Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Stir Fry and my Mourning Meal

I began this entry while it was really still fall. The nights and mornings were cold, but the afternoons still got very warm. Fall is a transition season, and my life is certainly reflecting the rhythm of the universe these days. It has officially become winter, and I recently lost someone very important to me. (Hence, the lack of blogging.) It has made clear for me how much I love my family and how lucky I am to have so many people in my life who care about me. It has also indirectly made clear to me how much comfort cooking gives me and how important food is in my life. I had been contemplating how food could become a part of my professional life recently. This time has shown me how the act of cooking, while physically demanding, is emotionally soothing to me. (Consequentially, I've discovered how much more I enjoy cooking than writing about cooking.) I'm sorry I've been gone so long, but I'm glad to be back and resolve to post more often in the future. (Winter break is coming after all, the season of time-off from school and cooking.) First, I'd like to share a dish with you, and then I'll briefly describe the meal I made to comfort myself and my husband.

Speaking of, my husband loves Asian food.

I love healthy food.

Stir fries are Asian, and healthy. So, I should be really good at them, right?

Not so much. In fact, creating a good stir fry has eluded me for some time. I always ended up with a bland steamed mess. That is, until now. I've discovered my main missteps and now feel confident that I can pull out a decent stir fry.

The main issues? Heat and oil. (Of COURSE. I always thought it would be something little like seasoning, or flavors. I make too many assumptions.)

1) Heat. The best vessel for a stir fry is apparently a wok. I had one once. It was cheap, so it overheated easily. Since then, I have used cast iron with great success. Someday I will buy a serious wok, I guess.

2) Oil. I had always chosen canola oil to stir-fry because of its high smoke point and neutral flavor. Turns out peanut oil has the perfect flavor to complement the ingredients in the stir fry without overpowering them. I used it both in frying and in creating the sauce. I also found a chili oil that I put in at the last minute for flavoring. You can see some of the last of the farmer's market garlic in this photo, too.

The veggies of choice on this night were Napa Cabbage (otherwise known as Chinese cabbage) , onions, green beans, and red and green bell peppers. I'm lucky enough to get some fantastic peppers from the Vedics. (You know about them, right?)

I like to cut my peppers into strips for this dish. I cut the sides off the center of the peppers. I think this is the easiest way to do it. Be sure to remove the spongy parts on the ribs of the pepper.

I have to give a shout out for two awesome pieces of equipment that I have in my kitchen. The first is this batter bowl by Anchor Hocking.

The more I learn about plastic the less I want it in my life, especially for storage and reheating leftovers. I'm slowly replacing all of our plastic containers with glass ones. Not only is this container glass, the lid is BPA free. (The bowl I marinated the tofu in for the stir-fry is also by Anchor Hocking and is part of the Martha Stewart Everyday line at Kmart) This is a 2 qt. batter bowl.

The other super-awesome piece of equipment I have to share is my Oxo salad spinner. I registered for this for the wedding, and it's one of the gifts we use the most. As recommended by Cook's Illustrated, it has all the features I look for in a salad spinner. It's very large (though I still have to do the cabbage in two batches), and is has a non-skid ring on the bottom. It has a brake to stop the spinner, which is really helpful. It's also easy to clean because the top piece separates, and it's easy to store because the handle can lock into the lid so it's flat. I highly recommend it. It's amazing to see just how much water you get out of greens.

Long story short, fry this all up in a really REALLY hot cast iron pan in peanut oil, and serve with al dente soba (buckwheat) noodles. In this photo, we used chicken.

For the sauce, mix a cup of chicken stock, chili paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, green onions, garlic, peanut oil, and fire oil. I think I also threw in some cumin, because I like it. To thicken this up, mix up a little stock and cornstarch.

The chicken is really good, especially if you slice it very thin, but I was looking for something a little different. I wanted a protein whose texture was a contrast to the veggies. I decided on fried tofu, and boy was it good.

I found lots of different approaches to frying tofu, and I think I've settled on the best one. After pressing the firm tofu between cloths for around 30 minutes, I marinated the it in the same mixture as the sauce above. (check out the Anchor Hocking bowl. It holds liquid UPSIDE DOWN!)

Then I put the tofu cubes onto a paper towel to drain a little. (Frying+water=pain)

A simple coating of wheat flour with salt and pepper, then into the frying pan. I thought of fried chicken, so I only used enough oil to come halfway up the cubes.

(sorry, blurry)

Here are the cubes with a little of the reduced sauce. Sorry, the first pic is blurry.

But you better click this one.

Finally, the meal that distracted me for a few good hours. We had spent a few days out of town with family, so when I returned home all I wanted to do was be in the kitchen. Here's the meal. No recipes, just images.

Chicken Pot Pie with a homemade pie crust. (A little different than my usual pot pie)

Tyler Florence's Ultimate Scalloped Potato Gratin (which was only meh)

And for dessert, roasted pears. I found some of these super cute seckel pears. They are super sweet and juicy, and just adorable.

Butter + sugar= comfort.

I can't resist buying pomegranates when I see them, and they were a great complement to the pears. (I've since learned how to peel them)

You know what always makes me feel better? No matter how terrible things are?


And flowers. (I love you Carrie)

And dogs. (meet Razi, our new doggie! He is perfect. His favorite place to be is right next to me. :))

Apologies for the absence and resulting super-long post. I will be blogging more soon, I promise.

1 comment:

~T said...

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. I am however excited to read about your Asian adventures. We've been doing the packet thing for awhile and I have to believe there's a better (aka tastier) way to do it...I just haven't made the jump yet. I am inspired by your post to maybe try something similar out in the next few weeks!

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