Pheasant, Sous Vide

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In January of 2015, I wrote a post entitled pheasant, in which I wrote about my shock in discovering that the man I married was a hunter. Since we only knew each other 3 months before getting married, there just wasn’t time to discuss such an important thing.

Read the post if you want a laugh. Because of my limited but scarring experience with drunk holiday hunters, my overall impression wasn’t positive. But I learned, slowly, that not all hunters are crazy fools, and that it is a sport to be respected.

I re-read the post myself, because I remember the emotional phase well – me trying to reconcile the fact that my husband owned a shotgun and shot living birds – him trying to get over me being nuts. Let’s just say that over the years I’ve relaxed a bit.

So it was just a couple years ago that I actually gave pheasant a shot, no pun intended. I made a recipe called Pheasant with Green Chiles that I’d made before with chicken breasts.

When I made the pheasant with green chiles, I wrote that the next time I’d sous vide the pheasant breasts. If the sous vide process would do the same for pheasant as it does for chicken breasts, then the pheasant would be moist and tender. So that’s what I decided to do, although I dragged my feet for a while, reluctantly accepting 4 whole pheasant breasts after a recent hunting expedition.

I cleaned the pheasants, because there are always remnant feathers, and dried them on paper towels. I seasoned the breasts with salt, pepper, and a little thyme.

I put the whole breasts in a vacuum sealable bag. I added 4 tablespoons of butter, a sprig of fresh sage, and vacuum sealed the bag carefully.

I set my sous vide at 135 degrees Farenheit, and the pheasants were in for 3 hours.

After cooking I put the bag immediately in the refrigerator. You can also use an ice bath to cool off the meat quickly.

When you are close to serving the pheasant breasts, remove the bag from the refrigerator. Drain the pheasants if you want to save the jus.

Cut the breasts from the rib bones and lay them out. Dab with paper towels to remove any excess liquid. Season with salt and pepper.

In a skillet over high heat, brown the breasts in a little oil, just for about 30 seconds per side.

For something different, I decided to use the pheasant in a composed salad.

Along with lettuce, I added red cabbage, tomatoes, barley, and feta cheese.

The dressing was lemon pesto, which went really well with the pheasant.

The pheasant cooked this way is superb. As expected, the meat was tender, moist, and flavorful.

I cooked the pheasant on the day our time sprung forward, and so because I used two different clocks, only one of which had the proper time on it, the breasts were actually in the sous vide 30 minutes longer than planned. Fortunately that had no difference on the outcome!

Sous vide is the only way I’ll cook pheasant in the future. And I won’t be so hesitant to have my husband bring them home!

Luxurious Short Ribs

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Short ribs are fatty beef ribs, cut literally into short pieces. They sometimes referred to as flanken style, to differentiate them from spare ribs.
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When short ribs are braised, the meat becomes soft, tender, and velvet-like.

Similar to pulled pork, the tender texture of prepared short ribs is why I love this cut of meat. Plus, you serve the meat with the accompanying red wine-based reduction that is rich and flavorful. Once prepared, these ribs pair perfectly with a potato mash, polenta, or risotto, for an extra-special meal.

I chose risotto for my “side,” and decided to make it green using spinach. The combination of short ribs and risotto is a meal you could have at an upscale restaurant, for which you would pay dearly! But short ribs are truly simple to make. Plus, they are relatively inexpensive – not what you’d think from the menu price!

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Braised Short Ribs

Approximately 5 pounds of short ribs
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Flour, about 5 tablespoons
Olive oil for browning the ribs
2 onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups beef broth
1 bottle red wine
2-3 bay leaves
3 tablespoons paprika creme
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste

Season the meat with the salt and pepper, then toss in the flour in a large bowl.


When you’re ready to start cooking, heat some oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Brown the ribs on all sides, no more than four at a time. Turn the ribs with tongs and brown all sides.


Place the ribs in a large bowl and continue with the remaining short ribs. Add a little more oil if necessary, and make sure to bring the oil to high heat before the browning process.
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Turn down the heat to medium, and add the chopped onion. Sauté the onion for a few minutes, stirring as necessary. Add the garlic and bay leaves, and stir until you smell the garlic.

Add the broth and wine and stir well. Bring the liquid to a soft boil, then reduce the heat and cook the liquid for at least 15 minutes.
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Place the browned ribs in the liquid – ideally they are all submerged in the liquid.

Cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer for about two hours, occasionally moving around the ribs in the liquid. rib11

After cooking, the sauce has reduced slightly, and the meat should be falling off of the ribs. Let everything cool slightly.
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Using tongs or a slotted spoon, place the ribs in a bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.
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The next day, remove the Dutch oven from the refrigerator and remove the grease from the top of the sauce. There will be grease.
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Warm the sauce a little on the stove, and then, using a hand immersion blender, blend the sauce to thicken it. If it’s still too thin, reduce for 30 minutes or so. Then blend in the paprika creme and tomato paste, and taste for saltiness.

Remove the rib meat from the bones, and place the meat in the sauce. Heat gently and slowly.
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When the meat has heated through, serve the ribs with spinach risotto or your desired side dish(es).
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For a bit less traditional dish of short ribs, add cumin to the spices and use a generous amount of ancho chile paste, and serve these short ribs over cheddar grits.
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Or, add hoisin sauce and chili paste for a Chinese-inspired dish served with cellophane noodles or grilled vegetables!
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Leftover short ribs are wonderful in quesadillas and sandwiches, so get creative with this luxurious meat!
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As you can see, the short rib meat is tender, and smothered in the rich sauce. A perfect meal for a winter day.
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For the accompanying risotto, I simply added chopped fresh spinach towards the end of the cooking time, before the grated Parmesan. I also used some white pepper, which is optional. If you don’t know how to make risotto, refer to Paprika Risotto for directions.

Bastila

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A Bastila is a savory Moroccan pie with a chicken filling that is cooked within crêpes. The preparation is a little involved in that both the filling and the crêpes need to be made first. But it’s not a difficult pie to make, and so worth it!

What makes this pie’s flavor unique is that traditional Moroccan mixture of almonds, cinnamon and sugar. If you’ve ever been to a Moroccan restaurant you are familiar with this seasoning mixture, as it seems to be in every dish!

I wish I could tell you a lovely story about how I came about this recipe, but I can’t. I know I tore the recipe out of a soft-backed cookbook of international recipes. At one point in my cooking life I felt it beneath me to keep anything but beautiful, hard-back cookbooks. I’ll never toss a cookbook again. But at least I was smart enough to save the recipes I loved!
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Bastila

1 – 3 pound chicken
4 ounces butter
2 onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
6 eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup whole almonds
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Butter, approximately 4 ounces, at room temperature
18 crêpes, at room temperature
Powdered sugar
Ground cinnamon

Begin by poaching the chicken with onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, parsley, peppercorns, and a little salt. You can do this the day before.

About 2 1/2 to 3 hours is sufficient to get moist, succulent chicken. Let the chicken cool, then remove the bones and skin and place the chicken in a bowl and set aside. I shredded the chicken more than cut it up into pieces.

Add the butter to a large Dutch oven and heat it over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them for about 5-6 minutes. Then add the parsley, ginger, and all of the spices.

Break the eggs and place them in a medium-sized bowl, along with the egg yolks. Whisk them well.

After the onion and spice mixture has cooked a minute longer, pour the eggs into the onions. Make sure the heat is low. Gently stir the eggs into the onion mixture until they are completely cooked.

Add the chicken to the onion-egg mixture and stir well. Add a little broth if the chicken mixture seems dry. Also taste for salt.
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Using a dry blender, blend the almonds, sugar, and cinnamon together. If you have a few pieces of almond, that’s okay. Set aside.
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To prepare the Bastila, use a large skillet, preferably with rounded sides. Generously butter the skillet.

Begin by layering approximately 8 crêpes around the side of the skillet, followed by 4 more covering the center bottom.


Add the ground almond mixture to the bottom of the skillet and spread it around. Then add the chicken filling. It shouldn’t be over the top of the skillet, preferably.
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Then fold the side crêpes over the filling. Use the remaining 6 crêpes to cover the top of the pie, buttering them first on the bottom side. Spread a little soft butter on the top of the pie as well.
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To cook, begin at medium-high heat. You will see the butter bubbling.
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After about 8 minutes, I lowered the heat to ensure that the crêpes sealed themselves, and to heat the inside of the pie.

Have a cookie sheet and large spatula on hand for the next step.

When you feel that the pie bottom has browned sufficiently, place the cookie sheet over the skillet, and using oven mitts flip the skillet over so that the pie is on the cookie sheet.

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Then gently coax the pie back in to the skillet, and cook the bottom side in a similar fashion.
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The cooked Bastila makes a beautiful presentation.

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When I made this pie before, I prepared and served it in an iron skillet. But you have to be able to cut into your skillet. If you cannot, simply slide the pie out gently onto a serving platter.

The final step is to mix powdered sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle it on the top of the warm Bastila.

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In this photo you can see the crêpes wrapping around the spiced chicken filling that is topped with the ground almond mixture. Heavenly!
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Crêpes

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I’ve had a love affair with crêpes since I was a little girl, which is when I learned how to make them. I would make a “stack,” sprinkle a little white sugar on them, and eat them just like that for breakfast.

My first introduction to crêpes was when my mother made Crêpes Suzette. My French friend Stéphane from My French Heaven gave me some interesting factoids about this fabulous, flaming dessert and crêpes in general!

♥ Crèpes Suzette is a recent thing: In the early 1900’s, Edward VI was having crêpes in a restaurant on the riviera. The chef had flambéed Grand Marnier with them. Edward asked the waitress what it was but she didn’t have a name for the dish. So the king asked what her name was, which was Suzette. They have been called crêpes Suzette ever since.

♥ As for savory crêpes, they are an ancient specialty from Bretagne. They are made with black wheat and are called galettes. Only the sweet ones can be called crêpes.

A galette with ham and egg

A galette with ham and egg

♥ You eat crêpes with apple cider always as they produce a lot of apples there (Bretagne is close to Normandy).

♥ The restaurants where they serve crêpes only are called crêperies. The best ones have a chef who is a Maître Crêpier.

Photo from retagne by Stephane Gabart

Photo from Bretagne by Stephane Gabart

After seeing the above photo, I put Bretagne on my travel bucket list. Besides, I want to one day try the real deal in a crêperie.

There are many different recipes for crêpe batter, and I’m sure they’re all good. The only rule in making the batter for crêpes, to me, is the consistency. Once you have that, you get proper crêpes. If the batter is too thick, you get pancakes, if it’s too thin, you get mush.

Here is a basic recipe for crêpes, whether you’re going to use them in a sweet or savory manner:

Crêpes
makes about 20

3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons oil*
Couple pinches of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

Whisk together the egg, milk, and salt together well in a medium bowl. Gradually add the flour, whisking gently but not over-whisking, until it is all incorporated and there are no flour lumps.


Set the bowl aside for at least 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t thicken. If it does, add a tiny bit of milk or even water to get the consistency back to where it should be.

To prepare to make the crêpes, have a well-seasoned crêpe pan on hand. Mine has angled sides and an 8″ flat bottom, made from steel. I’ve had it for 42 years. I know this, because my mother sent me off to college with the same pan!

Also have on hand some butter, the batter and large spoon (about 1/4 cup capacity is perfect), a spatula, and a plate on which to place the cooked crêpes. I always use a very sturdy but thin, flat spatula to help lift the thin pancakes.

Heat a little dab of butter over medium-high heat in the crêpe pan. I personally prefer butter because of the flavor. You might have to start with about a teaspoon of butter, and subsequently use about 1/2 teaspoon per crêpe.

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Before starting, give the crêpe batter a whisk. Now is the time to test its thickness. Add a little liquid if necessary.

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When the butter is hot, add a full spoonful, or approximately 1/4 cup of batter, to the pan. With the other hand, turn and tilt the pan until the crêpe batter has covered the whole bottom of the pan. Cook for no more than 30 seconds, then turn over gently with the spatula and cook for no more than 10 seconds. Place immediately on the plate by sliding or flipping over.


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The cooked crêpe should be lightly golden, especially on the first side, but not browned. Adjust your burner setting accordingly, keeping in mind that if the heat is too low, the batter will just sit there and nothing will happen.

The pan has to be hot enough to “grab” the batter. If the pan is too hot, it will cause the batter to become bubbly and you probably won’t be able to spread it around. Sometimes the first crêpe is a dud because you must test the heat of the pan, and the batter.

Continue with the remaining batter.
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These crêpes will hold well for a day or two, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. Then you can use them as you want. They must be brought to room temperature first, or they will not roll or fold without breaking. Even a little heating in the microwave will help make them more malleable.
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Besides some sugar, crêpes are also good with a little jam and some berries!

* When I make savory or sweet crêpes I use olive oil, but if you prefer, you can use a flavorless oil. Also, if you want a sweeter dessert crêpe, you can add a little sugar to the batter.

Pistachio Spazele

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When my family was in Park City, Utah, on vacation recently to visit my mother, we had a very special dinner. What made it special was because it was just my mother, my daughter, and myself. That rarely happens because we live in different states.

On our girls’ night out without the guys and the baby, we dined at The Farm, which we’ve been to a few times before, located at The Canyons just outside of Park City. And again it did not fail to please – from the service, to the atmosphere, to the food and wine.

What really got my attention on the menu was a roasted chicken served with a pistachio spazele, sometimes spelled spaetzle. And it was out of this world! (And I usually don’t order chicken at restaurants.)

I wish I had studied the spazele more, photographed it, something. I don’t even remember if there were pistachios in the pasta dough. I just remember that it was delicious, and that there was a crunch of added pistachios.
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We ate our meals ferociously, as if we had not eaten for days! Our appetites were fueled by the hike earlier in the day, and a few cocktails outside with a gorgeous view of the mountains. But I do regret not inspecting the spazele more.

So now I’m back home and I must try out my own creation for pistachio spazele. I googled, but came up only with pistachio pestos.

I decided it was also time to try out spazele using a spazele maker, instead of the larger, quenelle-shaped variety I typically make using a teaspoon.
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I say they’re quenelle shaped, but really they’re more like rustic blobs.

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So here’s what I did.
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Pistachio Spazele
Serves 4, generously

1/2 stick/2 ounces unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 ounces ground pistachios
Pinch of salt
1 cup white flour
Chopped pistachios, approximately 1/3 cup, or to taste

To begin, make the garlic butter for the spazele by gently melting the butter in a skillet large enough to hold all of the spazele. Add the garlic, stir, and then remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

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To make the pistachio batter, combine the cream, eggs, pistachios and salt in a large bowl. Whisk well.

Before completing the batter, begin heating a large pot of water on the stove. I added a little salt to the water.

Add the flour to the batter until just combined. It should be drippy, but not thin.

Place the spazele gadget over the pot of boiling water, and have the batter next to the pot with a large spoon for scooping. Also have a spider sieve on hand, and a clean dish towel to help remove some of the water. Also have the skillet with the garlic butter nearby.

Begin by scooping a good amount of the batter into the top part of the spazele gadget that moves over the part that looks like a cheese grater. Then slowly move it back and forth. I did this two times and then stopped, so that all of the spazele could cook the same amount of time.


Fortunately the sliding part doesn’t get hot, but the cheese grater part does. It’s a little awkward to use because a hot pad is required. I recommend that you remove the spazele maker from on top of the pot because the boiling water cooks the batter on it.

Once the spazele have cooked about one minute, remove them from the water and place the sieve on the towel to drain a bit.

Then gently toss the spazele into the garlic butter and continue with the remaining batter. Stir the spazele gently and add the chopped pistachios.

Today I served the spazele with peppered pork tenderloin, and it was fabulous.
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I also added a little pistachio “dust” for some color.
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I honestly don’t think the pistachios in the batter did much for the flavor but overall these were probably the best spazele I’ve ever eaten!
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I also thought the spazele themselves would be greener, but that’s okay!


I will definitely make these again!!!
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Pheasant with Green Chiles

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In my post entitled pheasant, I talked about how for years I’d disregarded the lovely pheasant as a gourmet protein, and decided it was finally time to give it the respect it deserves. I’ve had so many pheasants in my freezer over the years, but to me they were just fiddly, bony little birds to which I had no time to dedicate.

Pheasants not only require some butchering and de-boning skills, one must also be careful cooking them. Pheasant breasts, which I’m cooking today, are darker than chicken breasts, but not moist like chicken thighs or dark turkey meat. So I knew I had to be patient and attentive, which are not my strong suits.

The recipe that I immediately thought of using with the pheasant breasts is one from the Africa cookbook of the Foods of the World cookbook series. The recipe is from South Africa, and the name reflects the Dutch influence on South African cuisine.

Braised Pheasant Breasts with Green Chiles
or, Gesmoorde Hoender

4 pheasant breasts
Salt
Pepper
Butter, about 4 tablespoons
2 shallots, diced
2 ounces diced green chiles from a can
1/4 cup chicken broth
Nutmeg, to taste

Season the pheasant breasts well with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a hot skillet and let it brown slightly.

Add 2 pheasant breasts and let them brown on both sides, for a minute on each side. We just browning, we’re not cooking through to the middle.
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Place them on a platter, add the remaining butter and let it melt and brown slightly.

Add the remaining two pheasant breasts and brown them the same way, then place them on a platter. (Obviously I browned more than four pheasant breasts today, for this recipe I’m only using four.)
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Reduce the heat under the skillet, and to the butter add the diced shallot.
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Give them a stir and sauté them for a few minutes.

Then add the green chiles and chicken broth. Stir well.
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Bring to a light boil, and cook for a few minutes.
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When the liquid has reduced somewhat, add the pheasant breasts in one layer, and partially cover the skillet with a lid.

Braise the pheasant breasts for about 5 minutes. If you’re concerned about overcooking, use a thermometer. The inner temperature should not reach over 150 degrees, just like with chicken.
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Alternatively, you could also pound the pheasant breasts like you would veal scaloppine, then you wouldn’t have to worry about uneven thickness.

Remove the cooked breasts from the broth, and place them on a serving plate. Using a spoon sieve, scoop out the shallots and chiles, and place them on top of the breasts.
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Continue to reduce the liquid, then pour it over the pheasant. I also used a couple of tablespoons of the broth to sauté the spinach, that I used as a bed underneath the pheasant for serving purposes.

Sprinkle the pheasant with a little nutmeg, and add a little more salt and pepper, if desired.
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verdict: I think I like pheasant! Next time I cook breasts, I will sous vide them first. The spinach was a great addition!

Easy Creamy Vegetable Soup

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So many people I know don’t make soups because they think it’s difficult. Hopefully after reading this post, many of you will run to the kitchen, with the most minimum of ingredients, and try out this recipe. All you need is a favorite vegetable that you want to turn into a luscious, creamy soup.

Back when I was feeding my young children, it seemed that they would always eat soup over a vegetable. Even if it was the same vegetable! So I made a lot of soups.
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You don’t have to limit yourself to the soup as is. You can always sprinkle on different cheeses, add a dollop of sour cream, add grilled chicken, Polish or Italian sausage, or ham. Then it becomes a meal!

What I love is that there are so many different ways of making a basic soup like the one I’m making today.

For example, the vegetable choices*:
Butternut Squash
Pumpkin
Acorn Squash
Carrot
Parsnip
Cauliflower
Broccoli
Zucchini
Sweet potato
And so forth.

Next, the aromatics:
Onion
Garlic
Ginger
Leeks
Shallots
Celery
Bell peppers

The creaminess:
Heavy cream
1/2 and 1/2
evaporated milk
sour cream
creme fraiche
goat’s milk
almond milk
soy milk
hemp milk
coconut milk
and so forth.

There are many seasonings that can be added to home-made soups as well, but I want to keep this vegetable soup simple. Once you figure out how easy it is, you’ll be excited and motivated to get creative with flavors from your refrigerator and pantry! (I’m talking curry powder, pesto, chipotle peppers, Thai curry paste, etc.)

So here’s my basic recipe, and I hope you make it your own!

Creamy Broccoli Soup

2 heads broccoli, approximately 2 pounds after trimming
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled, halved
Chicken or vegetable broth
6 ounces evaporated milk, or less
Butter, optional
Salt
White pepper, optional
Cheese, optional

Rinse the broccoli, then coarsely chop it. Place it in a stock pot. Add the onion and garlic.
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Pour in your broth until it comes about halfway up the layer of vegetables.

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Bring the broth to a boil, then cover the pot and let things simmer for 20-30 minutes. If you’re worried you have a lot of extra broth, leave off the lid, or have it offset to allow steam to escape.


Let the mixture cool.
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This is also the time I had a tab of butter, about 1 or 2 tablespoons, a little salt, and a little white pepper. The butter adds a richness to the soup, but it can be omitted, of course.

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Place the vegetables in the jar of your blender using a slotted spoon. Pour a little bit of broth into the blender, just to get it blending.


Then add the evaporated milk until you have the consistency you like.

I do it this way, because if you add all of the broth first, the soup might end up to watery, On the other hand, if soup is too thick, then you still have broth to add. Of course, it all depends how thick you like your soups.

I like my vegetable soups thick and creamy. Thin, watery soups are not my thing.

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At this point, if you’d like to make a cheesy cream to top the soup, mix together a good goat or sheep’s cheese with a tablespoon or so of evaporated milk or cream, and blend until smooth.


If you make a cheesy cream, I hope you’re more creative than I am at making an appealing-looking presentation!
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Alternatively, just crumble the cheese on top of the soup; I used Valbreso. Children would love grated cheddar on this soup.

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You could also top the soup with a few croutons.
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There! Now you’ve made a creamy vegetable soup! See how easy it is?

* Any vegetable can be made into a soup, however, some won’t work quite as well. For example, a cucumber is a very watery vegetable and it’s typically not served warm. It is good in a gazpacho, however, which is a cold soup of sorts. Eggplant would work as a soup, but the color wouldn’t be very pretty. if that doesn’t bother you, then use eggplant. Also, I wouldn’t mix a green vegetable with an orange vegetable. If you’ve ever played with paints, you know that orange and green do not make a pretty color! Soup making is a lot about common sense!

How to Stir Fry!

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Stir frying is something I do quite often in my kitchen. For one thing, Asian stir fries, with traditional ingredients, are simple and delicious. Secondly, they’re quite healthy, because of the lovely balance of meat or seafood and vegetables. They’re also a good use for leftover meat and vegetables, and mostly, I love them because no recipe is required.

It does help to be familiar with Asian ingredients. My stir fries are more on the Chinese side, but add some fish sauce and you’ve got yourself a Thai stir fry! As I have said before, you can certainly follow recipes, but I often cook the inspired way. That is, being familiar with the traditional ingredients of a cuisine, and using those in your dish. It may not be a perfect stir fry according to Chinese chefs and grandmothers, but no Chinese food police are coming to my kitchen to arrest me any time soon!

First, it’s important to have the basics – onion, garlic, and ginger. These can be part of the stir fry, or used in a marinade. If I do marinate meat before a stir fry, I only use a little peanut oil or olive oil – enough to blend the aromatics. Liquid additions are wonderful, but then the meat has to be patted dry before cooking. An oily marinade is just easier.

The seasonings for stir fries are easy to find, fortunately. Soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, sherry, sesame seed oil, chile paste, hot sauce, and hoisin sauce. Other optional ingredients include fermented bean paste, shrimp paste, plum sauce (which I don’t care for) and oyster sauce.

One Chinese seasoning is called Chinese 5-Spice, which, obviously, is a mixture of spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, and pepper. I’ve noticed that some also contain fennel. As with most spice and herb mixtures, I hesitate to use them. Just like using a purchased curry powder, every dish you make will end up tasting the same. For this dish today, I just want the meat, vegetables, and seasonings to shine. But use the spice mixture if you like it!
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The protein used in a stir fry has to be good quality and quick cooking. For example, I wouldn’t use beef or pork that requires 4-6 hours of cooking. I’m talking beef and pork tenderloin, chicken thighs and breast, scallops and shrimp.

When it comes to vegetables, anything goes, unless you are expecting the Chinese food police to show up. Of course there’s traditional bok choy, Chinese cabbage, Chinese eggplants, snow peas, and so forth, plus ingredients that play a minor role like bean sprouts, dried mushrooms, chile peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and cilantro. But if you want to use carrots and broccoli, you can make a delicious stir fry as well. Or spinach and tomatoes!

The only requirement of a stir fry is that all the different components are cooked properly at the very end when all of they are all tossed together. So if you’re using carrots and broccoli, steam-cook them first until almost completely tender, then add them to the cooked meat at the end. Perfection! Spinach and tomatoes wouldn’t require any pre-cooking. It’s all about common sense.

Here is the stir fry that I made using what was in my refrigerator one night. Enjoy, and make sure to customize it to your tastes and ingredients!

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

1 1/2 pounds cubed beef tenderloin
1/2 cup olive or peanut oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 – 1 1/2″ piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound sugar snap peas or snow peas
1/3 cup soy sauce
3/8 cup mirin
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 medium onions
2 medium red bell peppers
Fresh cilantro, chives, or chile pepper slices

Drain the beef well on paper towels, then place the cubed beef in a large bowl or re-sealable bag. I used the ends of a whole beef tenderloin, from which I had cut filet mignon slices, which is why the “cubes” are different shapes. The volumetric uniformity of the cubes is what’s important in a stir fry. Mine are on the large size, but uniformity is what’s critical.

Add the oil, garlic, ginger, and salt to a jar of a small food processor.
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Process until smooth, then pour over the meat.
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Toss the meat, or bounce it around in the bag to make sure the beef is uniformly coated with the flavorful oil. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Bring the meat to almost rooom temperature at least an hour before beginning the stir fry.

When you’re ready, begin by trimming the peas, if necessary, and steam them just until crisp-tender. For me, this was 5 minutes of steaming. Snow peas are thinner and would require less cooking time. However, cooking time also depends on how crisp you like your vegetables.


Let the peas cool. If you think you have overcooked the peas, or any vegetable for that matter, toss a cup full of ice over the vegetables in a colander. This will cool them off faster, and the melted ice will drain away. Set the peas aside.
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In a measuring cup, measure out the soy sauce, mirin, hoisin sauce, and sesame see oil. Whisk the mixture, and set aside.
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If you’re not familiar with hoisin sauce, I’d suggest buying some. You don’t need much for fabulous flavor. It’s just a soy bean paste. There are different qualities and brands. This is the one I can find locally, but when I have the opportunity to visit an Asian market, I buy more “authentic” brands.
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Slice the onions and peppers to your liking. I like more of a wedge look. Have these in a bowl nearby.
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Have everything you’re going to use in your stir fry near the stove. A lot about Chinese cooking, much like all cooking, is to have everything on hand during the cooking process. It’s mise en place on crack, because things can move quickly

To begin, heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of oil* and just when it begins to smoke (have your ventilation system on) add a handful of cubed beef. Let them sit for a minute, before tossing around, then leave them alone for another minute or two. Get the cubes to the point where all sides show browning, but don’t allow any further cooking. Remember, there will be a little cooking boost at the end.


Remove the beef with a slotted spoon, then continue with the remaining beef.
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When you are done with the browned beef, lower the heat on the stove by about half. Add the onions and peppers, and saute them, tossing them around occasionally to create some caramelization.

If you want them cooked softer, you can put a lid on the skillet/wok for about a minute.


when you’re happy with the “cook” of the onions and peppers, add the peas and toss gently.
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Then add the beef cubes and any juices that might have accumulated in the bowl.
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Immediately pour in the seasoning mixture, and combine it gently. Stir occasionally, to make sure the beef cooks through to your liking. Mine, of course, will end up medium-rare.
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If the stir fry seems like it has too much liquid, remove the beef and vegetables, using a spider sieve, and place in a large serving bowl. Then reduce the liquid in the skillet/wok.
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Pour the reduced liquid over the stir fry, toss gently, and serve.
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Most people enjoy rice with their stir fries, but I prefer it as is.

Serve the stir fry with chile paste or sriracha or even cayenne pepper flakes for those who want a boost in heat. I’ve also included dried chile pepper slices, and you can always serve black or white sesame seeds for a pretty topping.
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* You may not need any extra oil if you have enough extra oily marinade. Make sure to use all of the marinade in the stir fry for extra flavor.
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note: Some recipes call for cornstarch to thicken the final sauce for a stir fry, but I don’t bother. If you’re not careful, the sauce will become gloppy, which reminds me of bad Chinese American restaurant food.

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts

54 Comments

Inspired by a photo I spotted on Nigella Lawson’s blog, I decided a pasta with Brussels sprouts would be fabulous. Doesn’t that sound like a perfectly comforting combination?!!

I happen to love Brussels sprouts. My husband thinks he hates them. Until he eats them. Then he makes a comment like, “These are pretty good!” But he refuses to remember that he makes this comment after eating them. But if he refuses this pasta, there will be more for me.

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So here’s what I did.

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Comté

12 ounce package pasta
1 pound Brussels sprouts
4 ounces butter
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
Approximately 14 ounces Comté or Gruyère, diced

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. If your pasta is very glutinous, you might want to toss it in a little oil in a large bowl to prevent sticking while you’re working on the rest of the recipe.
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This is the pasta I used. Funny packaging, huh?!! We’re not gluten free in this house, but I like to try pastas made from different grains, and this brand never fails to please. It’s actually a 16 ounce bag, but I only used 12 ounces of the pasta.
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Trim the Brussels sprouts. I normally cut large ones in half, but these were all about the same size.

Typically I steam Brussels sprouts, but I decided to use the pasta water. They were cooked just until tender, then drained. Let cool.


Meanwhile, using a large shallow pot, melt the butter over medium heat. A little browning is fine.

Add the garlic and have the cream nearby. For me, garlic is perfectly sautéed just when you begin to smell the garlic. That’s within about ten seconds. But I don’t like the taste of burnt garlic; some people do.


At this point, pour in the cream and stir in the salt and white pepper.

Simmer gently for about 30 minutes or so. The sauce should reduce by about half.
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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Dice up your cheese. I chose Conté, but Gruyère or Fontina would work well.
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Set up your food processor to slice the Brussels sprouts. I just bought a new food processor, and I had to get the manual out to put the slicing mechanism together properly. My old one was a Viking brand and it was terrible, so hopefully this new one will do the trick for many many years.
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Slice the Brussels sprouts and add them to the pasta.

When the cream sauce is ready, remove the pot from the heat source and gently stir in the pasta and sliced Brussels sprouts.
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Lightly grease a deep serving dish that is oven proof. Place about half of the pasta in the dish, then cover with half of the cheese.


Add the remaining pasta and repeat with the cheese.

Place the serving dish in the oven and let the cheese melt and the pasta heat through. The pasta is done when the top is golden brown.
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The pasta isn’t as photogenic as I thought it would be. I thought you’d be able to see more of the Brussels sprouts’ leaves. But it is good.

It’s not overly rich, either. I considered making a bechamel to toss the pasta in, but I’m glad I made it simply with cream.

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Of course ham would be delicious in this pasta, or just little bits of Prosciutto. But I like it just with the Brussels sprouts, because it can be eaten as is, or as a side dish to just about any kind of protein.

And by the way, my husband finished off this pasta.

Sweet Potato Pasta

40 Comments

A while back I mentioned that I have a lot of respect for dried pasta, and always try to pick up a few different shapes and flavors when I’m shopping at a gourmet food store. That’s how I ended up with olive pasta recently for dinner, and also mentioned I’d purchased sweet potato pasta.

Here’s a photo of the box. The brand is Viviana, and it contains 8 ounces of fettucine. Cooking time 11 – 14 minutes.
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I didn’t want to smother the pasta in a red sauce, because I wanted to enhance the sweet potato flavor. So I decided on a simple ricotta cream sauce, with the addition of Italian sausage, plus peas to make it an all-in-one meal. Easy, and easily made within 20 minutes. Here’s what I did:

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Sweet Potato Pasta with Italian Sausage in a Ricotta Cream Sauce

8 ounces sweet potato fettucine
1 cup ricotta whole-milk ricotta
1/3-1/2 cup heavy cream
12 or 16 ounces Italian sausage
4 cloves garlic, minced
Frozen peas, optional
Grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to package directions. I cooked the pasta more al dente, because I wanted it to absorb the lovely cream sauce. Drain the pasta.
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Meanwhile, whisk together the ricotta and cream in a large bowl, large enough to hold the finished pasta dish. Add more cream if you want the sauce less “stiff.”
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Add the hot pasta to the cream and toss gently but enough to coat the strands of pasta with the ricotta cream sauce.


Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the sausage. Slowly begin cooking the sausage. If you start slowly, no other oil is required. Once the sausage renders some fat, you can turn up the heat to get the sausage browning.
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At least once while you’re cooking the sausage, give the pasta a gentle stir. Add a little more cream if necessary.

Then add the garlic, give the sausage a stir, and remove the skillet from the stove.
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Add it to the pasta, as well as peas, if you’re using them.



Serve with grated Parmesan.

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The sweet potato pasta really shined served in this way. I’m going to buy some more because it’s so pretty and tasty.