Tag Archives: garlic

Ribeye, Not Too Cooked!

That’s what my youngest brother Brandon (Sibling #8) contributed to our discussion on favorite childhood food. Ah, life in Canada must be good! When we were living in Asia the only steak we ever tasted were the bites we stole off our pregnant mom’s special dinner plate (yes, we were monsters). When it came to beef, we were more familiar with what are politely called “inexpensive cuts”. I’ve had liver every way possible, from fairly tasty—coated in cracked wheat and pan-fried, to the truly inedible—boiled. There was even a period where my parents tried, with modest success, to get us to like tongue.

Like the rest of the Stirlings Brandon eats practically anything served to him, but I have an inkling that he perceives starch and vegetables as squatters on real estate best occupied by succulent slabs of beef. Brandon is what I would call a “scrapper”. Quiet and rather small for his age but with a quick wit and an alertness that makes me think he’s simply counting the moments until his height catches up to his mind. A few more of these juicy steaks and it’s just a matter of time before I show up at my family’s front door and am greeted by a tall, gravely voiced young man with one arm swung lazily over a stacked hottie.

This simple method of cooking a steak is something I picked up from watching the meat cook at the restaurant where I worked. Although Brandon likes his steaks rare I timed this one to be about medium-rare. Simply shave off a minute in the oven if—like him—you prefer things bloody.

While writing this post I realized that the youngest Stirlings may have missed out of some key character building experiences such as trying to masticate an incorrectly cooked beef tongue. No worries. That can be easily rectified. On my next visit I will serve up some of the retro-Stirling culinary delights with my very best “back in my day” speech.

Thyme, still alive and growing on my balcony despite the recent cold weather

Ingredients:
1 Ribeye steak (about 1-1½ inches thick) *See Cook’s Note
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Neutral oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed—papery skins left on
2 sprigs of thyme
1 Tbs. butter

  • Preheat the oven to 350°
  • Dry the steak with paper towels. Season generously with salt and cracked black pepper
  • Heat a skillet over high-heat until lightly smoking. Add a good bit of oil (about 2 Tbs.) Once the oil is hot add the seasoned steak to the skillet. Sear the first side for a minute and a half.
  • Turn the steak over & sear for 1 minute. Add the crushed garlic, thyme & pat of butter to the pan (I like to place the butter directly on top of the steak).
  • Place in the oven, on the center rack, for 3 minutes.
  • Remove. Return the skillet to the stovetop over medium high heat and tilting the skillet towards you, baste the steak (spoon the butter & pan juices over the top) for 30 seconds.
  • Remove the steak from the pan & let it rest for 5 minutes.

* Cook’s Note: It’s very important that you remember to take the steaks out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before you’re ready to throw them on the stove.

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Sibling #7 Claims the Family Favorite: Beef Fried Noodles

Oliver, or sibling number seven, was my first “baby”. His wasn’t the first live birth I saw, (that distinction belongs to Elaine—sibling #6 for those keeping track at home) but one’s level of awareness is far more acute at twelve than it is at ten. Oliver wasn’t weaned yet when mom found out that she was pregnant with #8, so Oli was booted from mom’s bed & came to stay with me in my Harry Potter-esque room under the stairs. I would wake up every couple of hours to give him a bottle, sing lullabies, and rock him back to sleep in the 2sq. feet of available standing room.

By the time Oliver was a toddler the kitchen was my well-established domain. He would often patter in, stare up at me with his big brown eyes and beg for lumps of brown sugar (the closest thing we had to candy). I could never refuse. I’d sneak him into the pantry where the massive 50lb. sacks of dark brown sugar were stored & together we’d dig out a few choice lumps. Back in the kitchen I’d set him on the countertop & listen to him giggle as he sucked on one and played with the others in his chubby little hands. Once or twice I even slipped him a taste of whatever wine I was cooking with. He’d pucker his little face, smack his lips and ask for more. Don’t judge. I was fourteen.

I’d like to think that our kitchen escapades had something to do with Oli’s current love of food and comfort around the stove, but the more likely driving force is his veracious appetite. Like most male 18-year olds Oliver eats like an unbridled horse after a race.

My sisters (my usual accomplices in the kitchen) & I figured out early that fried noodles are a perfect meal to whip up when you’re short on time & surrounded by ravenous teenagers. It’s a “kitchen-sink” type dish—as in “throw in everything but”. Honestly we could pull everything out of our fridge, cut it up uniformly, boil some noodles, throw together a good sauce & 15min later the hoards would be chowing down on a delicious meal.

Occasionally, if Oli’s hungry enough, he’ll pause from figuring out his current favorite song on the piano or texting his multiple lady friends & cook up his own wicked version of fried noodles… sometimes, if you’re lucky, he’ll even share.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
8 oz. spaghetti *Cooks note I
½ lb. skirt steak
Salt
Black pepper
5 shiitake mushrooms
2 carrots
2 celery ribs
2 handfuls of Chinese greens (bok choy, tat soi, Chinese broccoli)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled & minced
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. oyster sauce
¼ tsp. sugar
1½ tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. chili garlic sauce (optional)
2 scallions, thinly sliced

  • Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Season generously with salt.
  • Slice the beef, against the grain, into thin strips. *Cooks note II. Season with ½ tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside while you prep the other ingredients
  • Slice the mushroom caps. Julienne (thin long sticks) the carrots and celery. Slice the Chinese greens lengthwise.
  • Heat a skillet and 2 tsp. of neutral oil over high heat. When the oil is lightly smoking throw in the carrots, celery & a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Remove.
  • Add the shiitake caps to the pan. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook for 1 min. Remove.
  • Add 2 tsp. neutral oil to the pan. Immediately add the minced garlic and ginger. As soon as it becomes fragrant (you don’t want any color) add the beef to the pan. Let the beef sear gently for a few seconds before adding 1 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. oyster sauce, ¼ tsp. sugar & 1tsp. sesame oil to the skillet (and the chili garlic sauce if desired). Turn the heat to high & cook for 30 seconds. Remove & set aside until the noodles are finished cooking
  • Once the water comes to a boil add the noodles. Cook until al dente. Drain.
  • Return the skillet to stove. Turn the heat to medium-high. Add whatever Chinese greens you’ve chosen plus a splash of chicken stock or water. Cook for 30 seconds-1minute, stirring frequently. Add the cooked carrots, celery, shiitakes & beef. Stir. Add the remaining 1 tsp. of soy sauce and 1 tsp. oyster sauce. Add the noodles. Stir-fry over medium-high heat. (If the noodles begin to stick to the skillet add a little chicken stock or water)
  • Cook stirring frequently for 2-3 minutes. Finish with a final drizzle of sesame oil. Divide between two plates. Top with sliced scallions (and Sriracha for those who want extra heat)

Cooks Note I: The recipe calls for spaghetti because that’s most likely the type of noodles everyone has on hand. Sometimes I’ll use an Asian egg noodles or rice noodles but most of the time I just use good ol’ spaghetti.

Cooks Note II: Look closely at the beef, with skirt steak it should be fairly apparent which way the fibers are running… lay the steak down so the fibers are running horizontally, slice vertically. You are now cutting against the grain!

Riffing On Cookbooks: David Chang’s Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes

I have an ever-expanding collection of cookbooks, chef memoirs, food and travel related novels. These hefty volumes used to anchor the bottom rungs of my living room bookshelves, but recently have begun to climb upwards—even threatening to evict my “please-be-in-awe-of-my-intelligence-and-take-me-seriously” foreign policy books.

Given my affinity for Asian cuisine, perhaps it’s not surprising that one of my favorite cookbooks is Chef David Chang’s, Momofuku. His recipe for fried chicken is reason enough to buy the book. Brined, steamed, fried and tossed in a spicy, salty, garlicky, gingery vinaigrette, it just might be the best fried chicken I’ve ever cooked or eaten. Unfortunately, making the delectable fried chicken requires a 2-day commitment (there’s the brining, steaming and drying before you ever get to the actual frying part!), thereby limiting my juicy bird feasts to a few sporadic times a year.

However, there are other recipes of note. One of which is the Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes. Onions, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies, Chinese fermented bean sauce & spicy Korean chili powder make for a complex and highly addictive dish.

As tasty as Chef Chang’s dish is, after a couple times of faithfully following the recipe I began to deviate. In fact I don’t use the recipe any more, rather I use the idea of the dish as inspiration for my own. Each time I riff on the original, simply using whatever I have on hand. Sometimes I’ll use ground pork, the next time bacon (if you use bacon sparingly it won’t overwhelm your dish, just enhance everything with its goodness). This weeks’ version consisted of a shiitake & enoki mushrooms, bok choy, onions, silken tofu, Korean rice sticks and ground pork.

And for a robust vegetarian dish simply cut out the meat completely and colorfully market it as a… Mushroom & Tofu Sichuan Ragù.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
4 Tbs. neutral oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Salt
½ lb. ground pork (or 2 strips of bacon, thinly sliced)
10 shiitake caps, sliced*
1 bunch enoki mushrooms, last inch of the ends removed
1 cup dried chilies
1 Tbs. Sichuan peppercorns
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 Tbs. chili black bean sauce
1 tsp. kochukara (Korean chili powder)**
1 Tbs. soy sauce
½ cup mushroom stock
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 cup mini rice sticks
2 cups roughly chopped Chinese greens (snow pea shoots, tatsoi, bok choy)
1 packet silken tofu, drained
2 scallion stalks, sliced
½ cup fried shallots***

  • Put a large pot of water on to boil (if this boils before you are ready to add the rice sticks just turn it off and keep it covered until it’s needed)
  • Heat 1 Tbs. of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and ½ tsp. of salt. Cook, stirring often until the onions begin to melt and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden. About 10 minutes longer.
  • While the onions are cooking place another large skillet & 1 Tbs. of oil over high heat. When the oil is lightly smoking add the shiitake, cook for 1 min. Add the enoki and cook 1 minute more or until mushrooms are soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Return the skillet to the stove. Turn the heat to high and add 1 Tbs. oil. Add the ground pork and ½ tsp. of salt and ¼ tsp. of white pepper. Brown the pork, breaking apart any clumps as you go along. Once the meat is brown, about 1-2 minutes, remove & set aside.
  • Buzz the Sichuan peppercorns in a spice or coffee grinder. Pour 1 Tbs. of oil into the skillet. While the oil is still cold add the sliced garlic, dried chilies and ground Sichuan peppercorns. Turn the heat to medium high. When the color of the chilies begins to darken and the garlic becomes fragrant pull the skillet off the heat.
  • Stir in the chili bean sauce & kochukara. Return to the heat. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring quickly. Add the mushroom stock, soy sauce and sugar. Stir.
  • Add the onions, mushrooms, ground pork & sesame oil. Stir through for a quick minute. Remove from the heat.
  • Salt the pot of boiling water generously and add the rice sticks. Cook for 2-3 min. Add the chopped greens. Cook for 30 sec – 1 min. Greens should be slightly wilted but still bright green. Drain.
  • Return the mushroom mixture to the heat. Add the drained rice sticks & Chinese greens.
  • In a separate bowl whisk the tofu until creamy then add it to the mixture on the stove. Stirring through as the ragu returns to a boil.
  • Divide the ragu between 2 bowls. Top with scallions and fried shallots.
  • Serve with steamed rice and enjoy immediately.

A shot of dinner from a couple weeks back… the bacon version

Cooks’ Notes:

*When you bring home the mushrooms remove the stems from each shiitake cap. Place them in a small pot with 2 cups of cold water and ½ tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 min. Strain and reserve.

**I found kochukara at Super H Mart in VA. It’s incredibly spicy so be careful when adding it to the dish.

***Readily available at Asian supermarkets

Forbidden Rice with Macadamia Nuts and Garlic

The second best thing about being on vacation (the first being that you’re actually on vacation) is discovering new food—unknown produce, exotic spices, exciting flavor combinations, or even just an ingenious use for a common ingredient. While in Maui this August I was rendered speechless by a beautiful silky coconut and vanilla sauce enveloping delicate prawns at the famous (and somewhat tourist-trappy) Mama’s Fish House. Balancing coconut cream and vanilla in a successful savory dish takes serious skill and restraint. Perhaps even more impressive was the breadfruit gnocchi at Merriman’s, a testament to the chef & proprietor’s dedication to local produce. The cooks no doubt employed a touch of culinary sorcery to turn the starchy tropical fruit into soft pillows for the butter-poached lobster to rest on.

Personally I find the most memorable dishes are often the simplest. Case and point: Merriman’s macadamia nut garlic rice. Simple, obvious and yet surprising—this dish begged to be taken back as a souvenir. Of course when I got home, I couldn’t help but tweak it… just a little. Step one was to bring the macadamia nuts to the forefront. I don’t know why, but at Merriman’s they cooked the nuts and rice together so that although the nuts imparted a deep flavor throughout the dish, texturally you couldn’t differentiate them from the rice. I’ve chosen to highlight the macadamias by toasting the chopped nuts lightly & tossing them with the cooked rice at the end. My second tweak is a splash of walnut oil, a little something to further accentuate the delicious nutty flavor. Lastly, a few slices of scallion finish the dish with a peppery zip.

Forbidden rice is a gorgeous heirloom Chinese grain that turns dark purple when cooked, and has a nice “al dente” texture. This dish is fragrant, exotic, striking & yet straightforward… if it were a woman I think my husband would be tempted to run away with it.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
¾ cup short grain white rice (I use sushi rice)
½ cup forbidden rice
Salt
Handful of macadamia nuts, chopped
2 small cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 tsp. walnut oil
1 scallion, thinly sliced

  • Wash the short grain rice gently in a small pot, drain and repeat until the water is clear (about 10 times). After the final rinse and drain, add ¾ cup of cold water & a pinch of salt. Cover and place on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil immediately turn the heat down to low and simmer until done, about 30 minutes.
  • For the forbidden rice simply add the rice, ¾ cup + 1 Tbs. of water and a pinch of salt to a small pot. Again, cover and place on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil turn the heat down to low and simmer until done, about 30 minutes.
  • Add the chopped macadamia nuts to a skillet (you can chop them on a cutting board or slip them into a ziplock bag and pound them gently with a meat tenderizer or similarly heavy object). If the nuts are unsalted add a pinch of salt. Lightly toast the nuts over medium high heat. When nuts are golden brown remove and set aside.
  • Pour 1 Tbs. of neutral oil into a skillet. Add the garlic. Carefully cook the garlic over medium high heat. Remove the garlic from the oil once it is golden and fragrant.
  • When both pots of rice are finished fluff the grains with a fork. Combine the forbidden & short grain white rice. Add the walnut oil, cooked garlic and toasted macadamia nuts. Toss to combine. Taste and add a pinch more salt if necessary. Top with scallion slices and serve.

Sibling #5 Craves Childhood Crack: Sweet Potato Fries with Garlic and Thai Basil

Michelle, or Shel as everyone calls her, is a stunner. She’s the only one that got our Canadian father’s fair skin and hazel eyes. Unlike some of us Shel actually attended public school in Taiwan, which meant that her superior Chinese qualified her to be the tone correctional officer in our house. It might not seem like such a big deal to use the second tone instead of the third, but when incorrect usage can change a sentence from “I caught a cold” (wo-3rd gan-3rd mao-4th) to “I fucked a cat” (wo-3rd gan-4th mao-1st) you begin to see the benefits of having someone to double-check that you are raising, dipping and dropping your voice in all the right places.

In Taiwan a favorite activity for all of us siblings after a long day of school, work and what-have-you was to head down to the local night market for some entertainment. We spent hours trying to catch tiny turtles or goldfish with a quickly disintegrating “net” of tissue paper, popping colorful water balloons with darts— and of course enjoying the tasty street food. Sweet potato fries, dusted in a secret blend of spices were ridiculously addictive and Shel’s (if not everyone’s) favorite. The “secret blend” was likely a mix of 40% spices and 60% MSG, but whatever the ingredients were it was 100% epicurean crack.

These particular night market fry-stalls were set up with a dizzying array of par-cooked items neatly arranged in front. And a large oil-filled wok sizzling behind, waiting. We would grab a little plastic basket from where it was stacked on the side and begin to peruse the options— squid, chicken, fish cakes, tofu, mushrooms and vegetables— anxiously snapping our metal serving tongs together while we made up our minds. Some nights we’d buy a mix bag, adding a little calamari (cut into strips rather than rings), chicken, or maybe green beans. But we never skipped the sweet potatoes.

Replicating this dish is a challenge in part because I can’t be 100% sure what was in the secret spice blend, but mainly because I don’t want to use MSG. However, with high quality spices (buy them as fresh as you can; I get mine from The Spice & Tea Exchange in Georgetown), sweet potatoes, garlic and Thai basil this snack is pretty spectacular—even without the controversial flavor enhancer.

Ingredients:
3 sweet potatoes (I use the Japanese or Korean variety)
Vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic
10 Thai basil leaves
1 tsp. fried shallots * see Cook’s Note
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. salt

  • Cut the sweet potatoes into ½ inch thick fries.
  • The trick to really great fries—crisp with a fluffy center—is to blanch them in 300°– 325° oil till just cooked through but not golden. If you’re using a deep pan rather than an actual fryer, stir occasionally to prevent the sugary fries from sinking to the bottom and browning.
  • Remove with a spider (or your preferred straining device) onto paper towels. Thoroughly drain and set aside until you’re ready for the final step.
  • For the seasoning, place 1 tsp. of fried shallots into a spice blender. Pulse to a fine powder. In a small bowl mix together the shallot (don’t stress getting every last bit out of the tiny blender), garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper & salt.
  • Bring the oil back up, this time to 350°– 375°. Add the par-cooked fries taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Stir gently to ensure even cooking. 30 seconds before the fries are completely ready crush the garlic cloves, leaving the skins on, and toss them into the oil. Just before removing the garlic and fries throw in the basil. (Step back, this will cause the oil to splatter violently)
  • Drain everything on paper towels. Remove the papery skins and mince the garlic. Dust generously with the spice blend, adding extra salt if needed. Toss and enjoy immediately.

Cooks Note: Fried shallots are common in Chinese cooking and are readily available at your local Asian grocery store. If you have and/or prefer to use shallot powder instead that would work too.