size mounds of dough.  This resulted in ginormous 5-inch cookies.  I toned it down for the subsequent batches and made smaller mounds - about 2 inches in diameter - and reduced the baking time to 12 minutes.   Now I will have many more than a paltry 18 cookies and my students will be extremely happy tomorrow when I get them out of my house and into their tummies.  Also, the reduced cooking time made for a chewier cookie - which I prefer.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
from the New York Times
makes 18 5-inch cookies

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds dark chocolate disks (or fèves) (I used half fèves and half chips because of the price difference.)
Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.  Beat butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.  Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. (I cooked them this way first, but then switched to smaller sized cookies baked for 12 minutes instead and preferred the result.)  Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm with a glass of ice cold milk.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Slow Cooker Kimchi Pork

Another slow cooker pork recipe?  Yes!  I am always on the look-out for good slow cooker recipes.  I am extremely busy during the week.  So if I can come home to a done and waiting for me delicious dinner meal without it coming in a pizza box, then sign me up.  We had a carton of kimchi in our fridge, so I was inspired to look for some recipes that would incorporate said kimchi.  For those of you who don't know what kimchi's a Korean condiment made of vegetables pickeled with spices, peppers, scallions, etc.  You can get kimchi made with pretty much any vegetable, but the classic kimchi (and the one we had on hand) is made with napa cabbage.  Ever since Jim took me to my first Korean restaurant eight years ago, I have been in love with all kinds of kimchi.  They usual provide little tasting dishes of all varieties as an appetizer to your meal - like bread at an Italian restaurant.  These kimchis range from eggplant to cucumber to radish and beyond.  I don't even like radish and yet I like radish kimchi.  I would make kimchi myself if I had to, but we are blessed with an Asian superstore not too far from our house, where we can get all kinds of kimchi and a good lunch too.

Kimchi Pork
adapted from Savor the Rainbow

2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp minced garlic
3 Tbsp chopped scallions
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
approx. 3 lbs pork roast, trimmed of all visible fat
2 cups of kimchi

In a small bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients.  Place the pork in your slow cooker.  Pour the liquid over the pork.  Add the kimchi.  Cover and cook on low more 9 hours.  The pork was so tender that it pulled apart for me with just a pair of tongs.  Serve with rice or go fusion-style and make some tacos, quesadillas or paninis.  Enjoy!