Autumn has well & truly painted the garden some beautiful bronze, ruby & amber colours this year. Our little cherry tree saplings seem to be in some sort of Fall foliage competition with each other, while the tomato plants are still heavy with their fruits, defiantly resisting the change in seasons. The warm October sunshine has kept the garden blooming with bright bold colours, especially the vivid, almost flamingo pink clematis flowers climbing their frame. Even the potted chrysanthemums have tiny buds of deepest magenta & pure white emerging from their greenery.
After a busy week of flying by the seat of my pants, Friday is a rather welcome change in pace. Usually, I tend to cram as much into every day of the week as possible, prepping meals, writing, baking cakes for people & creating various sugar art, which means I get to relax on Friday. Recently, my Husband took me out for a couple of lovely weekend day trips (we’ve been a bit like ships that pass in the night in the last few weeks), which involved walking for miles & indulging in some well-deserved treats, so it was really nice to spend some time together. Friday nights are great for getting all the family together & having a relaxing dinner, but trying to get everyone in the same room at the same time can be a bit difficult, as we all work different shifts & have various commitments.
It’s not every weekend that our Son comes home to visit because of this, but sometimes he will turn up with his friends as a surprise, knowing that there will always be a mini feast (yes, I know – I don’t do mini, let’s just say I do more of a small banquet). Sometimes I get a call en-route, giving me time to do some prep in advance – a whole chicken can be filleted, vegetables sliced, then everything bagged up & popped in the fridge, so whatever time our Son arrives, a takeaway-style dinner can be whipped up at warp speed! I’m not sure how other parents feel when their adult offspring come home, but for me it’s an opportunity to cook some of his favourite foods & spoil him while he’s here (for my Husband, it means he can share the truckload of treats I make & I swear I can hear his waistband breathe a sigh of relief). The hardest decision the guys will have to make is what they want to eat (I try to limit them to about half a dozen options, because I want to eat before midnight). Within a few minutes, we can have the whole weekend’s main meals decided, along with a few breakfast requests thrown in for good measure!
The guys love a homemade sweet & sour chicken with fluffy egg fried rice, along with a few bowls of locally bought prawn crackers (even I draw the line somewhere & the Chinese restaurant up the road makes the most lovely huge, crispy crackers, so it would be rude not to buy them). It’s hard to resist those thinly sliced strips of brightly coloured peppers & baby button mushrooms, with wafer thin wheels of chopped spring onions & slender baby sweetcorn, all stir-fried into a sumptuously sticky, scarlet-hued sauce. Pretty, plump pineapple chunks are sprinkled across the top, sinking into the simmering liquid like little yellow pebbles. Then everything is tipped into a casserole dish, lid on & goes into the oven (on very low), just to keep warm while I make the egg-fried rice. Lots of munching & crunching later, plates are empty & everyone’s full, happy & relaxed. Mission accomplished!
This recipe was given to me some years ago & to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d like it at first (it’s got ketchup in it?!). However, after my first attempt was rather well-received, it became a regular favourite fakeaway & perfect for impromptu last minute meals with friends. The best bit is it takes very little time to prep & cook – you can generously feed four hungry people in well under half an hour (because Friday nights mean you want food fast!). It also tastes amazing as a vegetarian dish & I like to make a huge pan full of the sauce – maybe add a handful of cashew nuts, bean sprouts or sliced water chestnuts too (my fave). It’s great for freezing the sauce as it is (you can always pour over cooked chicken or prawns for the non-veggies), or pour into pots for packed lunches – it reheats in a couple of minutes & trust me, when that microwave pings, suddenly everyone in the office wants to be your friend! Ready to whip up a swift sweet & sour? Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!
What you need:
2 Chicken breasts, skinned & sliced thinly
1 each of Red & Green Peppers, deseeded & sliced finely
1 bunch of Spring Onions, washed, trimmed & sliced finely
1 punnet Mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth & sliced finely (I use little closed cup ones, but you can use whatever mushrooms you like)
1 pack of Baby Sweetcorn, washed & sliced
4-6 Pineapple slices, chopped into chunks (fresh or tinned is fine)
3 cloves Garlic, chopped finely
1 chunk of fresh Ginger, skinned & grated (about the length of your thumb & twice as wide)
500ml bottle of Tomato Ketchup (I tend not to go for the branded ones because they are too sweet)
2 tablespoons Runny Honey
Balsamic Vinegar (a good splash will suffice, about a tablespoonful)
Soy Sauce (a sprinkle of this will be fine)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or Sunflower Oil if you prefer)
For the egg-fried rice:
3 large Free-Range Eggs (I generally use one egg per person)
Cooked Rice (either cook dried rice, according to the instructions on the packet, or you can use microwave rice which takes 2 minutes)
1 tablespoon Olive Oil (or Sunflower Oil) – for your pan
What to do:
Assemble your prepared ingredients, ready to go into the pan in order: chicken, vegetables, ginger & garlic, liquid ingredients, pineapple (if you’re adding cashews & water chestnuts, keep them until the end too).
Pre-heat a large skillet or frying pan on a medium heat & add a little olive oil. Pre-heat the oven at 150*C too (if you’re cooking egg-fried rice, chances are you’ll need the same pan & some room on your stove top, so this is for when your sweet & sour is cooked).
Stir fry the chicken slices for a couple of minutes until opaque (no pink bits, just white).
Add the vegetables & stir fry well with the chicken, keeping everything moving (I use a good pair of silicone tongs or a wooden spoon/spatula).
Add the garlic & ginger, mixing thoroughly with the chicken & vegetables, then stir fry for a few moments.
Pour in the tomato ketchup, all around the pan & add the honey, balsamic & a few spots of soy sauce (I prefer the light one, but you can use the dark if you like).
Taste your sauce & if you are happy with it’s sweety sourness, pop in the pineapple chunks, dotting them all around the pan & gently stir in. Simmer everything gently for a couple of minutes on a low heat.
Take a piece of chicken out & cut in half – it should be pure white inside, moist & lovely. Chuck it back in the pan (or eat it if you like – chef’s perks). Turn off the heat.
If you want to use the same frying pan for your egg-fried rice, carefully transfer the sweet & sour into a large casserole dish or similar, pop some foil on top or a lid & put it in the oven to stay warm, then wash your pan out.
Prepare your rice, whether you prefer cooking it yourself or using the pre-cooked packs. For speed, I usually open a couple of packets of microwave rice (the ones that take two minutes are brilliant for this & I use Aldi or Lidl rices – both taste great).
Heat a tablespoon of oil in the clean pan on a medium heat.
Beat the eggs in a bowl & tip into the hot pan.
Stir fry until you start to get fabulously fluffy egg pieces & then add the rice. Stir fry everything together for a few moments to combine & it’s done!
Serve your sweet & sour & the fluffy egg-fried rice in separate serving dishes for everyone to help themselves at the table, or just spoon some onto individual plates, with a plentiful supply of crispy prawn crackers for dunking. Usually this is when I have to tell my guys to wait until I’ve dished up, because they’re jostling behind me with plates, ready to tuck in! If you do have any leftovers, either box them up for lunch tomorrow or freeze them for those lazy nights when you want something nice, but don’t have time to cook.
So next time you fancy a takeaway, rather than doing the “dial a dinner” thing, have a go at making your own fast food Friday fakeaway! Stay hungry! 😉 A x