The Stir Fry

This past weekend my close friend and best man came up to hang out. As is usually the case when he comes around, my kitchen gets invaded, and I get bumped down to sous-chef.

Thankfully, he’s a good cook, and we work well in the kitchen together, so the takeover is not a big deal.  One of the other usual things that happens is that a stir fry is one of the meals that gets cooked.

Our typical stir fry uses a store-bought teriyaki sauce. This weekend’s was different though.

Ingredients:

About 2lbs of Beef, cut into small strips (we used mostly a stir fry mix that was already the right general size, and only needed to be cut up a little).

1 cup uncooked Jasmine rice (makes 3 cups cooked)

About 1/2lb Bell Pepper Strips (frozen)

General Tso’s Sauce and Orange Ginger Sauce (Shoprite’s brand… surprisingly good – and I’m sure at least one of them contains garlic)

Soy Sauce (Reduced Sodium)

Fresh ground black pepper

Butter flavored grilling oil (leftover by an ex-roommate)

Preparation:

(Hours before – we marinated the beef in a mixture of the sauces and black pepper. As usual, the amount of each was a bit random – very much in my nature of “a dash of this” and “a pinch of that”)

I started by getting the rice cooking, since we figured it would take the longest, then started the peppers thawing process. We goofed on the timing a bit, so the rice finished just as the first portion of the meat hit my deep walled frying pan. We also managed to goof on proportions, so much so that we needed to cook the meat and peppers in batches.

Speaking of the peppers, they were simply sauteed in the butter flavored grilling oil. They were cooked until they just lost their crunch. The meat was cooked to well-done.

Once everything had finished, we served each item in its own bowl, letting each person present to choose what they wanted in their meal.

Conclusions:

Normally, I would have used one pan for everything but the rice (and even that might eventually get put into the pan toward the end), and I would have sauteed the peppers in olive oil and some chopped garlic. The butter grill oil gave the peppers a nice richness they normally don’t have, and the meat was perfect. All that remains of the meal is a small serving of the peppers, which will find their way into another dish soon.

The “Mixed Pasta Bowl”

Giatura has listed several of her comfort foods so far, so I figured it’s about time I posted one of mine…

There are times when I frankly don’t feel like cooking. This dish is perfect for those times, since I still have yet to master the art of making only one serving dinner at a time. As a result, I end up making enough to comfortably feed a family of four – which means anywhere from three to four meals worth of food for me.

The ingredient list always has three constants – garlic (usually around two to three cloves), olive oil and some shape of pasta. The shape doesn’t matter that much – it really depends on what I want at that given moment.

The other ingredients vary depending on what I have in the house. Usually, it ends up looking something like this:

  • A meat or two (chicken, beef, occasionally shrimp)
  • At least one frozen veggie (broccoli and green beans are typically what I have around)
  • Various spices – I have a decent assortment in my spice closet, and what I use depends on whether or not I plan on using a sauce or not. If I am, I conform my spices to what will be good with the sauce. Common spices usually include black pepper, sage, red pepper flakes, and nutmeg. Occasionally, I’ll opt for no sauce, and simply use sage and seasoned salt.
  • Occasionally, some type of cheese (Parmesan, shredded mozzarella, or shredded provolone)

The actual cooking process is easy – after the garlic has been finely chopped, it cooks until just golden in olive oil. The pasta water has been going for awhile by this point (always salt it a little – partly for taste, and I’m convinced it lets the water boil faster). The meat goes in at an appropriate time, timed to finish about when the pasta is nearly done. This means occasionally I need to wait to actually start heating up the oil – but I’ve done this dish enough times to know roughly when to this.

The veggies get tossed in when the meat is mostly cooked – they don’t really need a lot of time, just enough to get to the right consistency. The one vegetable I’ve found that needs to be cooked in a particular way is carrots – boil them first in some water to make sure they’re not too crunchy.

Finally, when the pasta is done (usually to al dente or slightly more cooked – this depends on whether I’m cooking for myself or for Giatura), I drain it and toss it into the pan that everything else has been cooking in. This is when I’ll add a sauce if I’m using one, and the cheese, giving everything a few minutes to really cook together. By the end of those few minutes, the flavors have combined nicely, and the cheese is nice and melted in.

Then, it’s simply a matter of serve and enjoy! I do tend to put away my leftovers as I’m serving my portion into one of my glass bowls, and clean the last few dishes that need to be done (like the pan, pasta pot, etc).

Crisp Noodle Cake with Stir-Fried Greens and Shrimp

On Sunday garlicturino86 and I cooked a recipe in Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook, a collection of recipes designed to help people eat healthier (including a high ratio of vegetables to meat). The Crisp Noodle Cake with Stir-Fried Greens and Shrimp can be found on p. 236 and calls for an Asian green, rice/soba/wheat noodles, soy sauce, sesame oil, vegetable oil, ginger, garlic, shrimp (or tofu), scallions, and salt and pepper. According to Mr. Bittman it takes 45 minutes to prepare, but we disagree. This was our second time attempting the recipe and it still took us at least 90 minutes. His claim that the recipe makes four servings is accurate, however.

chopped scallions in a measuring cup, the cookbook, bok choy in the process of being cut

Allow extra time for chopping up the garlic, scallions, bok choy, etc.

We decided to use bok choy and soba noodles, both of which work extremely well for this recipe. The bok choy provides two very different textures: the stems come out crunchy and absorb the flavor well (especially from the ginger), while the leaves come out tender and mix extremely well with the noodles and shrimp. The soba noodles were rather sticky, but that characteristic made forming a cake a lot easier than it had been with the rice noodles we used on our first attempt. They also have a very distinctive, almost nutty taste and satisfying texture. We were extremely pleased with the results.

noodles in their original packaging

Before

fried noodle cake in a non-stick pan

After

The adventure came when we decided to make two noodle cakes, because we both love this recipe so much and don’t want to fight over left-overs. Making the cakes was relatively easy – once the bottom had browned, I put a plate on top and used that to flip it over, added more canola oil to the pan, then slid the cake back on. But we quickly found that one frying pan had no hope in hell of containing all of our bok choy! The stems alone filled the first pan. Thinking quickly, I grabbed a second pan, transferred half the contents of the first pan to it, and asked garlicturino86 to likewise divide our remaining ingredients.

two frying pans with leafy greens on the stove, one is being stirred

We needed to work at the stove simultaneously.

Once the “crisis” was averted, it was simply a manner of cooking down the greens and letting the shrimp turn a healthy shade of pink. Our doubled recipe made 8 servings, two of which were delicious that night. I’ve been enjoying my share of the leftovers as convenient, healthy meals.

bowl with stir-fried veggies, shrimp, and noodle cake

Buon Appetito!

In addition to enjoying the large serving of vegetables and wheat noodles featured in this recipe, women (or at least prepubescent girls) can reduce their risk of breast and cervical cancer by avoiding meat and milk from animals that have been treated with hormones. Please read “A Letter that All Chefs (and Anyone Who Eats) Need to Read” posted by Mark Bittman.

Rainy Day Blues

Today (Wednesday) was definitely a comfort food day. I didn’t have any pastina or chicken broth, so I made a box of rotelle and had a couple servings of it with tomato sauce. Add a little cheese and … yeah, it makes a really good comfort food. Chicken soup, you now have a worthy opponent.

I’ve been trying really hard to eat more fruits and vegetables and be more physically active, but it’s not easy and I’m having trouble objectively evaluating whether I’m accomplishing my goals at all. I need to actually track what I eat – or better yet, plan ahead! The main problem is that I keep grabbing convenient snacks such as a serving of WhoNu “nutrition-rich” cookies or a scoop (or two) of ice cream. Those seem relatively insignificant when taken individually, but they really add up!

Having apples in the house helps a lot. I love apples. I keep trying to convince myself they’re the most delicious things ever, because if they’re not THE most delicious they’re definitely near the top of the list. Maybe I should try making apples with garlic. Then, I’d almost definitely eat them more regularly. I’m not sure if I’ve had an apple yet today -probably not. I’ll have one as a midnight snack.

I did try having some vegetables, at least one whole serving and possibly two! First I heated up some olive oil on a high flame. Then I chopped up a clove of garlic and tossed it in the frying pan. The garlic turned brown almost instantly and some of the pieces turned black. Oops! Flame too high!!! I lowered it but the pan was still too hot when I tossed in some frozen green beans, so I got a nice little miniature fireworks display. Thank goodness I have good reflexes! I jumped out of range, just in time, and carefully lowered the flame some more. In went the frozen bell pepper slices, and then I was able to stir everything around for even heating and whatever garlic flavor might have been left. I added some orange ginger sauce, which provided a nice flavor. Simple. Yum. I hope the veggies maintained their nutritional value …

Lately I’ve also been really into eggs. They’re a very convenient source of protein. I have mixed feelings about the yolk, though. Nearly all the nutrients that make eggs healthy are in the yolk – but so is most of the fat (eggnutritioncenter.org). Unfortunately eggs are also quite high in cholesterol (not too bad if they’re your only/main source, but something to watch out for). Today I decided to have the white without the yolk. In the future I might have one whole egg. If I decide to have a second egg I’ll remove its yolk.

Removing an egg yolk is surprisingly easy. The video below starts off a bit slow but is a good example of the method. It’s a useful skill to develop for baking as well as being a picky eater.

 

Well, thanks for checking in. Hopefully tomorrow (Thursday) will be a bit less gross and I can work on the whole physical activity thing.

Family Reunion

Thank you to everyone who visited the blog over the weekend. I was at my cousin’s wedding with garlicturino86 and therefore couldn’t update. The wedding was so wonderful because family from three different regions of the US were able to come together in one place for the first time in over 20 years! Some cousins in their teens and early twenties met each other for the first time. Not only did I get to spend time with loved ones I don’t see regularly, but I got to see them interact with each other. I loved being surrounded by family – and getting to introduce garlicturino86 to everyone.

Some highlights of the weekend were:

  • Going to the Boston Aquarium with cousins from one region.
  • Savoring delicious lobster at the giant family dinner where everyone was reunited for the first time in over 20 years!
  • Learning that my aunt loves cooking and having a rather animated conversation about our experiences with it.
  • Breakfast cooked by one of my cousins, while everyone else relaxed, talked, and ate.
  • Seeing how happy my cousin and his bride are to be married!!!
  • Buying the perfect teapot and matching cups for garlicturino86 on our way home, seeing how happy this gift made him, and sharing some of the best tea I’ve ever had.

As my cousin’s bride point out, I’m the next person in the family to get married!

Cooking On the Fly

I love pasta, but it requires too much forethought. You have to get the water heating early, so it has time to boil and then you add the pasta and then it needs time to cook. Yuck. I just don’t have the patience for that. Today I was way too busy playing Solitaire to make pasta.

(Seriously, whoever came up with the version of Solitaire where you draw 3 cards from the deck at a time was evil and sadistic.)

For this dish, I went straight to the frying pan. I coated the pan with olive oil, chopped up two cloves of garlic, and let that heat for a little while. Then I added 2/3 cup whole grain rolled oats. They soaked up all the oil, fast. After stirring them around for a bit, I added 7 oz frozen mixed bell pepper slices, then topped it all off with a few splashes of soy sauce. Why soy sauce? I’ve been finding that these oats benefit from a little bit of salt, and I wanted to make sure they had enough moisture.

Oats and Peppers in a frying pan

Call me crazy (it would match my mood) but I wanted a source of protein, so I cracked an egg into the middle of this.

See above, with Egg

As awesome as that looks, it seemed a better idea to mix the egg in with the other ingredients. So I mixed it around, creating a rather more consistent texture. If the oats needed any additional moisture, the egg certainly provided it.

Finally, I wanted some nuts, so I decided to sprinkle a handful of pine nuts on top.

Oats, peppers, and egg mixture, topped with pine nuts

A few more minutes of stirring, and the moment of truth had come. Is this concoction edible? YES!!! Thank goodness, too, because I have to run to class. The recipe above makes 2 servings. Buon appetito!

Reduce your Risk for Cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I thought I’d contribute to raising awareness:

"October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pass it on! Please pass the pink penguin. Squish a boob save a life!"The penguin seems to be encouraging breast self exams (BSEs) – or perhaps breast friend exams 😛 … either way, it’s good to be aware of the benefits and limitations.

Self-examinations can provide early detection of changes that might be a sign of breast cancer, but other forms of screening (clinical breast examinations, mammograms) are necessary for early detection. Susan G. Komen for the Cure provides information on what to look for. Additionally, the National Breast Cancer Foundation provides tools for creating an Early Detection Plan.

That said, it is important to note that Lung Cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. IMHO, much more needs to be done to raise awareness about lung cancer (and other less-publicized forms of cancer). The “Number 1” thing you can do to reduce your risk of cancer, whether it be lung or any other form, is to avoid tobacco products and second-hand smoke. If you use tobacco products, please consider reducing or (even better!) eliminating your use of them. The most effective treatment for smoking cessation is a combination of pharmacological treatments and counseling.

The other major way you can reduce your risk of cancer is by eating a diet that contains at least 5 servings of whole fruits and vegetables every day and exercising for at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Losing weight and/or maintaining a healthy weight can also significantly reduce your risk.

Sources:
The American Cancer Society Cancer Facts & Figures 2011
The American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts & Figures 2011

(The above links are to pages from which you can then open PDFs of documents that summarize the results and implications of scientific research.)

I avoid tobacco and second-hand smoke like the plague, but I certainly don’t have good nutrition and exercise habits. These are things I intend to work on – and not just in October! Please join me in my quest for a healthier lifestyle.

October 12-13 Update

October 25 Update

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