Pineapple Cashew Stir Fry

When I switched to a vegan-ist diet about seven weeks ago, I did so because of the purported health benefits.

Easy Pineapple Cashew Stir FryAs many recent books, documentaries and other bloggers have claimed, eliminating meat, dairy and processed food from your diet can reduce your chances of contracting chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. It can improve your overall daily health. And it has even been known to reverse certain medical conditions, including arthritis, high blood pressure and anemia.

I can personally attest that I have had more energy since going vegan-ist. I feel stronger, have suffered fewer minor injuries while running, and generally have a more optimistic outlook and less anxiety and stress. Given what I had read and seen prior to making the switch, I sort of expected — or at least hoped — that these things would happen.

What I didn’t expect, however, was for my sense of taste and smell to improve so much. Even with my usual summer allergies, I can smell things better than ever before, such as subtle aromas around our home or the different types of cooking smells I encounter while running through my neighborhood.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that food tastes better when you start eating clean, and it’s true! For one, you have to pay more attention to the selection and preparation of your food, so I think you naturally focus more on tasting it when you eat. And because you eat mostly fresh produce, grains, nuts and so on, the flavors aren’t buried under mounds of preservatives, pesticides, steroids, genetic modification, growth hormones and other fallout from modern processed food.

But because my sense of smell is more enhanced, the flavors of food are more dynamic.

Now, I know this all may be wishful thinking on my part. In fact, my mom and Sandi were joking the other day that I would be off vegan and on to some other obsession in a couple of months, like I always do.

Maybe so. But for the time being, I’m going to enjoy the explosive flavors of these amazing foods. If only for a little while.

Here’s a quick and easy Pineapple Cashew Stir Fry I have been making lately. As I’ve noted in an earlier blog, stir fry can be just about anything. But the sweet tartness of the fresh pineapple (perfectly in season right now) combined with the crunchiness of the cashews really made this one taste exceptionally delicious.

Pineapple Cashew Stir Fry

1 to 2 TBS Coconut Oil

2-1/5 cups White Rice, cooked

1/2 Red Onion, slivered

1/2 Red Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

2 White Mushrooms, sliced thin

1/2 Zucchini, cut into medallions

3 Garlic Cloves, crushed

3/4 cup Fresh Pineapple, large dice

1/2 cup Baked Tofu (recipe below)

1/2 cup Cashews, roughly chopped

1/4 cup Soy Aminos (or Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce)

3/4 cup Water

1 TBS Corn Starch

Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

1. Place a large non-stick sauté pan or wok over a high flame. Leave it there for about a minute or two so it gets very hot. Add coconut oil. It will start to smoke in about 10 to 15 seconds. Add the onions and peppers and toss. Cook until slightly wilted, about 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Then add tofu, zucchini and pineapple. Toss/cook for about a minute.

2. Meanwhile, in a glass measuring cup, combine the soy aminos, water and corn starch and stir together. Set aside. Add garlic to the pan. When it becomes aromatic, about 10-20 seconds, add the liquid to the pan and stir. Within about a minute, it will turn into a glaze. At the last second, add the cashews and season with the freshly ground pepper. Given the sodium in the soy aminos or soy sauce, you won’t need to add any additional salt. Toss everything together, remove from heat and cover until ready to serve.

3. To plate, spoon about 3/4 cup of white rice onto on side of a pasta bowl, then spoon the stir fry onto the other side of the bowl. If you want to be really fancy, make it into a yin-yang pattern. Or press the rice into a small bowl and invert it into the top-center of the plate and arrange the stir fry around it. Garnish with additional cashews, sliced scallions, toasted sesame seeds or whatever you like.

Tofu is made from soybeans and is a handy ingredient to have lying around. It comes in a variety of forms, including silken, firm and extra firm. Silken is quite soft, doesn’t have to be refrigerated, and will fall apart when handled.

Firm tofu has a slightly tougher texture, but will still crumble quite easily. I like to use it in place of scrambled eggs sometimes.

Extra firm tofu will hold its structure, so it can be sliced and diced into any size you want.

Both firm and extra firm tofu come packed in water. You will want to gently squeeze some of the water out before you use it.

This recipe is very versatile. It can be kept in the refrigerator and used to add texture and additional protein to salads, stir fry, casseroles, chili, stews or practically any dish. I seasoned this one with Garam Masala, a mixture of Indian spices, but you could just as easily use chili powder and cumin, Italian seasoning and granulated garlic, simple salt and pepper, or nothing at all.

Baked Tofu

2 tsp Garam Masala (or whatever spices you want)

14 oz package Extra Firm Tofu

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a baking sheet with pan spray.

2. Remove tofu from package and gently squeeze out excess water. Cut into 1/2 inch slices and place on baking sheet. Spray tofu with pan spray then sprinkle with half the spice mixture. Bake for 15 minutes.

3. Remove from oven. Use a spatula to gently turn each tofu slice, sprinkle with remaining spice mixture and return to oven for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

4. When cool, cut tofu slices into cubes. These will keep in your refrigerator up to a wek. You can also freeze them for up to two months.


Sesame Chicken

There is a Chinese restaurant literally five doors down from where we live, so we can get takeout anytime we want.

The best thing about Chinese is that it’s never very expensive and you get enough food to feed you for days. The downside is that it’s not always very good, and our local takeout shop tends to be hit and miss.

Homemade Chinese is always so much better, anyway. And this simple Sesame Chicken recipe is no exception.

It’s also really quick to throw together, especially this dish which finishes in the oven while you can do other things.

I’m not going to tell you that I found it on How Sweet It Is because you probably knew that already. Can I just rename this blog “Recipes I stole from Jesssica” and get it over with!

I must be losing my mind as I grow older because as a classically trained chef, I always make sure I have my mise en place completely ready before I get started putting together a dish. But it was only after I had this one cooking that I realized I didn’t have any rice!

The same thing happened again this morning when I was making pumpkin spice waffles and realized I had no milk! What’s going on?!

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have some tri-colored quinoia that I had bought some time ago at Trader Joe’s, which actually worked out even better. In addition to the quinoa, I served this Sesame Chicken with a quick sautee of white onion, green and red bell pepper, and jalapeno. The peppers are among the last from this year’s garden (bonus!).

I also used boneless, skinless chicken thighs because the local Food 4 Less wanted $4.38/lb for B/S chicken breasts. Wait, what?!

Simple Sesame Chicken

2 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (or thighs if you’re not the Rockefellers)

1/2 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

3 TBS All-Purpose Flour

2 TBS Sesame Oil

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 Garlic Cloves, minced

1 TBS Low-Sodium Soy Sauce

1 TBS Corn Starch

1 TBS Brown Sugar

1 TBS Rice Wine Vinegar

1/2 cup Reduced Sodium Chicken Stock

2 TBS Toasted Sesame Seeds

1. Preheat oven to 400F. In a bowl, whisk together chicken stock, brown sugar, corn starch, 1 TBS sesame oil, garlic cloves, soy sauce and vinegar. Set aside. In a separate bowl, toss the diced chicken with the salt, pepper and flour.

2. Place a large Dutch Oven over a medium-high heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add the chicken and cook until browned, stirring occasionally, about five minutes. Pour chicken stock mixture over the chicken, turn off heat and cover. Place entire pot into oven and cook 20 minutes.

To serve, spoon the chicken mixture over rice, noodles or quinoa. Arrange sauteed vegetables of your choosing along the side, then garnish all with the sesame seeds.

Beef Chop Suey

Beef Chop Suey is one of those dishes I ate a lot growing up, but had kind of forgotten about.

My mother was/is a wonderful cook. But like anybody else, she had her repertoire so we tended to have the same dishes again and again.

Beef Chop Suey

Beef Chop Suey

We had Beef Chop Suey at least once every couple of weeks. I remember she would always cook it in her electric frying pan and served it with those little fried Chinese noodles, which we kids enjoyed more than we did the main dinner.

Another standard in our house was chipped beef, which was Buddig sliced “corned beef” in a sauce of milk thickened with a roux and served over mashed potatoes. Apparently, this was a variation of an well-known Army meal called “Sh*# on a Shingle,” which was chipped beef served over toast.

On Fridays during Lent, we would often have “salmon patties”, which were canned salmon mixed with mashed potatoes, formed into patties and pan fried. They were served with the same thickened milk sauce, except this time it had peas in it. Fancy!

My father’s favorite, however, was “gravy bread”. Basically, it was the drippings from a beef roast poured over a slice of white bread. I guess cholesterol hadn’t been invented yet back in the 1970s. Today this would be considered a heart attack on a plate.

On very special occasions, my mom would roll out her peice d’resistance: Stuffed Manicotti. These were tubular pasta shells stuffed with mixture of ricotta cheese, eggs and parsley (I think) topped with red sauce and melted mozzarella. It was was really great, so it deserved special status.

Anyway, here’s my Beef Chop Suey recipe. It varies a little from my mother’s but the flavor is remarkably the same.

When I ate this, it was like being transported back in a time machine to our family’s dinner table in the 1970s, with my brother kicking me under the table and my father admonishing us to keep our “elbows off the table”.

Good Catholic family that we were, every meal was preceded by “Grace”. We were never allowed to watch television during dinner in those days, even if your favorite show was on! And for some reason singing was also banned at the dinner table.

It’s funny what the flavor of a dish can make you remember.

Beef Chop Suey

The McCulloughs

That’s me in the red shirt, along with my mother, my younger brother Kevin and my older brother Michael, circa 1979

1/2 lb Beef, cut into cubes

2 TBS Corn Starch

3 TBS Low-Sodium Soy Sauce, divided

1 Large Garlic Clove, crushed

1/2 tsp Sugar

6 Button Mushrooms, quartered

1 Broccoli Crown, cut into bite-sized peices

4 to 5 Napa Cabbage Leaves (or Bok Choy), cut into bite-sized peices

1 Large Carrot, peeled and sliced at an angle

2 Celery Stalks, sliced at an angle

1/2 White Onion, sliced thin

1 cup plus 2 TBS Water, divided

1/2 TBS Chili Sauce

2 TBS Canola Oil, divided

1. In a bowl, toss the beef in 1 TBS corn starch, 1 TBS soy sauce, garlic and sugar. Set aside.

2. In another bowl, combine 1 cup water, remaining 2 TBS of soy sauce, 1 TBS corn starch and the chili sauce. Set aside.

3. Place cast iron skillet or a wok over a high heat. When hot, add 1 TBS canola oil. When smoking, ad beef and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Remove beef from pan and set aside. Return pan to heat. When hot, add remaining TBS of canola oil. When smoking, add vegetables and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Then add 2 TBS water, cover and cook 2 minutes more.

4. Add the liquid mixture and stir until it comes to a boil and thickens and vegetables are soft, about 3 minutes. Return beef to the pan, cook until heated through and remove from heat. Serve over rice or noodles.

To me, my mother’s Beef Chop Suey tasted like love.

Beef and Broccoli

I’ve always enjoyed beef and broccoli from the Chinese take-out restaurant, but surprisingly I’ve never tried it at home.

One of the most enjoyable things about writing a blog is encountering other people from around the world who have shared interests. Before I started blogging a little more than a year ago, I was only vaguely aware of the concept of bloggers and the blogosphere.

Beef and Broccoli

Today, I’m an enthusiastic participant in a rich community of people whose writing I admire, whose online friendship I cherish, and whose willingness to open up their lives to strangers never fails to astound me.

I found this beef and broccoli recipe on one of the most interesting and entertaining blogs that I follow. It’s called Sybaritica, and it’s written by C. John Thompson, a Canadian public defender/food writer whose territory is literally the top of the world, composing of tiny villages above the Arctic Circle.

Although I subscribe to dozens of blogs, John’s is one that I will always drop everything and read whenever a new entry arrives in my inbox. He has a keen, curious mind and his subject matter is always interesting — whether he is writing about the challenges of representing defendants in remote Acrtic villages or reviewing exotic Asian cooking products.

I have frequently commented on John’s blog that he should consider writing a book or even a movie. His life is truly fascinating — sort  of like “Northern Exposure” meets “Law and Order”.

This Beef and Broccoli recipe looked especially delicious, as it is one of my favorite carry-out dishes. It was actually quite simple to make and extraordinarily flavorful. Both Sandi and I enjoyed it very much, leaving me to wonder why I haven’t made this before.

Probably because we don’t usually cook with beef, preferring instead lower-fat alterntives such as chicken or ground turkey breast. This recipe may change that.

Beef and Broccoli

3/4 lb Beef Steak (I used flank steak, tenderized with a mallet)

2 cups Fresh Broccoli Florets

1/2 Medium White Onion, cut into wedges then separated

2 TBS plus 1 tsp Cornstrach

1 TBS plus 1/2 tsp Baking Soda

1/2  cup Chicken Stock

1/4 cup White Wine

3 TBS Oyster Sauce

1 TBS Granulated Sugar

2 TBS Grated Ginger

2 Garlic Cloves, minced

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1 cup White Rice

Handful of Frozen Peas

1. Blanch the broccoli by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Drop florets into boiling water, cooking about one minute, then strain into colander, return to pot and cover with cold water to stop the cooking process. This can be done earlier and stored in the refrigerator.

2. Pound beef flat with a meat mallet or the bottom of a cast iron pan to tenderize it,  then cut it into 1″ to 2″ pieces. Place in a bowl and toss with 2 TBS cornstarch, 1 TBS baking soda, and a pinch of salt. Let sit for about 20 minutes so the baking soda can further tenderize the meat.

3. Make a sauce by combining the stock, wine, oyster sauce, sugar and 1 tsp cornstarch in a bowl. Whisk it so that the cornstarch doesn’t clump.

4. Cook the rice. I used my rice cooker, adding the rest of the can of chicken stock, a handful of frozen peas for color/texture, and a little S&P.

5. Heat a cast iron pan over a high heat (or a wok if you have one). When very hot, add 1 TBS of the EVOO. When smoking, add the meat and stir-fry until brown and crispy, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

6. Remove meat to a bowl and let the pan get hot again. Then add remaining TBS of EVOO, get it smoking hot, and add garlic and ginger. When the ginger becomes fragrant (less than a minute) add the broccoli florets and toss together. Let broccoli heat through for a moment or two, then return meat to the pan, along with the sauce. Cook until the sauce reduces and becomes thick, about two minutes. Serve immediately over rice.

This is a wonderful dish to warm up a cook Autumn evening. If you like it spicy, add a 1/2 tsp of dried red pepper flake during the final two minutes of cooking.

I’m grateful for having met so many interesting and giving people like John who are willing to share their knowledge and even their lives with the rest of us. And I’m looking forward to watching that movie!



Seafood Fridays – Shrimp Fried Rice

Fish on Fridays is a new feature I’m starting this week. Throughout the season of Lent — and possibly beyond if it is popular — I will be featuring one of my favorite seafood dishes each Friday.

For the very first week, I have one of my favorites: Shrimp Fried Rice.

Any kind of fried rice is fine by me, but for this one I was inspired by this blog written by one of my favorite bloggers, My Vegetarian Kitchen. In it, she stated that she was going to see how long she could make meals for her family using only the food she already had in her home. With a few exceptions, she is going to try and not to buy anything else until she runs out of food.

Personally, it always seems like I have way too much food lying around for just the two of us. Despite this, I go to the grocery store almost every day to get more things.

So, inspired by Sarpeet’s blog, I decided to try to go at least one day without buying more food. Fortunately, I happened to have a pound of shrimp on hand that somehow failed to make it into the jambalaya casserole the day before.

Anything fried rice is fine by me, but shrimp is one of my favorites. This meal is easy to make, cooks fast, is inexpensive and turned out especially delicious. Plus, because my wife, Sandi, is not a fan of shrimp I got it all to myself! Bonus!

Shrimp Fried Rice

1 lb medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed

1 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1/2 yellow bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1/2 white onion, julienned

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 TBS  fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 TBS sesame oil

1 tsp Sriracha sauce

1 cup rice, cooked

1. Combine shrimp, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl, toss well, cover with plastic and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to marinate.

2. Put cast iron pan on fire. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add onions and peppers. Cook until onions soft and slightly browned, about 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add shrimp and all of the marinade and cook another 2 minutes then add the rice and cook for another minute, stirring frequently.

3. Dissolve corn starch in water and pour into pan. Stir until liquid begins to thicken, about two minutes. Stir in Sriracha sauce then remove from heat.

4. To plate, pile in center of pasta bowl and garnish with either a sprig of parsley or chopped parsley for color.

With some fried rice recipes, I will throw an egg in right at the end, but I left it out of this one because there already was enough protein with all the shrimp, but feel free to add one if you like.

What are some of your favorite seafood dishes that we can feature in Seafood Fridays? Let me know and I’ll try to do as many as I can. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Stir Fry Secrets

You’ve probably been in Asian restaurants where the menu is 30 pages long and there are literally hundreds of items listed. When I was a culinary student I used to wonder, “Isn’t it
expensive to prep for so many different dishes every day?”

Here’s the secret they don’t want you to know: Although there may be hundreds of dishes, they are all combinations of only a handful of basic ingredients. Each dish is a pairing of couple different vegetables (such as onions, peppers, pea pods, etc.), combined with a few kinds of proteins (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, etc), then served with your choice of starch (white rice, soft noodles, fried noodles).

All are quick cooked in very hot oil, usually in the same wok.

Obviously, there are variations. Sweet and sour chicken is breaded in a tempura batter, deep fried and served with a sweetened vinegar sauce. In egg foo young , vegetables are fried with an egg and flour mixture and served with a brown sauce. Moo shu sauce is made with sweetened plum puree.

But you get the idea.

Which brings us to why stir fry is the ultimate in budget cooking. Open your refrigerator and look around. Maybe you’ve got some leftover chicken, a half an onion and some garden fresh jalapenos. Guess what? You are now in the stir fry business!

Stir fry is one of the best ways to use up whatever leftovers you have laying around. Or you can buy a couple simple items and create an all-new quick and easy meal for your family.

Since I’m already spilling the beans, here are a couple of other stir fry secrets:

  • A little goes a long way: If you only have a small amount of leftover protein, you can stretch it out by mixing it with lots of inexpensive vegetables and rice or noodles. Kind of like ancient Chinese hamburger helper.
  • Rice and noodles don’t cost anything:  Okay, maybe they cost something, but it’s pennies per plate compared to other starches like potatoes or pasta. Filling up a plate with lots of white rice is a tasty and nutritious way to improve your family’s grocery budget.
  • Use the same basic marinade: Marinade chicken, pork, beef or shrimp in a little freshly crushed garlic, minced ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil and you will get an Asian influenced meal that won’t bust your wallet. Always keep these items on hand (ginger freezes excellently), and you will always have a quick and easy go-to meal guaranteed to please your family.
  • It’s thickened with the cheapest things on earth: Mix 1 TBS corn starch to 1 cup of water (this is called a “slurry”) and add it to your stir fry. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for five minutes and you’ll get a thick, flavorful
    stir fry that rivals anything from your local chop suey palace. In fact, that’s
    exactly same thing they do!

Want to make your stir fry more exotic? Spend a little more for baby corn cobs, water chestnuts or bamboo shoots. Or stop by the produce section to pick up some enoki mushrooms or bean sprouts. Easier still, during the last minute of cooking, throw in any leftover nuts you have lying around, such as cashews, peanuts or pecans.

Here’s a simple recipe I recently made that incorporates all of these ancient Chinese secrets.

Stir Fry Beef and Broccoli

Stir Fry Beef and Broccoli

Stir Fry Beef and Broccoli

For the rice:

1 cup dry white rice

2-3/4 cup chicken stock

1 TBS butter or EVOO

Salt and pepper to taste

For the protein:

6 oz leftover cooked flank steak (you can use any beef, chicken or pork you have)

2 cloves crushed garlic

1 TBS minced ginger

1 TBS sesame oil

3 TBS low-sodium soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

½ tsp red pepper flake

For the stir fry:

½ red (or white or yellow) onion, sliced

½ yellow, red or green pepper, julienned

1 garden fresh jalapeno, sliced (seeds and ribs included)

½ cup sliced mushrooms (totally optional)

1 small to medium head of broccoli crown, separated

A couple of green onions, sliced at an angle

1 TBS chopped parsley (only because I already had it)

For the thickening agent:

1 cup water or chicken stock

1 TBS corn starch

1. Marinade the beef in the other ingredients between 10 minutes and 24 hours, depending on how much time you have. The longer you marinade, the more flavor will be aborbed by the beef. But don’t worry: all the flavor is going in the pan anyway.

2. Make rice however you prefer. I have a rice steamer, which is SO easy: Just dump in all ingredients, turn it on and forget about it. Perfect every time. Here’s a link to another easy way to cook rice.

3. Heat a large pan over a high flame. When hot, add oil and allow to get smoking hot. Add all the vegetables except the broccoli, scallions and parsley and cook until onions transluscent, about 2 minutes.

4. Add the beef and all the marinade and toss around. Cook until heated through, about a minute. Stir in the broccoli and thickening agent (liquid and corn starch), stir, reduce to low heat and cover. Cook about five minutes, stirring once or twice.

5. For plating, pile white rice in center of pasta bowl. Use a slotted spoon to arrange stir fry beef and broccoli. Garnish with green onions, chopped parsley and maybe a few more red pepper flakes.

Now you know the secret.