Friday, October 08, 2010
I just bought a new wok, and I don't know how I lived so long without one.
I've heard professional cooks rave about cast iron cookware. I avoided it because I thought cast iron would be too hard to take care of. "Seasoning" the pan sounded like a pain.
Like my Food Network hero, Alton Brown, I don't like single function tools (except a can opener) in my kitchen. Despite my love of asian food, I avoided getting a wok. What else can you make in a wok except stir fry? I can make stir fry in my saute pan.
I was wrong about both counts. If I had known how marvelous and versatile a cast iron wok is, it would have been the first item I bought when I was learning to cook and build my kitchen collection.
I've slowly replaced my non-stick cookware with cast iron. I now have no teflon coated pans in my kitchen. Cast iron is as old as the metal age, and has been used for thousands of years. I also have a rule that my kitchen utensils must be durable, sturdy, and long lasting. No 'throw away' items to be replaced when they break. If it's something I expect to break, I don't buy it.
I'm also surprised that cast iron is easy to clean, my main 'reason' for avoiding it in the first place. "I can't put it in the dishwasher, so it must be too difficult to care for."
Seasoning the surface is not difficult at all - just heating oil in the pan a few minutes at a time when first purchased. After that, it's as simple as rinsing the surface in water while it's still warm. No abrasives needed. I used to be real bad about leaving my dirty dishes at the side of the sink. Now I'm better about cleaning up as I go. After dinner is eaten, the cast iron is perfect temperature to touch and rinse off.
The wok is not just for stir fries and deep frying. The wide, sloped lip on my wok makes it ideal for pushing food aside as it finishes cooking. Remember recipes that say things like, "Brown chicken on all sides, then set aside". I just push the chicken up the side of the wok to make room for the next ingredient. It keeps warm. No extra dishes used - I like that!
For most of the week, I have been giving my wok a test run with my favorite asian meals. Last night, I headed out of the Orient and into the culinary delights of the Mediterranean with Spanish Paella.
Paella is a very old dish. It was invented by Spanish fishermen who were far from home and needed a quick cooking, nutritionally dense, and inexpensive meal.
Quick cooking, cheap, healthy, and delicious - sounds like my kind of dinner!
The traditional paella pan is very large and flat because increased surface area means quicker cooking. The same reason makes a wok a good candidate for making paella.
I used to think of paella as an expensive dish, mostly because it's a 'specialty' dish in the US that's usually only found in fine restaurants (at least in the places where I lived). Saffron, the key spice, is intimidating because of the cost.
When I went to Spain, I learned paella is actually a cheap 'comfort food' to the Spanish, on par with things like stews or chili in the US. It is considered 'poor man food', which makes it comical that I used to think of it as being a specialty gourmet thing! Saffron is a very, very potent spice, and a $10 per gram packet will last many meals. A few threads are used, at most.
Like everything else this week, I prepped my ingredients ahead of time.
Chicken sausage, 1 chicken breast, carrots, diced onions (1 cup from the batch pictured here), green beans, red bell pepper, tomato, chicken broth, paprika, rice, and few strands of saffron in 2 tbsp warm water.
If you want to make paella, there really is no substitute for saffron. It truly is a distinct, unique spice. Here's a closeup of the saffron. Now that I'm looking at the picture, I've actually got too much here - ack. I only needed half that - DOH!
I'm also adding half a pound of fresh, Georgia shrimp.
Brown the chicken, set aside. Brown the sausage, set aside. Add onions to the pan until translucent. Remember how I mentioned earlier that the large lip of the wok allowed me to just push these off to the side without adding more dishes?
All veggies are added to the pan until just heated.
Everything is mixed together, rice added.
Let it cook until the rice is almost done, then add the shrimp.
Keep adding more broth as necessary to keep the rice moist, until the shrimp is fully cooked. About 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.
Normally I would enjoy with a fabulous Spanish wine, but I didn't have any. We made a pineapple-daiquiri. Remember the pineapple I chopped up on Sunday. We put a few chunks of pineapple in a blender with ice, and a couple shots of coconut rum.
Absolutely delicious! Though, it's not as awesome as the paella I had in Spain. Paella is a Spanish favorite. They brag about the best one their grandmothers used to make. I don't have a Spanish grandmother, so I'll just have to keep trying until I can find the secret. In the meantime, I'm enjoying trying!
Spanish Paella recipe: recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detai
Thursday, October 07, 2010
This month on the Culinary Artists Spark team, our lovely hostess Thinronna asked, "Looking for ideas for cooking for 1 or 2...or 3".
She wanted to know tips on how to get dinner on the table for 1 or 2 people.
I've only really been cooking for about 7 years. In 2003 when my life needed a reboot, I decided I was going to learn how to cook for myself. I was single and living alone. I learned how to make 1-2 serving size meals.
One of the things I learned to do was chop all my veggies ahead of time (which I discussed in "The Sunday Sous Chef")
The other thing I learned to do was to prep my meats ahead of time. That means marinades. My mom is Korean, so I grew up with Korean marinaded meats like kalbi, bulgogi and spicy pork (I don't know the Korean name for it).
Marinades were invented a long time ago because they helped to delay bacteria growth on meats. With no refrigeration, the high salt content in things like soy sauce helped preserve it for a day or two.
These days, marinades are used because they are darn tasty. Turns out they are darn handy for making single or double portions as well.
I bought a 2.5lb flank steak from Costco over the weekend. That's a huge cut of meat for just two people. I cut it into 1/2 lb chunks each, then prep it into various pieces. When 1/2lb meat is cooked, it makes 2 serving size portions at about 3-5 oz each. A proper serving size for meat.
At the top: Cut into strips and put in a container for a kalbi marinade.
Left: Whole piece for carne asada marinade.
Middle Left: Strips for stir fry.
Middle Right: Large chunks for stew or soups.
Right: Small cubes for steak fried rice.
The carne asada marinade is added to a freezer bag with the meat.
I'm freezing the stew/soup meat and stir fry strips also.
Kalbi marinade was made and put in the fridge.
A couple of days later, I'm ready to make it for dinner.
Fried in my wok. You don't have to use a wok, a normal fry pan works just fine! To really do it justice, I recommend grilling it.
Served with Korean spicy potatoes and whole romaine lettuce leaves for wraps.
Made 2 dinner plates, plus 1 lunch leftover. All done in about 20 minutes.
This is my lunch today.
Spicy potato recipe:
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Eleanor Roosevelt
I've been doing a lot of quiet reflection lately about weight issues that are so common with women. In my youth, I always thought I was fat. Looking back at old pictures, I clearly wasn't.
I remember shortly after puberty these thought started going through my head. One morning I watching the Special K commercial whose jingle was "Can't pinch an inch on me". Suddenly, it occurred to me. Am I fat? I pinched my stomach and it was about an inch. Oh no! I'm fat! And thus began my cycle of 'dieting' and self esteem issues with weight.
The strange thing is, when I actually was obese, I didn't see myself as fat. I saw myself as "a little bit overweight", and "could stand to lose a few pounds", but I didn't see myself as OBESE. Which I was. At 160lbs, 44% body fat (estimated, I don't know for sure) and 5'0", I was solidly in the obese category.
It wasn't until I saw a picture of myself looking through a telescope that the truth was staring straight at me. It was not flattering. I have the picture posted in my photos as a reminder of the truth.
Still, somehow I denied it. I rationalized that it was just a bad photo, and pictures always make you look heavier than you are. It's almost comical to think about now. I think back on it in disbelief with myself.
I made lame attempts at 'dieting'. I restricted my calories so far that I was starving, then binged. I tried Atkins, Slim Fast, low carb, low fat - you name it. They all worked for a short time, then didn't. I blamed slow metabolism. It wasn't.
My best male friend lived in Seattle. I admit that I had a crush on him at various times in my life. I've known him for many years. He's very handsome, and incredibly smart. So when my relationship fell apart, I moved to Seattle, in part, to be closer to him.
Though I hadn't admitted my feelings for him, I could feel a crushing in my chest when he went on about how cute my best girlfriend was. He showed zero interest in me at all - except as friends, of course. He was dating this girl off/on who was super cute, but they really had nothing in common. He and I got on so well, and I was a much better fit for him than her. So why her? Why not me?
We can go on and on about how looks shouldn't matter. How shallow he was. Those things are true. When I realized it, I lost interest in him. (He's still one of my dearest friends, but I moved on and am engaged to someone else.)
I got punched in the soul with the truth when I started dating this one guy I met at my regular hangout. One night, he flat out told me, "Cathy, I think you're great. You're smart and fun to be with. But I'm just not attracted to you physically."
Wow. Talk about awful. I kicked him out of my apartment and cried so hard. I don't think I slept at all that night. I cried all night.
The thing was, I had already lost about 20 pounds at that point. I was no longer 'obese' but still overweight. I was feeling great about myself. I thought I was looking great.
Once I got through the tears and the shock at the brutal bluntness, I became angry. I *was* feeling great about myself. I *was* looking great.
He wasn't so hot himself. In truth, he was nerdy/geeky/dorky looking. I just thought he was a nice guy. Turned out he wasn't.
He was just some jerk whose opinion didn't matter. There's no taking the sting from something like that. However, I started on this journey to lose the weight for only one person - ME.
MY opinion is the only one that mattered. If someone said something nice, positive reinforcement is always encouraging. It gave me wind beneath my wings. If someone said something not so nice, it was irrelevant. It only lessened my opinion of them, but it did not stop me.
I learned what the saying "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" really meant.
I could have gone the other way. I could have taken these things as a reason to stay down the unhealthy path I was on. Why bother?
I didn't want to be obese. I didn't want to be out of breath walking up 10 stairs. I didn't want my knees and feet to hurt so bad when I walked for 10 minutes. I should always be loved for who I am, but it was not ok for me to be that UNHEALTHY.
There is absolutely no good reason for me to be obese. There is no medical benefit from being obese. I do not have medical issues or physical issues that prevent me from exercising and eating right. I am the only person responsible for what goes into my body.
Was it easy? Heck no (stronger language should be used here, but this blog is rated "G"). Of the top 5 hardest things I've ever had to do in my life, losing 30 lbs so I was no longer obese easily makes the list. (I'm now on the upper range of 'normal')
The only person who can make my goals happen is me. The only person who can stop my goals from happening is me. Any obstacles in the way are merely hurdles to jump over, push aside, crush with force of will, or pummel through.
I've conquered things I once thought 'impossible'. Losing 30 pounds, climbing mountains, diving in oceans, riding 25 miles on my bike in a single day - the list goes on and on. There is no such thing as impossible anymore. There is only, "I can't do this today, so how can I get where I want to be tomorrow/a week/a month/a year".
Saboteurs can get between me and my goal at their own risk. They can support me, or they can move aside. But they cannot stop me with words. Unkind words hurt, but they cannot make me feel inferior. Only I can give them that power, and I chose to give the power to myself.
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
I screwed up my spring rolls that were supposed to go with my pork spare ribs for dinner last night. This blog is a correction.
I just bought a new wok, so I decided to make Asian inspired dishes this week to take it for a test run. I wanted to make spring rolls as a healthy, veggie side dish to go along with them. I've never made spring rolls before. I thought they were made similarly to wontons, like you wrapped them, then steamed them.
Nope. After I steamed them, they completely fell apart when I put them on the dish. They were not spring ROLLS - they were veggie BLOBS.
Closeup of not-a-roll:
It was still delicious! But...not a roll.
So back to work. What did I do wrong?
1. The veggies need to be steamed FIRST, then put in the rice wrap. The rice wrap will melt under direct steam.
2. Double wrap. Maybe a spring roll grandmaster can wrap with just one sheet of rice wrapper which are paper thin, but I'm a mere grasshopper.
First, here are the rice wrappers. You should be able to get these at almost any asian grocery.
Cabbage and carrots are steamed in my steamer pan FIRST. Green onions are mixed in after they are steamed.
The rice wraps are dipped in a warm bowl of water for 5 seconds so they can be rolled. Any more than 5 seconds seemed to make them fall apart for me. I dipped 2 sheets at a time to wrap.
Couple of spoonfuls of veggies are placed in the wrap. The temptation is to overstuff, so use less than you think you need to start and adjust.
Fold up the sides.
And roll up!
I made six of them and put them in a container to eat later. I separated layers with wax paper in the container.
And that is a Spring Roll!
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
In today's Spark episode of "Cathy's Kitchen" we're making more Chinese "takeout" at home.
Today's recipe: Pork Spare Ribs.
If you're interested, the recipe is here: recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detai
Make the marinade first. I made this on my "Sous Chef" Sunday after I chopped up all my veggies. I just simply cut the ribs into single pieces, and put all marinade ingredients in with it.
Heat a wok or deep dish saute pan with a little oil over medium high heat. Add the ribs a few at a time and brown evenly on all sides.
Pour any remaining marinade liquid into the wok/pan. Cover and let braise 45 minutes.
While that's cooking, I wipe down my counter tops and put dishes in the dishwasher.
About 15 minutes before the ribs are finished, I start a pot of boiling water in my steamer pot for steamed spring rolls. I made spring rolls with very thin rice wraps you can buy from an Asian grocery, shredded cabbage, shredded carrots, and green onion.
Remember the shredded cabbage from Sunday?
I rolled these ahead of time on Sunday as well.
Everything is done! Time to plate. Scoop of rice (about 1/2 cup serving), two spare ribs, and 2 spring rolls.
A "man" sized portion with an extra rib.
One of the things I used to love about Julia Child was how she would react to her mistakes. Well just laugh at it, learn from it, and move on! This one is for you, Julia. Something went wrong with my spring rolls. They are more like spring...blobs. But they were still delicious! Ah well, I'll try again! Maybe I overstuffed the rolls? Soaked the wrappers too long in water? Steamed too long? Need to parboil the veggies before wrapping? Hmm...
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