In an effort to not only catalog previously attempted recipes, but also give a few hints, tips and anecdotes, here’s last week’s menu revisited!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
Catfish Po’ Boy
Billy Joe’s Ribworks
26 Front Street
Newburgh NY, 12550
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!