I love my besties Nga, Nicol, Melissa, Tanya and Tara. We have an uncommon bond that in our ever-so-humble opinions is enviable. We are all spread through the mid-west these days from KC to OKC but we try to get together as a group at least once a year though it’s difficult since between the 5 of them they have 16 kids. I don’t have any kids but I don’t have any money either so that evens us out.
We all love to cook and more importantly, we love to eat! We always find a way to include food into our adventures together. It is central in our homes as well, we all know the importance of eating dinner together… even if it’s just dinner for two. Talking and laughing over a bunch of delicious food is the best way to communicate!
When you get the 6 of us together it is “total insanity”, to quote one of my favorite movies, Superstar starring the great Molly Shannon. I can command the attention of an entire room with my “indoor” voice, so when you add 5 other girls, er uh women, that can rival even me it tends to get pretty loud. Lots of stories, which means lots and lots of laughter. Boisterous, border-line obnoxious, guffawing laughter. Baaaahahaha, makes me laugh out loud just thinking about them.
A little over three years ago the six of us were able to meet for an impromptu luncheon in our hometown of Newton, KS on a late Sunday afternoon. Now when I say there is no where to eat on a late Sunday afternoon in Newton, KS I mean, there is NO WHERE to eat on a late Sunday afternoon. Except Applebee’s. Just the boring old Neighborhood Restaurant, king of the cookie cutter eateries. Well, let me tell you how unexcited the server was when we told her we would be there for a couple hours and how every customer in the joint stared at us in horror as the girls ordered their drinks and we discussed appetizers… loudly. By the way, did you know there are no pool halls in heaven???
We don’t mean to be annoying, but we also don’t feel bad for soaking up every second we have with each other. Life is short people!
It was at this luncheon that I discovered one of my favorite things to eat: Wonton Tacos! At Applebee’s, really? Yes! We each picked two appetizers to share and enjoy and Tanya ordered the Wonton Tacos. I don’t even remember what I ordered because I fell so flipping hard for those sweet and spicy Asian inspired tacos! I am not sure if anyone else even got to try one, I feel like I ate them all.
After that I made it my mission to make those tasty tacos at home. I made Chris take me the Applebee’s back home at least 4 times just so I could dissect them and take notes… and to devour them of course!
The first time I made them here in my kitchen, was for my birthday back in November when Nicol came up for the weekend. Holy fusion food Batman! They were so gooooood!!! Now I make them for myself whenever I can, as it is fairly time consuming frying all those delicate wonton skins into taco shells. I love them so much I can’t even tell you.
I wanted to make some for my big Oscar Appetizer Party but the number of people were cut drastically by the Blizzard of Oz 2013. I still had all of the ingredients so I decided to try baking the shells in stead of frying them! Brilliant! These turned out fantastic and I ate every single last one of them. Yeah, so what?
They are super easy to make, so here they are, my take on a take out special… only baked 🙂
For the chicken
For the sauce/dressing
For the Asian Slaw
For the wonton cups
Preheat oven to 400°. Place one wonton wrapper into each cup of a muffin tin. No need to grease it, they should come right out with no problem. Bake for about 5 min or until they are just crisp and lightly browned. I did make a couple taco shells as well, I turned a muffin pan over and placed a wonton wrapper diagonally between two of the cups creating a “valley” so to speak. They were pretty good and so, so, so much easier than frying those little suckers.
Wow, some diced chicken breast. Yup. pretty boring as is, but when seasoned with the perfect blend of herbs and spices it can be delicious! Chinese 5 spice will do exactly that for you. It is a wonderful blend of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel. It is warm and slightly spicy. I love it.
In a non-stick skillet heat equal amounts of sesame oil and veg or canola oil over high heat. When the oil just begins to smoke add the chicken and shake the pan several times and stir the chicken once or twice to get it all nicely coated with the oils. Season liberally with Chinese 5 Spice, and some salt and freshly cracked white pepper.
Continue to stir-fry the chicken over med-high heat until it gets all caramelized. Like this!
Add just enough chicken broth or stock to almost cover the chicken and 1 heaping tablespoon of brown sugar. Stir until the brown sugar is dissolved. Cover and let simmer for about 5-7 minutes over medium heat.
While the chicken is simmering, make the saucy dressing. I call it that because it is used as both the sauce for the chicken and the dressing for the slaw. Obviously. I find it’s easiest to make it in a measuring cup or something with a pour spout. Begin with a 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. of rice wine vinegar, 2 tsp. of dry sherry or mirin, 2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce, 2 Tbsp. sesame oil and as much or as little of the chili sauce you might want (it’s pretty hot and once you add it you can’t take it out but you can always add more). I used about 1 Tbsp.Whisk all the ingredients together and stream in 2 Tbsp. of the extra virgin olive oil. Taste it. Take a carrot and dip it in, and taste it. Add whatever you think it needs. It should be slightly sweet and a little spicy and it should have a light sesame flavor. You will know when it’s right because it will taste good! Notice I didn’t salt it. Soy sauce is very salty, it does the job instead.
Pour half of the saucy dressing over the chicken and toss to coat. Simmer uncovered until almost all of the liquid is gone. Remove from heat.
Remove chicken to a bowl, cover with foil to keep warm.
There are a billion ways you could make this slaw. Usually I use finely shredded cabbage when I make the tacos but this time I wanted to give the broccoli slaw a try. I love the pre-shredded slaw options that are out there. I was gonna hit the salad bar for the ingredients but when I saw that the broccoli slaw, which included the shredded carrots and red cabbage, was only $1.39 per bag, I snatched it up. Saving time and money is a most excellent thing.
If you want the slaw spicier, leave the seeds and ribs in the pepper. If you want it milder, use an Anaheim pepper or even a bell pepper, your choice of color. If you aren’t a fan of peppers you can omit them all together. Finely diced cucumber or avocado would be a great substitute. Cilantro really takes this slaw from good to fabulous, plus it is an herb commonly used it both Mexican and Asian cuisine. Food fusion, love it!!! However, if you are not a cilantro fan you can substitute parsley, basil or even mint. Green onions are also a nice addition but as it turned out I didn’t have any.
Put all of the slaw ingredients into a bowl and dress it lightly with the saucy dressing, toss to coat evenly.
Spoon some of the chicken into each cup and top it with some of the slaw. Sprinkle with sesame seeds because they are pretty. These little wonton taco cups are very elegant and remarkably flavorful. I can’t get enough of them! The saucy dressing makes for a great salad as well, just add some lettuce! Or make this super healthy and use lettuce leaves instead of wonton wrappers.
Here are some of the tacos that I made. I have to be honest, they were on point. Although I love the crunchy, bubbly texture of the fried wonton shells, these were crispy and light. A perfect change of pace and a huge time saver!