Coconut Chicken Curry with Pesto Sauce and Spicy Shrimp Noodles

I have to admit, I sometimes feel like Marco Polo when I visit an international food market.  I imagine that I am a gallant adventurer, in search of spices and treasures from distant lands.  There are so many strange and wonderful things to see, most of which I know little or nothing about.  Fortunately, I almost always find a friendly proprietor that is happy to answer my questions and will guide me through the store, politely pointing out interesting things. 

“Tell me about ghee,” I might ask.  “Is it like clarified butter?”  And then I might ask about the several different varieties of rice on a shelf and ask what properties they have that make them appropriate for some dishes but not suitable for others.  Invariably, during my visit, I will reach a point where I run out of intelligent questions or the proprietor will begin to fidget and will look for a way to carry on with whatever they were doing before I captivated so much of their time. 

It’s usually around that moment that I feel a sudden desire to return to my homeland, to share my stories and show my new treasures.  I gather a few exotic wonders and pack them away in my sack, bid a fond farewell to my congenial friend, clasp my cloak about my neck and prepare for the arduous journey back home. 

Ok, it’s really just a fifteen minute drive through a light drizzle that dampens the city streets but I like to believe that I am hoisting the sails of my sea bound schooner and that I am preparing to batten down the hatches, at a moment’s notice, in case the stormy seas start to surge.

I know the trade routes like the back of my hand and, in due time, I return to the happy harbor of my home.  And that’s when the fun really begins…

Coconut Chicken Curry with Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

1 ½ tsp salt

1 Japanese eggplant

1 Tbs olive oil

5 garlic cloves

1 lb chicken tenders (tendons removed)

¼ cup basil pesto sauce

juice of 3 limes

juice of 1 lemon

1 ½ Tbs fresh ginger, sliced

1 Thai chili, sliced lengthwise

1 ½ Tbs chili powder

1 carrot

1 Roma tomato, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

2 tsp Garam Masala

13.5 oz Thai coconut milk

3 green onions

Directions:

Using a sharp kitchen knife, remove the white tendon that runs down the length of the chicken tender.

Cut the chicken into 1” pieces and place them in a bowl.

Add the pesto sauce, lime and lemon juice, sliced ginger, Thai chili and chili powder to the bowl and mix by hand.  Marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Cut the eggplant into 1” pieces and add them to a mixing bowl.  Mince one clove of garlic and add it to the bowl, along with a tablespoon of olive oil. 

Spread the eggplant out on a parchment lined baking tray and roast in the oven at 400° for 20 minutes, or until the eggplant has browned a little. Remove and set aside in a bowl.

In a large skillet, sauté the onion and the remaining garlic for one minute, over low heat. 

Add the marinated chicken and turn the heat up to medium.  Stir the chicken while it cooks. 

Once the chicken has firmed and turned white, add the sliced jalapeños and carrots.  Stir frequently.

When the carrots begin to soften, add the chicken broth and deglaze the pan.

Add the Garam Masala, ginger, lime and lemon zest, lime and lemon juice.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the tomato and eggplant and stir.

Cover the skillet and simmer at low heat for 15 minutes. 

At this point, I tasted the broth and determined that the jalapeños were spicier than I had expected.  I removed them and used them as a side dish, for anyone that wanted a little extra heat.

Add the coconut milk and mix with a spatula.  Simmer uncovered for another 5 minutes.

Remove to a serving bowl and keep warm until serving time. Serve in bowls, over basmati rice.

Spicy Shrimp Noodles

Ingredients:

1 lb shrimp (I used frozen shrimp, in the shell, de-veined)

2 Tbs basil pesto sauce

1 Tbs chili powder

2 Tbs fresh ginger, minced

1 lime

1 Tbs cooking oil

12 Thai chiles

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

¼ cup Asian stir fry sauce (I used General Tso sauce, but any kind will do)

1 Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 ½ Tbs oyster sauce

1 Tbs soy sauce

1 Tbs Vietnamese fish sauce

1 tsp Sriracha (or more, if you want it to be spicier!)

½ lb Vietnamese rice sticks

Directions:

Put the shrimp in a large bowl.  Add just enough water to cover the shrimp.  Add the pesto sauce, chili powder and minced ginger.  Quarter the lime and squeeze the juice over the bowl.  Add the rest of the lime to the bowl.   Marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Since I started with frozen shrimp, I marinated for one hour.

The rice sticks will need to soak in warm water for about 30 minutes, to soften.  Vietnamese rice sticks tend to be very long so I broke them in half before soaking. 

Heat a wok at high heat.  Add the cooking oil and the chilies.  Sear the chilies for about one minute, or until the outer skins begin to blister.  Remove the chiles and set aside.  I put them in a small dish to serve at the table. 

Add the whole, unpeeled shrimp to the wok and stir-fry for one to two minutes.  Remove the shrimp and allow them to cool before removing the shells and tails. 

Set the shrimp aside and return the shells and tails to the wok. Stir the shells over high heat for about one minute, to extract their juices. Remove the shells and tails and discard.

Add the garlic to the wok and stir for about 30 seconds. 

Add the Asian sauce, Hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and Sriracha.  Turn the heat to low and stir to mix.

Drain the rice sticks in a colander and add the rice sticks to the wok.  Stir to coat the rice sticks.  Return the shrimp and mix briefly.  Turn out to a serving bowl.

Impromptu Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve turned out to be a rollicking good time with family, food and holiday movies.  The evening  menu showcased some impromptu stir-fry dishes and the holiday movie marathon ended with a classic… “The Star Wars Holiday Special”.  For the uninitiated, the Star Wars Holiday Special aired on TV in 1978 and was subsequently banished by George Lucas.  It starred all of the favorite Star Wars characters like, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Beatrice Arthur.  Yes, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur!  It’s a must-see!

The idea behind Thai cuisine for Christmas Eve came from a small jar of Thai Green Curry that has been sitting in my refrigerator for quite some time and I wanted to finish it off.  I searched my pantry and refrigerator for items that would be suitable for stir-fry.  Much of the afternoon was spent prepping vegetables, roasting garlic, soaking the noodles and watching holiday classics.  

Thai Green Curry Chicken

Ingredients:

1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1” pieces

2 Tbs Thai green curry paste (3 Tbs for extra spicy)

1 Tbs oil

2 garlic cloves (fresh)

1 head of garlic (roasted)

2 Tbs fresh ginger, sliced thin

¼ yellow onion, julienne sliced

1 cup chicken stock

1 ½ cups coconut milk

2 Tbs fish sauce

1 Tbs dried basil and 1 tsp dried parsley  (substitution for fresh Thai basil)

1 lime

Zest of lime

1 can of water chestnuts (8 ounces, drained and sliced)

1 roasted red bell pepper, sliced

1 green onion, diced greens and chopped white roots

¼ cup cilantro leaves

Directions:

Mix the cut chicken breast with the Thai curry paste.  Refrigerate until needed.

In a bowl, combine the chicken stock with ½ cup coconut milk.  Add the fish sauce, basil, parsley and the juice of half of a lime.  Set aside.

In a wok, add a tablespoon of cooking oil. Warm a tablespoon of sliced ginger and one garlic clove.

Add 1 cup of coconut milk to the wok and turn the heat up to medium/hot. 

Add the roasted garlic and stir the coconut milk as it thickens. 

Add the chicken stock mixture and simmer at low/medium heat .  Add the sliced water chestnuts, green onion roots and sliced jalapeño.  Simmer for a few minutes and removed to a bowl. 

Wipe the wok clean and add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and turn the heat to high.  Add a some garlic and ginger. Add the serrano chile and sear the chile in the oil.  Remove the chile and reserve.

Add the marinated chicken to the wok and stir at high heat.  Return the serrano chile to the wok, along with a garlic clove and 1 tablespoon of sliced ginger.  Stir the chicken for a few minutes and remove the serrano. 

Continue stirring the chicken until the chicken is cooked and browned. 

Add the coconut milk/chicken stock mixture to the wok. Stir to incorporate and turn out to an oven proof bowl. Keep in a warm oven until ready to eat.  When you are ready to eat, add a tablespoon of lime juice and top with cilantro, roasted red pepper and fresh lime wedges.

Serve in bowls, over jasmine rice.

Chicken with Peppers and Pineapple

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into 1” pieces

1 cup flour

¾ cup cornstarch

1 Tbs oil

1 Tbs fresh ginger, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 serrano chile

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 small yellow onion, julienne sliced

2 jalapeños, seeded and sliced into rings

2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into ½” pieces

1 Mandarin orange

Zest of an orange

2 Tbs garlic chile sauce (Sambal Oelek)

2 cups vegetable oil

¼ cup cilantro

¼ cup green onion, chopped

Directions:

In a large bowl, add mix the flour with the cornstarch.  Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat.  Set aside.

Add one tablespoon cooking oil to a wok.  Simmer the ginger and garlic at low heat for minute and then remove the ginger and garlic. 

Add the serrano and cook at high heat for 30 seconds.  Remove and discard the serrano (or save for another time).

Add the chopped bell peppers, sliced onion, sliced jalapeño.  Turn the heat to high and stir-fry for a few minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic back to the wok and continue to stir until the peppers have softened to your liking.  (Don’t overcook…mushy stir-fry vegetables make a disappointing stir-fry).

In a small bowl, add the cut pineapple.  Add the juice and zest of the orange.

Add the pineapple to the wok and stir a few times to incorporate the flavors.  Turn out to a bowl.  Add the sambal oelek.  Keep the bowl in a warm place.

Add a little flour to the bowl containing the chicken that has been coated in flour and cornstarch.  Toss the chicken to prevent the chicken pieces from sticking together.

Wipe the wok clean.   Add 2 cups of cooking oil to the wok and turn the heat to high.   Add the chicken to the wok, a few pieces at a time.  Stir the chicken occasionally.  Remove the chicken to a paper towel lined platter when it turns golden brown and crispy.

Carefully pour the frying oil in an appropriate container to cool.

Wipe the wok clean and return it to the stove top.  Add the vegetables and chicken back to the hot wok and stir a few times.  Turn out to a serving bowl.  Top with cilantro and green onions.

Shrimp with Rice Noodles

Ingredients:

16 ounces rice vermicelli noodles (rice stick)

1 lb raw shrimp, deveined with tails and shells removed

1 Tbs olive oil

½ tsp sesame oil

1 Tbs ginger, thinly sliced

1/4 yellow onion, julienne sliced

1 Tbs Hoisin sauce

2 tsp oyster sauce

1 Tbs fish sauce

2 green onions

Directions:

Crack the dried noodles in half and add them to a large pot.  Add enough water to the cover the noodles by at least two inches. 

Heat the water to a boil.  Swish the noodles around in the pot as they boil.  Sample the noodles while they cook.  They should become al dente, just like properly cooked spaghetti noodles.  Once the noodles have cooked, strain out the water and rinse the noodles with cold water to stop the heating process.  Add the noodles back to the pot and cover with cold water.  Reserve until needed.

Add olive oil and sesame oil to a hot wok.  Add the ginger and stir for a minute.  Discard the ginger.

Add the shrimp to the hot wok and stir-fry for a few minutes.  Add the onion and stir. The shrimp will cook quickly. 

Add the Hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce and stir to mix. 

Strain the noodles and add them to the wok.  Stir to coat the noodles and turn everything out to a serving bowl. 

Add the root pieces of the onion to the wok and sear. 

Top the dish with chopped green onion tips and seared green onion roots.

Thai Trifecta

Dessert suggestion:  Sliced bananas, dusted with cinnamon and chocolate sauce and whipped cream topping.

Dust with cinnamon, drizzle chocolate syrup and top with whipped cream

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.

*Frozen* Stir Fry

I recently made a beef and vegetable stir fry.  When I say recently, I really mean two months ago.

I realized that I had way more beef than I needed for the dish, so I put the marinated beef in a freezer bag, along with the marinade, and tossed it in the freezer for later use. 

Fast forward two months.

 I had a big frozen block of marinated meat.  Now what?

Well, a sensible cook would have thawed the beef in the refrigerator for a day.  But, I was not in a sensible mood.  I was hungry and I wanted to make dinner RIGHT NOW.  My solution was undoubtedly unconventional but I promise, the end result was delicious.

Note:  I used Canola oil throughout the entire stir-fry process until the very end.  I used sesame oil to prepare the leafy celery tops and green onions, which topped the dish.  The intermittent and distinct flavor of sesame oil gave the dish an element of surprise. 

Ingredients:

1 lb frozen, marinated beef strips

2 Tbs cooking oil (I used canola oil)

2 Tbs fresh sliced ginger

1 onion, julienne sliced

2 medium sized carrots

2 celery stalks (with leafy green tops)

1 quarter head of cabbage

1 tsp sesame oil

2 green onions

2 jalapeños

Spicy sauces: Vietnamese chili garlic sauce and Ed’s Widow Maker (local wicked, habanero sauce)

Cooked white rice, enough for to serve four.

Directions:

Prepare steamed white rice.  Keep warm.

Prepare vegetables.  Chop and slice.  Set aside.

Box-cut jalapenos to remove seeds and membranes.
Frozen solid! OMG…what now?

Heat a wok to low heat.  Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil.  Add the frozen beef.  Stir to coat and cover. 

Turn every few minutes and remove portions of beef as they warm and separate from the frozen glob of meat.  Set the thawed pieces of meat aside on a plate.

Continue to heat the beef until all of it is thawed.  This took about 10 minutes at low heat, covered.  Remove and set aside.

Add one tablespoon cooking oil to wok and crank up the heat.

Add sliced ginger and stir for 30 seconds.

Add the vegetables and stir fry until the vegetables become tender, but not overcooked.

Add the beef and stir over high heat.  Turn the heat off and prepare the serving dish.

Add cooked white rice to a large serving bowl.  Create a well in the center, for the stir fry.

Add the stir-fried beef and vegetables to the bowl.

Return the wok to the stove and set heat to high.  Add 1 teaspoon sesame oil.  Add the celery tops and green onion.  Stir fry for about one minute and transfer to the top of the serving bowl.

Serve with additional hot sauces and fresh jalapeño for the adventuresome…no need to punish everyone, I suppose.

Stir Fry Noodles with Pork Loin Roast

The pork loin is an economical and versatile cut of meat.  A whole loin can weigh as much as 8 pounds.  I like to buy the whole loin and section it off into 2 pound pieces.  I usually apply a different dry rub or marinade to each section.  They can be wrapped in foil and plastic wrap and stored in the freezer for weeks, or even months. 

The loin is a very lean cut of meat and can be slow roasted, sliced into steaks or roasted at high temperature for a short period of time, which is what I did for this recipe.

I wanted to make an Asian inspired dish with noodles and as I was looking at the various types of noodles at the grocery store I couldn’t decide between udon noodles or rice vermicelli so I closed my eyes for a moment and thought about what flavor and texture I really wanted.  The answer came to me quickly. 

Ramen noodles.  Yes, the inexpensive ramen noodles that can be purchased for as little as 25 cents per package.  Ramen and I go back a long way.  Ramen was there when I needed something to fit my very tight budget and ramen rarely disappointed me.  You can add anything you want to ramen, which makes it a near-perfect food, in my opinion.

For the marinade:

1/3 cup dark soy sauce

4 Tbs cup sesame oil

2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

3 green onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, smashed

2 Tbs chopped fresh ginger

4 Tbs garlic chili paste (Sambal)

2 lbs pork loin

For the stir fry:

4 oz broccoli

1 large carrot

¼ head of cabbage

8 oz mushrooms

3 green onions

¼ cilantro leaves

2 Tbs cooking oil

½ cup marinade, cooked and strained

2 tsp hoisin sauce

2 packs of dry ramen noodles  (You won’t need the seasoning packets)

Directions:

Trim the fat from the top of the pork loin (optional).  

Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl and mix together. 

Add the pork loin and marinade to a large, seal-able storage bag.  Marinate in the refrigerator overnight or up to 24 hours.

Bake the roast at 425° for one hour, uncovered.  While the roast bakes, prepare the stir fry vegetables.

Peel and cut the vegetables.  Separate the white root ends from the green parts.  Leave the root parts whole and chop the rest of the green onions.  Slice the cabbage into ½” strips.  Slice the carrots, broccoli and mushrooms into bite sized pieces.  Set the vegetables aside. 

Soften the ramen in boiling water.  Do not overcook.  Strain the ramen and set aside.

Add the marinade to a skillet and cook until boiling.  Strain out the solids and reserve the sauce.

Remove the roast from the oven and cover with a foil tent an let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. 

While the roast rests, make the stir fry.

In a hot wok, add two tablespoon of cooking oil.  Add the broccoli, carrots and the green onion roots and stir for a few minutes.  Add the mushrooms and stir for a minute. 

Add the cabbage.  Stir for a minute and then add ¼ cup of the cooked marinade and the hoisin sauce.  Stir to incorporate. 

Add the ramen and mix everything together.  Add the chopped green onions and cilantro and mix lightly. Turn the heat off and let the stir fry sit in the wok while you slice the pork roast

Slice the pork as thinly as you can. 

Arrange the slices on a serving platter.  Add the stir fry to the serving platter.   Drizzle remaining sauce over the sliced pork.

Cashew Chicken

Making a stir-fry doesn’t need to be a complicated process.  Decide what you want in the stir-fry and prepare those items by cutting them into bite sized pieces.  Determine the type of sauce you would like and have it ready.  You can use a bottled sauce from the store or a homemade sauce or you can say the heck with it and skip the sauce all together.  Choose appropriately sized serving platters or bowls and keep them close at hand. 

Most of my stir-fry dishes are accompanied by steamed rice.  The method I use for making steamed rice takes about an hour, which may seem strange for “20 minute rice” but it has two advantages.  First, and most importantly, the rice comes out nice and fluffy every time.  And second, an hour gives me plenty of time to prepare the vegetables and meat and enough time to finish the stir-fry. 

For the rice:

Add 1 cup of white rice to a strainer or colander.  Rinse the rice under cold water from the kitchen faucet and swish the rice around by hand for several seconds.  This removes some of the starch from the rice.  Add the rice to a 4 quart pot and cover the rice with water.  2 cups of water should do the trick.  Cover the pot and let it sit for 15 minutes, without heat.  Turn the heat on and bring the water to a boil.  Remove the lid and stir the rice with a fork and cover the pot again.  Turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting.  Let the rice simmer at low heat for about 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat.  Don’t open the lid until you are ready to eat.  Allow the rice to steam for at least 30 minutes.  I like to let it steam for 40 minutes.  When you are ready to serve, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork.  Turn it out to a serving bowl.

Cashew Chicken Ingredients:

2 Tbs cooking oil

2 chicken breasts (cut into bite sized pieces)

½ onion (diced)

2 bell peppers (diced)

3 Tbs thinly sliced ginger

1 cup cashew nuts

2 green onions (diced)

Marinade:

2 Tbs baking soda

2 Tbs corn starch

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

Sauce:

1 Tbs oyster sauce

1 ½ tsp soy sauce

1/3 cup water

¼ tsp white ground pepper

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

½ tsp sesame oil

Sauce Thickener:

1 Tbs cornstarch

1 Tbs water

A splash of soy sauce

Directions:

Marinate the chicken in the baking soda for about 15 minutes.  Rinse the chicken to remove the baking soda and pat the chicken dry with paper towels.  Marinate the chicken with the cornstarch and vinegar for 15 minutes.  This two-step marinade will allow the sauce to adhere to the chicken.

Prepare the sauce and the sauce thickener and set aside.

Once all of the items for the stir-fry have been prepped, heat the wok and add a tablespoon of cooking oil.

Add the chicken.  Stir-fry until the chicken is solid white and firm.  Remove the chicken to a bowl. 

Add the onions, bell pepper and ginger.  Stir-fry briefly.  Do not overcook the vegetables. 

Dump the chicken back into the wok and mix with the vegetables.  Continue to stir until the chicken is fully cooked.  Add the sauce and continue stirring. 

Move some of the vegetables and chicken away from the center of the wok and take a look at the sauce.  If it looks thin, you might want to add the sauce thickener.  I almost always add a thickener.  You can shove everything away from the center and add the thickener to the sauce and whisk until the sauce thickens but I find that it is easier, in the long run, to remove everything from the wok except the sauce and then add the thickener and whisk.  Then, return everything to the wok and add the cashews.  Stir again and turn everything out onto a serving platter or serving bowl.

Serve with steamed rice and stir-fried broccoli.

Chinese Stir Fry (or, How to Clean the Refrigerator)

I recently returned from a 3-day, mini vacation and while I was away, my thoughts turned to all of things in my refrigerator that would need to be used when I returned home.  I wasn’t preoccupied with those thoughts but, being the frugal person that I am, I imagined what I could do with the food that would likely be on the verge of spoiling when I returned.

Sure enough, upon my return, I opened the refrigerator to inspect the various vegetables and other odds and ends.   As I expected, the bell peppers were on their last legs.  The celery and green onions were going limp.  The red onion was holding on strong and the carrots were just fine, so no worries there.  And then, I remembered the unopened package of beef that I had left in the meat drawer.  I knew that it had been in the refrigerator for several days.  The solution was obvious.  A beef stir fry was the perfect remedy.

This was a meal made out of necessity and practicality but each of the components combined quite nicely and the quick stir fry allowed some items, that were past their prime, a chance to shine.

Ingredients for the stir fry:

3 cloves of garlic

2 Tbs thinly sliced ginger

2 Tbs canola oil

1 pound, thinly sliced beef

2 carrots

1 green bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

1 medium sized red onion

2 celery stalks

3 scallions

3 cups uncooked white rice

Ingredients for the marinade:

3 Tbs dark soy sauce

1 Tbs soy sauce

1 Tbs sambal (chili garlic sauce)

Ingredients for the sauce:

½ tsp sesame oil

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tbs brown sugar

2 Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 Tbs honey

2 Tbs white vinegar

1 tsp hot sauce (your choice)

1 Tbs soy sauce

1 Tbs cornstarch

1 Tbs water

Directions:

Remove some of the starch from the rice by rinsing and scrubbing the rice by hand in a colander.  Put the rice in a large pot and cover with water.  Allow the rice to soak for 30 minutes. 

While the rice is soaking, marinate the beef and prepare a mise en place.

The beef that I used was a packaged roast that had already been thinly sliced.  It was marketed to be used for carne asada but, since it was not seasoned, it was suitable for my purpose. 

Slice the beef into ribbons and allow it to marinate for about 30 minutes.    

Peel, slice and chop the vegetables as you like.  Reserve some chopped scallion tips for the garnish. 

Preparing this mise en place took about 45 minutes.  I wasn’t rushed because I knew that the rice would take about an hour, from start to finish.

Cook the rice according to the directions on the package.  In this case, as I mentioned earlier, I soaked the rice for 30 minutes and then I cooked and steamed the rice for 20 minutes. I allowed the rice to steam for 10 additional minutes before fluffing with a fork.

I made the stir fry, while the rice finished steaming. 

Add the cooking oil to a hot wok.  Season the wok with ginger and garlic for one minute and then remove the ginger and garlic. 

Introduce the vegetables, starting with the ones that will take the longest to cook.  In this case,  I started with the carrots, followed by the bell peppers, red onion, celery and scallions.  Remove the vegetables to a bowl when they have softened but before they go limp.

Add a splash of oil to the wok and stir fry the beef.  The beef will cook within a matter of a few minutes.  Remove the beef to the bowl containing the cooked vegetables.

Add the sauce to the wok and stir until thickened.  Add the beef and vegetables back to the wok and stir to incorporate the sauce.  Turn out the stir fry to a serving dish and top with scallions.

Everything in its place

And, the hoity-toity French phrase of the week is…mise en place.

What is it about the French language that annoys me so much?   Maybe it’s the way that the French don’t bother to pronounce many of the letters that make up their words.   Maybe it’s the haughty names they give to such simple things like, “béchamel”, which is really just milk gravyC’mon, it’s gravy for cryin’ out loud!

But, I have to admit, the French were on to something when they came up with mise en place, the phrase that means, “everything in its place”.  The concept, as it relates cooking, is that a cook can set up a kitchen by organizing  ingredients that are needed for a certain menu.  Mise en place is intended to be a time saver. 

If I am making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I need four things.  Peanut butter, jelly, bread and a knife.  (Yes, just one knife.  I can smear some peanut butter on one slice of bread and then clean the knife on the other slice of bread, thereby permitting the use of the same knife to scoop out the jelly, without tainting the jelly jar in the process.)

Okay, the point I was trying to make before I became distracted by my own silliness is that you don’t need to lay out everything in place before making a PB&J.  You might grab a loaf of bread and put two slices on a plate.  And then, you might go to the pantry to pick up a jar of peanut butter and then smear some of it on a slice of bread.  Then, you might go to the refrigerator to hunt for the jelly.  Oh no, all you see is boring, utilitarian grape jelly…now, you have to search the depths of the fridge to find the delicious strawberry preserves.  Ah, there it is…that’s better!  Then, you finish the sandwich with a smear of strawberry preserves.  Even though you had to take time to search for the strawberry preserves, you didn’t really waste that much time.

But, there are times that you will want to have everything you need already in front of you, ready for action.  I find myself needing this sort of preparedness when I make a stir fry. 

Stir frying with a wok requires high heat and speed and it requires having the many vegetables and meats prepared, in advance.  You will want to have the menu items peeled, sliced or chopped and ready to introduce to the wok.  And, you will want to have everything within arm’s reach as you work your magic with the wok.  For this, you need to utilize mise en place.

I say all of this because I didn’t always understand the advantages that mise en place had to offer until I started cooking for parties and family gatherings.  Nothing can kill the spirit of a party like having to wait for hours and hours while a meal is being prepared.  Even if your goal is to immerse your guests in the act of preparing a meal, do you really want to have everyone tripping over themselves in your kitchen while they peel, grate, and cut? 

Here is an example of mise en place in practice, as I prepared for a recent stir fry dish. 

Now, I don’t always use this many prep bowls when I utilize mise en place.  Most of the time I just use one or two large, shallow bowls to hold the different items.  I grab what I need from the bowl and toss it in the wok, when I need it.  It makes for a quick clean-up.  But, for this particular culinary adventure, I decided to use lots of little prep bowls.

The rice is steaming on the stove and I am ready to crank up the wok!  After a few minutes of fire and frenzy, it will all be ready to serve.