Thai Beef and Mint Stir-Fry

Thai Beef 1a

Although I no longer cook professionally, I will always be extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to do so.  Not many people get the chance to leave a perfectly well-paying job to pursue a lifelong dream.  I was lucky that I had a very supportive husband as well as a military retirement pension to fall back on when things got tight, and boy did they at times.  The pay isn’t great, especially in the beginning, and the work is sometimes grueling, but for those with the passion, it can be a very rewarding career.  Some of the colleagues with whom I went to culinary school have become very successful in the profession, and I am so proud of them.

Thai Beef 1

I made some wonderful friends in culinary school as well as learned to be a much better cook. I credit school for setting me on the right track to eating real food rather than boxed and bagged items off the grocery store shelves with ingredients I can’t pronounce. 

The philosophy at L’Academie de Cuisine was simple – learn to prepare classic French cuisine and you can cook anything; however, the staff at the school neglected to tell me one thing, which turned out to be the biggest benefit of all – we didn’t just learn to cook French food.  Yes, we started with soup a l’oignon, making it with water at the beginning so they wouldn’t waste perfectly good stock on a bunch of non-cooks.  And the week we spent on puff pastry dragged on and on – wellingtons, cheese straws, soup with a pastry crust…  But because our pastry instructor was from Thailand and her husband was Indian, we also learned how to make all sorts of Asian and Indian dishes.  Curries, salads, appetizers, you name it – they were all delicious and a nice break from the cassoulet and beef bourguignon we typically made for lunch each day.

Thai Beef 3

My first exposure to Thai food was actually in Budapest of all places, where a Thai colleague with whom I was traveling introduced me to a variety of his native dishes.  We had just spent a week in Kiev and were desperate for some food with some flavor.  The dishes I later learned to prepare in school hooked me on Thai food for life, although I rarely make it at home.  This dish reminded me of culinary school, but unlike many of the dishes we prepared there, it is very easy to prepare and makes a nice lunch or light dinner.

Thai Beef 4

Thai Beef and Mint Stir-Fry

4 Servings

This dish was originally described as a salad to be eaten warm or cold over chopped Napa cabbage.  I turned it into “Thai tacos” by serving it warm wrapped in the Napa cabbage leaves.  You could also serve it over hot bean thread noodles or rice.  If you can’t find Thai chiles you can use 1 or two serranos.

1 pound flank or skirt steak

3 stalks celery

2 tablespoons coconut oil

Salt

Pepper

2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped

2 Thai chiles, finely chopped

5 plum tomatoes, cored and cut into thin wedges

2 scallions, but into 2-inch lengths

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise

Juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 cups mint leaves

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

To facilitate slicing the beef very thin, you can place it in the freezer for up to 40 minutes.  Cut the steak against the grain into very thin slices, then cross wise into 2-inch lengths. Slice the celery by placing it on its side and slicing at a 45-degree angle to achieve V-shaped pieces.  Separate the cabbage leaves and set aside for serving.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat and add the coconut oil.  Heat the oil until it melts then swirl to coat the pan.  Add the beef, season with salt and pepper, and sear, stirring until it browns.  Add the ginger, garlic, and chiles and stir-fry for 1 minute.  Add the celery, tomatoes, scallions and red onions and stir-fry until the celery begins to soften, 3-5 minutes.  Stir in the lime juice, fish sauce and the sesame oil.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cilantro and the mint.

To serve place a spoonful of the beef mixture onto a cabbage leaf, fold over and eat out of hand.

Adapted from Café Pasqual’s Cookbook – Spirited Recipes from Santa Fe by Katharine Kagel

 

 

Sweet Potato Hash with Chorizo

Hash 1

Today’s post is about what my husband affectionately refers to as the “5-year rotation;” the way I plan meals.  I don’t think I have kept my cookbook addiction a secret.  Actually, it’s so bad that a better name for this blog might be “So Many Cookbooks, So Little Time.”  What can I say?  Cookbooks are one of my principal inspirations. Now that I have a food blog and am attempting food photography, the inspiration that a well-photographed cookbook provides has become even more important.

Hash 2

You can imagine that with so many recipes to try, I don’t do many repeats.  I crave variety, in every aspect of my life, and the food I eat is no exception. I do repeat recipes, but not that often, and I almost always vary it slightly each time; however, I’ve definitely never been one of those Meatless Monday or Friday fish sticks types. Although, as a young girl, when my mother was doing her meal planning and asked me what I wanted to eat that week, the answer was always Bavarian Supper Sandwich – a layered casserole with a poppy seed-flavored biscuit base, sausage, and a baked béchamel on top.  I absolutely loved that stuff.

So, it’s been something of a surprise that just in the past 2 months I have made a couple of recipes over again, almost immediately – the goat cheese salad recipe that I made for Christmas Eve dinner, and now this hash. It is very filling and makes a very satisfying breakfast, especially when topped with a fried egg.  It also works well for those following a Paleo or Primal eating plan.

Hash 3 

Sweet Potato Hash with Chorizo

4-6 Servings

This recipe will serve 4 to 6, depending on the size of the sweet potatoes you use and how much potato you like on your plate. 

2 large sweet potatoes (approximately 2 pounds total), cut into 1-inch chunks

2 tablespoons salt (for boiling water)

2 links (approximately 6 ounces total) fresh Mexican chorizo

5 tablespoons coconut oil, divided

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

salt

pepper

4-6 fried eggs for serving

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water by about 1 inch, and add the salt.  Bring the water to a boil and add the sausage links.  Cook until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a knife, about 10 minutes.  Drain the potatoes and sausage links.

Slice the chorizo into half-inch coins and brown in a large skillet in 3 tablespoons coconut oil. Remove from the pan, but leave the oil and chorizo bits in the pan.

Sauté the onion and garlic in the hot fat until the onion begins to brown, 5 minutes.  Add the sage and stir until the scent is released, about a minute.  Add more coconut oil to the pan if necessary.  The pan should be thoroughly coated with the oil and have enough to brown the potatoes.    Add the potato chunks and cook until they are brown on the bottom, about 3-5 minutes. Return the chorizo to the pan with and cook until everything is warm and browned.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the potatoes between 4-6 plates and top each serving with a fried egg.

Adapted from Gluten-Free Girl Everyday by Shauna James Ahern

 

 

 

 

Chinese Five-Spice Chicken

Five Spice Chicken 1

I don’t know about you, but about this time of the year I am looking for ways to get dinner on the table — fast.  All the decorating, package wrapping, and card sending don’t leave much time for leisurely experiments in the kitchen. 

Confession — I absolutely love the idea of Martha Stewart.  Many years ago I attended a wedding shower where one of the gifts for the bride-to-be was her original Entertaining book.  All it took was one look through that book, and I was hooked.  I purchased Entertaining as soon as I could afford it and proceeded to cook my way through it, hosting as many dinner and cocktail parties as I could manage.  That book was eventually followed by the Martha Stewart’s Christmas book.  Well, that one sent my fantasies of a perfectly decorated house, gifts made at home, and a constant stream of adoring visitors to my country estate right through the roof.  Reality check — There was no country estate, I was active duty in the Army, and had a work schedule that absolutely did not allow for meticulously creating Christmas puddings, pomanders, and conserves, as much as I would have liked to do so.

Five Spice Chicken 2

So, as much as I would love to be making something much more elaborate, a quick seared chicken dish is much more my speed when my “to do” list is the size of the New York City phone book.  I’ll save the elaborate Martha projects for the holiday itself.  Meanwhile I’m cooking from Weeknight Paleo, 9 Weeks of Quick and Easy Gluten-Free Meals, by Amber Beam.  I found a chicken dish that looked like it would have some flavor, but more important it was a breeze to prepare.  I made the original idea my own by eliminating a matchstick salad and using the salad dressing ingredients to create a sauce to go over the chicken and the rice I served it with.  It’s full of flavor – but maybe a little too much for some.  This dish is spicy.  If you want to tame the heat you can cut back or eliminate the chili garlic sauce, the cayenne or both.  I collect condiments like some women collect shoes, so I had an Asian Chili Garlic Sauce in the pantry.  A variety of choices is available at any supermarket with an Asian section.    

Five Spice Chicken 3

Chinese Five-Spice Chicken

4-6 Servings

This dish is extremely adaptable.  If gluten is not a problem for you, regular or sodium soy sauce and hoisin sauce would work fine.  Gluten-free soy sauce, also called tamari, and gluten-free hoisin sauce are available at Whole Foods.  If dairy is a concern, use all coconut oil in place of the butter. This dish can be made with chicken breast instead of thighs; you will need to cut back the cooking time to 4-5 minutes total.  

2 tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon finely peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1/4 cup gluten-free soy sauce

2 tablespoons Asian chili garlic sauce

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons gluten-free Hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Place the Chinese five-spice powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a Ziploc bag, shake a little to blend spices then add the chicken thighs, making sure the thighs are unrolled if they were rolled in the package.  Shake well until chicken is completely coated with the spice mixture.

Melt coconut oil and butter in a large sauté pan. Remove the chicken from the Ziploc bag and brown in the pan until it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees, about 3 minutes per side on medium high.  Remove the chicken from the pan, and set aside on a plate. 

Turn the heat down to medium, add the ginger and the garlic to the pan, and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute.  Add the soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, vinegar, Hoisin sauce, honey, and sesame oil to the pan and reduce until sauce is thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan and turn over a couple of times to coat the chicken with the glaze.  Simmer about 5 minutes to rewarm the chicken.  Serve sprinkled with chopped cilantro.    

Adapted from Weeknight Paleo, 9 Weeks of Quick and Easy Gluten-Free Meals, by Amber Beam   

 

Dates with Sausage and Bacon

Dates 1

A couple of years ago in a quest to find an eating plan to negate the rich cuisine and fabulous beer we were enjoying a little too much in Germany, I stumbled upon something called the Primal Blueprint.  It’s a variation of sorts on the Paleo Diet; however, unlike strict Paleo, it allows some rice and a little high fat dairy.  Both plans stress “real food” and restrict consumption of grains, legumes, and refined sugars.  As with most restrictive eating programs, I wasn’t very successful, but my husband was and continues the program to this day.

I believe the Primal Blueprint is a good program for a lot of people, my husband included, and I try to be very supportive of his new, healthier eating habits.  It probably doesn’t hurt me to cut back on carbohydrates either.  Eliminating most grains and legumes (what no sandwiches?) proved to be a challenge.  Although we have always tried to limit processed food, I was clearly in the “no fat, whole grains” camp, and this was a complete switch.   It was also a great excuse to add to my ever-expanding cookbook collection.

Dates 2

I read every Primal and Paleo cooking blog I could find online and eventually figured out on whom I could probably rely for some decent recipes, while I learned to plan menus around this new eating style.  Everyday Paleo quickly became one of my favorites.  One of the first books I bought was this one, and one of the first Paleo recipes I made was dates stuffed with sausage and wrapped in bacon.  I wish I could take credit for this recipe.  One bite and I was hooked. I have yet to meet anyone who does not like this recipe, Paleo follower or not.

Dates 3

Dates with Sausage and Bacon

12 pieces

We have found that Medjool dates work best for this recipe, but if you can’t find them any other type will do.  If they are considerably smaller, you will need more dates and more bacon than the recipe calls for.  This recipe doubles or even triples easily, a good thing since it’s so addicting.

12 dates

1/2 pound bulk sausage

6 slices bacon, sliced in half crosswise

Preheat the oven to 375. 

Pit the dates if necessary, by slicing them lengthwise halfway through and removing the seeds.

Use about a tablespoon of sausage per date, more or less depending on the size of your dates.  Stuff the sausage into the date, wrapping the date around the sausage ball.  The dates will not close around the sausage completely.

Wrap each date in one of the half slices of bacon and stand up in a baking dish small enough to hold the dates upright. Depending on the number of dates you are preparing a small to medium Pyrex works great for this, but you could also bake them in a pie pan. 

Bake dates for 40 minutes.  These can be prepared ahead of time, frozen, and rewarmed in the microwave for 1.5 minutes.  It’s great to have a stash in the freezer for unexpected guests.

Slightly adapted from Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso