Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sweet and Sour

A simple sauce, a few veggies, a little chicken and presto - a lower calorie version of a take-out favorite, Sweet & Sour Chicken. Easier still, if you prep the veggies ahead. Measure out the wet ingredients while the chicken browns, then toss it all together for a few minutes to marry the flavors. Serve over heavenly scented Jasmine rice and you've a real culinary treat.

Stir fry meals are an easy way to get those nine servings of fruits and veggies into your daily diet. One pot cooking makes clean-up easy, too. A wok is great for a meal like this, but a large sauté pan works equally well. This is another of those 30 minute meals I love to whip up at the end of a busy day. The rice takes 17 minutes to cook and depending on how many veggies you choose to include, the stir fry will take about 10 - 12 minutes. Prepping the veggies, if not done ahead, will probably take another 5 minutes. Be sure to pour a glass of wine to sip while you prep and stir adds immeasurably to the success of the dish.

Heart of the Matter*: Choosing the ingredients becomes a matter of taste, what's on hand and which veggies you prefer. I used a $2 package of chicken tenders, cut in bite sized pieces; one red bell pepper, in bite sized pieces; half a vidalia onion, sliced in wedges; one jalepeno pepper, diced; a clove of garlic, minced; a handful of broccoli flowerets and 3/4 cup pineapple tidbits. Increase quantities based on how many you want to serve. The above ingredients would easily serve two with leftovers.

* Apologies to Graham Greene

Sauce: Whisk together 1/2 cup pineapple juice (from drained pieces); 1/4 cup chicken broth; 3 TBS soy sauce; 3 TBS rice wine vinegar; 3 TBS brown sugar; 3 tsp cornstarch.

Execution: Heat 2 TBS EVOO in large skillet or wok, add chicken pieces and cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until no longer pink and just starting to brown. Remove chicken to plate. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and start sauteeing the veggies. Start with the onion pieces, stir fry for a minute or two, add red pepper and garlic, stir fry another couple of minutes then add broccoli. Continue to stir and fry for another minute. Add chicken pieces back to pan with liquid ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender crisp, another 4 to 5 minutes. Serve over choice of rice.

Don't let the marketing efforts of the food industry convince you that the convenience of prepared foods is the modern way to eat. Since WWII, when food processors developed the means to package meals for our fighting men on land, sea and air, the American public has been sold a bill of goods that faster is better; processed is modern; pre-packaged, frozen, dehydrated, prepared foods are more convenient.

"All because once the technology was established and the factories up and running, they needed to keep right on canning, freezing, dehydrating food as if the nation's life depended on it. The industry had to persuade millions of Americans to develop a lasting taste for meals that were a lot like field rations." Laura Shapiro, Something From the Oven: reinventing dinner in 1950s America

The industry's task then became to convince the American public that 'from scratch' was passé, old-fashioned, not 'with it'. Over time they succeeded. Don't miss out on the pleasure of eating real food, prepared with care. Don't short change your system by neglecting the nutrition derived from whole foods and don't miss out on the joy of cooking. It's an act of love.

'till next time . . . keep on cooking.

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