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!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

Pulled Pork Sliders with Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing

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Ok, brace yourselves. This recipe has multiple components, but with a little patience and the help of a slow cooker, you will get through. I love Mexican flavors and spices, and will oftentimes use them in recipes that are my own versions of some traditional dishes that I’ve tasted growing up in a Chicano community. I do not pretend to be an expert in Latin cooking, but I definitely have a fond appreciation of it and try my best to emulate some of the flavors that I’ve tasted.

I had a house warming party for my husband’s cousins about a month ago. I took requests for what they wanted to eat and my nephew Miles requested something with slow cooked pork using Latin spices. Which is how I came up with this Latin-inspired pulled pork slider. The pulled pork is actually quite simple to make because I use pre-made salsa as the sauce/marinade for the pulled pork.

Because the pulled pork brings spice and savory meatiness, I wanted to have a contrast of flavors and textures. I wanted some sweetness, which was why I chose to serve the pulled pork on Hawaiian rolls. I also wanted an acidic sharp brightness to lighten the heaviness of the pulled pork, which was why I added some pickled red onion. Lastly, the cilantro lime cotija dressing brings everything together with a nice creaminess that adds a zing and cools the tongue after it’s been tantalized with those wonderful spices in the pulled pork. So there you go: every component serves a purpose and helps to make this a complete dish.

Cooking tips:

Usually slow cooking results in lots of liquid left in the pot. I decided to pour out this liquid, remove most of the fat, and then boil it on high heat to let it reduce to about half its volume. I then added this reduced sauce back into the pulled pork to soak in. The result? Amazing depth of flavor. I highly recommend doing this to any slow cooked meat dish you make in the future. Do not waste those yummy juices! They just need a little tweaking and help from heat to concentrate their deliciousness.

To dilute the harsh spiciness of raw onion, soak it in cold water for at least an hour before using. I did this for the pickled onion prior to marinating it in its pickling brine and it worked really nicely.

For better depth of flavor and richness, use full fat Greek Yogurt rather than reduced or non-fat. You will not be sorry.

Cotija can be substituted with feta cheese, but the cotija gives this dish the Latin flair that I was aiming for.

A leaner cut of meat would not do well with this recipe because slow cooking can really dry out the meat, resulting in a tough product at the end. For example, a pork loin center cut would not be recommended.

Since this is a crockpot recipe, it can be done ahead of time and would even be more delicious the day after making the pulled pork. Meat dishes that are slow cooked tend to taste better 1-2 days after the initial cooking time.

Serving suggestions for leftovers (as you all know that I do not like to waste food): the pickled onion is great in salads and on other sandwiches if you have any leftover; the cilantro lime dressing is something that I make for dipping veggie sticks or as a kind of green goddess dressing for my salads and/or pita wraps; the pulled pork can be frozen and later used as a filling for quesadillas and enchiladas, even tamales if you are up to the task.

Recipe
Serves 20
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Passive Cooking Time: 6 hours

1 dozen Hawaiian rolls

Pulled Pork
10 lb pork butt
4 tbsp BBQ rub (salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper)
½ tub of Del Real red salsa (or your favorite red salsa)
4 whole tomatoes, diced

Rub pork with BBQ rub, then place into a large crockpot.

Pour salsa and tomatoes into the crockpot surrounding the pork.

Add 1 cup of water.

Turn crockpot onto high heat and slow cook for approximately 6 hours, or until pork is tender and can be easily pulled apart with a fork.

When pork is ready, remove from the crockpot and allow to cool before starting to pull pork apart.

Remove fat from the liquid left in crockpot and place the liquid in a saucepan. Boil over high heat for 10-15 minutes or until liquid reduces in volume by half.

When pork is cooled, use fingers to pull pork into small 1-inch pieces. Remove any excess large pieces of fat remaining on the pork. When pork is completely pulled, add in reduced cooking liquid. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Pickled onion
1 red onion
2 cups water (for soaking)
2 cups water
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp salt

Thinly slice onion and submerge into a cold water bath for at least an hour.

Then mix water with vinegar, sugar, and salt until sugar and salt crystals dissolve. The mixture should be somewhat salty and sweet, with a sour bite from the vinegar. Taste for seasoning. Then place soaked onions into this pickling liquid.

Pickle onions at least 2 hours. For better results, pickle overnight.

Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing
1 handful fresh cilantro
juice and zest of 2 limes
1 cup full fat Greek yogurt
½ cup cotija cheese, crumbled (can be substituted with feta)
1 tsp black pepper
pinch of salt to taste
1 tsp sugar

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until it becomes a smooth green mixture.

Taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste.

After all pulled pork, pickled onions, and cilantro lime cotija dressing are prepared, assemble sandwiches using Hawaiian rolls. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Serve to your guests and enjoy!

Chinese Spiced Meatballs

CEA054EE-A857-44BA-8530-9A1E08A3D268 (1)These meatballs transport me back to the past, when my now-husband (then-boyfriend) was completing an internship in Shenzhen, China. We had been a long distance couple since we first started dating. After 6 years of living in different ends of the state, it felt so good to finally live in the same city. We enjoyed 3 years of living together for the first time, and it was challenging but incredible. Unfortunately, after this brief period of bliss, life took us in different directions yet again. Ray was offered an internship in Shenzhen, China following his graduation from architecture school in 2013. He was in China for what felt like an eternity, but in actuality, was 3 months. The time difference and lack of cell phone data made it difficult for us to keep in touch. We had daily chats during his lunch time, when he would tell me about his upcoming weekend adventures or new food finds.

Ray and I are huge fans of good food. My way of showing love for him is to remember his favorites and to try to either recreate them or find a local restaurant that serves them. One of his favorite street foods came up again and again in our conversations: spiced lamb skewers. My family had never made these for us, as their culinary and cultural roots were in the Canton province of China. I had never tried Chinese lamb skewers until I attended the 626 Night Market, when I made it a point to finally sample this special treat. I was blown away by the explosion of flavor in my mouth-there was sweet, salty, spice, and heat all in one bite. After trying the traditional lamb skewers, I have wracked my brain to figure out how to recreate the dish. I did not have lamb available, so I used ground beef instead. When I eat these meatballs, I remember the time that he was in China, as well as the separation that we have weathered as a couple. Sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, and spice-this meatball carries it all; just like what life has to offer. Having these elements in balance is key to a beautiful dish and a beautiful life.

When Ray came back to the States, he was offered a job and had to move away. We were apart yet again. We were reunited in 2015 when I successfully matched to an internship near him. We found an apartment together, took in my family dog, and the rest is history. We are now newlyweds and cannot be more grateful for the amazing life that we have -full of love, family, friends, and wonderful moments. After all these years of distance and missing one another, we have learned to cherish the precious amount of time that we have together.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

When making any meat dish that is marinated, I highly recommend cutting of a small piece to cook and sample to taste for flavor. I prefer not to eat raw meat. So when you make any meatball/meatloaf dish or have a filling for ravioli or dumplings, always taste for seasoning before proceeding with your dish.

Do not over mix meatballs as they can become tough and difficult to eat. Mix just enough for your ingredients to be evenly distributed.

Thai restaurants provide delicious red pepper flakes that would be perfect for this dish. If you are getting takeout from a Thai restaurants, do not throw these red pepper flakes away. Making these spiced meatballs is a great way to use up this often discarded condiment.

Please do not add sesame oil or sesame seeds to a dish just because it is Asian. Not all Asian dishes have sesame oil and sesame seeds in them. In fact, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines hardly use sesame oil. Korean cuisine uses it the most, followed by Chinese cuisine, and even then, only very specific Chinese dishes use sesame oil. Ok, end rant. Thanks for reading.

Recipe
Serves: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

1 lb ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp seasoned salt (e.g., Trader Joe’s), to taste
1 tbsp red pepper flake
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
optional: sambal (red chili sauce)

Directions

Prepare meatballs. Place ground beef, spices, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Use hands to mix together all ingredients. Set aside (preferably for 4 hours or overnight).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Begin forming meat mixture into meatballs 1-2 inches in diameter.

Place meatballs onto an oiled baking tray, allowing some space between each meatball. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove 2 tbsp of juices from cooked meatballs and mix with honey. Use this to glaze meatballs after they are cooked.

Optional: top with red chili sauce and serve hot.

Enjoy!