Make-Your-Own-Dinner-Night (Yay!)

Every now and then the planets align (or maybe they un-align, I don’t know,) and we declare that it’s “make  your own dinner” night.  Everyone in my family is capable of fending for themselves so nobody goes hungry. 

I stopped off at the grocery store this evening, after work, and was amazed to see that they had practically sold out of lettuce.  I saw Rosemarie’s Butter Lettuce Chicken Wraps recipe earlier today and planned on making that tonight but, the last few heads of lettuce in the produce area were so pathetic and wilted that I was forced to change plans. 

I was a little heart-broken but I recovered quickly.  I brought out the wok and got busy.  The whole thing took about one hour.  If I was on my A-game, it might have only taken 45 minutes.  This recipe could serve up to four but I ate two portions!  The rest is sitting in the fridge, ready for me to take to work tomorrow, for lunch.

Sorry, no pictures this time.  I was hungry and I didn’t think that this was going to be worthy of posting.  I was so wrong.  This dish exemplifies everything I love about southeastern Asian cuisine.  It’s a conglomeration of several cuisines…Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese…

Ingredients:

4 chicken thighs

1/3 cup peanut butter

2 Tbs soy sauce

1 ½ Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 tsp Sriracha sauce

3 Tbs sambal garlic chili sauce

3 Tbs cornstarch

½ tsp sesame oil

1 ½ Tbs vegetable oil

2 Tbs fresh ginger, thinly sliced and rough chopped

½ onion, julienne sliced

½ bell pepper, sliced in ¼” strips

1 jalapeño, sliced in rings

½ cup peanuts

1 cup Vietnamese glass noodles (very thin rice noodles)

Directions:

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and debone.  Cut the chicken into tiny pieces.

Add the chicken to a large bowl.

Add the peanut butter, soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, Hoisin sauce, sambal chili garlic sauce and cornstarch to the bowl.  Mix well and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

Boil 4 cups of water in a pot.  Add the glass noodles and stir.  Turn the heat off and wait for the noodles to become soft.  Strain the noodles and shock with cold water.  Set the noodles aside.

Heat a wok at medium/high heat.  Add the sesame oil and vegetable oil.  Add the ginger, onion, bell pepper and jalapeño.  Stir fry a few minutes until the onions and peppers soften.  Remove everything to a bowl.

Add the marinated chicken to the wok.  Stir-fry at high heat for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add a splash of soy sauce to deglaze and stir for another minute.

Add the peanuts and glass noodles.  Turn the heat off and stir to coat everything with the sauce.

Turn out to a serving bowl. 

Top with a little more sambal garlic sauce, (optional).  Serve warm and enjoy the peace and quiet!

Seared Tuna Steaks

Tuna is best served rare or medium rare because overcooked tuna become flaky and dry.  If you want canned tuna, buy a can of tuna. If you want tasty tuna, sear it.

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

     2 Tbs soy sauce

     1 tsp rice wine vinegar

     ¼ tsp Maggi Sesoning

     Juice of ½ lemon

3 frozen tuna steaks (1” thick, 5 ounces each)

1 Tbs olive oil

1 green onion

2 tsp wasabi paste

5 small oranges (mini Mandarin)

Directions:

Thaw the tuna in the refrigerator overnight.

Mix the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Slice the oranges and cut the the slices in half. Arrange the oranges on a serving platter place some small dollops of wasabi paste in the corners of the platter.  Set the platter aside.

Chop the green onions and set aside.

Heat a large stainless steel skillet on the stove at very high heat

Brush the tuna with olive oil.

Gently lay the tuna onto the very hot skillet.  Brush the other side of the tuna steaks with olive oil.

Turn the tuna over after 60 seconds.  Sear for another 45 seconds.

The internal temperature of the tuna should reach about 120° after searing.   The tuna should be white on the outside after searing and bright red in the center.

Top with green onions and serve with stir-fried rice and steamed vegetables.

Cambodian Rice Noodle Stir-Fry

Sometimes I conceive a meal by following my instincts, rather than following a recipe.  It makes me feel like I am creating something brand new.

On this particular weeknight, I allowed my taste buds to tell me what I wanted to make and my mind followed.  I knew I wanted to include shrimp, because I’ve been craving shrimp.  I knew I wanted to use Cambodian rice noodles, because I have had some in my pantry for a few months.  From that launching point, my mind quickly assembled the rest of the items that would bring the dish together.  Pork, vegetables, sesame oil, peanuts, fish sauce, garlic, green onions and so on. 

I resisted the urge to look up recipes on the internet.  I’m not saying that looking up recipes on the internet is cheating but I sometimes find that internet searches just affirm what I already know.  Once a person has made several stir-fry dishes, the process becomes instinctive and intuitive.  Deciding what to include in a stir-fry is only limited by the imagination of the cook.  My imagination and creativity runs deep and I have learned not to think about “success” or “failure”, when cooking.  Maybe that’s because I have become more comfortable in the kitchen over the years, or maybe it’s because I pretend to be fearless when I am creating something.  It could be a little of both. 

I approach stir-frying like I approach painting, in an abstract style. 

When I paint an abstract painting I usually follow this thought process:

What is my state of mind?  How do I want to convey my thoughts and emotions?

That leads to, what colors would be best to get my point across?  What sort of shapes do I see?  What will be the focus of the painting, or will there be a main focus?  Etcetera.  The thinking process goes on as long as I need it to and then my hands start working quickly.

Mix the paint on the pallet.  Lay out my brushes.  Act quickly.  Act without thinking.  Let the creative part of my mind dictate my actions but allow the reasonable part of my mind to make critical decisions. 

Is the finished work a masterpiece?  That’s not for me to decide.  The real question I ask is, “does this satisfy me?”

The same goes with cooking, especially stir-fry cooking. 

How am I feeling today?  What kind of meal would complete this day in a meaningful way?

I decide what flavors I want to use.  I decide what meats, vegetables and starches will achieve what I want to convey my thoughts.  I decide how I want the finished dish to look, when it is presented.   

Is the finished work a masterpiece?  That’s not for me to decide.  The real question I ask is, “does this satisfy me?”

Anyone who eats a meal or sees a painting leaves with their own memories, thoughts and feelings.  The intention of the cook or the painter is irrelevant.  I don’t know why that makes me so happy, but it does!

Ingredients:

1 garlic clove, smashed

7 roots of green onion

1 Tbs sesame oil

1 lb lean pork, shaved thin

12 medium sized shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 tsp sesame oil

5 oz thin Cambodian rice noodles

For the marinade:

¼ cup dark soy sauce

¼ soy sauce

¼ cup Vietnamese chili garlic paste (Sambal Olek works nicely, too)

¼ cup Vietnamese fish sauce (smells funky, tastes great)

For the stir-fry:

2 carrots

7 green onions (just the greens)

¼ head of cabbage, sliced thin

2 Tbs ginger, sliced very thin

2 jalapeños, sliced

1 lime, quartered

For the peanut sauce:

¼ cup soy sauce

1 ½ Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 Tbs peanut butter

1 Tbs brown sugar

½ cup roasted peanuts, crushed

Directions:

Prepare the vegetables:

Slice the garlic, ginger, cabbage, carrots, and jalapeños and green onions.  Arrange separately on a large plate until needed.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the wok and add the roots of the green onion roots and garlic.  Simmer at low heat.  Turn off heat after 1 minute.   Continue to allow the onion and garlic to flavor the oil.

Prepare the marinade:

Combine dark soy sauce, soy sauce, chili garlic paste and fish sauce in a bowl.

Prepare the pork and shrimp.

Remove the fatty edges of the pork and reserve. 

Use the pork fat to flavor the oil

Slice the pork thinly and store in a bowl. 

Peel and de-vein the shrimp.  Store in the bowl that contains the pork.

Add the marinade to the pork and shrimp.  Store in the refrigerator until needed.

Add pork fat to the wok.  Turn up heat and cook while stirring.  Remove the onions, garlic and pork fat after they char (just a few minutes).  Discard the garlic, onions and pork.  Leave the flavored oil in the wok.

Prepare the peanut sauce:

Add one tablespoon of peanut butter…not in photo.

Crush the peanuts with the broad side of a knife.

Combine soy sauce, Hoisin sauce, peanut butter, brown sugar and crushed roasted peanuts in a bowl.  Transfer to a hot skillet and stir to combine for a minute. Set aside cooked sauce.

Quarter the lime and reserve until serving time.

Prepare the noodles:

Prepare the rice noodles, according to the instructions on the package.  In this case, I soaked the rice noodles in cold water for about 5 minutes until they became soft, but not mushy.  Strain out the water and set the noodles aside, until needed.

Time to stir-fry!

All of the prep work is essential.  Make sure to have everything prepped before you crank up the wok.  Seriously…there’s nothing worse than going full force into stir frying and realizing that you have forgotten to cut some vegetable or meat or realizing that you haven’t prepared a sauce.  Take a moment to review all of the items that you are going to include in the stir-fry and make sure that they are ready to go!  Take the marinated meat out of refrigerator and keep it close, on hand.  Keep some oil near the wok.  Make sure to have your serving plate ready to receive the finished food. 

Now, go!

Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil to the wok.  Cook the shrimp and pork at high heat.  Stir constantly until the shrimp and pork are cooked.  This should only take a minute, or so.  Remove to a bowl and store in a warm place.

Add a tablespoon of oil to the hot wok and add the sliced ginger and a little bit of green onion.  Stir for a moment and then add the carrots and jalapeños.  Stir for a minute, to allow the carrots to soften. 

Add the cabbage and stir constantly.  Once the cabbage has wilted and softened a little, remove all of the vegetables to a large bowl.  Don’t remove the liquid from the wok. 

Add the noodles and stir constantly.  Once the noodles have absorbed some of the liquid in the wok, add the peanut sauce.  Stir to incorporate. 

Return the vegetables and shrimp and pork to the wok.  Stir with the noodles and turn out to a large serving platter.  Top with green diced green onion and lime slices.

Spritz with fresh lime and serve.