Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pepper Steak Shenanigans

January is totally the month during which I go into hibernation and try to make sense of my clutter. The Husband visits Goodwill on a weekly basis in the hopes that our collection of castoffs, retail mistakes, and gifts of yesteryear collecting dust in the basement will do somebody good somewhere all while giving me fresh open space for my new sparkly treasures.

In the meantime, I love busting out all of my Christmas gifts of kitchen gadgetry and cooking up a storm. Of course this is only AFTER finding the rightful place to store my glistening fresh wares in my comfortable kitchen. (Please note that the adjective for my cucina is "comfortable" as opposed to much more desirable describers such as luxurious, spacious, state-of-the-art, deluxe and/or designer.) But, if there's one thing the Jersey Girl can do it is make do.

Despite the average nature of my cooking space, some majorly delish eats can always be concocted and devoured. (No joke, I threw cooking parties back in college with a plug-in burner. Granted, I was also drinking Vladimir vodka with a splash of pink lemonade Snapple, so perhaps, my level of taste WAS a bit skewed. Gag.)

Anyways, ain't nothin' like kicking off the new year with some wild and crazy new recipes, so I present you with ....... pepper steak.

Right. You were TOTALLY expecting some trendy rigmarole such as sesame tofu with cauliflower or stir-fried gluten-free whole-grain noodles on a bed of shaved brussels sprouts topped with an egg, but I'm kickin' it so OLD SCHOOL with a straight-up, no surprise pepper steak. And the recipe comes from Rachael Ray. I mean, could I be any more avant garde?

While food trends - and shoe trends - come and go, the classics stand the test of time. Wholeheartedly, I must admit I am no expert in Asian cuisine,but it does seem like pepper steak stir fries or some variation of them have been a staple on Asian menus in America for ages. It's got staying power, right? So, after wracking my brain and scouring Pinterest, and cookbooks and various cookery Web sites for a fru-fru stir-fry recipe, I decided to just stick with the one stir-fry I had been making for 10 years from my good old Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals 2 cookbook: Five Spice Beef and Pepper Stir-Fry.

The new angle is that I rocked it out in my shiny new wok, courtesy of my mother-in-law, who quite awesomely feeds my J. Crew, shoe and cookware addictions. Honestly, when I unwrapped the gift with my 3-year-old helper, I was taken aback. (Perhaps, I should have written my Christmas gift list BEFORE drinking a bottle of wine.) The Jersey Girl kinda forgot that she requested a wok from the North Pole. But, when I realized what was before me, I was PUMPED!!

My sweetie Evan helps me open my gift. Yay!

For my review of the wok, please click here.

If you do not have a wok - or the space for it - have no worries. This dish works just as well in a large pan. Make sure you have some high sides going on so that the sauce isn't spilling out, mucking up your stove.

I make my stir fry with red and green peppers. The red peps add a bit of sweetness. And, I omit the almonds from the recipe so that The Husband does not need to haul my bootie to the ER. I also did not use any sherry because that is an ingredient that I NEVER have. Sorry!

My 3-year-old culinary counterpart LOVED my pepper steak. In fact, he asked for more steak for three days after. Be sure to add the chopped scallions at the end. Gives the whole thing a nice freshness.

This could not be any easier. Honest to goodness.

Five Spice Beef and Pepper Stir-Fry
From 30 Minute Meals 2 by Rachael Ray

Makes 4 servings
Jasmine rice or short grain wite rice, 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups, prepared to package directions

2 cups beef broth or stock
2 Tbsp. wok or clear oil (twice around the pan)
1 and 1/2 pounds beef sirloin or beef tenderloin tips, trimmed, sliced and cut into bite-size pieces
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced (1-inch pieces)
1 medium onion, coarsely diced
1/2 cup dry cooking sherry
2 Tbsp. Tamari dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder (1/2 palmful, found on Asian foods aisle of market)
Cracked freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 scallions, thinly sliced on an angle, for garnish
1/2 cup smoked whole almonds (available on snack aisle), for garnish

Boil water for rice and prepare to package directions.

Place beef broth in a small pot over low heat to warm the broth.

Heat a wok-shaped skillet or pan over high heat. Add oil (it will smoke) and beef bits, stir-fry for 3 minutes then remove meat from pan or move off to the side. Return pan to heat and add peppers and onions. Stir fry, 2 minutes, and stir the meat back in. Add sherry and stir-fry until liquid almost evaporates, about 1 minute. Add soy sauce. Dissolve cornstarch with a ladle of warm beef broth. Add beef broth to the pan, then the cornstarch with a ladle of warm broth, the five-spice powder and the black pepper. Stir until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Adjust seasonings. Add more soy sauce or salt if necessary. Remove from heat.

Fill dinner bowls with beef stir-fry and with an ice cream scoop, place a nicely rounded scoop of rice on top of beef. Garnish with chopped scallions and smoked almonds.

Please note: The Jersey Girl omitted the cooking sherry and almonds. She used 1 green and 1 red bell pepper. Also, her wok did not smoke when cooking. She used low-sodium broth and low-sodium soy sauce.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Product Review: Calphalon Unison Wok

Product: Calphalon Unison Wok, 13"
Price: About $100
Where to get it: Macy's and Amazon

The Jersey Girl's new wok, still in the box.

The new wok out the box and ready for its first wash up. Woo-hoo!

The wok taking care of some pepper steak business.

What it does: Cooks delicious stir-fries on your stove top.

Why I love it: Easy to clean; heats up evenly and efficiently; rocks a see-through lid so you can see what's going on up in there; fulfills a lifelong dream of being a wok owner.

What's not to like: It was a little bit wobbly on my burner, but I was about half-way into a bottle of wine, and I'm pretty much a wok amateur. So, you know, some practice and some sobriety and all should be good in my hood. Oh, and it's kind of awkward to store.

Don't forget: Since the wok is non-stick, be sure to cook with nylon or wooden utensils. Metal utensils will jack it up, big time. Ditto for cooking sprays. Use a light flavorless oil.

What I made: I tried out my wok by whipping up a fab pepper steak. Recipe will follow real soon!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Calling All Vegetarians

The Jersey Girl is in no way, shape or form a vegetarian. But, going sans meat or fish ain't no big thang.

Confessional: When The Husband is out of town taking care of his bizness, I often dine on fruit and veggies with some groovy pasta thrown in. (My fettucine alfredo is DIVINE!)

So here's an entree that will satisfy the vegetarians in your world: Roasted Red Pepper Risotto.

I love all of the different layers of flavor from the roasted peppers and goat cheese and fresh arugula. The addition of a fresh leafy green at the end of it all is a fabulous surprise. Not only does it add brilliant color, but it was a welcome texture against the comforting feel of properly cooked aborio rice and the smooth creaminess of goat's cheese. I did declare that this was my most fave risotto ever.

The Husband disagreed.

He likes it, but my  man is a man of tradition without the flash: He prefers a basic risotto as a side rather than a colorful mix of crazy deliciousness. Hmmm, Husband. How did you end up with me?

My main man No. 1 cleared his plate - I'm quite sure I served up some sort of veal or chicken with this, but alas, I made this a couple months ago, and I don't remember: Eep!

My main man No. 2 was not so into the risotto. My toddler is not a picky eater, but at this moment in time he is not a fan of rice, which I find so interesting. We'll take him to our fave Indian restaurant. He'll house the kebabs and chickpeas and lamb and naan, but the delish rice: No way, no how. Oh well, we'll just keep on trucking. He's bound to try it one of these days!

Here's my sweetie movin' on up into his big boy bed. Yay!

Roasted Red Pepper Risotto
4 servings

1 shallot, minced 

2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 12 ounce jar roasted red peppers
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
Baby arugula, about 2 cups
Salt and pepper
1 4 ounce log of goat cheese

In a small pot, heat the broth and water to boiling. Cover and simmer.

In a food processor, puree the roasted red peppers.

Meanwhile, in a risotto pan over medium high heat, add olive oil.  Add shallot and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes. 

Add the arborio rice to the pan. Stir so that the rice becomes coated in the shallot and garlic mixture.

Pour in wine. Stir until wine evaporates. Then start adding one ladle of broth at a time. Stir the rice slowly over medium heat. The mixture should bubble slightly and the liquid will be absorbed into the rice. Repeat this process over about 15 minutes until the rice is tender. 

Season the risotto with salt and pepper. Add pepper puree and butter. Stir until well combined. Stir in parmigiano reggiano cheese. If you want the risotto to be looser, add more broth.

To serve: Place a healthy serving of risotto on a dinner plate. Top with a few chunks of goat cheese. Top with the  arugula. Voila!