Beef and Basil Stir Fry

IMG_1017Growing up in southern California, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a variety of cuisines easily available to me. After visiting Thailand a few years ago and tasting the local cuisine, I realized that immigrants in America are doing a wonderful job retaining the authenticity of their native cuisine. There were a few specialty dishes that I had never even heard of, but the stir fries, noodles, and rice dishes were very comparable between the U.S. and Thailand. I even took a cooking class with my husband, friend, and her boyfriend. We were dropped off in the middle of a rice field, with no buildings in site except for one shack with no walls. I realized that this design was on purpose because it allowed copious airflow into the cooking area and all one could see was green all around. It was breathtaking and stark at the same time. We made tom yum soup, pad Thai, cashew nut chicken, and mangoes with sticky rice in humongous woks, which lit on fire when swerved the right way. This was one of the best meals I have ever had in my life and would highly recommend folks to take a cooking class like this in Thailand.

Thai food is really tricky to make at home because of its delicate balance of flavors. Many dishes have elements of sweet, savory, spicy, and tangy. Garlic, basil, lemongrass, bird chiles, and galangal, are the primary aromatics used. Having all flavors in perfect balance is the culinary goal. Thai stir fries are extra yummy in my opinion because the veggies are barely cooked, retaining a nice crunch and bite to them. This is true even for Thai curries. It’s a great reminder of the freshness of the ingredients being used. One of my favorite dishes in Thailand was a chicken curry noodle soup that hailed from the north. I will never forget the aromatic and slightly spicy broth, delicately kissed with sweetness from fresh coconut milk and palm sugar. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to recreate this dish. That will have to wait for another post.

Stir fries are my go-to for meal prep throughout the week. They are quick and relatively easy to execute. Stir-frying can also be a very healthy technique of preparing food, assuming one does not use an excessive amount of oil. Using a huge ladle of oil for a stir fry is actually considered the authentic method. You’ll find that most of my recipes will find a way around this, as using excessive fat is unhealthy.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

An essential nuance in cooking with a wok is timing and knowing which ingredients to stir fry first, which to stir-fry together, and which must be separately stir-fried and then combined later on with the sauce. Most stir fried veggie dishes start off with the browning of garlic in oil before adding the other ingredients. The problem is that the garlic will quickly burn if it is not given some liquid. To prevent burning of garlic, I usually add a splash of water to my stir-fry after adding the vegetables. Traditional Chinese cooking utilizes LOADS of oil to prevent garlic from burning, but that is a rather unhealthy approach, so I prefer my splash of water.

In stir-fries involving meat and veggies, I almost always stir-fry the meat first, remove it from the pan, and then stir fry the veggies separately. This allows proper cooking of each ingredient, as cooking them all at once will create a watery mess. They are later combined and stir-fried with the sauce, which is oftentimes soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean sauce.

Stir-fried vegetables should always retain some level of crunch after cooking. When in doubt, slightly undercook your veggies. That way, the residual heat will do the rest of the softening of the veggies. For people who follow a meal prep life, undercooking the veggies is a good strategy to give your veggies the perfect texture after re-heating.

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients
½ lb Flank steak, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oil
1 bell pepper, sliced
½ onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch basil

Marinate steak in soy sauce and corn starch. Allow to sit at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep other ingredients.

Turn on wok or skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil. When oil is shimmery, add flank steak and stir fry for 3-5 minutes until beef is just cooked through. Then remove from heat.

Add oil to the skillet/wok, and when oil is shimmery, add in garlic and red jalapeno. Stir fry for 30 seconds-1 minutes to soften garlic and jalapeno. Then add bell pepper and onions. Stir fry for 3-5 minutes, until vegetables are slightly softened.

Add in beef and stir fry together. Add in oyster sauce, black pepper, and sugar. Stir fry another minute. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed with oyster sauce or additional soy sauce. Add in basil and stir fry until basil has just softened.

Remove from heat and serve.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Deconstructed Peach (or apple) Crisp

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Summer fruit is here! I’m sad that I have only just now posted a recipe featuring these nature’s delights. Peaches and nectarines are among my favorite fruits ever. Their sweet fragrance, slight sour bite, and luscious juicy texture make me weak in the knees. In fact, I am feeling saddened at the thought that fall is quickly coming, and these nectar-filled treasures will no longer grace the shelves of my grocery store. Well, better late than never.

Anyone who is familiar with my cooking preferences and style knows that I have little patience or skill when it comes to pastries, cakes, or any elaborate baking. I have an innate inability to follow directions when it comes to cooking. I feel like a rebel whenever I read a recipe, because I will almost surely veer from it. It gives a sense of satisfaction knowing that I can do whatever I want, despite what others say in their recipes. Yes, I realize this is ironic because I am also sharing recipes and attempting to instruct others on how to prepare food. Usually things work out just fine because I have developed my own sense of proportion and flavor with regards to savory foods. Unfortunately, in the world of baking, only a select few highly skilled bakers can successfully pull this off. This is why I made a peach crisp. Not a cake, not a pie, or a cobbler. Making a fruit crisp is much more forgiving than other sweets, which is why it is one of my go-to recipes for a dessert fit for entertaining.

Cooking Tips

Since peaches are in season, I made good use of them. Pitting and coring them was a huge drain of my energy, but it was all worth it in the end. Other fruits can be used for this fruit crisp, including apples, plums, blueberries, or any other berries. I’m a fan of apple crisps because apples are available year-round in the United States.

I would recommend using less cinnamon if you choose to make a fruit crisp using a berry. Cinnamon does not play as well with berries as it does with apples or peaches. I would recommend using more vanilla extract and omit the cinnamon from the fruit mixture. It should be fine in the crispy topping.

I purposely prepared the fruit separately from the crispy topping. Just like the famed Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, I dislike soggy textures for baked goods. Which is why this peach crisp is a deconstructed one. I recommend combining the crispy topping with the fruit only when serving it. Otherwise, keep them separate.

Add more salt to bring out the richness in this dessert.

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
5-6 peaches, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
juice of ½ lemon
½ cup brown sugar

¾ cup oats
¾ cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup butter, cut into cubes, cold
½ cup brown sugar
large pinch of salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare crispy topping separately from peaches. Mix together oats, flour, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar until they are well-combined.

Using a pastry cutter, mix butter into flour and oat mixture. Make sure your butter is cold. Continue to cut butter into mixture until the texture resembles small peas.

Place oat mixture onto a lined baking sheet and spread onto baking sheet in an even layer. Allow to bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

While crispy topping is baking, prepare peach mixture. Add peaches, cinnamon, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and brown sugar into a large sauce pan. Turn fire on medium and allow peaches to cook down. Toss gently every few minutes for even cooking. Cook about 10-15 minutes, and then cover with lid, turn off the fire, and allow peaches to sit for at least 10 minutes. This will prevent the peaches from overcooking.

When crispy topping is done, remove from oven and allow to cool.

When ready to serve, scoop a spoonful of simmered peaches and top with crispy oat topping, and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Enjoy!

 

 

Rice Congee with Fish

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Rice congee is a classic Chinese breakfast dish. People from all over China and Hong Kong eat this dish. It has even spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Cambodia, and many other Asian countries. It is essentially the oatmeal of the East. The only difference is that congee is cooked down until the rice almost loses all of its original structure, resulting in a thick but wet soup. Another major difference is that rice congee is often eaten as a savory item. It is either cooked with a protein and its broth or with just plain water, then served with pickled savory vegetables. Oftentimes, it is served with a savory long donut for dipping.

When I think of congee, 2 things come to mind: grandmothers and being sick. The latter is not the most pleasant of thoughts, I realize. I have fond memories of having a big bowl of congee made lovingly by one of my grandmothers when I was down with a cold/flu. It was a vehicle for them to convey the warmth and love in their hearts. One grandmother actually made plain white rice porridge for us every day, which led to an eventual aversion to rice congee for much of my adolescence. As an adult, I can now reconnect with my roots and appreciate congee for both its complexity and simplicity.

Some classic congees are: egg, chicken and ginger, fish and ginger, pork and thousand-year egg.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

Make sure that you have an excellent quality broth to cook with your congee, because that is the foundation of flavor. If you rely solely on MSG-filled canned chicken stock, your congee will not be as nutritious or delicious. I always have homemade chicken stock in my freezer because I boil chicken for my dog to eat. If you want to make your own stock, just add some chicken thighs, breast, or bones to a big pot of water and let it simmer for an hour or so, and you’re good to go!

To save time, I use a rice cooker to cook the rice down first, and then I add it to the broth to cook down on the stove. Having the rice do its initial cooking in the rice cooker means that you do not have to monitor or stir until you start cooking it on the stove.

Toppings are everything when it comes to congee. Having fresh green onion and cilantro (unless you are one of those people with a genetically determined aversion to it) is almost a must. If you have time to make the shallot oil, that would be even better. Adding this touch is something I learned from my brother-in-law’s family, who has Cambodian roots. I believe Chinese people tend to drizzle a tiny drop of sesame oil as a topping for their congee.

Recipe
Serves: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2.5-3 hours

 1 quart chicken broth (homemade preferred)
1 quart water
½ cup michiu (rice wine)
1 cup white Jasmine rice, washed
2 tilapia filets (or other white fish)
4 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp of white pepper
3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
1 bunch green onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced

Heat a large pot with water, chicken broth, and rice wine. Once water begins to boil and turn fire to medium low. Add in rice. Drop a metal or porcelain spoon into pot –this prevents sticking. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Boil for 2 hours until rice begins to cook down, resulting in a thicker consistency. (a thick soup texture). Stir occasionally and scrape bottom of pot to prevent burning and sticking.

Cut fish into thin pieces (½ inch thick) and marinade with fish sauce and ginger. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes, then add to porridge. Cook on low fire for another 10 minutes until fish has cooked through and porridge is at desired consistency (much wetter and thinner than cooked oatmeal). Add approximately 4 tbsp of fish sauce, or to taste. Add white pepper.

While porridge finishes cooking, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan and place shallots in the oil. Fry on low medium heat until golden brown. Set shallot oil aside for topping.

Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with fresh green onion, cilantro, and some shallot oil.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Junior Mac

E948D0E4-B029-44BD-8C78-881885E45A2CAs a child of the 1990s McDonald’s was a major pillar in the structure of my life. Because my family was very frugal with their money, my sisters and I often dreamed of dolls and toys from television commercials knowing that they were never coming home with us. Now that I am an adult I realize what a huge waste of money these overpriced toys are. But as a young child, these seemed to be the end-all be-all of life itself. You felt like you had to have a Barbie doll, Furby, and Tomagachi to fit in with the other kids. Anyway, this was why I looked forward to Happy Meals as a kid. It often came with a toy that otherwise would never have reached my eager hands. As I grew older, I began to appreciate food for its own merits as opposed to its role as a bridge to coveted toys. I realized that the Big Mac tasted so much better than the cheeseburgers in Happy Meals. Back in those days, supersize was the way to go. Of course, at the time we did not realize that this would contribute to an already growing obesity epidemic. I remember the joy and reckless abandon with which I approached each Big Mac combo.

Unfortunately these eating habits led to alarming weight gain into my early twenties. I realized that I could not eat McDonald’s on a regular basis if I wanted to live a long healthy life so I changed my eating habits and exercise habits. Nowadays my typical lunch and dinner plates are filled with veggies and lean proteins. But every once in a while, I crave food that transports me back to the simple days. I return to my childhood favorites, and the Big Mac is definitely #1 for me. Something I’ve learned about food is that nothing improves the taste of food more than nostalgia. Well….nothing beside extreme hunger. So, in attempt to relive fond childhood memories, I made my own Junior Mac. It is a very easy recipe, and unlike the original Big Mac, it only has 1 slice of cheese, 1 patty, and 1 bun. It satisfied my craving without breaking the calorie bank. My husband was definitely a happy camper when I made this for dinner. Hope you enjoy it too!

Cooking Tips

The fattier the ground beef, the more juicy and tender it is. 85% lean ground beef would probably yield a juicier burger, but for health reasons, I usually choose 90-95% lean. The choice is yours.

Do not smash or press your burgers as they cook. That will release all the juices and result in a dry patty.

I like to season my ground beef and mix it together, then form a patty. It gives the meat better flavor. Some people choose to form the patty and then put the seasoning on top. It depends on personal preference, but I am always in favor of more flavor.

For burger patties, always make the patty the same size or a bit larger in circumference than your bun. Burger patties shrink when they are cooked, and if yours is too small it throws off the ratio of your cheeseburger.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
1 lb ground beef, 90% lean
1 tbsp seasoned salt (I used the Trader Joe’s brand) or to taste
ground pepper to taste
4 burger buns
4 leaves of lettuce
4 slices sharp cheddar or American’s singles
½ cup onion, diced
8 tbsp Thousand Island dressing
Optional: sliced pickles

Place buns in toaster oven and set to light to medium darkness.

Season ground beef with seasoned salt and pepper, then form into 4 equal patties. Use the burger bun as a reference point for the size of your patties. Make your burger the same size or a bit larger than your bun.

Heat large skillet and spray with a bit of cooking oil. When pan is hot place burger patties on skillet. Fry on each side for 3-5 minutes depending on desired level of doneness.

After flipping burger patties, place a slice of cheese on top of each patty and cover pan with a lid to allow cheese to melt.

(Optional step: sear some additional cheese directly on the pan for 1 minute for a gooey burnt cheese addition to your burger. )

When burger patties are done, spread Thousand Island dressing on both sides of buns.

Place burger patty on bottom bun. Layer lettuce, onion, and pickles on top. Then top with the top bun.

Enjoy!