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...
Monday, October 04, 2010
Yesterday, I wrote "The Sunday Sous Chef" where I explained how I do all my veggie/fruit prep work on the weekend when I have time. When I want to make something during the week, I just throw it in a pan and go. You can read more about it here:
Today I'm going to blog about stir-fry. Not so much my recipe, but my technique for making it come together in a snap using all the prepped veggies.
First, my new kitchen toy. A cast-iron Le Creuset wok. I bought it as a present to myself for getting a promotion at work! Well, that's not really true. I got a 40% off coupon from them last month, so I was planning on getting it anyway. I've been wanting it for a long time. With the coupon and the good news at work, it seemed like the right time!
I marinaded short ribs in soy sauce, sugar, green onion, and garlic earlier. I sliced it into strips and added it to my hot wok.
Once browned, I added my sliced bell peppers and onions. Remember when I sliced them up earlier? Just grab a handful of each.
While my stir fry, err...fried, I boiled water in a saucepan. I lightly wilted spinach, rinsed briefly in cool water, then set aside.
My rice was started in my rice cooker hours ago, and was ready to go on the plate! So just a scoop of rice, stir fry, the romaine lettuce I reserved for wrapping, and spinach lightly seasoned with a tiny dab of sesame oil and soy sauce.
Took about 15 minutes to finish cooking. In between my beef and veggies browning, I put all my dishes into the dishwasher and wiped down the counters. No piles of dishes to groan at - it's all done! Just sit down and chow!
Once dinner is done, dish goes in the dishwasher and the dishwasher is turned on. Spent the rest of my night writing blogs, reading messages, and kicking back.
15 minutes to dinner, start to finish (thanks to veggie prep and the miracle rice cooker). As fast or faster than Chinese takeout. Healthier - I didn't use much oil, and there's no MSG or funny food coloring. Why not eat at home?
Sunday, October 03, 2010
One of the most important keys to my weight loss and maintenance is making home cooked meals. I work 40-50 hours a week at a full time job, so I understand all too well the feeling of, "I'm too tired to cook. Maybe I should order a pizza".
While I learned to cook fast meals by watching Rachael Ray's "30 Minute Meals" on the Food Network, it takes me a lot longer than 30 minutes if I have to prep and chop everything on the fly. I'm just not as fast as Rachael chopping, or something!
One of the things I do to shortcut things is to do all my veggie chopping on the weekend when I have more time. I typically do my grocery shopping on a Saturday. I put on a "sous chef" apron on Sunday and chop them up.
I usually have an idea of what I want to make for a week ahead of time, but sometimes I change my mind or get an inspiration to try something on the fly. Having ingredients already prepped and ready to go makes this a snap.
Here's my veggies for the week all chopped up, put in containers and ready to go!
I have bell peppers sliced into strips and into rings. I'll use the strips for stir-fries, and the rings typically go into salads.
Romaine lettuce chopped into salad bites. The bigger leaves I reserve for lettuce wraps for my stir fry I'm making for dinner tonight.
Sliced onions are for stir fries. Diced onions are so versatile, they go into just about anything. Always handy to have ready, even if I don't have a menu planned.
Celery chopped into pieces for salads. Cut into sticks for snacking. I've reserved the celery hearts for a soup, stew or roast.
Chopped green onion. I like to have these for marinades as they give a nice mild oniony flavor without being too strong. Also great for sprinkling as a garnish, if I'm so inclined.
Carrots for either snacking or recipes. I like baby carrots because they are a great size to throw into a pot without a lot of prep work. Or ready to go for healthy snacking.
Half a cabbage head shredded for spring rolls. The rest of the cabbage may be steamed for wraps.
Brussel sprouts. I may sound weird, but I love brussel sprouts! There is an 'Iron Chef' challenge on the Culinary Artists Sparkteam this week for brussel sprouts as well, so these may come into play with some inspiration.
Everything is sealed and ready to go in the fridge!
If this looks like a lot, it is. We eat a ton of veg at my house though. I eat a salad for lunch and dinner, so there's at minimum 10 salad portions, just for me. I eat big salads, not puny 'side' salads. The fiance usually eats a salad for dinner, so there's an additional 5 veg servings.
If there's any leftover veg at the end of the week, it will get thrown into a pot either to make a stock/broth, or a soup/stew. Nothing will go to waste, promise.
The veggies are done, now the fruit is prepped. Cubed watermelon, diced fresh pineapple, grapes, bananas, oranges and limes. Not pictured here are frozen blueberries I like to put in my yogurt and cereal in the morning for breakfast. I prefer the frozen kind because I can buy a big bag, and just use small quantities when I want them.
My limes and orange "tree". I like having a lot of limes on hand for flavoring my water. I also use them for marinades and other flavorings. Oranges are eaten as a snack, or used as marinade flavoring as well.
This took about half my Sunday to get done, but I don't mind. I had plenty of goof off time. I actually look forward to the Sunday chopping. I find it a great time to be alone with my thoughts. I listen to music, or just reflect in silence. Making all this ahead of time will save me the hassle during the week, where it's too easy to say, "I'm too tired to cook". All I have to do now is throw stuff in a pan and go. That's time well spent, in my book.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
One of the most common themes on the message boards is, "I'm so busy with work/school/kids, and I don't have a lot of money. I don't know how to cook well. How can I make meals at home?"
Many of us still have the image of a home cooked meal from our grandmothers or moms who slaved away in the kitchen all day. They made pasta sauces that slow simmered all day, or a pot roast that slow roasted in the oven.
The modern age has made it difficult for most of us to make the traditional recipes, the traditional way. We replaced home cooked meals with fast food, packaged processed meals, and restaurants. For many of us, this resulted in weight gain and health issues.
Making meals at home can be easy, fast, and delicious. You can even make your grannie's/mom's all day meals without using the stove or oven. You just need a few essential kitchen tools.
Good quality knife
There are fancy slow cookers and rice cookers with timer features and what not, but you don't need them if you're on a budget. A basic rice cooker can be bought for $30. You can probably get one for $10 on craigslist. A basic slow cooker is about the same price. If you're just making food for one or two, get the smallest model you can find. Large models will be more likely to burn food if you put in small quantities.
Here are some of the things you can make with a rice cooker:
Rice of all kinds
Anything you can steam
Things you can make in a crockpot:
Spaghetti sauce (slow cooked just like grannie used to make!)
Pot Roast (just like mom!)
Jerk Chicken (I posted this on my blog a few days ago)
Ratatouille (also posted on my blog a few posts down)
Chili con carne
Slow cooked ribs in BBQ sauce
Anything that uses liquid!
There are all kinds of crockpot cookbooks. It's not just for Sunday church brunch or potlucks. Avoid the ones that use "Cream of xxx soup" as an ingredient, though.
With your knife and cutting board, just chop your ingredients and drop them directly in the pot. Set the crockpot on low, add rice and water to your rice cooker, and turn it on. By the time you come home from work or school, dinner is ready! It really is just that easy.
And cheap. A cup of cooked rice comes out to about $0.20 per cup in my area. A crockpot of veggie stew shouldn't cost more than a dollar per serving, even if you use organic veggies. It only starts getting pricey when you add meats. Cheap cuts of meat like London broil when slow cooked get very juicy and tender. A bag of chicken breasts are always an economical choice.
When using meats in a crockpot, though, make sure to start your crockpot on high and let it full boil until cooked through, before turning on low. Or you can quick saute in a fry pan first. Low setting on a crockpot is usually a slow simmer just below the boiling point, and may not be hot enough to kill food pathogens. Just start it on high when using raw meats, or quick cook first, to be safe.
Don't overfill your crockpot. If you put in too much, it may not get to a safe cooking temperature. Read the instruction booklet, but as a general rule, don't fill more than 2/3 full.
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