Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bowls! Sweet Chili Chicken (or tofu) Bowls

So I've met lots of awesome people over the holidays and every time someone else chimes in with "she writes a cooking blog, you should follow her," there's a little cringe.  I know you see the twinge in my eyes and mouth.  I am well acquainted with the fact that I have absolutely no poker face.  None.  Ask my kids.  I believe I have solidly surprised Sara one time in her life and I believe the fact that she did not see my face during the planning (and probably never heard my voice since texting is pretty much our main mode of communication when she's at Duke) is the reason she was totally shocked when Kelly appeared at her Theta initiation.  One time.  If I've winced a little when we've discussed Blue Skies and a Squeeze of Lime, yeah I was feeling guilty.  I've missed writing.  Heaven knows over the past month I have not locked up the kitchen or gone on some fast.  Ha.  The girls were home, I worked a little, I cooked a lot, we made an Ikea run, we baked cookies, we watched movies (Catching Fire and American Hustle both great), we traveled home to Chagrin Falls, we enjoyed Christmas, we had the band from Detroit for a sleepover (there's a story for you) and we moved Sara back to campus.  There's other stuff in there, but there was very little yoga (you might hear me creak if your mat is next to mine these next few weeks) and there was absolutely no posting to my blog.

But now there is posting and I promise to work through a substantial backlog.  That will require cooking and baking things one more time because there just aren't enough pictures in the 25K of photos idling in my iPhoto library.  I've downshifted at lulu to part-time.  I need more time to organize our life around here before it completely gets away from me.  I need more time to sit and write.  I need more time to read with a cat next to me on the chair.  Honestly, when was the last time I did that?  Geez.  I know my friends with young kids are probably getting a little panicky that their empty-nester years won't be full of unstructured time that allows you to accomplish everything or nothing.  It will be okay. You can possibly do this all more gracefully than I have done.  Here's a hint:  keep up with it all.  Keep a routine and get stuff done.  Move.  We haven't moved in 12 years and there was never a sense of urgency to keep it all streamlined.  Big house.  Plenty of room.  But I can do it, chipping away at it slowly but surely.  For now I'm tackling a little posting.  Tomorrow it's housework day.

You know I love the whole "bowl" way of serving and eating food.   And if you've been reading you know that my love grew immensely when Kelly introduced me to Chego around midnight EST just off my flight to LA.  Roy Choi of Kogi food truck fame knows how to blend cultures together in a very LA and tasty way.  Chego moved to Chinatown so we've yet to make a return trip, but if you're traveling find it or one of his other magical dining experiences.  He's recently published a book with his story and some of his recipes.  Probably will need to add that to my collection.

Anyway, here is a fairly accessible grossly adapted version of one of his recipes modified for quantity and most importantly, ingredients actually found in my kitchen and pantries.  I set out to make this dish and quickly realized I had some gaps.  Alright.  The beauty of cooking regularly for 30 years is that I have the confidence to just wing it.  Recently I've learned to sit down after dinner and sketch in the recipe so I can share it with you.  This sauce would work great with crispy tofu (drain, cube, toss in cornstarch and lightly fry in a little vegetable oil browning all sides) or oven baked tofu too.  I was supposed to be making buttermilk oven fried chicken (new recipe coincidentally also from LA coming soon), so Greg had bought lots of Coleman boneless skinless breasts and thighs at Costco and I stole some thighs for this recipe.  Roy Choi marinades his chicken for a whole extra layer of flavor, but I prepared it simply and let the sauce reign supreme.

I had leftover polenta so we based our bowls on polenta.  Clearly, Roy Choi is a rice bowl guy so steam some rice or do what I do and buy brown Jasmine rice and cook it (50 minutes) or go the fastest route with Trader Joe's frozen brown rice (3 minutes wins).


Sweet Chili Chicken Bowls

Sweet Chili Sauce
1/2 C bottled sweet chili sauce
3 T Thai/Italian basil leaves
3 T cilantro leaves
3T fresh orange juice
1 small white or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
5 or 6 scallion, coarsely chopped (white and green parts)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp Sriracha sauce
2 tsp Sambal Oleek or other chile paste
1/2 tsp ground ginger or 1 T fresh ginger peeled and chopped
1 tsp sesame oil
1 T diced green chiles
1/4 tsp kosher salt or more to taste

Chicken
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 jalapeños (optional)

Bowl things
spinach
brown rice or polenta
crispy onions (found really yummy ones in a plastic tub at Whole Foods)
sour cream (light sour cream is awesome and fat free is an abomination)
lime wedges


Combine all sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until mostly smooth.  That was easy.  Taste for salt.  It's sweet but super spicy.

Heat about 1 T neutral vegetable oil (soy or canola) in a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat.  Liberally salt and pepper your chicken (boneless skinless breasts work too, pound them thinner or cut into smaller pieces to prepare quickly).  Cook about 5-7 minutes on each side until cooked through.  At the same time over your gas stove open flame or in a very hot oven (450 degrees) roast jalapeños until charred.  Handle carefully and slice off into strips working around core and seeds (the seeds are where the heat is).  If you get jalapeños on your hands, wash them with yogurt (or other dairy) and sea salt as a scrub or you'll rub your eyes or go take out your contacts and suffer some super uncomfortable burning).

Assemble your bowls.  I like the spinach on the bottom with all the warm rice or polenta and chicken (or tofu) on top to wilt it a bit.  Pour over a good 1/4-1/2 cup of sauce.  Top with sour cream, cripsy onions and roasted jalapeño slices (jarred slices would be fine).  Squeeze limes on top.

Makes 2-4 bowls

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