Sweet and Sour Chicken from Scratch

So I didn’t actually take any step by step pictures for this one, but the other night, my son said he wanted to eat Chinese food. He really just wanted to eat white rice. I admit that there is something very soothing about not only eating white rice, but also the smell of a fresh pot from the rice cooker. In our house, the rice of choice is Jasmine. So even better.

I think I am getting a little off topic…

Well, I happened to be on my way to Aldi to pick up some groceries and there was no way I was going to go to the store and then order out (though, yes, we have done drive thru with a full trunk of groceries before. It happens). So instead I decided that we would make Chinese food. He said he was fine with that as long as there was rice. Nice of him, huh? So I picked up a package of chicken tenders which may have been a little more in price than the breasts, but you are paying for the convenience.

When I got home, I told him that he would be helping me make dinner. So we looked up several recipes on the internet before we found a combination that we liked and oh my goodness was it good. We made sweet and sour chicken all from scratch. I hope you enjoy because this is now a new favorite in our house.

Materials:

Ingredients:

For the Rice:

*consult your rice cooker for exact amounts. Mine uses a special scoop to measure.

For the Chicken:

  • 1 lb Chicken
  • 3/4 cup Corn Starch
  • 1/4 cup Flour
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 cup Lemon Flavored Seltzer
  • 1/4 Tsp Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp Pepper
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 Tbs Vegetable Oil

For the Sauce:

  • 3 Tbs Ketchup
  • 1 cup Pineapple Juice
  • 1 Tbs Soy Sauce
  • 1/3 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tbs Water
  • 1Tbs Cornstarch

Procedure:

For the Rice:

  1. Measure out the amount of rice that you wish to cook. For example, I typically use three scoops of Jasmine Rice using the special cup that came with my rice cooker. This scoop does not exactly measure to equal one cup exactly, so make sure to follow the instructions on how to measure out rice based on your rice cooker.
  2. Rinse rice in water until water is clear. This rinses the starch off the rice which make for a nice sticky rice like you would get in a Chinese restaurant. I like to use a strainer and use a back and forth method under the faucet until the water is clear and no longer cloudy from the starch. It also helps to swish it around in the pot as you are rinsing it.
  3. Measure water to the level specified for your rice cooker for the amount of scoops you added.
  4. Place in rice cooker and set cooking selection of White Rice. You could also do this in your Instant Pot, but I admit that I have not tried this yet. Same instructions would apply though.

For the chicken:

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Cube chicken into 1 inch cubes and set aside.
  3. Add flour, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and baking powder to medium size bowl and use a fork to mix well together. You could also use a flour sifter to sift together the dry ingredients to make sure they are well blended.
  4. Break one egg in small cup or bowl and mix well. Add to flour mixture.
  5. Add seltzer to flour and egg mixture. This should be a mixture pretty similar to Oobleck.
  6. Dip chicken into the Oobleck-like mixture and toss well so chicken is well covered. Coat all chicken pieces. You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your skillet.
  7. Heat skillet to high medium heat and add approximately 2 tablespoons oil.
  8. When oil is hot, carefully add chicken to skillet. Do not overcrowd your pan as it will lose heat.
  9. Flip chicken when starts to brown. This may be approximately 2-3 minutes. Don’t worry about cooking it through as you will be finishing in the oven.
  10. Move chicken to foil covered baking sheet.
  11. Once all chicken has been partially cooked in skillet and moved to baking sheet, place baking sheet in oven. Cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
  12. Move to a paper towel covered plate for any residual oil.
  13. Serve with the sauce form the next section.

For the Sauce:

  1. In small saucepan, combine pineapple juice, light brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, and soy sauce. Whisk together.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. In small bowl, combine water and cornstarch. Add to pot and whisk in.
  4. Cook until sauce thickens, should take about one minute.
  5. Remove from heat and serve over chicken.

Please keep in mind that this is my method, you may prefer to forgo the oven and cook it completely in the pan. I have an issue with texture and just don’t really like the texture of fully skillet fried chicken. That is why I finish in the oven.

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‘Tis the Season for Giving

Today I received an interesting email…from my electric company. Apparently, there is a program in my area where you can add $1, $5, or $10 to your bill each month and that money will be donated to a program that provides assistance for neighbors who may be having trouble paying there bills. Our finances may be back on track right now, but I am fully aware that we are only one disaster away from derailing. So, yes, I signed up to donate. It got me thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

October-December are three of my favorite months. I love the feeling you get seeing everything decorated each month. Halloween is exciting because of all the kids in costumes and whole neighborhoods getting in on the fun. Here in my neighborhood, we have neighbors who set up popcorn stands, spooky music, and some even sit out on chairs around the cul-de-sac passing out treats. Even the teens still trick-or-treat– in costume! Then in November, it starts to get colder, but it is so pretty. You can smell the wood smoke in the air which further creates a cozy atmosphere. Pretty soon after the turkey has been digested, it is time for all the holiday lights. There is a farm down here that sets up a free light display for people to drive through too. Our plans this year include attending a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert and a trip to see the holiday lights at the zoo. It is truly a magical time of year!

So what does that have to do with thanks and gratitude? Because like the example with my electric company, people are also more giving during this time of year. They give to the Salvation Army Santas outside the Walmart, donate canned goods to the Boy Scouts, leave snacks or gift cards for their mail carrier, etc. But why do we only do it during this time of year? Do people only go hungry in the winter? Last summer, one of my colleagues realized that she had a lot of kids hanging out in the library all day because there was no school, parents were at work, and the library has lots of stuff to do (books, programs, Internet, air condition!). She also realized that these kids had no food while they were there. There was a summer lunch program at the local public school, but there was a gap between when school ended and the summer lunch program started the next month. So she had coworkers and friends donate snacks that she would pass out each day during the summer. Then this past summer, her library system partnered with the school system to provided boxed lunches, funded through a grant, during that in-between time when the school wasn’t running their regular summer lunch program. A church group also passed out bottles of water to cars at one of our busier intersections. Both of these were during the summer…yet many people don’t think of these types of things outside of the season where giving and selflessness comes more naturally.

Research shows that we are happier when we give to others. It doesn’t have to be money or things either. The research actually shows that people who volunteer show increased benefits to their mental health. You may have heard of random acts of kindness, but the key here is that they shouldn’t be truly random. They should be intentional acts of kindness. If you want to find out more, check out the work by Shawn Achor or Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD. So this holiday season, don’t stop with the acts of kindness when the clock strikes midnight on that last day of the year. Keep it up and not only will you make others happier, you might make yourself happier as well.

Instant Pot BBQ Pulled Pork 


I am really not a fan of pork in general, especially not pulled pork. But my son made a request last week that he really wanted me to make pulled pork for dinner…and then we were at an event at a local park that was selling pulled pork sandwiches. I really couldn’t justify the price they were selling the sandwiches. So I promised him that I would make it for dinner one night. 

We had this last night and it was so good that I actually had a third helping. Now one of the things that I have heard people complain about with the Instant Pot is that it isn’t really instant. It took me a little over an hour to make this dish, but the taste was just like if it had been slow cooking all day. There was so much flavor! So for me, this really was a time saver. Plus I worked on homework while it was cooking since it was pretty much a set it and forget it type of meal. I set a timer for part way through the cooking via Alexa on the Echo Dot I have in the kitchen so I could start a side of cornbread to finish right as the pork would. 

I hope you enjoy this recipe because it has been added to our family favorites. Enjoy! 

Materials:

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 pound pork loin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 bottle BBQ Sauce (approx 18oz)

Procedure:

  1. Add 1/2 cup water to your Instant Pot. Mix in quarter of the bottle of BBQ Sauce. 
  2. Cut your pork loin up into large chunks.
  3. Add pork to the Instant Pot and top with half the remaining BBQ Sauce. 
  4. Set Instant Pot to “Meat” for 60 minutes on high pressure. Make sure to close your vent.
  5. When the time is up, let sit to NPR for 15 minutes. Carefully release your vent to let out the remaining pressure and steam.
  6. Strain the meat using a large slotted spoon. 
  7. Use fork or meat shredder to pull meat apart to shred. 
  8. Plate to your preference as the main dish or add to bread for a pulled pork sandwich. Use the remaining bottle of BBQ Sauce to drizzle over the pork to your liking. 

We enjoyed ours as a main dish with a side of cornbread and steamed broccoli. I think next I might try this with an Asian Sauce for some lettuce wraps. Yum! 

Pop Art Self Portraits 


Back when I was a youth services librarian, I created the following instructions for a program about creating artwork using sharpies.  As I was browsing through my computer files today, I came across the instructions. I immediately had the thought that this could be a threefold project. First, we have the Doubler which is a concept introduced in the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. The Doubler is when you look back on a journal entry and relive the experience. Finding this file had a similar effect for me. I remember how relaxing it was to create my example piece for my teen group. That leads me to my second pieces: mindfulness. This is a small “c” creative activity that can lead to a clam state of mind and therefore reduce stress. The last part is that, depending on the final product, this could be a great low-cost activity that could become a gift for the grandparents when done with kids or artwork to display on any blank wall space. My main focus is of course stress reduction, but, hey, my son likes to draw!

 
Materials:

• Photograph

• Copy Machine

• Paper

• Pencil/Charcoal

• Popsicle Stick

• Black Sharpie

• Colored Markers

• Ruler

Take photographs of portraits blown up on a copy machine. Make a charcoal transfer by rubbing the back of the copies with charcoal. Place the photocopy charcoal side down on a sheet of white paper. Using a sharp pencil, trace the outline of the image on the photocopy. Make sure to press hard when tracing as this will transfer an outline of the image onto the other paper using the chalk. After the transfer is complete, use a marker to trace the chalk outline. Another alternative to chalk is to trace the outline of the photocopy image with thick heavy dark pencil. Place the penciled photocopy face down on a clean sheet of white paper. Using a popsicle stick, rub at the paper so the pencil lines transfer to the back of the top sheet of paper.

Once your transfer is complete, use a dark marker to outline all your pencil or chalk outlines on the white paper. (If you want clean images, it is best to use the pencil technique as any unwanted pencil marks are easier to erase than the charcoal technique). Use a ruler to add a line of dots to the face of your image, the face should be filled with dots similar to artwork by Roy Lichtenstein or early comic strip prints. Bold colors can be used to fill in other areas like hair or clothes.

Reading Suggestions:

Hendrickson, Janis. Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997. (2001)

Metzger, Phil. The Art of Perspective: The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium. (2007)

Osterwold, Tilman. Pop Art. (2007)

Rubin, Susan. Whaam! The Art and Life of Roy Lichtenstein. (2008)

Here is a quick example I created using an app called Art Rage for iOS… hopefully you have better luck with your portraits, but it was fun creating it! — yes, I drew those dots free hand. That is why you need the ruler. It will look better, trust me! 

Fall Harvest Soup

On my last shopping trip to Aldi, I scored a nice butternut squash. I knew that I wanted to use it in the Instant Pot for something, but I wasn’t exactly sure what. A search on Pinterest had puréed soup recipes popping up, but they were not quite what I was thinking. Then I rembered that Harvest Soup I had at a conference and I decided to attempt a merging of the two. So here is my take on what started as a simple puréed soup.

Tools Needed:

Ingredients:

  • 1 Butternut Squash
  • 1 Large Sweet Potato
  • 1 Granny Smith Apple
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Yellow Onion
  • 4-5 Garlic Cloves
  • 1 Tbs Butter
  • 3 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1/4 Tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 1/4 Tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1/4 Tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp Black Pepper

Cooking Steps:

  1. Peel your butternut squash, apple, sweet potato, and carrots. Then chop into 1 inch chunks. 
  2. Slice your onions into strips. 
  3. Set your Instant Pot on Sauté. Add your butter, onions, and garlic. Cook until onions are semi-translucent. 
  4. Select Cancel on your Instant Pot.
  5. Add the remaining chopped vegetables to your pot. 
  6. Add chicken broth to pot. 
  7. Add salt, pepper, pumpkin pie spice, and ginger to the pot.
  8. Secure the lid in place on the Instant Pot and make sure the vent is in the closed position.
  9. Set your Instant Pot on Manual for 10 minutes. When finished, let the pot NPR.
  10. Carefully use the immersion blender to purée your soup from chunky to creamy. —Soup is Hot! Be careful with that blender or you may end up with a hot facial. Yummy, but not fun. 
  11. Serve and enjoy! 

Remember that when using an Instant Pot, you need to account for the time it takes for the pot to heat up just as you would with waiting for a pot to boil. My husband likes to claim that it takes less time when he uses it than when I do. I usually estimate 15 minutes. So this will take you roughly 45 min from start to finish. Honestly, the worst part for me was peeling the butternut squash. All in all, this was a delicious soup using ingredients I already had on hand. Served with a nice buttered crusty bread, it was the perfect dinner for a Fall evening. Plus I had lunch for the next day! Win-win!