HONEY WALNUT SHRIMP

I saved this unabashedley Chinese-American dish for the final post in my week of Chinese take-out meals at home because, well . . . it’s pretty damn sweet, like sweet enough to be a dessert. But don’t fear, the savory addition of prawns, mayonnaise and a nice sprinkling of salt make it worthy of your dinner plate.

It only dawned on me when I was making it that this particular dish may not be everyone’s favorite — certainly not in the same way chow mein tends to be. The inclusion of sweetened condensed milk and mayo might sound a bit off-putting, but if you’ve ever enjoyed fried calamari or shrimp dipped in a pleasantly sweet, thick sauce, then you’ll understand the appeal. When the crispy prawns and crunchy walnuts are tossed in the sweet, creamy sauce it creates a succulent combination of textures and flavors — a perfect compliment to salty pot stickers and broccoli beef.

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BROCCOLI BEEF

My girlfriend (and her entire family) is nuts for broccoli beef.  In fact, she’s down with almost all of the classic Chinese-American dishes — chow mein, wonton soup, cashew chicken, etc.  When I told her I was planning on pulling together a few recipes for Chinese New Year to post on the blog, she insisted that this dish had to be on the menu.  As she put it, “this is the type of Chinese food that everybody loves.”  As hard as it is to admit, I too am fairly partial to a good take-out box of broccoli beef every once in a while.  Sure, I have a few Chinese friends that scoff at the very notion of this dish as a truly “authentic” Chinese dish, but the fact of the matter is, this is good, simple comfort food at its best.

Making good broccoli beef at home is way easier than most people think.  In fact, with a few Asian ingredients that all home chefs should have in their pantry and about a pound of good flank steak, the average home cook can have an outstanding dish on their table in less than a half hour.  Simply follow the principles of good stir-frying technique and you are pretty much guaranteed solid results.  Make this dish. After you see how easy it is to put together you might just reconsider paying $9-$10 for it at a restaurant the next time you get that craving.

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POT STICKERS

I absolutely loved eating pot stickers growing up.  In fact, no night of Chinese take-out was complete without them in my house.  And what’s not to like about them?  Crispy on one side, tender on the other and bursting with a flavorful, juicy pork and shrimp filling.  Yup, give me a bowl of soy or some sweet and sour dipping sauce and I was good.  Then…I went away to college and simply lost all interest in these delicious dumplings.

You see, there is a brand of frozen pot stickers on the market that seems to be stocked in every grocery store on the planet. It’s highly likey that you might have eaten them yourself at one point in time.  And why wouldn’t you have?  They aren’t half bad when you prepare them correctly.  But it was the constant consumption of these store-bought wonders by my roommates that really put me off them for a while.  Do you know what it’s like to come home from a long day of classes to a house steamed up with the funky stench of industrialized cabbage wontons?  Not good! Sure they were good the first couple of times, but after a while it’s just not the same as the genuine, handmade article.

So, smack-dab in the heart of Chinese New Year, I present to you a killer recipe from this month’s Fine Cooking Magazine for authentic, pork and shrimp jiao zi.  Simple enough to assemble and sheer gold sitting in your freezer, this recipe has single-handedly renewed my interest in these classic Chinese dumplings.  Loaded with a myriad of traditional Chinese ingredients like ginger, rice wine, napa cabbage, scallions and sesame oil, these pot stickers are leagues above your average supermarket variety and far better than the restaurant versions I’ve had in recent years. Serve them with the accompanying recipe for scallion-soy dipping sauce and you have a knockout appetizer.

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KALBI

You know that smell you catch a whiff of during those warm summertime evenings when everybody and their uncle is out in the backyard barbecuing?  I’m not talking about that run-of-the-mill grilled hamburger smell that wafts over your neighbors fence every weekend, I’m talking about that intoxicating, exotic aroma of soy and garlic marinated beef mixing with the sweet smell of wood smoke.  Haven’t smelled it?  Well, odds are you don’t have a large Korean population in your neighborhood, so let me frame this scenario a little differently.  You know the Korean spot in your local mall’s food court?  You know that ridiculously enticing aroma you smell each time you walk by?  That’s probably kalbi, or marinated and grilled beef short ribs.

While beef short ribs have grown in popularity over the past few years, I’m surprised to learn that many people have never had them prepared in this style.  They are a notoriously tough cut of meat that benefits from long periods of slow, low-heat cooking, but when cut in the flanken style (perpendicular to the bone), marinated in a sweet and salty aromatic mixture for a couple of days and cooked quickly on a hot grill, you have a whole different experience at hand.  This is the type of eating that is perfectly suited for the backyard.  In fact, this is the type of dish that allows one to get in touch with their primordial ancestry.  This isn’t filet mignon were talking about, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Kalbi requires a good set of chompers and a willingness to get your hands (and face) dirty pulling the sweet, succulent meat from the three tiny bones that run the length of the rib.  In my mind, a little messiness is well worth the experience of eating these sweet and savory morsels.  Not only do they pack an incredibly beefy flavor, but the perfect amount of charring on the grill will bring out the soy, garlic, sesame oil and sugars in the marinade, perfuming the air with a mix of aromas that are certain to get your salivary glands flowing.

Next time you’re looking to grill something a little bit out of the ordinary or spot some beautiful flanken-style beef ribs at the grocery store, do yourself a favor and try out this recipe.  Your neighbors are guaranteed to be jealous.

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PEAR SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE & CANDIED WALNUTS

Growing up it was this salad that my mom served to guests at dinner. Even after the main course was done and the dessert, too, it was this salad that guests talked about. Nearly two decades later when I serve it to my own group of friends — at sit-down dinners and potlucks alike — it is still subject to the same “oohs” and “aahs.” In a time when entire salads come in a bag — fruits, nuts, dressing and cheese included — this salad seems simultaneously ordinary and luxurious. But, in fact, it’s neither. Yes, fruit has become rather ubiquitous in mass-market salads — proved by a quick trip to the supermarket or a ride through the drive-thru — and yes, this salad requires a wee bit more effort, but with tender leaf lettuces, homemade candied walnuts, pungent blue cheese and juicy pieces of ripe, fresh pear gently tossed in sweet poppy seed dressing, it is certainly more than the sum of its parts.

I like to think of this salad as a reflection of the seasons. In winter it brims with pear and also citrus segments, but in summer I’ll glaze slivered almonds and toss in sliced strawberries and feta.  In fall, I serve it with tart apple slivers and spiced pecans. No matter what you use, there’s no wrong combination — this salad is timeless.

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