Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stir Fried Beef and Broccoli

This was one of my favorite dishes as a child and it was this dish that got my kids to eat broccoli - they still love it today.   It's also an often ordered dish at most Chinese restaurants and I am sure you have ordered it. So, now you can make it at home!  I make this dish fairly often.  The only tricky bit is peeling the broccoli stalks, if you are inclined to add them. They are actually my favorite part of broccoli as I love their crunchy texture. But if you want to skip that, you can buy the precut broccoli florets, although I advise cutting them into smaller pieces than you get in the package  Remember that most of the pieces of food in Chinese food needs to be about the same size. Broccoli needs a quick blanching in order to finish cooking in the  pan with the beef. And the kind of beef that is best to use is a fairly inexpensive cut such as Chuck Steak or Round Steak because they both have a lot of beef flavor. Flank Steak is probably the best, but it is no longer an inexpensive cut of beef, but I think it is worth the splurge.  Expensive cuts of beef are a little too soft for stir frying and kind of a waste in a stir fry to be honest. A Chinese tip: the beef is much easier to slice thin if it is partially frozen.  Add some garlic cloves and a few ordinary Chinese condiments (Oyster Sauce, Soy Sauce or Tamari), a little chicken broth and cornstarch and you have yourself a great dish by itself or as part of a Chinese meal. I serve this with rice to soak up the wonderful sauce. For me, this is Chinese comfort food.

Stir Fried Beef and Broccoli

1 pound Beef Chuck Steak, sliced against the grain into thin slice (about 1/4") and about 1/2" high by 1 1/2 " pieces long (longer of shorter is fine)

2 Tablepoons Rice Wine (or White Wine mixed with 1/4 teaspoon sugar)

2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce or Tamari

1/2 teaspoon Cornstarch

1 head of Broccoli, florets cut off and cut into small pieces, stalk peeled with a small paring knife and then cut into 1/4" slices

4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin

3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil (I use high heat Safflower)

2/3 cup diluted chicken broth (1/2 broth and 1/2 water)

3 Tablespoons Oyster Sauce

1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce or Tamari

Black Pepper to taste (about 1/8 teaspoon)

1 teaspoon Cornstarch mixed with 1 teaspoon water to make a slurry

Put Beef slices, Rice Wine and Soy Sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch into a small bowl.  Use your hands to mix thoroughly and put aside while you get the broccoli and garlic ready. Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Toss in the broccoli and cook until just softened but still slightly crisp - 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water immediately so that it doesn't keep cooking. Put aside.  

Heat a large frying pan or wok and then add in the oil.  Wait until it starts to pull together in the pan (which means it is hot enough).  Add in the garlic cloves and stir until they just start to change from white to beige.  Add in the beef (the pan should sizzle a lot).  Spread it out so that it has a chance to brown for a minute. Turn and toss and cook until it is just barely pink.  Then add in the broccoli and stir fry for a few minutes. Add in the chicken broth and let cook for a minute (while stirring). Then add in the Oyster Sauce and Soy Sauce and stir to combine.  Add in the cornstarch and water and stir until thickened.  Put in a large serving bowl and serve with steamed white rice. 

Five Element Analysis

Beef belongs to the Earth Element so that element is totally covered.  Broccoli is part of the Wood Element since it looks like little trees and the little bit of Chicken Broth adds a bit more.  The Oyster Sauce and Soy Sauce contribute the Water Element and the Rice Wine and Black Pepper bring in the Fire Element. Only the Metal Element is missing, so be sure to serve it with steamed white rice and you will actually have a balanced meal!

Martin's Crunchy Pan Fried Celery Root

Martin made something entirely new for me that I just had to share with you - celery root cooked up crispy and delectable!  I helped him peel it, he cut it into pieces, dipped it into beaten eggs, dipped them into breadcrumbs and then pan fried them in butter.  This dish was so delicious!  I've had celery root only two ways before - mashed or grated into a salad with mustard in the French style and they are both good. I always like celery root even though it looks like a great, big, gnarly knob.  It's a bit hard to peel and I found that it worked best with a small paring knife instead of a vegetable peeler as I wanted to cut away and the little brown spots.  

Celery Root or Celeraic (the official name) or Celery Knob has a very light celery flavor and a crispy texture when raw, but it becomes quite soft when boiled and mashed. But this dish was a complete revelation. It was almost as good as French Fries and those of you who know me, know that is high praise!  The celery root gets slightly softened but is still crisp and the buttery bread crumbs have just the right crunch.  Sprinkled lightly with salt, it is a delightful taste treat! 

Crunchy Pan Fried Celery Root

1 large celery root, peeled with a sharp, small knife

2 eggs, lightly beaten in a large bowl
2 cups of seasoned bread crumbs on a plate
Tablespoons of Butter
4 Tablespoons of Vegetable Oil
Salt to taste

Cut the celery root into 1/2" slices and then into wedges about 2 inches wide.  Dip into the egg and then into the bread crumbs on both sides.  Place on a clean plate. Heat the frying pan and add the oil and the butter.  When the butter has melted and the mixture is bubbling, stir to combine and place in the breaded celery root carefully.  Cook until golden brown, then turn carefully. Brown the other side completely before removing to a serving plate.  Sprinkle with salt and serve while hot.

Five Element Analysis

Celery root comes from under the ground so you know it has to be an Earth Food. The eggs belong to the Water Element, the wheat bread crumbs are part of the Wood Element, the Butter adds some of the Metal Element as all dairy belongs there (except yogurt). Frying is a Fire cooking method, so that element does have representation, but for balance, you need a bit more.  So, serve this as a side dish to a Fiery food, like a salad with tomatoes or a Fire meat, like lamb to create an even better Five Element balance.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Buddha's Delight

Here's probably my most classic New Year's Dish - Buddha's Delight that I forgot to post at Chinese New Year. And of course, it can be made any other time of the year too and I actually do make it several times a year.  This is a vegetarian dish full of different kinds of tofu that are mixed with various crunchy vegetables like Water Chestnuts, Lotus Root, fresh Baby Corn and fresh Bamboo Shoots. It is a textural delight! It is mandatory for us to serve at Chinese New Year as it contains so many lucky foods in only one dish! It showcases the following lucky foods:  Bamboo Shoots for Wealth and Happiness; Dried Bean Curd for Happiness; 5 Spice Tofu for Happiness; Lotus Root for Continuing Wealth; Shitake Mushrooms for Growing Wealth; and Cloud Ear Fungus for Increasing Fortune. Now I know Buddha wasn't exactly into enhancing wealth, but he did want to end suffering, so this dish can therefore be thought of as appropriately named because it increases happiness. This dish has the added benefit of containing many medicinal properties - in particular, the Cloud Ear, often called Wood Ear Fungus or Mu'Er, is a powerful blood thinner and the Shitake Mushrooms are very good for the immune system as they are strongly anti-viral, reportedly to reduce cholesterol and contain a good amount of essential amino acids. The other ingredients also have many healing properties and this dish also contains the magic Chinese taste trio of garlic, ginger and onions.

The traditional version of Buddha's Delight also includes wheat gluten, which is basically a bread dough where the majority of the starch is washed out and it leaves a chewy textured protein that has a wonderful texture, but since I am gluten sensitive, I left it out. I am lucky to live near many Asian grocery stores so I can find many of the vegetables fresh, but I still use canned water chestnuts. And, if you want to make this and you can't find fresh Baby Corn or fresh Bamboo Shoots, it is perfectly acceptable to use canned versions of these too. This dish is actually quite easy to make and only requires a bit of planning as several of the ingredients need soaking ahead of time - the Shitake Mushrooms, the Cloud Ear Fungus and the Dried Bean Curd Sticks. After that, it is simply a matter of cutting all of the other ingredients into similar sized pieces, then stir frying it all and making a sauce out of Vegetarian Broth, Tamari, Chili Paste and Corn Starch. My Buddha's Delight has converted many a tofu hater because it is delicious and remember - this dish is really good for you too!

Buddha's Delight

1 package of pressed Five Spice Tofu or Pressed Tofu (4 pieces), cut into 4 triangles each

1 package small Fried Tofu squares
1/2 package dried Tofu Skin Sticks, rehydrated in a bowl with boiling water then cut into small pieces
8 Dried Shitake Mushrooms, rehydrated in a bowl with boiling water and cut in half
1 small package of Cloud Ear Fungus, rehydrated in boiling water and cut into pieces
2 cans of Water Chestnuts, drained
1 large fresh Bamboo Shoot, cut into bite sized pieces (or use 2 small cans, drained)
1 cup of fresh Baby Corn (or use 1 can, drained)
2 pieces of Lotus Root, peeled, ends removed and cut into rings and then in half again
1 large onion cut into bite sized pieces
1 inch piece of Ginger, minced fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups Vegetable Broth (or vegetarian chicken broth)
1/4 cup Tamari
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon or more Chili Garlic Paste
4 Tablespoons of Cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of water to make a slurry

Heat 2 Tablespooons of the oil in a wok and add the onion, ginger and garlic and cook until you can smell the fragrance and the onions become translucent.  Add in the Lotus Root, Bamboo Shoots, Baby corn, Water Chestnuts, Shitake Mushrooms and Cloud Ear Fungus and stir fry until hot.  Remove to a bowl and then add the additional 2 Tablespoons of Oil.  Heat and add in all the different kinds of tofu and stir fry until the Five Spice Tofu is heated through.  Add back in the vegetable mixture and put in the vegetable broth, the Tamari, the Sesame Oil and Chili Garlic Sauce.  Cook until it boils and then continue to cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the Cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened.  Serve with rice and some green vegetables. 

Five Element Analysis

Tofu belongs to the Metal Element  and the onions and garlic just enhance that element.  The Shitake Mushrooms and Cloud Ear Fungus cross over between the Water and Earth Elements. The Water Element is further enhanced by the Water Chestnuts, the Tamari and the Sesame Oil.  The Bamboo Shoots contribute the Wood Element and if you use wheat gluten, that will add even more. The Lotus Root and Baby Corn bring in even more of the Earth Element so that element is fully covered. The Chili Garlic Sauce adds just a bit of the Fire Element so serve this with another Fiery food or tea and be sure to also enhance the Wood Element a little more by serving some green vegetables to create a balanced meal.  

Russian Salmon Soup

I had some Salmon that my son caught languishing in the freezer that I needed to cook so I decided to try a recipe that I was given by a Russian friend.  However, she told me the recipe in terms of ingredients and not how much of each one so it became a bit of a guessing game.  In Russia, this soup is quite popular and is called Uha. It is served with a good sprinkling of dill and a squeeze of lemon and some hearty rye bread and butter.   Besides the salmon, it has onion or leek, carrots, celery, tomato and potato.  It is seasoned with bay leaves and lots of pepper and the broth is traditionally made with fish bones, but I didn't have any so I used a combination of clam broth and diluted chicken broth and it turned out wonderfully. Apparently, some people use wine and others use cream, but I liked this version so much that I will definitely make it again.  It was really delicious and I recommend that you put lots of dill on it as that made it even better.

Russian Salmon Soup

1 lb boneless salmon filet, cut into bite sized pieces
2 Tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped (or sliced white part of 2 leeks)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large stalk of celery, chopped
2 Roma Tomatoes, chopped 
1 large potato, peeled and cut into small pieces
6 cups fish stock (or you can use clam broth and/or diluted chicken broth instead)
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon pepper
Salt to taste

To serve:  1/2 cup chopped dill leaves
Lemon wedges

In a medium size pot, melt butter and add in the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and cook until the onion is translucent.  Add in the Tomatoes and potatoes along with the stock or broth.  Add the bay leaf and pepper and cook for about 15 - 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Add in the fish and turn off the heat and leave for 3 - 5 minutes.  Serve with lots of fresh dill and a squeeze of lemon juice.  

Five Element Analysis

Salmon belongs to the Water Element and the fish stock or clam juice add even more.  The celery adds the Wood Element and the chicken broth, if you use it, adds in even more.  The tomatoes and black pepper bring in the Fire Element.  The potatoes and carrots contribute the Earth Element and the Bay leaf, onions and garlic make sure that the Metal Element is covered too.  That makes this soup balanced in a Five Element Way!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wild Rice Pilaf

I found an amazing store yesterday that sells lots of grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruits in bulk to restaurants and I couldn't help but stock up. One of my purchases was Wild Rice, which isn't really a rice at all - it is actually a grass seed that grows in water. It makes a wonderful pilaf with a nutty flavor and a chewy texture. I'm quite fond of it and the only problem I have is that it takes about an hour to cook, so you do have to plan ahead. Otherwise, it is a very easy to cook and it is really delicious.  I cook it with onions, carrots, celery in some butter.  Then I add chicken broth and cooked it until the liquid was mostly absorbed and then served it as a hearty side dish. I served it with some lamb sausages and a salad. I think you'll be pleased if you try this pilaf.

Wild Rice Pilaf

2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 chopped yellow onion
1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled and cut into small dice
1 large stalk (or 2 smaller stalks) celery, cut into small dice
2 cups pure wild rice
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon Pepper

Melt butter in a saucepan, add the onion, carrots and celery and cook over medium heat until the vegetables just begin to brown. Add the rice and cook until you can smell the fragrance.  Add in the chicken broth, salt, pepper and the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered 1 hour.  Drain in a fine mesh sieve and put into a bowl to serve.

Five Element Analysis

Wild Rice is a seed and it’s a dark color too so it belongs to the Water Element. The chicken broth and celery add the Wood Element and the carrot and long cooking onion contribute the Earth Element.  The Fire Element is only present in the small amount of pepper and the Metal Element is not present. So, to create balance, be sure to serve it like we did with a Fire protein like lamb or a lettuce and tomato salad that also incorporates a Metallic vegetable like radishes or add some parmesan cheese on top for even more of the Metal flavor. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Albondigas with Chicken Meatballs

Albondigas is one of my favorite soups and I was craving it. I didn't have any ground beef in the freezer, but I did have chicken. Now, I've never made Albondigas with Chicken Meatballs before, but I actually like it better! This is usually a rustic soup with big chunks of vegetables, but  I like my soup ingredients to fit on a spoon, so I cut up everything a bit smaller and also cut the corn off the cob instead of serving it in big chunks that you have to fish out to eat.  This turned out to be a very light version of the Mexican Classic and it was so delicious!

Albondigas with Chicken Meatballs

For Meatballs:

1 lb ground chicken
1/3 cup long grain rice (uncooked)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 clove of garlic, minced

For Soup:

1 large white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped or sliced
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 ear of corn, shucked
1 large tomato, cut up in small pieces
1 large potato, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 zucchini, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons of Mexican Oregano
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
10 cups of Chicken Broth

To Serve: 1 bunch cilantro leaves

Mix ground chicken with rice, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon of salt and the crushed garlic. Form into small meatballs and put on a plate.

Bring broth to a boil in a large pot. Turn down to a slow simmer and add in meatballs and corn. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove the corn and cut the kernels off the cob and return to the soup. Add in the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, zucchini, potato and tomato along with the Cumin and Mexican Oregano. Bring back to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cook for an additional 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves before serving.  

Five Element Analysis

With this many ingredients, you know that there is probably going to be an intrinsic balance. Soup is a water element kind of cooking so that element is covered. Chicken and the broth add the Wood Element along with the celery and cilantro - which is also partly Metallic.  The Fire Element is represented by the Tomato and the Cayenne Pepper.  The zucchini, carrots and potatoes contribute the Earth Element and the rice, onion, garlic, the pungency of the cilantro and the spices bring in the Metal Element.  That proves that this is a very balanced soup and can be a one dish meal all by itself!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Classic Hummus

Hummus is something that most people know how to make, but I got a request from my son for the recipe and from several other people too after I had a dinner party a while back. So, here's my very simple recipe. I usually use canned Chickpeas because I always forget to soak the dried ones and then take the time to cook them. But if you have time, the Hummus is even more delicious. This is a very fast way to make a tasty appetizer as it is all done in a  or other food processor and takes about a total of 10 minutes. If you don't have a food processor, you can use a blender and failing that, you can mash up the canned chickpeas by hand and still achieve a good texture, although it will be a lot chunkier. I like to add both Cumin and Cayenne Pepper to my Hummus, but if you don't like the hint of spiciness, you can substitute Paprika instead as the garnish. I love this recipe that I have developed after many years of trial and error.  I hope you love it too.

Classic Hummus

2 15 oz cans of Chickpeas drained (but reserve all the liquid)
½ cup Tahini (Sesame Paste)
1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground Cumin
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Juice of one large lemon or more if desired
1 teaspoon or more of Salt

For Serving:
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper or Paprika
1/8 teaspoon Ground Cumin
Optional:  Chopped Fresh Parsley

Put the Chickpeas, Tahini, Olive Oil, Garlic, Cumin, Cayenne Pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt and lemon juice in a food processor or blender.  Blend until smooth. Then start adding Chickpea liquid until you achieve a smooth consistency (I tend to use all of it) that is as thick or thin as you like.  Taste and adjust for salt and lemon.  Pour into a bowl and drizzle with remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the extra Cumin and Cayenne.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley if desired. Serve with Pita Bread, Pita Chips, Carrot Sticks and Red Pepper strips.

Five Element Analysis

Chickpeas, being beans belong to the Water Element and the Tahini made of Sesame Seeds enhances this element.  The Olive Oil and Lemon contribute the Wood Element and there is even more Wood if you serve this with Pita Bread or Chips. The Garlic and Cumin bring in the Metal Element.  The Cayenne adds just a bit of the Fire Element.  Hummus is usually served as an appetizer so if you would like create balance, be sure to add a Fiery food, perhaps some cut up red peppers and also the Earth Element, which could be supplied by serving it with some carrot sticks.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Beef, Barley and Mushroom Soup

I've been feeling a bit tired and diagnosed myself as being blood deficient again (pale skin and a stronger than usual line on the end of my nose), so I decided it was time for me to eat more beef.  It's one of those foods that works extremely well for me and I wasn't up to eating a rare steak so I made a beef soup instead. Beef does double duty as it is also a very grounding food for me and to make it even more so, I added mushrooms and barley along with the usual trio of carrots, celery and onion. What I got was a really nourishing soup that felt hearty and comforting at the same time. It was really delicious and very easy.  Here's the recipe:

Beef, Barley and Mushroom Soup

1 pound Beef Round Steak, fat trimmed and cut into small pieces
1 onion, chopped
2 large carrots - trimmed, peeled and chopped
2 large stalks of celery - trimmed and chopped
15 small Cremini (or Button) Mushrooms, stem trimmed off and sliced
3 Tablespoons Butter, divided
31/2 cup Pearl Barley
8 cups of Beef Broth (I used 6 teaspoonfuls of Better than Bouillon Beef Base and Boiling Water)
1/2 teaspoon dried Thyme
1 large Bay Leaf
Salt and Pepper to taste
Optional:  Parsley for garnish

In a large soup pot, melt the butter.  Add in the onions, carrots and celery and onion and cook until the onion becomes translucent.  Put in the additional butter and add in the mushrooms. Cook until all the vegetables are lightly browned.  Pour in the beef broth and add the Pearl Barley.  Bring to a boil and put in the Round Steak, Thyme and Bay Leaf.  Return to a boil and turn down to a simmer.  Cook for one hour.  Taste and season with Salt and Pepper.  Serve in bowls and sprinkle with parsley.

Five Element Analysis

Soup, by its very nature is a Water Food so that element is covered intrinsically. But, beef belongs to the Earth Element and so do the carrots and mushrooms and barley and the long cooked onions, so this is really a very Earthy Soup. The celery adds some Wood and the Thyme, Bay Leaf and parsley contribute the Metal Element, but for balance, be sure to serve some bread alongside to add even more of the Wood Element and you might want to serve a salad to contribute the missing Fire Element or put in some Tabasco to spice it up.