Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Authentic flavors and textures of food from countries outside of the USA are sometimes worlds apart from the versions modified for the average American palate.  This fact was brought to my attention when I attended a Chinese cooking class. Our instructor was a college professor from China who also happened to love cooking; she told us to embrace the unfamiliar ingredients we were about to encounter - they were not going to be like most of the food stuffed into those little white boxes!
 Jion Liou Yen was a wonderful teacher who not only taught how to cook her country's dishes, she gave us the history behind the food we were to prepare.Yen introduced Szechuan, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hunan cuisine.We learned that the people who lived in cooler climate regions favored meals which included more meat and wheat flour while other regions embraced hot and spicy flavors.
Overall, the Cantonese recipes were the most familiar to our class of student chefs because it included egg drop soup, wontons, spring rolls, chow-mein, pork fried rice and a wonderful Sweet and Sour Chicken.
*One thing to remember when preparing Chinese recipes, there is a certain amount of food preparations which must be done before the actual cooking begins. The cooking process is fast-paced, has a certain rhythm to it and takes concentration!
This recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken is gluten-free.


Sweet and Sour Chicken
(pork or shrimp may be substituted for the chicken)


1 chicken breast (whole)

½ green pepper, coarsely chopped
½ red pepper, coarsely chopped
1 C cornstarch



1 T soy sauce (gluten free, optional)
1 T sherry or rice wine
½ tsp salt (Himalayan pink, optional)
1 egg white (beat until frothy)
1 tsp sesame oil

Sweet and Sour Sauce (mix ingredients together and set aside)

1 T rice wine or dry sherry
1 T soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 C rice vinegar (pineapple juice may be substituted for a less tart flavor)
1/3 -1/2 C brown sugar
¼ C ketchup
¼ C chicken stock
1 T cornstarch
(taste sauce - if too sour add more sugar)

·         Cut chicken into ¾ inch cubes. Combine marinade ingredients in a med. bowl and combine with chicken cubes. Set aside for 30 minutes.

·         Put pan (wok) on high heat and add oil to coat bottom.

·         Place cornstarch in a plastic bag and toss in chicken pieces. Shake bag to coat chicken evenly.

·         Add coated chicken, a few pieces at a time, and cook for 3 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Chicken should be crisp. Remove and drain on paper towel. Continue with remaining chicken adding more oil as needed.

·         Remove pan from heat and wipe clean with paper towel. Place back on med. high heat and add 1 T oil. Stir in peppers and cook while stirring for about ½ minute.

·         Turn heat down to med. and add sweet-and-sour sauce. Cook until sauce is hot.

·         Stir in chicken, mix well. Remove from heat. Serve with rice. (serves 4)


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Diane's Sausage-Vegetable Plate (March 12, 2013)

In my beginning home economics classes, our teachers were quick to point out the positive effect colors and textures have on a person's desire to eat. We students were instructed to not only create delicious and well-measured recipes, we were to take special care with the presentation  and compatibility of our creations.

A side dish of deep green, orange or red vegetables was an easy fix for a bland-looking or textured plate of food. If those were not available, we could press into service a spring or two of parsley, carrot sticks or at least a dash of paprika!

Today, most of us have come to realize the health benefits of the more deeply hued foods; they are not just there to enhance the look of the plate! However, colorful food makes me smile and if someone uses color to enhance a plate or dish of food, it is a signal to me that the person cares about the people being served.

The Sausage-Vegetable Plate I created is a beautiful example of color and texture. I wanted to eliminate the traditional and so-boring bed-of-pasta and substituted, instead, crunchy and eye-appealing vegetables. The success of this dish was enhanced with a savory red sauce and a decorative sprinkle of grated Parmesan. Note: the bright color and texture of the broccoli and carrots was maintained by using a Glad Simply Cooking (microwavable) bag.

(There are no exact measurements given for this recipe. It can be made for one person or a crowd - you decide how much to make!)

Diane's Sausage-Vegetable Plate

Sausage links (not breakfast sausage!), I used a veg./cheese/chicken sausage
Sweet onion, sliced
Red bell pepper, chopped
Mushrooms, sliced
Tomato sauce, 15 oz.
Pepper blend
Italian seasoning
Carrots, cleaned and sliced on the diagonal
Broccoli, rinsed and chopped
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Put sausage in a pan, (Italian sausage, turkey sausage, chicken sausage may be used). Add enough water to come half-way up the sides of the link(s). Place on med-high heat and bring to simmer. Turn heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn link(s) over and continue to simmer for 10 minutes more.

Remove links to a cutting board and drain water from pan. Turn heat back to med-high and add 1 T olive oil. When hot stir in sliced onions and red bell pepper. Saute until softened slightly. Add mushrooms and continue to stir and cook until mushrooms are golden.

Meanwhile, slice sausage into 1/2 inch pieces cut on the diagonal, (looks prettier), and add the meat back to the onion mixture. Stir and cook until meat is lightly browned on all sides. Add can of tomato sauce and turn heat to med-low. Stir until evenly mixed. Season lightly with a pepper blend, Italian seasoning and a pinch of salt. Add 1-2  T butter and stir until melted. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Put carrots in a Glad bag and steam per directions (3 min). Remove to a bowl. Add broccoli to bag and steam per directions (3 min.). Add to carrots and toss gently. Add 1 T butter and mix until evenly blended.

To serve: Place carrot and broccoli mixture on serving plate. Top with sausage mixture, leaving a slight border around edges to show off vegetables. Sprinkle grated Parmesan attractively in the center of the dish. Serve.

(This dish may be made ahead and reheated. Assemble after meat and vegetable mixtures have been reheated seperately).

Monday, March 4, 2013

Diane's Chipotle-Style Chicken Salad Bowl

I love it when a restaurant serves food with consistency, satisfies my appetite, and does not leave me sickeningly stuffed or with the feeling of having been cheated out of an anticipated dining experience. 
Each time I have visited one of the Chipotle eateries, I have had a happy experience.
The fresh ingredients Chipotle includes in their famous salad bowls and the care the owners take to help customers know exactly what they are eating, is commendable! Fresh food and a mixture of wonderful flavors is what they advertise and what they deliver.
While I am not a spokesperson for Chipotle, I do love their food and my recipe for a chicken salad bowl, similar to theirs, is offered as a tribute to Chipotle!
Chipotle-Style Chicken Salad Bowl

The following ingredients are to be layered in the order given:

Romaine lettuce
Basmati rice (Lime, butter, cilantro)
Black beans
Chicken (smokey seasoning), free range, hormone and antibiotic-free
Tomato salsa (tomato, green chili, lime juice, sweet onion, cilantro, pink salt)
Avocado (optional)
Sour cream (optional)


Lettuce: Chop Romaine lettuce coarsely and layer on serving plates or bowls. Set aside.

Tomato Salsa: chop fresh tomatoes, add the juice from 1/2 lime per 1/2 C tomato. Add 1/2 chopped sweet onion, 1 T chopped fresh cilantro, salt and green chilies (canned), to taste. Mix well. Set aside.

Rice: Add 1C Basmati rice (fragrant rice) to a pot. Rinse with cool water three times. Add water to cove rice 1/2 inch above rice level. Add 1 T butter and the juice from one lime. Put pot on med-high heat and boil until water is level with rice. Lower heat to low and pull pot almost off the burner. Cover pot and set timer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 T chopped fresh cilantro. Mix well and fluff rice; cover and set aside).

Black Beans:Open can of black beans and put in microwave safe container. Heat for 2 minutes and set aside, covered.

Chicken: One chicken breast serves two. In a heavy pan, heat 1 T olive oil until hot on med-high heat. Braise both sides of chicken which has been sprinkled with smokey-pepper seasoning. Remove browned chicken from pan and place on cutting board. Slice chicken breast in 1/2 inch, crosswise pieces. Add back to pan and finish browning both sides evenly. Remove from pan and cut chicken into small chunks. Set aside.

Assemble: Place lettuce on plate or in a bowl. Spoon warm, flavored rice down the center of lettuce bed. Add a generous spoonful of black beans. Top the beans with chunks of braised chicken. Lightly drizzle 1/4 C fresh salsa with juices across top of chicken and lettuce. Avocado and sour cream may be added. Serve immediately.