Thursday, August 27, 2009

a few rays of light

My photo maybe isn't as cool as it was last year......but this year I got to take this handsome fellow with me.

And I think that more than makes up for it. If you are in the Kansas City area and want some sunflower pictures of your own (think family photos for Christmas cards), you can find directions to the sunflower field here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

whipped. and fried.

It’s the final week. I had to go out with a bang. Or at least a deep fry. And why not make one more Chinese food recipe while I’m on a roll? Adrienne had been telling me for some time now that she had the perfect Sesame Chicken recipe, but each time she mentioned it I think I responded with, “That sounds GREAT! When are you making it so that I can come over for dinner?” I’m a good friend that way.

But, there I was, on the last week of the Whip It Up challenge, and in need of a good Homemade Take-Out recipe. Sesame Chicken? Why, yes, I think I shall.
Chinese Sesame Chicken

Approx. 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 T. soy sauce
2 T. flour
2 T. cornstarch
3 T. water
¼ t. baking powder
¼ t. baking soda
1 t. vegetable oil

Sauce for chicken:
½ C. water
1 C. chicken broth
1/8 C. vinegar
¼ C. cornstarch
1 C. sugar
2 T. soy sauce
1 t. vegetable oil
½ t. chili powder (or more, if you like it hot)
1 clove garlic minced or equiv. garlic powder

2 T. toasted sesame seeds
Oil for frying

1. Cut the chicken into cubes. Mix the marinade ingredients and marinade the chicken for 20 minutes.
2. To prepare the sauce, mix together all the sauce ingredients. Pour them into a small pot and bring to a boil, stirring continuously. Turn the heat down to low and keep warm while you fry the chicken.
3. Heat oil in saucepan, generous enough to cover chicken completely for frying. Add marinated chicken a few pieces at a time and deep fry until golden brown; drain on paper towels. Repeat for all the chicken. 4. Just before you’re done frying, bring the sauce back up to a boil. Place chicken in a serving dish and pour sauce over. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with rice.
I learned a couple of things while making this. First, if you are only serving two people you probably only need one pound of chicken. I used only one pound of chicken and still made the full marinade and sauce recipes. Yum. I like lots of sauce. Second, I hate deep frying. ‘Tis messy and can be painful when the oil spatters out and burns your hand. Multiple times during the painfully slow frying process (I was totally following the “add marinated chicken a few pieces at a time” direction and it took me almost half an hour to fry up my one pound of chicken.) I mumbled in frustration, “This is so lame. I hate this recipe. I would never make this again.” And third, I would totally make this again. Yum! It only took one bite before I was eating my words right along with this delicious chicken.

This recipe was very easy to follow and the finished product was scrumptious. I would definitely make this again. And by “I would make this”, I mean “I would ask Somebody to make this.” Obviously.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

less baking. more baby.

Because I promised Janssen (who I KNOW isn't hitting refresh every ten seconds) and because it has been on my list of things to do for, oh, four months now, I'm going to be putting up some photos and stories of Gulliver. The photos come first. You might have to check back later for stories. And I put them up on the dates when they SHOULD have been originally posted, so you might need to go back three months in the posts to find them. Unless, of course, you are like Janssen and read me in Reader. Lucky people like her live in Boston AND get all the pictures back to back without any work at all.

Also, as I was posting these (because I only picked one picture per week to start with--I'm trying to not overwhelm myself) Somebody told me I had picked ugly pictures. Perhaps we should consider that Gulliver was ugly that week. Or that I only took a couple of pictures of him that week and didn't have much to choose from. In any case you should notice that he is cute now, even if he was "ugly" for a few weeks there. You did notice that, right? That he is turning out to be just the cutest little thing EVER? I'm not biased at all.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

rocking the chinese wife thing

I don’t have a favorite chef. Is that strange? Do most people? So, for this challenge I used Somebody’s favorite Taiwanese chef (Pei Mei, as I mentioned before) and attempted another Chinese dinner. Behold, the Quick Stir-fried Beef with Green Onion.

Let me just begin my saying that you really need super-de-duper, paper-thin sliced beef for this. We did not have paper-thin beef. It was more like cardboard thin. It worked, but I think thinner would have been better. We attempted to get ours paper-thin. Honestly, we did.

Before you begin here, Somebody read through this post and determined that it was kind of boring. Feel free to skip right to the recipe at the end if you find yourself falling asleep.

Scene One: Saturday night at the meat counter in the grocery store.
Me (to the butcher): If we buy a piece of meat here, can you put it in your freezer until it is more solid and then slice it paper-thin for us?
Butcher #1 (played by a teenager): I have no idea. Let me go ask. (He goes into the back and reappears with an older and apparently much wise butcher.)
Butcher #2: What do you want?
Me: If we buy a piece of meat here, can you put it in your freezer until it is more solid and then slice it paper-thin for us?
Butcher #2: Sure. You just purchase it and then bring it back here with the receipt. We’ll put it in the freezer, then slice it for you, then have it ready for you on Monday.
Me: Wonderful. I love you. I will always shop here for, lo, your customer service, it is awesome.

Scene Two: Monday afternoon at the meat counter in the grocery store.
Me (to the butcher): Hi, do you remember me? I left the meat here on Saturday and you were going to slice it paper-thin for me.
Butcher #1 (played by a teenager): Uh…sure. Hold on. (He goes into the back and reappears with our meat, most certainly frozen to a solid block and NOT already sliced. He begins to unwrap the meat to get going on the slicing. Enter Butcher #3.)
Butcher #3: What are you doing?
Butcher #1: Just slicing this up for her.
Butcher #3. You can’t do that. Our meat slicer won’t slice meat that is frozen.
Me: Actually, it has to be mostly frozen in order to get it as thin as we want it.
Butcher #3: We can’t do that here.
Me: On Saturday, someone here told me you could.
Butcher #3: Well, not this frozen. You’ll have to take it home and thaw it out and then bring it back.
Me: Can you just do that here? Keep it in your refrigerator and then when it reaches the correct thaw/frozen ratio just slice it up paper-thin for me?
Butcher #3: No. There’s, uh, some liability or something, blah blah, and we can’t keep your meat in our freezer. What if we lost it?
Butcher #3: So, you just take it home and bring it back later when it is more thawed and we’ll slice it up for you.
Me: I hate you. You think I’m going to come back here with my meat? You, mister, have another think coming.

Scene Three: Tuesday evening at the meat counter in the grocery store.
Somebody (who had been given this chore because I refused to return to the meat counter as my loathing and frustration were still running deep. I had, however, taken the meat out of our freezer at precisely 3pm so that it could reach the perfect thaw/frozen ratio by the time Somebody got home and could go to the grocery store.): Hi, I brought this meat back for you to slice up paper-thin for us.
Butcher #3: What? Why? We can’t do that here. This here meat slicer is only for already cooked meat. We can’t put raw meat on there.
Somebody (eyeing the meat counter with NOT ONE piece of already cooked meat in the display case. All the cooked meat was over on the other side of the store in the deli section. The meat section had ONLY raw meat.): Uh, what? This is the third time we’ve been here.
Butcher #3: (Big sigh.) I GUESS I can use the saw in the back. Hold on. (Goes into the back. Returns a few minutes later with CARDBOARD-THICK slices of meat.) Here you go. Have a great day. Come back and see us again!
Somebody: My wife was right. You guys pretty much suck.

Curtain closes.

Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book Volume 2
My notes and observations are in parenthesis. We doubled this recipe because we were feeding more than two people.

Quick Stir-fried Beef with Green Onion
250 g. sliced beef (Do you love having your meat portioned by grams? We do NOT.)
2 cups shredded green onion (Shredded? We just cut it into 2-inch pieces, then sliced then in half length-wise.)
3 Tbsp sliced garlic (We used minced garlic because that was all we had.)
4 Tbsp oil
To marinate beef:
¼ tsp salt
½ Tbsp wine
1 Tbsp oil
1/6 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cold water
½ Tbsp cornstarch

1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

1. Prepare the beef marinade in a bowl. Then add the sliced beef (The beef slices should be paper-thin. Good luck with that.) Mix thoroughly with your fingers. Set aside and marinate for at least 10 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a pan. Turn the pan around so that the oil covers the base of the pan.
3. When the oil is smoking hot, put the sliced garlic in. Then add the sliced beef. Stir over high heat for about 10 seconds (10 seconds? Only super paper-thin beef would be cooked in 10 seconds. Just cook it until just barely done.) Splash soy sauce around the sides of the pan. Mix and remove to a bowl. Reserve juice in pan. (We poured out most of the juice because it was WAY too much.) 4. Reheat the juice, then add green onion. Stir fry only for 5 seconds. Turn off the heat. Pour the beef back into the pan. Combine with green onion and add sesame oil. Transfer to a serving plate.

We served this over white rice (of course). This recipe was easy to follow (I felt more confident stir-frying this time) and the meal was delicious. We will make this again. We also had some squid (left over from our calamari adventure last week) that Somebody prepared and served with shrimp in a yummy sauce.
Oh, and because you were all curious, we got our squid at the grocery store at the military post. You could probably find it already cut up, but we were going for squid we could also use in other Chinese recipes. Hence the whole squid. Again, SO not worth making the calamari at home. Make this Beef with Green Onion instead. You won’t be sorry.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Saturday, August 08, 2009

fried is the only way to eat them

Let me just begin by saying that we won’t make this appetizer again. The recipe was easy to follow, and it tasted fine, but it was SO not worth it to make calamari at home.
Somebody and I both enjoy calamari as an appetizer at restaurants and have ordered it many times. Our favorites are California Pizza Kitchen (Well, this is one of my favorite places to have it—mostly due to their dipping sauce. But when I went to look for recipes to make at home I tried to find calamari on their online menu and it wasn’t listed anymore. Anyone know anything about that?) and that one restaurant in Boston that we went to with Melissa and James. That was amazing. And yet it is always one of those things where we would say, “I can’t believe we are paying $7.95 for this. We could totally make this at home.” And so we did.

We started with the breading recipe that The Pioneer Woman uses for her Onion Strings (which, by the way, we have made more than once and are just divine). And then I found a for real calamari recipe that was basically the same but had oregano instead of cayenne pepper. We stuck with the cayenne pepper.

Reason number one why we won’t make this again: You start with this:
Reason number two why we won’t make this again: The breading needed more kick to it. Using just a half teaspoon of cayenne worked with the Onion Strings, but the calamari definitely needed more.
Reason number three why we won’t make this again: In the end, our stovetop looked like this:
That’s enough reasons, right? They were fine. We ate some. And then we threw the rest away. It is absolutely worth paying $7.95 to have someone else prep and clean up after this appetizer.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Saturday, August 01, 2009

back to my, er, his roots

Somebody was VERY excited when he heard that the challenge category for this week was “spicy.” He loves the spicy. I don’t love it the way he does, and, in fact, before we got married considered mild salsa to be spicy. I have come a long way in my spice tolerance in the past three years, but still am no where near his level. Of course we went with Chinese food, because for him there is no better place to have spice than in Chinese food. Lucky for me, we already own three great Chinese cookbooks. Somebody ordered these a little while ago because he knows that the author is a great chef. Apparently she is the Taiwanese equivalent of Julia Child, or Emeril Lagasse, or Bobby Flay. You know—a cooking superstar.

I’m sure you aren’t surprised that Somebody is in charge of all the Chinese cooking that goes on in our house. While I consider myself fairly skilled in the kitchen, the cooking methods used in Chinese cooking are still pretty foreign (ha ha) to me, and I’m not confident following his directions. Especially because so much of his cooking is based on the look of the food, or the smell, or feel, or whatever—it takes some practice and up until now I haven’t had any practice. I think that Somebody had probably given up hope that he would ever come home from work and find I had made a Chinese meal, but after tonight he has started saying things like, “Just a few more of these recipes and you’ll be able to prepare the full three dishes.” And, “You make a wonderful Chinese wife.” Both of those statements made me laugh. The full three dishes? What the? One is not enough? Apparently, no. And, yes, with practice and direction I’m turning out to be a lovely Chinese wife. Whatever. I’m pretty much the opposite of a lovely Chinese wife, but that’s why he loves me so much.

Anyway, on to the recipe. The beauty of Pei Mei’s books is that recipe has a photo so you know what the end result should look like, and, more importantly, each recipe is given in English and traditional Chinese characters. While you don’t need to be able to read any Chinese to follow the recipes, more than once Somebody read through the Chinese recipe to get a better understanding of what the English was trying to say. You should totally hire a translator when you make this. I know a good one. I am going to give it to you exactly as it is written, and then my notes and changes are at the end.

Chicken with Gongbao Sauce (you might know it as Kung Pow Sauce)
2 chicken legs or 300 g. chicken breast
10 pieces dried red chili
½ cup peanuts
1 tsp chopped ginger

Seasonings (1):
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2-3 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp water

Seasonings (2):
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp wine
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp sesame oil

1. Remove all bones from chicken, cut into 2.5cm cubes, marinate in Seasonings (1) for 30 minutes.
2. Wipe dried chili, cut into 3 cm long pieces.
3. Fry chicken in heated oil for 40-50 seconds. Remove chicken. 4. Heat 1 Tbsp oil to fry dried chilies until it turns dark red, add ginger and chicken, stir fry quickly, add Seasonings (2), stir until evenly mixed, turn off the heat. Add the peanuts, mix well and serve. We served this over white rice, garnished with cilantro, and ate with chopsticks. Please don’t make this unless you have chopsticks. It’s, like, a crime to cook this authentically and then use a fork.
My notes and tips:

  • We used two chicken thighs with the skin and bones removed. This made just enough for the two of us for dinner. Somebody said that we could have doubled the amount of chicken and still used the same amount of sauce, but I kind of liked having a little extra sauce to flavor the rice.
  • I did not wipe off or cut the red chili peppers. I didn’t wipe them because Somebody said I didn’t have to. I have no idea why not. But he’s the expert here so I just went along with it. I didn’t chop them because I didn’t want this to be too spicy to eat. I just chose small peppers. Also, and this I didn’t know beforehand, but when the dish is finished you don’t eat the red chili peppers. You just pick them out, sort of like you would a bay leaf. They are just there to add some flavor to the oil and to give a little heat. All the spice/heat in this dish comes from the red chili peppers. Because I didn’t cut them, and so didn’t release any of the seeds, this ended up being not spicy AT ALL. Not at all. I was shocked. Somebody was completely disappointed with how non spicy it was. It was absolutely delicious, but not spicy. If you want heat, just cut open your chili peppers. Oh, and you can find dried red chili peppers in the fresh fruit/veggie section of most grocery stores—they will be in the little section that has ethnic foods.

  • All cooking (frying and stir frying) is done on high heat.
  • I used ¾ cup oil to fry the chicken because I was using a flat, non-stick pan. If I had been using a wok I would have only needed about 1/3 cup oil.
  • The directions say to fry the chicken for 40-50 seconds. I cooked it a little longer—not more than two minutes—just until the chicken was no longer pink and looked completely cooked.
  • If using a non-stick pan, which we did, you don’t need to add the extra 1 Tbsp of oil to cook the chilies. I just dumped out the oil that had cooked the chicken, didn’t wipe out the pan completely, and just used the light coating that remained in the pan to cook the chilies. If you are going to use a wok, you would need to add in the extra oil.
  • I fried the red chili peppers for about 30 seconds (they didn’t seem to change color, so I just went with when Somebody told me they were done) before adding the ginger and chicken. Also, and consider this your warning, although leaving the peppers whole made it so that EATING this was not spicy, I absolutely felt the heat of the peppers while I was frying them. Seriously. There was much coughing and gagging and not breathing for the 30 seconds the peppers were frying. The fumes killed me. I’m just a ghost writing these great tips for you. The ghost of a good Chinese wife.
  • Just in case you don’t have white wine, or cooking wine, or Chinese rice cooking wine like we have… …you can just use a tablespoon of water. Or just take it out of the recipe. Somebody says that the wine is just there to remove the chicken-y smell from the cooking. What huh? Whatever. So, don’t feel the need to put on sunglasses and a baseball cap and go to the grocery story across town just to purchase the wine for this recipe.
  • Once the Seasonings (2) was added, I cooked it for about one minute before removing it from the heat and serving it. Chinese food is always served hot, hot, hot, so be ready with your rice so that you can eat as soon as this is done.
  • When I make this again we will reduce the amount of soy sauce in Seasonings (2) to 1 ½ Tbsp, and would increase the ginger slightly.

Make this tonight. This recipe is so easy and comes together very quickly. From start to finish I think it only took about 45 minutes, and that included the time it took to de-bone the chicken and marinate it. I am not sure if I would have been as successful making this as it was printed without Somebody watching over my shoulder and giving me tips. Now that I’ve done it once I’m confident that I could do it again without assistance. If you need me to come and watch over your shoulder, just let me know.