Sunday, July 26, 2015

Beef and Broccoli in Sweet and Pungent Sauce

     My town has one major flaw. Lots of drunks on lawnmowers. Okay, two major flaws. Drunks on lawn mowers and plastic fires. Okay, three major flaws. Drunks on mowers, plastic fires and no plows in the winter. Okay, four major flaws. Drunks on mowers, plastic fires, no plows and dogs running loose everywhere...
     I guess I'm getting off track here. My town has some serious shortcomings. The one I was trying to get to was the lack of Chinese carryout. I have to drive 30 minutes round trip to pick up carryout from the nearest Chinese restaurant. That's crazy. I have taken it upon myself to learn Chinese cooking so I can just make this stuff at home. This is a recipe for the classic beef and broccoli. The sauce was something I hadn't had before. Sweet and pungent. Not that orange sweet and sour, but something entirely different. It was fantastic. It's a bit labor intensive and bordering on a PITA, but it's totally worth trying.  Unless you live near a Chinese restaurant, in which case pick me up some egg foo young. As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Beef and Broccoli
in Sweet and Pungent Sauce

via The 1000 Recipe Chinese Cookbook
Ingredients
  • 1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1/4" slices
  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove garlic
  • cornstarch
  • oil for frying
  • 1 pound broccoli florets (preferably fresh, but if you use frozen, defrost and drain first)
For sauce
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • a few drops of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
Directions
For beef 
  1. Beat egg in a bowl. Add garlic. 
  2. Dip beef in egg mixture, dredge in corn starch to coat. 
  3. In a pan (I used my cast iron skillet), heat about 1/2" vegetable oil. Add beef slices, a few at a time and fry until golden. Remove to paper towel to drain.
For sauce
  1. In a medium saucepan (you'll be using vinegar, so make sure the pan is nonreactive), bring water to a boil. Add sugar and stir. Cook until sugar is dissolved. Add vinegar and cook for a minute or so. Add tomato sauce, garlic, fish sauce, ginger, red pepper flakes and sesame oil. Stir and cook another minute.
  2. Blend cornstarch, soy sauce and cold water to a paste. Stir into sauce to thicken. 
For broccoli
  1. Steam or boil broccoli to whatever consistency you prefer.
Once the beef, sauce and broccoli are done, toss all together over low heat until sauce covers beef and broccoli evenly. Serve over white rice.

Good times!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Apple Gingerbread

     Let's get this straight. Calling this recipe "bread" is not accurate. This is leaning well into "cake" territory. Especially because I decided to frost it. Everything is better with frosting. EVERYTHING. New York strip steak? Slap a layer of buttercream frosting on that bastard. Trust me on this. As for this recipe, it is dense and moist (I really hate that word since it can also describe my underwear after a day of yardwork) and delicious (unlike my underwear after a day of yardwork). As always, notes and changes are in blue.
Apple Gingerbread
(via Taste of Home EveryDay Light Meals)
Ingredients
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce (we used our own homemade sweetened applesauce made with brown sugar whisky)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat plain yogurt (none on hand, we used sour cream)
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped peeled Granny Smith or other tart apples (we used an equal amount of our home-made Spiked Apples)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons reduced-fat whipped topping (omitted)
  • 1 can store-bought buttercream frosting. HELL YEAH.
Directions
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, applesauce, egg and molasses; mix well. 
  2. Combine the flours, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and spices; add to the molasses mixture alternately with yogurt (sour cream), beating until just combined (because I'm lazy, I just put all the dry ingredients in the bowl for my KitchenAid, put all the wet ingredients in another bowl, then poured the wet ingredients in while the mixer was running). Fold in the apples.
  3. Pour into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray (I used a round dish just to be difficult). Bake at 350F (180C, Gasmark4) for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (ours took about an hour. I think it may be due to the extra liquid in our canned apples.)
  4. Cool on a wire rack, Cut into squares, top with a dollop of whipped topping (feeling exceptionally lazy, I took a can of buttercream frosting and frosted the entire thing like a cake. Next time I think I'll make some cream cheese frosting for it!)
Good times!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Whole Wheat Bread

     I do believe we've found our favorite wheat bread recipe so far. Most of the wheat bread recipes we've found have resulted in breads that, while tasty, were dense enough to hammer nails. This particular recipe, with a couple changes (firstly we omitted the nuts. The Wife is not a fan of nuts in her bread), resulted in a beautiful loaf of soft, delicious bread with just a hint of sweetness. I used this for a salami and provolone sandwich with some red onion and spicy brown mustard and it was amazing. Truly this bread is fantastic and could easily supplant Shaker or Sally Lunn for our weekly loaf. The first loaf we made didn't even survive two days in our house! You need this bread. Even if you're gluten intolerant, it's worth the pain. As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Whole Wheat Bread
(via Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals)
Ingredients

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (omitted)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) quick-rise yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup reduced-fat plain yogurt (no yogurt on hand, we used sour cream)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
Directions
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour and the rest of the dry ingredients (I used the bowl from my KitchenAid, since that's where I'd be doing the mixing/kneading).
  2. In a saucepan, heat water, yogurt (sour cream) and butter to about 120-130F (I just heated until the butter melted in. Either way, let it cool to 110F or below before you move to the next step)
  3. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Beat until smooth. Add enough remaining all-purpose flour to form a soft dough (we always wind up using all the flour). Turn out onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes (On the KitchenAid, I used the dough hook the entire time. I turned it on low, added the liquid, then slowly added the remaining flour and let it knead for about 2-3 minutes)
  4. Shape dough into a ball and place on a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray (we used a lightly greased pizza stone). Cover and let rest in a warm place for 20 minutes. (I highly suggest lightly scoring an "X" into the top of the ball with a knife to prevent a mushroom shaped bread. Unless you're into that sort of thing, then do what feels natural)
  5. Bake at 400F (200C, Gasmark 6) for 25-30 minutes, (we generally go about 27 minutes) or until golden brown. Turn out on a wire rack to cool.
Good times!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Zesty Crabuluxe Cold Pasta Salad

     To me, one of the quintessential summer dishes is the cold pasta salad. However, they seem to come in two varieties: drowning in a vinegar based liquid, or caulked together with horrifying amounts of mayonnaise. I wanted to make my own pasta salad that was lighter on the dressing, but still packed a bunch of flavor. I decided to combine some Miracle Whip with some jalapeno sauce that I have stashed away. The Wife and I were decidedly pleased with the results. My only complaint was that we used linguine. We didn't have any non-noodle pastas available and it was hard to get everything mixed together. The flavor was great. The jalapeno sauce packed plenty of flavor, but not a lot of heat. It was very tasty and the dressing was mercifully light. Give it a try and see how you like it. And remember, if you like it half as much as we did, then we liked it twice as much as you. As always, notes are in blue.

Zesty Crabuluxe Cold Pasta Salad
Ingredients
  • 1 pound pasta (we used linguine, but I'd suggest macaroni, rotini or shells. It's really hard to get the cold ingredients mixed well through noodle-type pasta)
  • 4 tablespoons whipped dressing (aka Miracle Whip)
  • 4 tablespoons jalapeno sauce (click on the link for the recipe. I'm not sure what you'd use for an equivalent. Maybe a nice jalapeno based salsa)
  • 1 pound of Crabuluxe, broken into small pieces (imitation crab meat. If you've got the money for a pound of real crab, go nuts)
  • 3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
Directions
  1. Cook pasta until al dente. Add the frozen peas to the pot during the last few minutes of cooking. You do not want the pasta to be mushy. Make sure it still has some bite. Drain and allow to cool.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the whipped dressing, jalapeno sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder.
  3. In a large bowl add the cooled pasta and peas, Crabuluxe, cheese and veggies. Add the dressing mixture and toss to incorporate all the ingredients. Put in the fridge and allow to chill for at least one hour.
Good times!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Product Review: NINA's Paris Teas

     First, let me apologize for the long delay in posting this review. The fine people at NINA's (www.ninasteastore.com) sent me a selection of three teas to sample some time ago. By some, I mean a long time ago. The delay in review was inexcusable. Mostly because I cheated myself out of some absolutely fantastic teas. The time has come for an honest, unbiased review of these teas. The Wife helped out with two of the reviews and her comments will be included. I figured two reviews at once!

Marie-Antoinette
Type: Black tea
Flavored with: Ceylon, apples, rose petals and roses

This was the first tea I tried. At the time I was being very selfish and did not afford The Wife the opportunity to try this. On opening the bag of tea, you are met with notable aromas of the ingredients. You get definite notes of apples and roses over a nice Ceylon.  We followed the brewing instructions and...


     The tea has a lovely color. The aromas of apple and rose really come out. I decided all the teas would be sampled as is. No sugar or cream. I wanted to taste it totally on its own.

The verdict
        This tea is absolutely wonderful. Floral and fruity, this tea stands completely on its own. This could easily be an any time of the day tea for me. I can easily see keeping this one in the regular rotation.

The des Muses
Type: Green Tea
Flavored with: Sunflowers, rose petals, cornflowers, lemon, grapefruit, strawberry 

When you open the bag, you are met with distinctive fruity notes. This is a fresh smelling tea that hints at natural sweetness. The Wife and I were very excited about this.

Tea for two!
          The Wife leaned in for an over-enthusiastic sniff of the bouquet of the tea:

And managed to stick her whole darned beezer into the cup.
Once she stopped laughing and dried her nose,
 she declared the tea's bouquet to be "flowery."
The verdict? We both loved this tea. As we expected, this tea had a natural sweetness. Neither of us felt that adding anything was necessary. The Wife declared this to be a great, "relaxing tea for just before bedtime." I agree totally. I don't see myself starting the day with this tea, but I can certainly see me finishing the day with a nice cup of The des Muses.

Scorpio (Scorpion)
Type: Rooibos Tea
Flavored with: Peach, apricot, cream

It turns out rooibos is a member of the legume family! What does that mean? Well, it's caffeine free, so if you have an issue with caffeine, this is right up your alley. When we opened this bag, The Wife and I got slightly different interpretations of the tea. I thought it smelled slightly vegetal, almost nutty, which isn't a bad thing. The Wife said it smelled almost of cherry, reminding her of pipe tobacco.

The color of this tea is absolutely fantastic.
     Once the tea was brewed, we were immediately taken with the striking red color of the tea. We both held to our original interpretations of the bouquet. We each sampled the tea.

Since The Wife can't drink tea without sticking her nose in it,
I figure I'd regale you with another picture of me.
You're welcome.
The verdict? We both like this tea, as well. We both got definite flavor of peaches. The Wife still clung to her cherry theory. She really enjoyed this tea. The caffeine free was a bonus for her since she's breast feeding and would rather not have a potentially jittery baby.

We were both very pleased with the tea we tried and would certainly not hesitate to keep these teas in regular rotation. The prices are a shade above my middle class budget, but that wouldn't stop me from treating myself to  a tin or two. For the quality of the product, the price is still reasonable. If you're a tea drinker, you should do yourself the favor and head over to their site and take a look (www.ninasteastore.com). They also sell a selection of jams that look quite good. Give them a try!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Spicy Chicken Mashed Potato Bowl with Creamed Corn Gravy

     Since tomorrow is Independence Day, or as it is known in our neighborhood, "drink a bunch of Natural Light and blow up the whole goddamn town," I thought I'd post up a recipe that strikes me as distinctly 'Murican. What could be a better testament to the 4th of July then taking a fried chicken and mashed potato meal and jamming it all into one bowl? I know KFC did it first, but mine is better. How do I know this? I do. Don't question me. These were just delicious. There's even room for interpretation. You could swap the BBQ sauce for hot sauce and do more of a Buffalo chicken bowl. You can change up the cheese, or use different potatoes. This is a celebration of American Independence. Feel free to do exactly what you want while everyone else silently judges you. This recipe should yield 4 average sized bowls. 2 if you're a big eater. 1 if you need an intervention.  As always, notes are in blue.

Spicy Chicken Mashed Potato Bowl
with Creamed Corn Gravy
Ingredients
  • 1 pound breaded chicken tenders, preferably around 1" pieces (you can make them yourself or do like we did and use store bought)
  • 3 potatoes
  • 1 can (14.5 ounce) creamed corn 
  • 1/2 cup milk, divided
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning  (we used Slap Ya Mama)
  • 1/2 cup spicy barbecue sauce (we used Two Fat Guys Lava Hot)
  • Shredded pepper-jack cheese
Directions
  1. Boil potatoes until soft enough that if you stick a fork in them, they won't stay on the fork.
  2. Drain potatoes. Add 1/2 cup milk and butter. Mash, adding butter and milk as needed until potatoes are mashed to your preference (if you boiled the potatoes in a nonstick pot, I certainly hope you put them in a bowl or used a plastic masher, because if you didn't, you just wrecked your pot)
  3. In a medium saucepan, add the cream corn and milk. Heat and bring to a very low simmer. Stir in flour and seasoning. Remove from heat.
  4. Cook up your chicken tenders however you want. We just baked ours. Toss with your favorite barbecue sauce until chicken is evenly coated.
  5. In a bowl, spoon in some mashed potatoes. Throw on some chicken. Sprinkle liberally with shredded cheese. Top with a healthy dollop of gravy.
Good times!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Slow Cooker Kielbasa, Potato and Sauerkraut Stew

     With the arrival of a new baby, I quickly realized time was going to be at a premium.  With a hungry new member of the house, we would likely be spending the first couple of weeks overwhelmed with parenting. I took advantage of a couple free hours to drag out the slow cookers and prep a few meals to carry us through the busy time. This take on sausage and kraut was one of them. The addition of a cream soup gave it a nice stew consistency. It was super easy, filling and tasty. I will certainly add this one to the rotation. As always, notes are in blue.

Slow Cooker Kielbasa, Potato
and Sauerkraut Stew
Ingredients

  • 2 kielbasa (about 1 pound)
  • 3 potatoes, cut into about 1" cubes
  • 1 can (10.5 ounces) cream of celery soup
  • 1 can (10.5 ounces) water
  • 3 tablespoons spicy brown mustard (Gulden's is always my go-to)
  • 1 pound prepared sauerkraut (we used from a jar. You can use canned or bagged or even make it from scratch if you're feeling particularly productive)
Directions
  1. Load all ingredients into a slow cooker. Stir to incorporate water and soup.
  2. Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or until potatoes are tender. 
Good times!