Wok This Way: Damn Delicious’ Pineapple Fried Rice

I continue to have a lot of luck when it comes to making recipes posted over on Damn Delicious. A few weeks back I saw her post this one for Pineapple Fried Rice and wanted to give it a shot. It not only looked tasty with that mix of salty pork and sweet-sour pineapple, but also utilized a few ingredients that were on sale at the grocery store that week: pineapple and pre-cooked ham (the same stuff I used in yesterday’s post). The only change I made to the recipe was skipping the corn and peas because I didn’t happen to have any on hand and must have missed that slug in the recipe when making up my grocery list. I also threw in a red pepper because I did have one hanging out in the fridge.

As you can probably imagine, this was not a very difficult dish to put together. It mimicked many of the previous wok recipes I’ve done and could have also been done in a high-sided pan. This actually reminded me of a bit of Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork but much easier to put together. The sweet, tangy, saltiness of the dish was just what I was looking for.

One quick warning, though. If you do use the pre-sliced ham like I did, you might get some funky leftovers. My wife noticed it first at work and said the ham got kind of crumbly when heated up a day or two later. It’s almost like it disintegrated, so I’d probably change the kind of ham I use next time or make just as much as I need.

Cooking Ginger-Sesame Marinated Pork Loin With Sugar Snap Peas

My wife and I are hoping to get into a house in the relatively near future, so to get prepared for that added expense in our lives, we’re implementing a budget. This has altered how I tackle meals and groceries to an extent. I used to go to my sources first (cookbooks, websites, blogs, The Big Blue Binder, etc.), write out my list and go shopping. Now, I check the grocery store circular first to see what’s on sale, specifically in the meat section, and then create the menu around that.

That’s what lead me to pick up pork loin last week. From there I went through my recently organized Big Blue Binder and came across a recipe for Ginger-Sesame Marinade from Real Simple that would work well with that particular cut of meat. About four or five hours before dinner, I got the meat in a sealable bag and then mixed together 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 scallions cut with kitchen scissors and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Combine those things, put the bag in the refrigerator and make sure to shift it about every now and then.

Since the actual Real Simple recipe just featured the marinade instructions, I went to my trust Betty Crocker Cookbook and looked around for some guidance. On page 255 I found the recipe for Italian Roasted Pork Tenderloin. I didn’t completely follow this, but it was certainly helpful. I got the oven going to 450 degrees and then got a cast iron pan super hot before putting the pork loin and some of the marinade in there. I seared the meat in the pan and then put it in the oven with my new electric thermometer aiming for 155 degrees. At that point I took it out and let sit on a rack — a trick I learned from watching David Chang and Anthony Bourdain’s excellent The Mind Of A Chef — which allows the air to hit all sides of the meat. After about 10 minutes, I sliced it up and served with some sugar snap peas my wife picked when she went strawberry picking with my daughter.

Unfortunately, we had some more refrigerator trouble after I made this so the majority of the leftovers had to get tossed, but before that we were treated to a salty, tangy bit of pork that was just delightful. My wife made herself a cuban with the meat for lunch the next day which gave me an idea to do a more Asian themed version of the cuban with kimchi, which I’ve never actually tried, so who knows if it would work? Maybe I’ll give that a shot next time I make this ridiculously simple, very tasty meal.

Cooking Giada de Laurentiis’s Naked Spring Rolls

While my attempts to make Giada de Laurentiis’ Thai Curry might not have netted the best results, I will say that I had much more success her recipe for Naked Spring Rolls which were both part of the same Thai-themed episode of her Food Network show. It also happened to be a super simple and delicious recipe to put together.

The sauce in the recipe was really easy to put together and doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. I will say that it was tangy and delicious thanks to the combination of lime juice and fish sauce. To augment the dish, though, I also decided to make some sriracha mayonnaise. For this I just squeezed about two teaspoons of the hot sauce into the remaining homemade mayo I had in the fridge after making Banging’ BLTs and Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad which was about a 1/4 of a cup. The only change I made in the recipe was swapping out agave (which I didn’t have on hand) for honey.

With the condiments created, I got to work on the actual spring rolls. As with every other kind of meat, I started out with whole, partially frozen pieces, cut them up and ran them through the meat grinder. Since I was already getting the grinder out, I figured I’d try running the carrot and shallot through there too. It worked pretty well, but there was an intense, tear-jerking blast as the shallot went through. All that went into one big bowl with the other ingredients which got wrapped in plastic and sat for the required 20 minutes.

After that point, I looked at the mixture and realized it was not going to stay together in the oven. So, I grabbed the two ends from our latest loaf of wheat bread, rubbed chunks between my hands to create tiny crumbs and mixed it all together with my hands. I got 15 of the spring rolls out of this and put the foil-wrapped pan under the broiler.

I served these with lettuce leaves, though they’re not super necessary. I dug how this meal came together, but my wife loved it, saying it was one of her top five favorite things I’ve cooked. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but I am a big fan of this dish. It worked really well for us as it was, but could also make for a great party food (if made smaller) or a delicious sandwich. In fact, my only complaint was that the thinner sauce didn’t stick to anything which bummed me out because it was so delicious. If this was a sandwich, though, you could pour that sauce right into the bread to infuse that flavor! Dang, that idea’s so good it makes me want to start a food truck (not that it would take that much cajoling to do that anyway).

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Thai Curry

Food Network has really changed over the years. It used to be packed with people making interesting foods and teaching us how. Now, even though they act like that’s still the main focus on shows like Next Food Network Star (which should probably be retitled The Next Food Network Game Show Host), you’ve got to search around more to see cooks telling you how to cook interesting and amazing food. While flipping around a few weekends back, we happened to stumble upon one of those wonderful times. That’s where I got the recipe for Giada De Laurentiis’s Thai Curry and figured I’d give it a shot.

I do want to say a few things right off the bat. I had trouble finding yellow curry paste at my grocery store. I bought curry sauce and just kind of eyed it. I couldn’t find a simple conversion chart for curry paste to curry sauce, so I basically poured in a little under 1/4 of a cup after giving it a taste. I think that’s the key to making sure you’ve got the right.

I will also note that shrimp can be a bit expensive. I dropped about $12 on deveined, deshelled ones, just to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with. It’s not a bank-breaker, but definitely something to take into account when planning out your meals.

I also completely dropped the chili, swapped out unfindable Thai lime leaves for actual lime juice and throwing the limes in (I realize I should have zested them) and skipped the step where you fry the noodles in canola oil which not only made this dish a bit healthier and cooled down the kitchen on a hot day but also took out a fairly involved step. Aside from those alterations, though, I followed the recipe as written.

Especially without the fried noodle portion, this is a super easy soup to put together. Open a few cans, pour a few things in a pot or Dutch oven and get those veggies in once it’s simmering. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then throw in the noodles and shrimp and let cook. That’s pretty simple.

And the results were pretty good, but I think some of my changes weren’t for the best. The dish lacked heat, which is a key element in Thai cooking. This wound up being good for my kid, because she’s not a fan of the hotness, but made the dish a bit bland. It also could have used more salt. Whenever I’m eating Asian food, I tend to skip the regular salt and go with soy sauce because it feels more in line with the flavors. Adding that to my bowl and then the larger dish when I put it away in the fridge definitely helped.

This is the first time I’ve ever cooked shrimp in what I consider my modern cooking timeframe. My mom taught me how to devein and shell them a long, long time ago, but I decided to cut that step out and just go with ones that had already been cleaned. Towards the end of the cooking process I realized I didn’t know what cooked shrimp was supposed to look like, so I brought one out to my wife, showed it to her and got the thumbs up. They turned out nice, plump and flavorful. I don’t generally cook shellfish, but this positive experience definitely gave me more confidence to do so in the future.

MATK Originals: Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

As you’ve probably noticed from reading this blog, I do most of my cooking based on other peoples’ recipes. Every now and then I’ll MacGuyver something or change out a few ingredients here and there, but I usually just go by the book. Lately, though, I’ve been experimenting with a few of my own creations. This particular one is based on Soup Addict’s Ramen Noodle Stir Fry but I changed a few key things to suit our tastes better and figured I’d share them with the group.

Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

Sauce
2 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
2 tsp hoisin sauce

Stir-Fry
3 packages of ramen
Half package bacon, diced
Head of broccoli, cut into florets
8 oz mushrooms – I used baby bellas
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

2. Cook bacon in a large skillet or wok. Remove from pan when done to your liking. We like ours pretty crunchy. Remove some bacon fat if desired.

3. Cook mushrooms, red pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, garlic and ginger in bacon fat for about a minute.

4. Cook ramen. You can either boil water like you would for pasta in which case you should get this set earlier in the process. Going back to my college days, though, I’ve always just soaked my ramen in boiling water for three minutes or so. I filled up our hot pot, turned it on and then poured that hot water over the three packages of noodles in our soup pot, covered and let sit for several minutes until cooked.

5. Mix egg into vegetable mixture. Stir until cooked.

6. Add bacon back in. Combine with cooked noodles and sauce.

As usual, I like to get all my chopping done ahead of time, so I worked on the broccoli, mushrooms and pepper first. I also grated my garlic and ginger. We keep our ginger in the freezer and grate on a rasp as needed which not only keeps the ginger for a longer period of time, but also gives a more solid grate when needed. Since I’m already using that particular kitchen tool, I started using it on the garlic as well which works great, just watch your fingers.

I only just realized that the original recipe calls for a scrambled egg to be put in the dish instead of a beaten one. I like the way I did it better because it distributes the egg throughout the dish in a different way while still getting that additional protein in. However, if you wanted to continue the obvious breakfast theme you could go with the scrambled.

Next time I make this, I think I might add in some watercress and/or snow peas to bring in even more veggies. All in all, though, I think this recipe will be a good addition to the rotation, especially as things (hopefully) start warming up soon and I won’t want to sweat my face off in the kitchen. There’s also the potential to use a variety of other types of noodles or rice here. I like the simplicity of using ramen packets, but they’re probably not the healthiest things in the world. Maybe I can try making my own someday.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 2

Closet Cooking has become one of my major go-to sites when it comes to online recipe resources. I’ve made so many different meals based on author Kevin Lynch’s site that I’m thinking about picking up one or many of his cookbooks. Here’s a few of the recipes I’ve attempted and what I thought about them. For a similar Closet Cooking Recipe Roundup post, click here!

Taco Stuffed Shells

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I’ve been a stuffed shells fan for years, but never really thought about separating that delivery system for fillings from the Italian ingredients I’m used to. I was pretty excited to give this new version of an old classic a shot and it turned out really well. But, I did discover that my mouth and brain kept getting confused BECAUSE I’m so used to these kinds of shells being stuffed with Mexican flavors instead of Italian ones. It was a strange experience because that almost never happens. My brain just couldn’t get past the shape and the presentation the first time around. Maybe I’ll be more ready for it next time, though.

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup

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Lynch’s Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup is actually very similar to the Thai Chicken Soup I’ve made several times from The Ultimate Soup Bible. I’m becoming a huge fan of Thai flavors and figured this one was different enough to try. The major differences are that you cook the chicken in the boiling soup, add in sweet potato (I used by box grater to shred it up good), there’s more curry paste and I used less lime.  This actually combined for a similar, but different enough dish to add to the collection. Sometimes if I eat too much of the version from the Bible, my stomach gets a little topsy turvy, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Cauliflower Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

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I’ve had this particular recipe saved in my Pocket for quite a while and finally gave it a shot last week. There’s a version on the site that uses pasta instead of cauliflower, but I was trying to go for a healthier version. The only ingredient change I made came about because I forgot to buy black olives, but otherwise, I put this together pretty much by the book and thought it was a great little dish that combined the greatness of cheese and pepperoni with cauliflower, which I assume is healthy. Plus, it’s super easy to put together. Next time I’d like to make it with homemade sauce and maybe a better pepperoni to see if that makes it even better.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Chicken Pho

In a strange twist of fortune, I made one of my favorite meals in ages on a day I didn’t feel like taking pictures. A few weeks back, I saw Smitten Kitchen’s new recipe for Chicken Pho and was instantly interested in giving it a shot. I remembered seeing something on this Vietnamese soup on a travel food show, most likely an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and have been interested in trying it ever since.

At first, I was a bit skeptical because I have an aversion to working with full chickens. They just seem like so much work. But my intrigue trumped my laziness and I spent one day a few weekends back following this recipe very closely. The only ingredients I didn’t include were sprouts and black cardamoms because I couldn’t find them at my grocery store. I even bought some star anise and used about five of them for my broth. I can’t quite remember the exact measurements I used for cinnamon, coriander seeds, fennel seeds or ground cloves, but I think I was in the teaspoon-per arena.

With those few variables in place, I followed the recipe by charring the onion and ginger on my gas stovetop, let the stock cook for several hours and got as much chicken off the bones as possible. I wish I was a better food writer to properly explain to you how good this broth turned out. It had so much depth of flavor thanks to the combination of sweet, salty, tangy and even a bit of sour that I wanted to eat it all day. You throw in some well cooked chicken, rice noodles, crispy fried shallots (which I should have cooked a bit longer as mine didn’t get too crispy) and the rest of the garnishes and you’ve got one of the best, most unique meals I’ve made in a very long time.

Cooking Thai Chicken Soup

As I’m slowly discovering, I’m a big fan of Thai food or at least the combination of lime, chicken and coconut that I’ve been experiencing in the recipes I’ve tried. One such recipe was found in The Ultimate Soup Bible called Thai Chicken Soup (page 304). This one was so good that we’ve had it twice in a fairly short period of time which almost never happens.

The recipe calls for creamed coconut or coconut cream, but I couldn’t find those and went with a 13.5 oz can of coconut milk. I also skipped out on the cilantro and red chilies because those aren’t flavors we’re real keen on. Otherwise, though, this went along pretty smoothly. After cooking a chopped up garlic clove in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven, I cut up two chicken breasts into cubes and cooked them1/4 teaspoon of chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric.

While the chicken cooks for three or four minutes, I mixed 3.5 cups of warmed chicken stock with the can of coconut milk. When the chicken was done, I added the stock/milk mixture and then stirred in two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter, the juice of a large lemon and a few ounces of thin egg noodles. You cover that and then simmer for 15 minutes.

At that time, I toasted some sweetened coconut flakes that we had in the pantry. The recipe calls for unsweetened, but this seemed to work out pretty well, though you do need to make sure they don’t burn which can happen pretty quickly. After the 15 minutes are up, you throw in some cut up green onions and parsley — dried or fresh, whatever you have on hand — and then cook for another five minutes. To serve, I simply sprinkled the soup with the cooked (almost candied, really) coconut. This is such a nice, sweet and sour soup with a nice little crunch thanks to the coconut.

Even though we first tried this soup a while ago, it stuck around in my mind and seemed like a good choice to try again now that it’s getting cold out. The second time around I used limes, because that’s what I had on hand, and didn’t include the toasted coconut because I must have used up what little we had in the pantry when I made it the first time. I wish I would have remembered my one complaint from the first time I made the soup, though: there’s not enough of it! Next time I bust out the Thai Chicken Soup, I think I’m going to double it.

MacGyvering Thai-Style Lentil, Coconut & Green Bean Soup

Do you have a blindspot when it comes to a certain aspect of cooking? I do and it comes in the form of the slow cooker. For some reason, my mind always forgets to remind me that I need to actually get those dinners ready until there’s not enough time. With ingredients ready to go bad in the next few days and a need for a dish, I took to my trust copy of The Ultimate Soup Bible and did a little digging.

After looking up a few soups by ingredient, I realized I had most of what I’d need to follow the recipe for Thai-Style Lentil & Coconut Soup (p. 123), plus a bag of green beans, so I got to work. I had to make a few changes for this one. First off, I didn’t have sunflower oil, red onions, a Thai chili, lemongrass or cilantro so I swapped out for peanut oil, a yellow onion and shallot and omitted the rest.

I cooked two chopped onions, two cloves of garlic and the cleaned and broken-up green beans in some peanut oil for five minutes before adding 7 ounces of lentils (I had regular, not red), a teaspoon of coriander that I warmed and ground myself as well as a teaspoon of paprika. Then the can of coconut milk went in followed by 3 3/4 cups of water. I brought that to a boil and then simmered for 45 minutes. When that was done I added the juice from a lime and some sliced scallions. And thus a soup was born!

I’m sure the recipe as written has a much greater depth of flavor thanks to the additional heat from the chili (which I probably would have skipped anyway) and the lemongrass, but I thought this worked out pretty well for a quickly MacGyvered meal. For an extra bit of protein and saltiness, I put some lightly salted roasted peanuts on top of mine which helped round things out.

Philly Bonus Food Pics: Pastrami Cheesesteak, Sushi & Dinic’s Roast Pork

pastrami cheesesteak Well gang, I think we’re pretty far past apologies for a lack of posting. A lot of things went down in the past few months that prevented me from posting here on MATK, but I’m really hoping to make a big push for more posts. I’m even circling around to recipes I made months ago that I never posted about so they can be refreshed in my brain. Anyway. I’m kicking this week off with a series of food pictures I took while hanging out with some college friends in Philadelphia a few weekends back (for more details on the weekend, check out the 35th episode of my podcast over on PopPoppa.com). kinish Above you can see the lunch we had at a place called The Famous 4th Street Delicatessen which had wonderful service and gigantic portions. My wife and I split a pastrami cheesesteak which was certainly filling. I also got myself a   blintz. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what a blintz was, but I enjoyed the sweet cheesy insides as well as the fried crust.

While looking for a place that could serve a fairly large dinner party, we stumbled upon Kabuki Sushi. The positives were that they took reservations and weren’t too far from out hotel. Oh, that and the food. I can’t quite remember what rolls I got, but both of them were super tasty. I also tried our friend Heather’s fried tofu which reminded me of fancy carnival food. As you can see, Lucy also had a roll which she seemed to like, though she basically just took the chicken out and ate that. dinic's roast pork Finally, before heading to the Please Touch Museum and heading back home, we went over to the awesome Reading Terminal Market and got Dinic’s roast pork sandwiches for breakfast. My wife remembered seeing these sandwiches on a food show and we were familiar with the market from previous comic convention-related visits to Philly, so we each had one. I’m not sure if I prefer these to cheesesteaks, but I will say that, while I’ve had plenty of crummy cheesesteaks, I’ve only had one awesome roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe, so that’s something!

Cooking A-1 Beef & Broccoli

For years and years I just didn’t care about cooking. It wasn’t something that was even remotely interesting to me and then at some point in college, I did. I don’t remember how or why, but it just happened. At that point I did some looking around and discovered a recipe I simply titled Beef and Broccoli when I typed it out all those years ago. I can’t remember where it came from, but it’s pretty simple and I did tweak it a bit, so I’ll post the whole thing here.

2/3 cup A-1 steak sauce
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic
1 pound London Broil
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Head of broccoli
One bell pepper (I used red)
Small package of mushrooms
Cooked rice

First off, get your rice going. After that, cube your steak and marinate in the soy and A-1 sauce for an hour. During that time, chop up the garlic, pepper and mushrooms and steam the broccoli until tender. After the hour marinade time, cook the beef in olive oil for five minutes on medium-high heat. When that’s done, remove to a plate and cook the vegetables, bringing everything to a boil. Reduce heat to low, reincorporate the beef and stir in cooked rice.

The original recipe I have written down is pretty close to this, but I replaced the original 16 ounce bag of frozen vegetables (broccoli, peppers, mushrooms and bamboo shoots) with fresh aside from the shoots, which I would definitely throw back in when making this again.

I made this a few weeks back at this point (sorry for the lack of posts lately, this have been all over the place lately) and while I still enjoyed it, it doesn’t quite blow my mind like it did the firs time around. Back then, I was all over the mix of A-1 and soy sauce — two of my favorite condiments at that time — but it’s a bit strong and overpowering now. I could probably dig deep into this recipe and figure out a way to temper it (maybe cut down on the A-1), but now that I make so many legit wok-based dishes, I’m not sure if I’ll come back to it.

Cooking Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork

I haven’t tried as many recipes from my copy of Alton Brown’s Good Eats: The Early Years for a few reasons. First, I know the book is based on the chronology of the TV show, but I’m not a big fan of the book’s layout. It makes sense for what it is, but I prefer my cookbooks organized by type of meal or ingredient, that kind of thing. I also get a bit distracted by the overly busy page design. And yet, every time I make something from this volume, it turns out good, so I should probably stop complaining about it.

Sweet And Sour Pork (page 342-3 or this link on FoodNetwork.com, if you want to check it out for yourself) was my most recent recipe attempt and, like most of the others, it turned out really well. As noted in the recipe, the first thing to do is cut up a bunch of pork butt and marinate it overnight, which means this recipe takes a bit more forethought than most. I think I forgot to do this the night before and wound up putting it together earlier the day-of and still had pretty solid results.

When you do get to the actual cooking, Brown suggests using an electric skillet. We happened to have one in our kitchen by way of wedding present, so I used that, but it seems like a pan would work just as well. As per usual, I did a lot of my prep beforehand. My wife had cut up the pineapple earlier in the week, so that wasn’t as big a chore as usual. I then got to work on the onion, celery, carrots and peppers, organizing them together based on when they went into the pan. With that out of the way and a flour dredging spot set up in a pie plate, I was off to the races.

After cooking the pork in the pan, you throw in the onion, celery and carrots. Once those get their cook on, it’s time for the more colorful peppers and pineapple to join the party along with the previously removed pork. At this point in the process I was really struck by how colorful this dish is. You can see it in the pictures, but anything with such bright yellows, greens, reds and oranges has to be good right?

The recipe actually called for an easy-to-make ketchup-based sauce to be added to the meat, vegetables and fruit, but it came out a bit sweet and I figured it would be better as a side sauce. I’m glad I made this move because I put a bit too much sauce on one of my servings and it basically washed out all those great meat and vegetable flavors. Drop some of that mixture on top of some rice — I went with Jasmine — and a drizzle of sauce and you’ve got a plate of food that not only looks amazing but also plays to most of your taste buds.

Making Asian Brussels Sprouts Salad

One of the problems with ripping recipes out of magazines and putting them in my Big Blue Binder is that, occasionally, I miss the overall point of a group of recipes, focusing mainly on the one that sounds interesting to me at the time. So, when I decided to make Asian Brussels Sprouts Salad as seen in the free Hannaford magazine I focused on making a tasty-sounding, vegetarian dish that might be easy to put together in the heat we lived through last month. I didn’t, however, focus on the fact that this might actually be more of a side dish than a main meal.

Of course, I didn’t realize that until I was already knuckle deep in Brussels sprout shavings, but what are you gonna do? As I realized when I made Pasta With Chicken & Brussels Sprouts, the sprouts are basically like tiny cabbages once you start cutting them up. I should have made that connection again and realized this is basically a cole slaw with an Asian kick, much like the side salad I wrote about earlier this week when I talked about the Crispy Sesame-Panko Chicken.

Anyway, we wound up eating this for dinner and it was pretty good, but as I’ve hinted at, would make a much better addition to a meal than a meal itself.  As the recipe suggests, I shredded the full pound of Brussels sprouts by hand on the box shredder, but my wife had a great suggestion that I’ll try next time: run them through the meat grinder. I’ve never used my grinder for anything but meat, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t work out smashingly, but if you do, let me know in the comment section.

With that out of the way, you simply mix the dressing ingredients together in a jar, throw in some peanuts and herbs and mix everything together. While I thought this was good the first day, the sour lime and salty soy flavors developed a lot more in the leftover portion of its existence making for a more powerful punch. I’d recommend making this a few hours — if not a day — in advance for that reason.

Cooking Crispy Sesame-Panko Chicken

My parents’ house is directly behind a Chinese restaurant that we ordered from with some frequency. You might think with such easy access that I would have been well-versed in the country’s delicacies by an early age, but that wasn’t the case. Why? Because I only wanted to eat white rice with soy sauce. I don’t remember exactly how long this went on for, but definitely longer than someone who writes about food with some regularity would like to admit. Sometime in college or maybe high school I was turned on to the tastiness of Chinese carry food and have been hooked ever since.

Like a lot of people, I’m a big Sesame Chicken fan. I’ve even done some research into making the dish at home, especially with my growing wok experience. But, it’s a fairly complicated dish, if memory serves and, sometimes you just want to save a dish for nights when you’re not cooking, you know? But, I was intrigued when I saw the recipe for Crispy Sesame-Panko Chicken in my now-expired free Good Housekeeping subscription.

One of the best parts of this recipe is that, if you cook anything vaugley Asian on a semi-regular basis, you probably have the majority of the ingredients on hand. The only thing I bought for this was the cabbage. Everything else was in the pantry, fridge or freezer. It’s also pretty easy to put together.

The recipe says to get the chicken and oven ready first, but I didn’t go that way. I don’t have a lot of space to work with, so I try to tackle sides and condiments first. That meant that I whipped up the cabbage salad first. The main effort here comes from cutting up a cabbage. Once that’s done, throw it in a bow with green onion, sugar, vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, salt and pepper. I got that in the fridge to let everything mingle and then whipped up the simple ketchup serving sauce minus the cayenne. With those out of the way — literally — it was time for the chicken. First step: oven to 450 degrees.

Again, this isn’t a difficult process, but it did take some space. I like to use pie dishes for my egg wash/crumb chicken dishes. They’ve got the right surface area and higher sides so I don’t have to worry about spilling grossness all over my counter. Dip the fat-trimmed chicken breasts in the egg/garlic powder/dry mustard/ginger/pepper mix then into the panko/sesame seed crumblies before placing on a baking sheet (I went foil-covered as usual). Those go into the 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes and get nice and crunchy. That’s enough time to get your slaw and sauce together if you were so inclined, but I’d rather do my work up front and have a little relaxation time while the oven does its job.

The chicken doesn’t have that sugary, stickiness I’ve come to know and love from Sesame Chicken, but it does remind my tongue and brain enough to hit some of the right buttons, maybe not as hard as the real deal, but enough for a tasty dish. The slaw was nice and tangy, the kind of thing you could slow together for any Asian main dish (man, it’d be good on tacos!). The ketchup also added a really nice tangy element to the party. Altogether I’d say this is a good way to go for a solid meal that might open up the door to more Asian-inspired entrees in the future. I bet even my younger self would have passed up the white rice/soy sauce combo to give this a shot.

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup

While flipping through Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson I was absolutely drawn to her Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup recipe (page 82). So far under the spell was I that I ignored two very basic facts: 1) our two-year-old doesn’t do so well with soup and 2) it was just starting to get crazy hot when I made it. Ah well, it turned out to be super good, so who cares? I’d rather sweat through making a really great dish that I can use again later down the line than make one that’s not so good any day.

Like a lot of the dishes I’ve made out of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge, there’s a lot of prep work involved here. You cut the pork tenderloin up and then mix it with lime, soy sauce, paprika and fish sauce. While that marinates for about 15 minutes, you can cut up the bok choy, start the pasta water and get the other ingredients ready. I couldn’t find the sprouts and skipped the chiles, so there were a few things I didn’t have to deal with.

Then you’re off to the cooking races. The chicken broth goes in its own pot while you start cooking scallions and then the pork. I used a regular pan this time, but think I’ll go with the wok next time just to see how the process differs. Anyway, there’s more cooking and then transferring of ingredients until you wind up with a pot of noodle-y, porky, boy choy-y soup just begging to be eaten.

If you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed this dish. The tenderloin took on great flavor even with such a short marinade and the broth had that great saltiness to it that actually made me excited to eat leftovers the next few days. I will definitely make this dish again, but most likely when it’s a bit cooler outside.

Cooking Good Housekeeping’s Thai Chicken & Noodles

A recent issue of Good Housekeeping had a feature where they ran down a series of slow cooker recipes based on cuts of meat that did better being cooked slow and low. One whole section was about chicken thighs, a protein I usually skip over for reasons I can’t quite remember. I read part of the article, though, and it talked about how flavorful they can be, so I figured I’d give them a shot in the form of Thai Chicken & Noodles.

I was drawn to this recipe because it reminded me of Smitten Kitchen’s Cold Rice Noodles With Peanut-Lime Chicken with its peanut, lime and chicken flavors. While this recipe takes some time to get together, it’s pretty hands-off and easy to make. You’ve got to marinate the chicken over night, but then you throw it into the slow cooker with everything else — including coconut milk! — and let it cook for five hours or so. As good as the dish wound up tasting on its own, you’ve definitely got to have some peanuts and limes on hand. They bring the whole thing together. This wound up being a great night-of recipe, but also served us well in leftovers for a few days after that. Can’t ask for much more than that!

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Japanese Vegetable Pancakes

Every time I see a new meal recipe pop up on Smitten Kitchen, I get excited. When I saw her post about Japanese Vegetable Pancakes, I got jazzed and added it to that week’s menu because it looked new and different yet I could tell that I’d be able to find most of the ingredients at the grocery store.

You’ll need cabbage, kale, carrots and a few other things and you basically just slice them up into strips. Throw all that in a bowl with some flour and six eggs and start forming patties. After my failed attempt at making veggie burgers recently (which turned into a successful veggie has), I was worried that my pancakes wouldn’t come out, but luckily everything stuck together. I broke out two different pans to make the process go a bit faster and flipped/took them off the heat when they got a good shade of blackish brown.

The other key element to this dish is the Tangy Sauce which was FAN-tastic. I’ll probably get to a post about the Sesame Chicken Breasts I made around the same time. There was a similar, spicy ketchup based sauce with that, but it turned out a lot spicier than we like. Smitten’s, though, was fantastic. Tangy, sweet, salty, all the good things in one. The only problem? We ran out of sauce well before we ran out of pancakes.

My wife and I both really fell for this dish. To frame it properly, I would go to the fridge and eat these as snacks right out of the bowl, dipping in the sauce when we still had some. That’s how much I was into this recipe. It’s definitely going in the regular rotation, such as it is.

Wok This Way: MacGyvering Veggie Fried Rice With Egg

One of the greatest things about getting into wok-based cooking is that, once you buy many of the key ingredients, you’ve already got a lot of the basics to make future dishes. That’s a nice bonus because sometimes things happen and you either have to completely scrap a meal or can’t get to the grocery store and just have to work with what you’ve got. A few times now I’ve turned to my copy of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and the recipe for Peppery Vegetarian Rice (page 256) and used that as a basis for dinners that have turned out pretty good. The basic idea of this recipe is that you cook a few eggs in your wok, put them aside and then cook up some carrots and other vegetables before mixing in the rice, a few other key ingredients and then have yourself a nice dinner. Luckily, I’ve always got carrots on hand, so this is usually a pretty easy one to put together. The real beauty of this recipe is that you could pretty much use whatever veggies you happen to have on hand and, as long as you’ve got some rice, wind up with a pretty tasty dish.

Cooking Ballpark & Sweet Thai Wings

I’ve mentioned a few times here on MATK that I have a mysterious subscription to Good Housekeeping. The magazine just started appearing in our mailbox one month and keeps on coming. I’ve asked a few people if they hooked me up with it and everyone said no, so either someone’s playing a not-particularly-inspired prank on me or there was some kind of mix-up somewhere. Whenever it comes, I glance at the TOC which usually doesn’t have much in the way of interest for me, and then move on to the food section, tearing out any interesting looking recipes and putting them in my Big Blue Binder. One such page that I saw and immediately got excited about was a piece called Wings of Desire which showcases six different recipes for wing sauces: Sweet ‘N’ Sticky Thai, Bourbon BBQ, Hot Caribbean, Fiery Buffalo, Ballpark and Sesame Teriyaki.

A while back, I decided to give a few of these a try. Sweet ‘N’ Sticky Thai and Ballpark sounded particularly interesting, so I gave them a shot. As you can see by clicking through those links and looking, neither of these sauce recipes are particularly complicated. The Thai one just involves lime, sweet Thai chili sauce (which I’d never had before) and fish sauce (I skipped the french-fried onions because I thought I had some in the pantry, but didn’t) while the Ballpark sauce is just Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, honey (I skipped the cayenne) and some chopped up roasted peanuts as a topping.

For the wings themselves, I did not follow the method in the given recipe, but instead broiled them on high in two batches. Basically I got all the wings spread out on foil-covered baking sheets, then put one in the oven to broil for five minutes or so. When they started getting cooked, I took that tray out, put the other one in and flipped over the partially cooked ones. I just repeated that until they were cooked on all sides. Once the wings are cooked, you just toss them in the sauce, plate and serve. I was actually pretty surprised at how easy wings were to put together when I first made them years ago. It’s so easy and you can really customize your sauces to your liking.

One other little thing I want to add that’s kind of cool is that my wife and I actually have perfectly complimentary wing preferences. While we might differ on what kind of sauce we like, we each like the opposite kind of wing. I’m a fan of the ones that look like tiny drumsticks while she’s more into the other kind. It winds up working out perfectly because wings almost always come in pairs. What I’m saying is that we’re made for each other.

Cooking Homesick Texan Carnitas With Avocado Dressing & Asian Carrot Slaw

It seems like I just can’t recreate the success I had the first time I made Smitten Kitchen’s Homesick Texas Carnitas. It’s a super simple recipe that involves a few ingredients and a bunch of time, but the last time I did it I accidentally bought beef instead of pork and then this time I didn’t chop it up ahead of time. Both times the results were pretty good, I just want to nail the procedure again, you know?

Anyway, I’ve already talked about making that dish, so I want to write about a few of the accouterments I made to go along with it. For whatever reason I had a brain fart when planning the menu that week and didn’t plan on serving the carnitas with anything other than a tortilla. Scrambling, I used what I had at hand to make Paula Deen’s Avocado Dressing and Martha Stewart’s Asian Carrot Slaw. The latter might seem like kind of a strange choice, but the only veggies I had in the house were carrots and I thought the Asian flavorings would bring something interesting to the table.

The Avocado Dressing was alright, but it being a Paula Deen recipe, there’s a good deal of mayo in there which I thought threw the flavor off a little. Since then I’ve made an Avocado Crema that I’ll write about eventually that actually had no dairy or condiments involved and tasted a lot more avocado-y which is what I wanted. Still, it was an okay addition that worked well with everything else on the plate.

The Asian Carrot Slaw actually wound up working really well with the carnitas. I kind of figured this would be the case when I saw that lime was a main ingredient, which is also in the carnitas, of course. I liked the tang that the sesame seeds and vinegar brought to the table and think I might be onto a cool flavor combination here. Anyone want to start a food truck?

Wok This Way: Barbecued Pork Lo Mein

I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts how surprised I’ve been by the ease I have cooking in the wok. Depending on how I’m feeling a particular day that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. If I’m really looking for a challenge or to try something different, it falls on the negative side of things, but if I want to make something really simple but also always tasty, it’s a good thing. When flipping through my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge I came across her recipe for Barbecued Pork Lo Mein (page 273). While reading through the ingredients, I saw that I would need some Chinese Barbecued Pork which took me to page 285 and another recipe. I figured the multiple day process would make for a more interesting dish.

Of course, because I’m still less than a novice when it comes to cuts of meat, I got the wrong kind of pork. Instead of getting shoulder or butt I wound up with Blade Steak. I can’t remember now if it’s because they were out of shoulder or what, but that’s just what went down. Anyway, you rub sugar over the cubed up pork and then get it in the marinade which includes soy sauce, hoisin sauce, dry sherry, beans sauce, sesame oil, white pepper and honey. Once that’s all combined, the marinade goes into the fridge. The next day you broil it. If you’re doing shoulder there’s a whole rack system involved and water, but since I was using a different cut and don’t actually have all the necessary equipment, I just cooked my pieces on a foil-lined baking sheet and everything turned out fine.

The actual cooking of the main dish actually takes a lot less time than all that. I was pleased to discovering my grocery store carries both Chinese round noodles and packages of bean sprouts, so I picked up the appropriate amounts and felt like this one turned out a little bit more authentic than it might have otherwise. I liked the candy-like quality of the pork which popped in different bites along with the noodles and firmer bean sprouts. Next time I’m going to get the right kind of pork though, I even know where it is at the store now!

Bonus Birthday Food Pics: Sushi From QQ & Brothers Barbecue

qq sushu1One of these days I’m going to remember to write down what I order from our favorite nearby sushi place, QQ Asian Bistro. I want to say that these are pictures of the 007 Roll (above) which consists of “Spicy tuna, crabmeat, avocado,lightly deep fried, eel, spicy mayo sauce, topped with scallion, masago” and the Spider Roll, but I can’t quite be sure. qq sushu2

Anyway, when my parents were in town for Second Christmas and New Year’s we decided to celebrate another holiday: my wife’s birthday. Instead of going out for a big meal, we instead ordered the big meal and ate it at home. It was a great experience and as usual, the QQ food was wicked good. IMG_2474But that’s not all the food goodness we enjoyed to celebrate my lovely wife’s birth. On her actual birthday I made her a cake and we also went and got dinner at Brothers Barbecue. Brothers actually opened a while back, but they had a fire and shut down for around two years or so. Well, they’re back open and we had some awesome food there. Above you can see the corn bread which was super thick and sweet and yummy. IMG_2478And then there’s the entree. I had the two meat plate with two sides and decided on Kansas City ribs and pulled pork with mac & cheese and collard greens with bacon. The ribs were delicious and fell right off the bone, the pulled pork was perfectly tender. Both were complimented very well by their barbecue sauce which reminded me of a homemade version of Arbys Sauce. The collard greens were really tasty too, I don’t think I’d ever had them before, but they had a very cabbage-y flavor to them. The mac and cheese was alright. Having made several versions of that as a main course and as a side, I know how hard it can be to keep in good shape. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not mind blowingly awesome like everything else. Welcome back, Brothers!

Bonus Food Pic: Great Wall Chinese Food

Even though I make a lot of recipes in my wok, there’s just something awesome about getting Chinese food carry out. Maybe it’s because I mostly try recipes of dishes I’m not familiar with or maybe it’s because I lived behind a Chinese food restaurant growing up, but I feel a connection to this food, even if I only ate white rice with soy sauce for YEARS.

We ordered House Lo Mein, Sesame Chicken, Crab Rangoon and Pork Egg Foo Young with some pretty spectacular gravy. The food came from a place literally two minutes down the street called Great Wall, but I’ll be honest, all the Chinese food I’ve had around here has been pretty darn solid with the exception of a now-closed buffet place that was truly awful.

Wok This Way: Five-Spice Chicken With Sugar Snaps

This was another pretty simple wok recipe to throw together and the results were something I’d never had before. Most of the work involved in making Five-Spice Chicken With Sugar Snaps as seen on page 120 of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge revolved around getting the chicken ready. Instead of the thighs suggested in the recipe, I went with breasts as I always do. I chopped those up and then mixed it together with ginger, soy sauce, honey, cornstarch, sherry and five spice powder. I also mixed together chicken broth, ketchup and soy sauce. Aside from that, all you have to do is clean the peas. I’m not sure if I got sugar snaps or some other kind of peas to be honest. I have much to learn about peas.

From there, it’s a matter of tossing things in the wok in the right order. The chicken goes in first, cooks a bit and then gets put on a plate. Then the peas go in, the chicken rejoins the party along with a few other things and you’ve got dinner. Instead of rice, which my wife says is poisonous now (not really, but kinda), I got lucky and had a few nests of egg noodles in the pantry that I prepared as well.

I’ve used Chinese five spice before, but never as such a central part of the dish. There was a nice sweetness coming through from the honey and then that distinct mixture of peppercorns, star anise, fennel, cinnamon and cloves (the quintet of spices that make it up).

Wok This Way: Hong Kong-Style Mango Ginger Turkey

I’ve made peace with the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of challenge in wok cooking (at least that I’ve come across in my limited experience) and have embraced the simplicity and general high quality of the finished meal. Because the recipes tend to be very similar, they also offer plenty of room to change things up when it comes to cooking. Take this recipe for Hong Kong-Style Mango Ginger Turkey from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 124). I actually didn’t have chicken thawed out, but did have some turkey breasts, so I cut those bad boys up and used them instead. I thought it wound up a pretty good combination. I also had a half box of orzo in the pantry from when I made Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Orzo with Eggplant & Mozzarella, so instead of rice, I cooked that up and threw it in at the end to finish cooking.

I’m not great and knowing when some fruits are ripe or not. When it came to the mango in this one, I decided to buy two just in case which turned out to be a good call. The first one I tried to cut up came out super smooshy, but the second offered up better slices. I still used the mush, but wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much yield had I only bought the squishier one.

I don’t make a lot of dinners that incorporate fruit like this, but I thought the subtle flavor of the mango worked well with the crunch of the green peppers and the velvet chicken, which you soak in a mixture and then throw in a boiling pot to cook for a few minutes. I wound up using that same pot to cook the orzo, so it worked out pretty well and I only dirtied a few dishes.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef With Vegetables

I got a little burned out on cooking with the wok a while back and it’s been sitting in a cabinet since then. I recently got it back out, re-seasoned it and got back to working with it. It might not be a super challenging cooking method, but I do like how quickly the meals come together with not a ton of work. So, I got my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and settled on Sit-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef with Vegetables (page 72), though I did have to alter a few things. First off, I went with some stew beef instead of flank steak because of the $6-8 price difference. I also didn’t fry the beef like the recipe says because our candy/frier thermometer broke and I hadn’t replaced it just yet. I also left out the red pepper flakes because I still haven’t figured out how to not burn my face off with them at random bites (something the baby isn’t a fan of).

The prep for this one was pretty simple. The beef was already chopped, so that went right into a bowl with the cornstarch, soy sauce and cooking sherry. I then cut the cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots and green onions for later use. Instead of frying the beef, I cooked it like I’ve done several other times with the wok, by spreading it out into one layer on the wok and letting sit for a minute or so before stir-frying.

Once the beef was cooked, I removed it and got cooking first the garlic, then the vegetables in some peanut oil. The cumin went on followed soon after by the beef and green onions. I decided to serve this one on egg noodles instead of rice, so I had the water going the whole time and had them both done around the same time.

The recipe was pretty tasty and actually reminded me of the Cauliflower with Tomatoes side I’ve made and really enjoyed several times. You add beef to that along with soy sauce and the other trappings of wok cooking and you’ve got a nice little meal for yourself. Some day I’ll return to this recipe and actually fry the beef and see how that goes.

Cooking Food Network’s Asian Chicken Salad

I’m fairly convinced that there’s no good meals to prepare when it’s beastly hot out. Maybe something you can just throw out on a grill and check occasionally, but considering we’re in a place where that’s not an option, I’m sure it’s impossible for me. Unless you just want to eat salad all summer. I thought Food Network’s Asian Chicken Salad would have made for a nice, cool meal to put together and eat, but was definitely wrong on the first half of that idea.

This is actually a super easy meal to put together. You make a dressing, marinate some chicken, grill it, chop up some veggies and you’ve got yourself a meal with plenty of protein and veggies that also happens to be tasty. You can see how the recipe is prepared and that’s basically what I did. I got the dressing together first which was just whisking a bunch of stuff together. Part of that went over the chicken for ten minutes.

While that was going on, it was time to chop up the veggies. You’re working with carrots, cabbage and snow peas here, so it’s nothing too complicated. I tried to get all that done in the ten minutes it took to marinate, but am honestly not sure if I accomplished that. One thing I have to deal with on the regular is a very needy one year old wanting to be held while cooking. I do remember having to chop the cabbage one handed, no small task.

I grilled the chicken on a cast iron grill pan until they were done, then chopped them up, put it in the bowl with the veggies and added the rest of the dressing and the chow mein noodles. Boom, you’re done. I will say that, since I’ve made some Thai and other Asian dishes here and there, I felt the flavors were a little lacking. When I ate this as leftovers the next day, I warmed up some peanut butter and poured that in as well. I would also add some lime next time. And there will be another next time because it is so easy, I’ll just make a few tweaks to make it even better.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Cold Rice Noodles With Peanut-Lime Chicken

I’m not kidding when I say that Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Cold Rice Noodles With Peanut-Lime Chicken is the best thing I’ve made in a long time. I was immediately drawn to the dish when I first saw her post it, but didn’t get around to actually making it until last night. That’s right, while most of these posts are about dishes I made the previous week, I loved this one so much that I had to move some things around so I could write about it today.

The only changes I made to the recipe was that I omitted the chilies from the dipping sauce and went with chicken breasts instead of thighs because that’s what we prefer. That’s it. I went exactly according to detail for the rest of it. Since there are so many different components to this dish, I decided to work on it throughout the day. I had some time around 2PM, so I hopped in the kitchen and put together the two sauces. For the peanut one, this was a simple matter of pouring the correct amounts of fish oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, peanut butter and lime juice in a blender along with some ginger. Hit a button and you wind up with a wonderful salty, citrucy peanut buttery sauce that I want to put on everything from sandwiches to ice cream.

The dipping sauce was even easier, especially because I didn’t include the chilies which would have required a bit of chopping. This was just a combination of brown sugar, fish oil, lime juice and garlic all whisked together. For the lime juice, I had bought a bunch of limes for mojitos and just decided to use them here. I found that you get about a tablespoon per lime half and used the juicer seen in the photo just to make sure I wasn’t going too crazy or coming up too short. I put both sauces in the fridge for later.

Some time later in the afternoon, I trimmed the fat from the chicken breasts and chopped them up. I realized after I did this that the recipe calls for just putting the chicken on the grill or in the broiler and then chopping later, but I like doing it this way because it gets the marinade on the maximum amount of chicken. I put the pieces in a baking dish and then mixed the marinade like the recipes says, covered that and put it in the fridge.

When it got to be my usual dinner making time of 5PM, I was really set. All I had to do at that point was broil the chicken, pick and chop mint, basil and chives from our herb garden and cut them up, then cut up the cucumber and carrots and prepare the rice noodles. The kind I got said to just cover the noodles in boiling water, so I filled my hot pot, let it get all the way to boiling and then covered the package’s contents with the steaming water in a Dutch oven. Ten minutes later, I drained the noodles and sprayed them down with cool water. For the chicken, I covered a baking sheet with foil, then spooned the chicken pieces onto it and broiled for about four minutes. At that point, I pulled the pan out, flipped the meat and put it back in for 4 or 5 minutes to finish off.

And that’s it, really. You set all the components out kind of like a taco bar so your diners can add whatever they want in whatever amounts they like. This is the kind of meal you see judges go crazy about on something like Chopped because it’s just so amazingly layered. The chicken is perfectly limey and peanuty, you’ve got the saltyness and sweetness of the dipping sauces and marinades playing off of each other. Then there’s the subtle flavor and crunch of the carrots and cukes. All of that is wonder and then you get a bit of the basil or mint in there and you’re in a whole different plane of awesomeness. I can not recommend a recipe more highly than I do this one. Everyone should make it because everyone needs these flavors dancing on their tongues.

Bonus Food Pics: Aroma Buffet Chinese Delights

We grabbed some food at the nearby Aroma Buffet this weekend and it was a pretty great experience. The place is fairly new and we’ve only been there twice because we’re usually not hungry enough for a full on buffet experience. Anyway, here’s a few pictures I snapped there. I was particularly fond of the rangoon and those stuffed mushroom caps.Our daughter really dug the rice and noodles as well as the nice people clearing dishes and getting drinks. I also had a small dish of vanilla ice cream, but figured it wasn’t worth taking a picture of even though it was good ice cream.

Wok This Way: Beef Chow Fun (Sorta)

You’ll notice in the title that I don’t really commit to the idea that I cooked Beef Chow Fun. That’s because the recipe I used — from page 269 of Grace Young’s Str-Frying To The Sky’s Edge — called for broad rice noodles and bean sprouts, but I could only find thin rice noodles and broccoli sprouts, so I’m not sure if what I actually made is technically Beef Chow Fun.

Aside from those few changes, this recipe went pretty smoothly, though I think I might have used too many noodles. I don’t know if the mixture was really solid along with the sauce and beef. Anyway, this was made the same way as everything else I’ve made in the wok, so there’s not a lot to tell on that end.

I don’t usually like sprouts, but I still enjoyed this meal, it was tasty and reheated well. I must admit, I’m kind of bored writing about wok recipes as it’s pretty much the exact same thing every single time. On the other hand, I like making them because they involve lots of prep and a very short cook time. Even though these things might not be thrilling, I now know enough of the basics to figure out a recipe based on a few things I might have in the fridge or freezer now that I have a pretty good stock of wok-oriented ingredients. Pretty much any combination of meat and vegetables can be done easily and well in the wok, so that’s rad.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Cucumber & Pork With Golden Garlic

I’ve said a few times before that, so far, my experience with wok cooking has been a lot of the same thing. Lots of prep of vegetables and meat followed by very quick cooking of each element. That was pretty much the case when I made Stir-Fried Cucumber & Pork With Golden Garlic from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 73). The only real difference this time was that I fried some garlic in peanut oil making what the book calls Golden Garlic. I forgot that our candy thermometer broke a while back, so I wound up using the electronic meat thermometer that we have. It didn’t work out super well, but good enough to get the job done.

And, really, that’s it. I cut the cucumber on a mandolin and just followed the recipe as stated. The meal itself turned out well with the Golden Garlic offering a nice bit of crunch amidst the chewiness of the meat and the slickness of the cucumbers. It was nice and fresh and I’ve got no complaints, but I want to really test myself coming up, so be on the look out for that!

Bonus Food Pic: Sushi From QQ Asian Bistro

I forgot to post this lovely image of sushi we got from the nearby QQ Asian Bistro last week because the food just looks so tasty. From left you right you’ve got a Yellowtail Scallion Roll, Philadelphia Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Japanese Volcano Roll and Snow Crab Naruto Roll. I had the Yellowtail, Philly and Naruto ones and my wife had the other two. The Yellowtail was really simple and tasty, the Philly is pretty much like every Philly roll I’ve ever had and therefor quite good (I like cream cheese, what can I say?) and then the Naruto one was really interesting. It’s described as “Snow crab, mango, avocado, masago rolled in our hand sliced thin cucumber wrap served with creamy sauce.” I’d never had anything quite like that, but the sweetness bouncing off the avocado was really interesting. The crab got a bit buried, but it was still a good thing to put in my face.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Chicken With Carrots & Mushrooms

I don’t want to sound like I’ve gotten a big head, but I think I’ve really gotten the hang of cooking with a wok. I’ve made a series of recipes, each of which has turned out pretty well and they’ve all formed something of a pattern. Cut up meat, sprinkle with cornstarch and soy sauce, get some veggies ready, lay out your ingredients and get ready for some fast cooking. Aromatics go in first with peanut oil, then meat, which sears for a minute before getting the stir-fry treatment. After that, include the vegetables, maybe a sauce involving soy sauce or fish sauce you’re already prepared and sometimes add in some sugar and salt at the end. Oh and make sure to get your rice or noodles going when you start prepping, otherwise you’re timing’s going to be way off.

That’s pretty much the deal with the recipe for Stir-Fried Chicken With Carrots & Mushrooms that I got from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 134). The only real difficulty here was julienning the carrots, but that was just slightly more labor intensive than usual. I used a mandolin first and then cut them into smaller matchstick like pieces. In the book, author Grace Young mentions a tool called a Kinpira peeler that I might have to look into if carrots became a regular player in our wok cooking. Overall, this was another good recipe, though I would like to find a few with a bit of a different flavor profile. The meats and vegetables really make the flavors, but the base of garlic or ginger and soy sauce tends to make these things blend together in my memory. Still, those are flavors I enjoy, so it’s not really a bad thing.

Bonus Food Pic: Sesame Chicken Bento Box

Well, this is a bit embarassing. My wife, daughter and I had a wonderful lunch at a brand new Japanese fusion place in New Paltz, NY, but I can’t seem to find out what it’s called. I do know that it’s located at 215 Main St, New Paltz, NY 12561 because it’s in the same complex as the Moxie Cupcake we stopped at afterwards. Anyway, this is the second Bento Box I’ve ever had, but this is definitely the best of the pair. The California roll was pretty much as good as any other California roll and the rice was nice, light and sticky. The shrimp shu mai were also very tasty and I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had those.

I am much more well versed in Sesame Chicken, however and this was a very good example of the stuff. Sometimes the sauce is too thick and can wind up tasting like candy, other times the chicken isn’t well trimmed and turns out fatty and gross, but this was both a great cut of chicken and a well balanced sauce. When I figured out the name of the place, I’ll write another post, I promise!

Cooking Korean Barbecue Beef (Pul-Kogi)

The first All Recipes meal I tried making was actually Korean BBQ Beef, also apparently known as Pul-Kogi. I really like trying out new things and was spurred on by both a desire to try what I’ve seen on TV and also the luck I’ve had cooking various foods in my wok.

This one needs to marinate for a few hours, so I got to work on it earlier in the afternoon than I usually do when cooking, but that gave me more time to hang out with my daughter after finishing work around 5. First I cut up the meat, which didn’t take too long. Then it was just a matter of getting the rest of the marinade together. I cut up the pear, onion and garlic, then grated some ginger. I then tossed in the sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, dry sherry for rice wine and sesame seeds. The meat marinated for three hours.

In that time, I also got a salad together and cooked rice for the allotted 45 minutes. Once the marinade time was over, I spread everything out on a pan and broiled for between six and ten minutes. I liked what I tasted, but I think I was hoping for a bit of a richer flavor. Next time, I think I’ll go with a whole pear, I liked the spot of sweetness I tasted, but would like to have a bit more. Anyone else have suggestions for kicking it up a few notches?

Wok This Way: Velvet Chicken With Asparagus

One Monday I found myself in a bit of a cooking jam. I hadn’t gotten to the store for some reason, but knew that I had chicken breasts in the freezer and asparagus in the fridge, so I looked to Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and came across the recipe for Velvet Chicken With Asparagus (page 128). It was a match made in stir-fry heaven!

As I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts, most of the real work when it comes to woking out is getting all the prep work done in advance. I chopped up the chicken I had into squares and then mixed it in a bowl with cornstarch, dry sherry, and salt. I set that aside and then split and boiled the asparagus. Instead of chopping, I just used the green’s natural breaking points and snapped them with my hands. After that, I boiled the chicken, which is something I’m still getting used to, but seems to work out pretty well.

With all that out of the way, I finally figured out that I could set up the ingredients in order of their introduction to the wok and that would make things more efficient. Nothing in this recipe cooks for more than a minute before introducing the next, so this is a good way to set things up, I hope I remember it in the future. The garlic and ginger went in first followed quickly by asparagus and then the chicken. That was followed by another mixture I forgot to mention which included broth, pepper, dry sherry and cornstarch. All that got stir-fried and was served on rice, which I started at the beginning of the process.

Like everything else I’ve made with the wok and from that cookbook, this was another winner. The flavors weren’t huge, but it was a nice meal on a warm day that didn’t get me too sweaty in the kitchen. Those are both things I’m very appreciative for.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Beef & Broccoli

I’m noticing a pretty strong pattern when it comes to making dishes from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge. There’s chopped meat usually mixed with some kind of cornstarch mixture as well as vegetables. Most of the of time involved with the cooking process comes from prepping and cooking the rice to serve things on. It’s a really simple, wonderful way to cook that would be ideal for people who have to cook after work. You could even prep the night before and it’d only take a short time to have a full meal by the time you got home, though you might have to go with egg noodles instead of rice (or get a rice cooker, those are fast, right? I’ve never used one.)

Anyway, Stir-Fried Beef & Broccoli (page 89) was another simple recipe. You cut up 12 ounces of flank steak and put it in a bowl with ginger, soy sauce, rice win/dry sherry, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Then mix chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce and more sherry/rice wine in another bowl. The recipe wanted me to boil water and cook the broccoli like that, but instead I steamed it while I was getting everything else ready and think that was a good way to go. You keep more vitamins and minerals that way, right?

With all that ready, it was stir-fry time! First went in some garlic and black bean sauce (it called for actual black beans, but I could only find the sauce) into some peanut oil. That cooked for 10 seconds before pushing it to the side and adding the beef in one layer to the wok. That goes undisturbed for one week  before stir-frying for another. Once that’s done, you put that aside on a plate for a bit.

Add more peanut oil and cook the broccoli for 15 seconds with the onions (I realized after already cutting up green ones, that the recipe called for regular onions, it didn’t matter too much). You then put the beef back in with the oyster sauce mix, stir-fry for 30 more seconds and you’re done. I had gotten my rice going ahead of time and the timing once again worked out well. You’ve probably had beef and broccoli before and it’s just as good at home as it is from a store!

Wok This Way: Hoisin Explosion Chicken

As I’ve said in previous Wok This Ways, I like how much of the wok cooking I’ve done involves prep and then a fairly short cooking time. That was the case with the Hoisin Explosion Chicken Recipe from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 114). Also like the other recipes, it was super easy to follow, didn’t require a lot of strange ingredients and resulted in some really tasty food.

Since I already had dry sherry in place of rice wine, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and ginger the only ingredients I had to pick up were chicken, a green pepper and an 8 ounce can of bamboo shoots which weren’t that expensive. I always worry that some of the more unusual ingredients will prove cost prohibitive, but that, thankfully, hasn’t been the case just yet.

So, here’s the deal. Ahead of timeI got the rice boiling and then mixed 12 ounces of chopped chicken breast in a bowl with cornstarch, an egg white, dry sherry/rice wine, salt, cold water and let marinate uncovered in the fridge for 30 minutes. While that was in the works, I also mixed soy sauce, hoisin sauce and more dry sherry for prep. I followed that up by cutting the green pepper into strips, draining the can of bamboo shoots and combining minced garlic, minced ginger and some red pepper flakes in another prep bowl. Once all that was done, I was good to go.

After about 25 minutes, I got another sauce pan of water boiling, this one to do the first cook on the chicken. You drop the pieces in, stir them up so the don’t clump and let cook in the boiling water for about a minute. I think drained it out in a colander and was ready for the actual stir-fry portion of the proceedings.

Like with the other recipes, this part is a constant jumping between the wok and the cook book to remember what the next step is. The ginger, garlic and pepper flakes went into some peanut oil first, followed by the bell pepper and some salt. Those cooked for 30 second before adding in the chicken, bamboo shoots and sauce which stir-fried for a minute or two (probably longer, actually).

I got lucky and timed everything so that the cooking would be done just as the rice was ready. Like with all the other dishes I’ve tried so far in the wok, the flavors were really fresh and vibrant. I’m a big fan of soy sauce and that salty taste, so these meals are great on my pallet. Luckily, my wife also seems to be digging these experiments. I’m looking to move on to some more complicated recipes in the near future, so keep an eye out for those soon. Basically, what I’m saying is that my wok-fu is getting stronger by the meal.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Ginger Beef

Sorry about the huge delays here on the site, everyone. Last week was packed between my birthday and a few tight work deadlines and the beginning of this week was packed with Valentine’s Day stuff and even more deadlines. But, I’ve still been cooking and eating, plus I’ve got lots of archives to go through from the past month, so let’s jump in!

After getting my new wok seasoned, it was time to give that thing a real try out. In addition to the wok, my wife also got me Grace Young’s wok-centric cookbook Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide To Mastery, With Authentic Recipes And Stories which her research told her was the best of the bunch. I was flipping through and her recipe for Stir-Fried Ginger Beef (page 71) because it didn’t require buying too many new ingredients and seemed fairly easy for a novice like me.

The recipe calls for flank steak, minced ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, salt, pepper, peanut oil, oyster sauce, pickled ginger and scallions. We usually keep ginger in the freezer along with the other pantry items, but I did need to pick up oyster sauce and pickled ginger. For the rice wine, I checked at both the grocery and wine stores and neither had any, so I went with the also suggested dry sherry.

Okay, on to the actual recipe. Cutting up the meat into strips is the first step. That all went into a bowl with the non-pickled ginger, soy sauce, a teaspoon of sherry, cornstarch, salt, pepper and a teaspoon of peanut oil. In another bowl I combined the oyster sauce and a tablespoon of sherry. The rest of the prep included cutting up a quarter cup of pickled ginger and some scallions.

For the actual cooking, the book says to put the wok on the heat and you’re ready to go when a drop of water evaporates in a few seconds. So, once we got to that point, I swirled some oil in and then spread the meat in the wok. You’re supposed to let that cook for one minute and then stir-fry for 30 seconds before adding the oyster sauce mixture, the pickled ginger and the scallions and stir-frying again for another 30 seconds. I also picked up some egg noodle nests awhile back for an aborted recipe that worked out really well to serve the ginger beef on.

The flavors were fantastic. I love how the pickled ginger popped with the beef and the marinade. The thing that was difficult about cooking with the wok is how fast things go once you start cooking. As you can see above it’s a lot of steps that take a minute or less. I’d do one thing, stir, jump over to the book, read as fast as I could then jump back to the wok. It was a really fast paced, but also really simple and easy. I also like that so much of the cooking revolves around getting prepped ahead of time. Once you’re set, with everything, it’s game time. Honestly, boiling the water for the egg noodle nests took longer than all of making the main dish. I had a great first outing on the wok and can not wait to get into it even more.

Wok This Way: Getting Seasoned

My lovely wife got me a wok for Christmas. She knows I’m excited about trying to cook new foods and thought this would be a great way to get into a new arena. She also got me a cookbook that her research told her was the best around. But, as some of you may know, you’ve got to season a wok before you use it, much like a cast iron pan. You’ve also got to boil it a certain way to get rid of a film that’s put on there in the plants.

As you can see from these photos, I tried a few different ways just to set up the wok on my stove. We’ve got gas and some pretty high grates, so I thought it might make sense to remove the grate and get the wok as close to the heat as possible. But, I soon discovered that that didn’t work out because the wok was actually smothering the fire and only gas was pouring out. Whoops. So, I followed the directions (twice actually, just to make sure) and got rid of the film.

Up next I wast tasked with seasoning. This was another long process, but only because I tried the wrong method. The one I tried first involved charring some onion-like vegetables (I went with green onions and the tops of some leeks, because that’s what I had on hand) in peanut oil, but that didn’t get the brown/black coloring I was going for. So, I tried the next method which involved setting the oven, wiping peanut oil all over the wok and then putting it in the oven for a while. This worked great. I’ve even taken it for a test drive that I’ll get to later this week.

On another note, I have to say, it was difficult deciding on the name for this recurring post. A Wok On The Wild Side, Wok-a Wok-a, A Wok To Remember and more all flooded into my head, but I just had to go with Wok This Way. I’m a big Aerosmith fan and a Run-DMC fan, so it just makes sense.

Bonus Food Pics: Teriyaki Wings From Frank’s

Frank’s
179 Temple Hill Road
New Windsor, NY 12553
(845) 565-4600

A few year’s ago a wonderful wing place called Tim’s Wings And Things opened up in a strip mall not too far from us. Like a lot of strip mall restaurants, it didn’t look like much, but they had some really amazing flavors in there including a chili lime sauce that I still think about to this day. Unfortunately, about a year ago (or maybe two at this point) they shut down. I think there might be another one somewhere, but I almost don’t want to know because I think it’s pretty far away. There’s a Planet Wings around, but it’s still kind of far away and not in the greatest area.

But, not being near wings doesn’t mean you don’t want to eat them. We like wings quite a bit. One day a few weeks back we were jonesing for some wings when I remembered that a pizza place right down the street from us (our addresses are around 100 numbers apart) called Frank’s had wings. Bam. My wife got either mild or medium (I have no idea what the difference is) Buffalo and I got some teriyaki because I love anything in teriyaki. While they don’t have the greatest variety of flavors, I’ve got to say that the ones we’ve tried (we’ve gotten wings from there twice now) were great. There are a few other flavors I’m looking to try which is fun. So, if you’re in the area and don’t want to go to far, hit up Frank’s for wings. They also have some pretty good pizza and a variety of calzones that I’m getting hungry just thinking about.

Cooking Grilled Lemongrass Chicken with Nuoc Cham

This post is an example of not judging a book by it’s cover. I got the recipe for Grilled Lemongrass Chicken with Nuoc Cham, a Vietnamese dish, out of a free magazine I got from the grocery store two years ago! I frequent Hannaford and have since we moved to this part of New York several years ago. From what I’ve seen, their prices are good, their produce seems fresh and everyone I’ve dealt with there has been nice. When you buy a certain amount of groceries they give you this magazine called Fresh. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered looking, but a few months back I was organizing the magazines that were cluttering up the cookbook shelf and came across a series of them. I went through and ripped out recipes that looked good, but this entire issue from May/June 2009 looked so solid that I kept the whole thing. I’ve never cooked Vietnamese food before, but my wife actually made some excellent Summer Rolls a few years ago from this very issue. Plus, it was relatively easy to make, so all the better.

The first step is concocting a marinade which involves tossing 1/4 cup of minced lemongrass, one large shallot and three garlic cloves in a food processor and pulsing. You then add two tablespoons of brown sugar, two tablespoons of soy sauce, two tablespoons of canola oil, one tablespoon of fish sauce and a quarter teaspoon of black pepper and pulse some more. I poured this mixture over four chicken breasts that I cut in half and trimmed the fat from. The recipe calls for letting these rest for 4 to 6 hours in the refrigerator. I can’t remember how long I went for, but it was around there.

The next step is basically grilling the chicken, which is no problem. While I had the chicken in the cast iron grill pan, I put together the super easy and tasty Nuoc Cham sauce which is just a combination of a garlic clove, two tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup of hot water, lime juice and a tablespoon each of fish sauce and rice vinegar. Put all that in a jar or container and mix and you’ve got a light sweet/salty/sour sauce that I could dip just about anything in.

I had a great time cooking and eating this meal. I love when trying something new doesn’t blow up in your face. Like I said, I don’t really know much about Vietnamese cooking, but these flavors worked really well together. I’m kind of fascinated by lemongrass and am not even sure if I’m using it correctly, but the sweet and sour taste of the grilled chicken hints that I got it at least partially right.

Food TV: The Layover Series Premiere

I don’t believe my appreciation of Anthony Bourdain is any surprise to regular readers of his blog. I love his show No Reservations, I love his autobiography Kitchen Confidential, I liked the Fox comedy based on said memoirs and I’ve enjoyed reading through his Les Halles Cookbook. So, of course, I was excited to realize today that his new Travel Channel show The Layover premiered tonight at 9:00PM. Unlike No Reservations, which is more like a travel show with food as the basis, The Layover is a food show based in places to travel to. But, to differentiate things even more, Bourdain only has a short amount of time to get around, which actually counts down as the episode carries on.

The first episode was based in Singapore, an interesting choice that showed off the new format well. Not only are there a variety of different kinds of cuisine in the country, it’s also relatively small, which lent itself well to the concept. The purpose of The Layover is to really show you where to go when you’re in a place and don’t have a ton of time. It has a much more travel guide feel to it than No Reservations as Bourdain not only lists additional places and dishes to check out, but also shares screen time with locals and ex-pats discussing their favorite places to eat and visit.

There are plenty of other little differences between The Layover and No Reservations–including showing multiple scenes at once on screen in various panels to show even more of the place, making it feel like you’re trying to cram in as much as possible–but at the end of the day, if you like Bourdain’s main show, you’ll like this one. I did. And, if you’re left not wanting to book tickets for Singapore immediately, you probably shouldn’t bother watching future episodes.

Cooking Tomato & Beef Soup

With the weather turning colder, I find it comforting to have at least one soup recipe on the menu per week. Last week I decided on Tomato & Beef Soup from The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 343) because it was simple and didn’t require a lot of extra ingredients. Plus, it included at least one cooking method I had never used before. After cutting up the beef in strips, I put them in a pan and added a cup or two of boiled water straight out of the hot pot. As the recipe called for, I let the water cook the meat for two minutes, then drained and set aside. Pretty cool.

From there, everything else was pretty simple. I put two boxes of beef stock (it wouldn’t be until later that I actually made my own, but that post is coming, I promise) in a pot and started warming. I went with more of just about everything than the recipe called for because I didn’t want to have a lot of leftover ingredients. As such, I also used a full tiny can of tomato paste and seven tomatoes. The rest I eyed, but usually went with more than written.

You add the chopped tomatoes and some sugar, boil, then simmer for two minutes. After that mix cornstarch and cold water, add that and stir. Then you beat an egg white (or two in my case) and pour that in while stirring (not easy to do while trying to photograph the steps). I’ve done this with a few other recipes, but I always like how quickly the eggs cook when added to the hot soup. Reminds me of a much more appetizing version of the Cement Mixer shot I was given on my 21st birthday (for the uninitiated, you take a shot of Khalua or Bailey’s, don’t swallow and then add a shot of lime juice, it curdles in your mouth, a trick played on young whippersnappers who will take any shot without a thought).

I made a few other alterations to the recipe, but nothing huge. It called for sesame oil to be poured over each bowl, but it turned out that we didn’t have any, so I added some low sodium soy sauce along with some rice vinegar. I know they’re not the same, but they added some interesting flavors. The recipe also called for scallions to be added on top, but I chopped a bunch up and just put them right in the soup. If it tastes good on top, it must taste good in, right?

The overall flavor of this dish was interesting and a little difficult to get used to. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad by any means, but my wife and I both agreed that an Asian soup with tomatoes was not something we were used to. Of course, neither of us are experts in that field, but I also think that my additions to the recipe might have made the overall flavor fit more firmly into that section of our mental flavor libraries. Like I said, I liked it and enjoyed having it for lunch the next few days, especially with that loaf of garlic bread I picked up at the grocery store.

A Whirlwind Weekend Of Food Firsts

I’ve been having a lot of food epiphanies lately and one of them is that I want to try new things. My mom always said I was always a great kid to cook for because I was never picky and enjoyed pretty much everything she put in front of me. As I grew up, I think I got a little more closed off, especially if a food looked or sounded unfamiliar. But now, I’m opening myself back up and want to eat as many new foods as I can, which is exactly what I did this weekend. My wife’s parents came in for a visit, which always means lots of eating out, but I made a conscious effort to look at the parts of familiar menus I’d only glanced over previously and wound up having a variety of great new foods that me from a few years ago would probably have balked at. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was so excited about actually eating that I forgot that I wanted to start writing about the process. Anyway, here goes.

Edamame, Avocado Salad & Zhang Zhang Guo
QQ Asian Bistro
367 Windsor Highway
New Windsor, NY 12553
(845) 569-7108

QQ is a fairly new Asian bistro near our place that serves a variety of Asian food from Chinese and Thai to sushi. I’ve gotten food from there a number of times, but Friday was the first time we ever dined in. We started the meal of with edamame and Thai Herbal Calamari which were both new experiences. I’ve had edamame a number of times before, but at QQ, they salt the pea pods, so they wind up having a little extra flavor when you pop them in your mouth. Some might have been overly salty, but for the most part I enjoyed the added flavor. Meanwhile, the Thai Herbal Calamri came very lightly fried and had a nice taste to it. I’m no squid expert, so I have no idea how fresh it was or tasted, but it was an enjoyable dish. I wanted to try the squid salad, but the sushi chef informed the waitress that that was a no go, so I wound up trying the Avocado Salad. A simple dish made up of slices of avocado on top of a bed of lettuce with a gingery dressing that was pretty good. I figured I needed some greens in my life, plus I always enjoy trying new dressings. Then came the main course, which for me was Zhang Zhang Guo. The menu describes the dish as “Soup style noodle pot with chicken, shrimp and scallop.” I was intrigued and dove right in. The pot also included octopus or squid, I’m not sure which, but the bowl, when uncovered, revealed tiny purplish tentacles sticking up like something out of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. It was exactly what I was looking for. I dove in alternating between chopsticks and a spoon, quite enjoying the spicy, seafood filled soup. The broth was enjoyable and again, I’m not a seafood expert, but I liked what I had, though I’m not sure if the squid/octopus flavors really jumped out. A few days out, I couldn’t tell you what they tasted like, but I know I liked what I had.

Reheated zhang zhang guo, minus seafood.

I actually just heated the leftovers up for lunch and it tasted just as good the second time around, though it only consisted of broth and noodles. That same spiciness was still there and lasted for a while, but it was a good kind of spicy, the kind I’m getting used to after avoiding hot stuff most of my life.

Soppressata, Sheep’s Cheese, Olive Tapenade & Tomato Sandwich
The Cheese Plate
Water Street Market
10 Main St.
New Paltz, NY 12561

On Saturday, the inlaws wanted to head to New Paltz, a combination liberal arts college town and hippie strongold about 30-40 minutes from where we live. As you would expect from such a place, they have a unique version of a strip mall called Water Street Market that looks more like two sides of a small town’s main street up on a hill and separated by a sidewalk. There’s a few antique stores, a pet boutique and a wonderful place I’d never been to before called The Cheese Plate. As I tend to do, I hadn’t eaten breakfast before leaving, so when we got to the Market, I was getting hungry. While the others walked around, I ducked into the good smelling place, looked around for a bit and decided on ordering the Soppressata, Sheep’s Cheese, Olive Tapenade & Tomato Sandwich. I’d never had soppressata or sheep’s cheese before but wound up really enjoying this snack (okay, it was actually pretty filling, but I still had a dinner coming up to focus on, so I told myself and my traveling companions that it was a snack). The sheep’s cheese had a nice bite to it, kind of like Swiss cheese as far as my inexperienced tongue could tell, though I didn’t detect the gaminess that people talk about when discussing sheep or goat cheese. The soppressata–a cured salami made from ham–that lives somewhere around salami and pepperoni in my mind and on my tongue was so tasty I want ro add it to my life on a regulat basis. It wasn’t spicy, but had some tingliness to it that I appreciated. All that combined with the tartness of the olive tapenade made for a delightful sandwich that I relished eating while first walking around and then while sitting on one side of a table set up with a chess board. I could eat that every single day. If you’re in the New Paltz area, I highly recommend stopping by and trying one of their sandwiches or just buying some bulk cheese or even some cured meat. My wife dug the brownie I got for her, but that’s not really my scene, you dig?

The view at Billy Joe

Catfish Po’ Boy
Billy Joe’s Ribworks
26 Front Street
Newburgh NY, 12550
(845) 565-1560
I’ve talked about Billy Joe’s Ribworks before. After enjoying it so much the first time around, it’s become one of our favorite places. I even had my birthday lunch/dinner/eating-before-the-Superbowl there this past February. I usually stick to some combination of meats that always leaves me very satisfied. After chowing down on the awesome soppressata sandwich, though, I wasn’t as hungry as usual. I still wanted to try something new, so I scanned the sandwich section of the menu and wound up getting the Catfish Po’ Boy. As far as I can remember, I’ve never had a po’ boy or catfish, so I was still able to try something brand new. The menu describes it as “Catfish Fillet Dredged in Cornmeal and Spices, Fried Golden Brown and Served on a Soft Hoagie Roll with House-Made Cole Slaw, Pickles and Cajun Remoulade.” When it was served, I first tried a chunk of the fried catfish and really liked the cornmeal crust on top, plus the fish itself was nice and light. The sandwich itself was pretty good, but I wish the remoulade had more of a flavor to it. I’m a strong believer that a sauce can save a boring sandwich and elevate a good one to greatness. This one was just good, but it still opened my eyes to the joys of catfish. Plus, we got to sit outside on their awesome deck which sits over the Hudson River!