Saturday, January 30, 2016

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

I have to confess that it took me a while to get my stir fry dishes to taste the way I thought that they should taste. I think part of  my problem was that I under seasoned the dish and that I had a reluctance to use some of the prepared sauces -- such as hoisin, oyster or teriyaki -- that are readily available in the grocery stores. These items allow you to get some almost authentic taste without purchasing a bunch of different spices that you'll only use now and then. Another revelation for me has been purchasing and using fresh ginger. You can freeze a "knob" of ginger, which means it will last a really long time. By freezing it, I've got it on hand when I need it. Fresh ginger makes the same fantastic difference in a dish that fresh garlic does, as opposed to using garlic powder. It is, however, spicier than you think, so proceed with caution. Use a  microplane grater for grating the ginger --you'll achieve better results than with a box grater. You must peel off the tough outer layer before you begin to grate it and you'll need a really sharp knife to do that. You can also mince it, but be sure to mince it very finely.

This beef and broccoli stir fry hits the spot on a cold winter night. It evolved simply from what I had on hand in my freezer and pantry. It's pretty quick and easy, and delicious. Skip the take-out this week and try my tasty Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry! The key to successful stir frying is to do the prep work in advance. Once you begin to actually cook, it will take very  little time. Since rice takes longer -- especially if you use brown rice -- start that first, 30 minutes or so before you begin to stir fry. I like to add a cube of bouillon to the water and use that in place of salt in the rice, but either way works fine. You can also serve this over rice noodles if you prefer.

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
serves 4

For the stir fry: 
3/4 lb. lean sirloin or tenderloin tips, cut into bite size pieces  
1/2 tsp. Chinese 5 Spice Blend (always at my grocery store) aka "Pae-Lo" Powder                               1 T. soy sauce
2 cups broccoli florets, fresh or frozen (if frozen, rinse them and let them thaw a little bit)
1 medium onion, halved and sliced (no need to be too thin)
1/4 c. carrot cut into match sticks or shaved with a vegetable slicer
2 tsp.  minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 - 2  tsp. grated fresh ginger (or 1/2 tsp. ginger powder)
1 c. quartered (if very large) or halved mushrooms (shiitake if you can find them, otherwise use button or baby bellas)
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, optional
Peanut oil for frying

For the sauce:
1 cube beef bouillon
3/4 c, water
2 T. hoisin sauce
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. sriracha sauce
2 tsp. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1T. teriyaki sauce
pinch of salt
a pinch of dried red pepper flakes (if you like a little heat)
1 heaping T. corn starch

2 cups rice for serving ( I used a 1/2 brown 1/2 white rice mixture)

Cut your beef into bite sized pieces and lay them on a paper towel to dry. This will help with the searing.   While the beef is drying off, prepare your vegetables, ginger and garlic.
Drying the beef.
Veggie prep.

Get out your wok or a big, heavy frying pan and preheat it on medium high heat. You want the pan to be HOT. Prepare your ingredients in advance, this goes quickly!

Get the sauce ready before you begin. Heat the water and dissolve the bouillon cube in it. Add all the remaining ingredients -- except for the corn starch! -- and stir well to combine.

Big ol' wok with beef and onions.
Pour enough peanut oil to coat the bottom of the pan's' surface in a thin layer. When the oil begins to shimmer, you are ready to begin the stir fry. Add the beef to the skillet in a single layer. Sprinkle the beef with the 5 Spice Blend. Let the beef sear before you begin to move it around in the pan. This happens pretty quickly so be ready with a long spoon to stir with.  I always wear an apron when stir frying. The oil is hot and it will splatter! When the beef is light brown all over, add the onions.

When the onions start to turn gold and soften, add the soy sauce and then the broccoli, carrots and garlic. Continue to stir for about 3 minutes, then add the mushrooms. Be careful not to break them up -- that's why I recommend quartering or halving them as opposed to slicing them. Lastly, add the water chestnuts, if using. They add a nice crunch!
Ready for the sauce.
Now it's time to add the sauce. Stir the corn starch into the sauce right before you pour it over the stir fry in the skillet. Make sure all of the corn starch is dissolved. Mix the sauce gently in the skillet and turn the heat down once it begins to bubble. Cover the pan -- I have an extra large lid, but a sheet of aluminum foil will work fine. Let everything cook together about 5 minutes -- or until the vegetables are as soft as YOU like them. Serve over rice  (or rice noodles if you prefer).

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry, close up.
This batch didn't have water chestnuts in it, simply because there weren't any in the pantry! 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Baking Adventures in the New Year!

Happy New Year! I've take quite a break from blogging -- no blogging since March, 2015! There's no particular reason, simply a lack of inspiration. I've blogged lots of recipes for many years, and sometimes I struggle to think of something new to cook and therefore, worth blogging about. Life, too, gets in the way.

In the new year, I've felt compelled to improve my baking skills. I've always made cookies, and pretty good ones, but I came late to real baking. My first bread machine, given to me around 1990, was almost an epiphany -- I could actually make yeast bread that tasted great and didn't take the whole day to make. ( See my classic dinner roll recipe HERE)  I wore that machine completely out. I am now on my second machine and use it only on the dough setting. I've also purchased a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and it's expanded my baking even further. In the last few weeks, I've made buttermilk biscuits to go with our holiday Smithfield Ham and delicious  white sandwich bread for toasting and munching! It has a wonderful texture you simply can't find in store bought bread. More on that later!  One thing that I always wanted to make from scratch has been Cinnamon Rolls.

Even if you use a bread machine to do the kneading, there are still several steps you must go through to turn out these wonderful, tender, flaky and tasty treats. I opted to make the rolls the afternoon before and bake them off the next morning. That way my kitchen wasn't trashed first thing in the morning and I didn't have to roll out of bed and start the dough! Here's the recipe I used -- I found it on the internet at  and changed it only slightly-- and some advice and pictures, should you feel like you might be ready to up your baking game!

Cinnamon Rolls 
makes 12 full sized rolls 

For the Dough:
1 cup warm milk
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 c. melted butter
4 1/2 c. bread flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 sugar
2 1/2 tsp. bread machine yeast (or one pkg.)

1 c, packed brown sugar
2 1/2  Tablespoons cinnamon
1/3 c. butter, softened
1 pinch kosher salt

3 oz. light cream cheese
1/4 c. softened butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract (only real extract, please)
1 pinch kosher salt

First, add your dough ingredients to your bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer. In most cases, that means the wet go in first, (warm milk, eggs, melted butter) and the dry go in starting with the flour, sugar, salt and yeast on top. Process mixture on the dough cycle. While the dough is working, clean off your counter and measure out a space of approx. 16X24". That's how big you need to roll your dough. Use plenty of flour! You don't want to do all this work and have the dough stick to the counter! I did this by making a flour rectangle directly on my granite island, like this:

I used a yard stick to measure and to square up the rectangle. I am challenged by measuring spaces accurately, so this was an important step for me. You may be able to "wing" it but I can't.

Turn the dough out onto your floured area and punch it down. It should resemble this:

Next roll it out evenly into a 16X24" rectangle. Make sure both the dough and the rolling pin are well floured. Here's what you should end up with:

Spread your filling mixture evenly over the rolled out dough. Leave about 1/2" around 3 of the edges, leaving none around the long side closet to you where you'll start to roll the dough up into a cylinder:

It will look like a lot of filling while you are rolling it, but don't worry about that. Make sure you roll the dough up as tightly as you can, and you ease it up off the counter as you roll, trying your best not to tear it!

When you've got it all rolled up, straighten the cylinder and cut off the ends to "square it up" so the your rolls are neat with clean edges. Cut the cylinder in half, then cut each half in half again, then each of those sections into 3 pieces, so you get 12 rolls total. Place the rolls cut side up into a well buttered 13X9" baking dish.

At this point you can cover the rolls with some plastic wrap and refrigerate them to bake off the  next day (that's what I did) OR you can cover them loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let them rise for about 30 minutes until they are almost doubled in size. Either way, you need to preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. If you've refrigerated them overnight, let them come up to room temperature, bu leaving them out on the counter for 30 minutes before baking. Bake them for 14 - 16 minutes. While they are baking, beat together the frosting ingredients. I used my small hand mixer. Let the rolls cool for 10 minutes before icing them This recipe  makes a GENEROUS amount of frosting! Don't be shocked at how much it is!

And remember those little ends I cut off to square off the dough? Here's what I did:

I made 4 little mini-rolls as a  cooks treat! They weren't as pretty as the other ones in the big pan, but hey, it's all about the taste, right?  I was taking the big pan of 12 to a brunch, but left these home with  my hub, and boy, he was one happy camper!


                    A little bacon, a big cup of coffee and a newspaper! I am not sure he noticed I was gone... 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Traditional English Tea and Scones

I am a HUGE Downton Abbey fan, as are most of my friends. This year, many of members of our group of longtime girlfriends are turning 60. So, in honor of that momentous occasion, I decided to have a tea party to honor one of them. Not only because we love Downton Abbey but because I LOVE tea. I actually don't drink coffee at all, but have a cup or two of tea every morning -- and some afternoons. In addition, I am an "English" tea drinker, meaning I like my tea with a little bit of milk in it. I also LOVE china, so a traditional afternoon tea is the perfect party to have at my house (not that there is any party that's not perfect to have!). Our local paper had a wonderful article about how to throw a perfect tea party and that got my creative party juices flowing. Here is link to the article along with featured recipes.

Once I conferred with another friend and we decided to have this party, I went up into my attic to look for my own not so distinguished tea set.  It's a mixed bunch of china including a teapot, some cups and saucers, 3 or 4 luncheon plates and a cream pitcher. I collected it because of the violets and green leaves, a combination I love. I looked and looked up there, in that flea market under the roof. Just when I was about to give up, LOOK what I found:
Not my mismatched tea set, but a beautiful, antique tea set given to me by me dear, departed father-in-law, that had belonged to his mother. As far as I can remember, she purchased this set at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904 from the "Nippon Pavilion" -- his description, not mine! It is drop dead GORGEOUS and Yes, I Used It.  Here is a close up of one of the cups and the creamer so you can see the pattern:
Antique Japanese China 
Anyway, on to the food, which is, after all, what a party is all about. We had all the traditional treats associated with English Tea, plus some!

Scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam!

Tea and Scones with a lovely jam pot I found (from my Mom) and fresh flowers.
What lady doesn't want that for her birthday? This is my own china (Noritake Asian Song).

And there were Finger Sandwiches and Cheddar Biscuits,  (recipe here)

And of course, Tea, real tea, loose tea, made in two lovely tea pots, one from my Great Grandmother-in-law and one from my dear friends Grandmother. Here's her slightly more contemporary set:
Beautiful 1950's era tea set by Noritake

After some discussion, we altered the finger sandwich recipe from the article and used softened cream cheese on the sandwiches instead of butter. That's how my mom and grandmother always did it, so I figured that's a "Southern" thing. I used the recipe from the article for the scones, but I made them in my food processor. I also pre-baked the scones about 90% so that I only had to warm them when the guests arrived. Another sweet friend brought a lovely silver tray filled with tiny tarts and chocolate drizzled strawberries, so it was a full and beautiful table. I didn't get a picture of those, but they not only looked pretty but tasted delicious, too. It's good to have friends, especially friends who can cook and will always help you out! 

As a wee word of advice, go ahead and purchase a fluted biscuit cutter for these scones. I could not find a small sized one, but a larger one made perfectly beautiful scones. 
Scones with Clotted Cream and Strawberry Jam

Clare's English Scones
Makes 8 large scones or 16 small ones

1.5 c. all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
2 tsp. baking powder
4 T. COLD unsalted butter
3/4 c. COLD buttermilk
More flour for dusting

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 
Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together in a bowl and add to the bowl of your food processor, fitted with a steel blade. Cut the butter into small pieces and add that to the flour mixer. Put the lid on and pulse the flour/butter  mixture about 8 times until the it starts to look like wet sand. Add the buttermilk slowly through the tube with the motor running until the mixture just comes together and forms a rough ball - don't over mix it or the scones will be tough. Turn the dough out onto a pastry mat or clean counter space that has been dusted with flour. Pat or roll the dough to about 1/2" + thick. You may need to add a little more flour to keep it from sticking. Cut the dough with your floured scalloped cutter and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 -15 minutes. I baked mine 10 minutes and removed them from the oven an hour before the party started. I reheated the scones -- covered loosely with foil -- for 5 more minutes when my guests arrived. I liked it that way so I could clean up the floury mess on my kitchen counter before everyone arrived! 

Serve the warm scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and Irish butter. SO delicious, and what a treat. They were easy to make and I'll definitely be doing this again! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wonton Soup and Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Chicken Lettuce Wraps
 I've made lettuce wraps before but these turned out almost exactly like the ones I've had at PF Changs. However, in the vein of total honesty, I think I need to say that I believe that they were better! They didn't taste greasy at all, and sometimes the ones there are slightly greasy. They also were just a little bit sweet, and again, theirs are sometimes a  bit too sweet for me. These hit the PERFECT balance of sweet and spicy, a bit of crunch from the water chestnuts and green onions, and a melting softness from the butter lettuce. The added benefits of a lower fat, low carb meal are hardly worth mentioning, because this doesn't taste like a "healthy" meal -- but it is. How great is that? Guilt free indulgence!

One of the best parts of this 2 part meal is that since many of the same ingredients are used in both dishes, you don't have to feel guilty about purchasing something and just using it once!
Wonton Soup
 This soup, on the other hand, was inspired by one made by my sweet cousin when I visited her last year. She promised me it was easy, and it was! It was also just as delicious as I remembered. I watched her make it last fall and I followed her suggestions and cooking advice to recreate it. I added fresh shiitake mushrooms, mostly because they looked so fresh in the store when not much else did! I decided to add them to the Lettuce Wraps I'd planned as well. They were a bit on the pricey side, $3.99 for 8 oz. but I am glad I splurged. WOW, were they good in the soup and in the lettuce wraps, too! My cousin and I agree, this soup has got it all -- spicy, silky, fresh and flavorful -- UMAMI!

Read the recipes first and do all your chopping of similar ingredients at one time to save yourself time!

Since many of the ingredients in the recipes contain quite a bit of sodium, I did not add any additional salt to either recipe. We found these dishes to be well seasoned without doing so. You may want to taste them before you add any. 

First, the soup:

Wonton Soup
4 servings

32 oz. organic, low sodium chicken stock or broth or homemade
(I used "Imagine Natural Creations Chicken Stock")
1 pkg. Trader Joe's frozen mini Chicken Cilantro Wontons (or your favorite) 12 oz. size
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger 
1 T. Sriracha chili garlic sauce or to taste
2 T. hoisin sauce
2 T. dry white wine (optional)                                               
1 T. soy sauce
2 tsp. "Nakano" brand seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 c. chopped Shiitake mushrooms (leave them out if you hate mushrooms)
To Serve:
2 thinly sliced green onions
2 - 3 T. rough chopped cilantro
Lime wedges
In a medium saucepan, combine the stock or broth, ginger, Sriracha, hoisin, wine, soy and rice wine vinegar. Bring this to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Cover and let cook about 5 minutes. Add the wontons and bring it back to a boil. Turn the soup down slightly so that it gently boils and cook 7 - 10 minutes until the wontons are cooked through. Add the mushrooms to the broth for the last 2 minutes,  if you are using them. You just want to heat them up a little. Don't cook them long. 
To serve the soup. ladle the broth and several wontons into a bowl, squeeze a lime wedge over it and sprinkle with cilantro and sliced green onions. Delicious! You can easily double this recipe for a bigger group or cut it in half for a quick lunch. 

NOW on to the Chicken Lettuce Wraps!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps
serves 4
1 lb. lean ground chicken, white meat only
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves minced garlic (about 1 T.) 
1 8 oz. can water chestnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. chopped Shiitake mushrooms
1/4 c. hoisin sauce
2 T. soy sauce
2 tsp. "Nakano" brand seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 T. grated fresh ginger
2 tsp. Sriracha or more to taste
To Serve:
Lime wedges
2 green onions, thinly sliced 
2 - 3 T. chopped and washed fresh cilantro
1 head butter lettuce, washed and leaves separated

In a large non-stick skillet, over medium/high heat, brown the chicken, breaking up the large chunks. About 3 minutes in, add the onion and the soy sauce. When the onion starts to soften, add the garlic and the ginger; continue cooking about 5 minutes, stirring to combine. Add the hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar and Sriracha. Cover and cook about 10 minutes to let the flavors blend. Add the water chestnuts and mushrooms and cook until heated through. At this point, you can hold it [ to 30 minutes, or refrigerate if you plan to serve it later.
To serve, place a few spoonfuls of the warm chicken mixture in the center of a piece of butter lettuce. Sprinkle with some green onions and a little cilantro, squeeze a lime wedge on it, wrap it up and enjoy! 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

3.14 PI day...What kind of pie are you making?

Friday, March 14, 2015is 3.1415 and PI day or as the way I like t think of it -  PIE day. What kind of PIE are you making? Try one of mine, here are two of our favorites. Both of these pies are old, family recipes. What kind of pie do you like to make? My husbands' family loves desserts, and his dad refused to leave the table without one! Treat your family and try one of mine!

Chocolate Pecan Pie --rich, chocolaty and full of nuts, so good with vanilla ice cream! View the recipe here :
Chocolate Pecan Pie

Or try some lemon chess pie, another family favorite and a recipe that has been in our family for many, many years:
You can check out the recipe and the history HERE

Lemon Chess Pie
Not my greatest picture, the pie is actually dark golden brown on the top and rich yellow underneath. The thing that really matters is that it is absolutely delicious! Very lemony and tart, with just enough sweetness. A favorite family story is one time when my husbands' grandmother, who everyone called Maw, made a mistake and left out the sugar in the recipe. When the pie was served and everyone was choking down the first bite, Maw smiled and said, "I like it tart, don't you?"
Fearless, just like Julia Child! 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

I've written about making a crock pot Latin-inspired recipe before (see the recipe here ) but that recipe included tomatillos. And, while I love tomatillos, I don't always have them on hand and sometimes they are not available locally. Or if they are, they cost an arm and a leg. So, here's another recipe, a little different in flavor, but really good, nonetheless. I found this recipe on 12 Tomatoes, a wonderful recipe blog/website that I read quite often. You can read their version HERE  I did things a little differently, because I just do. It always caused me trouble in school, but it seems to work out in cooking. I only had one orange -- and it was HUGE-- so I used half -- and 2 limes, but I need one for the slaw, so that's what I used, and honestly, it seemed like plenty to me. I added a little more cumin to make up for it. My jalapeno was huge, so I used half and used the other half in the slaw I made to go on top. I've linked that recipe below.

We liked the Carnitas better the 2nd time we ate them and I actually followed the directions and crisped the pork up in a skillet. The first time I made it, I simply spread it on a cookie sheet and put it under the broiler. Didn't get nearly crispy, so go for the skillet option recommended. Sometimes it IS good to follow directions!

Get out your trusty slow cooker and throw everything in early in the day. Go to work, or head off for a busy day of errands, etc. and you'll come home to a heavenly smelling house!

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
Makes at least 8 Tacos

3 lbs. boneless pork roast, rinsed and patted dry
(I used a sirloin roast, not a tenderloin)
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 half of a large orange                                         3 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped     1 lime, cut in half
1 T. cumin
2 heaping tsp. dried oregano
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and stems removed
1 T. olive oil
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and chopped (should be about 1 T. total)
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Corn or wheat tortillas, your choice, for serving
Limes to squeeze over
Jalapeno Slaw, optional
Hot Sauce (optional)

(Don't skip the step of drying the roast. It makes a difference, as the spices will adhere to it better.You can see mine draining on a paper plate lined with several paper towels.) 

Season the pork roast well with salt and pepper. Place it in the bottom of your slow cooker. Pour over the oil and turn it over to coat. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeno, cumin. cilantro and oregano. Squeeze the orange half and the lime over the ingredients. Add the squeezed out fruit to the slow cooker. 

Cook on low heat for at least 6 hours. Remove the orange and lime and discard. Take your roast out and place it on a cookie sheet.
Using two forks, and perhaps occasionally a knife, shred the pork, onions and chili into a big ol' mixture of goodness, like this:

As I said above, I tried crisping the meat up under the boiler, but it didn't get nearly crispy enough. The second time was the charm, when I used a hot non-stick skillet, added a little vegetable oil and carefully laid 2 heaping spoonfuls of the pork mixture and pressed it down into the oil and let it sizzle away into awesome crispiness....Like this:

We enjoyed them topped with a little jalapeno slaw (recipe here, along with Fish Tacos)  and a few drops of hot sauce! 
They were YUMMY! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shrimp Pesto Pasta

This is a dinner I made by raiding the pantry and the refrigerator. It was totally unplanned. All I knew early in the day was that dinner would contain shrimp and pasta. The rest of it came together as the meal progressed. I buy big bags of frozen raw shrimp when they are on sale. It's great to have them in the freezer anytime we feel like seafood for dinner. Other things I keep in the pantry, like pesto sauce and evaporated canned milk. In the summer, I can step outside my kitchen door and pick basil if I want pesto. I freeze a good amount of it but  usually run out around January. SO, a jar or 2 of pesto sauce in the pantry is the way to go. Evaporated canned milk is a great shelf stable sub for cream, and it's lower in fat as well. Cherry tomatoes and fresh garlic are always on our weekly shopping list, so we've always got them on hand.

This entire dinner came together in about 30 minutes. The pasta and shrimp both cook up quickly and the sauce goes together in a flash. I've given measurements for 2 hearty portions, but it can easily be doubled. This amount made a plate full for each of us plus a small bowl for lunch then next day. AND my husband said, "Don't scrimp on the shrimp!"

Here's what I came up with, using what I had around:

Shrimp Pesto Pasta
Wish I'd had a fresh basil leaf for garnish!!
Shrimp Pesto Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic
2 servings

16 LARGE shrimp peeled and deveined, tails off
Pesto Sauce and Evaporated Milk
Pantry Staples
4 cloves of garlic peeled and halved
8 cherry tomatoes 
2 T. Classico Pesto Sauce                                                          
3 T. evaporated skim milk (from a can) or equal amount cream
2 T. dry white wine
6 - 8 oz. vermicelli
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Toss the tomatoes and garlic in a little olive oil and put them into a small baking dish. I like to use stoneware for this.
Cherry tomtaoes and garlic for roasting

While the veggies are roasting, place the shrimp in a single layer on a layer or two of paper towels to dry them in preparation for searing. They need to be fairly dry. 

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil for the pasta.

While the water is heating, preheat a non-stick skillet until it is hot. Add a few drops of olive oil and sear the shrimp off a few at a time, making sure not to crowd them or over cook them. Sprinkle them lightly with kosher salt while they are searing. Cook them 2 - 3 minutes on each side. Remove them to a bowl to add back into the sauce later.
They should be just pink and slightly crispy on the edges as shown above.

In the same pan, add the pesto sauce, the evaporated milk and the white wine. Stir over low heat to combine. Don't let the sauce boil, just simmer gently until warmed through.

Cover it and keep warm until the pasta is cooked to al dente'.   Drain the pasta well, and add it back into the hot pot you cooked it in. Add the tomatoes and garlic and the sauce you made. Toss to combine. Add the shrimp and cover the mixture. Heat on low a few minutes and serve with grated Parmesan.