Friday, April 29, 2011

For Chaz: How We Stir-Fry

My brother called a few weeks ago to get ideas on new ways to cook vegetables. He wants to incorporate more veggies in his diet and is tired of just steaming them. So I've had vegetable cooking on my mind a lot lately. One of our favorite meals that is heavy on the veggies and light on the meat is stir-fry. I am by no means an expert; I doubt I employ proper or authentic stir-fry techniques when I make it.  But we sure do love the results! Even the kids gobble it up. Here's how we do it--this will be more of a method than a recipe, but I made sure to write down what I threw in this time so that tonight's delicious stir-fry can be replicated. By me. Because I always think I'll remember what I did. And I never do.

PS--A great thing about stir-fry is that you can make fried rice with the leftovers plus a little oil, soy sauce, and scrambled eggs. A whole new meal in under 10 minutes!

Stir-Fry For Chaz (with Chicken and Vegetables, although that's up to you!)

1 generous lb chicken breast, chopped (I used 5 chicken breast tenders)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced (on the fancy diagonal if you like)
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced like the carrots
2 crowns of broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
1 generous cup chinese pea pods
1 small to medium zucchini, julienned (cut into matchsticks)
3 green onions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
soy sauce
bottled teriyaki sauce (we use Kikkoman Teriyaki marinade and sauce; it is not at all thick or gloopy)
2 Tablespoons apricot preserves
other things you can throw in:  sweet and sour sauce, toasted sesame oil (I had some, got it out, and completely forgot to use it), plum sauce, any additional veggies or meats you like; I basically look through my fridge and pull out anything I think would work in stir-fry

1.  It is important to do things in the right order with stir-fry because it cooks hot and fast. If you are having other dishes with it and they can be made first, make them first. We like fruit salad because chances are, if you're making stir-fry, you're attempting to eat healthy, so why ruin it with fried wontons. Also, if you're serving your stir-fry over rice, get it started before you begin cooking the stir-fry. I would get as far as covering the rice and turning down the heat before starting the stir-fry; the rice will have to cook for about 15 minutes, which is just enough time to do your stir-frying business.
2.  Get all of your meat and veggies completely ready to go before you start cooking. Everything needs to be washed, peeled, chopped, etc. Also get out any other, non-chopping ingredients like soy sauce. Like I said, it all moves very quickly and you don't want your stir-fry to burn while you're fishing the jam out of the cupboard!
3.  Remember that veggies cook at different speeds and taste their best at different levels of doneness. I divide our veggies up into groups and add them at different times. Vegetables that take a long time to cook or don't taste good hot and crispy--like carrots, celery, and chinese pea pods--go in the first group. Vegetables that take less time or taste good not completely tender--like zucchini, green onions, and broccoli--go in the second group.

Ok! Heat a nonstick skillet (not at all proper, but very effective) over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the chopped chicken. Salt and pepper lightly. Stirring the chicken frequently, cook until white on all sides; don't worry at this point about cooking it through. That'll happen eventually. Spoon the chicken into a bowl or plate, cover, and set aside.

Next add your group 1 veggies (long-time cookers). Stir frequently to prevent sticking or burning. Cook for about 5 minutes until just beginning to get tender; if the veggies start to stick or brown too much, add a splash of soy sauce to loosen things up.

Next add your group 2 veggies (quick cookers). Continue stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

When your group 2 veggies are almost perfect, add the chicken, garlic, apricot jam, and a generous splash of teriyaki sauce and soy sauce; the goal with adding the sauces is to coat the meat and veggies so they aren't dry, not to make soup. Stir until chicken is cooked through, veggies are tender, and all saucy components are well-mixed.

Turn off heat and serve immediately over hot rice. Serves 4.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cake Slice Bakers: Cold-Oven Cream Cheese Pound Cake

When I read the name of this cake, it conjured up images of a dense, heavy, tangy cake--which I didn't think sounded very good.  But it was amazing in every way!  The cream cheese in the batter didn't impart a cheesecakey flavor, but rather an incredible moistness.  The fresh lemon zest and freshly-grated ginger gave it a wonderful, refreshing Spring flavor.  And unlike a lot of pound cakes, this one was not only easy to make AND baked evenly, but it also had a tight, light crumb.  We loved it with the season's fresh strawberries and whipped cream, but I also snuck a few slices plain and they were equally delicious.  It is by far my favorite plain pound cake recipe ever.  If you've been intimidated by pound cakes in the past, give this one a try; it is a breeze!

Cold-Oven Cream Cheese Pound Cake
from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman

3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 eggs, at room temp
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 Tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position.  Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Beat butter, cream cheese, and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Beat in vanilla, ginger, and lemon zest.  With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour.  When all of the flour has been added, mix for 30 seconds on medium.  Pour batter into prepared pan and place in cold oven.  Turn oven to 325 and bake until cake is golden, 65 to 80 minutes. Check for doneness with long wooden skewer.  Cool cake in pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Easy Goat Cheese and Pear Salad

Aside from restaurant food and a few specific friends and family members' cooking, I pretty much prefer my own cooking to mystery food made by other people.  It isn't a pride thing at all; it's a comfort thing.  For example, let's say they're having a chili cook-off at church, and my pot of chili is one of 2 or 3 dozen entries.  I can guarantee that my chili is the only one I'm going to try, mostly because I know exactly what went into it and that I already think it tastes good, and I'm not exactly adventurous when it comes to food.

The one glaring exception to this made-by-me food preference is salad.  I love salad--as long as I didn't make it.  I usually find salads that I've made gross.  I can set out all of the ingredients for salad and have my husband put it together and it tastes delicious.  If I make it, it's no good.  Crazy how that works!  Last Fall, my friend Tannya, who is an amazing cook, brought the most delicious salad to a baby shower for our mutual friend Annie.  I have no clue how she made it, but it was on my mind the other day while I was grocery shopping, so I bought the cheater's version of what I think went into the salad.  It took about 1 minute to throw together and tasted fantastic, and yes, I made it!  And you can too!

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