In the mood for a Spicy Chinese Stirfry!

As a very amateur photographer, one of the most fun things about working on this blog has been trying to figure out how to make each dish look as good as it tastes.  So far, I am finding that meat is my biggest challenge, photography wise.  It can look so good in real life and then in the photo, it will look gray and unappetizing.  I’m working on that, but today, I found an even harder subject…Tofu!  Out of curiosity, I looked up the meaning of the recipe name “Mapo Tofu” and was surprised to find that it means, “pockmarked face lady’s tofu”  Well, I guess that one wouldn’t expect that dish to be lovely.  But it is tasty!

The three recipes that follow are bold and spicy.  You can, of course, adjust the amounts of the chilies and peppers up or down to suit your taste.

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Mongolian Beef

I wish that you could see the Mongolian Beef page in my copy of Chopsticks, Cleaver and Wok, by Jennie Low.  It is splattered, splashed and frayed.  That goes to show just how many times I have turned to this recipe over the years.  I like to use sirloin strip steaks instead of flank steak, which is what is called for in many Asian stir fry recipes.  It’s a bit more expensive, for sure, but I find that I can serve four easily with just two good-sized steaks and it has a wonderful texture when sliced very thinly and cooked quickly over very high heat.
1 1/2 pounds strip sirloin steak
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 green onions, slivered
2 fresh red chili peppers ( or 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes)
Seasoning:
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
dash of pepper
1 tablespoon white wine (or dry sherry)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Sauce:
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons catsup
  Cut each steak crosswise into three pieces.  Trim fat from edges and slice across the grain very thinly…almost paper thin.  (a good sharp knife and cold meat will make this easier) Place in a bowl.
Add seasoning ingredients to beef.  Mix well.
Combine sauce ingredients, mix well, and set aside.
Heat wok or heavy skillet and add half of the oil.  Add half of the garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds over high heat.
Add half of the beef, spreading it out quickly, and let it brown nicely on one side undisturbed (about 2 minutes)  Then stir fry for another minute or two until beef is browned on both sides.  Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining oil, garlic and beef.  (Cooking all of the meat at once will lower the heat in the pan too much causing the meat to simmer. I sometimes have to cook this in many batches when serving a crowd but I just do it ahead of time and reheat it gently at serving time.) Remove second batch of meat to the plate while you briefly stir fry the green onions and red chili pepper for a few seconds then add all of the meat back to the pan.  Add the sauce mixture, mix thoroughly and cook for one minute, stirring.  The sauce should thicken a bit to coat the meat nicely.  Serve with rice.  (serves 4)

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Minced Chicken in Black Bean Sauce

This is a super quick stir-fry that I have been making for years.  I know that I got the recipe from a book…a paperback with Asian noodle and rice dishes….but I don’t have it anymore so I can’t give credit.  This is just so easy that I never copied the recipe.  It’s a bold sauce…kind of an Asian chicken spaghetti, if you will.

2 tablespoons peanut oil
6  boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all fat and minced into small pieces
(you can actually buy ground chicken or turkey if you want to make this super easy…I just prefer the texture when I mince the chicken myself)
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1/3 cup Asian black bean sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 pound spaghetti
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
3 scallions, trimmed and chopped

Heat oil in wok or heavy skillet over high heat.  Add chicken in a single layer and sprinkle the minced garlic over the top (you may have to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your pan)  Let cook undisturbed for several minutes until golden brown on one side.  It may be almost cooked through at this point.  Add the sesame seeds.  Using two utensils (I use a metal spatula and a big spoon)  toss the chicken and the sesame seeds around, breaking up the clumps and stir-frying until no longer pink.  Add the black bean sauce, soy sauce and red pepper flakes and stir to combine and heat thoroughly.  Remove from heat, add the 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and let rest while you make the pasta.

Cook the pasta in lots of salted boiling water until just al dente.  Drain well then toss with the sesame oil.

Reheat chicken if necessary and serve over the spaghetti, sprinkled with the chopped green onions. Serves 6

 

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Mapo Tofu

This recipe is adapted from Potsticker Chronicles, by Stuart Chang Berman and it is new to my repertoire.  Living with three sons and a carnivore husband, I didn’t serve many meatless meals.  But I really like this dish and as the author says, the non vegetarian version is to substitute 1/2 pound sauteed ground pork for the portobello mushrooms.  The sauce is a bit fiery for sure but I just love the complexity of the heat…from three different peppercorns as well as chili paste. (Sichuan peppercorns can be found in Asian markets and specialty food shops…it is an important flavor in this dish)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1/2 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 cup vegetable broth
1 package firm tofu, cut into cubes
2 portobello mushroom caps, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
chopped scallions or chives to garnish
brown rice, prepared according to package directions
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy skillet that has a lid.  Add the Sichuan peppercorns and black and white pepper.  Immediately add the chili paste, garlic and ginger.  Stir once.  Quickly add the soy sauce and the sherry.  Add the vegetable broth and stir.
Add the tofu cubes and portobello mushrooms.  Fold them in gently with a wooden spoon.  Add the sesame oil.  Cover the pan with a lid and braise for 15 minutes on medium heat.  Uncover.  Stir gently and slowly with the wooden spoon.  Continue to braise uncovered for 10 more minutes.
Stir the cornstarch mixture into the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring gently until thickened.  Serve over rice and garnish with the scallions or chives. (serves 4)
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In the mood for Summer Tomatoes!

“In Spain and those hot regions, they use to eat the apples prepared and boiled with pepper, salt and oile:  but they yield very little nourishment to the bodie, and the same nought and corrupt.”  (Herball, by John Gerard 1597)
 
John Gerard, a barber-surgeon, (can anyone hear that term without thinking of the SNL skit?  You know, the one with the leeches?) echoed the general misconception that tomatoes were poisonous…an idea that stuck around until the mid 1700’s.
  
Thank goodness that turned out to be false because who could imagine summertime with the arrival of the big ripe beefsteak tomatoes.  Of course you will enjoy your BLT and your tomato mozzarella salads this summer.  But here are three more ways to celebrate the slicing tomato.
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Parmesan Pepper Crusted Chicken

When you see a recipe this simple and easy, you should know that it’s success will depend on the quality of each ingredient.  So find the perfect tomato, the freshest basil, best aged Parmesan (not from the green can, please!) and of course, this is the time to use your best extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic.
This is adapted from a Donna Hay recipe from New Food Fast.
4 medium sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper (or more to taste)
4 tablespoons oil
2-3 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, sliced
1 cup shredded fresh basil
balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to serve
salt if necessary
Butterfly each chicken breast into 2 thin, flat pieces.  Dip each piece in the egg white and then press the chicken in the combined Parmesan and pepper.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add half of the chicken pieces.  Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until the chicken is golden and cooked through.  Keep warm while you repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.  To serve, place tomato and basil on serving plates and sprinkle with balsamic and olive oil then the slices of chicken.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt if necessary.  (Parmesan is salty so taste first) Serves 4
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Tomato Watermelon Salad with Hushpuppy Croutons

 

Doesn’t this salad just scream summertime in the South?  This is based on a first course that I had at Noble’s Restaurant in Winston Salem, NC.  Their croutons were smaller but more hushpuppy is always a good thing.  I used Savannah Classics, Original Recipe Hushpuppies found in the freezer section of the grocery, because 1) Who wants to deep fry in the summer and 2) They are really good!  I ended up having  to make a second batch because the kids ate the first before I composed my salads.  Also, I love to use the pinkish heirloom tomatoes in this recipe (Cherokee Pink, Caspian Pink) because some of the cubes are almost indistinguishable from the watermelon.
 
5 cups watermelon (3/4 inch cubes, seeded)
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (3/4 inch cubes)
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
back pepper
hushpuppies, prepared according to package directions
Combine the watermelon and tomatoes in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with sugar and salt and toss to coat.  Let this sit for 15 minutes and the fruits will release some juices.  Now add the onion, vinegar and oil, and stir it all together gently.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.  Toss once more and serve with hushpuppies and basil to garnish.  (serves 6)
(The Tomato/Watermelon recipe is based on one from the July 2007 issue of Southern Living)
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Fresh Tomato Panini

 

If you don’t have a panini press or an electric panini grill then….. well…….go buy one, you’ll love it!  Just kidding, sort of.  You could use a second heavy skillet to weigh down the sandwich or you could wrap a brick in foil and use that.  At Pot Belly Sandwich Shops in the Chicago area, you can order any sandwich as a “skinny”  This means that they will rip out all of the fluffy insides of the bread before they add the fillings.  This cuts down on the carbs and the calories, which is great, but I also love that, when grilled, it creates a beautiful crunchy crust for the sandwich.
1 loaf fresh bread, french loaf or ciabatta (i used ciabatta in this photo)
very thinly sliced prosciutto
fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the bread into sandwich sized portions, then split each piece and tear out most of the interior.  Fill each sandwich with a slice of prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomato and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bush outside of sandwich lightly with olive oil and grill, either on the stove top, pressing it flat and turning to cook both sides, or in an electric panini grill, until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.
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In the mood for Lettuce Wraps!

Like many people, our first exposure to lettuce wraps came from PF Changs and soon we were making our own version of their appetizer as seen below.  That was years ago and we still love to make a whole meal of these chicken lettuce wraps.  But why stop there?  There are endless possibilities when it comes to the lettuce wrap concept.  Here are three of our favorites.  While iceberg lettuce is the traditional vessel for the filling, bibb lettuce and even romaine can be a nice change of pace.

 

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Chicken Lettuce Wraps

I like the texture of hand minced chicken much better than that of ground chicken.  It’s very quick and easy to do if you have a good sharp knife.  It is important not to overcook chicken breast meat or it will be dry and tough.  My method of letting the minced chicken sit undisturbed in a single layer until almost cooked through will keep it moist and tender.  This is necessary because our home cook tops just don’t get hot enough stir fry effectively.
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons peanut oil
salt
1 can bamboo shoots, diced
1 can water chestnuts, diced
1/2 cup scallions, sliced
3/4 cup celery, diced
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste
lettuce leaves for wrapping
Sauce:
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Trim chicken of all visible fat and, using a large knife, slice lengthwise and then crosswise to get 1/4 inch minced pieces.  Season with 1 tablespoon soy sauce, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and set aside.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok or large skillet until very hot.  Sprinkle the oil with a pinch of salt and add 1/2 of the minced chicken and quickly spread it out to cook evenly.  Let cook undisturbed for about 2-3 minutes or until the the chicken is golden brown on the bottom.  Then toss the minced chicken around a for a few seconds (at which point the chicken will be almost cooked through)  then remove to a platter while you repeat with the remaining chicken.  After the last of the chicken has been cooked and set aside, stir fry the bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, scallions and celery for 2 minutes, adding a bit more oil only if necessary.  Return chicken to the pan. Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes, and cornstarch mixture and cook, tossing constantly, until chicken is cooked through and all ingredients are nicely glazed.  Remove from heat and drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Taste and season with salt and black pepper if necessary.   Mix sauce ingredients together in small serving bowl.  Arrange serving platter with lettuce leaves, minced chicken and sauce.
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Ginger Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

 

1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped coarsely
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped
6 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (white and light green parts only, saving some of the dark green tops for the sauce below)
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
black pepper and salt to taste
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon chopped green scallions
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Fresh lettuce leaves for wrapping
Stir together first five ingredients.  Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat.  Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt over the oil then spread shrimp mixture evenly in the pan and let sit undisturbed for about 45 seconds.   Then, using two spoons or spatulas, toss and stir fry the mixture until the shrimp is just cooked through, another minute or two.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and season with pepper and extra salt if necessary.   Stir together soy sauce, water, ginger, brown sugar, sesame oil, scallions and lemon juice for sauce and serve with lettuce leaves for wrapping.
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Char Sui Pork Lettuce Rolls

 

 Char Sui is the name for the roast pork dish found in most Chinese restaurants.  This recipe is adapted from Barbecue Bible, by Ainsley Harriet.  This will serve 4 as a main course or 6-8 as an appetizer.
2 pork tenderloins
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 large garlic clove crushed
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons honey
to serve:
1/2 cucumber
6 scallions
1 large iceberg or bibb lettuce, broken into leaves
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Chinese plum sauce
Trim any fat and membranes of the outside of the pork tenderloin.
Finely grate the ginger and squeeze out the juice into a shallow non-metallic dish.  Stir in the rest of the marinade ingredients.
Add the pork tenderloins and turn the over in the mixture until they are really well coated.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon.  Cut into thin strips about 3 inches long.  Halve the scallions and cut lengthwise into very thin shreds.  Arrange on a serving plate in separate piles along with the lettuce leaves and a small bowl of the plum sauce mixed with the Dijon mustard.
Barbecue the pork over medium hot heat for about15- 20 minutes turning now and then and basting with the leftover marinade.
Transfer the pork to a board, carve it into very thin slices, and lay it on the serving plate.  Instruct everyone to take a lettuce leaf and place a row of cucumber strips, shredded scallion and sliced pork down the center.  Then spoon a little of the plum sauce mixture over them and roll up the lettuce leaf into a parcel to eat!
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In the mood for quick-grilling chicken

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I love how quick and easy it is to grill boneless, skinless chicken breasts.   Marinades and basting sauces can take care of any problems that you might have had in the past with bland or dried out grilled chicken.  These three recipes take a little prep work but it can all be done hours in advance.  Then the actual grilling time is very short…perfect for summer evenings.
Grilled Peanut Chicken Kabobs
This recipe is adapted from a book that I found, about 20 years ago, in Crate and Barrel.  It was part of a display for  the summer grilling season and it has been my grilling bible ever since.  It is called Grill Book, New Foods and Flavors for the Grill.
 
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 cilantro sprigs, minced
1-2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces

Combine first nine ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Blend well to emulsify, adding a few drops of water if the mixture is too thick.  Mix the marinade and the chicken pieces and stir well to coat evenly.  Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.  Thread chicken onto metal skewers and grill over a medium hot heat for 8-10 minutes.  It is best to let the chicken brown well on one side before you try and turn the skewers.  The marinade forms a nice crust that makes it easier to release them from the grill.  Then you can turn them several more times to grill all sides easily.  Serves 4-5
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Grilled Lemon Chicken with Thyme Gremolata

(Serves 8)
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This is a combination of two recipes.  Does that make it my own?  Not sure… so let me give credit.  The marinade is Ina Garten’s and the Thyme Gremolata is from a recipe in Gourmet magazine in June of 1995.  Everyone loves this chicken.  For children, I sometimes remove the lemon slices, after they have had a chance to sit for a bit to add flavor, and slice the chicken up to serve.  But don’t skip any of the toppings…they are what make this recipe special.
8-10 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
For gremolata:
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
Garnish:
paper-thin lemon slices
Prepare the chicken breasts by trimming away all visible fat and pounding them to an even thickness so that they will grill evenly.  In a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme.  Marinate the chicken for 4-6 hours.  Prepare gremolata by chopping the thyme leaves, garlic and lemon zest together until you have a very finely minced mixture.  Set aside.  Have the paper thin lemon slices ready as well.
Before grilling the chicken, I recommend removing it from the marinade and using a paper towel to remove excess marinade.  This will help minimize any flare ups on the grill.  Grill the chicken over medium high heat until golden brown on both sides.  Place hot chicken breasts on a serving platter and immediately place 2-3 lemon slices on each breast.  Sprinkle generously with the gremolata and cover the whole platter with aluminum foil and let rest for about 5 minutes to let the flavors melt into the chicken. Serve warm.
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Grilled Chicken with Lemon Basil Dressing

 This chicken gets a double dose of flavor from the yogurt marinade and the lemon dressing.  It is based on a Cooks Country recipe for Grilled Chicken Kabobs that was published in June, 2006.  That is  a wonderful kabob recipe (with red onion and red bell peppers) but sometimes I want something quicker and simpler so this is how I do it.
For the marinade:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and pounded to an even thickness
For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Whisk together all marinade ingredients.  Add chicken and marinate 4-6 hours.  Whisk together the dressing ingredients and set aside.
Grill chicken over high heat until nicely browned and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side depending on their size.  Transfer to serving platter and brush with the lemon basil dressing.  Sometimes I serve these whole but often, I slice the chicken and drizzle with the dressing as seen below.
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