Monthly Archives: April 2012

Improv is Fun! – More Ribs!

So, it was dinner time and I didn’t know what to cook. We had pork ribs thawed out, and the Ryan was asking what I had planned for them. I was thinking I’d go with my honey soy recipe, but he seemed a little less than okay with that. Off hand, he suggested, “Check the Wok Bible and see if anything is in that for ribs??” So, I did.

Sadly, there were no recipes for ribs, but I did find a recipe for pork belly that I thought I’d carry over to the ribs.

In case you were wondering, I *highly* recommend this book:*

It is informative, well-written, has lovely pictures, and thoroughly explains many different ways to cook Asian food, in a wok. It lists ingredients, supplies, their purposes, their differences, their definitions, and facts about each. It is not limited to Japanese, Chinese or Thai specifically. Instead, it combines all three and a few other bits and bobs into a comprehensive, beautiful guide to utilizing your wok to its fullest.

Stir-fry is one of those things that the Ryan and I do often, as it’s fast and easy, and at the end of the day, we are not always up to doing complicated meals. The Ryan loves to just toss all manner of whatever he wants into the wok and go for it. And since we recently bought ourselves a brand new nonstick wok (hey, now, we don’t have a wok burner and we’re not investing in one for an apartment we don’t own :P), we have been trying to use it as often as possible without making ourselves tired of it. The book was the perfect addition to our library.

Another perk of the Wok Bible is that it doesn’t have strictly “stir fry” recipes in it. The recipe I found today is actually for braised pork belly. I just modified it a bit to fit the ribs I had on hand. I was also missing a lot of ingredients, so I had to make substitutions. Observe:

First, the ingredients: Soy sauce (5 tbls), Sambal Oelek chili paste (1 tbls; the book calls for hot chili powder, but I decided to do the paste for giggles), peppercorns (10 of them. Yep, the book says to count out ten), OJ (1/2-1/3 cup; the book calls for the rind and juice of one orange, but I didn’t have one; 1/2-1/3 cup of juice is about what you’d get out of a typical orange), beef stock (1 & 2/3 cup), light brown sugar (1 tbls; the book calls for molasses, but I didn’t have any of that either; molasses is present in brown sugar, which is why I decided to use it), 3 cinnamon sticks, 3 cloves (I used ground cloves – 1/4 tsp ground = 3 whole), garlic (2 cloves, sliced), ginger (1 tbls, peeled and shredded) and star anise (2-3). See what I mean about improv??

Since our wok doesn’t have a lid, I used a small stockpot. Add the ribs and fill with water until the ribs are just covered. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat, and let simmer for about 20 minutes (if you have ribs like I do).

Get your stock ready by adding 1 & 2/3 cup of water and 2 tsp of bouillon (I used ‘Better than Bouillon’ beef stock base) to a small pot and simmer.

Combine the soy sauce, orange juice, ginger, garlic, chili paste, cinnamon sticks, brown sugar, cloves, peppercorns and star anise in a small bowl and mix together until thoroughly combined.

When the ribs are done simmering, drain and add back to the pot.

Add the broth and spices mixture to the pot, and add water to, again, just cover the ribs. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat. Cook for 1 and a half hours, stirring occasionally to prevent the pork from sticking. About half way through, I was afraid of the ribs drying out due to the fact that they didn’t have any fat on them, so I added about 1/4 cup of olive oil to the mixture to up the fat content, and hopefully, keep the ribs moist.

Unfortunately for us, I believe that the fact that I was lacking molasses prevented the ribs from actually braising properly. After an hour and a half, the liquid had only reduced by half. However, the Ryan and I were extremely hungry, so I made some rice, steamed some spinach, and served the ribs. They came out nice and tender, and were quite tasty. We enjoyed them minus the braising. Should I do this again, I will follow the recipe as it says. Only maybe not with pork belly, but better, more fatty ribs. 🙂

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Stuck with leftovers?? (Part 2 – Quiche)

It’s the weekend! Sleep in, snooze, blog all day, shop, and, of course, cook.

This morning, after we cleaned the cob webs out of our brains and said good morning, the Ryan rolled over, smiled and asked, “So, whatta ya have in mind for breakfast?”

I wasn’t in the mood for boring ol’ bacon and eggs, and I didn’t feel like making pancakes…but I was too lazy to get up and go out to buy ingredients for something else, so I started rummaging around in the kitchen (and my brain).

Friday, I made chicken pot pie. Since the Ryan was off, I sent him to the store to get me pre-made pie crust. Which he got. As frozen pie crusts. (It wasn’t until after I came home we went back out and got the Pillsbury ready-mades.) A for effort, and now I have pie crust. And hey, not only do I have pie crust, but I have exactly 3 eggs, 6 pieces of bacon, a bag of spinach I didn’t use, about a quarter gallon of milk and a bag of cheese. Answer: QUICHE!

Yes, it was the perfect idea – a big breakfast with yummy ingredients, and something we will have leftovers from that we can eat again during the week if we so choose. 🙂 Not exactly the healthiest thing to make, but it was a nice change of pace.

The only problem was…I’ve never made a quiche before. Hmm…Ever since last semester in French class, however, I had been *dying* to learn how (but got wrapped up in life, work, school, and generally just forgot). As a rule, in my French class, we somehow always seemed to get onto the topic of food. That class was hilariously fun, but always made us hungry. Toward the end of the semester, one of my classmates brought us  quiche and a chocolate ganache, along with a history of both (to make it look like ‘homework’). My professor came into the room, sat down and said, “Talk amongst yourselves in French while I eat this. ;)” We got to eat and get credit for it. Most recently, the branch chief at my job retired, and as a parting gift, she brought us her “famous quiche,” which was truly the best I’ve ever had. Alas, she took her recipe with her when she left, though.

So, this morning, when I suggested the idea of quiche to the Ryan, he was all for it. And recently, he has been getting into “Good Eats” (Alton Brown’s Food Network show) at work while he is waiting for his programming stuff to…well, program. Or compile. Whatever the techies call it. So he brought up YouTube and we sat and watched together.

So, after viewing Good Eats, I decided that quiche would be perfect. Not only that, but it would teach the Ryan the difference between a quiche and a pot pie. What now?! Using Alton Brown’s suggestions, I went to town and made a quiche. Here goes:

First, the ingredients. For quiche, as you observed above if you watched Alton Brown (or if you just know already), you can pretty much use anything you have hanging around..plus egg & milk/cream/half and half. I didn’t have any cream or half and half, and was leary of the light cream I used in the vodka sauce a few weeks ago (even if it didn’t expire until May, I opened it more than 7 days ago so…when in doubt, throw it out), so I used milk (1 cup). We drink 2%, and should I do this recipe again, I will be using whole milk or heavy/light cream. Pie crust (frozen, not graham cracker), cheese (about a cup, just estimate), chopped baby spinach (about a cup or so), 3 eggs, and bacon (6 slices).

Since we only had 6 pieces of bacon left, I went ahead and started frying them all. I like my bacon extra crispy anyway, but I felt it was essential for the quiche so it could be crumbled.

First, I chopped a bunch of the baby spinach, probably about a cup or so of loose leaves.

I set the baby spinach on a dish towel (it was green, so you won’t even notice ^_~) and wrung it out to get allllllllll of the moisture out of it. You *MUST* do this if you are using spinach, it has to be dry or it will make your quiche yucky from the excess liquid. A cheesecloth will work well, too, but I didn’t have one.

The bacon had crisped up, and I put it on a plate on top of multitudes of paper towels to absorb the grease. When it was cooled and the grease had been dabbed off, I crumbled it up like so.

Be careful while you do this, as boyfriends and vultures alike hover for a chance to eat tiny bits of bacon. (As you can see, the Ryan and Sam were quite keen. But of course, Lestat wasn’t left out, and scored a small piece as well.)

I decided to place equal parts of spinach, cheese and bacon in the pie crust, and tossed it loosely. *DO NOT* pack down your ingredients, the egg/milk mixture needs somewhere to go in order to penetrate all of the filling for the quiche.
I measured 1 cup of milk, and dropped it and the three eggs into a nice spouted bowl. I whisked them together until the eggs had bubbles in them and it was a nice, light yellow color.
I then poured the “royale” (what the French call the mixture of egg/cream) into the pie dish, moving in a counter-clockwise direction around the outside working into the middle to assure even distribution.
Looks good, no? Pop it in the oven at 350, for about 40 minutes. Start checking at 25, however (especially if you use cream). If your quiche has a set, jello-y texture, it is good to go. You can also test your quiche by popping a hole in the middle with either a knife or a toothpick, pressing on it, and seeing if any liquid comes out. If it does, your quiche needs to cook longer.
Looks nice, no? 🙂 Nummy. The only thing I didn’t like about the way this came out was that it was not firm enough, which I attribute to the low fat content of 2% milk as opposed to something like heavy cream or half and half. I will be using one of those two options should I make this again.
Enjoy your breakfast!

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Stuck with leftovers?? (Part 1 – Chicken Pot Pie)

So you’re sitting at your desk at 2:30 in the afternoon when you realize you haven’t pulled anything out of the freezer for dinner. You have some leftovers like one potato, half an onion, a few garlic cloves and some other random stuff laying around your kitchen…so what do you do with it?

Well, my normal go-to in this scenario is something of a stir-fry or casserole variety. Stir-fry is amazing because HEY! Meat, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, toss it in a wok, throw in whatever you want veggie wise, serve over rice and VOILA! Dinner in five minutes or less (not counting the rice, of course). OR, when you have a general mish-mash of items, a casserole is basically an amazing cop-out dish that makes it look like you not only planned the meal, but actually tried.

Taking that one step further, tonight I decided to go for a chicken pot pie. I found myself in the aforementioned scenario where I hadn’t planned anything, and I wasn’t in the mood for yet another bowl of beef and rice. I knew I had half an onion and some chicken laying around along with an almost empty bag of frozen veggies (that the Ryan doesn’t like, so I have to disguise them to make them edible), some garlic and a potato or two…So I thought HEY! Instead of a casserole, why don’t I do a pot pie?

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I went shopping with Jessica and we had our mad cake ball baking mania? Well, one of the things I purchased that day was mini casseroles for individual servings. I intended to use them for potato dishes or something of the like, but this seemed like the perfect excuse to break them out and see what they were really made of. This way, they’re not just random arbitrary kitchen obsessions I own that take up valuable cabinet space in our apartment. Genius!

Fun, no? You may have picked up on the fact that yellow and orange are a theme in our kitchen. It's kinda my thing..

I promptly called up the Ryan and asked him if he had ever had a chicken pot pie. He answered that the only time he’d ever had one was when he was a child. His mom apparently made a frozen one at some point. He then proceeded to liken a pot pie to a “poor man’s quiche, right? Just when you were too poor to afford eggs.” Whatever, honey.

Clearly, I had to straighten out my honey’s view on what a pot pie is. I will be showing him the history of pies and pot pies along with the history of quiches later. I suppose the fact that they both use pastry bits is where he got his idea? But Pot Pie is, strictly speaking, more of a Medieval England casserole-esque thing as opposed to the Quiche, which is a French custard based thing. And really, it’s kind of a German thing that the French adopted and made their own. Wanna know more? Read about the history of both here.

As for me, the last time I’d had a chicken pot pie was probably on vacation in a little place called Capon Springs in West Virginia. It used to be an old springs/bath houses in the..I wanna say 16-1700s? Nestled in the mountains and supplied with fresh, spring water through the whole town, it’s a step back in time. Everything they cook there is made from scratch, and the bacon you ate in the morning was probably the pig you visited at the farm yesterday. And the eggs? From the chicken you fed. Self sufficiency rules. But yes, I must have been, oh…12? 13? Given all of these factors, pot pie seemed like the right idea last night.

Using a recipe I found on AllRecipes.com as a guide (click here to see it), I sort of improvised this one with what I had laying around the kitchen. I also improvised with spices because just salt and pepper is not really our thing in this household. I scaled it down to a serving size of “2” since I was doing individual dishes. Observe:

First, the ingredients: Casseroles, one stalk of celery (sliced), leftover frozen veggies, chicken (cubed very small), salt and pepper to taste (I later got bored of just salt and pepper and added garlic powder (1 tbsp), Paprika (1/4 tsp) and celery salt (1/4 tsp) to my gravy), the other half of that onion (chopped), bouillon (1 & 1/2 cubes, divided), one small yellow potato (peeled and cubed) 3 garlic cloves and Pillsbury already made pie crusts. SO easy, just unroll them and VOILA! You’re ready to go. You will observe spinach, which I had originally intended to add, but then decided not to for room constraints in my single-serve dishes. The cheese was for garnish at the end (Popped one of the pies open and stirred in a bit of cheese to melty goodness…mmm).  Additionally, what you don’t see, is that once I realized just how few frozen veggies I had left, I drug out two small carrots and peeled/chopped them as well. And the wine, well..The friends I house-sat for brought me back a bottle of my favorite wine. Now that I’m better and off narcotic opiate drugs, I can actually drink the stuff. And it was Friday night. WOOOO!

Next, get the ingredients for your gravy. Milk (4 tablespoons), All Purpose flour (2 tbls), salt and pepper (and the garlic powder, celery salt and paprika that I listed at the start..again, I threw them in as an afterthought, so they are not pictured). The other 1/2 of your chicken bouillon cube should be used here as well. The recipe I used had many comments that said it was necessary to double the gravy for this, as not doing so would result in a dry pie. The measurements I have given you ARE the double of the recipe, that was scaled to 2 portions.

First, I chopped the onion and ran the garlic through my press into a prep bowl and set aside – you will need these later. Before you begin the next step, get a pot of water going on the stove. Bring to a boil and chuck in ONE bouillon cube.

While your bouillon is going, cube and slice your potatoes and celery.

Once your bouillon is ready, add your potatoes, carrots (you can see the ones I added), frozen veggies and celery. At this stage of the game, I turned the heat all the way down to simmer and set to cut the chicken.

I am finicky about sanitation and such in my kitchen, so I always make sure to chop and move my vegetables BEFORE touching ANYTHING meat-related with my knife or cutting board (either that or I use a separate knife/cutting board entirely – but the Ryan was home from work yesterday and made his own dishes, so I was only left with one cutting surface). Cube the chicken into small bite-size pieces and add to the pot with the vegetables in it

Stir in the chicken and boil for 15 minutes. The recipe said to do it covered, but I didn’t really feel like it was necessary, so I didn’t bother. Next, put on a small pot with 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil. Drop in the remaining half of your bouillon cube to create broth.

While the last bit of broth is going, melt a couple tablespoons of butter and saute the garlic and onion you chopped earlier until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Next, since I was not thinking clearly, I added the milk and chicken broth.You are really supposed to add the flour and stir with the butter/garlic mixture to create a rue.

I realized quickly what I had done, though, and managed to get the flour in there in time, stirring to make sure there were no lumps and until the gravy thickened.

Stir in the salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and celery salt. Remove from the heat and set aside. By now, your veggies and chicken should be ready, and you can drain them and set aside as well.

Get your instant pie crusts out and fit them to your container. If you are using a pie plate, good on you, you don’t have to do anything. But since I was using the individual casseroles, I cut my pie crusts to fit and slid them in. I then cut any remaining excess along the outsides of the dishes.

See? Fits pretty well. Make sure to leave yourself some wiggle room at the top, as you’re going to have to adhere the top crust of the pot pie to this lower crust. I preserved my slices and set them aside.

Once your crust is ready, drop enough of the filling into the casserole dish to come to the top. Don’t stack too high above the level of the casserole, though, you need a good seal on your dough.

Next, spoon about half of the gravy on top of each of the chicken mixtures. I tossed mine a bit with a spoon just to make sure it seeped down there, but it’s not necessary – the moisture WILL move down.

Okay, so not the most beautiful thing in the world, but waste not, want not. To seal my pot pies, I used the pieces I cut from the crusts when I cut them to fit. Lay them across the casserole, sealing the edges, and trying gently to seal the pieces in the middle (though it is not necessary). Cut small slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape, and pop them in the oven. The recipe I used called for a 425 degree oven, but since I was using individual casseroles, I scaled the temperature down to 375. Smaller contents = smaller temp/cook time. I put these in for about half an hour.

And there you go! Chicken pot pie. 🙂 As I said before, I let these stand for about 5-7 minutes and then popped them open with a fork and stirred in a small dollop of the cheddar cheese until it was melty gooey goodness.

Who says leftovers have to be boring?

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My Maw Maw…and her Pancakes!

Pancakes? Really? That’s what you’re going to show us today? I know that’s what you’re thinking. And yes, it will be pancakes. Not because it’s easy (which it is..because it’s pancakes), but because recently I had to write a report in one of my classes about who I would honor if I were to participate in a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration.

I chose my Maw Maw, Betty. I won’t bore you with the details, but she was as every grandmother is – warm, friendly, hilariously spoiling of her grandchildren, and an all around hoot and a half. She had a cackle (no, really, that’s what it was) that you could pick out anywhere, and she was a true Marylander, never happier than with a beer and a steaming pile of freshly-caught crabs in front of her. She lived on the water, so as a child I learned to fish and crab – and we always had fresh seafood readily available to us. She also had a knack for gardening, and there were always wild raspberries to be picked, so she’d hand each of us a basket and walk with us all over the place while we gathered them. Remembering the fresh fruits and veggies from my childhood and the influence my grandmother had over how I feel about food and fresh/healthy ingredients today is very special in who I am as a person.

On the weekends during summer, as most grandchildren do, my cousins, brother and I would spend time with MawMaw at her house so we could play. We always fought over who would sleep on the “gold couch” (arguably the most comfortable couch in the house, even if it was mustard yellow), and when we’d wake up, we always begged her for her famous pancakes. She taught me how to make these when I was a small child, and to this day I cannot completely master the beautiful golden color she seemingly effortlessly produced. Every single time. I think it’s because she used an old electric griddle and rubbed the thing down with bacon grease when she made them. I, personally, don’t trust our bacon grease (you may have noticed the can on our counter that says ‘MMM BACON’ on the top of it. Guess what we put in there!) and it seems stupid to rub down a nonstick pan with it anyway..That being said, I do tend to brush mine down with a small dab of canola oil just because I’m paranoid that they’ll stick to my nonstick pan (make sense? Nah, didn’t think so). However, I’m coming to the conclusion that the oil interferes with the texture of the pancakes, so I will be doing this recipe next time in the pan without the oil. We shall see.

Nobody in my family has yet to perfectly master Maw Maw’s pancakes, though I am notably the one who has come the closest. At least that I know of (if one of my cousins or aunts reads this, they may Facebook me and tell me otherwise – we’ll see). I was standing in my kitchen one day trying to figure out the things that the recipe was missing, and lo and behold – some memories popped into my head that sealed the deal. The sneaky old woman added a dash of nutmeg and a TINY drop of Vanilla. Only she hadn’t put that on the recipe she gave the ENTIRE family. Obviously she was trying to keep her golden touch in the pancake business so we couldn’t duplicate it and she would always have a job cooking breakfast for the lot of us. Sadly, she died when I was only 11, and it is only now that I am older that I see the true impact of all the things she taught me and how they affected my life. I miss her dearly, and I hope she’s cackling, drinking beer and eating crabs wherever she is.

So, I now present to you – MawMaw’s pancakes:

Ingredients: 1 cup flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 2 tbls sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 egg (slightly beaten), 2 tbls shortening/oil and 1 cup milk. Also nutmeg and vanilla, but she didn’t care to include those on her standard family recipe card. You will need a literal “dash” of those, to taste as you like. This will yield 4-6 pancakes (which is perfect for two people), however if you are serving a larger bunch, double the recipe.

Pop all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Then mix them together.

I don’t know if it actually makes a difference, but my Maw Maw taught me to measure the milk out, drop in the egg, then add the oil & vanilla proceed to whisk it all together to slightly beat the egg. She always used a fork, I suspect for the convenience (whisks don’t fit in measuring cups very well), but just to keep the tradition alive, I also use a fork.

Pour the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk thoroughly.

Your mix will start to bubble and become thick. That is what you want.

Ladle a bit into a skillet over medium-low heat. If you have an electric griddle, do the same. I don’t have one, and the cast iron doesn’t really pop out pancakes like I thought it would, so skillet it is! 😛 I think, though, once the Ryan and I are in a house, we should get an electric griddle. It would make pancakes easier instead of 1-2 at a time. My Maw Maw could do 4-6 on hers, that old bat.

Maw Maw taught me to wait until little bubbles started appearing and popping around the edges and in the middle of the pancake. Additionally, the perimeter will start to look a bit stiff and cake-like. That is when it’s safe to flip. Don’t let it sit too long, it will burn.

And voila! A pancake – Maw Maw style. Notice the color differences? I think it has to do with the oil on the skillet, so again, I will be making these again without any oil. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Maw Maw ALWAYS served her pancakes with real butter, and Betty Crocker syrup. She also ALWAYS served them with Jimmy Dean’s Sage Sausage. The smell of it cooking will trigger memories of summer at her house any day. I always think of her and smile whenever I make this breakfast for friends and loved ones. And I traditionally serve it with Jimmy Dean’s Sage Sausage as well. 😉

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Saltines, Gauze and the Gown of Shame

Hello, everyone! As I posted last week, yesterday was the big day of my surgery…The technical term for it is a “septioplasty” but for the people who don’t feel like googling that, it was a deviated nasal septum repair. I am feeling better this afternoon, but yesterday and this morning were not so fun. Still, I am looking forward to being able to breathe through my nose (something I have not been able to do up to this point) and reduce the number of sinus infections I get per year significantly. Woohoo!

Pre-op: Photo courtesy of the Ryan.

As you can see, the Ryan took GREAT pleasure in taking pictures of me in the Gown of Shame and my lunch lady hairnet. He probably took about 12 pictures and I believe one video recording as well. “For posterity” and “because you’re beautiful!” were his reasons, but I think he was moreso just enjoying seeing me looking ridiculous. After being stuck with the needle for my IV, bleeding all over, having my aunt flo visit me (and having to roll that dumb metal IV post around with me everywhere) and donning open-backed hospital garb (including undies!!) all on the same day, I was definitely not feeling beautiful. At least I got some groovy bed socks out of the deal, so I didn’t go home empty handed. And thankfully, the Ryan spared me and didn’t record (to my knowledge, anyway) me being high and ridiculous as the anesthetic was wearing off yesterday in the car on the way home.

I can also happily report that I was able to shower this morning AND brush my teeth, so I’m feeling a bit more human. Sadly, though, the anesthesia and my stomach are in all-out warfare, and I have been worshiping the porcelain goddess since yesterday afternoon. Clearly I am losing the war. 😦 When I am not on my knees in worship, though, I am happily dreaming of Stargate SG-1 episodes and other such nonsense in an oxycodone induced coma.

The kitties have not left my side, though, and neither has the Ryan (except for necessary items like gauze and popsicles. Hello, tropical fruit pack!), so at least I am well cared for.

Is okay. I keep your legs warm.

This guy is Sam, one of the two that we like to pretend we own. He has been everywhere I’ve been and even sat on the floor with me while I was sick. He has taken to making sure my legs and hips are warm. He is my very bestest buddy. Alpha cat rules.

This one is the Ryan’s buddy, Lestat, AKA Stattiepants. He is currently exiled to the other side of the bed because a) Sam won’t let him near me and b) He got the idea in his head last night that it was perfectly alright to jump from the floor onto my face…or just jump onto the bed and then climb on my face. After about the fourth time, I am pretty sure I flicked his nose so hard it made his little head spin, and he got the message. At least he still wants to be near me after that.

But alas, since I am going to be spending the next couple days on a steady diet of gatorade, ginger ale, Saltines, chicken soup, rice and toast, I will not be able to post any recipes. I had thought about having the Ryan post some, but I can’t really eat any non-bland food until I get this anesthetic out of my system and settle my stomach down. 😦 I am also blessed with a gauze mustache, a swollen nose and bruised cheeks..so I can’t even really taste anything. I also can’t stand up without becoming dizzy and nauseated, so the thought of trying to cook OR eat is like “ewwww.”

SO, I just thought I’d give you guys an update, and I hope to be back to myself in the next week or so.. 🙂 Stay hungry!!

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Heart healthy steak..wait, what?

It’s true. Well, as true as it can be. One of the cookbooks we picked up for the Ryan’s parents is the 7th edition of the New American Heart Association Cookbook.

The Ryan and I actually love this cookbook so much that we have decided to keep it, though I intend to take his parents a copy over Christmas. So Merry Christmas, parents, I hope you forget about this gift in the next eight months. 🙂 And please don’t buy one yourself, lest you steal my thunder. That would make me quite sad.

But seriously, this cookbook has every kind of recipe you could possibly think of from A to Z. Every page includes each recipe’s nutritional information, dietary exchange, tips and tricks for substitutions and other nifty little tidbits. It also has an appendix, how-to’s, menu planning, a complete A-Z index and buying guides – which makes it a handy book to have around no matter if you’re a beginner or a veteran in the kitchen. And hey, it’s by the American Heart Association, so you know it’s not full of fatty, crazy recipes. Everything is thorough and comprehensive. I absolutely adore this book.

One of the first recipes I tried (for the Ryan’s dad, who I am told is a big steak fan but has to watch fat and cholesterol) was this Pepper-Coated Steak (p.281). Not only is this recipe incredibly simple, but it suggests side dishes for you to pair the recipe with (which are, of course, healthy) so it’s really a no brainer to throw together for dinner.

So what are we waiting for? Pepper-Coated Steak a la AHA Cookbook:

Ingredients: Steak (the book calls for 4 oz steaks with all the fat trimmed off, I clearly did not have 4 oz steaks and these had been in our freezer for a while, so I needed to use them), Black Pepper (coarsely ground), Brandy (1/4 cup) and one 5 oz can of Evaporated Milk (the book calls for fat free, but the store did not have any so I had to get 2%. Be aware while you shop – our store only sells whole evaporated milk in the 5 oz cans so we have to buy the 12 oz cans).

First, sprinkle both sides of the meat with the pepper and press it into the meat.

Next, spray the pan lightly with vegetable oil spray. I did not have any, so I used a very small amount of canola oil.

Over medium high heat, cook the steaks – about 4-5 minutes on each side for medium rare. A good rule of thumb is 4 minutes on each side for each inch (thickness) of steak you have to get medium rare..at least, that’s what I was taught in the restaurant. 🙂

They will brown a little bit, but that is fine and to be expected when cooking steak in a skillet.

When the steaks are finished, set them on a plate to rest and cover with foil to keep them warm. Remove the skillet from the heat and let it cool for about a minute.

Reduce the heat to low and return the skillet to the burner.  Gradually add the brandy and cook for about a minute, scraping any browned bits left over from the steak.

Next, add the evaporated milk to the brandy and increase the heat to high – bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens, stirring frequently. A little tip if you had to buy a 12 oz can – 10 tablespoons = 5 oz.

The sauce will reduce from this….

To about this…One thing I learned with this recipe is that the natural sugars in the evaporated milk will cause the sauce to develop this kind of sheen/sticky coating on the top of it if you let the sauce sit in the skillet, so plate your steaks quickly and then pour the sauce over them to avoid this.

And voila! Steak with brandy sauce! As you can see, I chose to make some seasoned asparagus as a side, but you can make whatever you want.

If you follow this recipe according to the book directions your nutrition information will be: 244 calories, 26g of protein, 5g carbohydrates, 4g sugar, 72mg cholesterol, 9g of fat (3.5 saturated, .5g polyunsaturated, 3.5 monounsaturated) and 103mg of sodium. The dietary exchange is 1/2 skim milk & 3 lean meat.

Enjoy!

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Pork Ribs with Zing! Honey Soy Deliciousness.

Ooooooh, do you smell that? It’s cinnamon…five spice…soy sauce…Yesssssss. If you are looking for a fun, Asian flare to dress up regular ol’ pork ribs, go no further.

Veering away from the traditional smoked, barbeque ribs, these bad boys add a bit of zing to your taste buds and I promise you, will make them very happy. This recipe was actually given to me by an Australian “friend” (I use the term loosely..we dated a few years, it ended badly, the end), but despite the icky ending, the recipe is damn good. The Ryan is a huge fan of this dish, so I make it for us often.

Don’t let the long list of ingredients fool you, this recipe is quick and easy. Pop the ribs in for a half hour, serve up with some rice and BAM! – dinner. As they bake, the smell will permeate your house and make your mouth water.

I took the opportunity to make these ribs because they are really supposed to be made in a dutch oven. I have made them many, many times before without a dutch oven, so I will mention the variation in the recipe. 🙂 More than anything in the world, I have been telling the Ryan (no seriously, throughout our entire relationship) how much I want an enameled cast iron dutch oven. I drooled over them on Saturday at Sur La Table…oh, to be able to afford Le Creuset. Maybe after college. Or for my wedding. Whichever happens to come first.

But I digress…my friend Deb (house-sitting for a kitchen goddess has its perks) has two dutch ovens (enameled cast iron, no less!) that I just couldn’t resist trying out. So without further adoo, honey soy ribs:

*A note for those of you who don’t do spicy: the chili flakes in this make it quite spicy – adjust to a smaller amount OR omit if you don’t want the heat; Also, the recipe calls for Oyster Sauce – if you’re allergic to shellfish, check the bottom of this recipe for substitutions*

1 Vidalia Onion, chopped, 1/4 inch Slice of Ginger, 5 Cloves Garlic, run through a press or minced, 4 Tablespoons Honey, 1 cup Chinese Rice Wine (Or Dry Sherry), 4 Tablespoons Light Soy Sauce, 1/2 Cup Oyster Sauce, 1 & 1/2 Teaspoons Chinese 5 Spice, 1 Cinnamon Stick, 1 Teaspoon Dried Chili Flakes, and 1 Cup Water. Preheat your oven to 335 (or 325 if you have a gas oven) degrees. (I know it’s an odd number – remember this was adapted from an Australian recipe. Celsius to Fahrenheit ftw!)

Arrange your ribs in the dutch oven. Mine were “country style boneless pork ribs” I grabbed at the store. Short ribs are much better for this recipe in my opinion, but this is what I had. 🙂 (If you don’t have a dutch oven, arrange them in a bake pan.)

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon and chili flakes to a bowl.

Next, the honey, 5 spice and oyster sauce.

Finally, the soy sauce, rice wine and water. Whisk them together until the honey has dissolved.

Pour the mixture over the ribs in the dutch oven. Mmmm. Smell that?? (Again, if you don’t have a dutch oven, pour the mixture over the ribs in the bake pan.)

Bring to a simmer on the stove top, only for just a minute. (If you don’t have a dutch oven, just pop them directly into the oven to start cooking – cover with aluminum foil.)

After you have simmered the ribs, put the lid on and pop them in the oven. Bake them for an hour and a half. Do not touch them for an hour and a half. Your house will smell amazing and you will want to rip open your oven and eat them all RIGHT NOW, but trust me. It’s worth the wait.

Annnnnnnnd they’re done! 🙂 Don’t they look delicious? I’m sure you were smelling them while they were baking..and drooling. 😉

Jasmine rice goes quite well with these, and you will have plenty of sauce to pour over the ribs or the rice if you so desire. Voila! Enjoy!

Oyster Sauce Substitutions:

– There is such a thing (if you weren’t already aware) called Vegetarian Oyster Sauce – it’s made with shiitake mushrooms as opposed to oysters. To find out more, or find out where to get some, click here.

– I found this handy recipe for making your own substitute here: “Another option is to prepare a vegetarian substitute for oyster sauce. This will be more useful for vegans. All you have to do is to dissolve one mushroom broth cube in half a cup of boiling water. Add two tablespoons of brown bean sauce and one tablespoon of unprocessed sugar to the solution. Allow it to boil for sometime and then add cornstarch mixed with water (one teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in one teaspoon of cold water). Stir the boiling solution, till it thickens. Your oyster sauce substitute is ready.”

Hopefully either of these will work for you, and you can include this in your recipe. 🙂 Other suggestions I found were thai fish sauce, or Hoisin sauce, but I have not tried either. If you happen to have one of those on hand, maybe give it a try and see!

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