Trouble With Toast

Recipe: Thai Curry Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Green Beans

January 27, 2010
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Every culture seems to have its own special version (or ten) of “chicken and rice.”  The Spaniards have arroz con pollo and paella, the Creoles have jambalaya, the Italians have risotto, and of course, the Chinese have fried rice.  And that’s really just the broad-brush beginning of the story – there are infinite varieties of chicken (or really any kind of protein) and rice, and I pretty much love ‘em all.

This Thai curry was a great version of chicken and rice.  As with all coconut-based curries (in my opinion, anyway), there was a really nice balance of sweet and spicy.  I loved that the veggies each added a unique textural element to the dish – the sweet potatoes were soft and tender, and the green beans added crunch.  The lime juice and basil added at the end kept the whole thing really nice and fresh (I think without them, the meal would have felt a little to heavy and rich).  This recipe doesn’t take a whole lot of time, but the chicken comes out very tender and moist – making this a perfect one-pot weeknight meal.  Enjoy!  Oh, I served this with basmati rice, which was delightful, but it would also work with brown rice or really any other kind you have in the pantry.

  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into ¾ inch chunks
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into ¼ inch slices
  • 6 ounces green beans
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh basil

Bring coconut milk, stock, fish sauce, curry paste, and sugar to boil in large saucepan over medium high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add potatoes and simmer, covered, until nearly tender, about 8 minutes.  Add chicken and beans to pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and potatoes and beans are tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir in lime juice and basil.  Season with salt and pepper.


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Recipe: The Best Blueberry Muffins Ever, Period, End of Story

January 26, 2010
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Last weekend was my last truly lazy one for a long time – my triathlon training starts this coming Saturday, so most of my mornings from here on out will involve getting up early to ride and run with the team.  So, taking full advantage of my lack of responsibilities, I spent the past Saturday morning lounging in my jammies and watching cooking shows on public television.

It just so happened that America’s Test Kitchen was focusing on breakfast items – specifically, French omelets and blueberry muffins.  I was particularly interested in their discussion of blueberry muffins, since they never seem to meet my lofty expectations.  They rarely have enough blueberry flavor, but the ATK pros asserted that simply adding more berries doesn’t solve the problem (since that just weighs the muffins down by adding too much moisture).  Texture-wise, most blueberry breakfast treats are either too dense or too crumbly; the ATK cooks talked a lot about overmixing, and how the formation of too much gluten can really muck up a muffin.  So what were the proposed solutions?  For mega-blueberry flavor without extra moisture or weight, they made a concentrated jam with half of the recipe’s berries and then swirled it into the batter at the end.  To avoid textural problems, the folks at ATK swore up and down that a) beating the egg/sugar mixture at a moderate pace for 80 strokes was the perfect amount of mixing, and b) that folding the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients JUST until the dry ingredients were moistened would avoid any excess gluten.  I was skeptical that these nitpicky suggestions would yield any tangible (or, tasteable) results, but I was determined to give it a go.

The end product?  The best. Blueberry. Muffin. EVER.

I know I can be prone to hyperbole, but that statement is no exaggeration.  The flavor was incredible – very berry-y, and not cloyingly sweet (the citrus kick from the topping was a really nice touch).  The texture was spot-on, with just the right amount of moistness and a perfect ratio of crusty top portion.  I don’t know what else to say, other than that these muffins were the BOMB DIGGITY, and they really only required one or two extra steps.  I guarantee that the minimal additional work will be WELL worth it when you bite into these delicious pastries.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Lemon Sugar Topping

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Zest from one lemon (about 1 ½ teaspoons)

Muffins

  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 1/8 cups sugar, plus one teaspoon
  • 2 ½ cups AP flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Stir the sugar and zest together until combined; set aside.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick spray.  Bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 teaspoon sugar to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, mashing berries with a spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to ¼ cup, about 6-8 minutes.  Transfer to bowl and cool to room temperature, 10-15 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl.  Whisk remaining 1 1/8 cups sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds (remember, 80 strokes).  Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined.  Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined.  Using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened.  The batter will be very lumpy with spots of dry flour; do not overmix!

Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to divide batter equally among muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly).  Spoon teaspoon of cooked berry mixture into center of each mound, pushing it below the surface.  Using chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure eight motion.  Sprinkle lemon sugar evenly over muffins.

Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, about 17-19 minutes, rotating muffin tin (front to back) halfway through cooking time.  Cool muffins in tin for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool 5 more minutes before serving.


Recipe: Sweet Chili-Glazed Tofu with Cabbage

January 25, 2010
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Our current living arrangement has us sharing space with my parents about four nights a week.  Most of the time, this is a fantastic situation for all involved – I get to cook, everyone gets to eat, and we all go to bed happy.  Sometimes, though, my favorite cooking styles and/or ingredients are a little “out there” for my folks.  For example, on the evening I made this particular recipe, my dad called from the office to find out what was for dinner.  My mom’s response?  “Some tofu shit.”  I had my work cut out for me.

Thankfully, this America’s Test Kitchen recipe was a great dish to help turn my parents into tofu lovers.  Some of their hesitation had to do with texture, but draining and dredging the tofu and then pan-frying it over high heat allowed it to develop a crunchy outer crust.  Crisping up the garlic and sprinkling it on top of the finished dish also added a nice textural element (not to mention the fact that it gave the frying oil some extra flavor).  I was a little worried about the cabbage – shockingly, I couldn’t find any bok choy at my local supermarket, so I used a large, yellowish cabbage of unknown origin.  Thankfully, the flavor was pretty mild and it didn’t turn into mush.  The sauce for this dish is killer, with great salty, sweet, and spicy notes.

At the end of dinner, everyone’s plates were licked clean, and my dad even talked about bragging to his cardiologist about his tofu consumption.  I may not be able to sneak tofu into every meal, but it’s nice to know that when cooked properly, it can be a real winner.

  • 1 14 ounce block firm tofu, cut into 1 inch planks
  • ¼ cup chili garlic sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 head cabbage (bok choy is best, but any variety should do the trick)
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin

Cut tofu planks and arrange on paper towel-lined plate.  Let drain 15 minutes.  Whisk chili sauce, soy sauce, ginger, and ½ teaspoon cornstarch in bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium high heat until just smoking.  Add cabbage and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain in colander.

Add remaining oil and garlic to pan and cook until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes.  Use slotted spoon to transfer garlic to paper towel-lined plate.

Spread remaining cornstarch in shallow plate.  Pat tofu dry and season with salt and pepper.  Dredge in cornstarch, shaking off excess.  Cook tofu in garlic oil, turning occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes.  Pour off oil from pan.  Add chili sauce mixture and drained cabbage to skillet and toss to combine.  Top with garlic chips.


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Recipe: Green Chicken Masala

January 20, 2010
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When Jason and I were visiting DC for our honeymoon, we had a late dinner at Rasika, an upscale Indian restaurant.  We enjoyed creative cocktails, delicious palak chaat (a crispy spinach dish, sooooo good), chicken tikka masala, garlic naan, and some incredibly spicy goan fish curry (with the most perfectly cooked mahi mahi I’ve ever had).  The real star of the meal, though, was the green chicken masala that Jason ordered.  The meat was tender, the sauce was simultaneously spicy and refreshing…it was just a superb dish.

Since Jason couldn’t stop talking about his delicious meal, I decided to search for something similar to make at home.  Lo and behold, in a back issue of Food and Wine, I found Chef Vikram Sunderam’s recipe for green chicken masala.  Victory!  I gathered up all of the ingredients and set to work.  The recipe itself is quite simple, with “saute, simmer, and stir” being the primary cooking method.  The herbs and spices made the kitchen smell so damn good, and as I was winding down with the preparations, I absolutely couldn’t wait to dive into my exciting, restaurant-quality dinner.

Well…close, but no cigar.

The dish was very tasty, and the chicken was crazy tender, but there was really no spicy kick at all.  I was somewhat suspicious when I read the recipe and it only called for one seeded jalapeno, so now I know to trust my instinct and use something hotter.  I should have known that a mainstream mag would dumb the dish down somewhat, to account for those who have a low spice threshold.  Despite the lack of tongue-scorching, I definitely want to make this dish again and see if I can get it closer to the real thing.  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

  • 2 cups cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup mint leaves
  • 1 jalapeño, coarsely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • Kosher salt
  • Basmati rice, for serving

In a blender, combine the cilantro, mint, jalapeño, garlic, lemon juice and water and puree until smooth.  In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken and turmeric and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden in spots, about 7 minutes. Add the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves and cook for 1 minute. Add the cilantro puree and coconut milk, season with salt and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until the sauce is slightly reduced and the chicken is tender, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with basmati rice.


Recipe: Horseradish-Crusted Salmon with Cucumber Salad

January 14, 2010
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I have a love-hate relationship with salmon.  I love that it is affordable, healthy, and fairly quick and easy to prepare.  I hate that, perhaps due to its ubiquitous nature, salmon doesn’t always cry out for new and interesting preparations.  Therefore, I tend to get bored with it fairly quickly and end up eschewing it in favor of more unique (and expensive) seafood options.

This recipe is a great way to zing up your salmon.  I’m not normally a huge horseradish fan, but it is mellowed by the sour cream and gives the fish a subtle kick.  We normally have arguments in our house about how “done” the salmon should be (dad and husband prefer the fish cooked more, while mom and I lean toward medium rare), but the coating protects the fish and allows for high heat cooking (which crisps and browns the breadcrumb mixture) without drying out the flesh.  The result was tasty, flaky-firm salmon and a creamy-yet-refreshing cucumber salad.  The dish was also successful served cold the next day for lunch.

  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup non-creamy horseradish
  • 2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 slices white sandwich bread
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 salmon filets, each 6-8 ounces and uniform thickness
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • 3 cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle portion and heat to 450 degrees.  Combine 3 tablespoons sour cream, 3 tablespoons horseradish, mustard, and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a bowl.

Pulse bread, butter, and remaining horseradish in food processor until coarsely ground.  Pat salmon dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Brush top of salmon with sour cream mixture.  Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over salmon, pressing to adhere.

Bake salmon on rimmed baking sheet until crumbs are golden and edges of fish flake when gently pressed, about 15-20 minutes (depending on thickness).

Meanwhile, whisk remaining sour cream, dill, and lemon juice in large bowl.  Add cucumbers and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper. 

 


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Recipe: Pineapple Pork Fried Rice

January 13, 2010
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Lately, I crave the savory and the salty WAY more than the sweet (which is funny, since I used to be a chocoholic).  The good news about this recipe, which again comes from America’s Test Kitchen (modified slightly by yours truly), is that it caters to all sorts of cravings.  The meat and the soy sauce (among other things) definitely provide a salty kick , and then the pineapples and hoisin sauce follow up with a nice sweetness.  When you add the nuttiness of brown rice and sesame oil, this fried rice is incredibly complex and satisfying.  And it couldn’t be easier to throw together, especially if you have a nice big wok.

Leftovers were also a tasty treat, which is one of the hallmarks of a successful recipe (for me, anyway) and one I will definitely make again.  You can certainly use real eggs (two beaten, if you do so), and you could switch out the pork for chicken or shrimp or tofu or just veggies (adjusting the cooking time accordingly, of course).  This is a great weeknight meal, so enjoy!

  • 1 pound boneless center cut pork chops, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce
  • 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 6 scallions, white parts sliced thin, green parks cut into ½ inch pieces
  • ½ cup Egg Beaters
  • ¼ cup hoisin sauce
  • 1 8-ounce can pineapple chunks with juice
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • Two cups prepared rice

Combine pork, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and chili-garlic sauce in bowl.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large wok over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add pork mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about three minutes.  Transfer to bowl.

Add remaining oil to wok and cook scallion whites until softened, about one minute.  Add Egg Beaters and cook, stirring vigorously, until scrambled, about one minute.  Transfer to bowl with pork.

Add hoisin sauce, pineapple, juice, sesame oil, remaining soy sauce, and rice to wok and cook until heated through.  Stir in pork and egg mixture and toss until heated through.  Garnish with scallion greens and serve immediately. 


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Recipe: Pasta with Butternut Squash, Spinach, and Prosciutto

January 11, 2010
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Before flying home from DC last week, I hit up the local Borders for some foodie reading material.  I was heading for my usual picks (Bon Appetit and Food and Wine) when I saw an America’s Test Kitchen publication that promised nearly a hundred tasty meals (all printed on glossy detachable recipe cards) that could be prepared in 30 minutes or less.  I grabbed it and spent the entire flight clipping the cards and trying to decide which dish to prepare first.

I settled on this pasta dish, since it looked fresh and light (which was exactly what I needed after our gluttonous honeymoon) – I adapted it slightly, and it turned out beautifully.  The sweetness of the squash is tempered by the saltiness of the prosciutto, and vice versa.  There’s no real “sauce” to speak of, but the wine/stock and butter coat the pasta and give it some moisture and flavor (you can also reserve some pasta cooking liquid and add it if you feel that the dish is too dry).  Everyone really enjoyed this quick and healthy weeknight meal, and you can certainly tweak it to suit your taste.

Sorry there’s no photo – this meal was scarfed down way too quickly!  If you’re really curious, it should look something like this.

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
    6 slices deli prosciutto, cut into quarter-inch strips
    1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled & cut into half-inch chunks
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
    1/2 cup white wine
    1 cup chicken stock
    1 pound campanelle pasta (I couldn’t find campanelle, so I used farfalle)
    4 cups baby spinach
    kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil & cook the pasta according to the package instructions, until al dente.  While the pasta is cooking, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in large skillet, over medium heat.  Add the prosciutto & cook for about 10 minutes, or until brown & crisp.  Transfer to a paper towel lined plate & set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet & add the squash.  Cook for 10 minutes, or until softened & beginning to brown.  Add the thyme & cook for an additional minute.  Stir in the wine & simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.  Add the chicken broth & cook until the sauce begins to thicken, about 4 minutes.

Drain the pasta & pour it back into the pot.  Add in the spinach, the butternut squash mixture & the reserved prosciutto.  Toss until the spinach wilts.  Season with salt & pepper to taste & serve.


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2010: A Food Odyssey

January 7, 2010
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Thanks to a well-timed honeymoon, my new decade started with some amazing culinary experiences in our nation’s capital.  I am extremely fortunate to have broken bread at Churchkey, Matchbox, Rasika, Palena, Jaleo, and Proof, and really, there wasn’t a bad meal to be had during our entire trip to DC.  There were so many highlights, and I know I am super lucky to have had these and many other food experiences over the past year.

So…what about 2010?  What does the year hold in store from a culinary perspective?  Here are my food “resolutions” for the first year of this new decade:

* Eat less meat – More specifically, my biggest goal is to prepare at least one vegetarian dinner each week.  I’m already pretty good about meatless breakfasts (I eat a lot of yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, and soy sausage), and I’d consider it a bonus if I could incorporate some veggie lunches as well.  This is a small gesture, I realize, but hopefully it will start me on a path that will involve healthier and more eco-friendly habits.

* Master the art of breadmaking – Prior to 2009, the thought of making my own bread was totally horrifying.  Then, not only did I acquire a breadmaker, but I actually managed to bake a homemade loaf without any gadgetry!  My first couple of attempts have been far from perfect, but I am determined to keep at it and bake healthy and delicious bread on the regular.

* Attempt to make cheese – I’m not going to turn into a milkmaid or anything, but I’m told that homemade ricotta is pretty darn simple and tasty.  Once I get the hang of that, maybe there are other cheeses that I can explore.

* Eat at Woodfire Grill – Due to Chef Kevin Gillespie’s popularity and success on Top Chef, reservations have been really difficult to come by.  While I am thrilled that a local chef is enjoying an increase in business, I hope that calorie- and budget-related resolutions cause the crowds to taper off, allowing me to score a table by February or March.

* Perfect Chef Vikram Sunderam’s recipe for chicken green masala – This is a recent addition/obsession, but I am determined to give it the ol’ college try.

* Reduce waste – While my husband and I are pretty good about meal-planning and eating leftovers, we can always improve in terms of not throwing food away unnecessarily.  I’m thinking about things like dating ground spices (or, better yet, buying small quantities of whole spices and grinding them myself), keeping the fridge/freezer organized so nothing gets overlooked, and shopping smarter (meaning, smaller trips to the market more often, and not buying groceries while hungry).

* Buy a whole fish and take it apart (and use as much of it as possible) – Every year, I say that I’m going to do this.  2010 is the year when I actually accomplish the goal, I’ve decided.  Fish is so good for you, but it is VERY expensive.  Buying a whole fish is pound-for-pound cheaper, and I can definitely find uses for the “nasty bits,” since my husband won’t eat the head or tail or skin or anything that reminds him that the fish was once alive.  I just need to sharpen my knives (another resolution, actually) and get down to business.

* Continue the “Personality Profile” series, focusing more on Atlanta-based food figures – This one is pretty self-explanatory.  I have so much fun conducting the interviews and writing up the stories, and it is such an interesting break (for me AND for you, I imagine) from the usual recipes and restaurant reviews.  If anyone has any ideas or contacts, feel free to hit me up.

* Try to make homemade pasta – I’ve already done gnocchi, but now I’d like to attempt some sort of filled pasta, perhaps ravioli.  I have more counter space now, and it would be great to have fresh, scratch-made noodles to go with the various homemade sauces I make.

* Explore my neighborhood’s ethnic dining scene – There is a large Korean population where I live, but international restaurants of all sorts surround me, and I’ve not given them their due.  That is going to change ASAP.

I think that’s enough for now, though if I accomplish all of those tasks by mid-year, perhaps I’ll add a few more.  How about you?  Any food-related resolutions/goals/hopes/dreams for the coming year?  Share them in the comments!


Recipe: Sesame Chicken with Gingery Bok Choy

January 5, 2010
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Happy 2010 to everyone!  So, are we calling this year two thousand and ten, or are we calling it twenty ten?  Whatever we’re calling this year, I am starting it (only a few days late) by eating healthy.  I know, I know, EVERYONE says that they’re going to eat healthy and lose weight and get in shape and lose a zillion pounds.  But, at least for me, eating healthy is something that I strive to do on a regular basis, and I know I can do it.

This is a recipe I tried out about two months ago, and it definitely fits the bill for healthy eating.  Note the use of super-flavorful ingredients like ginger and jalapeno, which both allow you to add flavor without adding a ton of fat and calories.  If you like the chicken but want a little something different, it is also really tasty when sliced on top of a salad (also a great use for leftovers, if you have any).  Enjoy!

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 8 small chicken cutlets (1 1/4 pounds total)
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 heads baby bok choy (about 1 pound), quartered
  • 1 jalapeno (preferably red), sliced (seeded for less heat, if desired)

In a bowl, whisk together the egg whites, sesame seeds, ¼ cup of the cornstarch, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Dip the chicken in the batter and shake off the excess.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken and cook until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side; transfer to a plate. Repeat with 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil and the remaining chicken.  Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bok choy and cook, turning, until just beginning to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce mixture and jalapeño and cook until the liquid has thickened slightly and the bok choy is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve with the chicken.


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