Monday, January 29, 2018

Cajun Cashew Chicken

Y'all....I invented something.  I know so many of the things I cook are just recipes from a cookbook or Pinterest...but I actually had an ORIGINAL thought.  Trust me--I checked the internet.

I was laying in bed, having trouble falling asleep because I drank caffeine too close to bedtime.  And somewhere, somehow, a lateral train of thought took me to "I wonder if I could make a Cajun version of cashew chicken?"

If'n you're not from Missouri...specifically Springfield, Missouri... y'all.  Springfield, Missouri is famous for exactly two things.
1) It's where the original Bass Pro Shops is located and headquartered, and 
2) It's where "Springfield-style" cashew chicken was invented.

In 1963, David Leong created this dish for a supper club, and the entire city went bonkers.  His family's restaurant is still famous for it, and there isn't a single Asian restaurant in town that doesn't have a version of cashew chicken on their menu---even some non-Asian restaurants, as evidenced by the cashew chicken poutine served by Lindberg's Tavern.
So...what is it?  Well, it's awesome.  Tasty little deep fried morsels of chicken, served with either a light brown garlic sauce or a darker, thicker brown gravy made with chicken stock, oyster sauce and soy....and then topped with cashews.  It's basically fried chicken & brown gravy, served with rice (usually fried rice).

So somewhere in the lateral processes of my brain, something clicked:  how is cashew chicken all that different from all the rice & gravy dishes in Louisiana?  Can I make something that honors both the original dish, and a Cajun dish, while still tasting amazing?  

...well...why not?  After all--it's the experimental dishes that are the most fun to make:  like Primo's crawchos and red beans & fries, and the bacon-wrapped boudin jalapeno poppers.

So--this dish has four components:
1) Fried chicken - the secret to great Springfield style chicken is the fry batter, which uses cornstarch, so we're not going to mess with that.  But...what if we brine our chicken with a crab boil mixture first?
2) Brown gravy - Anyone who's followed this blog for a while knows my love of Tony Chacheres's brown gravy & instant roux mix.  While I catch a lot of flack for using this shortcut instead of making my roux's from scratch, you just can't deny the fact that this stuff makes a great quick gravy.  So...let's use that as a base, and then tinker a bit to bring in some of the traditional cashew sauce elements.
3) Rice - white rice just seemed too vanilla for this adventure. So what's the closest thing Cajun country has to fried rice?  Why...that's dirty rice, son.
4) Cashews - because it's freakin' cashew chicken. did it go?  Well, my first attempt was a little salt heavy.  The chicken was great, but rice and the gravy both came out with too much salt, which really took away from my enjoyment of my new invention.  And I was testing out a new recipe for the dirty rice, using my Instant Pot instead of something tried and true--so the rice was on the mushy side, rather than more like a "pilaf" like dirty rice should be.  Also...I completely forgot to buy cashews and green onions, so my topping game was not on point. I wanted to make Tabasco-spiced cashews using their Chipotle sauce.  So instead we had dried green onions and some spicy peanuts. *shrugs*
I think it requires a do-over.  Next time, I'll thin the sauce out more and lower the salt, and then use a dirty rice recipe that I know works.  Oh--and make sure I have cashews and green onions.

Ingredients: (makes 4-6 servings)
2 large chicken breasts, cubed into bite size pieces
Brine for Chicken
4 cups water
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup crab boil seasoning (I used dry--you could use the liquid instead, but will likely need to add more salt)
1 Tbsp cajun seasoning
1/4 cup Steen's cane syrup
1 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Batter for Chicken
DRY: 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 Tbsp cornstarch
WET: 2-3 eggs, whisked

4 Tbsp Tony Chacheres instant brown gravy mix
2 cup water
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
additional water as needed to thin gravy to desired consistency

Dirty Rice (link to recipe here)

Cashews & Green Onions, for serving

First--brine the chicken at least 24 hours in advance. I chunked up the chicken pieces first to increase surface area, since there's a lot of debate as to how much aromatics and flavoring components really penetrate when brining/marinating.  I put all the brine ingredients in a gallon ziploc, and then added the chicken, and placed it in the fridge (inside a large bowl, in case of leakage) overnight.

Then, the immortal words of PooPoo Broussard: "cook sum rice". (NOTE: I think leftover dirty rice tastes better than "fresh", so feel free to make this the night before.) I decided to make this in the Instant Pot because...well...I own an Instant Pot. (I also made it with brown rice, because that's what we had on hand.)  Next time, I'll probably try something different, like my usual range-top recipe (linking to save space in this post).

Now, start the gravy--you can get this simmering in the background while you focus on frying the chicken.  We happened to have some brown gravy in the fridge from a meal earlier in the week, so I re-heated that, and then added the oyster sauce, low-sodium soy sauce, sesame oil, and then about 1/4 cup of water.  This resulted in a thick, tasty, but salty gravy--so if I had a do over I would have added more water to thin it out.  The flavor (aside from the salt) was very good.  Once your gravy is done, set it aside on Low, just to keep it warm--don't let it keep reducing or you'll end up with the salt issue, too.

When you're ready to cook the chicken:

1) heat up about 2-3 inches of peanut oil in a high-sided pot.  Have a splatter guard handy.  You want to make sure your oil is good and hot to fry the chicken--otherwise it's going to soak up a lot of the oil and be greasy and not as good, but not so hot as to scorch the coating. 365*F is a good target temp.
2) Drain the brine by pouring the chicken into a colander and letting the excess drain off.
3) Dip in the chicken in the flour mixture first, then the egg, then back in the flour.  Stage finished chicken on a cookie sheet until you're done with all of them.
4) Drop into the hot oil, and let fry for about 3-4 minutes.  Use a spoon or chopstick to flip the pieces about halfway through.
5) When golden brown, pull the chicken out and let it drain on paper towels or an elevated rack.
Serve up a scoop of the dirty rice, pile some chicken next to it, then add gravy, and top with the cashews and some sliced green onions.

Note: If you've never had original Springfield-style and want to try David Leong's original cashew chicken, here is his recipe.  

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Thirsty Thursday: Peach Brandy Fizz

I'll be honest with you--it's rare that I set out to make a *specific* cocktail.  Most of the time, it's literally just a "hrm...what do we have? Okay...those taste good together!"  And then I think I'm brilliant for having "invented" a new cocktail.
This is one of those cases.  However, have much research (read: 10 seconds of Googling), I realize that what I effectively made here is a brandy fizz.  A traditional brandy fizz has: brandy, lemon, sugar, and club soda.  But I simplified those last three ingredients by using citrus sparkling water.

And honestly, this is also a cocktail born of necessity... because I necessarily needed to get this Aquafina sparkling water out of my house.  It''s not great.  I's okay.  But pretty 'meh'. I'm fairly sure it was born to be a mixer.  And so it was.

large glass
crushed ice (can you tell I'm in love with our new fridge that magically dispenses crushed ice from the door???)
4 oz peach brandy
6 oz Aquafina sparkling water (we had the orange grapefruit version)
pineapple (for garnish)
Combine & serve.  Note: the sparkling water has no sweetener in it, but peach brandy is generally plenty sweet. If you need more sweetness, however, add a little sugar or Truvia or whatever your heart desires.  You gotta drink it, not me. :)


Monday, January 8, 2018

Sporkful Sauteed Broccoli

I have about an hour commute round trip each day.  I use those 5 hours each week to listen to podcasts--one of my favorites of which is The Sporkful (it's not for foodies, it's for eaters).  At the end of each Year, The Sporkful asks listeners to call in with their new year's food resolutions--the things they resolve to eat MORE of.  Last year, my thing was BREAKFAST, since I am a notorious breakfast skipper. It was hugely successful--I ate breakfast all but two days last year.  So, this year, I resolved to eat more veggies.

During one episode of The Sporkful, the host Dan Pashman noted that his favorite way to cook broccoli (specifically, broccoli stems) was to thinly slice them, saute them in duck fat, and then season with Maggi sauce.

My mouth started watering.  Duck fat has that effect on me, ever since the famous duck fat fries at the The Delachaise bar in New Orleans.
So, I hopped on Amazon & bought a jar of duck fat, and bottle of Maggi sauce, and anxiously waited for the mail to arrive.
As soon as they showed up, I ran out & bought some broccoli.

Now, I didn't exclude the florets, like Pashman had suggested, but rather tried to make "broccoli spears", so that each small floret had a thin slice of stem.  I also added a little garlic and ginger, because I love me some garlic & ginger.
It did not disappoint.  Perfectly salty and fatty, while still feeling somewhat healthy because it's fresh broccoli.  You can serve with just about anything, but I did a pan-seared chicken breast.

INGREDIENTS: (makes 4 servings)
1 Tbsp duck fat
1 tsp minced ginger (I buy the small tubes of ginger paste in the produce section)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small head of broccoli, as "thinly sliced" as you can manage with florets still attached
Maggi sauce to taste (about 1 Tbsp)
black pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat the duck fat, ginger, and garlic over medium heat until your kitchen starts to smell amazing (about 1-2 minutes).  Then add the broccoli and toss to coat.  Cover the pan with a glass lid to help the broccoli steam.  After about 5 minutes, add the Maggi sauce and toss well, and cover again, stirring occasionally.  After another 5 minutes, the broccoli should be tender.  Serve hot & season with cracked black pepper.

NutriFacts: (per serving)

  • Calories55.0
  • Total Fat3.5 g
  • Saturated Fat1.1 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat0.5 g
  • Monounsaturated Fat1.6 g
  • Cholesterol3.3 mg
  • Sodium390.7 mg
  • Potassium253.5 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate4.5 g
  • Dietary Fiber2.3 g
  • Sugars1.3 g
  • Protein2.9 g

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 Resolutions and the Top 10 Posts of 2017

Nappy New Year!  (this was a typo...but I liked it so much I kept it.  We should all be so blessed as to have a new year full of naps.)

I hope everyone had a relatively chaos-free and enjoyable holiday season!  Now, t'is the time for resolutions and looking back.  And overall, I'm pretty pleased with 2017.  Lil' Man turned 2--which means we have kept him alive and in a general state of health for another year.  We had no major medical or financial crises, and I even managed to max out my 401k.  Oh--and I chopped all my hair off for charity over Christmas.
10 inches gone to Pantene's Beautiful Lengths.

I'm hoping this will sate my do-gooding needs until I can start giving blood again in April (I got benched for a year because we traveled out of the country to an area with malaria risk).  In the meantime--I'm loving the cut.  I feel like I have so many more quick options for styling!  If I want to wash & go, I can just add a little mousse, scrunch, and head out the door. If I want to flat iron, it takes less than 5 minutes.  So glorious.

One of last year's resolutions was to eat more breakfast--and that I did. With the exception of a couple days in the summer, I ate breakfast every day, and catalogued much of it on Instagram (to the confusion of several of my friends, who thought my dates were actually a rating system). I also managed to keep up with my line-a-day journal (though sometimes by catching up a week at a time--life's crazy, yo.)

This year?
1) Eat more vegetables.  We got fruits in the bag, but we just aren't good about getting a lot of veggies on the plate.  Unless you count potatoes.  So I'm hoping to mix it up a bit more.
2) Exercise.  I know, it's so trite, but seriously needed.  We just got a 6 month family pass to the gym at our church, which is less than 5 minutes from our house.  No excuses.  I'm still working on figuring out a reasonable, measurable goal, but at this point, if I go even 4 times in the entire year, that's better than 2017.
3) Moisturize.  Winter is upon us, and dry skin is a plague.  I have plenty of hand cream, foot cream, face cream, even in-shower lotion...but do I use it?  Not really.  I feel like I should take better care of my skin now, and avoid the expensive surgeries, Botox, and firming creams later down the road.

Keeping it simple with three.  I mean, I have work goals too, but I won't bore you with those.

And now, on to the Top 10 Posts of 2017!