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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Something From Nothing ~ Week 9

It is a bizarre twist of fate in life, when one is faced with something one cannot predict, or control. As a cook, I'm all about "control". Controlling ingredients, flavors, appearances, etc. One of my culinary heroes, Anthony Bourdain says that "cooking is about control ~ eating is about submission".  Not only do I agree - I also sometimes slip into the Chefs' pity-party of NOT getting surprised by the flavors, textures, and wonderful-ness of any given dish - because I've been there, sampling and tasting for correctness all along.  This is not my favorite foible of being a good cook. One has a hard time going to a restaurant, for instance....disappointment at the outcome, and the price one had to pay for it, inevitably follow.  On to this weeks' creation. 

This recipe pays homage to my humble culinary early days. As a new Air Force bride, I found myself in lovely Austin, Texas....and part of a community I never knew existed. My companions were Mothers, wives, and people who were unbelievably generous with their time and recipes.  Although this recipe is probably anything but authentic, it feeds a lot of people for a little money, and any protein (such as chicken) can be substituted for the pork. Sweet and Sour pork, here I come! Speaking of the pork, this is what I defrosted overnight....


A humble, not-very-attractive slice of pork shoulder....sold cheaply (under $3.00) usually called "pork steak", or some other such nonsense.  Let's look deeper, though. After one trims the fat, and cuts the meat into cubes, there is quite a bit of meat to work with there!  That is just what I did, using of course, my kitchen shears to trim the fat, and cut into relatively similar cubes....


Be warned - this is not a recipe you want if you are in a hurry. In fact, I did the trimming and marinating of the pork, as well as prepping the vegetables in the morning. A weekend day is perfect for making this dish. As with many Asian recipes, there is a lot of prep - and everything needs to come together with pretty precise timing....not a dish for novice cooks, or those unfamiliar with stir-frying in general. Having said that, it is a good recipe for those looking to sharpen the Asian cooking technique, and practice....especially if you assemble most of the components ahead of time.  On to the marinade...into the container goes 2 Tablespoons sherry or white wine, 2 Tablespoons soy sauce, and some minced garlic and ginger.



Then, one scours the pantry and fridge to see what vegetables are ready....the only ones called for are bell pepper (green or red), celery, carrot, and onion....I have modified over the years to include things that we like in our stir-fry.....such as:



The bell pepper, half an onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, as well as the carrot and celery. Not shown, a can of pineapple rings...which is important for its juice, as we will make the sweet and sour sauce with it. Cut these vegetables accordingly ~ which is to say, slice thinly, and on the diagonal, so that all cook evenly. I did just that, and placed in a container in the fridge for the day...



And yes, there was some liberal "taste-testing" of these beautiful vegetables...can you blame me? Fast forward to that evening...combine the sauce ingredients, and place in a saucepan on the back burner (don't be daunted by the amounts - I doubled the sauce ingredients from the initial recipe)...they are;

10 Tbsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. wine (I used sherry)
6 Tbsp. white vinegar
1/2 cup pineapple juice (from a can of pineapple rings)
6 Tbsp. ketchup
1/2 cup water with 3 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in it

It's not attractive (yet), but here is mine...
combined & ready to heat up toward the end of the cooking time.



The pork has been marinating all day, and has absorbed the flavors (and color) of the soy, wine, garlic and ginger. I pick out the garlic and ginger, and drain the meat in a colander..


Now we cook! Mix an egg with about 4 Tbsp. cornstarch, and add a little water...you want a nice, thick batter. Now is the time to get a beverage, bring the phone near, or do anything that will take you away from the stove - frying does not take well to lack-o-commitment. Here is the batter before and after mixing...




Now, heat up about an inch of vegetable, canola or peanut oil, and deep-fry the meat....I don't like using a lot of oil, and don't fry often....I put about seven pieces per batch into the batter, and fry until crispy and browned...


Place on a rack in a warm oven (I like it about 210 degrees). The rack will keep the pieces crispy, and help to drain any excess oil....here are mine..



I wanted some lovely, nutty Basmati rice for the dish - but refuse to pay nearly five dollars a bag for it - but I lucked into this recently....and normally I also shun anything "boil in a bag", but since this dish is so labor-intensive, I caved like a cheap deck of cards....and bought.....this!


Place in some boiling water, and forget about it for ten minutes...you have better things to attend to...such as, draining your vegetables that you prepped this morning...if any liquids have come from them, you will be steaming ~ not stir-frying.



Get a non-stick pan or wok super hot, and add just a teaspoon of oil. Throw those veggies in (along with a half a can of pineapple rings, cut appropriately), and keep them moving ~ this is essential...you want them crisp-tender, not mushy...and while you are doing this step, heat your sauce - about medium high, and whisk to combine...


Here are my veggies, ready for sauce, pork and rice, and the sauce, coming to a boil so that the cornstarch can thicken the whole thing...



The results? How did I know you want to see how the finished product comes together? Just a guess...plate with a lovely fragrant bed of your rice, the vegetables, some cubes of pork, and drown ahem, bathe the whole thing in the sauce....oh, and enjoy!



How was it? Really......really good. Now, as I said before, this may be anything but "authentic" but it is delicious, fulfills a stir-fry craving, did not cost more than about 6 dollars, has no MSG, and did not have to be picked up, in paper cartons, hauled home, or any of that bother.

Eat well, my friends, and stay tuned for some crab-tastic fun, a big announcement from Kitchen Angel, and a tribute to my first, and most important culinary influence...what made Pixie....Pixie? Love and kindness to all,

Pixie

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Something From Nothing ~ Week 8

Last week was the two-year Anniversary of this blog.  As you know, I always like to make something special to mark the occasion.  However, being in my "use it up" mode, I did not want to spend a lot of money. I prefer to make something delicious and elegant without the expense....it's so much more rewarding!  So, with that in mind, I looked at the leftover situation....


Some leftover cooked chicken, the rest of a bag of frozen shrimp, and one half of a smoked sausage....hmmmm.....one word...GUMBO! Strange how when I think of ways to spoil myself, Southern or ethnic foods usually play a part.  On to the roux....

I never really thought that just by cooking flour and oil together, one could obtain that deep, caramel-colored roux that is portrayed in cookbooks.....but, I pressed on..


Ten minutes into the stirring on medium heat...


While the roux did its thing, (while I stirred it frequently) I cut into small dice, the trinity....bell pepper, onion, and celery..


Twenty minutes in...and, well, I could not believe it! I had achieved a dark, caramel-colored roux!


I diced the smoked sausage, and added it to the chicken, and prepped vegetables...


Now it was time to add those vegetables to the aforementioned roux...


I should add that the fragrance of this lovely dish was at this point, wonderful and enticing...when the vegetables were getting tender, about ten minutes later, I added the chicken and sausage...


It was at this point, that I took a sharp turn from the recipe....and threw the whole mixture, along with some chicken stock, thyme, bay leaf, cayenne pepper and salt, into the crock pot on high...


Off I went, doing Pixie-related chores until late afternoon....then, I prepared an envelope of yellow rice...



I added the peeled and deviened shrimp at this point, since the rice takes about twenty minutes to cook....and although shrimp cook quickly, it was being done in the slow cooker, so I wanted to give them some time to flavor the dish.  Now, time to slice some scallions for garnish and flavor...



I placed a couple of ice cream scoops of the rice in the center of the bowl.....and ladled in the gumbo....the results?


Let the good times roll! It was delicious, spicy, and complex...click here for the recipe I started with...thank goodness that wonderful chef Emeril Lagasse went to New Orleans! Stay tuned for week nine, a surprise from Kitchen Angel, and a special tribute.

Eat well, my friends...love and kindness to all,

Pixie