Stir-Fried Chicken with Sugar Snap Peas, Lemon Zest and Mint

I stumbled upon this recipe over the weekend in a cookbook I bought last summer- New Flavors for Chicken. I love this cookbook for several reasons:

1. I got it 50% off at the William Sonoma outlet in Connecticut (only $11!)

2. Who isn’t always looking for new ways to prepare chicken.

3. The book is set up by season. As in, if it is spring (which it is now) all the chicken dishes will use ingredients that are in season.

This recipe calls for sugar snap peas, green onion, mint and fresh ginger- all things you can find this time of year. The ingredient list may be daunting at first but all of the ingredients either keep well (cornstarch, Asian fish sauce or chicken broth) or can be used in lots of different dishes (mint, for example). Once you have everything out and prepped (which only took me about 20 minutes), this dish comes together in less than 10 minutes. It’s an easy meal to make for a week-night dinner or for a dinner party. Just make sure you have some rice (preferably brown) on hand so you don’t miss out on all the yummy sauce!

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Ingredients

12 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 2 full chicken breasts)

kosher salt

freshly ground pepper

1 lemon, zest from the whole lemon and juice- about 2 tbsp

1 cup chicken stock (use homemade or low-sodium)

2 tbsp Asian fish sauce

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp cornstarch

4 tbsp canola oil (make sure it is canola because olive oil with smoke more easily)

2 whole green onions, white and pale green bottoms chopped and the green tops thinly sliced

2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 pound sugar snap peas

3 tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped

Directions

Cut chicken breast halves across the grain on a slight diagonal into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Season the chicken strips with 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper

Finely grate the zest from the lemon and then squeeze 2 tbsp of lemon juice. In a small bowl, stir together the broth, fish sauce, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. In another small bowl, mix the cornstarch with 1 tbsp of cold water

**Make sure you have all the fresh ingredients (mint, green onions, garlic, ginger and sugar snap peas) prepped and in small bowls before you heat the wok! Cooking in a wok at high heat happens quickly and you want to make sure you have everything at your finger tips once you start the cooking process**


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Having small prep bowls like the ones above are great to have on hand for situations like these:

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Heat a wok or very large frying pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add 2 tbsp of the oil and swirl the pan to coat it well. Add the chicken and stir-fry until opaque throughout, about 3 minutes

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Transfer to a platter

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Return the wok to medium-high heat, add the remaining 2 tbsp of oil, and heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the chopped green onion, ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds

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Add the sugar snap peas and 1/4 cup of water (**Make sure you have this on hand before you start cooking**), cover, and cook, stirring occasionally until the sugar snap peas turn bright green in color, about 1 minute

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Return the chicken to the pan

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Then add the sliced green onion top and chopped mint

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Stir the broth mixture briefly to mix, add it to the pan and bring it to a boil, stirring constantly

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Stir the cornstarch mixture briefly to mix, stir into the wok and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 30 seconds. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed

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Best if served immediately over rice!

Yields: 4 servings

WW Points: 7 points per serving (without rice)

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Why I Fell in Love with Food in Vietnam

Whenever people ask me how I ended up in New York after college, I have to go back to my semester in Vietnam. I was a History major and concentrated on Cold War American society (specifically how the Vietnam War affected American society) and this is how I found myself headed to Vietnam in August 2008. Little did I know my “career path” would change after my 5 months there.

There is something about Vietnamese food culture that captivated me from the moment I landed. Eating a meal is about sitting with friends and neighbors and sharing what you have created from simple ingredients that were cultivated from your family land- land that has been yours for generations. I will always remember being in Nha Trang (South/Central Vietnam) and out on a boat with the entire CIEE group (which was only 19 of us). We had been on the boat all day when we were lead to the roof where a feast of fresh seafood had been prepared for us. It was the moment I decided I wanted to get into the food industry and be as close to good, simple, local food as possible.

Nha Trang FeastOur meal of fresh fish, prawns, seafood stew and a few other Vietnamese favorites

Eating feast

My friends, Chris and Summer, enjoying the food on the roof of the boat

This morning Nick sent me an article from the New York Times about a man’s relationship with food in Vietnam. Reading it, I was brought back to my own journey with Vietnamese cuisine . I will always remember my first morning there. I stumbled out of our hotel in the backpackers district in Saigon and I had no idea how to find something to eat. I wasn’t nearly as adventurous with food as I am now and I was all by myself, in a city I did not know, surrounded by a language I could not understand. I walked down our block and stumbled upon a bahn mi cart (I did not know this is what it was at the time). I pointed at something that looked remotely breakfast-like- little did I know that the pho restaurant right behind it would have been the right choice for a true Vietnamese breakfast. What I pointed at was something like a dumpling so I just bit into it. I had no idea what was inside, so I wrapped it up and brought it back to the hotel to find one of our directors so he could tell me what it was. Inside my “breakfast dumpling” was a soft boiled quail egg. I couldn’t finish it knowing what it was.

Looking back, I’m sad I couldn’t appreciate how special that first meal was and how delicious it could have been. I ended up throwing it away and waiting until lunch to eat again but I wish I had just enjoyed experiencing something different. My daily routine did turn into going to a “people’s food” store front twice a day that was located just across the street from our hotel. I would go first thing in the morning for a bahn mi with a fried egg on top and again for lunch for a bbq pork chop with sauteed greens with garlic and rice (exactly what the author describes in the article above). I miss those days of being in the warm sunshine, eating a simple meal that cost less than 75 cents.

I cannot wait to go back to Vietnam (hopefully soon) and experience the food all over again but, this time, with a much better appreciation for just how special Vietnamese food culture really is.

Goi Cuon- Vietnamese Shrimp and Pork Summer Rolls

I mentioned last week that I ventured down to Chinatown to get some groceries to make Vietnamese food. Well here is the post (finally!). I apologize for not getting it up sooner- I need a little break from the computer but I have lots of fun stuff to post this week from my culinary adventures this weekend.

Lauren and Colleen are my two closest girlfriends in New York. I see Lauren regularly (it’s not unusual to see her more than I see my boyfriend in a week) but it had been a while since the three of us had had a girls night together. I invited them over to teach them how to make an easy Vietnamese appetizer and to enjoy some wine and dragon fruit. All I did was prep everything before they got there and had it all set up on the table for whenever they wanted to sit down and eat.

I made Goi Cuon from this cookbook once in college and it can be kind of labor intensive because you have to be patient with each and every roll. Honestly, after that first time I felt kind of defeated until I tasted them. The work is worth it! I also noticed what a difference the proper ingredients make. I know it can be hard to find garlic chives (very different flavor than a regular chive), Asian mint (it’s a lot spicier than regular mint) and perilla (also called shiso). You will definitely need to find an Asian market for the vermicelli and rice paper (unless your grocery store has an extensive international foods section) but the herbs can still be hard to find. If you are in a bind, just grab regular chives and mint and skip the shiso (I didn’t add any in when I made them). The flavors will be a little different but still delicious!

I’m happy I thought of having Lauren and Colleen make their own rolls for a few reasons:

1. I didn’t have to stress out about making 12 of these ahead of time

2. It was kind of like a cooking class and they both learned how to assemble them on their own

3. They both agreed that it was pretty easy and I think they enjoyed them a little more because they appreciated the work that goes into making them

I hope you will try to make these at home. They are beautiful to set out for a dinner party and will be sure to impress everyone! And, I promise, once you’ve made them twice, you will have the process memorized and it will feel like a breeze every time after that!

Secrets of the Red Lantern; stories and Vietnamese recipes from the heart

Pauline Nguyen with recipes by Mark Jensen and Luke Nguyen

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Goi Cuon– Vietnamese Summer Rols

2 3/4 ounces dried vermicelli

18 sheets of 8 1/2 inch rice paper

18 cooked small shrimp, peeled and sliced in half

4 1/4 ounces cooked pork neck, finely sliced*

1 cup firmly packed shredded iceberg lettuce

1 bunch perilla (shiso)

1 bunch mint

1 bunch garlic chives

Hoisin dipping sauce (recipe below)

Add noodles to boiling water and bring back to a boil. Cooke for 5 minutes. Turn off the hear and allow the noodles to stand in the water for an additional 5 minutes. Strain and rinse under cold water, then leave to dry. For this recipe, it is best to have cooked and strained the vermicelli at least 30 minutes prior to rolling. This allows the noodles to dry off a little and stick together.

To assemble the rolls, cut six sheets of rice paper in half. Fill a large bowl with warm water and dip one whole sheet of rice paper in the water until it softens, then lay it flat on a plate. Dip a half sheet of rice paper in the water and lay it vertically in the middle of the round sheet. This will help strengthen the roll and keep the filling from breaking through. In the middle of the rice paper, place three pieces of shrimp in a horizontal line approximately 1 1/2 inches from the top.

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Below the shrimp, add some pork, lettuce, perilla, mint, and vermicelli.

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To form the goi cuon, first fold the sides into the center over the filling, then the bottom of the paper up and over. Roll from bottom to top to form a tight roll, and just before you complete the roll add two pieces of garlic chive so that they stick out at one end.

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The final product

WW Points: 3 points per roll (no pork)

*I do not use the pork neck. I find that they are just as delicious (just not as authentic) without it and it saves some points!

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Hoisin Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup of hoisin sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon roasted peanuts

1 red bird eye chili

In a saucepan, combine the hoisin sauce and the rice vinegar, place over medium heat and stir in the milk. Continue to stir until just before boiling point is reached, then allow to cool. To serve, chop the roasted peanuts and finely slice the chili to garnish the sauce.

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The dipping sauce will last up to one week stored in the refridgator.

WW Points: 2 points/serving (makes 6 servings and this is using fat free milk)

Total WW Points for suggested serving: 11 points (3 rolls and one serving of dipping sauce)

And here are pictures of the dragon fruit stand in Chinatown and it all cut up for dessert. I ate dragon fruit almost every day for breakfast when we lived in Vietnam. Think kiwi meets pear meets watermelon. It’s mild, not too sweet and very hydrating and refreshing! The biggest difference between dragon fruit in NYC and Vietnam? Price. I got one fruit for $6 in Chinatown whereas the same fruit would have cost about 45 cents on the streets in Saigon!

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Sunday Funday in the City

I posted about my Sunday Funday last weekend in BK so I figured I would post about my Sunday Funday this past weekend. Sunday is usually the day I spend with Nick because we’re both so busy during the week (I work nights and he works Monday-Friday 9-5 and then has grad school on Saturdays). This past weekend we bounced all over the city starting with a brunch at the Breslin.

As I mentioned in my post on Sunday about my cocktail, the Breslin has become one of our favorite brunch spots. There are TONS of brunch restaurants throughout the city that offer unlimited cocktails when you buy a meal aka bottomless brunch. This, unfortunately, is not one of them but the fact that we keep going back should be a testament to how amazing the food is. The have an untraditional traditional menu. Essentially, all the brunch favorites with a delicious twist. I have had everything from the pancakes to the lamb burger to the full English breakfast. I have never been disappointed.

This time we visited with some of Nick’s colleagues to celebrate his friend Eleanor’s birthday. Here’s a peak at some of the things we ordered:

IMG_5451 The caesar salad is the best I have ever had. A chef I worked with at Eataly first told me about it and he was not lying!

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Selection of breakfast pastries- hot cross buns, croissant, cranberry/orange muffin and bran muffin

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Nick’s Full English Breakfast

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My Lamb Burger with trice cooked fries (they didn’t last long enough for me to get a picture!)

The next stop in our Sunday Funday was a place in Inwood that I have been wanting to check out. I live in Washington Heights– a place that most people outside of NYC have never heard of and a place where New Yorkers ask “Really?”. I have lived here for almost 3 years and I love it. It doesn’t have a great reputation because before 10 years ago it was extremely dangerous with one of the highest crimes rates in the city. Like most of New York, though, it is changing. I have seen the beginning of gentrification before my eyes and it’s an exciting thing to be a part of. Inwood is even further uptown!

La Marina has been open for years but recently switched ownership and underwent a major make over. It is a lot like the 79th Street Boat Basin but less fratty and it has better views! I read tons of reviews before visiting and I didn’t have high expectations at all. I must say, it surprised me! I was very impressed with the crowd, the views, the food and the drinks.

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Bottle of bubbly to start of the experience

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Salad with balsamic

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Calamari

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Yucca fries- we ordered seconds and had to restrain from ordering more…

The sun started to set and it started to get cold so we decided to head home. Lauren headed back to her place (she recently moved to Washington Heights because she loved it up here so much!) and Nick, his friend and I headed downtown. Nick and I follow the New York Times restaurant reviews and a few weeks ago Pete Wells reviewed a Filipino restaurant in the East Village called Jeepney. Nick visited a good friend of ours in the Philippines a year and a half ago so he has been wanting to check this place out. Although we had already eaten a TON we decided to head downtown and give it a try!

We had to wait for a table for a little while so we decided to have some drinks in the front waiting area. Nick ordered a Filipino version of a Michelada and I ordered a Filipino sangria made with cardamom!

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I let Nick do all the ordering because he was more familiar with the food. We decided to order some hot Banana Ketchup Wings and Balut to start.

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The wings were spicy and delicious and the balut was scary (ha!). Balut is essentially a hard boiled egg that is made by boiling a duck egg with a semi-developed embryo inside (usually around 17 days old). It’s a bizarre food but I had to try it. Nick ordered one for himself and I decided to steal a bite of his instead of jumping in head first and ordering my own.

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Cracking it open from the top

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About to try my first bite. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be- just not sure I would order it again!

Next up was the Bicol and Pancit Malabok Negra. I preferred the Bicol but everything was amazing! The Bicol is slow-roasted pork shoulder with coconut milk, sili (chili), bagoong sauce (Filipino fish sauce), vigan longganisa (pork sausage), pickled chili and baby bok choy.

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Pancit- rice noodles, squid ink, shrimp, hard boiled egg, calamari, oysters, scallops, baby octopus, tinapa (smoked fish), smoked tofu and chicharon

I was so full by the end but we ended up ordering a traditional Filipino dessert to finish off our day of over eating. Nick got us Halo Halo which reminded me of a traditional Vietnamese dessert we used to eat all the time called Che.

IMG_5504Shaved ice, coconut gelatin, house candied fruit, coconut milk, homemade flan, ube ice cream and rice krispies

All in all it was a great day! Maybe my next Sunday Funday will be a little healthier…

Last Lunch in Atlanta

My mom and I set out Friday to do some shopping. It was a rainy and cold day so we figured it was as good a time as any to be inside a mall. Our first stop, however, was for lunch at Star Provisions. I posted quickly on Friday about my cold-brewed coffee but that was just a small part of the experience. I ordered a pork belly banh mi. It was a little oily (but then again, it’s pork belly) but the flavors were perfect!

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My mom ordered a Mediterranean salad that was full of vegetables, chick peas, lentils and more.

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Star Provisions reminded me a lot of Haven’s Kitchen in that it has a cute café section as well as a retail section. They had some cute but kind of over priced kitchen gadgets!

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They also had an entire wall dedicated to candy, which made me think of my little sister, Hannah.

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All in all it was a great first stop for our day of shopping in ATL!

Sriracha Lime Popcorn

Keeping with the buzzfeed theme of today, I stumbled upon this recipe around Oscar time (there are 4 other not-so-WW-friendly popcorn recipes as well). It is a great an easy way to take your ordinary popcorn and step it up a notch.

I absolutely love sriracha! This love for sriracha stems from the time I spent studying abroad in Vietnam and I have countless great memories adding it to dishes while sitting in a “kindergarten- furniture kitchen” on the streets of Saigon and Hanoi. It adds so much flavor to dishes without making them too spicy and without adding any extra WW points. Just remember- a lot goes a long way! I like to use Orville Redenbacher’s 94% Fat-Free SmartPop! Popcorn to keep it WW friendly. Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

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Srircha Lime Popcorn*

3 cups of popped popcorn

1 tbsp. of unsalted butter

1 tsp. of Srircha (or to taste)

Zest of one lime

Salt to taste

Directions:

Pop the popcorn and set aside. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Once melted, added in the Srircaha and lime zest and whisk until emulsified. Remove from heat and slowly pour over the popcorn while tossing the popcorn to make sure it gets an even coat (if you pour the butter/Sriracha/lime  sauce too quickly it will make clumps of popcorn soggy and you won’t be able to cover all the popcorn evenly). Salt to taste.

This recipe is so simple and it really easy! It is a great snack to have while watching tv or to put out for a dinner party for guests to snack on. It will impress anyone who tries it!

WW Points: 3 points for a 3 cup serving

*This recipe is slightly altered from the one in the link above.

Weight Watchers Asian-Inspired Vegetable Soup

Anyone who has done WW has probably tried their 1 point vegetable soup. I remember my mom making it when we decided to do WW together when I was in the 8th grade. It was the perfect afternoon snack to get me through until dinner- chalk full of veggies (fiber) and it didn’t break the (WW point) bank. That was about 12 years ago and WW has changed. The program is no longer using calories as part of the point calculation (anyone else remember those point sliders where you had to match the calories with the fiber and fat?) and now almost all fruits and veggies are ZERO POINTS!

Since joining WW in July, I have seen a lot of changes on their website including some revamping of old WW favorites. I stumbled upon this Asian-inspired veggie soup and knew I had to try it. I lived in Southeast Asia for 5 months in college and I fell in love with the way the Vietnamese used veggies for extra texture and flavor so I knew this soup would be delicious! I was hesitant to make it at first because some of the vegetables in the recipe can be hard to find and I didn’t want to travel all over NYC or all the way down to Chinatown to find everything. Also, the whole “fresh herbs” debacle- is it really worth buying the fresh herbs when you only use 1/2 cup?

So I used my Fresh Direct account and everything was delivered the next day. Using this method might not have been the cheapest way to find everything but it was so convenient that I didn’t care that I spent about $35 on everything. For a $6 delivery, it was SO worth it. The soup is not labor intensive and it cooks up so quickly so, once it was finished, I simply put two cup portions of the finished soup into tupperware and threw it all in the freezer. It has been feeding me since mid-February! The only change I made to the recipe was adding in about 2 extra cups of Napa cabbage (Fresh Direct sent me a 4-lb cabbage…) and 1-2 tbsp of Sriracha for some extra heat! This recipe is so worth it! It has saved me on those days where I know it will be hard to stay on track. I just grab a tupperware from the freezer, throw it in my bag and have it for lunch while I’m babysitting or at the restaurant before family meal (helps fill me up so I eat less of the food made by the kitchen at work- I swear they add at least a cup of butter to anything they make!!)

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Asian-Inspired Vegetable Soup

2 cup(s) uncooked bok choy, chopped

2 cup(s) uncooked Chinese cabbage, chopped

3 clove(s) (medium) garlic clove(s), minced

1/4 cup(s) ginger root, thinly sliced and julienned

4 small uncooked oyster mushroom(s), chopped

2 cup(s) uncooked scallion(s), chopped

1 cup(s) canned water chestnut(s), sliced (8 oz can)

1/2 cup(s) sweet red pepper(s), thinly sliced

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

6 cup(s) vegetable broth

2 cup(s) snow peas, stringed

2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup(s) cilantro, finely chopped

Instructions

Put bok choy, Chinese cabbage, garlic, ginger root, mushrooms, scallions, water chestnuts, red pepper, red pepper flakes and broth into a large soup pot; stir to combine. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partly covered, for about 10 minutes. Toss in snow peas during the last 3 to 4 minutes of simmering.

Stir in soy sauce and cilantro (and Sriracha, if you’re using it). Yields about 1 cup per serving.

WW Points: 1 point per cup