Monday, July 25, 2011

Slow-Cooked Sweet and Sour Chicken Lettuce Wraps

File this under "Brilliant Summer Meals."

Lettuce wraps are always a cool, crisp, light meal, perfect for a hot summer day. But how about preparing them in the slow cooker, to further ensure the cook doesn't break a sweat?

And if you can't be home to turn on the crock pot 3 - 4 hours before dinner, you can prepare everything ahead of time, refrigerate it, and ask one of your vacationing kids to put it in the heating unit and turn it on at the designated time. Ah, summer!

Slow-Cooked Sweet and Sour Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast and/or thigh pieces
salt and pepper
1 jar (about 10 ounces) apricot jam
1/4 cup orange juice
3 T. soy sauce
1 T. sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce (more or less to taste)
1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 red onion, chopped or sliced thin
1 T. peanut butter (optional)
1 head Boston lettuce, leaves separated and washed and dried
1 cucumber, half-peeled, seeded and chopped
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced thin
fresh chopped cilantro
Hoisin sauce

Spray your slow cooker with nonstick spray. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in slow cooker. Combine jam, orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, ginger and onion and whisk until combined. Pour over the chicken. (You can cover and refrigerate the mixture for several hours at this point, if necessary.)

(After you finish prepping the chicken and putting it in the crock pot, wash the lettuce, chop the cucumber and slice the mango, so you have less to do at dinner time.)

When ready to cook, place the covered crock pot into the heating unit and cook on Low heat until done - this could take anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours or longer. The time depends on the heat of your slow cooker, how cold your chicken mixture is and whether you use dark or light meat.(I used boneless breasts, cut in half, and they were done in 2 1/2 hours. Dark meat usually takes a bit longer.)

Once the chicken is done, stir in the peanut butter, if desired, to flavor and thicken the sauce. Shred the chicken with your (clean) fingers and pile it on the lettuce leaves. Top with fresh chopped cilantro, chopped cucumber and sliced mango. Drizzle with Hoisin sauce if desired and serve.

Recipe adapted from Stephanie O'Dea, Make it Fast, Cook it Slow

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peas, Love and Understanding

Dear Woman I Met at the Farm Stand,

Hi! Remember me? We met when we were looking over the English Peas at Idylwilde Farm on Sunday. We were both trying to figure out how the peas from Lexington, MA, were different from the peas from Acton, MA. I popped open a few pods and declared the peas from Lexington looked much better to me.

We each ended up filling a bag with the peas from Lexington. Then I said, "You know, I'm going to take a few of these other peas and see how they compare." I'm pretty sure by then you had had enough of me, so you didn't respond.

I cooked the Lexington peas on Monday and they didn't blow my socks off.

Tonight, I cooked the Acton peas. The ones grown at Idylwilde Farm, that looked big and weird on Sunday, rattling around in their oversize pods. Turns out the Acton peas are delicious and sweet and just really perfect. From what I've read, it turns out that the longer the peas sit around after picking, the greater the likelihood that the sugars will turn to starches... possibly explaining why the peas picked right there at the farm tasted better: they were fresher.

I'd like to remain friends, or at least comrades-in-arms, as we work our way through this summer's produce. Hope to see you again soon at the farm stand.



P.S. In case you haven't cooked your peas yet, here's what I did. Shuck the peas. Put the shucked peas into a pot of boiling salted water. Cook for about 1 minute. Then begin to taste the peas. When they taste good to you, pour into a colander to drain. (The Lexington peas tasted raw until about 6 - 7 minutes in. The Acton peas were sweet and ready in about 1 1/2 minutes.) Place the cooked peas in a serving bowl and add butter and coarse salt.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Should I blog or should I go?

Does anyone still read blogs? I ask because I was thinking, I have a years' worth of stories, recipes and crazy antics that someone might enjoy reading. But my daughter, who started me blogging almost exactly three years ago (see my first post ever!) said, "Mom, blogs are like fashion. And right now, they are out of style. Besides, all of your friends already know all of your stories."

That's what I get for asking her, and for having my office in the middle of our family room.

I visited my personal trainer today and asked her if she'd read my blog. She didn't know what a blog was, but since she's heard a lot of my stories, and she pretends to find them hilarious, she said her fiance might like to read my blog. Then she started me on a series of moves so strenuous I couldn't speak for the remainder of the session. I didn't take it personally. That's what I pay her to do.

Last, I asked my husband if he still reads blogs. He said yes, he reads about eight blogs every day. All political. What he meant was, "I don't have time for frou-frou blogs about other people's lives, except for people who agree with my political POV." I know this because we've been married for over 20 years, and I can now read his mind. I also don't always agree with his political POV, so I'm guessing he won't read my blog, either.

So, the future of "It's a Simply Delicious Life" hangs in the balance. What are your thoughts?