Friday, November 20, 2009

Asian Style Pork Stir Fry

Yes, you read that correctly. Pork was in my kitchen. I have had very few experiences with pork, but none of them have been particularly tasty. In fact, most of the pork dishes I've tried were rather taste-less. I saw this stir fry recipe in my Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh cookbook a LONG time ago and wrote it down on a sticky note on the inside cover. I knew I would find it later :)

It calls for pork tenderloin which is one of the grossest looking items in the meat department. Plus they come in three pound packages and I only wanted half a pound. So I ended up buying tender chops.

I marinated them for an hour in a mixture of soy sauce, honey, minced fresh ginger, and crushed red pepper flakes.

I cooked the pork in a dry wok because the recipe said nothing about oil for this part. But when it came time to "wipe skillet clean" I couldn't. There were black crusties cemented to my non-stick wok. I washed and scrubbed and finally gave up.

Next I whisked together the extra marinade, orange juice, cornstarch, and red wine vinegar (it was supposed to be rice vinegar, but the last thing I need is another bottle of vinegar that I rarely use in my cabinet.) I cooked some frozen french cut green beans in peanut oil, then I added the pork back in along with orange zest, minced garlic, and the whisked liquids.

I waited until the sauce thickened, which also meant waiting until the green beans were thoroughly overcooked.

We spooned the stir fry over rice and chowed down. It was good, but a little bland. I'm starting to learn something. Maybe it's because I've watched a gazillion episodes of Top Chef where the judges complain about underseasoning. When a recipe says "season to taste" that means sprinkle some salt and pepper and then actually taste it! It seems obvious, but I'm just now understanding that it is very important. Salt brings out the flavor of things, so without it, food tastes bland. I think my fear of adding too much salt has made a lot of my dishes just ok, when they could be good. I'm trying to conquer this silly little fear of mine.

In case you were wondering, that is a Mary Englebreit "Congratulations" plate. We keep this plate at the bottom of our stack of normal dinner plates, so when we get to it, it's kind of like, "Congratulations: You've used all your plates! Now run the dishwasher!"

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Apple Pumpkin Cake

About a week ago I posted about baking bread from a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Someone had left a comment (which I always appreciate) but I didn't realize right away that it was the author of the book! How exciting is that?! Not only does she write cookbooks, but she's an actual pastry chef and she writes a really great baking blog. I spent some time exploring her blog and I quickly found this recipe for Apple Pumpkin Cake.

I peeled and thinly sliced four Granny Smith Apples and then sauteed them in three T of butter until they were just starting to get soft. I took them off the heat and added three T of sugar and one tsp of cinnamon. Now, those of you who read this blog regularly will remember my quest for a baked apples side dish that resembles the Stouffer's version. Well forget the last post. This is way better. Almost perfect, and much faster.

I put the apples off to the side and got to work on the cake. What is great about this recipe is that the streusel topping and the cake batter start of in the same bowl. At a certain point you take out a little and reserve it for later. Then you add baking soda, pumpkin puree, sour cream, and eggs. I didn't take a picture because I feel like I've made a lot of orange batters in my stand mixer lately, so I thought I would spare you another one.

Then, as shocking as it is, I got out my springform pan! I've had it for more than four years and this is only the second time I've used it! I was very excited! I coated it with Pam for Baking (an awesome invention) and poured in the cake batter.

The apples went on top of that.

To the reserved streusel topping I added some homemade pumpkin pie spice. I'm not the kind of gal who wants another spice jar cluttering up my cabinet, especially when I have all the ingredients on hand already. For one tsp of pumpkin pie spice: combine 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg, and 1/8 tsp ground cloves. Easy!

Here's what it looked like before baking:

And here is what it looked like after baking and cooling:


This cake was delicious! The apples, the pumpkin, and the spices just scream fall! Mmmmmm! Thanks for the recipe Zoe!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stir Fry Sesame Beef

I love my mom's stir fry. I always request it when I'm home. I've tried to recreate it with little success. My stir fry, even when I follow the exact same recipe, is edible, but not delicious. Brett thinks it's the quality of the beef, but I'm pretty sure that my mom gets her beef at the grocery store; there's not some mystery butcher with fabulous stir fry beef that she goes to. So if it's not the beef, then it's either my equipment or me that's the problem, and I don't want to admit to either one of those. I had pretty much given up on making stir fry until I was making the menu for the week and stumbled across some recipes that sounded pretty good.

What really caught my eye about the sesame beef recipe in my "Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh" cookbook was the hoisin sauce. I LOVE hoisin sauce. The recipe calls for asparagus, but I immediately switched that to broccoli (and lessened the amount). I could have used more toasted sesame seeds as not all of the meat was coated. I also made the decision to blanch the broccoli first because I hate undercooked broccoli.

I got everything prepped first as anyone who's ever cooked stir fry knows to do.

I cooked the sliced red onion and broccoli florets in canola oil for about two minutes.

Then I added the beef for about 3 minutes, until it was completely brown.

Then I turned down the heat and added 2 T of hoisin sauce and 1/3 cup of water, and let it bubble for about two minutes. The sauce was very thin. I think it would have been better to just add the hoisin sauce, see how the thickness was, and then gradually add the water little by little. I let the sauce bubble a little longer with the hopes of thickening, but it did not happen. Lastly I dumped in two teaspoons of sesame oil. Again, it would have been better to add a little bit, taste, and then maybe add more. It ended up with too much sesame oil.

The final product was ok. The meat was not very tender, the broccoli was sadly overcooked (which is better than undercooked) and the sauce was way too thin. Lessons learned. We might see this one again with some key changes, but then again we might not.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

I've known about this book for a while and happened across it in the massive cookbook section at my new library.

It seemed too good to be true. Recently Brett and I needed bread but were too lazy to go to the store, so we decided to make it from scratch. Well, luckily we thought of this four hours before dinner because that's about how long it takes to make homemade bread. There is a lot of rising and waiting involved. So I was excited to try the "revolutionary" new method of bread baking that will supposedly take five minutes.

Part of what makes this method take only "five minutes" of your time is that you mix up a giant batch on the first day and keep it in your refrigerator pulling off hunks each day. But the mixing of the dough doesn't take as long as usual either because there is no proofing the yeast, no kneading, no covering and rising (kind of), and no punching down the dough. Brett, of course, was dubious of this method. It really does take all the fun out of baking bread. If you have never punched risen dough, I highly recommend it.

I decided to go with the first recipe in the book since it seemed the most basic- Boule (Artisan free-form loaf.) I used the flour I had on hand which is not the kind they recommend. I also halved the recipe and therefore messed up slightly on the measurement of the yeast and the salt. I should have halved it ahead of time but instead I waited until I had my water already hot and ready to go. Needless to say, my math was rushed. Quick: What's half of 1 and 1/2 T? And don't say 3/4 T because I don't have a 1/4 T measure. Answer in teaspoons please. See? Not that easy. Afterwards, I thought it through and realized I was off by a 1/4 tsp.

Once you've stirred everything up, you put a lid on it and leave it on the counter for a couple of hours and then you move it to the fridge.

After a couple of days in the fridge, I decided it was time to bake. I pulled off a handful of very wet dough. It is supposed to be wet- that is what makes it able to sit in the fridge for up to two weeks. I pulled dough from the top down to the bottom on all four sides to form a "gluten cloak" I don't know if I did this right, but it seemed ok. Then you let it sit on a pizza peel for forty minutes.

This is where I take issue with the book's title. You still have to be thinking ahead to make this bread for dinner. This isn't a Pilsbury "pop it out of the tube and you're done" kind of thing. You have to let the dough rest, let the pizza stone heat up, bake the bread, and let the bread cool. A process I will say takes at least an hour and forty minutes and that's if you don't let the bread cool all the way. So yes, you spend about five minutes of active work, but you still have to have a good deal of forethought.

The bread turned out beautiful. It was slightly misshapen from my poor pizza peel skills, but golden and very "artisany" looking. The recipe said to let it cool completely, but we couldn't wait any longer. The outside was very hard. I ended up peeling the crust off and eating it first, saving the squishy, wonderful innards, or "crumb" if I'm being fancy. I prefer innards:) It was ok. Most, if not all, of the other yeast breads we've made were better. Brett thought the innards were like the texture of dumplings. They were soft and chewy, but kind of sticky and dense. The flavor was not all that great- I'll blame that on the flour.

I will be the first to admit that I did not execute the recipe entirely accurately, but it was not good enough to merit a second chance. Maybe this method would work for you, but for us it's back to old fashioned (fun) bread.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kim vs. The Smoke Detector

We lived in the same tiny apartment in San Diego for five years and set off the smoke alarm once, with good reason. We accidentally set a piece of wax paper on fire.

Since we have moved, we have set the smoke detector off four times in four weeks. Twice for bacon, once for pizza, and once for a steamy shower. Can you believe that our shower set it off?! None of these incidents were emergencies or anything more than the normal smoke that you get when you cook. I'm convinced that most people don't cook and that people who might cook would be deterred by a super-sensitive smoke alarm.

Solution number one: open the sliding door after the smoke alarm goes off. Sure it lets our heat out and the weather is getting chilly, but it gets the smoke out too. Not a viable solution, plus we still have to listen to the alarm.

Solution number two: turn on the exhaust fan and close the bathroom door when showering. Ok, this one works for the steamy shower problem but does nothing to help with the cooking. It's only a partial solution

Solution number three: Ask maintenance if there's anything they can do. "Live with it," they said.

Solution number four: Don't cook meats, especially bacon. Do-able but it limits our menu, and I don't like that.

Solution number five: Turn on the microwave vent and watch as the smoke does not get sucked to an outside vent, rather gets blown right back into the kitchen. Surprisingly, this is the solution that actually works.

Last night was the big test for solution number five. I made grilled chicken fajitas using my grill pan. The whole kitchen got smoky, but the smoke alarm did not go off! Maybe the microwave filters the smoke before it sends it back out. Maybe the vent back into the kitchen pushes the smoke in a direction where the smoke detector can't find it. We were amazed, but happy that we've found solution.