Thursday, April 8, 2010

Coconut Crusted Chicken

A few months ago, I took my husband to Key Largo for a surprise 40th birthday trip. Coming from chilly, snow-covered New England, I didn't care that the temperatures were "below normal" - hey, if 65 in February is below normal, you are still incredibly lucky. We rented a house on a canal where we cooked out a lot, drank wine by the water and watched the fish jump and birds fly. Every day, we did something outdoorsy (snorkeling, swimming, boat trips) and went somewhere on the waterfront for either lunch or dinner.

Now, it's a tourism economy down there, so there are lots and lots of restaurants ... some good, some bad, all serving variations on a theme: lots of seafood, a good measure of steakiness, some chicken for those boring "I'll just have the chicken" people, and (laud!) an assortment of vegetarian dishes, oddly seemingly all based around eggplants. I love eggplant; I just don't associate it with the Florida Keys. Anyway.

The weather here is getting warmer, and it makes me long for real heat. I hate that, even though it is a good deal warmer than, say, two months ago, I still have to wear jeans and a sweater. Tonight's low is supposed to be 26, for goodness sakes. I want summer! And so I find myself wanting hot weather foodies, as if I can conjure up some 85 degree afternoons just by cooking. I find myself wanting to be back in Key Largo, sipping champagne by the canal.

I decided to try my weather conjuring skills out on coconut crusted chicken. I mixed together orange juice, coconut milk and egg whites in one bowl, sweetened grated coconut, breadcrumbs and spices in another. I double dipped the chicken seitan in each and baked it for about twenty minutes, during which time I made a sauce of apricot preserves, sriracha, and Dijon mustard. Sweet potato fries (yes, from frozen) and coleslaw on the side completed the meal.

Coconut crusted chicken is definitely a keeper, plus it turned out to be delicious cold, too! Sadly, while the coconut chicken is good, my weather working skills obviously aren't, but I suppose I'll just have to keep trying.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Meaty Treaty Wonton Soup

Wonton soup has never held much appeal for me; it just looks bland, plus I was never quite sure what went into wontons. Some kind of meat, but the details seemed hazy to me. I was always more of a hot and sour kind of girl, with all its strips of bean curd and slick, chewy mushrooms. And of course, it almost always has pork in it, too, so I generally just pass on the soup course when we're picking up some Chinese take-away. On those rare occasions that I visit a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, I'm very excited to have some hot and sour soup.

Which is why it seems a bit odd that I've never made it at home, but spent this morning making wontons for tonight's wonton soup. However ... strolling through the frozen food aisle last week, I noticed that Morningstar Farms now makes a "Grillers Turk'y Burger," which also struck me as a bit odd. Vegetarian turkey burger? I kind of thought turkey burgers were already a burger substitute for people that didn't want to eat beef, but hadn't ventured fully into vegetarian territory. Burgers for people who want to feel they make healthful meal choices but who cannot conceive of a meal sans animal protein. Burgers for people who dine at chain restaurants a lot and think this is a good way of watching their cholesterol intake. (Boy, are they going to be surprised when Romano's Macaroni Grill and The Cheesecake Factory start publishing their nutritional information on the menus. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how The Cheesecake Factory fattens up all their food so incredibly much, but their turkey burger has 1373 calories and 32 grams of fat. One turkey burger. What??? But I digress.)

The Grillers Turk'y Burgers screamed "Buy me! Buy me and make me into wonton soup!" I don't know how this happened, but it seemed to click. And home we went.

After thawing a couple in the microwave, I ground them up in the food processor, which gave them a texture much more like pate than veggie crumbles. Into the pate-like turk'y, I added chopped scallions, minced ginger and garlic, and a healthy dose of soy sauce. Using a spoonful of filling per wonton, it made fourteen. So, a little Frontier no-chicken chicken broth, some sesame oil and more scallions, and we have wonton soup.

Unlike myself, the husband is a fan of wonton soup, and he orders it nearly every time we visit a vegetarian Chinese restaurant. I've tried the proffered bite several times, but they tend to be very bland to me. The ginger in the wonton stuffing really made a difference in this case, though. And, the splash of sesame oil contrasted nicely with the ginger; it gave the soup had a rich feel in the mouth that balanced the brightness of the ginger.

I'm still not sure I'm a convert to wonton soup, but I was pretty happy with the Morningstar Turk'y filling. I'm looking forward to lunch, when I'm going to pan-fry the remainder like pot stickers.