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Mongolian Beef Stir Fry

March 18, 2009

Mongolian Beef

My goodness! Time flies when you’re having fun and cooking like crazy. Over the past week we’ve explored a lot of new recipes (not all of them met the Test Kitchen standard)* and have lots of goodies to share, including this recipe for Mongolian Beef!

First off, we should say that over the years we’ve tried countless Asian-inspired recipes which fail to come out as good as either take out Asian or authentic Asian cuisine. Nevertheless we gave this recipe from eat at joe’s a shot, and were more than pleased with the results.

To be honest, we were not entirely sure what made this recipe uniquely “mongolian”, Michael being the Mongolian food expert, but it did at least surpass our expectations of at-home Asian food, and even surpassed dine-out Asian food if only because it was not too greasy.

Adding cornstarch to the beef is a nice touch that we hadn’t tried before, but as the recipe notes, you’ll want to let the cornstarch dredged beef sit for about 10 minutes before cooking, otherwise all your starch is going to come off as soon as the beef meets oil. Since we’re in the process of removing refined sugars from our diet, we swapped the brown sugar for agave syrup and didn’t notice any significant changes to the taste. Michael is a big fan of adding sugar to his stir-fries (pssst it’s his secret!) so he was happy that the flavor didn’t lack that extra zing! he’s so accustomed to.

Also eat at joe’s recipe lacked the volume of veggies we’ve been accustomed to eating with each meal, so we did the typical stir-fry thing and removed the beef once it was 95% ready, sauteed an Asian veggies medley in the extra beef juices, and threw the beef back in once the veggies were tender. The results, were “tai haole!” or “too good!”

Our guest test kitchener Monsieur Kyle gave it 4 stars!

Kyle 4stars!

* Okay so maybe there isn’t a Test Kitchen standard, but some of the things we tried were either too banal or not aesthetically pretty enough to blog about.

Crumbless Chocolate Chip Brownie Cupcakes

March 15, 2009

Crumbless Cupcakes

I know, I know. What a mouthful for a name, but really “crumbless” is a fancy way of saying flourless and we decided to make these brownies in cupcake liners, just for fun.  These “brownies” are gluten-free and sugar-free thanks to this amazing recipe for brownies found on Elana’s Pantry.  If you’re looking for a terrific selection of gluten-free recipes, be sure to check her out.

After almost two weeks of avoiding sugar and gluten (thereby abstaining from all baked goods, pastas, and breads) I was really dying for something sweet and you know, baked-goody.  I looked forever online to find the right recipe that didn’t involve seven different types of alterna-flours, let’s call them, (i.e. sorghum [I'll be honest, I don't even know what this is yet!!], coconut flour, tapioca flour). I needed something I could bake that night without having to go anywhere besides the Yes Organic Market that we typically go to in our neighborhood. Thank you, Elana, for making this possible!

This recipe is truly a gift because it requires so few ingredients and is incredibly easy.  My one complaint, however, is that it calls for an entire 16 oz. jar of almond butter to make 24 servings.  Not to say that Michael and I actually needed to make 24 brownies for just the two of us (that would have been too dangerous), but if we did want to make the full recipe for a party, etc., it would mean spending over $16 to make them! One 16 oz. jar of raw almond butter at Yes cost over $16.  There was certainly no way we were putting the whole thing into a batch of brownies (sorry Elana).  Striving to be frugal and stretch out that jar of almond butter for longer than a few days after we bought it, we made a fourth of the recipe, so only 6 brownies.  We should also note that we used unsalted raw almond butter, and added a tiny bit more of salt to compensate.  Because it is somewhat difficult to use only half an egg (Michael and I have debated how best to do it, always resigning ourselves eventually to it being one of nature’s most complex mysteries), we just used a full egg.  The recipe says to bake for 35-40 minutes, but we just did 20 minutes for our mini-batch and they came out perfect after the toothpick test.  We did let them sit afterward and cool for at least 10 minutes.

The pictures make these brownie cupcakes look a little boring. We didn’t come up with any fun icing or topping. Really, I just needed baked chocolate goodness and didn’t care that much about how it was packaged. After 30 minutes of waiting eagerly as our tiny apartment teased us with the smell of chocolate in every room, Michael and I tentatively tried a brownie cupcake each, hoping dearly that they wouldn’t taste like cardboard, and guess what?! Our first venture in gluten-free, sugar-free baking was a success. We had this corroborated by two others, only one of which is diabetic and might be accustomed to sugar-free cooking, so in my book that means SUCCESS.  Now for the next batch, which is probably not that far off in the future, I’m hoping to use another nut butter that is cheaper (but of course organic and raw). We’ll certainly keep you posted!

4 out of 5 stars. As mentioned above, next time we’re going to work on cutting down the price, and adding toppings.

- Rhi

Gluten Free Brownies

Whole Roast Chicken with Herbs and Lemon

March 12, 2009

Chicken!

As some of you may know, we have recently become obsessed with the idea of roasting an entire chicken (okay, not the whole thing–there’s no head or feet!).  We did this before using a combination of Alice Waters‘ recipe for roast chicken in her The Art of Simple Food cookbook and America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Both of these are such wonderful cookbooks instructing clueless cooks like us how to do all the right things, where it’s okay to make substitutions, and when one should definitely stick to the recipe.

Needless to say, we thought our first whole roast chicken was a success–moist and golden just like it should be. Unfortunately, that was pre-food blog so we don’t have detailed documentation. Note: We had company that night and were actually vain enough to take pictures of our food but not the company. Now you see why we started a food blog.

After having been successful with our two favorite cookbooks with their very plain instructions, I was a bit skeptical of a recipe for roast chicken in this month’s (well really April’s) issue of Bon Appetit. This is probably the easiest recipe I have ever seen in Bon Appetit.  Usually there are so many steps and ingredients I don’t feel like purchasing, but then BOOM, there was this recipe and we gave it a chance.

Though we adhered to the ingredients, the seasoning, and the stuffing, we strayed in other respects. We followed a tip from Alice Waters  and seasoned the chicken two days in advance, wrapped it up, and put it in the fridge.  Last time we only managed a day in advance.  Also, according to her recipe, we baked the chicken for an hour and twenty minutes at 375°, flipping the chicken every thirty minutes. This helps the heat circulate through the entire chicken, and lets both sides sit in the excess oils and fats collected at the bottom of the baking dish. To get the golden color and slightly crunchy skin, we followed America’s Test Kitchen’s advice to turn the heat up to 425° for the last twenty minutes.  The end result?  A beauty (though it may not be perfectly photogenic due to our poor lighting conditions) which tasted even juicier, herbier, and chickenish than its predecessor.

One other thing to note is that this time around we used an organic chicken.  We couldn’t find both a grass-fed and organic free-range chicken, so had to settle for just organic free-range at the frighteningly high cost of $16 plus for a 4.13 lb chicken. I don’t know where you buy your chicken, but this seemed like quite a lot to me, especially when compared to the $7 we paid last time for just a grain-fed free-range chicken of about the same size.  We’re not sure how much the organic factor contributed to the chicken being so delicious–there was also the longer salting which Alice Waters says really adds to the flavor. Still, we have been able to split this chicken up between six servings of either lunch or dinner and plan to use the bones and innards to make stock this weekend.  Is it worth it? We think so, but when times get tighter, who knows…

All we can say right now is that there is an immense satisfaction we get from roasting a whole chicken.  We are both so proud of ourselves and so excited when cutting it to see if it’s ready.  I also like thinking that this is one step towards roasting a turkey, which makes me think of someday hosting Thanksgiving, my absolute favorite holiday, for my family and friends.  More than a lot of other foods, roasting a whole bird seems to bring out the sense of family and community inherent in food. We hope you find this too the next time you take on a chicken, turkey, duck, oh my!

- Rhi

Roast Chicken!

Strangolapreti with Butter Sage Sauce and Walnuts

March 10, 2009
Strangolapreti with Butter Sage Sauce and Walnuts

Strangolapreti with Butter Sage Sauce and Walnuts

One of our first cookbooks was Basic Italian by Silverback Books, and we’ve talked for over a year about making these “priest stranglers” (strangolapreti in Italian). These Neopolitan dumplings are similar to gnocchi except that they are made from spinach and ricotta rather than potatoes, giving them a poorly formed shape. Elsewhere in Italy strangolapreti is called “malfatti” or poorly made, and sometimes “gnocchi ignudi” or naked dumplings due to the practice of serving them without a sauce.

This recipe from E-rcps is very similar to the one we used, but ours called for only one pound of spinach and we used pecarino cheese instead of parmesan.

When collecting our ingredients we got our wires crossed when getting the right amount of cheese. Rhi got 4 oz (1/4 lb) of pecorino while Michael used 8 oz (1 cup) of ricotta, causing the pecorino flavor to come through really strongly in the dumpling. Whoops!

Forming these into balls was great messy fun, the kind of thing you might want to do with your kids someday. The spinach/cheese mixture is sinfully mushy so if you’re looking for something more interesting to make then sauteing vegetables or boiling pasta, you should definitely try this.

Though these dumplings are supposed to be somewhat amorphous, we threw them into the freezer and added a little extra flour so they would retain their shape while boiling. Like regular gnocchi boil until they float to the top, and voila! ready to serve.

Despite generally not using a sauce with strangolapreti, we decided to add a little something on top to make the flavors kick (and to balance out the pecorino!), so we browned some butter and threw in some sage and roasted walnuts. Definitely a worthwhile addition in our case.

Even though we added too much cheese (“mia culpa!”) we were still pleased with the results. Next time we might try using homemade ricotta, and throwing some extra herbs and parmesan on top.

3 stars out of 5.

Indian Potatoes, Peas and Cauliflower

March 9, 2009

Indian Potatoes, Peas, and Cauliflower

Potatoes, cauliflower, Indian food, peas… these are a few of our favorite things, so naturally we were pretty excited when we saw this recipe on Epicurious. Reading through the user reviews, however, we discovered most people felt like the dish was pretty so-so. Obviously some modifications would be required.

Incredibly, the recipe only calls for sauteing the potatoes for a few minutes then adding water to steam. Neither of us like our potatoes hard in the middle so we broiled the potatoes for about 10 mins before sauteing. Ultimately the texture came out well, but next time we might just broil them so they stay crisp.

Also we added a bit more spice than called for in the recipe. We added a bit of curry (but just a bit since Rhi is not a curry fan), and cranked up the turmeric and cayenne, giving the veggies a rich color and flavor.

The results were a bit mixed. While we were happy to have a good, nutritious meal, we thought there could be improvements in the texture (see above), felt that we should have added even more spice (but different ones, maybe bay leaf?) and maybe cut down on the cayenne.

Overall 3 stars out of five. A nice first Indian food effort, but next time maybe we should just get a Tasty Bite.

Cooking Cauliflower

Kale Salad with Dates, Pinenuts, and Parmesan

March 6, 2009
Kale Salad

Kale Salad

While researching new greens to experiment with we kept running across Kale as a healthy, seasonal alternative to your regular salad fare. Why not give it a shot?

I’ve been eye-ing this recipe ever since Bon Appetit did a mini-profile on Kale two months back, and, after surreptitiously buying the leaves behind Rhi’s back, The result was wonderful and surprised us both! Took about 20 minutes to make.

Notes: we did this on the fly, so there were a number of substitutions we made. Instead of currants we used dates (if you didn’t know our new party staple is dates stuffed with parmesan and walnuts, courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen), we don’t have white balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar (shame on us) and substituted regular balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar respectively. Also we didn’t roast the pinenuts (understand it eliminates the nutrients but leaves the fat) and didn’t marinade the dates overnight. So yeah, slapdash version of the original recipe but we loved it considering how quick and cheap it was to make.

Loved trying raw kale. Has very flavorful taste on its own without dressing. Again, high in Vitamin A, C, and K. Also has a higher protein/calorie ratio than steak.

4 stars out of 5. If you try the actual recipe, let us know how it turns out.

Cauliflower Omlette with Feta

March 6, 2009
Califlower Omlette with Feta

Califlower Omlette with Feta

We got this recipe from Epicurious. It took about 30 minutes to make (lots of cauliflower choppin’) and came out well!

Some notes: the recipe calls for 5 eggs, but we used 7. A head of cauliflower is a lot of food, and to give the omlette a more traditional round shape we had to add some extra eggs. Also you might want to dial back on the salt, with the feta added on top we feel like just a pinch will suffice.

Recently we’ve become huge fans of Cauliflower. Huge in Vitamins C, K, and B6 but also filling. Consider replacing some pasta with cauliflower like in this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

We give this one 4 stars out of 5.

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