New Attempt: Chicken Lo Mein

My family enjoys typical Chinese takeout food. Fried Rice. Sweet and Sour Chicken. Egg Rolls. Because we don’t eat out often, it’s a rare treat. One of our favorites is Lo Mein. Those delicious savory noodles with a sprinkle of crunchy veggies and chunks of juicy meat, at least that’s what it’s like when it’s done well. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

My girls will eat about anything with noodles, and I don’t know why it never occurred to me to try this dish at home! I mentioned on facebook that it was a success and was asked for the recipe. Here’s where I hit a snag that is common for me: I rarely use recipes when I cook. Recipes are about precision, and I use them when I bake. (Though I often tweak them! My husband knows what I will say the first time I try a new one. “I can make this better next time!”) Cooking is much more fluid for me. I add things depending on what we like, what mood I’m in, what I have handy. So, this isn’t technically a recipe, but it’s an idea. It can give you a good start and you can add things to taste until you’re happy with the result.

Once again, no photos. Sorry about that! I know exactly how photos are supposed to go for a proper food blog, but I can’t imagine taking the time to shoot them in the middle of weekday dinner prep with three small, hungry children around.  I will never make it as a food blogger.

So…Lo Mein.

*Imagine lovely photo of all ingredients on an empty  tabletop completely absent of scratches and stray crayon and marker scribbles*

I started boiling a pot of salted water for the pasta. I used Ronzoni’s Garden Delight spaghetti. It’s a beautiful color and is made with spinach, tomato and carrot, so I’m sneaking in extra vegetables. First time I’ve used it, but it will definitely go on my grocery list again. (No, they did not pay me to endorse it. But if someone were to want to send me products to try, I’d be happy to give them an honest review!)

*Picture of spaghetti package in foreground, boiling water in background. Pot of water is perfectly shiny, stove top is spotless.* 

Meanwhile, I drizzled some oil in a large, heavy skillet. Sometimes I usually use olive oil, but I prefer peanut oil for the few Asian dishes I’ve tried. A few drops of sesame seed oil added here makes a huge difference. Huge. It seems really pricey until you find out how little of it you need to use for a major boost in flavor. I used less than a teaspoon in this dish, but I truly think it makes an enormous impact on the gobble-it-up factor. If you’re not allergic, and you think that you might make some Asian-inspired dishes in the future, it’s worth picking up. Into the oil I added about 2 Tbsp of leftover finely chopped onion and about a cup of frozen peas and carrots. I finely chopped a couple of stalks of celery and threw that in, too. Then I just sprinkled on salt and pepper, stirred it occasionally and watched the colors brighten while I cut up the meat.

*Photo of skillet with beautifully bright vegetables, bottle of sesame seed oil to the side, label turned toward camera for easy reading*

I had 3 leftover Asian glazed chicken thighs. (Recipe coming soon…it’s a new favorite here!) I cut the meat off of the bone and diced it. I loved knowing that it would already have an Asian flavor, but I’m sure that regular grilled chicken or rotisserie chicken would still be delicious.  I think it was about a cup and a half total, but less would be fine. I added about 3 cloves of crushed garlic to the pan of veggies and tossed in the meat. Since it was coming from the fridge, I wanted to give it a chance to get nice and hot.

*One-handed action shot of garlic being squeezed out of the press over the simmering pan by a hand that does not have a week old polish job or stray bits of glue and glitter from a preschool art project*

When the pasta was done, I drained it in a colander in the sink. We like it tender, even though I know that is technically overdone. My apologies to Italians everywhere.

*Photo of beautifully golden pasta in 1970’s mustard yellow colander inside a pristine stainless steel sink. And did I mention? The lighting is perfect.*

Before adding the pasta, I made the sauce. I wanted a lot of flavor, but not a lot of liquid, since there isn’t much to absorb it at this point. I poured in about 3 Tbsp of soy sauce and a Tablespoon of hoisin sauce. Hoisin sauce is a thick sauce made of fermented soybeans. It tastes much better than that description sounds. It’s worth having on hand to add to marinades or glazes for meats, or for dishes like this one. I also sprinkled in some onion powder and just a pinch of powdered ginger. Yes, I know, I should use fresh ginger. I don’t much care for ginger, so I can’t be bothered to have it on hand. Now you know one of my deep, dark secrets. See why I’ll never be a legitimate food blogger? You can use fresh ginger and tell me how much better your lo mein is than mine. I can take it.

*Photo of designer pan full of delicious food, soy sauce in the background, hoisin sauce and a stick of fresh ginger in the foreground. Since we’re pretending, let’s pretend big.*

I should have tasted at this point, but I didn’t, rebel that I am. (Or I just forgot.) I added the pasta back to the pan and tossed it all together. I had used a spoon up to this point, but tossing the chunky meats and veggies with the pasta required tongs. (In reading that sentence, I think perhaps I should not have had the words “tossing” and “chunky” so close together, but it makes me laugh now, so I’m leaving it. This is what you get when I write blog posts at midnight – no quality control!

*Action photo of tossing chunkiness. Bet you’re glad I don’t take pictures now, cause nobody wants to see that.*

I did taste it at this point, and added a bit of salt, a little more soy sauce, but mostly it was good! I let it simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to meld, then I served it up in bowls. Wish I knew where my chopsticks are!

*Photo of stylish, black, square bowl full of lo mein, chopsticks perfectly perched on one corner, artfully arranged on a hand-stitched lotus blossom place mat*

I might try more hoisin next time. I’m still learning to work with it, so I’m a little conservative.  I think that a tiny bit of sriracha would give it a bit of kick if you like that idea. (More about sriracha in the upcoming Asian glazed chicken recipe.) I think a little strong chicken stock would be good, too. I love Better than Bouillon, and it would be easy to mix that up to add a lot of flavor without a lot of liquid. If I didn’t have chunks of chicken to toss in, I’d definitely want to add that.

*Picture of Better than Bouillon, mostly so I can look at it to remember how to spell that word. I’m a good speller in general. I can even remember to spell sriracha correctly, so why can I never remember where the ‘i’ goes in bouillon?*

I love versatile recipes like this! Toss in whatever leftover veggies you have, or whatever fresh ones are on sale. Add some leftover meat and a few ingredients from your cupboards. Sprinkle in some of your favorite flavors and cook it until it all tastes fabulous. Serve it with love, and watch everyone devour it and ask for more!

I hope that this little “tutorial” gives you enough to go on to try this out. If you get lost, refer to the pictures. They should help clear things up.

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Breakfast Popsicles, or Shortcut to SuperMom Status!

Being a Mom is a really tough job some days, and Moms are often unappreciated. I admit that I love it when something happens that makes my kids think I am SuperMom, even though it usually doesn’t require leaping tall buildings in a single bound. It’s almost always something simple and wonderful – like letting them dance outside in the rain in their Sunday dresses, making paper party hats just because they asked if they could, or whipping up some cute felt finger puppets and letting them vote on the features. Here is one idea that is guaranteed to make your kids think you are Super Mom – or your money back! Popsicles for breakfast!

Of course, serving your kids frozen sticks of sugar and artificial colors and flavors first thing in the morning may not make for a very good day, but I have a better idea! Yogurt Smoothie Popsicles.

My kids love smoothies, and I don’t make them often enough. I don’t even really measure, just throw some things in a blender until it tastes pretty good. But I’m lousy at making the right amount, so we’re either running short and no one gets their fill, or I have tons left over. I tried freezing it and scooping it out like ice cream, but it was more like scooping concrete. Not going to work. Meanwhile, they were begging for ice pops to eat while playing outside, since our weather here is nearly always somewhere on the spectrum of warm to unbearably hot. Suddenly, I had an idea – freeze the smoothies in popsicle molds!

This is another super flexible recipe. More of an idea or a process, really. Throw in certain key ingredients, then add whatever you like that is on hand! I’ll give you the one that has been a favorite here, and you can run with it.

  • 1.5-2 cups milk
  • 2 cups yogurt (we like Vanilla or Strawberry. Greek yogurt is great, too, but you’ll need to increase the milk)
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (it’s fine to omit this or add more)
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 T sugar

I’ll tell you what works for me, but you can do whatever works for your blender.

Start with 1.5 cups of milk – we use 1% – in the bottom of a blender. Add the protein powder, if using, and blend until well mixed. Add the frozen berries, and pulse until there are no large chunks and the mixture turns a lovely shade of pinky purple. (If the strawberries are whole, I usually smash them quite a bit first. That’s hard to do if they are frozen solid. I prefer to buy fresh berries, chop them up, then freeze the chunks. You could even do one recipe’s worth in a baggie and just pull that out and dump it in!) The frozen berries freeze the milk and make it quite thick. You may have to add more milk to loosen it enough for the berries to get to the blades. Add the sugar and pulse a few times. Add the yogurt and blend thoroughly, pouring in more milk a few tablespoons at a time if necessary for the smoothie to blend well. When the mixture is nice and blended, pour into popsicle molds and freeze overnight. I have 3 molds that I got for a few dollars each. Each one has room for 4 popsicles, about 1/4 cup each. This recipe fills all of them with some leftover. If you don’t want to serve the “leftover” in cups with straws right away, you can pour it into small paper cups, freeze for about an hour, then pop in a wooden stick. I let them freeze overnight. Don’t get in a hurry – if they’re not thoroughly frozen, the sticks will come out and leave all the popsicle goodness in the mold with no good way to get it out. If you don’t have molds, you can just use the cups. Run the molds or the cups under warm water for a few seconds to release them.

Sometimes, especially if I don’t use protein powder, I add a splash of vanilla. The kind of fruit or berries doesn’t really matter.  It’s easy to find a mix of frozen berries – usually blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and/or blueberries. Sadly, my younger daughter had a bad reaction to blackberries when she was a toddler, so we avoid them for her sake. She may have grown out of that, but we haven’t been willing to try it yet. Other yogurt flavors or frozen fruits would be fine, too. I’m sure peach would be lovely! Feel free to toss in other ingredients. I’ve added a few leaves of fresh spinach at the beginning. No one noticed, and I loved sneaking in those extra nutrients. I’m sure a banana would be delicious. I think these would be good without the yogurt, if you didn’t have it on hand, and a banana would help keep the texture from being a bit icier. I’ve use a splash of juice in place of some of the milk, and I’ve used Stevia instead of sugar. Some day, I’ll try making simple syrup and adding that instead of sugar. It should work to make the pops a little creamier and less icy. If you’re dairy free,  you can make some delicious pops with just frozen fruit and juice. The versatility of this idea is one of its best features!

My girlies went bonkers the first time I gave them popsicles for breakfast. They could hardly believe it. I knew they were getting something healthy, but they thought they were just being spoiled. My girls have big appetites in the morning, and will often eat 2 or even 3 if I let them. Since that’s equivalent to about 1/2-3/4 cup of smoothie, it doesn’t bother me a bit! These popsicles also make great snacks. I love that I can whip them up during the afternoon and have a whole week’s worth, and I only have to wash the blender once!

What flavors do you want to try? Are there other healthy ingredients that you’d like to add? And what color cape will you wear once your kids declare you SuperMom?

No Bake Granola Bars

This is one of the best recipes I have discovered in a long time! Thanks to my friend Sweetie for sharing it with me! The recipe I started with is found here: Lauren’s Latest No Bake Chocolate Chip Granola Bars and was adapted from a Rachel Ray recipe. Sorry, no pictures here. Lauren’s tutorial is lovely, though.

This is a fantastic recipe because it is easy, fast, and tasty, but the real beauty of this recipe is the versatility! You could easily substitute several ingredients and still have a yummy granola bar that is free of some of the yucky things in store-bought snacks and so much cheaper! I think it might be an easy recipe to tweak for some allergies, but that may presumptuous of me since that’s not something that we have to deal with in my household. (And my heart goes out to those of you who do! It’s a tough road!)

If you compare Lauren’s post and mine, you can see that I made several changes. First of all, I doubled the recipe. I have a small jelly roll pan that is perfect for this size of batch. It’s easier to press it in tightly and evenly, and we haven’t had any trouble eating this amount in a few days. It’s no more work making a larger batch, and it keeps me from needing to make them every day or two. Secondly, I substituted corn syrup for the honey. This makes me a bit sad, since corn syrup is a sweetener that I would prefer not to give my kids, but to say that my Beloved doesn’t like honey is an understatement. I have to admit that the honey taste in the original was quite strong, even for me. I tried using half honey and half corn syrup, which suited me, but was still too strong for my husband. At least there are some brands of corn syrup that are HFCS free, so I can still feel reasonably okay with this substitution. I also added some other ingredients – wheat germ, ground walnuts, ground flax seed and cinnamon. The cinnamon was really helpful, since they can be a bit bland without it. I also liked the nutty flavors imparted by the other ingredients, and it’s easier to pretend these are healthy with those things thrown in, even in very small amounts.

I also doubled the chocolate chips once and loved it. Don’t hate me. No one says you have to do it. Except now that I have planted the idea in your head, it’s almost like you do. Sorry. I had trouble getting the chocolate chips to stick to the bars, and the edges were always bare, so I gave up on that and tried a couple of other methods. I sprinkled some on, then “glued” them down with a drizzle of melted chocolate chips, creating a similar look to some of the popular brands. It worked reasonably well, but they still had a tendency to leave bits of chocolate dropping onto the carpet in the wake of munching kiddos. (Right. Kiddos. Uh-huh.) I also melted the chocolate chips and just spread a thin layer all over the top. This version got the man’s vote. If it were up to me, and I was going solely for taste and not for a somewhat healthy snack, I’d probably increase the chocolate even more. Or maybe toss some cocoa in with the cooked mixture. Or Nutella. Yummmmmmmm….

But back to what I actually did:

No Bake Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup (the original calls for honey, and I suspect other things like maple syrup would also work)
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar (I plan to try this with less)
  • 4 cups quick cooking oats
  • 2 cups crisp rice cereal
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2-4 Tablespoons walnut pieces, toasted
  • 2-4 Tablespoons flax seed
  • 2-4 Tablespoons wheat germ
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (I don’t even measure, just eyeball it)

I started by grinding the walnuts and flaxseed in my coffee grinder, which I never use for coffee anyway. It gets kind of pasty, and I have to scrape it down a few times to get a nice even texture. Then I dump in the wheat germ, which helps to make it a bit more dry. It still clumps a bit, but just break it up the best you can. When you stir everything together, it will distribute pretty evenly.

Measure oats and cereal into a large bowl. Add cinnamon and ground nut mixture. Stir well.

Prepare pan with a light coating of cooking oil spray.

In a small saucepan, heat butter, corn syrup and sugar until boiling. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring often, to dissolve the sugar granules. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. (Don’t forget this part! I did, and it definitely makes a difference in the final result.  I’m considering adding some almond flavoring, too.) Pour over dry ingredients in bowl and stir until thoroughly coated and evenly mixed. Pour into prepared pan, pressing down firmly with hands or rubber scraper until firm and even.

Melt chocolate chips. (I do it in the microwave, half power for 30 second increments, and have never had trouble.) Drizzle over bars or spread in an even, thin layer.

Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes until firm but not hard. Cut into bars. I make mine about 3/4-1″ by 4.5″ and get about 20 bars. Refrigerate further if necessary to allow chocolate to set and bars to harden slightly.

I wrap mine individually in plastic wrap, and they have kept beautifully for 3-4 days until they were all eaten. I don’t know how long they would keep, and I’m not sure I’ll find out here, since they are a big hit with all of us, except for the one who isn’t eating solid foods yet! My mind is still spinning with the possibilities. I think substituting peanut butter for some of the butter would be delicious. I have some toffee bits just begging to be stirred into another batch. I think sunflower seeds would be lovely, and I want to try some chia seeds. Dried fruit would add sweetness and a chewier texture. Then there are butterscotch chips, or white chocolate drizzle. I could make a different version each week for months, and I’ll bet each one would be amazing!

How would you make these bars? Add something? Leave something out? Change something? Adjust for an allergy or a preference? Leave a comment with the changes you want to try, and please come back and let us know how it turned out!