Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Spicy Beef

This recipe has special meaning, not for me, but for Em, as spicy beef was her first solid food. Yes, that's what her parents gave her. Screw carrots or bananas, they wanted their daughter to get a full on treatment of real food at an early age. Needless to say, while I do appreciate their efforts, I sometimes wish they would have fed her squash so she would like a little more.This recipe is an adaptation from John, who adapted it from the Chinese Takeout Cookbook, a treasure trove of dishes that he (and I) often use. It also makes a fantastic addition to fried rice as a leftover.
Spicy Beef

1 egg
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon peanut oil
1 pound flank steak thinly sliced across the grain then shredded. (It’s easier to slice the meat if it’s slightly frozen.)

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 carrots and 2 celery ribs, cut into 2 inch julienne
Or 2 cups broccoli

For the sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chili paste with garlic
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water

1 or 2 whole scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon sesame oil or hot sesame oil (optional)

Combine first four ingredients for marinade and mix until smooth. Add shredded beef and set aside for 30 minutes.  Combine sherry, sugar, chili paste, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and water for sauce.

To a heated wok add 1/2 cup peanut oil. When hot, add the beef and stir-fry about 2 minutes until it loses its pink color. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of oil. Add garlic and ginger, stir-fry 30 seconds. Add vegetables and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add sauce and scallions and stir. Return beef to wok and heat thoroughly, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil if desired. Serve immediately.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chicken Noodle Soup

I know I wrote about chicken noodle soup before, but it recently came up again when Emily came down with something awful (thankfully not H1N1). Few things elicit a response that soup brings from people, especially when ill. It still remains one of my fondest food-related memories, and I am more than happy to make a pot of soup in hopes that it will lift one's spirit.

As far as the soup goes, the application is simple enough. Cook chicken while making stock, shred chicken, drain stock, add vegetables and other wanted ingredients, and consume. There is much debate as to the actual stock making process, and I approach this one of two ways. The first is a more time consuming process, actually separating the breast meat, thighs, and drumsticks from the rest of the chicken. Use the remaining bones to make the stock. This allows you to have perfectly poached meat by adding the rest at a later time. Good fun, but it does take a lot longer. The second, more time-friendly approach is to just plop the whole chicken in and slowly extract flavor from the bones, making a stock and cooking the chicken all at once. Since I usually do not get a heads up on when someone is going to be sick, I prefer this way.

Variations are, of course, pretty much open to interpretation. I enjoy the classic application of a mirepoix along with some mixed veggies. But feel free to add whatever you like to this tasty concoction. In the end, it's all about hearty comfort.

Chicken Noodle Soup

1 whole chicken, 4-5 pounds
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon peppercorns
4 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, chopped into 4 pieces
1 celery stalk, chopped into 4 pieces
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 T olive oil
1 chicken bullion cube

3 carrots, large dice
2 celery stalks, large dice
1 large onion, large dice
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 16oz bag frozen mixed vegetables
3 tablespoons butter
1 16oz bag egg noodles
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 t dried)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large pot with oil over medium high heat and add chicken, letting brown for about four minutes on each side. Add the single carrot, celery, garlic, and onion, as well as any trimmings from the other vegetables. Add water to cover by two inches. Place the bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme sprigs in either a tea ball or a piece of cheesecloth wrapped in string. Add to the pot along with the bullion cube. Bring the water to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-low so it just continues to bubble. Cook until chicken is cooked through, about 1 and a half hours. If the water level drops below the chicken, add a bit more to cover (it helps if the water is warm).

Remove chicken from stock and transfer to a plate. Let cool for about 20 minutes before shredding chicken into bite sized chunks. Drain the stock into a large bowl and wipe pot clean.

Return pot to medium heat and add butter. Add carrot, celery, and onion, sauté for about 3 minutes until the onions just start to wilt. Add garlic, stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add the chicken to heat it through, and then add stock. You do not need to add all of the stock if you prefer a more chunky soup, just save the rest for a later application. Let the soup come to a boil and reduce heat to low so it just barely simmers. Cook for about 30 minutes or until veggies are tender.

Meanwhile, bring another large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and add your egg noodles. Boil them until still pretty al-dente (this helps prevent them from turning to mush later). Drain the noodles and rinse to stop the cooking. Add frozen veggies to the soup, return to a simmer, then add the noodles and thyme. Let cook for about 15 more minutes and then season with salt, pepper, and more thyme if you desire. This recipe makes a lot, but chicken noodle soup freezes quite well and keeps for about 3 months.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Coffee Cake Muffins

It's no secret that I love breakfast. If I ever open a restaurant, its going to serve breakfast. And that's it. Breakfast is probably my favorite time of the weekend, a time when I have some peace in the kitchen to just whip up something tasty. The dog lies at my feet, coffee brews, and life is wonderful. I don’t know if everyone else enjoys this time of the morning like I do, but it sure helps me recharge during the weekend.

One of my favorite things to do for breakfast is bake. Cinnamon rolls, biscuits, you name it, I do it. However, with the recent trend of us eating a bit more healthy, I have been banned from some of my normal concoctions. So I did what all (read: one) cooks do in this situation, I subscribed to Cooking Light. Of the healthy magazines, I find it probably the best at the moment (every other one seems obsessed with using at least one box o'junk in a recipe). I found their coffee cake which had some praises, and also some glaring flaws. I made them according to the recipe/rewrites the first time, and they were pretty darn good (I decided to make them into muffins). For a light muffin. But I wanted fireworks in your mouth good. So I adjusted the recipe to what I knew about muffins, keeping in mind that making light muffins is a delicate process, one false step and you either get bricks or saw dust. Not on the menu.

These muffins came out great, and I am happy to say they will join my regimen of normal breakfast baking. I also managed to make them slightly lighter than Cooking Light made them, bringing them in at 200 calories per muffin (batch makes 12).

Coffee Cake Muffins

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 egg whites
1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.

Place white sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended, about 5 minutes. Add egg whites, beating well after addition. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt) in a bowl, slowly add to mixer and beat well.

Lightly coat a 12-muffin tin with cooking spray. Spread half of batter evenly into each muffin tin. Sprinkle half of cinnamon streusel over batter. Spread remaining batter over the streusel. Top with remaining streusel.

Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. let cool about 5 minutes before removing from tin. Enjoy!


Monday, September 14, 2009

Spicy Corn Salsa (and I mean spicy)

Cooking is a process of trial and error. Sometimes your dish is great, and sometimes you try to return it from certain doom. When I worked in a bakery, we made a tomato/pizza soup. It was pretty straightforward except for the seasoning. I (and my coworkers) found it to be a little bland. Now, this is an instance of me not really having control of the situation, yet I managed to make it even worse. I went to season the soup with pepper and plop, the lid was not on and a bunch went right into the soup. Fishing out what I could, I still had an extremely peppery pizza soup that was not going to be served. So what did I do? Well, I could add salt because it would cause an entirely different problem. I instead took the idea from someone that sugar would counter it. Yes, certainly did, but I missed the fact that acidity would have countered the sugar. So the soup turned out sweet, peppery, and I still could not serve it.

Point is, repairing dishes is something that either works or fails miserably, but no matter, you have to try. I think what makes people hesitant to get in the kitchen is the possibility of failure. That should not deter you from trying things, learning, and growing as a cook. Some of the dishes I make go down in symbolic and literal flames. It just happens.

The other night during one of my leftover kicks, I decided to use the previous nights leftover grilled corn to make a salsa for the tacos I was making. I would go with black bean and corn, but I had no black beans. So, roasted jalapeno (got some from a friend), corn, and onion salsa. Warmed and served over tacos. I roasted and peeled my jalapenos, and then did what I normally do, I tasted one. It was not that hot, so I left the membrane in and chopped up two for the salsa. Heh. This stuff turned out great, but it threatened to burn a hole in my mouth after a few bites. I added some sour cream to it and loved it even more. But I might take out the membranes next time, just in case.

Spicy Corn Salsa

1 tablespoon butter
4 ears leftover grilled or boiled corn, kernels cut off cob (or 2 cups cooked corn kernels)
2 jalapenos, roasted, seeded, peeled, and diced
1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 t lime juice
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper

In a medium skillet over medium heat, add butter until foaming. Add onion and cook until just soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, followed by corn. Cook until corn is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Add jalapeno and red pepper, stirring frequently. Add lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper to season. Turn off heat and add cilantro and sour cream. Serve as a side relish or over tacos. Enjoy.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Risotto with Olives, Capers, and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

When I made my oven dried tomatoes, I all along had an idea to pair them with something salty. I have made puttanesca a few times with chicken or even tuna, but this was my first "deconstructed" attempt using some of the similar flavors. Ok, that sounds like I planned this huge meal weeks ahead. Actually, I looked into what I had in my fridge and used what was available.

I like to make things into risotto, it's such a good dish and once you make it a few times it's like riding a bike. I was petrified of it when I first made it, but after making it I found it to be fantastically simple and delicious. The other thing that really kicks it off in my household is how downright good it is for you. When something tastes like you made it with cream but offers very little in terms of fat, it goes over well. I paired it with some easy grilled chicken for a great meal.

Mediterranean Risotto

2 tablespoons butter
2 cups Aborio rice
½ cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
8 ounces kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup parsley
½ teaspoon red pepper flake
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Place the stock in a medium pot over medium heat to have it hot to add to the risotto. Heat butter over medium heat in a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add rice and coat with the butter, cooking the rice until lightly browned and the pot smells slightly nutty, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and stir until evaporated.

Add two ladles of hot stock into rice, stirring constantly. Let cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. If the mixture is bubbling like crazy, turn the heat down a bit. When the liquid has been absorbed repeat with 1-2 ladles more of stock. Repeat this process until about 7 cups of the liquid has been used. Taste the risotto for doneness; it should be slightly al dente. If it's too crunchy, add another ladle of stock and repeat. When the risotto is still slightly crunchy and loose (remember, it will continue to thicken and cook after this), turn off the heat. Add the olives, capers, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, and red pepper flake and stir to combine. Add the cheese and stir until just melted. Taste the risotto and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve, topped with oven roasted tomatoes. Enjoy.


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