Friday, January 20, 2017

"The Asian Slow Cooker" - Lemon Chicken and Classic Fried Rice - Feeding a "yen" for Asian food

Date I made these recipes:  January 15, 2017 – In an Asian food kind of mood!

The Asian Slow Cooker – Exotic Favorites For Your Crockpot by Kelly Kwok
Published by Page Street Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-62414-290-1; copyright 2016
Purchased at Bibelot Shops
Recipes:  Lemon Chicken – p. 25 and Classic Fried Rice – p. 66

A friend of mine and I walk frequently at a local mall containing several fast-casual restaurants.  There's a yogurt place, a hot dog place, a burger place, a wing place, a soup place and an Asian place – Leeann Chin.

So we're walking by Leeann Chin and I smelled Kung Pao chicken and other Asian delights, and wished I could have grabbed something to go, but my schedule did not allow for it that day or for several days thereafter.  And this is terrible when one has a yen for something, is it not? 

Then this past Sunday, it was time for another [Green Bay] Packers playoff game and if you read my last blog, you know that now that we are in the playoffs, making a Wisconsin or football-related dish is out lest it jinx my team, and so why not Asian instead?

And people, it worked!  It was a very close game but with my crazy strategy, I am now  two for two and I'm liking those odds.  That said, food alone does not "save" a team:  I have a whole anti-jinx system for my clothing, even down to which one of my eyeglass frames (I have two pairs) to wear on game day.  Let's just say I take "lucky socks" to a whole new dimension!

But I digress so let's get back to this cookbook.

I purchased this book at a local store called Bibelot.  The name "bibelot" means "a small, decorative ornament or trinket" and Bibelot, the store sells that and more.  Although Bibelot doesn't carry a huge stock of cookbooks, the ones they carry are great and I am happy to add them to my collection.

This cookbook has a lot to offer, both with recipes and mouth-watering photographs.  Unlike many of the cookbooks in my collection, I pretty much could have made every single recipe save for those that I knew were going to be "Danger, Will Robinson" on the heat index.  I don't know about you, but the phrase "add several tablespoons hot sauce," and/or "add several Thai chilies finely minced," is a big clue to upcoming pain and so I avoid those recipes like the plague.

And while this cookbook is geared for a slow cooker, it contains also a chapter titled "One-Pot & Skillet" from which the fried rice recipe (made in a wok) came.  In fact, many of the recipes in this chapter are for easy stir fries and I love stir fries!

Other chapters are: "Ditch the Takeout;" "5 Ingredients or Less;" "Skip the Stove-Top;" "Fiery Favorites;" "Meatless Mondays;" "Sensational Soups," and "Delectable Desserts."  And honestly, if you can't find something to make in this book, I'll be amazed and just say that you probably should not have purchased it.

As these things go, my husband selected an entirely different list of potential recipes than I did but that was before my waltz by Leeann Chin at the local mall.  After that, I axed his list (sorry, honey) and decided on Lemon Chicken as that is one of Leeann Chin's signature dishes.

For those who aren't from around here, Leeann Chin was a Chinese immigrant who, after moving to Minneapolis, founded an Asian food [restaurant] empire.  In addition to her signature Leeann Chin restaurants, she started a fast-casual restaurant chain of the same name – Leeann Chin – and several remain in operation today.  She also started another restaurant chain, Asia Grille, which featured a variety of Asian foods.  Alas, that chain went away but while in operation, her company hired the consulting group I worked for to work on branding and expanding this concept.

And just like the kid in the Shake-N-Bake commercial said, "I helped!"  I did!  The consulting group at the time consisted of the owner, a friend of mine, and me, his project manager.  Among my many tasks for this project was to set up some focus groups to get feedback about the concept, and Leeann and her daughter attended.

Well, naturally, we were a little stressed out about this because around here, this woman was a legend, but she was very nice and liked what we were doing with "the 'place.'"

Still, I have a story:  so it is usual and customary to offer participants coming to these focus groups (for hours at a time) a snack and so I always arranged that with the focus group facility I selected to "host" this thing.  But we also arranged food for the back room, i.e. the people behind the mirrored wall ("Hi!  "Hello!  "Yes, that's us waving at you!  Just pretend like you can't hear us back here!") and that menu was always different  - no mere "snacks" for the client, oh no!

Well, knowing that Leeann herself was coming to the focus groups, the pressure was on me and therefore on the focus group facility, to offer a knock-your-socks off dinner to our guests.  And I could not emphasize enough to them who our guest of honor was and the focus group facility staff, all of whom were familiar with Leeann Chin and her food, assured me that "they got this."

Shall I just tell you that they didn't "got this?"  In fact, it turned out to be the absolute worse food we ever offered to the clients, bar none.  I cannot recall exactly what we had except if memory serves, the meat (likely a steak) was rubbery and cold and the potato?  I cannot go there with you.  Can Not.

Well bless her heart, Leeann was very gracious about it but I had a very strong "Come to Jesus" with the facility after which, a considerable portion of that meal cost came off our bill.  And when we ran more focus groups for this project, we switched facilities.  Of course, the perfect food to have served to the client would have been her food, but it's pretty ticky tacky to ask her if she could swing by one of her retail operations and BYO fried rice, am I right?  Exactly.

If Leeann was alive (she passed away in 2010), she likely would have asked for a refund on the lemon chicken dish but not for reasons you might think.  It was delicious and didn't take long to cook, but the lemon sauce wasn't anywhere close to the recipe she served at her two restaurants.  I'm noting specifically the restaurants (as opposed to the fast-casual stores) because like many restaurant operators, when she moved into mass production at the fast-casual stores, the lemon sauce was too goopy for me to enjoy and the breaded coating on her chicken, too heavy.  (That said, her food is still very good, made fresh and replenished often so don't let my comment on the chicken stop you.  J'adore many of her other dishes which do not suffer as much in the translation.)

But ah, the "original" lemon chicken and sauce was a delight!  And by all rights, my concoction should have been the same because it sure looked the same in the picture, but it was not.  Instead, it turned brown and gloppy and that was disappointing.  So I tell you what, if I were you, I'd slow cook this dish as directed (3-4 hours) and then stop.  Stop the insanity! The chicken was just fine and most delicious before I went down this rabbit hole a/k/a the lemon sauce.

As with most Asian recipes, this dish was to be served with rice and we could have gone with just white rice which I enjoy, but Andy loves fried rice.  And so fair is fair:  since I selected the main dish, I let him choose the rice accompaniment and he wanted Classic Fried Rice.

You should know that you need to cook the rice for this dish the night before and then refrigerate it.  And I did that but I tell you what, I created a monster because we had rice coming out of our ears!

Our rice cooker is old.   "Old" as in it was made in Japan and all the instructions were in Japanese and we don't speak or read Japanese.  And this likely begs the question of why we purchased the thing in the first place and the answer is because at the time, it was a new, cool product offered by Cooks of Crocus Hills (a local cookware store)  and it was on sale so we bought it, thinking that we were so ahead of the curve as rice cookers were just on their way to becoming all the rage. 

And the thing works great but there are issues and somewhat hilariously, they are the most important ones:  how to measure the rice, what amount are we measuring really, and how much water to add?  And years later, I am unhappy to report that we have still been unable to figure out the answers to these burning and important questions.  There are all kinds of markings on a plastic cup that appears to be a measuring cup that came with the cooker, and all kinds of markings on the inside of the rice cooker, but without translation assistance, we remain in the dark.

So prior to today, here's how I made rice and let me add that it usually ended up working out just fine:  I filled the plastic cup to the top, then poured it in the cooker, filled it with water to the "1" line indicator (there is also a "2" indicator and a "3" indicator and I assume this is for the water but we don't know because again, Japanese instructions), depressed the "on" tab to cook the rice and then ate it all when it was done.  I know for sure that this method makes more than 1 cup of cooked rice but I've never really had to care and so I didn't.  (By the way, there is only one switch on this cooker:  if you depress it, it starts cooking the rice, and when it is done, the switch pops up and your rice is done and your cooker is turned off.)

So anyway.  Since this recipe called for 3 cups of cooked rice, I measured out three cups with my little plastic cup, and then filled the (alleged) water level to "3" and cooked my rice.  And it cooked all right, but it cooked its way to yield nearly 6 cups of rice!  Good thing I like the stuff!  Side note:  I am a huge fan of the I Love Lucy show, and during one of their more famous shows," Job Switching," Ricky and Fred attempt to make rice for dinner and it was, of course, a disaster.  Happily, my "episode" did not end like theirs!

At any rate, once all your ingredients are assembled, all you have to do is stir-fry them and you are in business.  I have a wok and I love my wok and so I went to town and within minutes, we had prefect fried rice but this can be made with a skillet as well.

All told, this was a good meal but I had to laugh that Andy and I both woke up the next day totally starving.  Well, it's an old adage that Asian food is not necessarily filling and I don't know why that is but it is.  But it sure was tasty save for the goopy lemon sauce which I think you can do without.

So there you have it – craving cured and I didn't have to go stand in line to get take-out to do it.  And if Lemon Chicken and Classic Fried Rice are not your thing, you should be able to find easily something that is.  Good luck!

This concludes week #2 of "Non-football, non-Wisconsin" (not to be confused with "On, Wisconsin!," the state song) food.  The Packers are playing this coming Sunday, January 22, so expect another food blackout from me.  Until then, enjoy your Asian meal.
Lemon Chicken – Yield:  4 servings
1 cup plus 1 ½ tbsp cornstarch, divided
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 tsp cooking oil (Ann's Note:  No way is that enough.  No way.  See below)
½ cup low sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
¼ cup honey
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp fresh ginger, minced
3 tbsp cold water (to be added to the cornstarch)
Cooked rice, for serving
Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
1 green onion, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)

In a large zip-top bag, toss together 1 cup cornstarch, salt and black pepper.  Next add the chicken to the bag, and give it a little shake until well coated.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Ann's Note:  as mentioned above, there is no way two teaspoons of oil will brown that much chicken.  I had to keep adding oil so that the chicken didn't stick but even then, it kept sticking.  I was not very happy at all.  So I would use 2 TABLESPOONS and see how that goes. Cook the chicken, about 2 to 3 minutes on both sides, then transfer to the slow cooker.

In a medium bowl, whisk together:
  • Soy sauce
  • Broth
  • Honey
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Lemon zest
  • Sesame oil
  • Garlic
  • Ginger

Pour this mixture over the chicken.  Cover and cook on low for about 3 to 4 hours. (Ann's Note:  I cooked it for 3 and it was perfect.)

Ann's Note: Now here, reader, is where I urge caution with the next step.  Truth be told, I forgot about this step and so served us up the lemon chicken without the additional cornstarch sauce and thought it was very tasty.  And then I did as directed and added the cornstarch slurry to the crock pot and thought the result was an ugly mess and not at all as pictured.  It's up to you, of course, but I would stop with the directions above.  If not, here's how to "finish" the dish:  About 30 minutes prior to serving, whisk together the remaining cornstarch with water in a small bowl and stir into the slow cooker.  Turn the heat to high and allow the sauce to cook and thicken up for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve over hot rice.  Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions, if desired.

Classic Fried Rice – Yield:  4 servings
1 cup cubed lean beef, chicken or pork (leave out for meatless version)
1 ½ tbsp low sodium soy sauce, divided
½ tsp cornstarch
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp cooking oil, divided*
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups cooked, day-old rice, chilled with clumps separated
1 tsp fish sauce OR 1 tbsp oyster sauce (vegetarian or regular)
1 tsp mirin, Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
¼ tsp sesame oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 green onion, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

In a small bowl, combine the meat with ½ tablespoons soy sauce, cornstarch and black pepper. (Ann's Note:  I skipped this part, poached some chicken instead of stir-frying it and then cubed it to add to the dish when required.)

Heat 2 teaspoons of cooking oil* on medium-high heat in a non-stick wok or pan.  Toss in the garlic and sauté until fragrant; about 10 seconds.  Add the cubed meat and stir-fry until almost cooked through, around 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir in the mixed vegetables and cook for another minutes, then push all the ingredients to the side of the pan and pour in the beaten eggs.  Scramble into small pieces and cook, then transfer the entire contents of the pan to a large plate.

Return the pan to the stove and add another teaspoon of oil**Ann's Note: I have a feeling that these oil measurements are wrong as in "not enough."  I used a bit more than directed.

Stir in the rice and break up any large chunks with a spatula while tossing until heated through, around 2 minutes.  Add the plate of cooked meat and vegetables back to the pan and drizzle in the remaining soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin and sesame oil, tossing to combine everything evenly.  Keep stirring the fried rice until slightly toasted, about 2 minutes.  Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Transfer to bowls and serve hot.  Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds, if desired.

Ann's Note:  If you want to make the fried rice in a crockpot, the recipe for it is on p. 43 of this book or below:

3 cups cooked, day-old rice
1 cup fresh or frozen chopped mixed vegetables
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp mirin

Add the rice and vegetables into a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker.  Stir in the soy sauce, fish sauce and mirin.  Cover and cook on high for 1 hour or low for 3 hours.  Stir well before serving.

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