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Puttin' on The Mitts: Chinese-inspired dishes for the Year of the Dog

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Lt. Gen. Tso's Chicken2 / 2

My love of cooking Chinese food began with my dad.

I remember when I was younger, he found a wok in great condition at a garage sale. He was so excited to try it out. He was obsessed with watching the cooking show "Wok with Yan" back in the '80s. After searching the internet for the name of the show, I stumbled upon a 5-minute video of "Wok with Yan" on YouTube. I had forgotten how cheesy it was, but brought back great memories of my dad. I remember how he would watch it intently, jotting down notes about some of his favorite recipes or ingredients.

One of the first things I remember making with my dad was Moo Goo Gai Pan. I took a foreign foods class in junior high and that was one of the recipes we made. I brought the recipe home and my dad wanted to try it. I remember standing in our little kitchen at home, chopping vegetables with him and watching him throw everything together in the wok, explaining how there was a science to wok cooking.

My dad has been gone two years and I miss him more than I can explain, but I hold these memories close to my heart along with so many others.

The Chinese New Year, which is Friday, might not be a holiday many people in the lakes area celebrate, but any excuse I have to celebrate my dad's memory, I'll do it, and I'll do it with a smile.

CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE STIR FRY

Serves 3-4.

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables of your choice (I used a 12-ounce bag of frozen snap pea stir-fry veggies I had on hand)
  • 10.7 ounces pre-made zucchini noodles (zoodles) or make your own with a spiralizer
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder, or more to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup liquid aminos (a natural soy sauce alternative)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Cook the chicken, adding salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.

Once cooked, remove and set aside.

Cook frozen or fresh vegetables to desired doneness, adding salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.

Add chicken back into pan.

In a small bowl or glass, mix sesame oil, liquid aminos and cornstarch until blended well.

Add to chicken and vegetable mixture.

Add zoodles and cook on medium heat for only a few minutes. Check for desired doneness. Zoodles should still be slightly firm, but not mushy.

-- DeLynn

Growing up in Crosslake, food delivery of any kind was pretty much non-existent.

Even pizza wasn't available for delivery as a kid, and besides, we weren't the kind of family that ate many of our meals from restaurants. The first time I ate food from a Chinese restaurant was on a field trip that, for some reason, included a stop at China Buffet in Baxter.

When I was older, my friends and I would visit the buffet before going to the movies, stuffing ourselves silly so we wouldn't be hungry for the expensive theater treats. I'm guessing I didn't eat much variety beyond (lots of) cream cheese wontons, plain rice and recognizable chicken, though—my adventurous palate came later in life.

Chinese delivery in college was a revelation. Past my picky phase, I tried many different dishes delivered in those iconic white boxes with the thin metal handles. The massive portions meant meals for at least two days, and the speed with which the food arrived made it all the more tempting.

General Tso's chicken became my absolute favorite—crispy fried chicken dripping with a spicy sweet sauce? Give me some more of that any day of the week. But now that I'm no longer 18 and have a little more respect for my body, Tso just can't make it onto the menu quite as frequently.

Or can it? Enter RockRecipe.com's version. While certainly not sugar-free, it cuts the fat dramatically by baking the chicken instead of frying it. The breading is much lighter than one typically sees from Chinese takeout, and I lightened it up even more by serving it with cauliflower rice instead of the real deal.

The sauce was delectable, capturing the balance of sweet and savory right where I like it. And the serving size was generous and could be even more so if you chose to use more chicken. I opted for 2 pounds, but 3 pounds of chicken with the same amount of sauce would fill up the whole family—maybe even a little taste for your pooch. It is the Year of the Dog, after all.

LT. GEN. TSO'S CHICKEN

From RockRecipes.com. Serves 6.

  • 2-3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
  • 1 egg plus 2 tablespoons water, mixed together for egg wash
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons ground ginger (roasted or regular)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (or substitute white vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup water, divided
  • 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons chile-garlic paste or sriracha sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Chives or scallions for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Combine the flour, black pepper, cayenne pepper, ground ginger and 2 teaspoons salt in a shallow bowl.

One by one, dip the chicken strips into the egg wash and then the flour mixture, arranging them on the baking sheet.

Spray the strips with more cooking spray and put in oven, cooking for 25-30 minutes and flipping halfway through.

While chicken is cooking, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, 1/4 cup water, sesame oil, chile paste or sauce, salt, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cornstarch, minced garlic and minced ginger in a small bowl. Cornstarch will be clumpy at first, but will dissolve while completing the next step.

In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup water and sugar.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally and watching carefully as the mixture becomes caramelized.

Once the caramel becomes light amber in color and is fragrant, stir the cornstarch mixture one last time before adding it all at once to the caramel mixture.

Allow mixture to come back to a boil, simmering for a few minutes until it's thickened.

In a large bowl, pour the sauce over the chicken pieces and stir to combine.

Serve topped with chopped chives or scallions along with cauliflower rice, sticky rice or Asian noodles.

-- Chelsey

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