Now, I am no 5-star chef, nor am I a world-class educator. But, even a broken clock is right twice a day and sometimes I think up a pedagogically superior idea.
A few months ago I started getting bored with the same old dinners. I’ve roasted chicken in every imaginable combination of spices known to man. The menfolk in this house would be completely on board with eating macaroni and cheese every day for the rest of their lives, but I needed some variety. I love cooking so, I devised a brilliant plan.
I printed off a blank map of the world for the kids to look at. Once a week, I let them pick a country and we learn something interesting about that country and make a dinner based of their national dish or some other dish that is fairly representative of the regional cuisine. We made chorizo and black bean stew for Brazil, Tandoori chicken for India, and blini for Russia. We’re learning geography, facts about other cultures, and we’re sampling new foods/expanding our palates.
This past week, the kids picked China. As exciting as preparing Peking duck would have been, I was not really on board with buying a package of meat that cost more than my vacuum. (Cheap vacuum or expensive duck? You decide.) So, I Tina-ized a few recipes I found online and developed a rather delightful recipe for orange-cashew chicken.
Tina’s Orange-Cashew Chicken
For the chicken:
2 lbs chicken (Any kind of chicken will do. Skinless and boneless thighs will be the cheapest option, breasts cut in to strips will be your low fat option. Just keep in mind that if you choose something that is bone-in, the cook time will be a lot longer!)
1/4 C cornstarch
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 gallon plastic zip-top bag
vegetable, sesame, or peanut oil
Make sure your chicken is completely thawed before starting, says the voice of experience! Take a large saute pan and add about a 1/4-1/2 inch of oil to the pan. Let is heat up on a medium-high burner. (It’s ready when you drop a droplet of water in it and the water pops and boils away rather quickly. If the water goes ape-crazy sizzling, your oil is too hot and you will burn the bejeezus out of yourself when you put the chicken in.) Meanwhile, pour the salt, pepper, and cornstarch in to the zip-top bag and give it a shake to combine. Add all the chicken pieces to the bag, close it, and shake until all the chicken pieces are coated in the spiced cornstarch. (If you have any enthusiastic kitchen helpers, this is a great job for them. They can shake the bag without making too much mess or direct contact with raw meat.)
Now it’s time to cook that chicken! Gently place the pieces in the hot oil. (Make sure your helper isn’t around for this one in case the oil jumps!) If your pieces are boneless and not too thick, try cooking them for three minutes on each side. Use a meat thermometer to check for done-ness!
Once the chicken is done, I like to put the pieces on a plate with some paper towels to soak up any excess grease. As they are sitting, I start the sauce.
1/4 C white wine
1/4 C soy sauce
1-2 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp sesame oil (or vegetable oil)
2 tbsp vinegar
1/4 brown sugar
1 small can of mandarin oranges packed in their own juice (juice reserved seperately)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 C cashews, chopped (or peanuts)
1-2 C water (if needed)
In a large saute pan, sweat the minced garlic with the oil for about 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the orange juice, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, and wine. Stir and allow to boil gently. Add the corn starch. Whisk rapidly as the cornstarch will thicken the sauce up pretty quickly. You can decide now if you need to add water to the situation. Once the sauce reaches a good consistency, add the cashews, mandarin oranges, and cooked chicken pieces. (We also chose to add some broccoli florets, baby corn, and water chesnuts as well.) Coat thoroughly. Serve over rice.
Pretend theres a picture of mouth-watering orange-cashew chicken here. My camera decided the pictures of it were so delicious, it ate them.
And if you want to copy-cat my super edu-dinner, here are some of the fun facts we learned about China:
* China is often considered the longest continuous civilization, with some historians marking 6000 B.C. as the dawn of Chinese civilization. It also has the world’s longest continuously used written language.
* Toilet paper was invented in China in the late 1300s. It was for emperors only.
* China invented ice cream, and Marco Polo is rumored to have taken the recipe (along with the recipe for noodles) back with him to Europe!
And here’s a hint about where our dinner will travel next week: