Over the years I've been watching food TV shows, I have heard numerous famous chefs describe their secret to success with some form of the phrase...
"Start with the Best Ingredients"
(Since then, I have discovered that there's one more thing they never mention ...
" ... Don't ruin them"
Fresh produce, the finest cuts of meat and all the best of everything are terrific, but there are all kinds of ways of messing things up and I've managed to do quite a few of them.
But, the fact is, I've also found that if you keep your wits about you, you can still make a really good meal with some pretty average ingredients. A case in point, is today's entreé.
Not only did I NOT use the finest ingredients, but when I was right in the middle of cooking it, I realized that I didn't have one of the most critical ones. Read on while I show you how you can sometimes make a mistake, and still end up with a good meal.
THE PLAN: Asian Chicken Stir Fry Over Rice
THE Alternate PLAN:
A fusion of Asian and Traditional Mediterranean
Stir Fry Over Rice
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One evening last week, dinner time was fast approaching and I had no idea what to make, so I opened the fridge to see what I could come up with, but I didn't see much. Then I looked in the cabinet and didn't see anything much there either.
Some days you just don't have a lot to work with. But if you put your mind to it and don't panic, you might just manage to come up with something. Kathy liked it so much that she posted this picture on Facebook
Skip to the end for the list of Ingredients and specific Instructions.
The Daily Dilemma: What to Make For Dinner
Here I am, it's dinner time again and I don't have a clue. When I checked the produce drawer in the fridge. all I saw was some limp celery, tired looking baby Bok Choy, some carrots, onions, an open package of "wood ear" mushrooms and half a green pepper.
My first thought is that I'd better use those veggies soon or I'll have to be tossing them out... and then I noticed that I still had two nice tomatoes in the bowl on the counter. Between the Baby Bok Choy, the Wood Ear mushrooms, the package of chicken tenders that's in the freezer and my ever present sesame oil, Asian spices and soy sauce, I start to see the answer to my question of what to make for dinner ...
Asian Stir Fry !!
I take the chicken from the freezer and pop it into the microwave on Defrost, then I head over to the cabinet again and grab the rice to get it started because it will take the most time.
I start to fill a medium pan with water and then I realize that's not how to do it, so for the millionth time, I need to look at the instructions on the rice label again because for some reason, I can never remember how much water to use and how long it has to cook. I hope I'm not the only person who has to do this...
So, with my new-found knowledge, I measure out 2 cups of rice and 3 cups of water and put it on the stove. While I wait, I take out the vegetables, wash them and put them on the cutting board. I see that the celery has definitely gone limp in the produce drawer. When I pick it up, it hangs there like... well, I won't go there. This is a family blog. But I bring it "up" because I want to point out that when you cook it, limp celery tastes just as good as crispy celery. Don't use it to make Tuna Salad, but you can cut it up and put it in a stir fry, a soup or a stew and nobody will ever know the difference. So don't throw out your limp celery... Cook with it.
Remember: It's only limp because it has less water in it than nature intended. Cooking it is going to boil-off the water anyway so what's the difference?
"... don't throw out your limp celery... Cook With It"
After I cut up the all vegetables into appropriate size pieces for stir-fry and put them into a bowl, I dice the tomatoes and put them aside to use raw as a garnish on top of the stir-fry.
Meanwhile, back at the rice, the water has started to boil, so I turn it all the way down to the lowest setting and cover it tightly. That's when I have to go back to the cabinet again, to re-read the instructions on the rice because I forgot how long I have to set the timer... Again. (it's 15 minutes by the way, but I had to get up and look just now before I typed that)
That moment when I set the timer is my favorite part of making rice because, now I don't have to worry about letting the water boil away like I did once. (which makes for very hard, really awful rice)
The chicken is defrosted, so I take it out of the microwave and cut it into bite size chunks on the same cutting board I used for the vegetables. I always cut the veggies first, then the meat. That way I don't have to worry about dirtying two cutting boards.
I season the chicken and the veggies. I pour a little Toasted Sesame Oil into the veggie bowl and onto the chicken chunks, along with some soy sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Then I reach into the spice drawer for the Ground Ginger which is really an essential flavor for almost every Asian dish.
OH NO... I Can't Find Any Ground Ginger!!
This is a disastrous turn of events. Or it would have been, a few years ago...
I'm using some decidedly Asian vegetables and I have just seasoned everything with Soy Sauce so what do I do?
Well .. Thanks to Emeril Lagassé, I do NOT call Food 911 !!
By a stroke of pure luck, I reach into the freezer again and pull out 4 Hot Italian Sausages and while I'm in there, I discover some frozen peas so I grab them too.
I put the sausages into the microwave on HIGH for 3 minutes to cook them enough to be able to slice them up. I put about a cup of the frozen peas into the bowl with the other veggies and then ... I season both the chicken and the vegetables with generous amounts of
Parsley, Oregano and Herbes de Provence (click here if you don't know what that is)
Finally, convinced that I have dodged another bullet, I fire up the Wok and pretend that I did all this on purpose.
I never told Kathy how everything went South (or is it West) while I made this dinner. When I called her in to make up her plate, she was blown away by the aromas coming from the top of the stove. When she tasted it, I was rewarded with some of the most satisfied sounds of enjoyment that I have ever heard from her.
On the outside, I acted with gracious humility and thanked her for the compliments.
Inside, I still can't believe I managed to pull it off, so I thought I would share this recipe with you.
If you decide to make it, you should probably use crispy celery and bok choy, but honestly, I really don't think it would make that much difference.
2 cups White rice
1 lb Chicken Tenders cut into 1" chunks
4 Hot Italian Sausage links - microwave cooked and sliced into chunks
1 cup frozen green peas
4-5 stalks of Celery chopped
5 Baby Bok Choy or 4 stalks of full-size Bok Choy chopped into bite size
8 "baby" carrots cut into bite size
1 Yellow Onion cut in half and then quartered to make little triangles
4-5 oz Mushrooms - whatever kind you like - cut into bite size
1/2 Large green sweet pepper chopped
( I don't measure seasonings so these are conservative starting points )
3 Tbsp Toasted Sesame Oil .. You can use olive oil but sesame is a big part of the Asian flavor
2 Tbsp soy sauce
-- garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder to your own taste
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp Parsley
1 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
Prepare the rice according to these proportions.
1 cup rice - 1-1/2 cups cold water in a pot that has a cover
(For this recipe, you don't need to add butter and salt, but the package will tell you to
add 1/4-1/2 tsp of salt and 4-Tbsp of butter or margarine.)
Bring to a boil while uncovered and immediately turn down to LOW and cover tightly
Simmer it for 15 minutes and remove the pan from the heat
Let it stand with the cover on until you are ready to serve it.
Do Not Uncover It to check on it. Rice Needs ALL the Moisture from the Steam.
Pour some Soy Sauce and Sesame Oil onto the cut up veggies in the bowl and on the raw Chicken chunks. Season both with your herbs and spices, mix thoroughly to coat everything evenly and let it stand.
In a large wok or deep pan, Pour enough oil to coat the bottom and set the heat on MED-HIGH
Put the chicken into the heated pan and sauté until it is "browned" on all sides, then dump in the sausage and the veggies with a little more oil and turn up the heat to HIGH.
With two large paddles or wooden spoons keep everything mixed and moving as it sizzles. The Vegetables will release quite a bit of their juices, but if things get too dry and start to burn, you can add some liquid. Keep tossing everything around in the wok and taste it once in a while to see if you need to adjust the seasoning.
If you went a little too heavy with the Soy Sauce or Cayenne, there's no need to worry.
You can add some water to dilute the saltiness of too much Soy Sauce.
If it's too Spicy, you can use cranberry, apple or orange juice to cut the heat.
Either way it will probably get too wet. So use a thickening agent (see below) such as corn starch or flour to TIGHTEN IT UP and make it nice and creamy looking. Everyone will think you did it on purpose.
Here's How to Thicken Up Watery Sauces:
While your dinner continues to SIZZLE, quickly put a couple of tablespoons of Corn Starch, Arrow-Root or plain, old All-Purpose Flour into a small bowl.
Add some tap water a little at a time and stir out any lumps until the mixture looks just about like milk.
Take your wooden spoon and make some space in the center of the wok so that you can pour the milky looking mixture into the boiling liquid.
Keep stirring and you will see the thin watery liquid start to thicken up as the starch cooks
I like my stir-fry nice and crunchy, so for me, everything is done fairly quickly, but this is your dinner, so when the veggies are cooked the way you like them, you are ready to serve it.
Scoop out some rice onto a nice plate or into a bowl, then put your stir-fry on top. You can garnish each plate with some of the chopped tomatoes, or some parsley and ideally, some toasted sesame seeds if you have them.
I hope you enjoy your dinner.
Until the Next Time ... So Long from Bob's Diner
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