Thursday, October 21, 2010

Open Sesame!

I've been on a bit of kick recently... I've been transforming our favorite restaurant meals into something better, healthier and cheaper at home.  One of our weaknesses is Chinese food.  We had take-out on our anniversary while we were sick!  I can safely say that my egg drop soup and sweet and sour chicken are better than most of what you find in restaurants or cute folded boxes!

When I ordered the sesame chicken on our anniversary, I splurged on the majorly-battered, deep-fried bits of the fattiest cuts of chicken, smothered in a dark, sweet, and salty sauce.  Yum!  

I pondered a life where I could only savor this a few times a year... and it looked bleak.  Surely, I thought, there must be a way to eat this on weeknights, not just special occasions!

So I did a little research and hit the jackpot.  First step: use lean cuts of chicken and don't batter and deep fry it!  Simply cube some (2-3) boneless, skinless chicken breasts and brown in a bit of cooking spray or oil.  Once cooked through, remove and set aside.  The sauce is what Kendall and I really love, so that's what I focused on.

Sesame Chicken Sauce

1 C chicken broth
1/2 C white sugar
2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
Dried red pepper flakes to taste

Combine all ingredients except for pepper flakes and sesame seeds in a bowl and stir to mix well.  While it's still mixed (before the cornstarch and sugar settles and you have to stir it again!) pour it in a pot or pan and bring to boil.  Let simmer, bubble and thicken for a few minutes.  Turn down to very low heat and keep warm before adding the chicken.

Add the chicken and then stir in the sesame seeds and red pepper flakes.    Serve with steamed rice and steamed broccoli (or other veggie!).  Serves 4.

The verdict?  To quote my husband, "This is better than the restaurant!"  The sauce is thick and glossy and coats EVERYTHING.  It's loaded with flavor and feels a lot more like a splurge than a health food.  Granted, the sugar content is high, but the fat content is low.  Combined with simple sides, it makes a great dinner.

I had a little rice, about 1/2 C serving of the chicken dish, and about 1.5 C of broccoli.  For dessert, we had some delicious little mandarins!  I love those things... they are like candy.   

Wine note:  I poured some red wine (Pinot Noir), but the sauce is sweet and overpowers the wine.  I took a sip and almost spit it out because all I could taste were bitter tannins and alcohol!  I set it aside and am now sipping it with a cleansed palate.  A chilled beer or dry white wine might pair better with this.

Other suggestions:  This is quick and easy and would be impressive for guests!  Start with a simple egg drop soup and finish with a fun, bright fruit salad and store-bought fortune cookies.  You can cut back on how much protein (chicken) you serve because of the egg drop soup, which will help fill your guests up.  Everyone will leave full and happy, and with some prep beforehand, it's easy to put together.  And that's a fortune that will definitely come true. 

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