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Archive for April, 2010

A Wok on the Wild Side

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

If you are feeling guilty over last week’s frying escapades (hopefully not; Murgi Chicken is so worth it!), then let’s move on to lighter ground and explore the healthier side of frying.  Stir-frying, that is.   Chock full of vegetables and using way less fat, stir-frying is not only one of the most healthful cooking methods, but an incredibly flavorful one as well.  If done right, vegetables remain crisp yet tender, meats are left succulent and aromatic and you’ve got yourself a meal-in-one — and in a very short amount of time.  The synthesis of intense heat and constant motion, circulating the hot air in the wok, brings out an intense quality in the food.  This experience is known in Cantonese cooking as wok hay.  Grace Young, a foremost expert on Chinese cooking and author of “The Breath of the Wok” explains “I think of wok hay as the breath of a wok — when a wok breathes energy into a stir-fry, giving foods a unique concentrated flavor and aroma.”

Though restricted from the classic Chinese repertoire of ingredients, the kosher home-cook can still benefit from a good stir-fry using the freshest produce and kosher meats and poultry available.  A good wok and the right technique will enliven your palate and kitchen with endless dinner options to come.  But before you get started, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Stir-frying moves quickly, so have all ingredients prepped ahead of time and at the ready (you can even do the chopping a day ahead to save time).
  • Chop ingredients in a uniform size to ensure even cooking.
  • Heat the wok first before adding the cold oil.  This will help prevent sticking.
  • Maintaining a high temperature is important – when a bead of water evaporates after one or two seconds of contact, then the wok is hot enough.
  • Do not overcrowd the pan with ingredients – too much in the wok will cause the temperature to drop and the food to cook unevenly or to lose its crisp texture.
  • To best enjoy your stir-fry, serve hot and fresh from the pan immediately following cooking.  Leftovers are always nice, but never the same as when they are first made.

Sounds simple, right?  It is.  Simple, fast, healthy and delicious.  Go out and get yourself a wok and get stir-crazy!

Asian Steak Stir-Fry with Mixed PeppersPepper Steak

Pepper steak comes beautifully sliced into thin pieces and is wonderfully tender when stir-fried.  You may want cut width-wise to match the size of the peppers.  

 

Serves 4.

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. orange juice
  • 1½ tsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1½  tsp. cornstarch
  • ¼ cup beef stock (or water if you are stock-less)
  • 1 ½ lbs. pepper steak
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 4 bell peppers in assorted colors, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
  • 1 large onion, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tbsp.)
  • 2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 2 tbsp. water

Accompaniment: cooked white rice

Stir together soy sauce, orange juice, rice vinegar, sesame oil, cornstarch, and beef stock in a large cup.

Pat steak dry and sprinkle with kosher salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.   Place wok over moderately high heat until very hot.  Add 1 tbsp. of oil and continue to preheat, swirling oil around the pan until the oil is wavy (but not smoking).  Add half of the steak, laying each piece out on the surface of the wok until browned, turning frequently, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.  Add 1 tbsp. of oil to skillet, and repeat with remaining steak.

Add remaining tbsp. of oil to the wok and stir-fry bell peppers, onion, garlic, and ginger until onion is golden, about 6 to 7 minutes, stirring very often.  Stir in 2 tbsp. water and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. Return steak to skillet, and stir in cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until the steak and vegetables are coated with the thickened sauce.

Serve immediately over hot rice and enjoy!

By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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‘Grease Lightning!’

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I try to be honest, so I’m not going to try to convince you that frying is actually good for you.  It’s not. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, I can continue in defense of the crispy, succulent goodness that good frying is all about (we’ll talk about healthy eating next week, ok?).

We have all been traumatized by badly fried food: the oil is oozing, the crust is soggy.  It’s an unappetizing mess and downright bad for you.  If done correctly, however, frying is not as unhealthy as one might think.   In fact, a good fry does not actually cause the food to absorb that much oil at all.  Because I hear you squirming in your seat, let’s start off slow and talk about pan-frying (I’ll leave deep-frying for another time!). 

When pan-frying, the food is semi-submerged in hot oil in a pan on the stove top and flipped halfway through cooking. Foods that benefit from this method would include naturally tender cuts of poultry or veal, delicate fish fillets, and vegetables. 

Free yourself of your frying fears!  Follow these tips for perfectly crisp-on-the-outside, moist and tender on-the-inside results that cook lightning fast!  

  • Choose your cooking oil carefully. You want one with a high ‘smoke point’: in other words, one which won’t break down at high frying temperatures. Peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and canola oil are some good choices (olive oil is not because it has a low burning point).
  • Choose a deep, heavy pan for frying.  Leaving a headspace (space at the top of the pan) of at least one to two inches allows for a safety margin when the oil bubbles up as the food is added.  A good heavy pan with a thick bottom will also conduct heat better, saving you from unevenly cooked, burnt food.
  • Make sure that the food you are going to fry is dry.  Oil and water do not mix, especially at such high temperatures and burns from splattering oil are not fun.
  • The best temperature for frying is 350-375 degrees F.  When deep-frying, the best way to make sure you’ve got it right is with a fry thermometer; but with pan-frying, the shallow depth of oil in the pan may preclude this.  You can tell that oil is ready when a 1″ cube of white bread dropped into the oil sizzles upon contact and browns in 60 seconds. 
  • The food should be less than an inch thick (thin cutlets work best).  If too thick, the surface of the food will burn before the center is cooked.  The oil should be no more than half as high as the food so that the same area is not fried twice when you flip it.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan! Carefully add the food, leaving lots of space around each piece so the food will cook evenly. If you add too much food at once, the oil temperature will drop and the food will absorb fat.
  • Watch the food carefully as it cooks, regulating the heat if necessary to keep the oil temperature steady. When the food is evenly golden-browned on both sides, it’s done. Remove it with a slotted spoon with a long handle. Drop it onto paper towels in a single layer to drain.
  • Don’t reuse the cooking oil after it cools. Some sources say you can strain it and reuse it, but the oil has already begun to break down from the heat, and undesirable compounds have formed. Let the oil cool completely, and then discard safely.  I pour it in a jar and throw it in the garbage.  Don’t pour it down the drain!

 The following recipe is a very flavorful, Indian twist on classic fried chicken cutlets.   Eaten hot and right out of the pan, there is nothing like it…and your kids will ask for more!

MURGI CHICKEN

This recipe can easily be doubled.  Cut chicken into smaller strips and make the best chicken fingers ever!

 

1 medium onion, quartered

2 tsp. chopped fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves

½ tsp. ground turmeric

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cutlets)

¼ cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup cornflake crumbs

peanut or corn oil

1)  Process the onion, ginger, garlic, and spices in a food processor until pureed.

2)  Tenderize chicken breasts until they have an even thin thickness.

3)  Marinate chicken breasts in the onion mixture for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator.

4)  Prepare 3 bowls – one with flour, one with beaten eggs, and one with cornflake crumbs. 

5) Dip the chicken in flour, then egg and then Cornflake crumbs. Place on a plate until frying time.

6)  Heat oil in a large skillet until very hot (drop of water sizzles upon contact).

7)  Fry cutlets on both sides, about 5 minutes per side or until breading is golden brown.

8)  Transfer to paper towels or brown paper to drain.  Serve hot and enjoy!

Serves 4.
By Naomi Ross

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Speed Cooking

Monday, April 12th, 2010

The Food Network is soaring with popularity these days.  Celebrity chefs are putting out cookbooks faster than you can say “Rachel Ray,” and to their credit, have transformed cooking into a glamorous activity.  And although cooking may be “in,” women — who are still primarily the ones responsible for meal preparation in the home– are spending less time in the kitchen than ever before.   Consider this:  According to a study done in the year 1900, a typical woman spent 44 hours per week preparing meals and cleaning up after them.  That is an astounding figure.  Everything made was fresh and from scratch; cooking for the family was a full-time job.  By 1950, with the advent of the modern electrical kitchen and many packaged convenience products, that number had dropped by more than fifty percent.   Dare we ask how many hours the average woman spends in her kitchen nowadays?

While it is true that technology has freed up so many hours previously spent cooking, this has been more than offset by the time women now spend at work.  As a result, women today have far less time to cook.  We own rice cookers, bread makers, waffle makers, and every other gadget to “simplify” and quicken our cooking, and yet despite our desire to provide nourishing homemade meals for our families, the main frustration amongst women today is that we have no time!  As a result, “30-minute meals”, OAMC (Once A Month Cooking), and prepared frozen foods are more the norm than the exception.

In most families, weeknight “dinnertime” is not what it used to be. With longer school days and more extracurricular activities for kids combined with a longer workday for parents, the family bonding that has long been synonymous with supper is becoming more and more challenging to sustain.   But try we must!  The Project EAT team (Eating Among Teens) at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health has been investigating the many health benefits for teens eating family meals. Their research has found that teens who reported eating more family meals per week reported significantly less substance abuse, fewer eating disorders, and significantly better academic and mental health than those eating fewer meals with family.  Getting a healthy dinner on the table is a challenge and can often seem like a chore.  But if you consider the importance of what you’re really doing – establishing family cohesiveness and connectedness while nourishing your family — it’s one of the best investments you can make.

Here is a game plan for a simple “30-minute meal” that is healthy and flavorful to boot.  Kosher shoulder lamb chops are a treat for anyone at the end of a long day and take no time to prepare.  Spend 5 minutes in the morning to marinate the chops, and they’ll be ready to throw into the pan when you get home!  While the chops cook, prepare rice and steamed broccoli as an accompaniment; the whole meal should only take 20-25 minutes to prepare and is a tasty well-balanced supper.  Enjoy!

Savory Minted Lamb Chops

These lamb chops marinate for a few hours, but the actual cook time is very short – only 10 minutes!

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. fresh mint leaves, minced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (how hot do you like it?)
  • ¼ tsp. curry powder
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 ½-3/4 -inch-thick shoulder lamb chops

Place all ingredients (except for veg. oil and lamb chops) in a small mixing bowl and mix well.  Spread a little bit of herb mixture (about 1 tbsp.) over both sides of lamb chops.  Transfer lamb chops to a large plate, cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. 

Place oil in a large skillet over high heat until pan is very hot.  Transfer lamb chops to skillet and sear on each side for 4-5 minutes, until brown and slightly crusty. (This may produce smoke, so use your exhaust fan!).  Transfer chops to platter and garnish with fresh mint sprigs.

Serves 2-3.

By Naomi Ross
 

 

 

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