Regional Chain: Raising Cane’s

My obsession with regional chains began at Raising Cane’s.  On a trip to New Orleans, I saw one from the drive-thru line at the Frozen Daquiri chain.  I asked my friend what it was, to which he replied, “it’s a chicken finger joint.”

Chicken Fingers?

“Yea.  Chicken Fingers.  It’s really awesome.  You mean you’ve never been there?  We should go.”  Daquiri’s in hand, off we went in search of chicken in his grandparents’ Mercury.

Raising Cane’s

The first thing that hit me was the air conditioning.  It’s hard to live without in Louisiana.  The second thing that hit me was how new the restaurant seemed.  The decor felt modern, like a Skate Shop or Renovated loft.  It felt hip, not like a hangover from the 80′s, which is how many McDonald’s feel.  On an interior brick wall they had painted an enormous mural of their logo, Warhol-esque photographs hung on the wall, and pop music played on the speakers.  Much more compelling than any Burger King I’ve frequented.

So they nailed the concept.  How was the food?  Well, for a place that serves only chicken fingers, not bad.  Their crinkle cut fries reminded me of school lunches, but not in a bad way: crispy fry on the outside, light potato on the interior, and a proprietary dipping sauce, that most say is like ketchup, mayo, and Tony’s Creole Seasoning.  The fingers themselves were pretty good: meaty and crispy, with a good meat-to-breading ratio.  All too often, chicken fingers have too little chicken, too little fry, or too much of either.  They had the ratio down pat.

What struck me most, though, was the story of the founder, Todd Graves.  Printed on the wall inside the store was a short background on the chain.  Todd came up with the idea while at LSU.  He wrote up a business plan for a class he was taking and received a poor grade.  Undeterred, he and a friend worked jobs on oil rigs and Alaskan fishing vessels to make the money to open the first restaurant.  Today, this little Louisiana chain that could is now in over 10 states and has spread well beyond the South.

And I had never heard of it.

I knew there were other chains like it out there.  My hometown, Pittsburgh, had Primanti Brothers, a local favorite that few knew outside of Western PA.  I had only ever seen D’Angelo Sub Shops in New England.  Jeffrey Lebowski’s darling burger joint, In-and-Out, has yet to make an Eastern US debut.

Remember back to your first summer camp, or your freshman year of college, that first time away from home?  Remember meeting people from new places, and talking about what you had back home? “You put french fries on sandwiches?  That’s so weird!”  That’s what I’m trying to capture.

Regional Chain: D’angelo Subs

Long ago, I found that going to a grocery store on an empty stomach is a bad idea.  I buy too much because I’m hungry.  I used to live in Boston, and across the street from my favorite grocery store was a D’Angelo sub shop.  I got into the habit of grabbing a cheesesteak, or half of a cheesesteak, to calm my belly before purchasing groceries.

I grew fond of D’Angelo Subs.  Rarely outside of the New Jersey / Philadelphia area can one find a good cheesesteak.  Having grown up in Pennsylvania and gone to college in Jersey, cheesesteaks were close to my heart.  There were no cheesesteak shops in Boston, so D’Angelo had the market cornered.  But, their subs were delicious.

D'Angelo Subs

What’s so great about them?  For starters, they’re cooked to order on a grill, not pre-cooked and microwaved, like at Subway.  They cook the shaved steak with oil, grilled onions, and peppers, and then layer cheese onto the meat while it’s cooking.  They scrape the entire meaty, gooey pile onto a fresh-baked hoagie roll.  My cheesesteak pet peeve is when the cold cheese is placed inside the hoagie roll, and the steak is added on top.  The cheese often never melts, which ruins the experience.  D’Angelo offers gooey cheese with every sandwich.

My personal favorite is the Steak Bomb.  Genoa salami and capicola ham are added to the steak, and the toppings include peppers, onions, sauteed mushrooms, and melted provolone.  It can be very salty, so eaters beware.

My favorite cheesesteak from my youth was by Trip’s Steaks in Cape May, NJ.  Something about the melted cheese, the soft, flaky bread, and the cornmeal dusting was heaven to me.  But, D’angelos now vies for the top spot.  I’d call them my two favorite cheesesteaks, much to the chagrin of many Philadelphians.

New Englanders swear by D’Angelo and their parent company Papa Gino’s Pizza.  If you’re in Red Sox Territory sometime soon, I’d recommend trying one.

Photobucket: A Hodgepodge

I’m trying to post with regularity, but I drew a blank on ideas for this week.  So, I decided to do a photo-melange of odds and ends to whet your appetites.

Here are some empanadas I had while on vacation in Argentina.  Simple and fast, they’re dough pockets with different fillings.  These had beef filling inside.

Chicken Mole I had in Santa Fe, NM, last year.  Delicious.

This picture I took on the hood of my car for the Double Down Showdown.  To sum the post up, the Double Down is awesome because it’s ridiculous.  The Doublicious is lame because it’s just a chicken sandwich.

Here are Dunkin’ Donuts’ Pancake Sausage Bites.  They were actually kinda good.  On SeriousEats.com, I called them “Morning Corndogs.”

In the mood for New Ways with Tortillas!

     In the Feedback column of Bon Appetit magazine, (you know, the very last page where they profile a famous person and ask them 5 or 6 questions about their life with food) they often ask the celebrities to name three things they have in their refrigerators.
     I figure I could go a lot of different directions with that question.  If I mention that I always have unsweetened vanilla almond milk, fresh blueberries and fish oil capsules, I come across one way.  If I admit that I  have presliced individually wrapped American cheese, a tube of Pillsbury crescent rolls and a huge jar of Welsh’s grape jelly…that’s a whole different picture.  Maybe I should showcase the jar of tiny imported Nicoise olives, the small container of creme fraiche and the beautiful capers that my sister brought back from Italy.  My frig has multiple personalities.
     Here are three of the reasons that you will always find a package of flour tortillas in my refrigerator.
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Thai Chicken Tortilla Spring Rolls
 
This recipe is from the appetizer section of the California Pizza Kitchen cookbook by Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield.  In my version, I increase the amount of chicken and serve them as dinner, with a big green salad.  Although there are several step to putting this recipe together, you can do it all ahead of time and have it ready to pop in the oven right before serving.
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
 
4 tablespoons bottled teriyaki sauce
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Spicy Peanut Dressing
 
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons asian toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
Thai Satay Sauce
 
1/2 cup canned coconut milk (stir before measuring)
1/2 cup spicy peanut dressing (from above)
1/2 teaspoon thai red curry paste
For the Spring Rolls
 
8 8-inch flour tortillas
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
spicy peanut dressing (from above)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup thinly slivered carrots
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh parsley
To make the chicken:  Preheat a stove top grill or broiler.  Lightly pound the chicken breasts to help them cook evenly and quickly.  In a mixing bowl, stir together the teriyaki sauce, olive oil, garlic and ginger.  Turn the chicken breasts in this marinade and leave it at room temperature for ten minutes.  Grill or broil the chicken until cooked through.  Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, then ct crosswise into 1/4 inch thick strips.  Cover and refrigerate.
To make the spicy peanut dressing:  In a small saucepan, combine all the dressing ingredients.  Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.  (be careful as this burns easily)
To make the Thai satay sauce:  Combine all the sauce ingredients in a blender or a food processor and blend until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
To make the spring rolls:  
 
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Lightly spread the softened butter onto one side of each tortilla.
Turn the tortillas over and evenly distribute the following ingredients over a 1-2 inch wide strip on their unbuttered sides. just below the center of the tortilla from end to end:
a tablespoon of the spicy peanut dressing
sprinkle of mozzarella
a layer of grilled teriyaki chicken
carrot slivers
sliced scallions
bean sprouts
minced cilantro
Roll up each tortilla into a tight cigar shape and place them seam side down on a baking sheet.  Keep the rolls about one inch apart.  Sprinkle each roll lightly with parmesan cheese.
Bake in preheated oven until heated through and lightly brown, 5-7 minutes.
Slice each roll diagonally into three equal pieces.  Sprinkle with minced parsley and serve with the Thai Satay sauce.  Serves 8-12 for an appetizer and 4-6 as a meal.
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Peanut Butter Nutella and Rice Krispie Roll Ups

 
This little treat couldn’t be easier, but what a wonderful combination of flavors and textures.  I found it inSkewer It!  by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford.  They garnish theirs with chocolate chips after cutting them but I like them better without.  Nutella is a chocolate spread that has been popular in Europe for years and has become fairly easy to find here in the States.   It blends wonderfully with peanut butter.
1/2 cup peanut butter, crunchy or smooth
4 six inch flour tortillas
1/4 cup Nutella
1/3 cup Rice Krispies
Spread 2 tablespoons peanut butter on each tortilla, leaving a 1-inch border.  Spread 1 tablespoon of Nutella evenly on top of the peanut butter.  Sprinkle each one with 1-2 tablespoons Rice Krispies and roll up tightly.  Place seam side down on a cutting board.  Using a sharp knife, cut off the ends of each roll and slice into 3/4 inch thick pieces.  Secure each piece with a toothpick and serve.  Makes about 24.
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Tortilla Pizza

And now….the #1 reason that we always have flour tortillas in our refrigerator.  Tortilla pizzas have been a staple lunch item in our home for years.  I found that it was worthwhile to purchase a set of small perforated pizza baking sheets.  This helps the bottom of the pizza get crispy and I can easily fit 6 or 8 of them in the oven at one time.  The key to a good crispy tortilla pizza however, is to make sure that all of the toppings are sliced very thinly and scattered evenly over the surface.  If you go crazy piling on the topping, you will have to eat it with a knife and fork, although it will still taste great, I imagine.  We like to use thin slices of fresh tomatoes instead of tomato sauce.  This also helps keep the pizza light and crispy.  The possibilities are endless, but here is the recipe for the tortilla pizza pictured.

1 flour tortilla
olive oil
thinly sliced cherry tomatoes
thinly sliced Vidalia onion
shredded mozzarella cheese
sliced pepperoni, cut into slivers
grated parmesan cheese
coarse ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450.  Place a flour tortilla on a pizza baking sheet and brush topside lightly with olive oil.  Scatter tomatoes and onions evenly over tortilla then top with a light layer of mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle with pepperoni and parmesan and season with black pepper.  Bake until golden brown and crispy, 8-10 minutes. Serves one.

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In the mood for Frijoles Negros!

Black Turtle Beans… a staple of Latin American cooking and probably my favorite legume. The three dishes below demonstrate the flavor and convenience of canned black beans when combined with other fresh ingredients. The gobs of cheese and sauce that you find in many Mexican restaurant dishes can be tiresome and before long everything starts to taste the same.  These recipes showcase some of the wonderful flavors of Latin American and southwestern cuisine without all that heaviness…perfect for summer!

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Delicious, Clean and Healthy Tostata

Yes, that is the name of this recipe from The Family Chef, by Jewels and Jill Elmore.  But when I served this for dinner, no one in my family commented on how healthy it seemed.  They just ate it up and asked for more. I’ve made a couple of changes just to simplify a step or two.  I get the achiote paste at the Mexican market.  It comes in a little box and makes the most amazingly vivid orange marinade with a wonderful flavor.  Definitely worth the trip to the market.
6 corn tortillas
1/8 cup oil
1 can seasoned black beans
1/4 head cabbage
1/4 head lettuce
1 bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 spring green onions, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
1/3 cup cotija cheese
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup pickled red onion (recipe below)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
achiote marinade (recipe below)
1.  Prepare the Achiote Marinade.
2.  Marinate chicken for at least 20 minutes and as long as overnight
3.  Prepare the pickled Red Onion
4.  Brush tortillas lightly with oil and bake at about 350 degrees until crispy.
5.  Drain the black beans, do not rinse.
6.  Grill the chicken, cool slightly and slice thinly.
7.  Toss all salad ingredients with a little juice from the pickled red onion and some olive oil.
8.  Assemble the tostadas:  Pile the beans and thinly sliced chicken on the crispy tortillas shells; then add
     the salad.  Top with pickled red onions and serve. Serves 4-6
Pickled Red Onion
1 red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2  tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Heat vinegar with sugar and salt until dissolved.  Add red onions and let sit 20 minutes or longer.
Achiote Marinade
1/2 cup achiote paste
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup light oil
1 lime, juiced
Mix all ingredients in a blender.
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Spicy Grilled Corn Salad with Black Beans and Queso Fresco

 
This lovely salad has a distinct warm and smoky flavor from the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce.  The queso fresco is mild so it absorbs the flavors of the dressing and is a wonderful contrast to the sweet crunchy grilled corn. The recipe is from Fine Cooking. 
 
3 ears fresh corn, husked
1 medium red onion, cut into disks about 1/3 inch thick
1 large red bell pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small chipotle pepper, seeded and minced, plus one tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 15 1/2 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
5 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (1 cup)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Prepare a grill.  Brush corn, onion and bell pepper with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill corn and onion until beginning to brown, 6-10 minutes.  Transfer to a cutting board to cool slightly.  Grill the pepper until charred on all sides, about 12 minutes.  Put the pepper in a bowl, cover, and cool slightly.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk 6 tablespoons oil, the chipotle and the adobo sauce, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Coarsely chop the onion and put it in a large bowl.  Cut the corn from the cobs and add to the bowl.  Skin, seed, and coarsely chop the pepper; add to the bowl, along with the beans, cheese, cilantro and oregano.  Re-whisk the dressing , add it to the corn mixture and toss well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas

One of my sons raved about the butternut squash quesadillas that he had at The Garden Grille in Providence, RI and this is our attempt to recreate them.  We used sweet potatoes instead of the squash and added caramelized onions and black beans.  On our first try, we overdid the cheese and while they were fine, we didn’t get the bright sweet potato flavor that we were looking for.  Being light handed with the cheese was the trick to nailing this copycat recipe. ( I didn’t write down any amounts while playing around with these quesadillas so I will just give a general game plan)
several sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
a couple of Vidalia onions, peeled and thinly sliced
a can black beans, drained and rinsed
queso fresco cheese, crumbled
grated cheese (cheddar or colby/jack)
olive oil
butter
large flour tortillas
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Put the potatoes in a roasting pan and toss with a bit of oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread out into a single layer and roast until tender and starting to brown…this will only take 10-15 minutes. While potatoes are roasting, cook the onions slowly in a drizzle of oil, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden.
Preheat broiler, leaving the rack in the middle of the oven.  Brush one side of a tortilla with oil or melted butter and place it buttered-side down on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with a light layer or queso fresco then add a layer of caramelized onions.  Top this with roasted sweet potatoes and black beans and a sprinkle of the grated cheese.  Cover with 2nd tortilla and brush the top with oil or butter.  Broil quesadilla until golden brown on one side (this will only take a minute or two so watch carefully) then remove from oven and use a spatula to press down on it gently (this will help the melting cheeses hold it together) and carefully flip it over and return to oven to brown the other side. Cut into wedges and serve with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and or salsa, if desired.

In the mood to Hold The Mayo!

 “Hold the mayo!” That’s one thing you will never hear me say.  I love the stuff.  Homemade or Hellman’s, I grew up on it.  But I married a man who can’t stand mayonnaise and it must be a genetic trait passed down through the male, because not one of my four children will tolerate even a dab of the glossy white condiment.  It used to drive me crazy.  No chicken salad, no potato salad, no deviled eggs!  How the heck do you get your BLT sandwich to stick together?  I used to eat mayonnaise sandwiches when the lunch options at my summer camp looked suspicious.  And I think that it was my sister who liked to mix mayonnaise and mustard together and dip potato chips in it.  But one day it occurred to me… Why am I trying to get my kids to eat mayonnaise??? With 90 calories and 10 grams of fat in just one single tablespoon, mayonnaise isn’t exactly health food.  Here are three wonderful recipes that will demonstrate how yummy it can be when you hold the mayo.

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Curried Chicken Salad with Spiced Chickpeas and Raita

I can’t say enough about this chicken salad…the cool yogurt and the combination of spices is really special.  You can layer it as I did in a beautiful glass for a nice luncheon presentation, layer it in a jar for a picnic, (as described in this recipe from Gourmet Magazine, August 2008) or just mix the whole thing up in a big bowl for a casual family style meal.
For curried chicken salad:
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, meat coarsely shredded (3 to 4 cups)
  • 1 cup red grapes, halved

For chickpeas:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 (19-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed, drained, and patted dry (2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

For raita and topping:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 seedless cucumber, peeled, cored, and chopped (2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Make curried chicken salad: 
Cook onion, garlic, and ginger in oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add curry, cumin, and 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in yogurt, cilantro, and chicken. Cool to room temperature.
Make chickpeas: 
Heat oil in cleaned skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then cook chickpeas, stirring, 1 minute. Add cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring to coat, until skillet is dry, about 2 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
Make raita:
Stir together yogurt, cucumber, mint, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Assemble jars: 
Divide grapes among jars and layer curried chicken, raita, chickpeas, and almonds on top.

Makes 4 servings

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Mexican Potato and Black Bean Salad

It is super easy to make a potato salad without mayonnaise since potatoes work

with almost any vinaigrette, but this one is really special.  Sweet potatoes, corn, black bean, cilantro and one of the best dressings I have ever had.  This is from Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers.

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
2 cups canned black beans, drained and rinsed
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Chipotle-Chile Dressing
1 chipotle chili (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup canola oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato chunks with the oil to lightly coat them.  Sprinkle with coriander,cumin, chili powder and salt and toss again.  Spread that potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until they are golden at the edges and just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Meanwhile, steam the corn for 3-5 minutes.  Drain excess water.  In a large serving bowl, combine the corn and black beans.
To make the dressing, in a blender or feed processor, place the chipotle chili, garlic and sweet chili sauce.  Process until mixture is smooth. Add the lime juice ad process again.  Add the canola oil and process until it is emulsified.
When the sweet potatoes are done, let coll slightly and add them to the corn and beans.  Add scallions and cilantro and toss gently.  Pour enough dressing over the salad to just moisten the ingredients and toss again.
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 Southwestern Deviled Eggs

This fun recipe is adapted from Taste of the South (April-May 2011).  The original calls for a sprinkling of crushed tortilla chips so you can certainly do that if you want to simplify the recipe.  I wanted the shape and texture of these corn tortilla slivers and they only take a minute to fry.  If, like me, you don’t have one of those platters specially designed to serve deviled eggs, just use a sharp knife and take a tiny sliver off the bottom of each half egg.  That way, the eggs will stay stable on the plate and not roll about.

12 hard boiled eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup finely shredded pepper Jack cheese
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 corn tortillas, finely slivered
salt to taste
coarse ground pepper
fresh cilantro
Cut the hard boiled eggs in half and mash the yolks with a fork.  Add sour cream, pepper jack cheese, green onion, chili powder and salt and mix well.  Spoon into the egg whites. Heat the oil in a small skillet and fry the tortilla strips until light brown, 45-60 seconds, and drain on paper towels.  Salt lightly. Garnish the eggs with the fried tortilla strips, chopped fresh cilantro, and a generous sprinkle of coarse ground black pepper.
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In the mood for Chicken Soup!

Let’s talk soup.  Remember that TV show, Talk Soup?  Greg Kinnear was the adorable, sarcastic host who showed clips of daytime TV’s oddest moments and then just reacted to them…that was the whole show…but it was very funny.  I think that it is still on the air, renamed The Soup,  but I haven’t watched it since Greg Kinnear left in the mid 90’s to become a movie star.
Soup, namely chicken soup, is the ultimate comfort food and although there are many to choose from in the soup aisle of the grocery store, none will compare with what you can create at home. Try these and you will see for yourself.  Sorry Progresso.
Beethoven famously once said, “Anyone who tells a lie, has not a pure heart and cannot make great soup.”  He was reportedly dismissing an otherwise decent housekeeper for being untruthful.  Here are three really great chicken soups for the pure of heart among you.
Note: While you can serve each of these soups right after making them, their flavors will really develop if they have at least a few hours to sit, either cooling, covered on the stove top (or refrigerated) and reheated. If you are in a hurry, the Asian Chicken Soup is the one who’s flavors seem to come together the quickest.  And, of course, they are all most excellent on day 2 as well.
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Chicken Tortilla Soup

None of these soups are difficult to make but this one is probably the easiest because I use the meat from a rotisserie chicken.  I’ve been making it for years and just finally wrote down the ingredients and amounts for the first time so that I could post it here.  For entertaining, it is fun to set out lots of toppings…cheese, sour cream, fresh diced tomatoes, green onions, and fried tortilla strips.  But even on a busy weeknight, I take the time to make the tortilla strips because my whole family would be terribly disappointed if I didn’t.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 can petite diced tomatoes with juice (14.5 oz)
2 cups Spicy V-8 juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and cut into bite sized pieces
4 cups lower sodium chicken broth (I like Swanson’s or College Inn)
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper, if necessary
fresh corn tortillas, cut into 1/4 inch strips
vegetable oil for frying
Optional toppings:
shredded cheese for garnish (I like Colby/Jack)
chopped fresh green onions
sour cream
chopped fresh cherry tomatoes
For the soup:
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot and saute for several minutes, until onion softens and just start to color.  Add the next 9 ingredients (everything but the black beans) and bring to a simmer. Simmer covered for 20 minutes then add the rinsed black beans and simmer 5 more minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serves 6.
For the tortilla strips:
Prepare several layers of paper towels for draining the strips.  Heat 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a deep skillet or sauce pan over high heat.  Test to see if the oil is ready by frying one tortilla strip.  It should sizzle immediately and turn golden brown in just a matter of seconds.  Depending on the size of you pan and the amount of strips you are planning to fry, you may have to do this in several batches.  Toss the tortilla strips constantly while frying to brown them evenly and don’t walk away for even a minute as they can quickly burn.  Remove to paper towels to drain, sprinkle lightly with salt while they are hot, then let them cool completely.  Most importantly, make more than you think you will need because while they are excellent on the soup, they are also just a yummy nibble.  They keep well in a zip lock baggie.
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Asian Grilled Sesame Chicken  Soup

I’m not sure how to describe how great this soup is…you just have to try it.  I wanted to re-do the photographs with a slightly higher noodle to broth ratio but the whole batch was gone before I got a chance.  My guy actually made a special trip home for lunch saying that he had been thinking about this soup all morning! This recipe was inspired by one from Bon Appetit (Feb. 2002)

3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (divided)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce

1 package bean thread noodles (3.75 oz.)
4 cups chopped Napa cabbage (from 1 head)
6 green onions, white and light green parts chopped, dark green parts slivered
8 cups canned lower sodium chicken broth
1 small carrot, shredded
salt if necessary

Mix together soy sauce, dry sherry and 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and pour over chicken breast.  Marinate chicken for 15 minutes in refrigerator. (note:  I like to pound the chicken breasts to create thin, even cutlets that will grill quickly)

Stir together garlic, peanut butter, ginger, vinegar and chili sauce in a small bowl.

Soak the bean thread noodles in very hot water for 10 minutes.  Drain, squeeze out excess moisture, and with a large knife, cut noodles into 2-3 inch sections. Set aside.

Heat remaining tablespoon of sesame oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat.  Add cabbage and chopped green onions and saute until cabbage is tender, about 5 minutes.  Add broth and the peanut butter mixture and stir well to combine.  Reduce heat and let simmer gently.

Meanwhile, prepare a grill pan over medium high heat.  Remove the chicken from  the marinade and then pour the marinade into the simmering soup.  Grill the chicken for 5 minutes on each side, or until just cooked throughout.  Slice the chicken thinly across the grain into bite sized pieces and add it to the soup.  Add the cut bean thread noodles, carrot slivers and green pepper slivers and simmer just until everything is heated through and the noodles are tender.  This will only take a few minutes. Remove from heat and taste and adjust seasonings.  Serves 6.

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Brunswick Stoup

This is actually a Brunswick Stew.  I stopped short of thickening it to the consistency of stew, because I prefer it as a soup.  Brunswick Stew apparently originated in the southeast United States and I found many variations in the combinations of proteins that can be used in it.  My boring little version features all white chicken breast because I was plum out of squirrel!  I’ve simplified this family recipe, based on the one in American Family Style, by Mary Randolph Carter, in order to make it a tidy one pot affair.  Thanks to Marinda for inspiring me to make this excellent dish…it’s a keeper!
6 small chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cans (14.5 oz.) chopped tomatoes with their juice
4 cups lower salt chicken broth
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
cups frozen corn kernels
2 cups frozen baby lima beans
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Wondra flour (quick dissolving)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco and additional Worcestershire sauce to taste, optional
Trim the chicken breasts of any visible fat and cut in half crosswise.  Sprinkle chicken with the paprika and the salt. In a heavy soup pot, melt  1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil over med-high heat. Brown the chicken on both sides and remove from the pot and set aside.
Add the onion to the pot and cook until transparent.  Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, 1 tablespoon of the Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and when the broth is just simmering, return the chicken to the pot, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  (Be careful to maintain a simmer and don’t let the mixture boil…this will keep the chicken tender as it cooks in the broth)  When the chicken is nice and tender but before it starts to fall apart, remove it from the pot and let cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite sized pieces.
Raise the heat under the pot a bit and add the potatoes, corn and lima beans and boil gently until vegetables are tender then return the shredded chicken to the soup.
 In a small bowl, melt the 3 tablespoons butter with the lemon juice, then stir in the flour, remaining 1 tablespoon Worcestershire, and the parsley.  Gently stir this mixture into the soup to flavor and thicken the broth.  Remove from heat and taste for seasonings.  Serves 6
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In the mood for new everyday recipes!

The only thing that the three recipes below have in common is that they have been in my “everyday recipes” rotation for at least 15 years!  Most of us have a rotation, don’t we?  A set of recipes or meal ideas that we rotate through weekly or monthly.
As we are in the midst of the busy holiday season, I find myself returning to some of my old standbys…meals that I don’t have to put any thought into, meals that I have made so many times I can whip them up in short order.  It’s comforting too.  My daughter took one look in the old Le Creuset pot full of Baked Chicken and Orzo and exclaimed, “Oh, I remember this!”.  She should remember it…I must have made it once a week for a good while there when she was younger.  (hint for parents: I used to chop the tomatoes into tiny pieces so as not to terrify the children)
Dishes leave my rotation, as they should, when I tire of making them (or I sense a “not that again” attitude from my eaters, who are, for the record, much too polite to actually say “not that again”)
But I eventually return to them because they are really good and they bring back memories… just as the simple Madeleine cake does for Marcel Proust in A La Recherche Du Temps Perdue.  Sorry.  French major.  Don’t get to use it very often.
Anyway, these recipes are among the “keepers” in my collection.  Enjoy!
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Spicy Vegetable Couscous

This is my idea of the perfect meatless meal (although not vegetarian, of course, with the chicken broth) It is a simplified version of the wonderful Moroccan dish that usually includes lamb, chicken and/or veal.  I found this years ago in a book published by Glamour Magazine with recipes from their Gourmet on the Run feature.  If you ever see it in a used book store be sure and pick it up as it is full of great, quick and easy recipes.
Vegetables:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 small or 1 medium turnip, diced
2 carrots, sliced diagonally
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2-3 small zucchini, sliced
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
Couscous:
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup couscous
fresh parsley or cilantro
sesame seeds
In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat oil.  Add onion and garlic and saute until tender but not brown.  Add turnip, carrots, tomatoes, salt, cumin, crushed red pepper and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender yet firm when tested with a fork.  Add zucchini and garbanzo beans; cook until zucchini is just tender.
Meanwhile, prepare the couscous.  Heat chicken broth and butter in a large saucepan with a lid.  When it starts to boil, add couscous, stir, cover, and remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes to steam.  When couscous is tender and has absorbed all of the broth, use a fork to fluff it and serve with the vegetables and broth garnished with parsley or cilantro and sesame seeds.  Serves 4-5
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Ben Moy’s Spicy Pork Tenderloin

I found this recipe from Ben Moy in the Chicago Tribune years ago.  It was published alongside an “Earthy Herb” chicken stir fry and these two dishes have been favorites ever since.  I’ll be sure and make the chicken version soon and share that as well.  I added “optional” to the Szechwan peppercorns because I made it without for years being unable to find them.  They are available at Williams Sonoma now and they add a unique flavor but the recipe is also good without them.
2 small pork tenderloins, trimmed and sliced on the bias against the grain into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cup into thin strips
1 small red onion, peeped and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 teaspoon Szechwan red peppercorns, crushed (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled, crushed and chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 green onions, cleaned and sliced for garnish
In a bowl, combine the red pepper strips and red onion and set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine pork, garlic, jalapeno, red peppercorns, sesame oil, soy, sherry, cornstarch and chopped ginger,  Let sit 10 to 15 minutes.
Heat a large skillet or wok, until very hot.  Add 1 tablespoon oil and stir fry the vegetables until the are just beginning to soften. Remove vegetables to a colander and keep them close at hand.
Rinse skillet, wipe out and return to heat.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with the salt.  Add pork and seasonings and spread single layer to let pork brown lightly on one side before you stir fry it a bit to cook through.  You should do this in two batches if your skillet is not large enough to cook the whole lot at once.  When pork is ready, return vegetables to the pan and toss until well mixed and heated through.  Correct seasonings as desired and garnish with the fresh green onion.  4-6 servings
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Baked Chicken and Orzo

This is one of only 3 casseroles that have a place in my recipe binder.  Now, I love casseroles, I grew up on them in small town Mississippi.  But they just never went over very well with my eaters.  And if I did make a “casserole”, I was always careful to rename it.  For example, a chicken noodle casserole might become Roasted Chicken with Linguini.  This Baked Chicken with Orzo was a hit, I believe, because of the extra large pieces of chicken breast that become melt-in-your-mouth tender while baking in the silky buttered tomato sauce.  Recipe from Casseroles, Classic to Contempory, by Nina Graybill and Maxine Rapoport.
6 chicken breast halves, skinned and cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons olive oil
28-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
6 basil leaves, torn into small pieces, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons butter (original recipe calls for a whole stick of butter…go for it if you dare)
salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ounces orzo
2 cups chicken broth, heated to boiling
Brown the chicken pieces in the oil  While chicken is browning, simmer the tomatoes, butter, basil, oregano, and salt and pepper in an uncovered saucepan for about 20 minutes until somewhat thickened.
Place chicken in a 3-quart ovenproof casserole with a lid.  When tomato sauce has cooked down a bit, pour over chicken and place covered casserole in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. Add orzo and boiling broth to the casserole and mix gently.  Cover and return to oven for 30 more minutes.  The recipe notes that you can add more hot broth if the dish seems dry before the orzo is tender but I have never had to do that. Serves 6
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In the mood for Chicken Paillard!

In my mind, I want to be the kind of person who makes lists.  The kind of person who sits down, thinks things through, writes notes to herself, checks off each item as it is attended to, and goes to bed each night  with that peaceful feeling of accomplishment.  But try as I might, I usually end up flying by the seat of my pants and making most things up as I go along.
 Take grocery shopping, for example.  I wander the aisles and wonder…Do we need this, or that?  And then I arrive home to find that the chicken broth that I just purchased will now join the other 6 cans in the pantry and that we are completely out of milk.
      So when I am undecided about what I will feel like cooking for the family on any given week night, I always throw a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into my cart.  Since my pantry is fairly well stocked,  (overstocked, some might say) I know that I will be able to pull off a nice meal by dressing up a chicken paillard*.  The three recipes that follow are just a few of my favorites.  They are great meals for families because you can just keep the components separate for picky kids.  For example, with the crispy panko crusted chicken (last photo below), I serve the chicken sliced with the vinaigrette as a dipping sauce for my younger ones.  I haven’t met a kid yet who didn’t love it!
*paillard (n) a slice of chicken, turkey or beef that has been pounded thinly and cooked quickly
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Chicken Paillard with Fresh Fig Salad and Blue Cheese

A Tyler Florence recipe from his book, Tyler’s Ultimate, brilliant simple food to make anytime.  I will give you Tyler’s original recipe with a couple of notes I made to cut back just a bit on the over-the-top decadence of this one.
Serves 4
Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons honey  (I use 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound pancetta (I find that 4 ounces, thinly sliced, is plenty)
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound blue cheese, broken into hunks (I use only an ounce or two)
1 bunch of arugula
1 small basket seasonal figs, quartered (could use pears, peaches or apricots)
Tarragon leaves for garnish
First ,whisk together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a small bowl and set it aside.
Sandwich the chicken breasts between 2 layers of plastic wrap and pound them very thin with a mallet or rolling pin.  Remove the chicken from the plastic and season them well on both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat.  Unroll the pancetta slices, add them to the pan and fry like a big tangle of bacon until the fat is rendered.  Drain on paper towels
Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the pan with the pancetta drippings and pan fry the chicken for 3-4 minutes per side to brown the breasts and cook them through.  Remove the chicken to the paper towels with the pancetta.  Add the vinaigrette to the saute pan and heat for a few minutes, stirring, to deglaze the bits of pancetta and chicken fro the bottom of the pan. (I like to pour out any oil remaining in the saute pan before adding the vinaigrette, to cut down on the amount of fat in the finished dish) Remove the pan from the heat.
To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving dish and scatter the blue cheese, arugula, figs, and pancetta over. Drizzle the dressing over everything and garnish with the tarragon leaves.
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Chicken Paillard 

topped with fresh greens and pan-seared cherry tomatoes

This couldn’t-be-easier recipe comes from Simply Salads, by Jennifer Chandler.
Serves 4
1/4 cup Balsamic Grainy Mustard Dressing (see recipe below)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
5 ounces mixed field greens
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Prepare the dressing:
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Place the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl and whisk together.  Slowly add the oil in a stream, whisking to emulsify.  Season with salt and pepper.
Place a chicken breast in a large resealable heavy plastic bag.  Using a mallet or rolling pin, flatten to about 1/4 inch thick.  Remove the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Repeat with additional chicken breasts.
Warm the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until golden brown and no longer pink in the middle, about 4 minutes per side.  Remove the chicken from the skillet and keep warm.
Place the tomato halves in the same skillet used to cook the chicken.  Cook over medium high heat sirring often until slightly charred.
In a large salad bowl, toss together the field greens, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.  Add the vinaigrette to taste and gently toss.
Place a chicken breast on each plate and top with the salad,  Serve immediately.
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Sesame Chicken Salad with Spinach, Cucumber and Cilantro

 
Another Tyler Florence recipe from Tyler’s Ultimate.  This has become a family favorite and one that almost all of my kids have actually learned to make on their own.
Serves 4
Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper
1/4 cup sesame seeds
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
salt and pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
fresh baby spinach leaves
1 cucumber, un-peeled, cut crosswise into slices
handful of fresh cilantro leaves
1 scallion, chopped
cracked black pepper
In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce,lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, ginger, sugar and red pepper flakes for the vinaigrette.
Rince the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Put a chicken breast on the cutting board and, holding a large knife parallel to the board, cup through the breast horizontally so that you get 2 thin fillets.  Repeat with the 3 remaining breasts,  Put the chicken on a platter, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and toss to coat.  Set the rest of the vinaigrette aside,  Let the chicken marinate for about  10 minutes.
Combine the panko and the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl and season with a little salt and pepper.  Mix with your fingers so that the seasoning is incorporated and then taste it. The panko should be well seasoned.  Dredge the chicken in the seasoned crumbs, patting the crumbs gently so that they adhere.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium hight heat.  Line a platter with paper towels and set that to the side of the stove.  Add about half of the chicken to the pan and cook about 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy.  Remove the chicken to the towel lined platter to drain while you cook the rest of the chicken.
Put the spinach in a bowl with the cucumber, cilantro and scallion and toss.  To serve, arrange a mound of greens on a plate, set a piece of chicken on top, stack a few more greens on top, and finish with another piece of chicken.  Drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.

In the mood for a Spicy Chinese Stirfry!

As a very amateur photographer, one of the most fun things about working on this blog has been trying to figure out how to make each dish look as good as it tastes.  So far, I am finding that meat is my biggest challenge, photography wise.  It can look so good in real life and then in the photo, it will look gray and unappetizing.  I’m working on that, but today, I found an even harder subject…Tofu!  Out of curiosity, I looked up the meaning of the recipe name “Mapo Tofu” and was surprised to find that it means, “pockmarked face lady’s tofu”  Well, I guess that one wouldn’t expect that dish to be lovely.  But it is tasty!
The three recipes that follow are bold and spicy.  You can, of course, adjust the amounts of the chilies and peppers up or down to suit your taste.
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Mongolian Beef

I wish that you could see the Mongolian Beef page in my copy of Chopsticks, Cleaver and Wok, by Jennie Low.  It is splattered, splashed and frayed.  That goes to show just how many times I have turned to this recipe over the years.  I like to use sirloin strip steaks instead of flank steak, which is what is called for in many Asian stir fry recipes.  It’s a bit more expensive, for sure, but I find that I can serve four easily with just two good-sized steaks and it has a wonderful texture when sliced very thinly and cooked quickly over very high heat.
1 1/2 pounds strip sirloin steak
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 green onions, slivered
2 fresh red chili peppers ( or 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes)
Seasoning:
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
dash of pepper
1 tablespoon white wine (or dry sherry)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Sauce:
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons catsup
  Cut each steak crosswise into three pieces.  Trim fat from edges and slice across the grain very thinly…almost paper thin.  (a good sharp knife and cold meat will make this easier) Place in a bowl.
Add seasoning ingredients to beef.  Mix well.
Combine sauce ingredients, mix well, and set aside.
Heat wok or heavy skillet and add half of the oil.  Add half of the garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds over high heat.
Add half of the beef, spreading it out quickly, and let it brown nicely on one side undisturbed (about 2 minutes)  Then stir fry for another minute or two until beef is browned on both sides.  Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining oil, garlic and beef.  (Cooking all of the meat at once will lower the heat in the pan too much causing the meat to simmer. I sometimes have to cook this in many batches when serving a crowd but I just do it ahead of time and reheat it gently at serving time.) Remove second batch of meat to the plate while you briefly stir fry the green onions and red chili pepper for a few seconds then add all of the meat back to the pan.  Add the sauce mixture, mix thoroughly and cook for one minute, stirring.  The sauce should thicken a bit to coat the meat nicely.  Serve with rice.  (serves 4)
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Minced Chicken in Black Bean Sauce

This is a super quick stir-fry that I have been making for years.  I know that I got the recipe from a book…a paperback with Asian noodle and rice dishes….but I don’t have it anymore so I can’t give credit.  This is just so easy that I never copied the recipe.  It’s a bold sauce…kind of an Asian chicken spaghetti, if you will.

2 tablespoons peanut oil
6  boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all fat and minced into small pieces
(you can actually buy ground chicken or turkey if you want to make this super easy…I just prefer the texture when I mince the chicken myself)
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1/3 cup Asian black bean sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 pound spaghetti
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
3 scallions, trimmed and chopped

Heat oil in wok or heavy skillet over high heat.  Add chicken in a single layer and sprinkle the minced garlic over the top (you may have to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your pan)  Let cook undisturbed for several minutes until golden brown on one side.  It may be almost cooked through at this point.  Add the sesame seeds.  Using two utensils (I use a metal spatula and a big spoon)  toss the chicken and the sesame seeds around, breaking up the clumps and stir-frying until no longer pink.  Add the black bean sauce, soy sauce and red pepper flakes and stir to combine and heat thoroughly.  Remove from heat, add the 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and let rest while you make the pasta.

Cook the pasta in lots of salted boiling water until just al dente.  Drain well then toss with the sesame oil.

Reheat chicken if necessary and serve over the spaghetti, sprinkled with the chopped green onions. Serves 6

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Mapo Tofu

This recipe is adapted from Potsticker Chronicles, by Stuart Chang Berman and it is new to my repertoire.  Living with three sons and a carnivore husband, I didn’t serve many meatless meals.  But I really like this dish and as the author says, the non vegetarian version is to substitute 1/2 pound sauteed ground pork for the portobello mushrooms.  The sauce is a bit fiery for sure but I just love the complexity of the heat…from three different peppercorns as well as chili paste. (Sichuan peppercorns can be found in Asian markets and specialty food shops…it is an important flavor in this dish)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1/2 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 cup vegetable broth
1 package firm tofu, cut into cubes
2 portobello mushroom caps, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
chopped scallions or chives to garnish
brown rice, prepared according to package directions
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy skillet that has a lid.  Add the Sichuan peppercorns and black and white pepper.  Immediately add the chili paste, garlic and ginger.  Stir once.  Quickly add the soy sauce and the sherry.  Add the vegetable broth and stir.
Add the tofu cubes and portobello mushrooms.  Fold them in gently with a wooden spoon.  Add the sesame oil.  Cover the pan with a lid and braise for 15 minutes on medium heat.  Uncover.  Stir gently and slowly with the wooden spoon.  Continue to braise uncovered for 10 more minutes.
Stir the cornstarch mixture into the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring gently until thickened.  Serve over rice and garnish with the scallions or chives. (serves 4)
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