Duck Fried Rice

Duck Fried Rice

The first time I ate duck, I ended up with a bullet in my lower molar.

After biting into a freshly sauteed slice, I chomped down on a silver piece of ammunition. The metallic taste rang through the back of my mouth, towards my tongue and up through my nose until I felt like the inside of my cheeks were lined with the barrel of a shot gun. My first thought was that I had broken a tooth. My second thought was that the small fowl my father had so eloquently shot in the backwoods of Alabama and/or Louisiana had not been sufficiently cleaned, leaving me with a very real reminder of the cause of its demise.

Not one to hide my disgust at an instance such as this, and acting in direct violation of my momma’s “Eat at least a scout bite of everything on your plate honey- its ruuude not to” I promptly spit the metal ball onto my plate; threw my elbows down on the table; and drank copious amounts of tea until my taste buds calmed and I came back to my senses.

For those of you giving me more credit than I deserve in the maturity realm, this happened while in the same age group I am currently (20’s), and thank-the-Lord only stopped me from eating duck for ohhh, about three months, until football season rolled around and dad was grilling bacon-wrapped cream cheese-and-jalepeno-stuffed meat kabobs.

What this experience did teach me, however, was that it’s ok to make mistakes in food- even when you are diligent and cooking for the ones you love. Hopefully, this fried rice recipe below almost 100% ensures that you will not be left with any culinary surprises.

These duck breasts are gently fried in coconut oil until the fat from their skin renders, then cut into thin strips and quick-fried again until crispy. The remaining fat magically seasons the fried rice and renders the onions soft and pliable admist bright peas and genlty wilted carrots. And in true LuvCooks style, a generous dollop of hot sauce is added to ensure the utmost interest and all-around spiciness.

So take a risk on duck- even better if it’s wild and shot by someone you love. Just make sure and check for lead projectiles beforehand. Your enamel will thank you.

Rice from above

Rice from above

Duck Fried Rice

What You Need:

2 large duck breasts (if your duck breasts are wild, marinate them for at least six hours and up to overnight in this)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 1/2 tablespoons duck fat (a result of the above rendering process)

3/4 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, diced

1 package frozen peas

1 package frozen corn

2 carrots, skins peeled with a vegetable peeler until in thin strips

2 teaspoons chili paste

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon fish sauce

3 cups cooked jasmine rice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or several rounds on a pepper mill)

Generous squirt of honey, or to taste

Generous sprinkle of ginger powder, or to taste

What You Will Do:

1. Score each duck breast with a sharp knife, creating a criss-cross pattern on the outer skin. Apply salt and pepper liberally on both sides after scoring.*

2. Heat a pan on medium-low, then add 1 tablespoon coconut oil. Allow your duck to cook about eight minutes on one side, then flip them and cook for about seven more on the other, depending on how thick your cuts are. It’s perfectly ok if your duck is almost purple-red on the inside at this point. It’s always better to undercook duck than over cook (it gets rubbery), and we are going to slice it and cook it again, so no worries on a bit of an undercooked breast here.

3. Once your duck breasts are done, place them on a plate and tent with foil. Pour about 2 1/2 tablespoons of your gorgeous rendered  fat into a small bowl and put aside. Save the rest! Duck fat is incredible for many other uses- sautéing  vegetables, working into a gumbo, used as a base for fried potatoes. I might even make hot fudge out of it.

4. While the duck is under foil, bring a wok to high heat.

5. Add 2 1/2 tablespoons saved duck fat and chopped onion to the wok. Sautee for about three minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add garlic, and stir for about a minute, or until the garlic is barely light yellow.  Add corn, peas, and rice, quickly stirring to ensure even cooking of your veggies.

6. While your veggies are cooking, take your duck out of the foil and slice the meat off of the breasts into thin strips. It is very helpful to have a friend help you here, as I might have chopped my finger off if I had to do both of these things at once. But more than likely you have ninja-like knife skills and are more adept at multitasking than me.

6. Add the chili paste, soy and fish sauces, black pepper, and honey and ginger powder to taste. Good fried rice takes some tweaking, so taste and add as you like here. Pour the finished fried rice into bowls.

7. After you scoop out your rice, add about 1 tablespoon of duck fat into the wok, and throw duck strips back into the pan. Stir fry them for about 2 minutes, or until the strips are crispy and mid-to-dark brown on the edges.

8. Top the rice bowls with the duck and serve with Sriracha and extra soy sauce on the side.  Mr. Miyagi eat your heart out!

*If you are cooking wild-game style duck, first take your duck breasts out of the above marinade and dry them off well with a paper towel. Then proceed to the rest of step 1.

Horchata Milkshake with Cinnamon-Sugar Topping

Creamy, sweet and celebratory

Creamy, sweet and celebratory

Feliz el dia de cinco de mayo!

That was what my high school language teacher called “Spain-glish” for Happy Cinco de Mayo amigos/as! In celebration of all things Mexican, culinary, and ice-cream based, a friend of mine suggested I try my hand at making horchata.

The first time I heard this word I thought it was the one producers edited out of telenovelas on Telemundo, but upon further research I realized that in fact it is a delicious almond-and-rice-based drink, heady with cinnamon and a sweet vanilla flavor. Further confirmation found it’s way onto my kitchen table in this month’s issue of Food and Wine. Rick Ortiz’ version of the delicacy- spinning vanilla ice cream and condensed milk into the mix- sounded both comfortable and exotic. Definitely LuvCooks material.

!Que delicioso! Not only was this horchata easy to assemble, paired with churros and a pinata, it was a light and creamy trip to another flavor locale (and even more fun sipped through a straw). Which, with the weather as it is right now in the South, that sun-soaked vacation feeling might not happen until August.

Also, muchos gracias to Stephen Devries for making the shake look muy bonito.

So pull out your finest straws and sip to Mexican food, cinnamon milkshakes, and mas dias de las fiestas! (Lo siento Senora Downs…)

Horchata Milk Shakes (taken from Food and Wine’s Food Travel Special)

What You Will Need

  • 1 cup long-grain white rice, rinsed well
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 medium cinnamon sticks, cracked (I whacked my cinnamon sticks with a mortar and pestle until they were in large chunks or slivers. !Ole!)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 banana (2 ounces)
  • 1 pint to 1 1/2 quart vanilla ice cream (depending on how thick you like your milkshakes)
  • 1/2 cup ice

What You Will Do

  1. In a bowl, cover the rice with the water. Add the cinnamon sticks and let stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight; discard the cinnamon sticks. You might have to use a spoon to make sure any little pieces of cinnamon bark didn’t find their way into your rice.
  2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, toast the almonds over moderate heat, tossing, until fragrant, about three minutes. In a small bowl, blend 1 tablespoon of the ground cinnamon with the sugar.
  3. Transfer the rice and its liquid to a blender. Add the almonds and puree for 2 minutes (keep on pureeing until all of the rice is blended and it is a uniform white color). Strain the horchata through a fine sieve into a bowl. I used a spoon to press the thicker mixture at the bottom of the blender through the sieve to release any remaining liquid.  Rinse out the blender.
  4. Return the horchata liquid to the blender and add the condensed milk, banana and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and puree. Add the ice cream and ice and blend (I like my milkshakes super-thick so I actually used a whole quart and a half to keep the shakes dense).
  5. Pour the shakes into glasses, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar on top and serve. !Comer bien!

Coconut Sweet Potato Soup with Toasted Chickpeas

Lovely, spicy soup

Lovely, spicy soup with crunchy chickpeas

Accidents happen.

A lot of times in cooking this is a good thing. You run out of cinnamon, scan your pantry, and decide that another spicy ingredient like chili powder would go great in those chocolate brownies. Or, you run out of lemon for your hummus and decide to use lime juice instead (so good; another post for another day).

But this accident was not one of those creative culinary breakthroughs you see on Cooking Channel where someone finds a miracle solution to pizza dough and builds a million-dollar food truck empire. This was more along the lines of, “Oh, my Lord, I have just dumped all of the soup I was supposed to bring to my food shoot on my carpet, down my purple pants and in-between my toes. And on my neighbor’s front door. Oh dear-and their door mat.”

This, by the way, was the first time I met my incredibly sweet neighbor across the hall. In an attempt to carry all of my food props, the food itself and my large purse in one trip to my car- because, heaven forbid I have to take two trips- I also tried balance my pot of soup on the steps next to her door. Instead, the pot slid forward, cascading in a slow-motion orange waterfall from my orange dutch oven down my (now-orange) lower half.

After the initial shock, squishing back into my apartment for paper towels and trying my best to sop up the thick, slightly warm mess from her surrounding steps and entryway, I knocked on her door, mustered my brightest smile and shouted a very overenthusiastic “HI! I just spilled sweet potato soup all over the entryway to your home. I AM SO SORRY!” She was, of course, incredibly gracious and wonderful and understanding. While I, on the other hand, had orange gew in my hair and was experiencing mild symptoms of a panic attack and/or emotional breakdown.

But the lovely blessing in disguise from this was the answer to the prayers I quickly uttered right after the pot of soup splattered down our hallway. In a final, last-ditch effort, I rushed back to the pot in my kitchen sink with the faint hope of any liquid left inside we could photograph. And you know what? A thin rim, silver-lined rim remained. It was a total loaves-and-fishes moment: like the miracle of feeding the five thousand (but with a tiny bowl and stage lighting).

The miracle continued as my talented friend Stephen DeVries took my offering and once again made the spread look gorgeous. I am so glad he did because, y’all, it is delicious. As a Southern girl far from the country of Thailand, I imagine it tastes like what that country would offer: spice, tons of flavor, and a sweet nuttiness from the potato and peanut butter combination. And the toasted chickpeas offer a fantastic spicy crunch to compliment the jalepeno and cilantro in the broth.

Take a Southern, Thai advenure this week- just try not to spill your luggage.

Coconut Sweet Potato Soup (This recipe was taken from the lovely blog Foodess.com)

What You Will Need

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (from 1 medium-large onion)
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped (seeds removed)
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1½” pieces
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • ⅓ cup natural peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp minced fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • salt, to taste
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne (optional)
  • 1 lime, cut in wedges (optional)

What You Will Do

  1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until just softened (and a bit translucent). Add jalapeno and garlic; saute for one minute. Stir in curry paste.
  2. Add chopped sweet potato, coconut milk and broth. Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn it back down to medium and cover. Cook until the sweet potato is very soft, about 20 minutes (I like to test mine with the back of a wooden spoon; if it gives gently when you press it, it is ready-to-go). Puree the mixture with an immersion blender, or do it in batches in a regular blender. (Does anyone out there own an immersion blender? I feel like if I had one I would be a total gourmand, much more like the Foodess, and it would save me from clumsily pouring boiling liquid into a blender. Be warned; if you pursue the blender method, do not fill the liquid up to the top of your blender! The steam will explode the top off and soup will go flying everywhere. Trust me.)
  3. Stir in peanut butter, cilantro, and a generous pinch of salt until combined. Stir, and adjust salt to taste. Add cayenne if additional heat is desired.
  4. Serve with more minced cilantro and lime wedges on the side. And chickpeas! And jasmine rice if you have some.

Toasted Chickpeas (This recipe is adapted from the wonderfully detailed Everyday Maven)

What You Will Need

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (if you have coconut, it would work great here)
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon hungarian paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5 to 7 turns of fresh ground black pepper

What You Will Do

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Drain and rinse chickpeas and place them into a bowl. Add in oil and spices. Toss with a spoon until the beans are evenly coated.
  3. Scoop chickpeas onto a non-stick baking sheet OR a baking sheet lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Leave any extra liquid in the bowl (don’t pour it onto the cookie sheet).
  4. Roast the peas for 15 minutes. Toss them again, making sure to evenly distribute them across the cookie sheet, and roast for another 15 minutes.
  5. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then place in a bowl and serve! (Make sure that you let these completely cool before you put them in the bowl; they get mushy if you let them cool together).

Now enjoy your tasty Thai adventure!

Spicy Turkey Sausage and White Bean Soup

Makes you feel warm inside.

Makes you feel warm inside.

In the south, “winter” is a loosely defined term.

Sometimes it means 75 degrees, flip-flops, shorts, and a football sweatshirt. Other days, it is defined as freezing temperatures, layers, more layers, gloves, and a freak snowstorm which requires at least another layer.

But this week, we are in a weather gray zone. Not quite warm- it hovers around the lower fifties, upper forties; drizzly, with no snow; and fog. Fog in the morning, fog in the evening, fog in the noontime.

And it’s times like these that call for soup. It’s the one time a year I feel (somewhat) urban with my cooking, imagining myself walking home from the market around the corner, toting a super cool umbrella and handmade grocery bag, skipping up to my loft and making a big pot of stew from locally grown organic tomatoes, hand-fed chicken broth, and the cilantro I raised in my rooftop garden.

But, back to reality, my tiny foggy kitchen, and the February “Winter Comforts” issue of Bon Appetit. Their Chorizo and White Bean Stew recipe caught my eye- the flavor profile was spicy, balanced by the beans, and quick. Looking for a way to make due of what I currently had in my refrigerator (and not being able to retro-bike to my nearest fresh foods market) I substituted spicy Italian turkey sausage for the chorizo, splurged on fresh thyme at Publix, added some smoked paprika, and got simmering.

This soup hit the spot, easily one of the best I have made in a while, and made me long for the end of the in-between: when fog clears, the sun comes out, winter needs no definition, and it’s time for flip-flops again. But this time without the layers.

Spicy Turkey Sausage and White Bean Soup

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit

What You Need

  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 1b spicy Italian turkey sausage (or you could use mild for a sweeter flavor)
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 5 ounces baby spinach (about 10 cups)
  • Smoked paprika

What You Will Do

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Mine took about 23 minutes; I think turkey sausage links take a bit longer to cook through. Transfer the sausage to a plate.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet. Make sure you keep all of those delicious pork bits in the pan to saute with your veggies. Add the onion slices, garlic, and thyme sprig. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 5-8 minutes. I like to add the garlic later; at about six minutes. Because burned garlic is no good to anyone.

3. Add the rinsed beans and broth and cook, crushing a few beans with the back of a spoon to thicken sauce, until slightly thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Watch the soup here; mine needed a bit longer to thicken. When it is the consistency of a chili, it’s perfect. Season with salt and pepper. Add spinach by the handfuls and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes.

4. Slice the turkey sausage and fold it into stew; add water to thin, if you like. Normally I don’t like to add water because I feel it dilutes the flavor, but this is a thicker soup, so you have some room to play. Taste it again to make sure your salt and pepper ratio is working.

5. Divide the soup among bowls; drizzle with oil. I highly recommend sprinkling it with more paprika, and then some more just for good measure.

Creamy Thai Sweet Potatoes and Lentils

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The sun shines on creamy Thai dishes. Literally.

“Just keep shipping.” Or in my case, just keep posting. Whether this quote came from Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Seth Godin, it is has been on my mind. And this recipe is definitely worthy of a post.

Despite my normal need to explain every single detail of why this recipe works- and it does- I have chosen instead to illustrate some of the incredibly simple steps that it takes to make this- or, what happens when sweet potatoes and lentils, stewed with vegetable broth and tomatoes, are added to sauteed cabbage with onion and garlic, then topped with coconut milk. That’s right, coconut milk; the distant cousin in flavor profile of this delicacy we all probably grew up on (a tropical delight I believe comes from the exotic “take-the-water-out-of-cows-milk-and-somehow-make-it-last-for-decades” tree).

Also, word to the wise- cabbage takes a while to cook. Do not, as I did, overload your skillet with cabbage and expect it to behave like spinach and wilt up instantly.

Maybe one of these days I will actually learn to be patient while I cook. Maybe. Please teach me how to do this.

Also, check out my new favorite cooking blog, A Pinch of Yum. Lindsay is a cooking and photography inspiration. Jealousy+Admiration+her writing makes me laugh= my feelings towards this blog.

This recipe is taken from A Pinch of Yum and can be found here.

Creamy Thai Sweet Potatoes and Lentils

You will need:

  • 1 cup lentils, rinsed
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, unpeeled and diced.
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter (I found I didn’t need the butter; it depends on your taste buds.)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly shredded
  • 2 jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger (I also didn’t use the ginger because I am not a huge ginger fan. If you like ginger, I would suggest you put it in. If you don’t, then don’t. Thank-you-very-much.)
  • 14.5 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup regular coconut milk
  • salt to taste (I would suggest adding salt and pepper as you cook; I find mine lacked a bit of salt once I served it.)

You will:

  1. Pour lentils, broth, and sweet potatoes into a large pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low for 30-45 minutes, or until lentils and sweet potatoes are just barely done cooking. Add the turmeric, tomatoes and ginger (or not) to the pot and cook for another 10 minutes.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet. Add garlic, onions, and jalapenos. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook for 10 minutes, or until cabbage is cooked through. (This is where you should be patient. This is where I was not.)
  3. Add cabbage to lentil pot and stir in coconut milk. Top with cilantro.

This looks like:

Cabbage might be the funnest thing to slice in the universe.

This reminds me of the earth's core diagram I think I saw in second grade.

Do not crowd the pan like this. You end up with cabbage all over your floor and in your stovetop burners. Not a good smell.

It is hard to take iphone pictures with one hand. I am glad I had an "assistant" for this shot.

The fresh cilantro on top makes this dish. Enjoy!

In case you are wondering, this dish is super healthy and doesn’t have much fat or calories. Which means I will now down my Whoppers milk shake. What to do with leftover Easter candy? Make that. You totally earned it.

Spicy Southwest Black Bean Burgers

Pretty patty.

Commitment.

Yes, that is the theme of today’s post. Most of you will probably conjure up images of couples, married for 50+ years, holding hands, walking along a beach. Or someone climbing Mt. Everest. However, not for this blog. Today, I confess that there are few recipes that have required as much commitment to tweaking as today’s endeavor to make a delicious black bean burger.

As you well know, I. love. black. beans. (And, to be clear- I love you, my readers, more than black beans.) But, the quintessential black bean burger has eluded me. To me, black beans are the Mary Poppins bag-of-tricks for the culinary world. Craving brownies? Puree a can with water and add to brownie mix. Fresh Salsa? Chop up cilantro and garlic, add some crushed tomatoes and corn, and voila- deliciousness. But whipping out a burger that actually tastes like a burger (juicy, with full, rich flavors and a slightly smoky undercurrent laced through) from BB* has yet to happen for me.

However, today’s recipe is one step closer to our goal.

This, to me, is the closest I have come yet to a BB burger that has depth of flavor, and the addition of cumin gives it that smokiness I look for in a good meat burger. Plus, the Panko bread crumbs are a brilliant addition that help hold the burger together and give it a crispy exterior (other recipes I have seen look like someone took a mudpie, threw it on a skillet, and called it a day).

So enjoy the recipe, and post below to let me know how you create your perfect black bean burger.

I came across this recipe from the fabulous Ree Drummond (aka Pioneer Woman) and her Tasty Kitchen site; my modifications are in italics. Does making things in italics seem so much more dramatic to you? I feel like whenever I do this it automatically makes things intriguing. I think should  all should do this more often. 

You will need:

  • 1 can (16 Oz. Size) Black Beans (you know what brand to use)
  • ½ whole Onion, cut into wedges
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped (I used four because I have a slight addiction.)
  • 1 whole red pepper, stem and seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (Because the recipe calls you to rinse/drain the beans, I thought they needed some extra salt.)
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce (For us Southern girls, Texas Pete does the trick.)
  • ½ cups finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 whole burger buns or kaiser rolls (I used thinly sliced everything bagels here and it worked great.)

You will:

Drain the can of black beans. In a mixing bowl, mash the black beans with a fork or a potato masher. I forgot this step and had to do this with a pastry cutter after I added the onion/garlic/red pepper. Actually, it was really fun, and I felt like I was working out my biceps. 

My bicep workout for the day.

Use a food processor to chop the onion, garlic, and red pepper until very fine. Stir the mixture in with the beans. See note above.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the egg, cumin, onion powder, chili powder, salt, Sriracha (or Texas Pete) and cilantro. Add this to the bean mixture and combine well.

If the mixture has a lot of liquid, strain with a cheesecloth or let it strain through a colander with very fine holes. When I make this again, I will strain my bean mixture. They were a bit watery, and that made it harder to form the concoction into patties. Once the excess liquid has drained off, return the bean mixture to the bowl and stir in half of the bread crumbs.

Use your hands to form four evenly sized patties. Coat the outside of the burger patties in the remaining bread crumbs. I just dunked each patty in bowl of Panko- this was also fun and satisfying. See, with black beans, the fun just never ends.

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Cook burgers in the pan until heated through and slightly browned on both sides. To cook these more evenly, flatten them a bit with your spatula. You can also put them in the over for a few minutes if you like them more well-done.

Put the finished burger on top of a bun. Dress with all your favorite burger condiments and enjoy! In my case, this involved tomato, lettuce, guacamole and mayonnaise. For my hubby, who does not yet understand the joys of oil and egg whipped together into heaven, just guac.

At this point, I was so excited to bite into this I think I lost my sense of lighting. Apologies for that gnarly reflection at the bottom of the plate.

*If it is alright with you, and I am now going to abbreviate black beans with BB. This makes my writing sound much better because I can not find an alternative to this word.

The Art of Chinese Stir Fry

Beef, bell peppers of multiple hues, and onions

Let me begin this post by saying I am very, very far from mastering the art of Chinese cuisine. My experience with Asian food began at the tender age of five going to pseudo-Japanese steakhouses and filling up on so much fried rice that I could not get my wee body out of the pseudo-stool I was pseduo-sitting on.

That sentence felt very intellectual.

Moving on.

However, a dear friend of mine recently invited myself and a few others to accompany her to a “Authentic Chinese Stir Fry” class at a local cooking store. Slightly intimidated by my lack of skills with a wok and/or chopsticks, but intrigued my love of the aforementioned fried rice, I pressed on.

What I found was absolutely delightful. Not only is stir fry easy (well, Susan made it seem that way), it was tasty and quick. And to help all of you out there who might feel threatened by the sight of a hand-hammered wok, I have listed below my top 5 tips I learned while at the class.

Top 5 Stir Fry Tips

1. You need a wok to stir-fry correctly. Yes, I said wok. Not pan, not cast iron skillet. I thought I could get away with using my oversize non-stick pan and forcing as many items as possible inside. It turns out you can’t because the oil has to get hot enough (thus the word stir-fy) to cook the ingredients properly. Also, apparently I am violating health codes by attempting to get my nonstick pan that hot.

2. Smoking oil is burnt oil. I did not know this. In my mind, the steam coming off of oil in a pan seemed like something I would see in a magazine spread. When you stir fry, you want your oil simmering, not smoking. Simmering– it just sounds so romantic.

3. Organization is key. Make sure all of your ingredients are pre-chopped and ready on your counter in the order they need to go into the pan. This helps the stir-fry process flow a lot more smoothly and allows you to avoid the “WHERE THE HECK IS MY SOY SAUCE!!” epidemic/panic common to cooks in small kitchens. Yes, this should be a diagnosed disorder.

4. Don’t crowd the pan. I learned to cook the meat/thicker veggies first, take it or them out to rest, then put it/them back in at the end with your sauce.  Do not, like me, try to cook everything at once. Your veggies will steam and relase juice into your pan, and your ingredients will not have the chance to caramelize and get crispy. Thus the watery mess I had experienced with my former non-stick situation.

Side note: If you use mushrooms in your stir fry, also cook those separately and add them in at the end of your cooking. They have the ability to release a ton of water and turn your saucy stir fry into a watery stir fry. This is not good eats. (Insert your best Alton Brown imitation here.)

5. Use shallow serving platters to serve your stir-fry. When you pile your golden goodness into a big bowl, the heaviness of the bowl takes out some of the juices. It is best to use a wide, shallow pan, and serve it immediately.

Extra tip: Japanese soy sauce is different than Chinese soy sauce. Chinese is darker and has more molasses, thus making it tastier. Please impress your other foodie friends with this fact.

And, to go out in a blaze of stir-fry glory, we also learned about a local Chinese foods store if anyone wants to take a trip and get their own stir-fry a wokkin’.

Yes, those are bamboo shoots. And they are glorious.

 

Thai Shrimp Noodle Bowls

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“Do not post something involving cheese” (see previous recipe below). Noted. Result? Thai shrimp noodle bowls.

Thai food is a new love of mine. The spiciness, use of nut-based-sauces (Peanut sauce on everything? Yes please), and layers of flavor appeals to just about everything cooking is to me. The challenge I faced with my newfound passion was two fold- a.) Thai food can be expensive and b.) Thai food is expensive.

And then I come across this recipe- marinated shrimp in a soy-lime broth- all for about the cost of what one Thai dish would be at your local restaurant, if not less. Oh, and the best part? You bake the shrimp pouches in the oven. Anytime you get to say the word pouches in a recipe it automatically makes it cuter and a bit quirky.

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Pouches of powerful, peppy (culinary) presents.

Pouches. You’re welcome.

So get your Thai on, take out the stress of your day by breaking up some ramen noodles, and make an aluminum pouch, dang it.

This recipe was taken from rachelray.com. It serves 4 and took about 30 minutes to make.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced, dark green slices set aside
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 ounce peeled baby shrimp, thawed
  • 2 3 ounce packages  ramen noodles

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees . In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup water with the lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, white and light green scallion slices, onion and red pepper flakes. Add the shrimp and marinate for 10 minutes. I suggest adding some of the flavor from the packet that comes with your ramen noodles to the marinade. I found my pouches (ok, this is excessive-there was no need to bold this word- but I can’t help it. It’s too fun) needed a bit more flavor.
  2. Meanwhile, break the ramen noodles into small pieces and divide evenly among the centers of four 16-inch-long sheets of heavy-duty foil. Top with equal amounts of the shrimp mixture. Pull up the sides of the foil and pour 1/3 cup water over each of the shrimp-and-noodle mounds. Crimp the sides of the foil to enclose, and transfer the pouches to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the shrimp and noodles are cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Depending on how many shrimp you put in each pouch you might need a bit longer- just make sure your shrimp are pink when you take them out of the oven.
  3. Transfer to individual bowls and top with the dark green scallion slices. Also a squirt of sriracha works beautifully here.

Whole wheat black bean tortilla pie

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This is what black beans do on their vacations: make layers and bake.

I am all for easy. I am all for Mexican food. And I looooooove black beans.

Did I say I love black beans? I. Love. Black. Beans.

Yes, there is something to be said for taking an entire afternoon to make your own homemade version (just ask Heidi Swanson). I am sure it is worth it. And before you ask- no, it was not attempted on this recipe. Though maybe one day I will get over ambitious, watch too much Cooking Channel, and decide to make a day of it.

The recipe below was not only easy, it hit the niche of what I was craving: something spicy, cheesy (this seems to be a running theme on this blog; note to self: do not post something cheesy for the next entry-hah!), and full of black beans. It also reminds me a bit of those layered Mexican dips you see at parties, only way bigger and better.

So if you have an extra thirty minutes to spare, are aching to use those jarred cans of black beauties, and love a layered Mexican dish like I do, strap on your onion goggles and get choppin’.

For my favorite brand of canned black beans, go here.

For my favorite restaurant’s black beans, go here.

This recipe came from marthastewart.com, but I modified it a bit.

Ingredients

  • 4 10-inch flour tortillas  (I used “medium” size and the whole wheat version instead)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno chile, minced (one can remove ribs and seeds if one desires; one may also leave them in if one loves jalepenos like I do)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (I also added a bit more cumin because this spice loves Mexican food)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, drained and rinsed (you know what brand to use)
  • 12 ounces beer, or 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (2 1/2 cups)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With a paring knife, trim tortillas to fit a 9-inch springform pan. Use the bottom of the pan as a guide. Set aside. (I did not trim my tortillas because they were smaller than 10 inches and it worked great.)
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeno, garlic, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add beans and beer, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until liquid has almost evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in corn and scallions, and remove from heat. Taste and adjust for seasoning. (I needed more salt here.)
  4. Fit a trimmed tortilla in bottom of springform pan; layer with 1/4 of the beans and 1/2 cup of cheese. Be careful here to keep the bean layers even. In my overexcitement, and what some may call “eagerness” to eat and therefore put this bean bliss in the oven, I sort of haphazardly piled the beans on the middle of the tortilla and by the end of the recipe it resemebled more of a bean tower than a neatly layered dish. Well, we can’t all be Martha Stewart.
  5.  Repeat three times, using 1 cup cheese on top layer. Bake until cheese melts, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove side of pan; sprinkle pie with scallions. To serve, slice into wedges.
This makes a normal six servings, or, for my husband and I, two meals’ worth.
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