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Columns September 6, 2016  RSS feed

Cooking Country

Sherry Matney

Here we are in the first week of September, past Labor Day and looking a Halloween. Can it be three months since I signed off for the summer? Another summer bites the dust and its time to get back to food — real food! This summer has been great fun for Paul and me with several trips, all of which involve eating. I wrote about some of the stops we took on our Mediterranean Cruise in June. Then in July we took a driving trip, with our oldest son Keith and his wife Kathy, to several places in the deep south. Needless to say the cuisine is substantially different in Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach and Charleston than it is in Rome, Athens and Greece. After all that eating, you guessed it, my pants have shrunk!! So rather than talk about fried chicken, and fried okra, and fried potatoes, for the next few weeks we are going to look at skinny foods. They may not make your mouth water but maybe we can get our pants buttoned by the time Christmas gets here and its “pig out” time again.

Probably one of the most popular sources of protein is chicken. Even in Leon County you can see many of the cattle farms or ranches are now growing chickens. It is a big business and as the Texas population grows it will become bigger. According to “Cooking Light” magazine in 2015 the average consumption of chicken was 90 pounds per person!! Calories in a serving of chicken is usually less than the same serving size of beef and that makes it attractive for helping lose and keep weight off our growing bodies.

My favorite part of the chicken is the thigh. Although it has a few more calories than a breast, the added fat keeps it wonderfully moist and juicy. My kids grew up on barbecued chicken. I would wrap a whole chicken with foil and put it in the oven before we went to church. Stick a potato for each family member in the oven at the same time and we were ready to eat when we got home.

In recent years I have come to love stir-fry, really anything, but especially chicken thighs. Give it a try but be careful to keep it skinny. Its impossible to estimate the calories without knowing what is going in it, but use your brain when it comes to extra fat or fatty ingredients. This should give you a delicious meal with little fat and limited calories.

Just as a point of reference one skinless chicken thigh has about 200 calories while 4 ounces of skinless chicken breast has 187.

The Basic Steps for Stir- Frying

Cut up the ingredients before cooking: Most of the work of a stir-fry happens before you even step up to the stove. It's important that all the ingredients be cut into uniform, bite-sized pieces. This ensures that ingredients cook quickly and evenly while maintaining their crisp-tender texture over the high heat. It is best to get fresh and seasonal ingredients when you can, we know that Brookshire Brothers keep a pretty good assortment of fresh foods throughout the year. The veggies are not cooked for very long, so their true flavor will come through.

And finally, it is extremely important not to crowd the pan. Yes a wok is the best but a skillet works well too. When I die they will have to pry my black skillet from my cold, dead hand. Try to cook no more than a pound of chicken, lamb, or pork at a time, and no more than 3/4 pound of beef.

Marinate the meat, but only briefly: Marinating the meat is one step in a richly flavorful stir-fry, but don't let the word "marinate" confuse you — this is not a long process, and it doesn't typically involve very much liquid. With stir-fries, the marinade is more about seasoning than tenderizing the meat, so you only need enough to coat the meat, and you don't need to let them sit together for very long. Just stick it in and get it out!!

Get your pan hot and watch your timing: With the ingredients prepped ahead, stir-fries are a simple matter of a hot pan and timing. A chicken stir-fry like this one takes about four minutes: two minutes to sear the chicken, one minute to add and stir-fry the vegetables, and then one more minute with the sauce.

Use your kitchen timer to help pace your cooking: If you're a new stir-fry cook, help set your cooking pace by using a kitchen timer. This helps make sure you don't go too fast or too slow. This said, your ultimate guide should be the color and texture of the ingredients in your wok.

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