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For Your Weekend: Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken

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Last weekend I made this dish for dinner and wanted to tell you about it.  This sweet and sour chicken was so good!



Earlier on, I needed some meal inspiration.  I wanted to make something a little different, but still fairly healthy, and since Aldi had pineapples for $1 and I had a ripening one on my counter I wanted to use, I searched my Pinterest board of food to try and this one jumped out at me.  It was so pretty!  It uses pineapple!  It's baked!



It was delicious.  Both Drew and I really enjoyed it, and Drew doesn't like a lot of Asian inspired food.  The vegetables made it feel healthy (please tell me it is), the spice was just right, and the balance of the salty, sweet, and sour flavors was spot on.  I'm very glad it was delicious, because it took three hours to make it.  Three hours!  I am sure that when I make it again I could streamline it, but there is a lot of prep work involved in this dish, and that's why I suggest it for the weekend.  It's a lot more ingredients and a lot more work than a lot of things I make, but it really is very good, and it's sometimes nice to do bigger meals when you have more time.



Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken
slightly changed from Carlsbad Cravings blog

Chicken Breading
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 ½ pounds), cut in bite-size pieces
3 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Sweet and Sour Sauce
1/2 cup pineapple juice (from 20 oz. pineapple tidbits can below)
1 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons ketchup (6 tablespoons)
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder

Vegetables/Pineapple
1 (20 oz) can pineapple tidbits (or 3/4 of a medium ripe pineapple, cut into chunks)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup carrots, sliced as THIN as possible (2-3 carrots)

Add "Sweet and Sour Sauce" ingredients to a medium/large saucepan, stir and bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. Allow to simmer while you prepare the chicken and dice the vegetables, stirring occasionally (turn off if longer than 20 minutes). Note, the sauce will not thicken, simmering is to soften the onions and blend flavors.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray (or line with foil and then grease).
Whisk eggs together in a large bowl, set aside. Add ½ cup flour to a large freezer bag; set aside next to eggs. Whisk cornstarch, garlic powder, salt, pepper, ginger powder and onion powder in medium bowl; set aside next to flour.

Add chicken to eggs and coat, then remove, allowing excess to drip off, then add to freezer bag with flour. Toss until evenly coated then discard any extra flour. Add cornstarch/spices to the chicken in the freezer bag and shake until evenly coated.

Over high heat, heat enough oil (any kind) to generously cover the bottom of a large skillet until hot and rippling. Add chicken and cook 1-2 minutes per side, or until browned but not cooked through. (You may need to cook in 2 batches depending on size of your skillet). Transfer chicken to prepared 9x13 baking dish.

Add carrots pineapple and peppers to the sweet and sauce and mix until well combined. Pour sauce over chicken and stir until sauce/chicken/vegetables are evenly combined. Cook, uncovered for 50 minutes or until sauce, stirring occasionally.
Serve over rice. Enjoy!



Notes

  • The original recipe called for 1.5 cups sugar.  I just couldn't bring myself to use that much, so I took a chance and halved the amount.  It still turned out great.  I may even reduce it more next time.
  • I had to cook my chicken in batches, and I was not crazy about the crust formed.  It was reminiscent of commercially available sweet and sour chicken, but was still soft.  I might try leaving it off entirely the next time I make it.  If you like breading, leave it.
  • I didn't have enough ginger powder, but I had fresh ginger in my freezer.  I used that in the sauce, because in my opinion, that's where the flavor really matters.
  • I also didn't have any large colored bell peppers, but I had a lot of mini colored peppers, so I used several of them- maybe 5-6.  
  • I may even increase the vegetable ratio next time.

Apple and Cabbage Salad

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This one may seem a little strange at the outset, but don't write it off just yet.  I decided to try it just because the picture was so pretty.  

Popsugar posted this recipe a little over a week after New Year's, and I suspect they were trying to catch everyone's eye with the word "detox" in the article title.  Either way, this salad is a tasty and healthy addition to your lunchtime rotation.  Its fiber content makes it filling enough for a light meal, but it makes for a nice deviation to the standard side salad if it's served alongside a piece of chicken or fish.  



The whole dish feels pretty substantial, because of the heartiness of the cabbage and the crispness of the apples.  The walnuts add a really nice something extra, too.  I hope if you try it you enjoy it as much as I did!  Oh, and due to ingredient availability or my own lack of desire to buy certain items, I changed it just a little.  Click on the recipe title to link back to the original!

adapted slightly from Candice Kumai

feeds 4 meal portions or 6-8 side portions

1/2 head Savoy cabbage
1/2 head red cabbage
1 apple 
1 shallot
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped and toasted

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Using a mandoline or sharp knife, thinly slice the cabbage, apple, and shallot to resemble extremely fine confetti; transfer to a large bowl.
Add the walnuts and toss gently to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing.
Top the salad with the dressing. Using salad tongs, mix until evenly dressed.

*Note: this salad will keep in a resealable container in the fridge for 3-5 days.

Weekend Baking: Chocolate Chip Coconut Scones

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If you like coconut, I hope you won't be disappointed with these scones.  Over the last couple years, I have come to love coconut and nearly any recipe that has any significant amount of coconut is one I bookmark, pin, save, whatever.  Do you ever do that, become fixated on some type of food?  A few years ago, Everyday Food had a feature with a basic scone recipe and different variations, one of which was chocolate and coconut.  I was so excited to try it, and then was a little disappointed after I tasted it.  Sorry, Martha.  The texture was good, and the taste wasn't bad, but they barely had any coconut taste at all, and I wanted tropical chocolate.



I then found another recipe on Pinterest that seemed to have all the coconutty goodness I wanted and decided to do a mashup.  Instead of the cream called for in the Everyday Food recipe, I followed the Heather's Dish suggestion of using coconut milk.  Instead of straight butter (called for in both recipes), I used a combination of butter and chilled coconut oil.  It was the right decision.   Oh, and I toasted the coconut for a more intense flavor.  



What I came up with satisfies my coconut AND chocolate cravings.  I think I have a little work to do on the texture, but overall I am pleased.  They freeze and reheat well, so you can make up a batch and save some for later.

Chocolate Chip-Coconut Scones
A Lauren original, inspired by Heather's Dish and Martha Stewart

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tb butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
3 Tb coconut oil, chilled, broken or cut into small pieces and put back in fridge to chill
3/4 cup canned coconut milk, with the chunks
3/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Cut the butter and coconut oil into the flour mixture (usig a pastry blender, two forks, or even your fingers) until you have a mixure that looks like coarse meal or sand, with a few larger (pea sized) pieces of fat still visible.  With a fork, stir in the coconut milk.  If it looks too dry, add more milk 1 Tb at a time.   Gently stir in the toasted coconut and chocolate chips.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and pat into a 6-inch circle. Cut into 6 wedges and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with some of the remaining coconut milk if desired. Bake until golden, 16 to 18 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through.


Throwback Thursday: My Mom's Chicken Nuggets

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Few things are as appealing to a child as the chicken nugget, am I right?  Usually even the pickiest eater will go for the chicken nugget.  Even though I don't remember being a very picky eater as a child, these still ranked at the top of my food list, and they still hold a special place in my food-heart.  All partiality aside, these are really good chicken nuggets.  I give them my highest "MAKE THESE" recommendation, whether you're feeding a family or need a party finger food.  I'll give my tips for dressing these up in the recipe.

My Mom's Chicken Nuggets
feeds 4 a meal sized portion or more for appetizer portions

4 chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
1 stick butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 400.  Mix together the breadcrumbs, cheese, salt, and herbs.  Dip chicken into the butter and roll in the crumb mixture.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, rotating the chicken about halfway through.

If you want to jazz it up a little, sub in some freshly grated Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano (or any other hard Italian cheese) or replace some of the breadcrumbs with panko breadcrumbs that have been crushed up a little.

Notes

  • Italian Seasoning also works very well in place of the two herbs and adds a little more variety.  It's all about using what you have in your pantry.





Meatless Mondays: Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Chickpeas

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Before you skip over this post or write off spaghetti squash entirely, let me assure you that this recipe was made with spaghetti squash in mind, and it is not a substitute for anything here.

It kind of irks me a little bit when people try to sub in healthier alternatives for classic foods.  Black beans will never be beef, and spaghetti squash will never be spaghetti.  I do, however, love a good black bean burger, and spaghetti squash, when cooked to display its own merits, is good.  I think the key to enjoying these foods is to use them for what they are, and not think you're going to get a perfect substitute for a food you'd rather be eating.



This recipe, found on Pinterest, is a really good vegetarian main dish.  There are a lot of flavors going on, and it doesn't use a lot of oil, so it's lower in fat and really packed with nutrition.  I used stage cooking to bring everything together fairly quickly the night I made it.  What does that mean?  Well, I cooked the chickpeas ahead of time in a slow cooker.  I roasted the squash that morning, when I was getting ready for work, shredded it, and refrigerated it for use later that night.  I toasted the pine nuts in a pan (watch them!) that morning while making breakfast.  IF I had been smart, I would have also de-stemmed and washed the kale ahead of time.  This breaks up the cooking process so that it's not T minus 2 hours until dinner.

Spaghetti Squash With Kale and Chickpeas
slightly altered from Love and Lemons Blog

feeds 2 with a little left over, in my experience

1 smaller spaghetti squash
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of chile flakes
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bunch of chopped kale leaves
1/2 lemon, juiced
¼ cup chopped sun dried tomatoes (or capers or olives)
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Salt & pepper
Optional: a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Slice your squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and pulp from the middle. Place the squash on a baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 1 hour or until the flesh is tender and you can scrape noodle-like strands with a fork. (If your squash is difficult to cut, roast it whole for the first 20 minutes until it softens a bit, then cut and continue).  Remove squash from the oven, let it cool slightly and use a fork to scrape the squash into strands. (set aside).

In a large skillet over medium heat, add enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan, then add the shallot, garlic, chile flakes, salt and pepper.  Once the shallot starts to soften, add the chickpeas and cook for a few minutes until they turn lightly golden brown.  Add the kale leaves, lemon juice, and then give everything in the pan a good stir.

Once the kale is partially wilted, add the squash strands, a little grated cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and more salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to incorporate. Remove from heat and top with toasted pine nuts and extra grated cheese.

Notes

  • If your kale is not wilting quickly, make sure your heat is above medium (somewhere between medium and medium high works best for me), and also add in a tablespoon or so of water at a time.  The steam the water creates as it hits the pan really helps me to wilt and soften the kale.
  • We still had some oven dried tomatoes in the fridge, so we used those.  So good!  If you use fully dried tomatoes, you may want to reconstitute them in some heated water or other liquid before adding them to the pan.

Slow Cooker Lasagna

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Oh my goodness.  It's been a crazy last few weeks.  There's nothing incredibly out of the ordinary going on, but the last few weeks have felt busier, more hectic.  I realized it's been a while since my last recipe share with you.  Slow cooker meals are needed now more than ever, right?  A few years back, Drew and I decided to try to become champions of the slow cooker.  We're still (very slowly) working on it, and this recipe will definitely be in our rotation for the future.  It's delicious and just gets better as it sits for a few days.



The upside to this lasagna recipe is that the slow cooker stretches out the baking process, allowing you to run errands or whatever while it cooks.  One downside is that the directions call for you to cook it only about 4-6 hours, and it was definitely done in that time.  I brought my slow cooker to work to be able to monitor it and it made the entire building hungry that afternoon.  Another upside is that the lasagna stayed nice and moist.

Slow Cooker Lasagna
adapted from Allrecipes user KIMIRN
feeds 6-8

1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (12 ounce) package lasagna noodles
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large skillet over medium heat cook the ground beef, onion, and garlic until brown. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, salt, and oregano and stir until well incorporated. Cook until heated through.

In a large bowl mix together the cottage cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, and shredded mozzarella cheese.

Spoon a layer of the meat mixture onto the bottom of the slow cooker. Add a double layer of the uncooked lasagna noodles. Break to fit noodles into slow cooker. Top noodles with a portion of the cheese mixture. Repeat the layering of sauce, noodles, and cheese until all the ingredients are used.
Cover, and cook on LOW setting for 4 to 6 hours.

Notes

  • One thing I do love about Allrecipes is the user reviews.  Reading those with the recipe help see potential pitfalls or slight modifications.  A common one with this recipe was complaints of the lasagna being too dry.  I added extra water to the sauce to make sure the noodles (which I did not cook ahead of time and they were not labeled as "no cook") cooked and didn't take too much moisture.  The noodles were a bit soft, but the lasagna was pretty perfect in terms of moisture.  

Pan Seared Bass with Grapefruit Salad

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A while back, we got a Groupon for the Clean Catch Fish Market in Charlotte and finally bought some fish with it.  We took home arctic char and black bass.



I'm not sure that I've ever made bass, so I didn't know how most people cooked it.  After a short recipe search, I landed on today's recipe, brought us from Anne Burrell from her Food Network Show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.  It's a fairly simple recipe that really cooks the fish well (by pan searing it) and gives you a really good meal that would be a good fancy-dinner-at-home meal in something like 15 minutes.


The only thing I'd do differently is that I might try to either season the fish better next time, or add some other flavor element to the fish itself- maybe a sauce or drizzle with the grapefruit juice.  The fish was cooked well- moist, flaky and tender- but it was a little on the bland side.  On a positive note with that, if you don't like strong fish, this is an ideal choice.

Seared Black Bass with Bitter Greens, Grapefruit, and Feta Salad
from Anne Burrell

recipe is written to feed four people.

Extra-virgin olive oil
Four 6-ounce black bass fillets
Kosher salt
5 to 6 cups bitter greens, such as arugula, dandelion, escarole, radicchio, endive or frisee
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 ruby red grapefruit, juiced
1/4 cup pitted gaeta or kalamata olives, slivered
2 ruby red grapefruits, supremed
3/4 cup crumbled feta

Coat a large saute pan with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Coat the bottom of another smaller saute pan with olive oil. Sprinkle the fish with salt on both sides. When the large saute pan is screaming hot but not quite smoking, lay the fish fillets in the pan, skin-side down. Do not crowd the pan, you may have to work in batches. After you put the fish in the pan, place the other small saute pan directly on top of the fish fillets. This applies gentle pressure to the fish and forces the skin to have contact with the pan and will create crispy skin. Cook the fish for 3 to 4 minutes and then remove the top pan. Shake the pan a little to unstick the fish. Use a fish spatula and flip the fish fillets and cook for 2 more minutes on the other side. Remove from the pan and serve or keep warm until the remaining fish is cooked.

In a large mixing bowl, dress the greens and red onions with olive oil and grapefruit juice and season with salt. Toss in the olive slivers and grapefruit supremes.

Divide the salad among 4 serving plates and sprinkle with feta. Lean a fish fillet on each salad. Serve immediately.

How to supreme any citrus- cut a bit off the top and bottom of the fruit, and sit it on a cutting surface.  With your knife, cut the peel off, cutting small sections straight down from the top.  Then, slice in between the membrane separating each slice of fruit to segment it.  Then you get a supremed citrus, or slices without peel/membranes.