May 2: Vegetable stir-fry and updates

Well, I’m alive. It’s been so hectic, and not having internet at home makes it challenging to blog regularly. But all of that will change soon. So last I wrote it was Lent (where I was a vegetarian for 40 days and 40 nights, plus weekends) and I was an ice skating queen. I’ll start with ice skating. I finished my 10 weeks of group lessons April 14. I almost cried because it will be the last time I skate for awhile. The ice skating rink is located on the university campus where I work, and group lessons will not start again until June. I have several conferences I plan to attend, and with preparing to move to D.C. (via Georgia), ice skating is just on hold. I learned and became proficient in ice skating in 10 weeks. I can snow plow stop on my right leg (I do not hold my breath for learning on my left leg lol), swizzle forward, do one legged-glides on both legs, skate backwards (though not very well yet), and crossover with both legs. Not bad for someone who never donned ice skates before in her life!

The other update relates to the stir fry. I gave up meat (including fish) for Lent this year. It was a bit traumatic after the initial excitement wore off. I mean, what “sacrifice” should be fun and enjoyable, right? Other than the recipes I blogged about, I didn’t really try many new vegetarian dishes. After Lent, I started eating meat again, though I came to enjoy being vegetarian. It’s a learning curve creating new dishes or figuring out how to make favorite meals meatless. I even told my friends on Facebook that I would start having “Meat Mondays” instead of “Meatless Mondays”. Well, that didn’t last long. Not one to waste food willingly, I felt obligated to eat the frozen meat I had in my freezer, which was mostly chicken. Shortly after Easter, I bought some chicken stir fry with General Tso’s sauce from one of the dining facilities on campus. I was able to select raw vegetables from a veggie bar, choose oil or broth to cook the vegetables, a meat of my choice, rice or noodles, and a sauce. I watched the chef prepare my meal and thought, “That looks easy enough”. As with nearly all food made on campus, the stir fry was pretty much amazing. So, in April I began experimenting with stir fry dishes that I can cook without a wok.

The first attempt, I poached chicken tenders (poaching helps the chicken retain moisture) and used frozen stir fry vegetables. The poached chicken stock was used to cook the vegetables. I bought a bottle of General Tso’s sauce from Kroger. I haven’t cooked rice in over a year, preferring quinoa instead, so I used some whole wheat spaghetti noodles instead of rice. The meal was decent. The sauce had a nice amount of heat to it, which I enjoyed. I don’t like sweet General Tso’s; I might as well use sweet and sour sauce. Frozen stir fry vegetables are a no no.

Second attempt, I repeated the experiment (can you tell I’m a chemist? lol) with fresh vegetables: green beans, strips of red bell pepper, carrots cut into bite size match sticks, and bean sprouts. Love bean sprouts. In my pantry, I found some teryaki sauce that I had good experience with in the past. And I thawed out some grouper fillets. I cooked even more noodles because I knew all that I needed was fresh vegetables to take the meal up to restaurant quality. If only that was the solution.

I attempted to find lo mein noodles in Kroger because the spaghetti, while an acceptable substitute, was still spaghetti. And mentally, what I normally use to make Italian cuisine mixed in with Chinese cuisine just bothered me. After all, I wouldn’t eat stir fry with, say penne noodles. Well, with teryaki, noodle choice makes a huge difference. It tasted like spaghetti with teryaki sauce (yuck is right), and to make matters worse, I overcooked my vegetables *sigh*. I really tried to eat it. But I had to toss out that disaster last night so I could use the pot for my third attempt.

I gave up on spaghetti noodles and bought a bag of jasmine rice. I prepared as directed, though I added currants. In a large saucepan, I heated one-quarter cup of chicken broth until it started to boil. That morning, when I was up way too early for my own good, I prepared fresh vegetables (sweet yellow onion, green beans, red pepper strips, and carrot matchsticks). So, when the broth began to boil, I tossed the vegetables (~4.5 cups) into the hot pan. Unfortunately, one-quarter cup was not enough liquid. During experiment #2 I used one cup of broth; the vegetables released a lot of water, so I ended up with too much liquid. Apparently one-half cup of broth is the magic number. At any rate, I stirred the vegetables continuously until the carrots were just tender. I did not add any sauce to the pot, instead I just add sauce before eating.

The verdict is that I have a triple; not quite a home run. The jasmine rice with currants is definitely a keeper. The blend of vegetables is definitely a keeper. I bought a handful of bean sprouts, but i forgot to add them. I’ll saute them up tonight and dump them in with the leftovers. Anywhoo, so how did I miss the home run? I need to add the different vegetables at different times. The carrots were perfect, but the onions were caramelized and the green beans where extra crispy, though a beautiful green color lol. It’s not anything to complain about since I’m the only one eating what I cook these days. I just wanted my third at bat to be a home run *shrug*. The taste was spectacular. Everything tasted so fresh. I had a variety of colors to appeal to my visual sense. The seasoned broth added great flavor to the vegetables. And there was no meat in sight.

I decided a few days ago that I am going to become a pescatarian. Ever since I began eating meat again last month, I have not felt well. It’s really hard to describe. I feel lethargic. I just feel blah. And I didn’t even notice that I felt better during Lent. It wasn’t until I asked myself what is different now that a month ago that it occurred to me: it’s the meat silly. So, I will try to find a home for the last package of frozen chicken breasts. I have a small package of stew beef that  I will use to make this awesome Moroccan-inspired beef stew (which is why I have currants) before the weather heats up too much. I do not intend to consume much fish (nasty toxic metals). On the rare occasion I want poultry or beef, it will come from animals that were fed a proper diet and treated well. I am hopeful for a future consuming more fresh vegetables and less meat.

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March 23: Cooking 101 Sensational Seafood

It has been some time since I posted about new things I’ve tried. I haven’t been diligent with making all the recipes from the previous cooking class. I did however sear salmon for dinner one night last week. I bought a small fillet that was pre-seasoned with honey and bourbon. Since it was a busy week, I wasn’t able to buy and dice bell peppers, so I didn’t make the quinoa salad to accompany the seared salmon. Despite life happening, the honey bourbon salmon on top of a bed of mixed salad greens with a few tablespoons of lemon vinaigrette was delectable! Speaking of lemon vinaigrette, I learned the hard way that I can’t make it in huge quantities. The oil and sugar coagulate over time forming hard to disperse globules.

Anywhoo, so the new cooking class was all about seafood. While I didn’t have nearly as much fun in this class (different chef, different set up), I still managed to cook some great tasting food and learn a few things. For this class, we simply used the tabletop gas burners at our cooking stations. Since we only made three dishes, we paired up and prepared periwinkle soup; moules marinière; and fresh flounder with shrim, bacon stuffing and New Orleans butter cream.

Periwinkles are little snails. The chef had already cooked them, removed the meat, and ground them into a paté-like paste for us. I’ve had escargot before, so I was familiar with the chewy texture. Something new I learned was how to clarify butter. It’s really not that hard; just melt the butter and remove the foam before pouring the clarified butter off the whey remaining on the bottom of the pan. In chemistry, we call the second step decanting, so I could visualize the process without actually seeing it. The reason we used clarified butter was because removing the impurities increased the flashpoint of the butter so it would be less likely to burn at the high temperatures we needed.

All three dishes from last night relied on clarified butter which provided an excellent base for meals; the meals really tasted like something I would buy in a fine dining restaurant. That being said, when I need a menu for a nice romantic dinner, I’m using these recipes. The butter does make the dishes heavy on the stomach, but it also means that I can consume less and still be satiated.

The soup was ready to be simmered within 10 minutes of beginning the recipe. We added sherry which was super fragrant. Love those aromatic compounds *smile*. Sorry, that’s the organic chemist in me. Once the soup was simmering, we learned about buying, preparing and cooking mussels. Emeril has a great summary with his moules marinière recipe. The simple mussel dish was awesome because of the sauce. I added a little too much sherry because the sauce was really salty. The seasoning was not so overpowering that the dish was inedible, though. We didn’t have any french bread, but I highly recommend it as it makes enjoying the brothy sauce much easier!

Finally, we prepared the flounder dish. With my newly developed expertise in searing salmon, I felt quite at ease. The difficult part is still learning which temperature setting to use and for how long to avoid oil/butter splatter. The flounder had a nice golden brown thin crust and flaky meat inside. I absolutely loved the butter cream sauce with this dish.

Overall, I learned how to make really great sauces and creams that I can use for a variety of dishes. For example, the periwinkle soup base will work well with any seafood. Snails aren’t my thing, so maybe shrimp or tilapia when I prepare it at home. Of course I can’t wait to sear some salmon and try it with the butter cream. I can even use the fried flounder as a salad topper with the quinoa salad! So many great choices *smile*.