KUNG PAO CHICKEN

George likes his chicken spicy!

We like ours spicy too, but the beautiful thing about Kung Pao is that you can tame it to your favorite degree of heat by playing with the type of peppers you add, or reducing the amount of its most important ingredient: Szechuan peppercorns. Daredevils out there, pair Szechuan with Habaneros! Just make sure to have the firemen on speed dial…

KUNG PAO CHICKEN
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

to marinate the chicken:
3 boneless/skinless chicken breast cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cornstarch

for the sauce:
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon dry sherry
3 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

for the stir-fry:
4 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 red bell pepper seeded and diced
1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper seeded and diced
1 Serrano pepper, seeded and finely minced (or another hot pepper of your choice)
1 tablespoon (or to taste) Sichuan peppercorns, coarsely ground
1/2 cup roasted/unsalted peanuts
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Combine all ingredients for the chicken in a shallow bowl; cover and marinate for 30 minutes.
Whisk sauce ingredients together and set aside. Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil, allow to heat up, then add marinated chicken. Stir-fry chicken for a few minutes, until edges are browned, which will happen reasonably quickly because of the baking soda. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add remaining cooking oil to the pan, stir in ginger, bell peppers, and Sichuan peppercorns and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Pour the reserved sauce into the pan and bring it to a boil. Add the chicken pieces, and heat everything together for a couple more minutes. Add the peanuts, sesame oil, and serve over rice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Szechuan peppers are quite special. They have a numbing effect, quite different from any other pepper and they are pretty much mandatory in a Kung Pao. I used a mortar and pestle to grind it, some recipes tell you to toast them lightly before grinding, but I used them fresh from the bag.

Marinating the chicken with the baking soda for 30 minutes is a quicker version of velveting, and worked pretty nicely, the meat developed that texture we all love in Chinese cooking. A little white rice, some green beans and all of a sudden we realized that Kung Pao is a nice antidote for the Polar Vortex.

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KUNG PAO CHICKEN
(adapted from

CLAY POT CORNISH HENS WITH RICE-PECAN STUFFING

No clay pot? No problem, I will tell you how to make the exact same recipe without it. What I love about the clay pot is how user-friendly it is. A little longer cooking never hurts, no risk of drying the meat or making it tough. Cornish Hens are perfect for a romantic meal, they bring a touch of elegance and cuteness at the same time. Often they are stuffed with wild rice, but I wanted to see if the humble white rice would work. I am here to tell you, it does! Aren’t you thrilled?

CLAY POT CORNISH HENS WITH RICE-PECAN STUFFING
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

2 cornish hens
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion (I used fennel instead)
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup dried cranberries
]flat-leaf parsley, chopped (amount to taste)
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

for glaze:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
splash of lemon juice

Make the stuffing: Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add onions (or fennel) and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add pecans, sage, and 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper. Cook until pecans are fragrant. Remove from heat and stir in cooked rice, cranberries, and parsley. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the glaze: mix all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

If using the clay pot, soak it for a couple of hours. If roasting in a regular pan, heat the oven to 425F. Remove hens from the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to roasting. Rinse hens, and pat dry with a paper towel. Lightly season the cavities of the hens with salt and pepper. Spoon about 1/2 cup of stuffing into each cavity. Tie the legs closed with kitchen twine and tuck the wings under the birds. If using the clay pot, improvise a little “rack” using aluminum foil so that they don’t sit directly on the pot. Place the hens in the clay pot and place in a cold oven. Turn it to 450F. Roast for 1 hour, then open the clay pot and roast for 15 minutes longer, brushing with the glaze a couple of times.

If roasting in a regular pan, brush the skin with olive oil and roast for 20 minutes at 425F, then reduce the temperature to 375F and roast for about 50 minutes longer, brushing with the glaze a few times during roasting (if possible, check temperature at thigh, it should read 180F).

Let the hens rest for 15 minutes, then cut the kitchen twine and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I pretty much gave up trying to make nice pictures of roast chicken and its relatives. So I hope you can surf beyond the photos and trust that it was truly very good. I used bland, nothing-to-it leftover white rice for the stuffing and it got totally transformed during roasting. The juices of the hen gave it a very deep flavor, and the pecans, cranberries and sage closed the deal beautifully. As the husband said, “this must go into our rotation.” Agreed. 100%.

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SLOW-ROASTED SWEET POTATOES IN TOMATO, LIME AND CARDAMON SAUCE

Once again I turn to Joanne’s blog for inspiration. Like me, she also loves Ottolenghi and adapted this recipe from his new cookbook, Flavor. His method calls for high-temperature roasting of sweet potato slices coated in maple syrup and spices. I changed things around a bit, as I am absolutely set on roasting them low and slow (after trying the method described in this post of my recent past). You can conceivably make the sauce and the potatoes days in advance to finalize the dish quickly before meal time. I served it alongside grilled chicken breasts. They worked so well together that I decided to feature both recipes in a single post.

SLOW-ROASTED SWEET POTATOES IN TOMATO, LIME & CARDAMON SAUCE
(adapted from Joanne’s blog)

for potatoes:
3 large sweet potatoes, cut crosswise into 1-inch thick rounds
olive oil to rub potatoes
salt and pepper to taste

for the sauce:
5 tbsp olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
14 oz whole peeled tomatoes, blended until smooth
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
1.5 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ground cumin
zest of 1 lime
1 tbsp lime juice
1 cup water
2 tsp finely chopped dill

For the sweet potatoes. Heat the oven to 300F. Rub them with oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, and slow roast for 60 to 90 minutes until tender. Set aside to cool, peel the skin off and slice it into 1 inch thick rounds to proceed with the recipe (can be made a couple of days in advance).

Make the sauce. Combine the olive oil, jalapenos, shallots, and a pinch of salt in a large saute pan over medium heat, cook for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, cardamom, cumin, lime zest, and 1 tsp salt. Cook for 5 minutes so the flavors can combine, stirring frequently. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes.

Increase oven temperature to 425F. Add the sauce to a shallow baking dish that can hold all the potato slices in a single layer, if possible. Place the slow-roasted potatoes on top of the sauce and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Close to the end of roasting time, sprinkle dill on top. If you like a little more color development, use the broiler.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This was absolutely delicious, and if you spread the preparation by roasting the potatoes the day before, it is a breeze to put together. I actually find myself slow-roasting sweet potatoes and saving them, still with the skin, for all sorts of uses later. Cardamon and lime in the tomato sauce? Winner combination. I intend to make a roasted tomato soup pretty soon with those basic flavors. Stay tuned. And now, as I promised, the main dish we had with these wonderful potatoes.

BONUS RECIPE

GRILLED CHICKEN BREASTS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
1/3 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt

In a bowl, stir together all ingredients, except chicken (of course). Whisk well until brown sugar is dissolved. Place chicken breasts in a ziplock bag and add the marinade. Leave it in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes, but if you have time allow it to sit for 4 hours or even longer.

Heat grill, and cook around 6 minutes per side. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, then slice on the bias, and serve, preferably with those amazing sweet potatoes.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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THOMPSON’S TURKEY AFTER 20 YEARS OF WAITING

This will certainly break all the records as far as taking my sweet time goes. I first heard of this amazing recipe in the show Taste hosted by David Rosengarten from 1994 to 2001. Those were truly the golden years of FoodTV, before it became centered on cooking competitions. I was fascinated by the recipe and always considered trying it. However, we never wanted to take a risk making this quite unusual recipe for guests, not knowing if it would work as expected. But, if there is one year that calls for all craziness to come out and play, 2020 is it. Big time. Plus, being just the two of us, we could always laugh at the disaster and chalk it to experience. Without further ado, I share the strangest, and most convoluted recipe I’ve ever made.

To see the big reveal, click here

THOMPSON’S TURKEY
(adapted from David Rosengarten)

1 turkey, 16-22 pounds, with giblets
For basting:
5 ½ cups water
Salt, freshly ground pepper, vegetable oil
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon each: paprika, salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 qt apple cider (hard cider if you prefer)

for stuffing:
1 Granny Smith apple, cored, unpeeled, diced
1 medium orange, diced
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, undrained
zest of 1 lemon
1 can (8 ounces) water chestnuts, sliced, drained
6 ribs celery, minced
2 Vidalia onions, minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, chopped
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon celery seed
2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp each dry mustard (Coleman’s)
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp dry summer savory
2 dashes hot red pepper sauce (I used Sriracha)
2 + 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1 pound ground pork
1 stick (½ cup) butter, softened

for paste:
8 egg yolks
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon onion juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more as needed
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
1/3 to ½ cup flour

Rub turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. Spray turkey skin thoroughly with vegetable oil. Set liver aside. Chop gizzard, neck and heart; put in saucepan with 5 cups of the water, bay leaf, garlic, paprika, salt and coriander. Simmer, uncovered, about 1 hour, while proceeding with rest of recipe.

For stuffing, combine apple, orange, pineapple, lemon zest, and water chestnuts in medium bowl; set aside. Mix celery, onions, cloves, bell pepper, parsley, celery seed, oregano, dry mustard, caraway seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, black pepper, turmeric, summer savory, and hot red pepper sauce in another bowl; set aside. In a third (very large) bowl, mix bread crumbs, pork, and butter; incorporate them well. Add contents of the other two bowls; mix by kneading well.

(Thompson advised: “Mix it with your hands. Mix it until your forearms and wrists ache. Then mix it some more. Now toss it enough so that it isn’t any longer a doughy mess.”)

Remove battery from smoke detector. Heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly fill turkey body and neck cavities with stuffing. Skewer closed. (Place remaining stuffing in a 3-quart greased casserole; cover. Refrigerate; bake later at 325 degrees until it registers 165 degrees on a thermometer, about 1 hour.) Place turkey, breast down, on rack in large roasting pan. Cook about 15 minutes. Remove; turn breast-side up. Cook 15 minutes. Meanwhile for paste, combine egg yolks, mustard, onion juice, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, salt and red pepper. Add enough of the flour to make a paste.

Turn oven down to 325 F. Paint turkey all over with the paste, using a kitchen brush. Return turkey to oven 3-5 minutes, until paste sets. Paint again; return to oven. Repeat this painting every 3-5 minutes, adding lemon juice to the paste as necessary to keep from drying out, until paste is used up. Meanwhile, add the reserved turkey liver and 1 cup of the cider to the simmering basting liquid. Cook until liver is no longer pink, about 30 minutes; remove liver. Pass liquid through a sieve, discard giblets. Keep liquid on simmer.

Roast turkey, basting every 15 minutes and adding more cider to basting liquid as needed, until a meat thermometer reads 180 degrees in the thigh, 170 degrees in the breast, about 4 hours. Let turkey stand at room temperature 30 minutes before carving. Remove blackened paste coating from turkey using a spatula or tweezers. Remove stuffing to serving bowl. Carve turkey; serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you want to know more about Thompson’s Turkey, I suggest this article. Essentially, you make a stuffing that requires using every single spice available in a well-stocked pantry, and proceed to paint the bird with a paste that will turn absolutely black and hard once roasting is over. By the time you remove it from the oven, you will be sure it’s not fit for consumption. But then, you break that crust and reveal the most beautiful roasted bird, with a dark copper tone in the skin, and a stuffing that is out of this world delicious. To see the big reveal, click here

The best part of the turkey for me was the stuffing. The pineapple comes through as the most prominent taste, but then it gets all complex on you, and different from any stuffed turkey I’ve ever enjoyed for Thanksgiving. It made our Christmas Day meal quite special and festive.

Breaking the crust is quite exciting! I read a few articles written by those who attempted this culinary marathon, and some said that the crust can glue to the skin and get it removed with it, which is a shame. The way to avoid that is to oil the skin before applying the paste, and I incorporated that in the recipe. Also some methods tell you to keep turning the bird breast-up then down as you paint it and place it in the oven to set for a few minutes. Don’t do it, it is not necessary and it is a messy job. The only thing I missed about the turkey was gravy. Husband is the gravy maker and he did not think the juices accumulated in the bottom of the roasting pan were particularly fit for it. I might have allowed it to get a bit too burned, so maybe next time I can plan accordingly.

So, if you want to have a very unusual and exciting meal for your next big celebration, consider making this one. It is very labor-intensive, but also a lot of fun to bring to the table. I would definitely serve it for guests, knowing now that there is a nice bird underneath that darkness…

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THAI-STYLE TURKEY & ZUCCHINI MEATBALLS WITH SPICY GLAZE

We arrive at mid-November and I must tell you that this simple recipe goes into the top 10 of this crazy year. For sure. I used the air-fryer, but it can be made in a regular oven adjusting time and temperature as I mention in the recipe. It was simple to put together, short list of ingredients, great flavor.

THAI-STYLE TURKEY & ZUCCHINI MEATBALLS WITH SPICY GLAZE
(from The Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by several sources)

for the glaze:
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3/4 cup water
50g granulated sugar (about 1/4 cup)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce (optional, but advisable)
1 tbsp sambal oelek
2 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp cold water

for the meatballs:
1 pound ground turkey (dark meat preferred)
1 cup zucchini, grated and squeezed as dry as possible
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten

Make the glaze. Add the vinegar, water, sugar, soy sauce, and fish sauce to a non-stick pan. Heat while stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for about 3 minutes in medium-low heat. Add the sambal oelek, mix stirring gently until the sauce starts to thicken (about 3 minutes).

Make a slurry with the cornstarch and water, add to the sauce. Simmer, constantly stirring for another couple of minutes. The sauce will thicken quite quickly. Remove from heat, pour into a small bottle or bowl, cool and refrigerate until needed.

Make the meatballs. Combine the zucchini, ginger, cilantro, lime zest, salt, pepper, ground turkey and almond flour and mix them well with your hands. Add the beaten egg and gently finish incorporating it all. Mixture will be a bit loose. Shape as 12 golf-sized balls. Place over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer. If they seem too fragile to move around, stick them in the freezer for 10 minutes, it will not affect their roasting, maybe require just a couple of extra minutes.

Heat the air fryer to 390°F, and keep your regular oven at around 300F to keep the meatballs warm as you finish them. If not using an air-fryer, set your oven to 400F to roast the meatballs.

In the air-fryer, they will be ready in about 12 minutes, flip them over mid-way through. In a regular oven they will take 20 to 25 minutes.

As soon as the meatballs are finished cooking, coat them with the spicy glaze. If preparing them in batches, keep the first batch in a 300F oven as you cook the second batch. Serve with your favorite side dish, steamed rice and/or vegetables.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The glaze is the same kind used to dip Spring rolls made with rice paper. You can conceivably buy it ready in the grocery store, but making it from scratch is easy and the pay off is huge. If you like it really hot, add a touch of cayenne. For us, it was the perfect level of heat. Sambal oelek is a wonderful ingredient to keep in the fridge.

As to the zucchini, better avoid using a food processor to shred it. There is something about the size and texture of grating by hand that makes it perfect to combine with the meat. The only variable to keep in mind is the amount of water retained in the zucchini. Squeeze as much as you can, but consider increasing the amount of almond flour to have a consistency that allows you to form the meatballs. Use your intuition.

The meatballs can be formed in small size and served as appetizer with small lettuce leaves to grab them. We enjoyed them as a regular main dish, with white rice and sugar peas made in 5 minutes. Those must go into a future Incredibly Easy post. Stay tuned!

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