Due to the recent New York Times food section article about David Leong and Springfield-style Cashew Chicken, we're a hot commodity these days. This past weekend, a reporter with Voice of America, Suli Yi (my apologies if I have the first and surname backwards!), contacted me through the blog after reading my posts "Springfield-style Cashew Chicken" and "Let Me Introduce Wing Yee Leong" for my reactions to cashew chicken from the viewpoint of a writer, blogger, and local. After a few emails, on a whim I volunteered to make my own personal take on the dish, Heart-healthy Cashew Chicken and volunteered my own Glenna's Cashew Chicken Casserole, a short cut version that's easy to prepare in advance of entertaining that also contains lots of veggies.
Suli shot the cooking demonstration and interview in my (for once in a long while and I'm liking it) immaculately cleaned kitchen and sunroom and I have to say, as nervous as I thought I would be, he made the whole experience both non-threatening for a camera first-timer and honestly, a lot of fun! Not that I wasn't completely exhausted by the end of the two hours but it was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done. It didn't take long to feel pretty damn comfortable cooking for the camera so move over Paula and Ina! Glenna likes that shit.
The final proof, of course, will be in the pudding so I won't critique my performance until I actually see the video. I know I wasn't completely my normal bubbly self but I didn't feel exactly stiff and freaked out either. To me inside my own head, I felt comfortable but toned down a few notches. Although I do remember by the end that my mouth was getting pretty dry from talking for two hours. I probably should have taken a little water break in between cooking and the sit-down interview, but hey, I learned something for next time, right?
Mr. Radio Professional, Gene the hubby man, said he could tell I was trying really hard not to look at the camera (like I was told--do NOT look directly at the camera) but that I came off pretty well for a first-timer and that I didn't make a fool of myself, which of course was my biggest fear. Let's go with his pre-finished video thoughts, shall we?
For those of you who might be interested in the nitty gritty details of the experience....We completed the cooking segment first. That was where all those years of being from a small town and in 4-H came in handy. I had done a million cooking/cake decorating demos for 4-H meetings and county fairs as a teen, along with presenting some cooking classes for the patients of a local diet doctor a few years ago. That part came easily to me. Like cooking shows on TV, I had everything prepped in duplicate in advance: one set of ingredients in small mis en place bowls, and then each of the three components: chicken, sauce, and rice, all prepared in advance. It worked beautifully because we didn't have to stop filming to wait for chicken to cook or the sauce to thicken.
Pics of my kitchen set up prior to filming:
I picked the burgundy platter for the deep color I thought would look nice on camera and for the shape that I thought would be an appealing frame for the cashew chicken. The white platter was simply as a charger for the burgundy casserole dish I thought would compliment the burgundy platter. I love the little round and square black mis en place bowls, the Asian appeal, with the bright colors. I used them because I enjoy them and they fit well.
I also even set the dining room table in black and pink to carry through with the color scheme but it ended up not being used. No big. Still looks pretty now. I learned the proper placement while working in the hotel business so I didn't have to sweat over how it would look. Utensil bottoms lined up an inch from the placemat edge, with the water glass at the knife tip. Hey hey, nothing you learn in life is ever a waste, right?
The filming itself couldn't have been more fun and Suli was WONDERFUL to work with. He really put me at ease quickly and gave lots of feedback from behind the camera as we went along. Lots of thumbs ups, "Good!", and smiles, and also he was very professional and easy to get along with in gently moving me physically around where he needed me to be for shots, having me repeat motions, slow down, repeat things I was saying. Even though the whole thing was "work" to me, it was also fun and he made it a wonderful experience. I teased him that he was "gentle" when he "took my camera virginity". He told me I was "a natural". It was a mutual suck-up kind of afternoon. What could be more fun?
For the interview part, he placed me in our sunroom with the gauzy curtains as a backdrop in a little chair my grandmother gave me that she always sat in and was my favorite as a kid. That made it feel very special to me and gave me that warm fuzzy that she was with me in spirit. Also, speaking of warm fuzzies. For those of you who knew my dear friend Sherry, from the food blog What Did You Eat?, the burgundy platter and the small round mis en place bowls would have been my birthday gifts to her last fall had we not lost her. Again, another warm fuzzy thinking of how excited Sherry would have been about this opportunity I was blessed with.
The straight interview was the most intimidating. I had nothing to do with my hands!!!!!! It was fun but it was a little more out of my comfort zone to simply look at him past that seemingly, in the moment, planet-sized camera and pretend we were just hanging out chatting. That will be the part I'm the most stiff in, I'm sure. But we'll see.
Afterwards, Suli and Gene and I just hung out in the sunroom for about 40 minutes chatting about this and that, we got to ask lots of questions about his job. He came here from China in 1998, has worked for VOA for the whole time, loves it. He's very much a people person and seems genuinely interested in people of all kinds. He grinned when he said he's visited almost every state now and really gets into hearing people's stories and presenting them in engaging ways. Now that's a born writer!
That my friends, is the tale of my 15 minutes of fame. To end it, here's a pic of me and our new friend: (Shit! Wish I'd had Gene take a couple more to make sure everyone's--mine!--eyes were open!)
Anybody want recipes?
Heart-Healthy Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken
recipe by Glenna Anderson Muse
4-5 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-2" chunks
Salt and Pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 - 2 Tbsp Canola oil, expeller pressed
1 cup Brown Rice
Green onions, chopped
1 14 oz can chicken stock
2 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
1) Steam rice according to package instructions, substituting chicken stock for water.
2) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
3) Put flour into zip-lock baggie. Salt and Pepper chicken chunks generously. Place into baggie with flour and shake around to coat. Let rest for 15 minutes to allow coating to adhere.
4) Saute chicken pieces in batches in oven-proof skillet with canola oil over medium heat until just browned. Removed chicken chunks from pan and drain on paper towels. Place back into skillet (extra oil wiped out) and place into oven while sauce is made.
5) In a sauce pan over medium heat, whisk together chicken stock, corn starch, soy and oyster sauces, and sugar over medium heat. Simmer until sauce thickens. Set aside.
To serve: Layer chicken over rice and cover with sauce. Garnish with cashews and onions
Glenna's Heart-Healthy Cashew Chicken Casserole
recipe by Glenna Anderson Muse
(Great to make ahead when entertaining or a fast "in the oven" meal for the family.)
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1-2 Tbsp canola oil, expeller pressed
4 cups cooked chicken, chunked (Can be chicken chunks made according to heart-healthy cashew chicken recipe or leftover roasted or rotisserie chicken meat)
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 batch cashew chicken sauce from heart healthy recipe
1 tsp Asian spice mix (or 1/2 tsp each: ginger, garlic, and red pepper)
1/2 cup frozen carrots, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen edamame
1 small can water chestnuts, diced
Garnish: Cashews, Green onions, and (optional) chow mein noodles
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
1) Steam rice according to package directions, substituting chicken stock for water. Set aside.
2) Make cashew chicken sauce. Set aside.
3) Over medium heat, saute onion and celery in canola oil until onion is translucent. Set aside.
3) Assemble rest of ingredients and combine all ingredients (except garnishes) together in a large mixing bowl. Transfer into greased 9"x13" casserole baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until heated through. Garnish with cashews, onions, and chow mein noodles if desired.