Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spicy Thai Beef and Broccoli

I recently reviewed my blog posts and realized that not only were there few meat recipes (not surprising since I personally follow a mostly "Mediterranean" style diet) but also few entrees. Here's a post to rectify the dearth of both meat and entree recipes.

I came across a recipe for Spicy Korean Beef in a quarterly compilation of Cooks Illustrated and it inspired me to create this dish. Any excuse to use my Thai Pepper plant is generally inspiration enough, but it was learning about the mix of sweet and spicy along with the saltiness of fish sauce that moved me to action.

Although I went into some detail on the importance of advance preparation when making stir frys here I also want to add that when using beef in a stir fry a cook's trick is to freeze the beef for 30 minutes before slicing it. This firms up the meat just enough so that it is easier to make thin slices that cook in record time. Also, do not skip the marinade step, it is important to bringing the full flavor to the dish. It is because of these steps that stir frys, done traditionally, are not as "quick" as people believe. Give yourself at least an hour and a half (including freezing time for beef) from beginning to table.

Spicy Thai Beef and Broccoli

1/2 lb steak, defatted, frozen for no more than 30 minutes, 1/8 inch slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cloves garlic, sliced in flat disks
3-4 scallions, white parts sliced; green parts in 3 inch pieces
1 crown broccoli, cut into even, bite size pieces
3 green thai chilies cut lengthwise on the diagonal (or other green chilies such as serrano) Deseed for less spiciness

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
minced garlic
white part of scallions
grinds of pepper

1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

Oil for cooking (peanut, safflower, grapeseed, NOT olive oil)

Mix Sauce ingredients and blend well. Heat wok over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add beef in its marinade and fry for 3-4 minutes until cooked. Remove meat to bowl and wipe out wok. Reheat wok and add 2 tablespoons cooking oil and heat until smoking. Add sliced garlic and cook 1 minute. Add broccoli and green chilies and stir fry 6-8 minutes, tossing continually. Add beef back to wok and green parts of scallions and toss another minute. Give sauce another whisk and add to wok and toss to coat another minute. Remove from heat and serve with rice or other grain.

P.S. Cooking the chilies in the sauce does not give the sauce a fiery flavor; biting into them will. This version is not particularly spicy (for some who like really hot food) so to up the heat quotient I would recommend adding two dried chilies, whole, to the meat marinade and remove when finished cooking.

P.P.S. If you ever find the opportunity to acquire a Thai Pepper plant I highly recommend it! The plant is gorgeous, easily living indoors in colder climates, and their spice seems to be tempered after a deep watering. Be sure it is already fruiting when you buy it since it only produces peppers in the second year.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Easy Crab Salad

Crab is one of those foods that I rarely eat since it is hard to find true crab (as opposed to the rubbery faux stuff) and is usually prohibitive in cost. Enter Trader Joe's, the bargain godsend of food purveyors. I probably don't want to know how they secure their little cans of crab meat, but it is affordable and since crab is so rich, a small 8oz can goes a long way.

While crab feels like a special treat, I do like to make a quick crab meat salad and savor this delicate flavor over salad greens or on a cracker. Most recently I opted for the cracker option and it was a delicious decadent treat on a very hot day!

This recipe is not traditional as far as I know; it was simply what I had in the refrigerator that I thought would got with the crab; some crunch from celery, a bit of tang from a red onion and a conventional seafood pairing of fresh dill. I considered adding capers, but fortunately I did not have them since I think their briny-ness would have overwhelmed the delicate crab taste.

Kirsten's Crab Salad

1 8 oz can crab meat, drained
1/2 small red bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1-2 sliced red onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise, according to taste
1 tablespoon yogurt
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine all and mix well.

If you do any variations, let me know!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fresh Herb Potato Salad

Although I grew up on the East Coast, both of my parents were from the Midwest and my sisters and I definitely grew up on a meat and potatoes diet. I still love potatoes in any season but I particularly love them in the summer in potato salad.

My mom is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is home to many German Americans like herself, so the potato salad I grew up with was usually hot and full of vinegar and kielbasa sausage. While I love the vinegar I am less inclined towards a warm potato salad in the middle of a hot California Summer. So I whipped up a lighter version with lots of fresh herbs and just a little crunch from red onions and celery.

As you'll see from the picture, I used a mix of potatoes, blue, red and yellow, but it doesn't taste any different if you just use one type, it's just prettier with the mix.

Herbed Potato Salad

Red, yellow and blue potatoes, 1-2 of each depending on the size
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup fresh minced herbs (parsley, thyme, basil, tarragon, chives, dill)
1 stalk celery, minced
2 slices red onion, minced
Pepper to taste

Cook potatoes whole in boiling water until tender. Drain and as soon as you're able to touch them, cut into bite size pieces and sprinkle with salt and vinegar and toss well. This is a crucial step to allow the vinegar to soak into the still warm potatoes. Allow to sit while you prepare herbs, celery and onion. Add to potatoes, add olive oil and salt and pepper as needed. Add additional vinegar to taste. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Note: Using other fresh herbs like mint or cilantro would also work but I would avoid sage or rosemary, of if you want to use them, only use sage and rosemary since their flavors are a little heavier and earthier than the light ones of thyme, basil and tarragon.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

One Pot Breakfast

One of my favorite breakfasts is available at Gillie's in Blacksburg, VA and they call it "Chappie's Choice." It was my Sunday ritual and such a treat since it is pretty hearty and hefty: pan fried potatoes, covered with scrambled eggs and topped with melted cheese. So Good!

With such simple food, it's easy to duplicate at home and I have many times. When I first had Chappie's Choice, I was vegetarian, but I have since added bacon which makes for a great flavor with pan fried potatoes. I even go a little wild and have it for lunch or dinner when I'm in the mood for "breakfast" food. Sometimes, this is just the comfort food to soothe the soul. The following recipe is for two people (or one really hungry one!)

One Pot Breakfast

2 eggs, whipped
2 large potatoes, diced small
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices bacon, diced

Cook bacon until almost crisp; remove from pan and leave bacon grease. Add potatoes and toss to coat and cook on medium heat for 8-10 minutes until they begin to brown. Add onions and bacon back to pan and finish cooking bacon, potatoes and onions, which may remain somewhat raw. Remove to serving bowl. If necessary, add teaspoon olive oil or butter to hot pan and scramble eggs to desired doneness. Spoon over potatoes and top with cheese if desired. Salt and pepper and eat!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

White Pizza with Corn, Cilantro and Lime

I am seldom impressed with my own food. It's not that I'm overly critical but I think the cook rarely enjoys her food as much as others. My personal theory is that you smell the food as you're cooking it and half of tasting food is in smelling it. So your olfactory sense is already "tasting" the meal before you actually put it in your mouth. So it's less than spectacular when you finally do.

But this was different.

I was craving pizza so I pulled some pre-made dough out of the freezer and seeing as I had an ear of fresh corn decided to replicate my favorite pizza from Berkley's Cheeseboard. It sounds ridiculous - corn and lime juice on a pizza? But it is unbelievably amazing food. I don't know if it can rightly call itself pizza (I'm sure true Neapolitans shudder at the idea) but it is phenomenal. AND mostly importantly, I was able to recreate it in my kitchen. How could I not share the wealth!

A note on making pizza easy for yourself. You CAN make your own dough and then freeze it in baggies which is something my former roommate and I did often; it makes life so easy and satisfying to defrost dough in about an hour and have great pizza. I also buy pre-made dough (today's recipe is grace a Trader Joe's). When you buy pre-made dough, I suggest dividing it into 2-4 portions and freezing in baggies so that they defrost quickly when you're craving pizza. Another helpful hint is not to overload your pizza; three toppings maximum and spread them out. If there are too many toppings, the crust will be soggy in the middle and that's so unappetizing!

While I am a relative newcomer to white pizzas other than clam pizza, I am happily converted. The thin crust allows for the flavor of the cheeses and toppings to really sing and these savory combinations are a revelation.

White Pizza with Corn Cilantro and Lime

pizza dough (about 8 oz)
1/2 cup mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup (4 oz) goat cheese, crumbled
2-3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1 cob corn or 1/2 cup frozen
2 wedges lime

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven to preheat. Cook corn cob in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and cool. Dust baking sheet with flour or cornmeal and stretching dough as thinly as possible, place on baking sheet. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese thinly over crust. Sprinkle goat cheese over crust. Sprinkle scallions, cilantro and corn lastly (cut it off the cob if using fresh). Bake for 10-15 minutes until crust is lightly browned and bottom of crust is browned. Remove and slice. Squeeze lime juice over all and serve.

Do not fear the lime juice. It is vital to bringing out the goat cheese and corn flavor. Trust in the food gods!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chilled Avocado, Citrus and Mint Soups

"Variations on a Theme" is a famous piece by Bach (trust me, you'd recognize it) and inspired by that I made not one but two chilled avocado soups, drawing on the abundance of citrus here in the Ojai Valley.

Initially, I was going to only make one soup, avocado, orange and mint. The recipes that I saw called for yogurt and after completing that soup, it was a bit too creamy for me. So I decided to experiment and make another without the yogurt, hence soup number two, avocado, grapefruit and mint.

They're equally delicious and I decided to share both!

Chilled Avocado, Orange and Mint Soup

Juice of 3 oranges (or 1 cup juice)
Pulp of 2 avocados
Cup plain yogurt (or greek style to make it really creamy)
1/3 cup of water
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons mint, mashed with a spoon to release flavor
Pinch of salt

Blend all ingredients in a blender. Adjust for taste. Chill at least 1 hour and serve with extra slivered mint and dash of tabasco if desired.

Chilled Avocado, Grapefruit and Mint Soup

Juice of 2 grapefruits (very fresh or their bitterness will ruin the soup)
Pulp of 2 avocados
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons mint, mashed with spoon to release flavor

Blend all ingredients in a blender. Adjust for taste. Chill at least 1 hour and serve with extra slivered mint and dash of tabasco if desired.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bruschetta, in Honor of Julie and Julia

If you haven't seen Julie and Julia yet, shut down your computer and go now! Not that it's the greatest movie but it exemplifies all that is wonderful about the current food-foodie movement and craze: Julia Child's exuberance (Meryl Streep does it again) and how it saves Julie Powell from depression and lack of purpose. Sharing a meal is an overused metaphor for building relationships, but it is used so often precisely because there are few other group activities that bond people using pleasurable means.

In honor of the meal that leads to Julie's decision to begin the blog of cooking the 524 recipes from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in 365 days, I made Bruschetta. A simple dish of pan fried bread (at least a day old) topped with fresh chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil, this is clearly a meal developed by peasants using what they had in abundance, but oh so satisfying.

What really makes this meal especially good is frying the bread in olive oil; it just wouldn't be the same toasted because it would lack that crispy crust that holds the juicy tomato topping, so don't skimp because you're dieting! The oil is worth it!

Tomato Basil Bruschetta
(the sch is pronounced like "sk")

1-2 large tomatoes, cored and diced
2-3 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch salt
couple grinds of pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
3-4 slices bread, french style works best (depending on size of slices)
olive oil for sauteing

Combine tomato, onions, basil, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil in bowl and mix well. Set aside. Heat oil over medium heat, place slices of bread in pan and allow to sizzle 10 seconds, flip slice to sizzle on other size, and brown on each side until golden. (The bread will absorb the oil, so be forewarned it will appear that you are using quite a bit. Be strong, keep at it and you will be rewarded with deliciously crispy bruschetta!) Repeat until all bread is fried. Serve with topping and enjoy!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chicken Tacos, Fajita Style

When I was small, tacos were seasoned ground beef in a hard corn shell. I loved them and they were definitely a treat since my mom didn't make them that often. Over the years, as Taco Bell has become a mainstay of cheap Mexican food, I fell out of love with tacos, they just lost that pizazz. Until I had a fish taco. What a revelation! Crispy fish, crunchy cabbage and a creamy secret sauce is such an amazing combination. It has opened my eyes to new possibilities!

Since I was without fish the other night, I searched the frig for a good substitute and thought up this chicken variation. I marinated the chicken in lime juice and some fresh hot green chilies for about 15 minutes, sauteed them quickly in a hot pan and Voila, I had Chicken Tacos, fajita style!

Chicken Tacos Fajita Style

2 chicken thighs (per person) cut into strips
2 limes (or lemons) juiced
2-3 green chilies, cut in half (deseeded for less heat)
pinch of salt
chopped red onion
chopped cilantro
chopped tomato
slices of avocado (or mash the avocado with some garlic, cilantro, lime or lemon juice, and salt for a quick guacamole)
flour or corn tortillas
Lemon or lime slices

Drain the chicken and saute it in a tablespoon of olive oil on high heat until it begins to brown. Transfer to tortillas and add onion, tomato, cilantro and avocado (or guacamole) to taste. Squeeze lemon or lime over all and eat immediately.

P.S. I strongly recommend making or using either guacamole or a prepared salsa because this can seem a little dry. I left the avocado unmashed for the picture!


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tropical Tequila Fruit Salad

Since I really detest proselytizing of any sort, I keep a pretty low profile on my locavore leanings (locavore = someone who eats locally grown/raised food as much as possible). But I have quietly been a locavore for about two years, here in California and in Minnesota. However, when I make an exception, I go all out. Case in point is this utterly refreshing and delicious tropical salad my mom and I concocted a few weeks ago.

While California may be a growers paradise, you still can't grow pineapple here and kiwi is pretty rare as well. Otherwise, the rest of the ingredients are common summer ingredients. But mixed together they created an elixir of flavors that is pretty superb. I added a dash of tequila since it's my favorite liquor and my mom happened to have one of those tiny bottles on hand (which just called out to be used, it was too cute for words!) You can always leave out the liquor, but it's aroma is unique and adds just a dash of decadence!

Tropical Tequila Fruit Salad

1/2 lb cubed pineapple (or 1 16 oz can, drained, save juice for another recipe)
3 kiwi, peeled, sliced in rounds and halved
2 green onions, sliced thin
2 avocados, diced
1 orange
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (fresh mint would be a good substitute as well)
1 teaspoon tequila (optional)

Combine pineapple, kiwi, green onions and avocado in bowl. Peel the orange over the bowl of fruit using a parring knife, cutting off ends first, and then cut down the sides to expose the sections of the fruit. Cut out the sections, slicing along the membranes to release the fruit. Allow the juice to drip into the salad. Add the tequila if using and the cilantro and mix well. Serve immediately or chilled.

P.S. I hope to find my camera in storage soon so that the pictures will be of the food described in the recipes!


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Heirloom Tomatoes in Salsa Fresca

My mother recently told me that she couldn't taste the difference between heirloom tomatoes and regular ones. "Them is fighting words" is what my inner gardener/foodie wanted to rant. Instead, I decided to use an experiential approach and bought a few different ones in order to have a taste test for her. Unfortunately, the day got away from us and she went home without the taste test so I was left with some quickly ripening delicious tomatoes. I made my favorite dish, Salsa Fresca, also known as Pico de Gallo.

For many years this was my de facto "fast food" when I didn't feel like cooking and wanted something fresh, delicious and comforting. I would chop up tomatoes, garlic, onions and add some lemon or lime juice and eat the bowlful with corn tortillas. Not exactly a balance meal, but certainly yummy! Here's what I made the other night which was especially delicious with the heirlooms!

Salsa Fresca AKA Pico de Gallo

2-4 tomatoes, diced
(I used a purple Cherokee, the greenish, purplish tomatoes that are pretty large and "ugly" looking according to some. I also had a sweet yellow one and a couple of roma tomatoes to round out the flavors.)
1 tsp fresh jalapeno, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
juice 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Combine and eat with chips or quesadillas.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ceviche - Simple, Fresh, Delicious

I love to demystify food, especially food that appears to be exotic and or expensive in restaurants and thus out of reach for kitchen cooks. Ceviche fits that bill to a T.

Ceviche is another one of those foods that is really an ingenious creation by kitchen cooks to use what they had in abundance: fish, seafood, and citrus fruits. Originating in South America (Peruvians claim to be the first) ceviche is created by simply marinating seafood and chunks of fish in lemon and or lime juice with flavorings and allowing the acid of the juice to "cook" the seafood and fish. And it literally does cook it; the consistency of the flesh chemically transforms as it would if exposed to heat.

Once I understood how simple it was to make my own ceviche, I became somewhat addicted to experimenting with my own flavors, which is the beauty of ceviche; there is no "correct" set of ingredients. It is the perfect food for mixing and matching according to your tastes.

As a devote of shrimp, I always include that crustacean in my version, but many recipes only use fish (generally firm, white fish do best.) I also like some heat (fresh or dried hot peppers) and cilantro which is a mainstay of my summer cooking. Feel free to leave out the cilantro if you are adverse to it. Many people add additional vegetables or fruits to the finished product such as cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, mango, avocado (as in the picture above which I've poached from someone's website). I prefer the mouth puckering simplicity of citrus, fish, garlic and cilantro in my own concoction.

Kirsten's Shrimp and Scallop Cervice
(as an entree)

2-3 shrimp per person, deveined and shelled
2-3 small (bay scallops) per person
lemon or lime juice to fully cover seafood (generally 8 juiced fruits will produce this much liquid, unless you only use limes, which render less juice; you may need more)
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 fresh green chili, sliced in half lengthwise (deseeding is optional, making it hotter if you do not deseed) OR dried red chili, broken in two
handful of cilantro, chopped

Place all ingredients in a glass or ceramic container (I use a mason jar) and make sure liquid covers seafood; if necessary, use a weight to ensure seafood is submerged. Cover and refrigerate and allow to marinate at least 12 hours and longer if necessary. The shrimp will turn pink as if cooked and the scallops will lose their opaqueness. If you are using large scallops, cut into halves or quarters or they will not "cook" through and will leave a very nasty feeling in your mouth when you bite into them!

Let me know what other options you experiment with.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Out with the Old, In with the New

I've been thinking of new names for the blog since I no longer live in the East Bay and realized I already had the perfect title, the one I came up with for the cookbook I made for friends and family: From Kirsten's Kitchen to Yours. Simple, straightforward and self-explanatory. It's also what I plan to call the home food business that I'm going to try to have a go with, so this will essentially be my "test kitchen" journal.

Thanks for reading and I hope you'll give feedback of any sort once I start posting recipes and pictures of the food I hope to sell.


P.S. For those of you who read the blogs, I've rearranged them so that those with the most recent posts will show at the top of the list so that when I use the listing, I know who has something new posted!