Taking Chinese Take-Out In!

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Does Chinese food have to be authentic? Nah. For me, authenticity is not important. I enjoy home-made Chinese food as much as the greasy American-Chinese take-out version. The Chinese food I grew up eating at home does not appear on take-out menus, so it was an exotic experience when we did order take-out. Who’s this General Tso and why do the chickens fear this name? What’s a moo-shu pork? What is it about canned mushrooms and water chestnuts that delight Buddhas all over the world?

At home, mom taught us to make wontons, dumplings, sauteed chicken with mustard greens and shitake mushrooms, pork stuffed bitter melons, pork buns, braised caramel pork, pork-anything, and stir-fries. Oh, the infinite possibilities of stir-fries! Select a protein, add some random variation of vegetables, whip up a brown sauce, and ta-da! I knew how to make brown sauce with a slurry before I could ride a bike. What goes in this brown sauce? Any combination of things and don’t even think about pulling out the measuring spoons.

In our family, what goes into the sauce depends on what’s in the pantry and fridge and who’s making it. This is my version of a take-out stir-fry for a stay-in dinner.

Chinese Take-in Stir-fry

Makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients

1 lb. ground pork

1 lb. fresh Shitake mushrooms, de-stemmed, thick sliced (I love mushrooms, the more the better and if you can buy them fresh, it’s even more delicious)

1 medium onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 yellow or red Bell Pepper, diced

1/4 lb. Baby Corn (aka Candle Corn), bias-cut in half

1/4 lb. Snow Peas, bias cut in half

1/2 lb. bean sprouts

1 bu. scallions, thinly sliced

Kosher Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper, to taste

4 Tbsp. Canola Oil

For the Sauce:

Sesame Oil

1 tsp. grated Ginger

1 – 2 Tbsp. hot sauce (Siracha)

1/2 c. Soy Sauce

1/4 c. Sweet Wine Vinegar

For the Slurry:

3-4 Tbsp. Cornstarch

5-6 Tbsp. warm water

 

Growing Muffins into Birthday Cake

I started out with a basic muffin recipe and each week I would experiment with different ingredients, swapping blackberries for blueberries, fresh fruit with dried fruit. Then moving onto experimenting with different flours, whole wheat, red wheat, einkorn, emmer, etc. Next, I focused on the liquid ingredients: swapping in different textured yogurts (strained, Greek yogurt, dairy-free, coconut yogurt), fruit juices (lemon, orange juice), and fats (butters salted, sweet, cultured; and olive oils (generic, fruity, spicy), and sugars (granulated, cane, brown). After months and many, many batches of muffins, I’ve arrived at this recipe for Orange Olive Oil Yogurt Muffins, a favorite for my 2 and 5 year olds.

For my two-year old’s birthday, I wanted to adapt this muffin recipe to make his birthday cake for about 45-50 guests. So after some tweaking and testing, I came up with a double-decker layered (orange olive oil yogurt flavored) cake frosted with lemon vanilla mascarpone cream. My 5 year old who generally refuses birthday cake that is not chocolate cake, devoured this cake and gives it two thumbs up!

Orange Olive Oil Muffin Recipe

Yields 14-15 standard muffins

Equipment: 2 tin muffin trays, paper muffin cups, olive oil spray (or substitute with Pam spray), rubber spatula, ice cream scooper, cooling rack

Ingredients:

1 1/2 C. AP flour (King Arthur)

1/2 C.Whole Wheat flour (Frederick Wheat Soft White Winter Whole Flour)

1/2 t. Salt (coarse Kosher)

3 t. Baking powder

1 C. Cane Sugar

Zest of 1 large orange  and juice (Navel)

2 Eggs (large, well beaten)

1/4 cup plain yogurt (strained, whole milk)

1/ Olive oil (Spicy, fruity olive oil such as a Tuscan or Sicilian variety)

1/2 t. Vanilla extract

Optional: 1 cup blackberries

Methods:

  1. Place oven rack to the middle rung. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.
  2. Spray muffin trays with olive oil, and line with paper muffin cups.
  3. Mix flours and dry ingredients (salt, baking powder, sugar)  into a medium bowl.
  4. Mix orange zest with cane sugar, rubbing the zest into the sugar with your fingers, set aside.
  5. Crack 2 eggs into a small plastic container, add orange juice, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Close container with an airtight lid and shake to “beat” and “mix” the wet ingredients.
  6. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix just until blended. Careful to not over mix.
  7. Use an ice cream scooper to distribute the batter among the muffin cups. Optional, place a blackberry into the center of each muffin.
  8. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until golden on top.
  9. Remove tray and place on cooling rack.

 

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Double-Decker Orange Olive Oil Birthday Cake
with Mascarpone Cream Frosting

Yields 1 (9.5″ x 13.5″) sheet cake

Equipment: cake pan, olive oil spray (or substitute with Pam spray), rubber spatula, cooling rack; electric stand mixer with paddle attachment.

Cake Ingredients:

2 1/2 C. AP flour (King Arthur)

1 t. Salt (coarse Kosher)

4 t. Baking powder

1 1/2 C. Cane Sugar

Zest of 1 large orange  and juice (Navel)

3 Eggs (large, well beaten)

1/2 C. plain yogurt (strained, whole milk)

3/4 C. Olive oil (Spicy, fruity olive oil such as a Tuscan or Sicilian variety)

1/2 t. Vanilla extract

 

Frosting Ingredients:

2 lbs. mascarpone cream (Vermont Creamery)

4 C. heavy cream (Ronny Brook)

1 1/2 C. confectioners sugar

1 t. salt (coarse Kosher)

1/2 t. Vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

Methods:

  1. Place oven rack to the middle rung. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.
  2. Spray cake pan with olive oil.
  3. Mix flours and dry ingredients (salt, baking powder, sugar)  into a medium bowl.
  4. Mix orange zest with cane sugar, rubbing the zest into the sugar with your fingers, set aside.
  5. Crack 3 eggs into a small plastic container, add orange juice, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Close container with an airtight lid and shake to “beat” and “mix” the wet ingredients.
  6. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix just until blended. Careful to not over mix.
  7. Use an ice cream scooper to distribute the batter among the muffin cups. Optional, place a blackberry into the center of each muffin.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden on top.
  9. Remove tray and place on cooling rack.

Assembly:

  1. Bake two sheet cakes and let cool completely.
  2. Place mascarpone, heavy cream, and vanilla extract in bowl and mix on slow for 1 minute until blended. Add sugar and lemon zest, and mix on medium/high until peaks form, about 2-3 minutes. Careful to not over beat or else the frosting will get grainy.
  3. If you don’t have a turn table, do what I did, I used the turn table in the microwave as a make-shift turntable!
  4. Using a serrated knife, trim all four sides of each cake to remove over baked edges.
  5. Using an offset spatula apply an even layer of frosting to the top layer of one cake.
  6. Place 2nd layer of cake on, making sure top side facing down.
  7. Apply frosting to top and sides. Place in fridge to allow frosting to set, at least for 30 minutes.

Hachis Parmentier (Shepherd’s Pie)

Cookbooks make awesome presents to give and to receive. Recently, I received Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.

It has three requisites for a good cookbook: 1) pictures, lots of glossy photographs, 2) Easy to follow recipes with suggestions for swapping out ingredients, and 3) Context, a good back story. The photos in this book are gorgeous starting with the cover recipe for a baked lemon chicken in bread dough. Each recipe is sprinkled with “bonne idees” for what to serve with the dish and variations on the recipe in case you don’t have the exactingredient or want to experiment. Not only a cookbook, it is also chock full of annecdotes. The recipe for Hachis Parmetier from Chef Alain Ducasse is a type of Shepard’s Pie that his mother used to make when he was growing up in a small town north of Paris. I am tickled just thinking how I am making the very same recipe for my petite gourmand.

Ingredients

For Beef and Bouillon

1# cube steak or boneless beef chuck, cut into small pieces (or stew chuck or ground beef)

1 small onion
1 small carrot
1 small celery stalk
2 garlic cloves
2 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp peppercorn
6 cups water
1/2 beef bouillon cube

For filling
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 # sausage, sweet
1 tsp tomato paste
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the topping
2 #s Idaho (russet) potatoes
1/2 c. whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp butter cut into bits
salt and pepper
1/2 c. grated Gruyere, Comte or Emmenthal
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

Love in the Time of the Siberian Vortex

Nothing says love to me more than a bowl of home-made soup. I guess it has something to do with the fact that my husband and I met while volunteering at a soup kitchen.

And what better way to keep warm and toasty this March-maddening cold week than with a bowl of steaming minestrone? As a nod to spring, this recipe is chock full of spring vegetables and fresh herbs like basil, parsley, thyme, and chives. The chicken meatballs are cheesey and lend that perfect note of savoriness to this otherwise light soup. Enjoy!

P.S. Version on the right for our 4 year old has less herbs.

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This recipe is adapted from  one from Epicurious. My version is upped to yield 10 hardy servings and the meatballs are oven roasted, cutting down on active cooking time.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ground chicken
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano reggianno cheese, divided, plus more for garnish
  • 4 garlic cloves, 4 minced, 2 thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 2 large eggs, whisked to blend
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large leek, white and pale-green parts only, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 3 quarts low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 pound small pasta
  • 2 bunches carrots, choppped into 1/2″ rounds
  • 1 pound (packed) baby spinach
  • Chopped fresh basil, parsley, thyme

preparation

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 sheet trays with aluminum or silpat. Spray with olive oil.

Mix chicken, breadcrumbs, 3 tablespoons Parmesan, minced garlic cloves, chives, egg, 2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Form into 1/2″-diameter meatballs.

Transfer to sheet trays and bake for 15-20 minutes or until brown on all sides. You’ll want to rotate at 10 minutes and return to oven until the meatballs are brown.

Add olive oil, leek to a heavy-bottomed pot (such as a dutch oven) and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add thinly sliced garlic cloves; cook for 1 minute. Add broth and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Stir carrots; simmer until carrots are tender (15-20 minutes). In a separate pan, boil water, add salt and cook pasta until almost al dente, about 7 minutes. Add meatballs to the broth pot; simmer until carrots are tender, and meatballs are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add spinach, pasta and remaining 3 tablespoons Parmesan; stir until spinach is wilted and cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with chopped herbs and Parmigino Reggiano cheese.

 

I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm

This shall be the winter that will go down in history as the most frigid, most snow and ice storm in my 2 decades as a New Yorker. But on the bright side, snow days remind me to slow down and make memories with my 3 year old little chef.

Rummaging through our pantry and fridge, I realized that I didn’t have sour cream, a key ingredient for making Martha’s Devil’s Food cupcakes which has become our Valentine’s Day tradition (which I wrote about here). I found instead a recipe sans sour cream by Dave Lebovitz (which I included in this post).

Dave Lebovitz’s Devil’s Food Cake
makes one 9-inch cake or 2 trays of 12 cupcakes

For the cake:

  • 9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1½ cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup strong coffee (or water)
  • ½ cup whole or low-fat milk

1. Adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Butter two 9″ x 2″ cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.

3. To make the cake layers, sift together the cocoa powder, cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.

4. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat together the butter and sugar about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. (If using a standing electric mixer, stop the mixer as necessary to scrape down the sides to be sure everything is getting mixed in.)

5. Mix together the coffee and milk. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, the add the coffee and milk. Finally stir in the other half of the dry ingredients.

6. Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, I chose this classic quick vanilla butter cream recipe:

3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoon heavy cream
1 pinch salt

7. To make the frosting, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk butter and sugar until a light, pale yellow, and fluffy consistency, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla extract, salt, and heavy cream, whisk until everything is just incorporated.

Cajun Style Beans and Rice

When I’m in the mood for comfort food that is delicious and healthy, I make this Cajun style beans and rice dish. It’s a great way to introduce new vegetables, like Okra, to the 3 year old crowd. The secret to this dish is using good, fresh beans cooked the old fashioned way. I ordered these funky beans with cow spots called Black Calypso from Rancho Gordo. They cook up really buttery and maintain their shape nicely.

Skip the overnight soak. If you have a crock pot, just add water, 1/2 an onion, and a bayleaf. Set to cook for 3 hours and forget it. Enjoy!

beans and rice

Ingredients
Grape seed oil or other vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 packages of Andouille sausages (24 oz)
2 bell peppers, chopped
3 Celery ribs, chopped
1 container of chopped tomatoes (26 oz)
Bay leaf
1 container fresh Okra (10 oz), chopped
5 cups cooked beans with cooking liquid
1 bag frozen Sweet Corn (10 oz)
Salt & Pepper

*Serve with cooked rice

Preparation:
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Heat oil in large dutch over medium-high heat. Add onions. Sauté onions for 2 minutes or until translucent. Add Andouille, cook for 5-7 minutes to brown.

2. Remove 1/2 amount of sausage with a slotted spoon and reserve on the side. Stir in bell peppers and celery, cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add tomatoes and bay leaf, season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Add okra and cooked beans, give a quick stir, cover with lid, and place in oven. Set timer for 20 minutes.

5. Remove pot from oven and taste. Adjust seasoning as desired. If okra is cooked, stir in frozen corn, cover with lid for 5 minutes or until ready to serve.

Beef Borg

My version of a healthier Beef Bourguignon recipe based on a recipe by Ina Garten–more vegetables, less fat–and less active cooking time (which means more time to prop up my feet and watch Downton Abbey). My 3 year old loves peas so they are added at the very end to keep them bright green (nothing’s more unappetizing than brown-looking peas) and sweet.

Servings: 10-12

Ingredients
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
3 slices applewood smoked bacon, diced
3 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
Coarse Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
1 large yellow onion, rough chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 Tablespoons Cognac
1 (750 ml.) bottle good dry red wine such as Pinot Noir
2 cups veal or beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Bouquet garni (2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves and 1 bay leaf tied with butcher’s twine)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 pound whole pearl onions
2 cups celery ribs, chopped
1 pound baby new potatoes (halved)
1 pound fresh baby bella mushrooms, caps quartered
Parsley, chopped
Crusty bread such as country or sour dough

Equipment: large (7 quarts) Dutch oven

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until fat is rendered (5 minutes). Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.
  3. Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and flour. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.
  4. Toss the carrots, and onions and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac and let the alcohol cook off for 5 minutes. Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat, add the bouquet garni. Cover the pot with a lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/2 hour. Add celery, potatoes, mushrooms, and cook in the oven for another hour or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork. I ended up leaving it in the oven to cook for 4 hours total (for super tender, melt-in-your mouth meat which my preschooler loves). You can opt to cook for as little as 2 1/2 hours.
  5. Add peas and parsley. Season to taste.
  6. Serve with toasted bread. For each serving, spoon the stew over a slice of bread and sprinkle with more parsley on top.