April 30, 2012

Asparagus and Beef in Shacha Sauce

The fragrance, the sizzle, the chop, and the heat, they are what make chow, or stir-frying, a beautiful action. Unlike stir-fries in most American Chinese restaurants—mostly vegetable and meat concoction dressed in heavy gravy—or as prepackaged frozen meals in supermarkets, I like my stir-fry to be minimalist, clean with only a few but distinct ingredients. Pair and cut two ingredients diverse in colors and textures into various shapes—big or small, long or short, plump or slender—and in a matter of minutes, you'd be singing about the joy of turning raw ingredients into aromatic bites of contrasting yet complementing textures, as in this dish, crunchy asparagus and velvety beef, held together by shacha sauce, a pungent, savory and slightly spicy sauce popular in southern China and Taiwan.

From left to right: Shacha sauce, marinated beef, asparagus, aromatics (ginger and garlic)

Before you read on, here are my tips to basic stir-fry:
  1. Size matters: cut ingredients into uniform size to ensure even cooking.
  2. Marinade: This is not optional. It's a stir-fry, which means quick cooking; a marinade not only tenderizes the meat but also brings out the flavor in little time.
  3. Heat: Start your wok/pan in medium or high heat. Make sure oil is hot before adding ingredients.
  4. Aromatics: Everything get a lift in flavor; the wok/pan, the oil and of course, the ultimate dish.
  5. Keep the rhythm: Be patient with quick cooking by adding ingredients one by one. Listen to the sizzle.  Don't crowd the wok/pan. 
  6. Finishing touches: Cover to steam. A slurry helps seal in the juices and thicken the dish to a nice body.
Here's a quick stir-frying 101 introduction by Grace Young, James Beard award-winning author of the book, Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge.

Asparagus Beef Stir-fry in Sacha Sauce
Time: 20 minutes 
Yield: 1-2 servings 
4-6 oz beef, sliced, cut against the grain (click on the link to see a guideline for cutting and choosing the right cut for beef for stir-fry)
1 cup asparagus, cut to 1” inch length diagonally
1 clove garlic, 
slices of ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon of cooking oil
1 tablespoon of shacha sauce 
Marinade for beef:
1 tablespoon water

½ teaspoon soy sauce 

½ teaspoon cooking rice wine 
a pinch of sugar and salt
½ tablespoon cornstarch
½ tablespoon oil

Slurry (optional):
½ teaspoon cornstarch 
1 teaspoon water  
  1. CUT the beef into thin slices against the grain. The meat is easier to cut half-frozen.
  2. By hand, MIX the beef with 1 tablespoon water until all water is absorbed. STIR in the remaining marinade and mix well.
  3. CUT the asparagus into 1-inch length diagonally. MINCE 1 clove of garlic and cut ginger into thin slices.
  4. HEAT 1 tablespoon oil in a pan over medium heat.
  5. BROWN the beef slices until 70% done, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan.
  6. ADD garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce to the remaining oil and stir-fry until aroma is released, about 30 seconds.
  7. STIR in asparagus and stir-fry for 1 minute.
  8. STIR in beef. Add a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.
  9. COVER to steam until beef is done and asparagus is tender, approximately 1 minute. (While waiting, you can prepare the slurry, which is optional. POUR the slurry into the pan and quickly stir to thicken. Cover again.)
  10. REMOVE from heat and let sit for 30 seconds. Serve with rice!

April 25, 2012

{Event} Pizza-tossing with author/chef Zoë François

How often do you bake with a cookbook author? It turns out as a food blogger in Minnesota, you're in a culinary bliss surrounded by a community of food-caring and - loving individuals, collectively known as MNFoodBloogers, a group led by Stephanie Meyer. I spent my Monday evening with these like-minded food lovers enjoying pizza demonstration and even tossing pizzas! We learned how quick and easy (thus, no excuse!) it is to make home-made pizza from the charming and intelligent chef Zoë François, who has impressed the world with Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day with co-author Jeff Hertzberg. In the event, Zoë once again impressed us with demonstrations from her latest book, "Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day," which we were generously given a copy. The book even covers Chinese scallion cakes!

Here are the highlights of the night (don't miss the video at the end):
Zoë has a knack for deconstructing complex ideas with lucidity. She has such a lovable style that makes you feel you can do it too...at least to me, who has never made a pizza before!

Homemade pizza = infinite toppings. Mine has anchovies (ooh, my love), sausages, roasted peppers, olives, and what's more fun, quail eggs!

Kitchen in the Market is where the fun took place! It's a commercial kitchen for caterers, producers, manufacturers, mobile food trucks, and anyone who needs licensed space for food preparation.

Now, get ready for some pizza-tossing fun!

April 22, 2012

{Links} Ideas for meal planning

It is Sunday and I'm working on my meal plan. Yesterday I had dinner with my knowledgeable food-loving ex-coworkers from Byerly's at Hoban Restaurant in Eagan. We tried out signature Korean dishes such as jeon (pancake), dolsot bibimbap, bulgogi, soondubu jjigae, and a type of Korean rice wine called makgeolli.

A day has passed and yet the taste still lingers in my mind. As a home cook, nothing can be more satisfying than remaking the dishes you crave for. Most ingredients are standard Asian pantry items, such as woodear, cellophane noodles (or sweet potato noodles), sesame seeds, scallions, or even dried anchovies and seaweed for the broth in Tofu soup. I'm more than ready for these new adventures!

Chinese Scallion Pancakes – A Photo-by-Photo Recipe
This is not the cake-y Korean version we tried, but somehow they reminded me of this thin and crispy Chinese version that is always on my to-cook list.

Soondubu Jjigae (Tofu Stew) 
Korean Glass Noodles – Jap Chae / Chap Chae
Glass noodles - what a beautiful way to describe the transparent noodles made from starch, which means they are gluten-free.
Bibimbap (Korean Rice Bowl with Vegetables and Beef) http://eatingandliving.blogspot.com/2010/01/bibimbap-korean-rice-bowl-with.html

April 20, 2012

{Market Stroll} The curious case of frog

Wrinkled and short with eyes protruded, the frog is, perhaps to most eyes, utterly ugly (or at least, that's the basis on which I judge the magnitude of the kiss from reading "The frog prince!") But to the innocent eyes of kids, frogs bring wonders.

Two months ago, my friend invited me to talk about my culture in her son's second grade geography class. Casually I posted this picture I took in a market in Hong Kong, thinking the presence of the little boy may resonate with the kids. Clearly it worked. They were much more enthusiastic about this picture than anything I had covered.

April 18, 2012

Simply delicious tofu and bean sprouts

Tofu and bean sprouts are two versatile ingredients that generally delight any vegetarian or less-meatatarian meals, a term coined by food writer Mark Bittman. After eating out the night before, I was looking for something lighter in palate yet doesn't fade in terms of flavor. Soy-glazed tofu and stir-fried bean sprouts called to mind. They are quick and easy to make too.

Bean sprouts
Cut up bean sprouts into 1" length, mince up some pork, and chop up some soaked and reconstituted shiitake mushrooms. Then, stir-fry the bean sprouts without oil in a pan (to let excess liquid evaporate) and set aside; add oil, and pour in the minced pork, shiitake mushrooms, and bean sprouts. That's as easy as it sounds!
Squeeze off moisture from Tofu (firm tofu) by heating it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. Cut them up to your desired size. Julienne some green peppers, red peppers and chop up some spring onions. Add oil into pan and pan-fry the tofu until both sides are crisp and brown. Remove from pan. Add shredded peppers and spring onions. Stir-fry until aromatic. Add back tofu and pour soy sauce from the edge. Cover and let steam. Thicken the sauce by using a mixture of cornstarch and water (about 1 tbsp).

April 17, 2012

Four weeks of meal planning

Can you be addicted to meal planning?

29 weeks into my pregnancy, I started to take on this project that I deemed unnecessary in the past. Now it has become my Sunday ritual. My primary purpose is simple. Setting aside reduced grocery bills and my heightened nutritional concern, I want to have fun and expand my repertoire before the baby's birth. After a day's work, a meal plan also increases your motivation to get ready in the kitchen, making cooking a top priority.

Yet, a meal plan should allow for flexibility. It's a tool to help you eat and cook better. Deviating from a plan shouldn't compromise the fun.

To keep this new habit going, I have my three "takes":
  1. Take inventory of your fridge - what's turning bad? Is there any leftover? 
  2. Take caution - what's your need for nutrition? My priorities are fish, veggies, and soups.
  3. Take notes - what's in season? what are the latest cookbooks/food blog entries you read (I even watch YouTube cooking videos)?any coupons or deals lately?
The fun part comes in #3 where I look for chances to improve my cooking. Yes, in just four weeks, meal planning has nurtured me to be more creative, at least, for preparing spare ribs with multiple seasoning, from black bean sauces, orange peels, to hawthorn.

Last but not least, what's the best thing about making meal plans? They become your food diary!

To help you get started, this guideline from Unclutterer is a wonderful read.

April 15, 2012

{Market Stroll} Sometimes local languages in Hong Kong mean

Traditional Chinese, English, Tagalog, and Indonesian, as seen on this quadro-lingual meal planning guide, called "Chef's daily recommendation," in a market run by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department of Hong Kong.