Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Chicken With Carrots & Mushrooms

I don’t want to sound like I’ve gotten a big head, but I think I’ve really gotten the hang of cooking with a wok. I’ve made a series of recipes, each of which has turned out pretty well and they’ve all formed something of a pattern. Cut up meat, sprinkle with cornstarch and soy sauce, get some veggies ready, lay out your ingredients and get ready for some fast cooking. Aromatics go in first with peanut oil, then meat, which sears for a minute before getting the stir-fry treatment. After that, include the vegetables, maybe a sauce involving soy sauce or fish sauce you’re already prepared and sometimes add in some sugar and salt at the end. Oh and make sure to get your rice or noodles going when you start prepping, otherwise you’re timing’s going to be way off.

That’s pretty much the deal with the recipe for Stir-Fried Chicken With Carrots & Mushrooms that I got from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 134). The only real difficulty here was julienning the carrots, but that was just slightly more labor intensive than usual. I used a mandolin first and then cut them into smaller matchstick like pieces. In the book, author Grace Young mentions a tool called a Kinpira peeler that I might have to look into if carrots became a regular player in our wok cooking. Overall, this was another good recipe, though I would like to find a few with a bit of a different flavor profile. The meats and vegetables really make the flavors, but the base of garlic or ginger and soy sauce tends to make these things blend together in my memory. Still, those are flavors I enjoy, so it’s not really a bad thing.

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Bonus Food Pics: Kalamata Olive Oil From Scarborough Fare In New Paltz

Last weekend my wife and I decided to take our daughter and walk around the nearby town of New Paltz. It’s a great little town that’s equal parts old hippie and young hippie college student that makes a great environment for food. It’s the first place I ever had Soppressata, where I found Northern Italian Cooking by Francesco Ghedini and the home of restaurants like The Main Course, The Taco Shack and the Japanese place I can’t quite remember the name of.

As I discovered that weekend, it’s also the home of a place called Scarborough Fare (8 North Front Street, New Paltz, NY 12561; 845-255-0061) that has specialty olive oils and vinaigrettes on tap. You can go through and taste each one and walk away with whatever size bottle you want filled with your preferred flavor. One of the women who worked there also told us that you can bring in any bottle that has how many ounces it holds on the bottle, so you could theoretically go in there with a Mason jar and walk out with it filled to the lid with Jalapeno olive oil. I went simple with a smaller bottle of kalamata olive oil imported from Greece. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if my palette is quite refined enough to taste all the differences in the flavored versions, but I liked this one and even used it to pan fry some chicken which I’ll post about next week.

Cooking French Fries & Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

After watching so many food travel shows, I’ve become a bit fascinated with how different places prepare hot dogs. Back home, hot dogs were always a pretty simple affair: throw some Oscar Meyers’ on the grill, put in a bun and decide if you want ketchup, mustard or relish (I do not like relish, normally). While flipping around the All Recipes app, I came across one for Chicago-Style Hot Dogs and decided to pair them up with Oven French Fries also found on AR.com.

The fries actually took a lot more time to put together than I expected and suffered a bit for my poor time management. You’re supposed to soak the cut potatoes in cornstarch, water and soy sauce for an hour, but I only went about 45 minutes with them because I wanted to get eating. The results were pretty uneven, with some fries being very good and others a bit too crunchy. Next time, I’ll try to follow the recipe a lot closer. I almost didn’t write about them because they didn’t turn out well, but figured my goof might help you guys out. I’ll give them another shot probably sooner rather than later as it’s summer and fries go with everything.

The hot dogs themselves were mostly prep work. We have a stock pot that comes with several steamers. One goes much further down into the pan, that’s the one I used for steaming vegetables. There’s one that only goes four or five inches down from the top that I’d never used before, but it worked out perfectly for steaming the buns. See, put three or four inches of water in the pot and got that boiling. When it was ready I cooked the all-beef dogs for about five minutes and then put the smaller steamer tray in to do the dogs without turning the heat off. I also chopped up the onion, tomatoes and banana peppers. The recipe called for sport peppers, but I have no idea what those are and I already have the best banana peppers around from Toledo’s own Tony Packos, so I was good to go.

I made my first dog to the specifications of the recipe (I love that it’s written out for one dog at a time), except for the poppyseed buns which I could not find in either the bakery section or the bread aisle. I will say this, Chicagoans do not mess around with their hot dogs. These is a strong bit of food to eat. The pickles plus the relish with onion, mustard and celery salt join forces to kick your tastebuds in the face and it’s a pretty great thing, but I decided to cut a few of the ingredients out for my second dog. Overall, though, I hope this is but the first in a series of good hot dog experiences. Got any suggestions for what I should try next time?

Bonus Food Pic: Sesame Chicken Bento Box

Well, this is a bit embarassing. My wife, daughter and I had a wonderful lunch at a brand new Japanese fusion place in New Paltz, NY, but I can’t seem to find out what it’s called. I do know that it’s located at 215 Main St, New Paltz, NY 12561 because it’s in the same complex as the Moxie Cupcake we stopped at afterwards. Anyway, this is the second Bento Box I’ve ever had, but this is definitely the best of the pair. The California roll was pretty much as good as any other California roll and the rice was nice, light and sticky. The shrimp shu mai were also very tasty and I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had those.

I am much more well versed in Sesame Chicken, however and this was a very good example of the stuff. Sometimes the sauce is too thick and can wind up tasting like candy, other times the chicken isn’t well trimmed and turns out fatty and gross, but this was both a great cut of chicken and a well balanced sauce. When I figured out the name of the place, I’ll write another post, I promise!

Cooking Pea Pesto

It was unseasonably hot last week, which made menu planning relatively difficult. I didn’t want to make things that would heat up the house too much, but didn’t really succeed. The first thing I decided to make required not one, but two pans of boiling water. We wound up turning the AC on because it was so hot by the time my wife got home, but I think it was overall a good dinner.

I should tell you what I made, it was Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto, which I’ve actually made and enjoyed several times before. Like I said, the recipe revolves around two pots of water, one big for the pasta — I went with rotini instead of the linguine the recipe suggests — and one smaller one to cook the peas. I also prepared a bowl of cold water to shock the peas once they were done cooking.

While the peas boiled, I worked on the rest of the pesto ingredients. I followed the recipe, but also threw in the last few usable leaves of basil I had from an earlier meal. After shocking the peas, they went into the food processor and that component was all set. Once the pasta was done cooking, everything went into a bowl and got mixed up together.

I would love to make this with fresh peas, but my grocery store never seems to have them. As it is, the end result hinges on how good the peas are. This batch wasn’t quite as sweet as some previous ones, so I was missing a bit of that sweetness, but I really do love how simple and very good this recipe is. It works just as well cold as hot and you could also cook up some chicken and include that in the bowl if you so please.

Cooking Korean Barbecue Beef (Pul-Kogi)

The first All Recipes meal I tried making was actually Korean BBQ Beef, also apparently known as Pul-Kogi. I really like trying out new things and was spurred on by both a desire to try what I’ve seen on TV and also the luck I’ve had cooking various foods in my wok.

This one needs to marinate for a few hours, so I got to work on it earlier in the afternoon than I usually do when cooking, but that gave me more time to hang out with my daughter after finishing work around 5. First I cut up the meat, which didn’t take too long. Then it was just a matter of getting the rest of the marinade together. I cut up the pear, onion and garlic, then grated some ginger. I then tossed in the sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, dry sherry for rice wine and sesame seeds. The meat marinated for three hours.

In that time, I also got a salad together and cooked rice for the allotted 45 minutes. Once the marinade time was over, I spread everything out on a pan and broiled for between six and ten minutes. I liked what I tasted, but I think I was hoping for a bit of a richer flavor. Next time, I think I’ll go with a whole pear, I liked the spot of sweetness I tasted, but would like to have a bit more. Anyone else have suggestions for kicking it up a few notches?

Cooking Cheeseburgers & Corn

I was going to make meat loaf this week until I looked at the weather for the week and saw that it was going to be in the 70s almost every day. Not only did meat loaf not sound all that appealing anymore, but I love the idea of eating burgers and corn when the weather gets nice. It reminds me of weekends back home either at my parents’ house or the cottage we spent many s summer weekend. I think at this point it’s in my DNA.

I started experimenting with burgers last summer after my wife opened my eyes to the fact that you can put all kinds of stuff in the burgers, from different herbs and spices to chopped onion and garlic. This time around, I worked with a pound of 85% lean ground beef and included half of a cut onion I had in my refrigerator, some chopped up parsley and taragon, an egg and a few dashes each of dill wed, steak seasoning, Tastefully Simple Seasoned Salt and garlic powder. All that went into a bowl where I mixed it up by hand and then formed into four patties. I tend to wind up making very small burgers, but this time I made sure to go big. I then simply cooked them in a pair of flat cast iron skillets flipping a few times in about 10 or 12 minutes. Once they were done, I topped two with cheddar cheese and two with Muenster.

For the corn, I just shucked it and steamed it for about 15, maybe 20 minutes in the stock pot we have that has a steamer basket for just such things. I used to slather my corn cob with butter and salt, but another thing my wife turned me onto was just letting the corn flavors do their thing and that was another good call on her part.

To go with the burgers I put out ketchup, yellow mustard, brown mustard, honey mustard (we have way too many kinds of mustard), sweet pickles for my wife, pickle spears for myself and the mayo I made and posted about yesterday. I also chopped up some lettuce, tomatoes and onion to decorate the burgers and even toasted a few of the buns. Oh, we also finished things off with a cut up pineapple I picked up at the store this week.

I really liked this spread because I just kind of came up with it on my own and I thought the burgers, corn and mayo that I prepared all tasted really good on their own and together. It’s fun playing around and having success. More so, I’m just glad that they didn’t turn out terrible, I would have felt really bad about that.

Making Mayonnaise

Condiments are the kinds of things you just assume you have to buy. Or, possibly more accurately, you never even think about making. That’s what I’ve always thought of mayonnaise. Well, until I read a post written by Michael Ruhlman on the subject last week. The thing that most surprised me was how few ingredients go into the making of mayo, if you’ve got water, salt, an egg yolk, a lemon, vegetable oil, a whisk and a fair amount of arm strength, you can make your own too!

You can see Ruhlman’s much more interesting ideas on the subject by clicking the above link, but I figured I’d explain my personal experience with something I’ve never tasted: homemade mayo. I combined the salt, water, lemon juice and egg yolk in a sturdy bowl and gave them a mixing with the whisk. I then followed Ruhlman’s advice and started adding small amounts of oil from my measuring cup via a spoon.

The key to all this is to make sure your emulsion doesn’t break (turn liquid-y). I really didn’t want that to happen and have to start the process all over again — and wasn’t sure if my arm could have taken it again, to be honest — so I just went very slowly when adding the oil. It wound up going really well, but like I mentioned, my arm was pretty tired by the end of the process.

We had the mayo with some cheeseburgers and corn I made the other night — post coming tomorrow — and it was pretty tasty. After all that work, I feel like I need to figure more things to put mayonnaise on.

Cooking Almond-Crusted Cod

Last week, my wife requested I make some kind of fish for dinner. I don’t cook a lot of fish, but it sounded like a good idea, even more so when I found a recipe on All Recipes for Almost-Crusted Halibut. I intended to make the recipe as its written — I’m not comfortable improvising with fish at this point because I’m mostly unfamiliar with it — but then I saw how much halibut cost. I asked the lady at the Hannaford fish counter and she said that cod would make for a good substitute and, as she pointed out, what I paid for two big cod filets was the same as I would have for one frozen halibut steak.

As I tend to do, I did as much work ahead of time as possible, so I tossed the almonds into the Magic Bullet and then combined the results with the bread crumbs and set that aside. I then prepped the first part of the sauce which included chopping up two shallots and combining them with the wine, vinegar, bay leaf and thyme and got that working together in a saucepan. I then combined the lemon juice and chives that went into the sauce after it was done cooking.

The sauce itself seemed more complicated than it really was, it was just a matter of adding the butter correctly. I think I was actually a little light on butter, because I only used one stick, but it wound up turning out really tasty, a great mix of lemondy acid and buttery goodness once combined with the chives and lemon juice after it was done cooking. I then put the sauce in a bowl in another bowl with warm water.

With all that out of the way, it was time to cook the actual fish. I chopped it into more manageable filets and then sprinkled with salt and pepper before cooking for a few minutes on either side in butter and oil. I did this in two shifts because the cod filets were pretty large. When one batch was done cooking, I put it on a tin foil-covered oven pan.

One all the fish was done, I brushed a beaten egg on top of the fish and then put the almond/bread crumb/butter mix on top of the fish which then went into the oven on broil. I think I should have turned it to low or moved the rack down a setting because — as you can see in the picture — my almond crust actually caught on fire a little bit. That wasn’t a big problem because I was able to brush the burnt ends off.

As I said, I don’t have a lot of experience with fish, but I do like it and I liked this as well. The cod itself was tasty and fresh on its own, but adding that creamy sauce to it really made for a fun, relatively simple and rich dish that I enjoyed not only the night I made it but the next day as well.

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Buffalo Chicken Pizza

I’ve talked about how much I like Mama Theresea’s pizza before, but here we are again. The other night, the missus and I found ourselves hungry and lacking leftovers so we decided on a pizza. We didn’t do the usual back and forth trying to decide because my parents got us a gift certificate a few weeks back and we put that to good use with the above Buffalo Chicken pizza accompanied by an order of Fried Mozzarella (which was awesome, though I forgot to take a photo).

When it comes to buffalo sauce, I have a bit of a strange relationship. I actually really like the beginning of the flavor, but not the heat that tends to follow it up. I also did a wing eating contest in college where I ate 40-something of the little buggers, so that kind of put me off for a while. But, my wife loves the sauce and I was feeling a bit adventurous, so we gave it a shot. And it was great. They’ve got a solid buffalo sauce that had that trademark flavor without getting too, too hot. Kudos to them.