Archive for the ‘Asian Cuisine’ Category

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Special Stir Fry (aka Shrimp, Cashew, and Chicken Stir Fry with coconut, basil… yeah, just call it “Special”)

March 12, 2007

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Remember that old slogan, “When you’re really good, they call you Cracker Jack?”

Well, I think it applies here. But I think there’s a problem with calling this dish “Cracker Jack Stir Fry.” (Just one problem?) Mainly that it might be misleading about its ingredients. Alas, there are no carmelized popcorn bits or candied peanuts hiding amid the luscious noodles, shrimp, chicken and veg.

So we don’t call delicious dishes in this house “Cracker Jack.” Instead, in a fit of uncreativity and lameness, I call them “special.” Yes, like the way they tried to jazz up your school lunch menu. (I never said I was a genius marketer.) “Special” is shorthand for what a ravenous wife (me) can say when she wants some of the favorites of her husband’s cooking: “Make me special pasta.” “Make me special tacos.” “Make me special stir fry.”

This, friends, is special stir fry.

What elevates it to “special” level? Something about the combination of herbs and sauces — the subtle play of salty soy, vinegar and fresh, leafy herbiage. Something about the sweet and luscious shrimp and the tender, delicious chicken. Something about the unexpected and delightful crunch of carmelized cashews. Something about the mounds of slender, seasoned noodles that are nesting all that goodness. No, wait, I’ve got it: It’s something about the alluring heat of the fresh red pepper flakes and their tingle on your tongue.

Well, wherever the magic resides, it is indeed “special.” Grab your fork and open your maw, Cracker Jack… The special stir fry is on.

Click here to download the recipe for Special Stir Fry.

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Backgrounder…
When I got done playing with and tweaking this dish, I turned to my wife and said, “We have to give this a name… something cute like General Tso’s Chicken. We can’t just call it ‘shrimp, cashew, and chicken stir fry with coconut, mint, cilantro, basil, and lemon thyme.’” With noodles still hanging from her fork, my wife just shrugged at me and said, “Just call it, ‘Special Stir Fry’.”

At that moment, I knew I had done good. “Special” is a moniker few dishes get. It also means that it has to go into the rotation of dishes we do on a regular basis when not blogging or experimenting. In our house, it’s the equivalent of throwing “Ultimate” or “Classic” or some other super adjective in front of the dish. So I was strutting like a 6’2’’ rooster when I heard “Special” tacked on to this dish.

When designing Special Stir Fry, I wanted that freshness and lightness that so many Southeast Asian dishes have. However, since I’m not familiar with their cuisines beyond a few scarfs here and there (I’m allergic to peanuts so I have to be careful), I tried to imagine that freshness while balancing the five flavors.

What are the five flavors? In many Asian cultures, cooks speak of balancing sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy in order to create the perfect meal. The idea is that these flavors must be in harmony for the most enjoyment — the culinary version of feng shui if you like. So in this dish, I tried to keep the five flavors as my guide posts.

And I think I did a fairly good job. The sweetness from the mirin and coconut, the heat from the chilis, the salt from the soy sauce, the brightness from the herbs, and the sour from the squeeze of lime at the finish play together to give you several distinct flavors. At the same time, the flavors from the proteins are preserved. You always taste shrimp, chicken and cashews. I’m tremendously delighted with this dish. Hopefully, you’ll appreciate Special Stir Fry as well. However, my wife’s “Cracker Jack stir fry” line started me wondering…

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Ringing in the Year of the Pig with Crab Rangoon and other old favorites.

February 18, 2007

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Happy New Year! (Any excuse for revelry is OK by us – especially if you can wish folks a happy new year twice within months.) For the Chinese, and many other Asian cultures, today is the first day of the lunar calendar. In some parts of the world, this occasion will be met with great fanfare and festivity. Personally, we feasted on Peking Duck with friends last night. And this morning, we offer some more festive dishes: A few old favorites and a new one, Crab Rangoon.

OK, we admit it, crab rangoon is not a traditional dish. It’s likely unrecognizable to any devotee to Chinese food. Like meatballs to Italian-Americans, crab rangoon is a derivative dish that probably seeks to satisfy American palettes more than others (um, cream cheese, anyone?). And we further bastardized it by putting a spicy twist on it.

So why choose an inauthentic dish on this day? Because it’s a crowd pleaser – and if you don’t have crowds to please today, you may tomorrow or perhaps next Thursday. If you are looking for other dishes to make to celebrate the day, or at least add a bit of Asian flavor to your table, we also offer you a trio of our favorite old recipes.

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Sui Mai: This is a classic dim sum dish and Wife’s favorite. They’re dumplings filled with pork and shrimp.

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Potstickers: A family favorite filled with the intense flavors of beef, ginger and soy.

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Char Sui Bao: Our take on another classic dim sum dish. Filled with sweet pork swaddled in steamed bread, it’s truly delicious.

Click here to download the recipe for Crab Rangoon.

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Potstickers: Crowd-pleasers, hunger-appeasers

January 17, 2007

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Like my husband, my parents love to cook. (Hence my, ahem, well-fed appearance.) And my parents love to cook for their parties. Nearly all of their dishes are a success, but there are, of course, a few standouts. Potstickers are one of them. Inevitably as the partygoers would wend their way around the buffet table, a bottleneck would result in front of the plate of delicious, artfully-wrapped beauties.

The result? More manual (and dirt cheap) labor on the part of my siblings and I to produce still more potstickers to satiate our ravenous guests.

My dear husband was a fixture at these parties, and could often be seen planted in front of the potstickers on the buffet table. He’d skillfully take a polite and restrained number of the delicious meat dumplings … and then swoop back in for seconds. Or thirds. Or fourths.

It was only a matter of time before the potsticker-lover (and soon to be family member) was drafted into the process of making them, too. Being an impassioned cook and eater, he quickly caught on and adapted the family recipe as his own. And now that he’s taken command of the kitchen, I’ve been released from my duties as potsticker wench (though I can still make a mean decorative ruffle in that wrapper). But one thing that hasn’t changed: The unabashed success of beef potstickers at parties. Or, frankly, their success at any event where satisfying hunger is the order of the day.

So, if you have a party — or just an empty belly — consider potstickers. They’re guaranteed to satisfy.

Click here to download the recipe for Potstickers.

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Have Christmas Stress? Need a no fuss dish? But want it to shine? Try Ramen Noodle Salad! Yes, I said Ramen Noodle Salad. Sheesh.

December 24, 2006

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I enjoy food, as you know. But it isn’t often that I eat something and then sincerely plead, “I have to have this recipe.” (Perhaps because I prefer to have others prepare food for me, and then, who needs the recipe?)

But after sampling the Ramen Noodle Salad at my in-laws’ house, I had to demand the recipe. Twice. That’s right. I got it, lost it, and then wasn’t too embarrassed to call the next week to get it again. It’s that good.

Ramen Noodle Salad is simple to prepare and absolutely delicious. I think it’s a well-kept secret, in part, because the recipe seems so unlikely to yield anything as awesomely good as it is. Cabbage, some nuts, some sugar, oil and vinegar… and Ramen noodles and their “flavor packets”?

Doesn’t really set the tummy rumbling, does it?

If that’s the case, it’s only because you haven’t had the salad. It requires nothing more than the ingredient list and a little time to marinate. No baking… no heat of any kind. And it fulfills my requirements for a salad that I will absolutely rave about: It’s incredibly delicious… and not that healthy for you, after all. (Think: Nuts, nuts, noodles and oil. Not really your heart specialist’s dream.)

But who cares? It’s so damn tasty. And by publishing the recipe on the Internet, I — and any other Ramen Noodle Salad lovers — can fulfill our Ramen Noodle Salad cravings anytime – without having to make repeated phone calls for the recipe!

Click here to download the recipe for Ramen Noodle Salad
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Look away, Daffy: Asian-Inspired Roasted Duck

November 17, 2006

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My husband and I have pretty similar taste buds, and we usually agree on what is good food. But there are exceptions, of course — and duck is one of them.

Duck is… not my favorite. Badly prepared duck is — let’s face it — gross. Well-prepared duck is pretty good (I will down my share of Peking-style duck at fine Chinese establishments), but not something I’d drive out of my way to get.

My husband, on the other hand, is duck happy. He’d probably drive to the ends of the earth if he thought there was a superior roasted duck at his destination. If we’re feeding bread crumbs to innocent Donalds and Daffys on an area pond, I’m exclaiming over their coloring, and he’s picking out the one he’d eat for dinner. He loves ’em.

Hence, when my dear hubby decided to prepare duck at home, I had mixed feelings. As he mentions in his backgrounder, my similarly duck-obsessed father had tried to make roast Peking duck at home with diastrous results. Despite using tools as diverse as a hair dryer and coat hanger and devoting hours to the project, the end result was an incredibly smelly house and a greasy, inedible (in my view) duck. So I greeted my husband’s efforts skeptically, to say the least.

And yet, he found success. I firmly believed that no home cook — no matter their skill level — could produce a duck that I might deign to eat. They’re too fatty, finicky and fishy, I thought. But my husband — to his delight, no doubt — has proved me wrong. His duck was not too fatty. The house didn’t smell. And the bird itself was succulent and flavorful.

He wins. But has he converted me to duck with his culinary coup d’etat? Not quite.

Donald, you’re still safe from me. But watch out for that maniac husband of mine. He’s got that glint in his eye again.

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Who “am I?” What was that? Oh, sui mai… mmm sui mai

November 8, 2006

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Dim sum good.

Lately I’ve been having extraordinary cravings for dim sum, and we’ve been hitting the “China Garden” in town an embarassing number of times. Luckily that place is always packed (they actually drop off tour buses full of Asian tourists there and it seats about 300 or more), so we’ve remained fairly incognito. (I’d hate to be called out by the hostess… “You again?”)

The real highlight of any dim sum venture is when that steam cart comes rollin’ on up. You gotta hit that thing… hard. Sui mai, haw gao, sharkfin, char sui bao and all that other good stuff. We put a hurt on that cart. If I’m really hungry, I’ll start pulling my grandpa’s favorite move — which is to refrain from all conversation and continously follow the steam cart with my eyes as it wends its way around the dining room — not unlike an eagle tracking its prey.

At these moments, I may fantasize: Wouldn’t it be great if that steam cart just rolled up to my mouth and dropped some dumplings off?

Well, folks, it has.

My husband has actually figured out how to make two of the best dim sum offerings — char sui bao and sui mai — right here in our own kitchen. Char sui bao is the subject of another post, however, so I’ll take this moment to wax poetic about his sui mai…. It’s perfect. It has that delicious mix of pork and shrimp, with just a hint of earthiness from the shitake mushrooms and a tiny whiff of ginger. Steamed to perfection, the dumplings have a really delicate, elegant air that belies their meaty goodness. The only thing missing is that strange red dot they put on top of the dumplings in restaurants. Contented sigh. What can I say? He’s pretty good, that husband of mine.

So, now I can eat dim sum on demand — and maybe I’ll only need to hit China Garden every other weekend.

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Ginger? In Ice Cream? Hmm…

October 25, 2006

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I scream, you scream, we all scream… for ginger ice cream.

Pause. “Ginger?” you say.

Ginger, indeed.

If you’re skeptical, folks, it’s only because you have not yet sampled the delicious ginger ice cream (with coconut caramel sauce) that my husband has concocted. I know I said that mint ice cream was my thing. Perhaps I spoke too soon. Yes, this ginger ice cream was that good. One, it has a vegetable in it — sort of. (Ginger is a plant, right?) So it’s healthy, like mint ice cream is healthy. Two, it has a delicious and unexpected kick to it — delivered by the spicy little morsels of fresh and candied ginger lurking in its white creaminess. And three, it was covered with decadent and beautiful coconut caramel sauce. That just put it over the top.

Then again, I am a fair-weather ice cream eater. Generally, I’m partial to the ice cream I’m eating at any particular moment. But, truly, ginger ice cream has won a place in my heart. Try it, and I think you’ll agree. (And just to be absolutely sure which one is my favorite, I think I’ll have to alternate eating mint and ginger ice cream. Just to be sure of the winner, you know. Ah, what I do for food.)

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