Food by the Howells for the Howells...

Food by the Howells for the Howells...and anybody remotely related to a Howell, or who may have met a Howell at one point in their life, or...yeah, pretty-much anybody.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Restaurant-worthy Orange Chicken

I have been joking for years that if only I could figure out how to make perfect orange chicken, I could die in peace. No matter what I tried, though, it never worked. Either the breading would fall off, or it would never get crispy in the first place, or once the sauce was added, everything would get soggy. I was just about to accept the possibility that I might actually die without ever uncovering this mystery. But Eureka! One day I tried a new combination, and, again, Eureka! (I know I just said that. I may have said it prematurely the first time). Anyhoo, I don't want you to be tormented by orange chicken the way I was. So I am going to reveal the secret of how to make restaurant-worthy orange chicken in your own home. And, I am also going to give you three--yes, three sauce recipes so that you can also have sweet and sour chicken and sesame chicken. Oh, and if I have time, I'll add a lemon sauce as well.

There are two great secrets to making this perfect chicken. The first one is this:
This is called "Frying Mix" and can be found at your local Asian market. What? You don't have a local Asian market? Well, I guess you'll die crying bitter tears because you are unable to make perfect orange chicken. Or you might get over it. Or you might not care. ANYHOW, to continue, you really need this.

The second thing you absolutely must have is one of these:

This is an electric skillet. You must get one that goes up to 400 degrees. You must. It is essential. Anything lower will not work. We have a proper deep-fat fryer, but it only goes up to 375 degrees. I have searched and searched for one that goes up to 400, but they must be illegal in America. I was thinking I was going to have to go on the Chinese black market to get a fryer that goes up to 400. But I have no idea how to go on the Chinese black market, so I came up with the skillet idea instead.

Now, here's how you do it. For the chicken part, you only need three ingredients:
Chicken (1-2 breasts)
Frying Mix

Just cut up your chicken into 1/2 inch squares. Put some Frying Mix into a plastic bag, then add your chicken and shake it all about. Then do the Hokey Pokey and stick your leg out and open the fridge with it. Wait. First take the chicken out of the bag and put it on a plate (or a couple plates depending on how much chicken you are using) and put it in the fridge while you complete the Hokey Pokey. Then wait at least 1/2 hour. That's what it's all about.

Get out your electric skillet, pour in 1-2 inches of oil (enough to cover the chicken pieces when they are dropped in). Heat oil to 350 degrees. When it's about ready, get some more Frying Mix and follow the directions on the package (on mine it said to just add water, but I added ice-water). Get out your chicken and drop a few pieces at a time into the wet frying mix, then take out and drop (carefully!) into the 350 degree oil. Fry until golden. It should look like this:

See how it's kind of light and not really as brown as you would expect? That's o.k. Don't fry it longer, because no matter how long you fry it in 350-degree oil, it will never get any browner. Trust me--I've tried.

Once you've done this first fry with all the chicken, turn the skillet temperature up to 400 degrees and wait for the oil to be ready. Then re-fry all your chicken for another minute or so, until it turns a nice golden brown. It should look like this:

See how much more golden and delicious that looks? This won't work at 375, folks. It MUST be 400 degrees! Now you can make one of the wonderful sauces listed below, or just buy some sweet and sour or orange sauce at the store to make it easy on yourself. Pour it over the chicken and enjoy! Enjoy it thoroughly, because now all your dreams have come true :)

Orange Sauce (taken from The Everything Chinese Cookbook)
1/4 cup water
5 tsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. chili paste
1/4 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. corn starch

Cook sauce in small pan on stove over medium heat until it boils and thickens.

Sesame Chicken Sauce (also taken from the same cookbook)
1/2 cup water
1 cup chicken stock or broth
2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
1/2 cup vinegar
2 tsp. chili sauce with garlic
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. rice vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. corn starch

Cook on stove over medium heat until it boils and thickens. Pour over chicken and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Lemon Sauce (from the same cookbook again)
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. corn starch mixed with 4 tsp. water
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar (or rice wine)
2 tsp. soy sauce

Mix together and cook over medium heat until it boils and thickens.

Sweet and Sour Sauce (from my awesome friend Annie Easterbrook)
1/2 cup ketchup
1 cup water
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 1/2 Tbsp. corn starch
3/4 cup pineapple juice

Cook until clear and thickened.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chocolate Candy Cookies

This is another recipe from Chocolate Never Faileth, although I have changed the name from Chocolate Rolo Cookies. Because really, any kind of chocolate candy will work in these. I used several varieties of Hershey's kisses, and also some Dove Chocolate chunks. I also think the Rolo candies would be divine. When I ran out of candy, I just made cookies with the dough, and those were also really good. So there's no way these can NOT be good. And that's a good thing :) This recipe can easily be cut in half.

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup (2 cubes) butter or margarine
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
40-50 Rolo (or other chocolate) candies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. (I used stoneware and did not grease). Cream sugar, brown sugar, and butter. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Add flour, cocoa, and baking soda. Mix until well combined. Add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky to work with your hands. Pinch off walnut-sized balls of dough and wrap a piece of dough around each chocolate candy. (I scooped the dough with a small scoop and then just pressed the chocolate candy into the dough while it was still in the scoop. That way, everything was uniform and I didn't have to get my hands so messy). Place on cookie sheets a couple of inches apart. Bake 7-9 minutes, until the cookie is set but the top is still soft to the touch. Don't overcook. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks. (If you try to transfer too soon, you'll break the bottom and the candy or caramel will ooze out). These are best eaten while still warm and melty, but they taste great the next day, too!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vanilla - Almond Fruit Tart / pie

I adapted this recipe from   Looks impressive, but so easy to make! 

To save time I used a pre-made graham cracker crust, but you could make your own as well!  You can also put the sliced fruits in dishes and let your guests top their own slices of pie. 

  • 1 (3.4 ounce) package Vanilla Flavor Instant Pudding
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 1 cup thawed Whipped Topping like Cool Whip
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup mixed fresh fruit (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, halved strawberries, sliced kiwi)


  1. Beat pudding mix and milk with whisk 2 min. Stir in whipped topping and almond extract. Spoon into crust.
  2. Refrigerate 3 hours or until firm. Top with fruit and reserved nuts just before serving.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

This is another recipe from Chocolate Never Faileth (see previous post). A roommate in college gave me a very similar recipe. I decided to try this one and compare, and it turned out just as well, so I will add it to my list of go-to recipes. My roommate's used brown sugar and this one uses white sugar. They both worked well. It's good to know that if I ever have a white sugar shortage, I can use brown sugar instead :) I also love this recipe because you don't have to grease the pan. Also, this cake is magic. Seriously. You just put sugar and cocoa powder on top and pour water over it and put it in the oven. Then, through the miracle of chemistry that I don't understand, it all sinks to the bottom and turns into pudding. This is so fantastic served warm with ice cream, but is also great the next day after the pudding has firmed up. Then I think whipped cream works well on top. The picture is a spoonful showing the layers of whipped cream, cake, and pudding. Yum! By the way, this recipe makes a 9x13 pan, which is a lot unless you are entertaining guests. I cut this in half and put it in an 8x8 pan and it is the perfect size for our family. Still bake it for the same amount of time.

2 cups flour
3 cups sugar, divided
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup cocoa, divided
1 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup milk (I used powdered milk)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup nuts, chopped (optional)
3 cups hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 9x13 pan, combine flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, baking powder, salt, and 1/2 cup cocoa. Mix well. Add the butter and mix again. Add milk and vanilla, mixing with a fork until well blended. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, remaining 1/2 cup cocoa, and nuts (if desired). Sprinkle this mixture over the batter in the pan. Pour 3 cups hot water over everything. Do not stir. Carefully put in oven and wait 40 minutes for the magic to happen! Allow the cake to set for 10 minutes before serving.

Orange Pecan Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thanks to a blog friend, I was made aware of a cookbook that I thought I didn't need, but found out I really did. As soon as I saw it in the store (and the discount sticker on it) I knew I had to make it mine. It is called Chocolate Never Faileth, and it has the most marvelous, fun, and tasty recipes inside. At first, I thought I would do the Julie and Julia thing and try to make each of the recipes in the book. I figured I would do one a week, but then realized that would take me about three years, and would probably add about 50 pounds to my figure, so I abandoned that idea. Instead, I am picking and choosing and making about one a week, which sounds sort of like my original plan and will still probably result in an extra 50 pounds.

However, the recipe I'm going to share today assuages my guilt somewhat because it is healthy. And by healthy, I mean that it has eggs (protein) and whole wheat (grain and fiber) in it. Also, if you use dark chocolate, there are antioxidants galore. So really, you could eat these for breakfast and it would be like having cracked wheat and eggs and a cup of blueberries. Really. At least that's what I tell myself when I'm eating them for breakfast. I'll stop yakking now and give you the recipe. I thought it needed a little more flour, so my recipe is slightly altered from the one in the cookbook.

1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. orange extract
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets (I used stoneware and did not grease the stones). Blend flours, baking powder and salt in a small bowl; set aside. In a separate bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add orange extract, vanilla extract, and eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each one. Add flour mixture and stir until well combined. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoons on cookie sheet. Flatten slightly. (I open the oven about a minute before they are done and quickly flatten with a fork because I found the dough to be too sticky to flatten easily before baking). Bake 9-12 minutes, until edges are barely golden brown. Do not overbake. Even slightly underdone is o.k. so the cookies will stay soft. Store in an airtight container. Then eat for breakfast, or a snack, or whenever. Because, you know, these are healthy :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thai Tuna Wraps

I love this dish because it is low-fat and refreshing, yet satisfying. It is a perfect dish for a warm summer day. Plus, I usually have all (or most) of the ingredients on hand, so it's a fast go-to dish when I can't think of anything else to make. I got this recipe out of The Pampered Chef Main Dishes recipe book. It calls for spinach leaves, which I never have, so I never use them. However, I'm sure this would be good with them as well. Pictured is the mix in pita pockets rather than wraps, but you can see the picture of the wraps from the recipe book behind the pitas.
2 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbps. sugar

3 cups cabbage, chopped (If I don't have cabbage I just use lettuce)
1 medium carrot, shredded
3 green onions with tops, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, snipped
1 can (6 ounces) tuna, drained and flaked
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
6 flour tortillas
12-18 large, fresh spinach leaves

In small bowl, mix first four ingredients together. Mix all the other ingredients together, then pour dressing in and mix all together. Put 1/2 cup of the mix on a tortilla, then top with 2 or 3 spinach leaves. Roll up tortilla tightly and cut each roll in half to serve.