One woman's foray into cooking for herself, for her family, and for her friends. It's not always picture-perfect, sometimes a little messy,
but it's always delicious. Join me in exploring new recipes, savoring the "résultats" and learning from the "erreurs".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

General Tso's Chicken

While I've seen this dish on the menu of many Chinese restaurants, I've often wondered who was General Tso?  Evidently he was a highly-respected soldier in the Hunan region... a region that appears to have never heard of this recipe.  No matter.  Regardless of the origin of this dish, it is delicious, no matter it's name!  

I came across this version on a wonderful blog called My Adventures in Food.  The recipe is fairly simple, using easily accessible ingredients found in your local grocery store.  And the flavor is outstanding, rivaling any found at your favorite Chinese restaurant.  I'll be making this again and again!

General Tso’s Chicken

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce*
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1-1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced**
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 large egg whites
1-1/2 cups cornstarch
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Vegetable oil for frying

2 green onions, green parts thinly sliced

*I used a light soy sauce.  I found I needed to add about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon salt to balance all the flavors.
**I grated the ginger, using a medium-sized Microplane.

To make the sauce, whisk together the hoisin sauce, white vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch, and water in a bowl. Set aside. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the hoisin mixture. Stir until the sauce is dark brown and has thickened. Remove from heat and cover.

Cut chicken into 1-inch chunks. Whisk the egg whites in a shallow dish until foamy. Combine cornstarch, flour, and baking soda in a separate shallow dish. (I whisked the dry ingredients to really blend them.) Toss half the chicken into the foamy egg whites until well-coated, and then dredge the chicken in the cornstarch mixture, making sure all sides are coated. Transfer chicken to a plate and repeat with remaining chicken.

Heat oil in a fryer (or Dutch oven, or a large wok) until it registers 325ºF. Fry the chicken in batches until golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning pieces over halfway through cooking. Transfer cooked chicken to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.

Re-warm the sauce over medium heat until bubbling. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat. Garnish with sliced green onions.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pea & Shrimp Penne with Basil

I receive daily emails from Fine Cooking magazine's website highlighting a particular recipe, ingredient, technique, etc.  Sunday's recipe, Pea & Shrimp Penne with Basil, definitely appealed to me.  Shrimp, pasta, and basil are a few of my very favorite ingredients, so I was very intrigued.  The subject of the email was "Make It Tonight", and so I complied! The wonderful scent of fresh basil (and lots of it!), along with the minced garlic, serrano pepper, and shallots, was intoxicating.  The finished dish was so flavorful and fresh-tasting.  I will definitely be making this dish again.  Hats off to Fine Cooking!

Pea & Shrimp Penne with Basil
Serves 4

1-1/2 lb. shrimp (21 to 25 per lb.), peeled, deveined, and cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest
Kosher salt
1-1/2 cups fresh shelled peas (about 1-1/2 lb. unshelled) or frozen peas
3/4 lb. dried penne
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely diced shallots
1 tsp. minced garlic
3/4 tsp. seeded and minced hot fresh chile, such as Thai bird or serrano
2 oz. arugula, trimmed, washed, and dried (about 2 lightly packed cups)

Toss the shrimp with half of the basil, 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, and the lemon zest. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Put the peas in a large metal sieve and dip them into the boiling water. Cook until just tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Lift the sieve from the water, let the peas drain, and then spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer to cool.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, following the package directions, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, take the shrimp out of the fridge and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 3 Tbs. oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, chile, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are soft and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and continue to cook, stirring, until the shrimp have turned pink and are almost cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the peas and remove from the heat.

Return the drained pasta to its pot and add the shrimp mixture and 2 Tbs. of the pasta water. Cook over medium heat until the shrimp are completely cooked through, about 1 minute more. Toss the arugula and the remaining basil into the pasta. Add more pasta water as necessary to keep the pasta moist and continue tossing until the arugula is wilted, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sweet Potato Oven Fries with Avocado Dip

I've noticed that a lot of hamburger/sandwich restaurants are offering sweet potato fries as an option to the traditional French fried potatoes  This trend has my vote - I love sweet potato fries.  In my humble opinion, they are much more flavorful, look much nicer on the plate, and provide a bit more nutritional value than their paler cousins. I occasionally roast sweet potato wedges and make a little dipping sauce to go with.  But when I saw these sweet potato fries with an avocado dip, I suspected I was on the verge of nirvana.

And I was right.

I discovered this tasty recipe from Katie of the blog, Yum Sugar.  It's such an easy recipe and so delicious.  The avocado dip blitzed up quickly in the mini-food processor.  The sweet potatoes crisped up in about a half-hour in a hot oven.  Doesn't get any easier than that!  Thanks, Katie!

Sweet Potato Oven Fries With Avocado Dip
From Ingrid Hoffmann

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, cut into 4-inch long and 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick fries
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Coarse ground rock salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Avocado Dip ( recipe follows)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl and toss with olive oil until the sweet potatoes are coated. Add the paprika, chili powder, coriander, salt, and pepper; toss to distribute evenly.

Arrange the coated fries in a single layer on the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes on the lower rack until the sweet potatoes soften. Transfer the pan to the upper rack of the oven and bake 10 minutes longer, until fries are crispy. Serve with Avocado Dip.

Serves 6.

Avocado Dip:
1 avocado
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup cream cheese
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 scallions, white and light green part only, chopped
1 lime, juiced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the avocado, mayonnaise, cream cheese, jalapeno, scallions, and lime juice into a blender or small food processor.

Blend for 1 minute or until you have a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve as a dip for the Sweet Potato Oven Fries.

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