Monday, October 8, 2007

Chinese food, Trader Joe's style

(more out of focus pictures... sorry! Gretchen tried to fix the settings for me to no avail.)

I could have titled this post "Almost as Good as Takeout, Part II" but instead chose to pay homage to the amazing store that is Trader Joe's. I honestly could not name a single thing I dislike about Trader Joe's. It's a cute store with a small selection of items, many of which are their own brand. Because they have such a small selection, everything they carry is fantastic. The prices are low too. If you haven't heard of Trader Joe's, I would suggest checking out their web site to learn more about them. There are only a few in Ohio, but Columbus is lucky enough to have two!
(Oh, one more thing I love about Trader Joe's: their circular is called the "Fearless Flyer" and it reads like a magazine! It doesn't just list items and prices... each item has a paragraph about it that is so romantically written you'd think it was the J Peterman catalog!)
On my recent visit to TJ's, I spotted this General Tsao Stir Fry Sauce and decided to try it. (You might be able to see on the label in the second picture that it says "Trader Ming's." That's another cute thing they do. The Italian stuff says "Trader Giotto's.") I had cut a recipe for General Tso's chicken out of the newspaper awhile back, but hadn't made it yet because it seemed complicated and had a lot of ingredients since the sauce was made from scratch. I figured I could use this premade sauce and really simplify the recipe.
Here's what I did:
I cut about 1/2 to 1 pound of chicken breasts into 1 inch cubes. I mixed 1 large egg (beaten) with a little salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of corn starch. I poured that over the chicken and let it marinade for about 15 minutes.
Next I was supposed to heat 2 cups of oil in the wok to 350 degrees and then fry the chicken in it. You have to dip the chicken pieces in corn starch and shake off the excess right before you fry them. Unfortunately when I was getting ready to start this step I noticed that I only had about 3/4 cup of vegetable oil left. I just made do with this and it still worked. The only accomodation I had to make was to turn the chicken pieces after about a minute since they weren't completely submerged in the oil. The chicken only took about 2 minutes total to cook. I was surprised by how successful I was at frying the chicken pieces. They had a nice crunchy coating.
I removed the pieces from the oil with a slotted spoon and blotted them on paper towels. I drained all of the excess oil out of the wok and into a bowl. Then I added about 1/2 cup of the TJ's sauce to the wok, and added the chicken pieces. I stir fried it until everything was heated through. The sauce got a sticky consistency and really coated the chicken pieces, just like it usually has when I order this dish from a restaurant.
Unfortunately I forgot to get any broccoli, but I did pick up some of Trader Joe's frozen fried rice to accompany the chicken. The fried rice was really easy to make in the microwave, but only tasted so-so. I think it may have tasted better if I had made it in a skillet with a little oil, but next time I would probably prefer to have plain rice.
All in all it was a good dish. I would have liked the sauce to have a little more kick to it, but I always like my Chinese food spicy. My very first job in high school was at a Chinese restaurant, and I always felt like the 'spicy' dishes weren't really very spicy. When I would order a meal to take home with me, the chef would always ask if I wanted it "American spicy, or actually spicy?"
Someday I'd like to make the recipe from scratch, but this bottled sauce is great if you want to do it in a hurry. And it's probably healthier (if only slightly) to cook this dish at home than to order take-out.

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