Friday, January 28, 2011

Beef with Red Pepper and Zucchini Stir Fry

I was down in Mexico City visiting my friends and offered to cook Chinese for two hungry teenage boys. I discovered with my own boys that stir fries are one of the best ways to get kids to eat vegetables. Besides that, the crisp texture of stir fried vegetables can convert many a young vegetable hater. Zucchini was one of those vegetables that my kids wouldn't eat when steamed, but devoured in this dish. And guess what? It was a hit once again. I also served Pan Fried Noodles with Chicken and Pea Pods that I will post another day.

Stir Fries are really easy to cook. The only hard part is getting all the ingredients prepped. So, cut up all the vegetables ahead of time and marinate the meat and mix the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and keep them all near the stove. Be sure to cut them all about the same size to make them easier to eat and much more attractive too. Then the actual cooking time will only be a few minutes in a wok or frying pan. Don't forget to cook the rice ahead of time too and rice cookers are great for that as they can keep rice warm for hours. Chinese cooking is really so much easier than people think and the ratio of small amounts of meat to a lot of vegetables makes it really healthy too!

Beef with Red Pepper and Zucchini Stir-Fry

1/2 pound beef steak - partially frozen and sliced thin into 1/2" by about 1" slices (I used Beef Chuck steak)
1 onion cut in half and sliced thin
1 red pepper cut in half, stem removed and sliced into thin strips about 1" long
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil

For Marinade:

2 Tablespoons Tamari
2 Tablespoons Rice Wine
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon Pepper

For Sauce:

1/3 cup Chicken Broth
1 Tablespoon Tamari
1/2 teaspoon Sesame Oil
1/2 teaspoon Chili Garlic Sauce (I like Lee Kum Kee brand or you can use Sriracha)
1 teaspoon Cornstarch

Place meat in marinade and mix thoroughly with your hands. Then mix ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and put aside. In a wok or frying pan, heat oil and add onions to the pan. Cook until just translucent and then add red pepper and zucchini. Stir fry, moving spatula frequently through the vegetables until the red pepper has softened. Push them aside and put in meat, leaving it to brown softly before turning to brown other side. When the meat is just barely pink, add in the sauce and cook until thickened. Serve with white rice and additional chili sauce if you like it hotter.

Five Element Analysis

The various colors in this dish show you that there is going to be an inherent balance in this dish. However, it is primarily Earthy because both the Beef and the Zucchini belong to the Earth Element. The Red Pepper and Chili Garlic Sauce brings in the Fire Element and the Onion adds the Metal Element. The Chicken Broth contributes the Metal Element and so does the white Rice. The Tamari and Sesame Oil complete the elemental cycle by representing the Water Element. This dish is balanced all by itself!

Monday, January 17, 2011

German Potato Salad

I've eaten lots of German Potato Salad here in Germany and every one of them has been different. Some are very tart with vinegar and some have a lot of bacon or ham. And, some of them are redolent with onions. I think the best have been lightly sweet and sour with a smoky flavor from the bacon and the onion contributes as a slightly pungent side note. I never made German Potato Salad before, but in my attempt to make authentic German foods, I attempted it last night and it turned out so well that I have to share it with you. 

Here in Germany, they sell bacon already cut up in little pieces called Schenk and I used Apple Cider Vinegar as it is slightly sweeter than the usual white vinegar. I also cooked red onions in the bacon fat to slightly to mellow them. If you would like to make these with less bacon fat, you can use real bacon bits and light olive oil instead, but numerous studies have pointed out how good lard is for you and during the winter, you need that fat to make your body warm. So I am all about the bacon! Plus the vinegar cuts through the fat so that you digest it easier and the water tones down the vinegar - that's a German trick I learned. German Potato Salad has a wonderful sweet and sour flavor and it is a wonderful side dish to sausages and other meat dishes. I served it with lamb cutlets. And in Germany, they often serve it as a part of a green salad with canned corn and shredded carrots. I hope you enjoy it!

German Potato Salad
6 - 8 slices of bacon cut into pieces
(or if using bacon bits or ham use 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup oil)
4 medium potatoes boiled in skins, peeled and cut into chunks
1/3 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1/3 cup broth (beef or chicken) or water
2 - 3 Tablespoons sugar or more to taste depending on sourness of vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons German mustard
extra salt and pepper

Put cut potatoes in a large bowl. In a frying pan, cook bacon until crisp and remove to a plate to crumble. Add oil if necessary to make about 1/4 cup of oil in pan (including bacon grease). Add onions and cook until just translucent. In a small bowl, stir together water, sugar and vinegar tasting to make sure it has right sweet and sour balance. Add more sugar if necessary and then stir in mustard. Stir vinegar mixture into onions and warm slightly. Pour over potatoes and add bacon, tossing lightly - making sure not to smash potatoes. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve later, but bring to room temperature for best flavor.

Five Element Analysis

Potatoes as root vegetables belong to the Earth Element as does the sugar. Bacon, being a salted meat comes from the Water Element. Vinegar adds the Wood Element and the lightly cooked onions bring in the Metal Element along with the Mustard. The only element missing is the Fire Element so serving it with a Fire meat like I did with Lamb will work and so does a green salad if you cook another meat. It is a surprisingly balanced little dish.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spinach Tart

Today I am giving you a recipe for something I didn't cook, but it was so good that I had to get the recipe from my friend Janneke in Den Haag and pass it on to you. I went to do some consultations in the Netherlands and although I love to cook almost all the time, I was having one of those nights where I was even too tired to go out to eat. So, Janneke made me one of her special dishes. It was like a quiche, but not as rich and the wonderful spinach filling and the pine nut garnish was so nourishing that my tired body felt instantly better. The frozen puff pastry dough and frozen chopped spinach made it a really fast meal too!

It was only lightly seasoned and delicious that way, although it could very easily be adapted to Indian flavors if you added spices like turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic and chilis. Or, you could add feta cheese, leeks, mint and dill and it would become a Spanakopita Pie. Or you could use lots of garlic and olive oil and red pepper with Parmesan Cheese to give it a Mediterranean taste. My imagination keeps going off in rifts thinking about making it taste more like creamed spinach with a Bechamel Sauce, Gruyere Cheese and nutmeg. Or, any number of cheeses could be added like Blue Cheese or even Soy Cheese instead of the Goat Milk and Goat Cheese that Janneke used. I even had an idea about adding mushrooms and using sunflower seeds on top. I think it would make a fabulous buffet or potluck food as it is just as good cold as it is hot. In fact, I loved it so much that I had it the next morning for breakfast! You have to try it if you like spinach....

Spinach Tart

1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 onion, finely minced
2 Tablespoons butter
3 eggs
1 cup of milk - Goat Milk, Regular Milk or unflavored Soy Milk
1 cup of grated cheese of your choice - Goat Cheddar in this case
1/2 cup or more Pine Nuts or other nut of your choice
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take puff pastry and line the inside of a 7 x 11 inch rectangular pan or a 9 x 9 inch square pan. Press seams together and trim any pastry that overhangs the side but keep it high on the sides.

In a frying pan on medium heat, melt butter and add onions. Cook until soft and translucent. Add spinach and season with salt and pepper to taste - it needs more than you think! Cook until spinach is just heated through. Put aside and let cool slightly

In a separate bowl, beat eggs and milk together. Then place spinach on top of the puff pastry, smoothing it on top. Pour over milk and egg mixture. Top with grated cheese and sprinkle with Pine Nuts. Turn over Puff Pastry above the filling and crimp slightly for a more decorative look. Bake until Puff Pastry is golden brown - about 25 - 35 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.

Five Element Analysis

Anything green belongs to the Wood Element and the Spinach in this dish brings in lots of the Wood Element as does the wheat flour in the puff pastry. The eggs and Pine Nuts add the Water Element and the milk and cheese contribute the Metal Element. Fire is missing so adding some chilis would help or serving it with something spicy or with a Fiery drink like a cup of tea or a glass of wine would work too. Earth is also missing so a lovely fruit dessert would balance out the meal.