Beef Bourguinon With Cheesy Mashed Potatoes

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Julia Child was a pioneer in making French food accessible to Americans. I fondly remember watching her show on PBS as a kid. To be honest, I was too young to appreciate her talents at that age. But now, I am so thankful that she stuck to her guns and kept forging ahead with her cooking. Watching “Julie and Julia” made me really curious about this special dish called beef bourguinon. I wondered what the big fuss was all about. From all the different steps to preparing the ingredients to the long slow cooking process in a fancy Dutch oven that costs almost as much as my part of the rent.

My version does not use a Le Creuset Dutch oven, but I doubt that it made a huge impact on the flavor since I pulled out all the stops to develop flavor in the broth. The key to creating depth of flavor lies in all the browning, sautéing, and deglazing processes. So if you take the time with those steps, you should be good to go, fancy equipment or not. =)

With the busy holidays coming up, I’m not sure how many posts I’ll be able to make. So I will make this my main holiday dish post. Beef bourguinon is supposed to be a dish for special guests and special occasions. All the time and effort that go into the stew can be tasted with every morsel. I remember making this for my husband’s office a few weeks ago. They are a small company with close ties, and there was news of the sudden passing of one of his coworkers. Everyone was blind sighted by this, and struggled with get through the week. It also happened to be my husband’s birthday a few days later. In hopes of cheering folks up or at least providing some comfort, I made this stew for his office-mates. After all, what is more comforting than stew? I am really glad that I can offer comfort to those that I care about through my cooking.

I hope that this recipe is helpful to you when you are looking for that special dish that will uplift spirits and warm the soul. Happy Holidays everyone.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

When working with a slow-cooker, always be careful in the timing of your cooking and be sure to place ingredients in at different times because if you put meat and veggies in at the beginning of a stew, the veggies will all disintegrate by the end of cooking. It is easy to overcook dishes when using a slow-cooker, which will result in dry meat paste. So for this dish, make sure you turn off the slow-cooker once your meat is just falling apart with the touch of a fork.

Make sure you sauté your mushrooms separately and then add them into your stew only at the very end of cooking. Otherwise, your mushrooms will disintegrate into the stew.

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I’ve made this stew and served it with cheesy polenta/grits, which works equally as well as mashed potatoes. It’s a matter of personal preference. You can also just eat it with a nice loaf of crusty fresh bread.

Choose a red wine that you enjoy drinking rather than relying on “cooking wines.” I personally do not drink alcohol very often, so I usually just find a relatively cheap bottle of Pinot Noir in the $10 range.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours

Beef Bourguinon
5 lbs beef stew meat, cubed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
5 large carrots
1 cup pearl onions
1 small can tomato paste
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp pepper, or to taste
1 cup dry red wine (Pinot Noir)
1 quart beef stock
1 quart water
4 stalks of fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
2 tbsp butter

1 cup baby portabello mushrooms, quartered
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp corn starch
4 tbsp water
1 spring of fresh thyme, stems removed

Cut beef into 2-inch cubes and season with salt, and pepper. Allow the meat to sit for 10 minutes.

In a heated oiled skillet, brown the beef. Add red wine and tomato paste. Cook for 5 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper.

Place beef mixture into crockpot/slow cooker and add in beef stock, water, fresh springs of thyme, and bay leaves. Slow cook on high setting for 4 hours.

With one hour left of cooking, add in carrots and pearl onions. Allow too cook for 1 more hour or until beef is tender.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet on medium high heat and add in butter and olive oil. Add in mushrooms and allow to brown, with minimal turning. When mushrooms are beginning to brown, add in minced garlic and fresh thyme. Sauté for 1 more minute and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

When beef is tender, taste broth and beef for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix corn starch with cold water until corn starch is dissolved. Then add this to your stew to allow it to thicken ~5 minutes.

When stew is thickened, add in sautéed mushrooms and serve with mashed potatoes (recipe below)

Cheesy Mashed Potatoes
2 lbs potatoes, cut and peeled
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
6 tbsp butter
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
~ 1 tbsp garlic salt or sea salt

Boil 2 quarts of water. Place cut and peeled potatoes into boiling water. Boil until potatoes can be easily pierced by a fork ~20 minutes.

Heat heavy cream, milk, and butter in a sauce pan. Add in salt and mix well.

Drain potatoes and mash with a potato masher. When potatoes are mashed, add in cream mixture. Mix well into potatoes.

To create a smoother creamier texture, use handheld immersion blender to whip potatoes. Add in Parmigiano cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

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!

 

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

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Spring rolls are among my favorite of Vietnamese foods. They are easy, healthy, filled with lots of veggies, and are bursting with flavor. Spring rolls are usually my go-to when I am entertaining a large group of friends. They are convenient because people roll them up themselves, which saves me a lot of extra time in the kitchen. All I have to do is wash and cut up veggies, and cook my protein. After tasting pre-made spring rolls from Trader Joes, I’ve realized how good the real thing is compared to what is out there! So do yourself a favor and make some for yourself.

While most American families have a roast for their Sunday night family dinners, my family gatherings usually consisted of an assortment of Vietnamese and Chinese fare. So eating spring rolls became a staple for my family. I am always reminded of fun times eating with my grandmother, aunts, and uncles when I whip up some spring rolls for myself. I am transported back to my pre-adolescent days smiling and nodding along as my family members tried to instruct me on proper spring rolling form. As a youngster, I thought I knew everything, especially about cooking and food. I had spent hours watching Food Network stars every day, so it would only be natural for me to be an expert at this simple food preparation….wrong. It took me a long time to master rolling these babies up. In my adulthood I would finally realize that I was too greedy with my rolls. That was why they would always burst apart. I thought that I could fill them up as full as you would a burrito.

There are many variations on Vietnamese spring rolls. The formula is this:

Spring roll wrapper + protein + lettuce + fresh crunchy veggies (cucumber and carrot) + fresh herbs (mints & basil) + vermicelli rice noodle

Another delicious variation of spring rolls involves having a huge fried fish in the middle of the dinner table. You take small pieces of fish and place them into your spring roll wrapper, filling it with noodles and veggies. I usually make mine without noodles because I am trying to reduce my carbohydrate intake.

In terms of dipping sauces, the two most common ones are: fish sauce or hoisin peanut sauce. I personally prefer fish sauce, but hoisin peanut sauce pairs nicely with spring rolls that are filled with blander proteins, e.g., tofu, boiled shrimp, and boiled pork

Cooking notes/tips:

A common mistake in making spring rolls is that people dip their wrapper in water for much too long or they leave their noodles in water, and then place them in the spring roll. You’ll want to strain and completely dry your noodles before using them for spring rolls. And with the spring roll wrapper, just a quick dip in warm or hot water will be enough to soften the wrap. It takes a minute, so be patient. While you are layering your fillings in the wrapper, it will soften. So by the time you are ready to wrap, it should be perfectly soft enough. If it is not, then wait a minute longer. It might also be an indication that your water for dipping the wrapper needs to be hotter.

The pork marinade shared in this recipe can be used to prepare thin slices of pork that are used for vermicelli noodle salad and Vietnamese broken rice. Or you can just eat it with some white rice and call it a night. Because there is sugar in this marinade, burning will occur if your fire is on too high. Keep heat at medium or even medium low when cooking.

Because Vietnamese food is such a staple for me, I usually have loads of prepared fish sauce on hand. The recipe that I shared is for a smaller portion, but just use equal parts bottled fish sauce, fresh lemon juice, and water, with ½ the amount of sugar for best results. This prepared fish sauce is best when you give it time for its flavors to meld together. I recommend making the sauce the night before for best results. If not, then at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Always keep this sauce refrigerated and stored in a clean jar with a lid. This sauce is the same that is used for dipping in many Vietnamese salad and noodle salad dishes, so it is handy dandy to have some around.

Do not over-fill your spring rolls. The ingredients that you layer onto the wrapper should only take up a 1-1.5 inch thick horizontal strip on the edge of your wrapper that is closest to you. Cut up your meat, tofu, and veggies into thin strips to allow them to fit nicely onto your spring roll wrapper. Remember: less is more. As you wrap, make sure that you keep a semi-firm grip on your roll to make sure the wrap is tight.

Spring rolls are best eaten fresh. If they are refrigerated, the wrapper becomes hard. If you need to make them ahead of time, wrap each one individually with saran wrap. Microwaving them for 15 seconds can help to soften them up if they have been refrigerated.

Ingredients
2 pork chops
1 tbsp minced lemongrass
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
pinch of sugar
2 tbsp oil

2 tbsp oil
1 block tofu, cut into ½ inch thick pieces

1 cucumber, cut into ½ thick sticks
1 bunch basil
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch mint (optional)
1 bunch green onion (optional)
1 bunch red or green lettuce
½ carrot, julienned

Dipping Sauce: fish sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp hot water, or to taste
sambal chili sauce to taste

Dipping sauce: hoisin peanut sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp water, or to taste

1 pack spring roll wrappers
1 big pot of hot water

Marinate pork chops in lemongrass, minced garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar. Allow to sit at least 1 hour. Overnight preferred.

Make fish sauce by adding minced garlic, sugar, fish sauce, lemon juice, hot water, and sambal. Allow to sit refrigerated at least 30 minutes.

Make hoisin peanut sauce by heating a saucepan on low. Add in peanut butter and allow to heat up. Then add hoisin sauce and mix in pan for a minute. Then add water to make sauce more runny and sauce-like. Continue stirring and remove from heat when sauce is at desired consistency (slightly thinner than the texture of pudding). Add in sambal (red chili sauce) if desired. Set aside.

Pat dry pieces of tofu to allow them to brown.

Turn on skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil and reduce heat to medium low. Place tofu in pan and fry for 7-10 minutes on each side without moving the tofu. Fry until each side is golden brown. Turn over and allow the other side to brown ~7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prep fresh vegetables and herbs. Set aside.

Turn on skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil and reduce heat to medium. Add in pork chop and fry on each side until golden brown ~5 minutes each side. Set aside.

Assemble spring roll. Dip spring roll wrapper in pot of hot water. Once both sides are wet, immediately remove from water and place wrapper onto a plate. Place ½ a leaf of lettuce horizontally on edge of the wrapper that is closet to you. Then layer with pork and/or tofu, 1 stick of cucumber, 1 stick of carrot, and small handful of herbs. Place all ingredients in a neat horizontal line that is no more than 1 inch thick.

Then roll spring roll as you would a burrito. Roll horizontally and away from you until ingredients are just covered by the spring roll wrapper. Then fold up the left and right edges inward to close the edges of the roll. Roll the rest of it horizontally away from you and you end up with a spring roll.

Dip your spring roll into the fish sauce or hoisin sauce and enjoy!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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!