Tomato Beef Stir Fry

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Continuing on my lower carb eating goals, I have been trying out various stir-fries. Although I have to admit that I dearly miss white rice, I am also satisfied by the richness of flavors imbued in stir-fried dishes. Because of the practice of cooking meat and veggies on very high heat, stir-fries often carry a rich smokiness that comes from a hot wok (referred to as “wok air” in Cantonese). This is analogous to the smoky quality of American barbecue, as it differentiates truly great stir-fry from mediocre stir fry.

Traditional stir-fries in Chinese cuisine require copious amounts of oil, a practice that I try to modify in my own home cooking. I remember feeling appalled when I saw my parents cook a stir-fried vegetable dish at home. You would never think that almost half a cup of oil went into the healthy-looking vegetable dish served on our dinner table. Of course, I appreciate that the oil provides a certain level of flavor and texture in Chinese cuisine, so I do not believe in stir frying completely without oil. But I have found my own ways of achieving a similar flavor profile while saving on calories and fat.

Your basic stir-fry is comprised of the following:

  1. Oil
  2. Aromatics (garlic, ginger, scallion, chile)
  3. Thinly sliced vegetables
  4. Thinly sliced meat
  5. Flavoring sauce (salt, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, shrimp paste, black bean sauce, etc…)

Once you have this formula down, you can be creative and make new combinations of stir-fries. In stir-fries, it is absolutely essential that you first start by frying your aromatics in oil. This perfumes and flavors your oil so that the veggies and meat that are eventually cooked in it will also take on the flavor profile of the aromatics. But be careful not to burn your aromatics, especially garlic. Once your garlic turns somewhat golden brown, dump all your vegetables in and stir vigorously. This will release much-needed liquid to prevent your garlic from burning. Another trick is to splash a bit of water into your wok/pan and then cover with a lid to create some steam for more rapid cooking.

Also, I know I often rant about how adding sesame oil to a dish does not necessarily make it an authentic Asian dish. I get upset when I think about some famous chefs and their take on Asian food because it always involves sesame oil. And that is just not the case. Clearly, some dishes greatly benefit from the rich earthiness of sesame oil, but there are also times that it does not belong. This is actually a dish that benefits from such a splash of sesame oil. So, drizzle away! But not too much. Too much of sesame oil will make your dish taste like dirt. Yuck.

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.

 

Ingredients

1 tbsp oil
½ lb Flank steak, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oil
1 bunch of garlic chive, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes cut into 1-inch wedges
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
Optional: splash of sesame oil

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 very 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 chives and tomato. Stir fry for 3-5 minutes, until vegetables are slightly softened.

Add in beef and stir fry together. Add in oyster sauce and sugar. Stir fry another minute. Taste for seasoning.

Remove from heat and serve.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Balsamic Glazed Bacon Brussels Sprouts

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Wow, it has almost been half a year since I’ve posted! I have been meaning to get back into posting about my culinary adventures, but life can sometimes get away from you. In December, I was offered a promotion at work. I became a manager, which meant I had to learn how to train others, manager others, and find a way to do it without transforming into the quintessential horrible boss. It is so common to have a horrible boss that Hollywood even made a movie out of it. I wanted to find a way to help train and manage others, ensuring high quality work, while trying to build up those that I supervise. A few months later, I finally feel like I’ve got a grasp on it and have some free time in the evenings now. While it would be awesome to food blog full-time and support myself financially with this, I have to be practical and make sure that I sustain the life that I have. I realize that we are not all destined to be internet famous (or famous in other ways). I am just content to produce a record of the food I love to cook and be able to share it with others who are interested. So after all this time, I’m going to post a relatively simple recipe, because I’ve had to prepare more simple dishes to accommodate a busy life.

Brussels sprouts were the underdog of the vegetable world that recently became head of the pack in recent years. Chefs have reinvented this misunderstood green, much to my delight. Growing up in an Asian household, we never ate Brussels sprouts. Instead, we would opt for its more mellow cousins-broccoli and gai lan (AKA Chinese broccoli). When I first began experimenting with these oddball veggies, I really couldn’t understand how to make them palatable. They have an intense bitterness that needs to be tamed. So lesson #1: never serve boiled or steamed Brussels sprouts. The bitterness will pucker your lips and turn you away. Instead, Brussels need a good blistering, a result that can only be achieved by combining oil and heat. You can choose to pan fry, deep fry, or roast in the oven. Either way, make sure to use LOTS, and I mean LOTS, of oil and/or butter when cooking these babies.

Friends of Brussels sprouts also include: bacon, vinegar, sugar, garlic, butter, onions. I love adding caramelized onions to my sprouts because they add a nice sweetness. I did not include these in this recipe for the sake of simplicity. Instead, Balsamic vinegar plays a key role in taming the beastly bitterness that resides inside of a Brussels sprout. Aged vinegar will be sweeter than the thinner non-aged versions. You don’t need anything fancy. I love the Trader Joe’s brand of aged balsamic vinegar for this recipe. In terms of bacon, you’ll want to avoid bacon that has a large amount of sugar in it as the high roasting temperatures will burn your bacon.

 

Cooking Tips

I prefer to use fresh Brussels sprouts instead of frozen as that will impact the flavor and texture of your dish.

Cut Brussels sprouts in half or ¼ pieces to increase the surface area that touches oil, which will create more delicious golden and charred surfaces. This will also reduce cooking time and allow any seasonings that you use to better absorb through the layers of leaves that comprise a sprout.

A general tip for roasting veggies in the oven: hotter is better. You want your oven at least at 400 degrees F. Oftentimes, I will actually turn on my broiler/burner on maximum heat to get a good roast on my veggies. At lower temperatures, your veggies will just steam, which defeats the purpose of a good oven treatment.

Although an oven will say that it is at 350 degrees F, there is no knowing its true temperature unless you stick a thermometer inside. It is important to know if your oven runs hot or cold, and where its hot spots are. That way, you can learn to adjust cooking time and rotate your food as needed to ensure even cooking.

Recipe
Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 35-40 minutes

Ingredients
1 lb Brussels sprouts, quartered
4 slices bacon, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flake
½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced sliced
2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Cut Brussels sprouts length-wise into 1/4 pieces (i.e., cut Brussels sprouts in half, and then in half again).

Cut bacon into ½ inch pieces.

Combine Brussels sprouts with oil, bacon, salt, pepper, and red pepper flake. Place onto a lined baking sheet in a single layer. Spray with additional oil as needed.

Roast Brussels sprouts for 30-35 minutes, turning every 10 minutes to allow even roasting.

When Brussels sprouts have become golden brown and bacon has become crisp, sprinkle minced garlic and splash vinegar evenly onto the sprouts.

Continue to roast for another 5 minutes or until the balsamic vinegar has begun to thicken and become a glaze.

Remove from oven, taste for seasoning, and enjoy!

Wonton soup

IMG_2581National Comfort Food Day is coming up this week, and in what finally feels like fall in southern California, there is nothing I crave more during this time of year than a huge bowl of piping hot, steamy, soup. Especially noodle soup. The Asian in me really comes out during the fall and winter months because I am eating pho at least once a week. When I’m not eating pho, I will seek out some less popularized Asian noodle soups: bun bo hue-a spicy lemon-grass flavored beef and pork noodle soup; bun rieu-noodle soup in a garlicky tomato and crab + pork meatball infused broth; Chinese chicken noodle soup- big chunks of chicken with rice noodle, fresh gingery broth, with cilantro and green onion. I just drooled a bit on my keyboard naming all these. Wonton soup is something that is a labor of love, but is so comforting and delicious. It will be worth every painstaking effort that you take to wrap these delicious dumplings.

Whenever I make dumplings or wontons of any kind, I make them in bulk. They are quite the undertaking and require lots of elbow grease….well, finger grease is more like it. Fine motor skills are very important in wonton wrapping and you might find your palm cramping after an hour or two of wrapping. There are many ways to eat won tons. Most people boil them and serve them with either a sauce or soup. Chinese broths are not to be taken lightly. They are simmered for hours on end to extract every ounce of flavor from the ingredients you place into the pot, usually, ginger, garlic, rice wine, and some kind of meat and bone. This soup that I made was flavored with dried shrimp, which packs a strong umami salty bite, and pork neck bones. I omitted the extra egg noodles because I am trying to limit my carbohydrate intake.

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I laugh every time I think of myself wrapping anything-dumplings, spring rolls, wontons. I was notoriously bad at wrapping anything in my family. You see, I am not exactly known for being graceful or precise with my motor skills. So I’ll often bump into furniture, stub my toes…yes, I am a very dangerous person to have in the kitchen. But alas, I couldn’t stay away. No matter how many burns I would get on my hands, no matter how many times I accidentally nicked my fingers, I would come right back to the kitchen. With time, of course, as with anything, I have become more skilled and adept with using my hands and maneuvering my body. Although my husband Ray will tell you that I often scare him with my moves in the kitchen. So, I hope you appreciate the fact that I put myself at risk every time I make a post. =P

Without further ado, here is the recipe.

Cooking notes/tips:

Buying pre-made wonton wrappers is a huge time saver. I have never made my own wonton skins. The fun part is that you can use them as a quick ravioli wrapper as well if you are short on time.

In any Chinese meatball dish, picking up the ball of meat and slamming it back into the bowl is essential in creating the perfect texture. This and the addition of a glutinous component-usually corn starch. Chinese meatballs are springy and bouncy. They do not fall apart or melt in your mouth like Italian style meatballs. So make sure you give your meat mixture a few good slams into the bowl before you start filling your wontons.

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Also, this may sound gross, but I always have a taste of my raw meat mixtures before I allow them to marinade and cook. Of course I don’t swallow the raw meat, but I have a taste of it for saltiness and spices and then quickly rinse my mouth. This is personal preference because I do not wish to devote all my time and energy to a large serving of food, only to discover it was under seasoned from the get-go.

This last one is more of a tip of life. Make shallot oil. Lots of it! It will add a burst of flavor to all of your Asian dishes. Many Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese, and Thai dishes have this as a garnish, but it is so much more than that. It packs so much caramelized rich flavor that it acts more as a spice than a flavorless garnish.

Recipe
Serves: 10
Makes 80 wontons
Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours

Broth
½ gallon water
2 lb pork neck bones
1 handful of whole dried shrimp
3 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
3 cloves garlic

Place pork neck bones into a shallow pot of boiling hot water and boil for 5 minutes, until impurities are boiled out of bones.

Pour out the water and rinse out pork bones thoroughly until they are clean and have no more brown impurities. Add pork bones back into pot and add ½ gallon of water. Allow to come to a boil and then lower fire to a simmer. Add in garlic and shrimp and simmer for 2-3 hours.

Toward the end of cooking run a sieve through broth to remove any shrimp particles and impurities. Add in fish sauce or salt to taste. Set aside for serving with boiled wontons.

 

Wontons
2 lb ground pork
1 lb raw shrimp, rough chopped or roughly ground
1 head garlic, minced
2-inch piece of ginger, minced
large handful of garlic chives, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp sugar
2 packages of wonton wrappers
1 beaten egg + 3 tbsp water

To garnish
Bok choy (boiled)
Handful of green onion, chopped
Handful of cilantro, chopped
Shallot oil (created by caramelizing shallots in oil on low fire)

Prepare meat mixture by adding in pork, shrimp, garlic, ginger, garlic chives, salt, pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, and sugar. Place ground beef, spices, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Use hands to mix together all ingredients.

Pick up a handful of the meat mixture, lift slightly above the bowl, and then throw it back into the bowl with force. Repeat at least 5 times. Set meat mixture aside.

Prepare eggwash for wonton wrapping by adding a beaten egg to water in a bowl. Beat well.

Take a wonton wrapper and place it with a corner pointing down toward you (it will look like there is a kite on your plate). Place ~1 tbsp of filling onto the top half of the wonton. Take the eggwash with your finger and spread it along the top edges of your wonton wrapper.

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Then fold the bottom half up and over the top half, pushing out any excess air. Use your fingers to press down firmly on the edges to create a tight seal. You should end up with a triangle with the base on the bottom.

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Take the two corners on the left and right, and fold one over the other until they slightly overlap. Press down firmly to create a strong seal. Repeat until you are out of wonton wrappers. Should yield ~80 wontons.

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Boil a pot of hot water. When water is boiling, add in wontons and allow to boil ~7-10 minutes. Remove wontons from water when they begin to float to the top. Set aside. Serve with hot broth, boiled bok choy, and garnish with green onion, cilantro, and shallot oil.

Enjoy!

 

Easiest, Crispiest, Broiled Chicken Drumsticks

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Turkey day is almost upon us. The holidays are a time to feel gratitude for our friends and family. One person I am thankful for is my uncle. He is an amazing cook and loving father. I really don’t know where I would be without his love, support, and guidance. He taught me to ride a bike, rollerblade, and to work my butt off to achieve my goals. He used to test me on my multiplication tables and catch me at slacking and over-promising which ones I would have memorized. As I kid, I thought I could get away with anything as long as I put a cute smile on my face. My uncle did not fall for this trick, which taught me that I needed to just buckle down and put in the elbow grease to accomplish things. These lessons were so influential in molding who I am as a person.

My uncle was not only influential in helping me build my work ethic, but also my cooking. To be honest, I have never been a big fan of turkey. My family instead prefers chicken, pork, or beef. Instead of having turkey for Thanksgiving, my uncle would often make these chicken drumsticks in bulk for the family. I can still smell the rich, garlicky, scent of the chicken as he took it out of the oven. It was still sizzling in its own fat and juices by the time it reached the table. These are the crispiest, yummiest, caramelized broiled chicken pieces of magical goodness you will have. And they are super easy and quick to make. They are no fuss and foolproof if you follow the cooking directions. The trick is in letting your chicken marinade in garlic salt overnight. It is also important to drain your chicken of juices 3-4 times during the cooking process. Seems sacrilegious, but trust me on this. It will be the most amazing crispy chicken ever. And you don’t even have to fry it!

Cooking tips:

Always pat your meat dry before broiling or searing to create a beautiful golden brown color. I do this with tofu, chicken, steaks, salmon, and scallops before pan-frying. Basically, water is the enemy of crispiness and browning. In this chicken drumstick recipe, the same is true. Pat your chicken dry before broiling.

For this chicken recipe, you’ll want to rub your chicken skin with oil before broiling to help the skin to become crispy.

Allow your chicken to marinade overnight for best results. If not, then marinade for at least 4 hours.

Every oven has its hotspots and cooler spots. To get perfectly evenly cooked chicken, you’re going to have to rotate your chicken from the hotspot to the cool spot and vice versa.

Retain chicken juices to make a pan sauce if desired. You can easily do this by adding some garlic, shallot, butter, and sautéing them until softened. Then add white wine and chicken pan juices and you’ve got a delicious pan sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can even add a splash of lemon juice for some extra brightness!

 

Serves 2-3
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 25-30 minutes

5 chicken drumsticks
1 tbsp garlic salt
1 tbsp olive oil
pepper, to taste

 

Season chicken with garlic salt and rub into meat. Allow to sit in refrigerator overnight.

Take chicken out of marinade and pat dry with paper towels until completely dry.

Pre-heat oven to broil setting.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Place olive oil onto baking sheet and rub drumsticks in oil until every surface is covered in oil. Leave skin side up on drumsticks.

Place drumsticks into the oven ~6 inches below the broiler. Any closer and your chicken skin will burn before the inside is cooked.

5-10 minutes into cooking, drain juices and flip chicken. Allow to cook for another 5 minutes or until the chicken is somewhat browned, then flip and drain juices again. Rotate chicken as needed depending on hotspots and coolspots in oven. Repeat this process of draining and rotating chicken every 5 minutes until chicken is completely cooked through and skin is crispy.

Remove from oven to cool and sprinkle with black pepper.
Enjoy!