Saturday, August 25, 2012

Orange Chicken

Recently, me and some of my friends went to a local Chinese restaurant called Peter Chang's. Supposedly, he is a well-renowned chef that specializes in szechuan-style cooking. I had heard wonderful reviews about his food, so I really couldn't wait to try it out. Well, we had our reservation set because it's recommended since it's such a busy restaurant (with good reason). And, after a brief wait (while our party all arrived) we were sat down and had a wonderful time. We ordered the sesame chicken, a 3 peppered chicken dish, a pork dish, orange chicken, and a bunch of appetizers. Yes, the food was absolutely fabulous. I've been dreaming about it ever since and I would really like to go back soon. In the mean time, to satisfy my craving for the orange chicken I had; I decided to make it at home. I had seen this recipe from Annie's Eats a while back, and decided to give her version a try. I have to say it was very good. It doesn't quite live up to Peter Chang's Orange Chicken, but it was still really flavorful and had a nice kick to it. If you like Chinese food, and would like to satisfy your craving for orange chicken via a homemade recipe then this is for you.

For the marinade and sauce:
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1½ tsp. finely grated orange zest
6 tbsp. white vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup brown sugar (dark or light)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
1½ lbs. boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. cold water
8 thin strips orange peel (optional)

For the coating and frying:
3 large egg whites
1 cup cornstarch
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
3 cups peanut or canola oil

To make the sauce combine the ingredients from the chicken broth thru the cayenne into a small bowl. Stir well. Reserve about 3/4 of the sauce and pour into a zip-lock bag. Add in the chicken pieces to the bag and let marinate for 30 to 60 minutes in the fridge. Next, pour the remaining sauce mixture into a small saucepan and heat on medium-high until it comes to a simmer. Take  a small bowl and whisk the cornstarch and water together. Add this to the sauce.Continue simmering until the sauce thickens. Once thickened to your desire, remove the saucepan from the stove and add in the orange peel if using.

To prepare the coating for the chicken, get out a plate and a bowl. Whisk the eggs in the bowl until frothy. In the plate, combine the cornstarch, baking soda, and cayenne pepper. Remove the chicken from the fridge and drain in a colander. Pat the chicken dry and then add half the chicken into the egg mixture. Coat well. Remove from eggs, give it a good shake, and add it to the cornstarch mixture. Coat well. Set aside. Do this again for the remaining half of the chicken.

If you are going to make rice to serve with your orange chicken I would get this started before frying up your chicken. The frying process goes fairly quickly.

Take out your dutch oven or a heavy pot and pour in the oil. Using a candy thermometer heat up the oil until it reaches a temperature of around 350 degrees. Once the oil is ready, place half the chicken into the pot. It should only take a minute to cook the chicken thru. Carefully, remove the chicken using a skimmer and place on a plate covered with paper towels. Do this again for the remaining chicken. I double fried mine so it would have a crispier crust. I just placed the chicken back into the oil and fried for an additional 30 seconds. If necessary, reheat your sauce and then toss with the chicken. Serve with your rice and enjoy!!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The New Best Recipe's Quick Tomato Sauce

One of my favorite dishes to make is pasta. I should probably just make that trip to Italy one of these days to see how it should really be done, but in the mean time I’m going to stick to some of my favorite recipes. Now, I posted this recipe a while back and while it was delicious it was a bit cumbersome to make. Boiling tomatoes, dumping them in ice, and peeling the skin does take some time. Fortunately, The New Best Recipe offered a quicker version of that recipe, and this is the one I make ALL the time! I simply love it. It’s so flavorful, so easy, and so good. I made it for my family when visiting Florida last summer and they all loved it too. Seriously, if you haven’t purchased The New Best Recipe you are doing yourself a disservice. Get it. Now! I promise you will love it!

1 28 oz can diced (or petite diced) tomatoes (preferably San Marazano)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/4 tsp sugar
Salt to taste
1/4 c. pasta water, reserved
Pasta such as spaghetti or angel hair

Take a large sauté pan and heat the olive oil. Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant, but be sure it doesn’t turn brown. Once the garlic is fragrant, add in the diced tomatoes. Simmer for about 10 minutes or so until slightly thickened. Since I don't like a real chunky sauce, I take my potato masher and mash up the tomatoes. This is optional, of course.

While the tomatoes are simmering, get out your pot to cook your pasta in. Throw in some salt to season the pasta, and cook the pasta till al dente. Be sure to remove about a ¼ cup of the pasta water before dumping it in your colander. I have found that it is necessary to add some of the water to help make it a bit juicier. Next, stir in the basil, sugar, and if needed salt. I usually keep adding salt until I feel that it’s seasoned just right. I’ve found that it depends on the can of diced tomatoes you buy how much salt you add. Kroger canned diced tomatoes do not require as much salt as the San Marazano. Go figure. At this point; you may or may not need to add in some of the reserved pasta water. It just depends on how thick or runny you like your tomato sauce. Take the pasta from the colander and it into the tomato mixture. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Rum Lime Chicken Fajitas

I think my love of fajitas and various forms of tacos has been well documented on this site (here, here, and here). And from the looks of it, my fellow contributors share the love as well (as evidenced here, here and here.) So it's no wonder my bookmarks folder is constantly full of different varieties of my favorite Mexican fare. And when I decided to start trying some of those recipes, it's really no wonder at all that a title including the words "rum" and "lime" immediately jumped out at me. I found it on a site called The Talking Kitchen, and the photos totally sold me. I did change it somewhat, using chicken breasts instead of thighs, sweet onion instead of red, and I added jalapeno to the marinade in an attempt to infuse some spiciness (didn't work). The chicken tasted great before we put it into the fajitas, but it unfortunately it kind of disappeared once inside. The veggies, however, were a big hit. Usually we just salt and pepper them, but this mix of spices was really intriguing. So, I think I'll keep trying on the fajita meat, but we probably have a winner on the veggie side.

3-4 chicken breasts
1/2 c. rum
2 limes, juiced and zested
1 jalapeno, chopped
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
freshly ground black pepper

2 bell peppers (your choice)
1 large sweet onion
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp cinnamon
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Additional: tortillas, cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese

Mix the rum, lime zest and juice, jalapeno, sea salt, garlic powder and black pepper in a bowl. Make sure all of the rum goes into the bowl and not in your mouth (you can pour your own on the side). You can pour it into a plastic bag to marinate the chicken, or keep in in the bowl if you like. Make sure the chicken is covered, and flip it over after 30 minutes. Marinate about an hour. 

Slice up your peppers and onion into strips. Drizzle on a little olive oil and all the spices, stirring to coat everything evenly. 

You could absolutely cook the chicken on the grill, but we tried something a little different. We used our cast iron skillet on the grill. Spray it with non-stick spray (they make one especially for the  high heat of a grill) and let it get really hot on the grill. Then remove your chicken from the marinade and place it in the skillet. It should sizzle satisfyingly when you set it down, or else it's probably not hot enough. Throw away the extra marinade! I know it's rum, but you've got to draw the line at raw chicken. 

Let the chicken sit on one side, grill closed for about 5 minutes. Then flip and do the same on the other. From there use your grill-skills to make sure it's cooked through, depending on the thickness of your cut. Probably another 3-6 minutes. Set it aside under foil and start on your veggies. Toss them into your still hot skillet and let them stand for about 3-4 minutes before stirring. Stir and cook for a total of about 7-9 minutes, getting them nice and brown and tasty! Cook less for more crunch and more for softness. 

Slice your chicken into fajita size strips and serve with tortillas, sour cream, cilantro and cheese. You can add salsa or tabasco as you wish. It really isn't spicy at all, which is probably why it's not a total hit at our house, but it is flavorful and the hint of cinnamon on the veggies adds a really interesting flavor dimension. This won't be the last fajita recipe on here, but it is definitely a good addition to our mix.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Spicy Italian Meatballs

Everyone should have a good meatball recipe. We’ve tried a few but haven’t found one that really impressed us until we tried this one from Keely Marie’s blog. I have to say, I had my doubts when we were making this. At first the mixture seemed incredibly dry. Then it seemed too wet and sticky. But in the end, it turned out perfectly delicious. It’s not all that spicy, although it does have a nice subtle kick. So often meatballs just taste like bland hamburgers to me, but these have a definite depth of flavor, nice texture, and stand on their own in a plate of spaghetti and sauce. We doubled the batch and have about two servings frozen to make an easy meal later. (Single batch below).

1/2 ground beef
1/2 pound italian sausage (I used Hot)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 large red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, diced small
1 jalapeño, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs (I did half Italian, half panko)
3/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or basil)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk

I admit, I used a jar of sauce instead of being a good little cook and making my own. I felt like focusing on perfecting the meatballs first would be better than trying to juggle too many spoons at once. But hey, if you are ambitious and want to do both, there are a couple great tomato sauce recipes on this site! Here and here

Start, as always, by doing all your prep work and chopping. The veggies will be in the meatball, so dice them pretty small. If they get too big it changes the flavor profile of the meatball, and can also make them harder to stick together. Heat your olive oil in a pan over medium heat and then sauté the onion, peppers and jalapeño for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another 30 seconds before setting aside to cool.

In a separate bowl mix up your meats, breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano. This is definitely one of those where you have to use your hands to make sure that it’s totally mixed. No one likes to get a big lump of garlic powder in their meatball! Once the sautéed veggies are cool, add them into the mix and combine well. Add the egg and milk and keep mixing with your hands until the mixture is uniform.  

Your next step is to roll the balls and put them on a greased (or non-stick) baking sheet. I made mine so it they were about walnut size. If you’re going to freeze some, you should roll them out and place them on a separate pan and freeze them. Once they are frozen you can put them in a freezer baggie. Bake the balls for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees. I rolled them over halfway through. Once they are cooked you can add them to your sauce and let that warm up for ten minutes or so and they’ll suck up some saucy flavor. Serve over spaghetti and enjoy! Now you can end your search for the perfect meatball recipe.