I love going to the library. I love the sense of being surrounded by an untold number of books with an endless supply of stories. Fiction, non-fiction, historical, autobiographical, cookbooks, travel books, etc. I love it all. As a kid, going to the library was always one of my favorite things to do. I typically was up too late at night reading and got in trouble more often for that than misbehaving. I loved the public library for their large array of books and I loved the familiarity of my small elementary school library, where I checked out the same books on horses and cats so many times that at one point, the librarian gave me my favorite books when doing a spring cleaning, since I had been the only person to check them out in at least a decade. I ate up the American Girl series for breakfast and finished off dessert with The Babysitter’s Club. I loved getting involved in the stories of girls around my age doing really cool things and having awesome adventures and I often made attempts at writing my own American Girl-style stories.

As an adult post-college, I have found it harder to convince myself to read. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, but at the end of a long day I’m more inclined to zone out on Facebook or Pinterest, then get involved in a book. Part of it is because I know that if I enjoy what I’m reading, I can’t stop; the other part of me reads so sporadically that I lose the essence of the book between reads. I’ve stuck to non-fiction or philosophical books recently that can easily be picked up approximately once a week and the storyline isn’t interrupted. However, I think my love of libraries and books has been transferred into a hobby of my mother’s – checking out a slew of cookbooks to search for recipes and inspiration. Will and I have started making an Amazon list of cookbooks we want to buy, feeding off of this habit I’ve formed from checking them out of the library. But there’s really nothing more exciting than opening a cookbook and know that you’re sharing an experience with anyone else who has checked it out before you, sifting through the pages and making recipes that you otherwise may not be inclined to. This set of Chinese dishes are borrowed from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook and are another reflection of creative cookbooks that catch our eye.

Oh and here’s a gem from when we made these:
Will: “I’m ready to have you WOK me through it!” (when preparing to start cooking the chicken in the wok…)

Cooking Notes for Chicken: Like many Chinese recipes, this called for us to use Chinese rice wine, which we have not managed to find and purchase yet. We’ve learned dry sherry can work as a substitute, so that’s what we used. We also had the option of using chicken breasts or thighs, so we stuck with breasts since that’s what’s typically in our freezer. We skipped out on the Sichuan pepper and using 8-10 dried red chilies just because we weren’t really feeling like burning our faces off. We also used sunflower oil throughout these two recipes, since it is similar to peanut oil in that it is high-heat resistant.

Kung Pao Chicken (adapted from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook; serves 4)
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp dry sherry
2 1/2 tsp cornstarch, separated
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp sunflower oil
3-4 dried red chilies
3 scallions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

Begin by marinating the chicken. Stir together the soy sauce, dry sherry and 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved. Pour into a bag, then add the chicken, smushing gently to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

While chicken marinates, prep the sauce. Combine the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, sugar and 1 tsp cornstarch, stirring until sugar and cornstarch are dissolved, then set aside. Begin to heat your wok, testing to see when it’s ready by flicking some water on it and seeing if it sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the sunflower oil and swirl to coat the base of the wok. Add the chilies and stir-fry for about 30 seconds or until they have just begun to blacken and the oil is a little fragrant. Add the chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink, 2-3 minutes. Add the scallion whites, garlic and ginger, stir-frying for another 30 seconds. Stir in the peanuts and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle the scallion greens on top and enjoy!

Cooking Notes for Scallions: We had a hard time getting the dough to cooperate, so we had to keeping adding flour and water before finally getting it balanced. Like with all breads, it takes a little extra to make it work! We also used more than the amount of scallions it called for and probably used a lot more oil than we needed to fry them. However, they were pretty good and we did our best to follow the recipe below.

Scallion Pancakes (adapted from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook; serves 6)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2+ warm water
2 tbsp veggie oil
1-2 tbsp sunflower oil, for frying
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt

Oil a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a separate large bowl, mix the flour and water until a smooth dough forms (if it’s sticky, add more flour little by little and if it’s not sticky, add a little more warm water, a teeny bit at a time). Mix until the dough isn’t sticky and then roll it out onto a lightly floured work surface or pastry mat, then knead for 5 minutes. Place the dough in the greased mixing bowl and turn until it is lightly covered with oil on all sides. Cover with a lightly damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes have passed, flour your work surface again and roll out the rested dough. Divide the dough in half, then roll each half into a 1-inch thick cylinder. With a pastry scraper or butter knife, slice the dough into 2-inch long segments. Dust your rolling pin with flour and roll each piece into a 5-inch circle. Lightly brush the top of each circle with veggie oil, then sprinkle with scallions and salt. Roll up each circle into a cylinder again, making sure not to lose any scallions! Coil the dough so that it resembles a snail, then flatten into 1/4-inch thick circles with your rolling pin.

Place the rolled out pancakes on a plate with parchment paper in between them and repeat until all pancakes are prepped. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tbsp of veggie oil. Once heated, work in batches to pan-fry the pancakes, cooking until golden-brown about 2-3 minutes on each side. If they puff up, gently push them back down with your spatula. If you run out of oil between batches, feel free to heat more up as it creates the lovely fried flavor of the pancakes! Serve with a dipping sauce or your dinner and enjoy!

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