December 29, 2006 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Help me find a good meal that I (a non-chef) can cook for my girlfriend (loves poultry, asian food, dislikes shellfish) for New Years' Eve.

I just discovered that, due to a change in family travel plans, my girlfriend is going to be here for New Year's Eve. We're not party-animal types, so we'll be staying in, and I'd like to prepare something thoughtful for her. Most of my cooking experience involves things that come out of freezers and go into microwaves, but I'm relatively handy and capable of following directions. She prefers poultry to red meat, is partial to east-asian food, and really isn't picky, but beyond that, we haven't been dating long enough for me to have a solid handle on her culinary preferences (she's let me choose the restaraunts, but she did steer me towards thai and vietnamese more than once). Suggestions for things a relatively inexperienced cook has decent odds of not screwing up that're festive, romantic, and appropriate, and involve poultry and not shellfish?
posted by Alterscape to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a go to recipe that I cook all the time.

It's Pete's Sweet and Sour Curry Chicken Noodle.

You need:
Noodles, preferably udon, but fettucine noodles will do.
Sweet and Sour sauce
Curry powder
half an onion
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
some garlic-ginger paste.

Ok, first cook your chicken in a pan. Make sure it's really hot. You want to make sure that your chicken is seasoned pretty liberally with salt and pepper and some of your curry powder. Maybe 2 tablespoons. Put a little sesame oil in the pan and then cook the crap out of that chicken. When it's done, nice and brown, take it out and dice it up.

Next, cook your noodles. Water + heat + time = cooked noodles. Drain and set aside.

Dice your onion.

Now, in another pan, liberally coat the bottom with sesame oil again. Put your onions in when it's nice and hot. Then add your noodles and your chicken. Let it sit for about a minute, so that your noodles can start to get kind of browned. Then add about another 2 tablespoons of curry powder, about a half tablespoon of ginger-garlic paste, a dash of soy sauce, and about 4 tablespoons of sweet and sour sauce. Stir. Keep cooking for a few minutes.

When everything is all nice and coated in your sauce and it's all nice and bubbling hot, it's done. It's really really good.
posted by geekhorde at 8:45 AM on December 29, 2006

Oh, and a little garlic black bean sauce helps too.
posted by geekhorde at 8:46 AM on December 29, 2006

If she likes Thai, buy some not-quite-from-scratch ingredients and follow the directions. I make green curry from Thai Kitchen mix and it turns out really well (though warning, even the 2 Tbsp/batch amount of spice is pretty hot). It's very easy, all the ingredients are at normal grocery stores, and you can pick and choose which meats to put in. Make some rice (get some good Jasmine rice that you actually steam on the stove for a half hour, not just put in boiling water for three minutes -- you can also do grocery store stuff for this) to go along with it and it works out well.

Warning: do a dry run of rice cooking first to learn how not to burn it.

Anyway, this also applies to similar pre-made sauces and pastes. Pad Thai is pretty easy to do from stuff like this, too.
posted by olinerd at 8:49 AM on December 29, 2006

It's not thai/vietnamese but I like the roast chicken recipe at the bottom of the page from The Morning News. He walks you through every step. I do know how to cook, and I love that do have to like rosemary though.
posted by cabingirl at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2006

Chicken adobo is pretty much idiot-proof. It's Filipino, not Thai or Vietnamese — I don't know if that's "Asian" enough for you — but it's popular and very tasty.

Buy a pack of chicken thighs with the bones still in and the skin still on. Put them in a pot with a one-to-one-to-one mixture of water, vinegar and soy sauce — just enough to cover the chicken — along with a few cloves of garlic, a few bay leaves, and a grating of black pepper. Some people also add maybe a quarter-inch chunk of ginger root. Cover the pot and simmer it all together for around 45 minutes. Then take the thighs out, put them skin-side-up on a broiler pan, and run them under the broiler until the skin is crispy.

Serve it with rice (take olinerd's advice: get the good stuff and do a test run), good beer, and some sort of vegetable. I find cooked greens with garlic and a little lemon juice goes well, although I'm not sure it's authentic.

The long simmering means you don't have to worry about undercooking. You also don't have to worry (within reason) about overcooking, since chicken thighs are moist and stew very well; if the phone rings and you leave them in for an extra 10 or 15 minutes it's not a problem. The only time-sensitive step is the last one, and if you're worried you can skin the chicken thighs and skip it — but the crispy skin is the best part, and it's not hard if you pay attention.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:44 AM on December 29, 2006

Easy smeazy Satay chicken.

Chicken thigh (or chicken breast if you don't want to debone). Debone. Lay out flat, cover with saran wrap. Beat on it with a tenderizing hammer (or the back of a heavy knife if you don't have one). Flip over, administer beating again.

Get some satay sauce (I really like the Lee Kum Kim brand - comes in a glass jar, it's a slurry - mix it well before adding to chicken).

Pan fry on medium-high heat. Done in a few minutes.
posted by porpoise at 10:08 AM on December 29, 2006

Cashew Chicken.

But go one step further and toast the cashews in a pan first. Medium heat, let them get golden brown.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 10:15 AM on December 29, 2006

Two infallible, super-easy hits:

Chicken Chausseur
2 large cans tomato sauce
2 large onions, chopped
3 pound whole chicken with giblets, except liver
1 jar Goya olive, pimento and caper mix, drained but not squeezed dry – to avoid pits, use separate bottles of unstuffed olives, pimentos and capers
no salt – it's in the olive mix

1. Put all ingredients in a heavy covered casserole, bring to a boil and cook over medium heat ½ hour.

2. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook ½ hour.
Serve over rice.

Chinese Oxtail Stew
2 medium oxtails (3-4 lb.) cut in 2" pieces and well trimmed
6 whole sticks cinnamon, broken into 2" pieces
⅓ to ½ cup whole star anise
4-5 tablespoons dark soy sauce
¼ teaspoon MSG
2½ tablespoons sugar

1. Put the meat in a kettle with water to cover, heat to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Drain and rinse the meat and the kettle.

2. Return the meat to the kettle with water to cover, add the cinnamon and star anise, heat to a boil and cook uncovered for 45 minutes over medium heat, occasionally skimming off any scum.

3. Add the soy sauce, MSG and sugar, reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover and cook until the meat is falling off the bones (2 to 3 hours).

4. Remove the meat to a platter. When it's cool enough to handle, remove the fat and bones. Refrigerate the meat and sauce separately overnight.

5. The next day, skim the fat from the sauce and reduce it in a non-stick frying pan. When it starts to thicken, strain out the solids. Continue reducing until thick, almost a syrup (1/2 to 2/3 cup).

Serve over rice.
posted by KRS at 11:03 AM on December 29, 2006

Taste this tonight, see if you like it. If it makes the grade whip it up for you and yours...

1 Package of Asian Egg Noodles
2 tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Boil the noodles per the package directions. In a bowl whisk up everything else until well blended (emulsified). Pour over the noodles. Your done.

If you want to- add some chicken. I like to throw tofu in mine. Good grief, my mouth is watering. Doesn't get much easier than this, looks good and taste better. Best of luck.
posted by bkeene12 at 11:15 AM on December 29, 2006

My favorite romantic dinner is a simple antipasto platter. A plate of good cheese, pickled vegetables, cured meats, good bread, nuts, and olive oil. If you drink, maybe some vinsanto and biscotti or since it is for New Years strawberries and champagne for dessert. If you live in an area with a decent asian market the same idea works well with asian foods. Use boston bib lettuce leaves instead of bread and precooked shredded duck or chicken with some dim sum and pickled condiments. I think that you would be better off spending your time putting together an attractive platter of good food instead of trying to cook something that you aren't sure will work.
posted by calumet43 at 11:54 AM on December 29, 2006

A general piece of advice: If you want to be able to feel really relaxed and secure about what you're cooking for someone else, cook it for yourself first -- I know you don't have a lot of time to do this in this case, but you could, and it really helps prevent disappointment.
posted by redfoxtail at 12:19 PM on December 29, 2006

I happen to be making some chicken soup right now, and it's hard to go wrong with that.

Take a chicken or any part of it, cooked or uncooked. You can brown it in a pan for flavor if you like. Now put that chicken (or parts) in a pot. Cover it with water. Put in enough salt so that it would taste salty, like soup.

Put in other things, like carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, garlic, leeks, corn, or nearly any other thing you can think of that you'd like to eat (no kale crops like broccoli or brussel sprouts, they lend an off flavor.)

Put heat on the bottom of the pot. At some point boiling will happen. Reduce the heat or turn it off briefly. Now you have some work to do: take the skin off the chicken and throw it away. Take the meat off the bones of the chicken (using some forks) and throw the bones away. Put the meat back in the soup pot.

Now skim the oil (chicken fat) off the top of the soup using a spoon. After this is gone you are at liberty to add spices: pepper, rosemary, nutmeg, parsley, minced onion, basil, marjoram, whatever else sounds like it might be good in your soup. Turn the heat back up so that it's simmering. Cover it and reduce the heat to keep it simmering for a while. Taste it every so often and if there's something missing, add some of that thing.

Eventually you will be hungry. Ladle some of your soup into two bowls, cut off a hunk of good bread, and eat it. The nice thing about this recipe is that unless you overfill the pot it's totally stress-free; you hardly have to worry about ingredients at all, it can't burn, it can't cook too long, it's very hard not to cook it long enough, and you know it's going to turn out to be something good to eat.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:29 PM on December 29, 2006

I'm seconding the curry option; there are plenty of pre-made curry pastes (make sure it's a concentrated paste that you need to use maybe a tablespoon or 3 of, not a pint jar of sauce) available from asian groceries and some are available from supermarkets. Pastes are generally ground up raw spices and the like; they're fresh tasting and awesome. Sauces are pre-cooked, contain loads of preservative, sugar and salt and I've never found one that's not disgusting - Chicken Tonight, I'm lookin' at you.

They universally have a basic recipe on the side indicating what else you'll need and what to do with it: some chicken (thigh fillets, not breast - the latter dries out), an onion and a couple cans of coconut cream, some vegetables. Follow the directions to the letter, don't let it stick and it will be good.

I can personally recommend the Maesri brand of cans (tiny things, 50g for a 4-person curry), particularly the massaman; I don't know if they're available where you are. Mae Ploy is OK too but I find it a little bitter. Green curries often extremely hot, red ones medium and yellow are often fairly mild.

Many curries require rice, which can take a little practise but getting take-out rice can be an OK compromise. Another option is to go for a curry with the starch in it already, e.g. a massaman with loads of potato. Additional fish sauce (1tbsp) and shredded kaffir lime leaves are an awesome extra touch in thai curries.

It probably goes without saying if you're not a confident cook: make it tonight as practise.
posted by polyglot at 6:50 PM on December 29, 2006

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