Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Birthday Bang Bang Shrimp!


We lived around the corner from a chain restaurant called Bonefish Grill for almost two years before checking it out.

Hubby isn’t a big fish fan, and their logo (a fish skeleton) really is a terrible design because it doesn’t inspire thoughts of anything remotely appetizing.

But I had heard positive reviews from friends, and also their commercials made them sound pretty good, so we finally went just over a year ago. We liked it enough that we went back soon afterwards for my birthday dinner. This time, we tried their famous appetizer, bang bang shrimp. It was divine.

We’ve gone occasionally since then, but not often. We miss it terribly, mainly because of the bang bang shrimp.

Which is why the next part of my story is romantic, thoughtful, and just plain awesome.

My birthday was a few days ago. I think it was late morning when hubby casually asked, via gchat, what time I intended to leave work. I responded, “Around 4.”

He asked if I had any thoughts about dinner, and I replied that my only thought was that I didn’t intend to spend all evening cooking. I was willing to do something simple, given that we had plans to celebrate at a restaurant that weekend, but I didn’t want to spend much effort on it. He agreed that this sounded reasonable, and left it at that.

I pulled into the parking lot of my apartment complex around 4, about a half hour earlier than expected. Hubby’s car was inexplicably already there, though he normally wouldn’t be home until after 5, so a big grin spread across my face as I realized that he had a birthday surprise in mind. It made me think of the time I’d gone into school a bit early on my 15th birthday and found my friend in the middle of decorating my locker.

When I entered the apartment a minute later, I found cheesecake swirl brownies cooling, alfredo sauce being thickened, and a big bowl of raw shrimp being prepped. In addition to making shrimp fettucini alfredo, hubby was using a copycat recipe to make bang bang shrimp!

I don’t normally blog stuff he makes, but I felt that I needed to this time. Please excuse my less-than-awesome pictures. I was trying to stay out of the way.

He started by making a sauce with mayo, Thai sweet chili sauce, and sriracha hot chili sauce (more than the recipe called for, because it seemed to need it).



Next, he dredged raw shrimp in cornstarch.


After heating up some vegetable oil, he lightly fried them in small batches.


He drained them all on a plate lined with paper towels, just like with bacon.


Presentation is simple. In a dish, place some lettuce. I didn’t take pictures of that, sorry. But then place the shrimp on the lettuce and drizzle on the sauce. Or toss the shrimp in the sauce before putting them in the dish, as we did, just to make sure they’re evenly coated.



We’d already eaten a few before we remembered to sprinkle on some chopped scallions. So we did that.


So…. this was pretty much the best thing ever.

It was so romantic that hubby left work early, went to Wegman’s for ingredients, and was cooking this when I got home.

We both ate a full half pound of shrimp before taking a break and tackling some of the fettucini that he’d made. So much food, but so yummy. Hey, I only turn 29 once a year. The shrimp had such a nice texture, crispy yet soft and covered in the warm, creamy sauce. And the sauce was both sweet and tangy. Oh so good.

If you’re interested, here's the copycat recipe that he used.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry–in a Real Wok!


I once posted about my pretty new non-stick wok.

Turns out, it didn’t last all that long. Non-stick surfaces don’t hold up well with high heat, and before long, I was finding black Teflon flakes in my food. Yuck. I tossed the pan.

Not long after, I had a birthday. My parents gave me a new wok, a much nicer steel one. As we were preparing to pack up everything and move across two states, I reluctantly put it away without ever using it.

When we unpacked in our new place, I found that my new kitchen has about half the storage space as our old place. I have a lot of kitchen gadgets and pots and appliances and tools, so I found myself cramming everything into nooks and crannies, stacking boxes on top of boxes and using all of my spatial reasoning abilities. Long story short, the box with my new wok ended up bricked in a closet with my turkey roasting pan and my entertaining trays. In other words, it got put away and forgotten about.

I remembered it recently, and eagerly dug it out of the furnace room that doubles as a storage closet. But as it needed to be seasoned before putting it to use, I set it aside and made my shrimp stir fry in another pan.

In my defense, I’ve been really busy over the past few months.

But now, I’m done with my coursework for the degree I’m working on, and since I haven’t been able to do my field work yet, I’ve on a temporary leave of absence from school and have found extra time to do things that I enjoy now. So I seasoned my wok!

But first I took a selfie, just because I felt like it.

Don’t mind my crazy after-work hair.


Anyway, here’s the wok. First step was to fill it with water and boil it.



Then scrub it hard with hot, soapy water to remove the initial protective coating. I didn’t take pictures, use your imagination. After I dried it, it looked like this:


Then dribble in a bunch of vegetable oil and coat the pan, using a paper towel to help do this evenly.


Then turn on the heat and let it cook!




But only do this for 10 minutes at a time, letting it cool down in between rounds. I may have gotten impatient and put it in the fridge to speed things up.


Then add more oil and repeat. I tried to tilt the pan so the sides could get cooked too, not just the bottom, but wasn’t as successful.

But the sides did get some color in the end.


So now I’ll tell you about the first meal I made in this!

I looked up a bunch of recipes before deciding that I didn’t feel like following any of them and would just wing it, instead.

I started with a pound of skirt steak.



I tossed the cut up steak in a healthy amount of corn starch, based on what I’d seen in a few recipes.



I heated some oil in my wok, and when it was hot, tossed in my steak.


When it was cooked, I removed the beef from the pan.


In its place, I put a bunch of broccoli.


Which I coated with the remnants of a bottle of stir fry sauce that I had in the fridge.



Since that wasn’t going to be enough, I decided to improvise my own sauce with soy sauce (reduced sodium), minced garlic, sherry cooking wine, rice vinegar, and dried ginger.


I just poured various amounts in the broccoli and let it cook down, adding more of whatever as I went. Very precise.


When it was mainly cooked, I added the beef back in to let it heat up and get coated in the sauce. I didn’t bother thickening with corn starch since there was already a bunch in the beef. It thickened on its own at this point.


Finally, I served over rice. Yum!



My parents own a wok that used to belong to my grandmother. They’ve taken care of it so it’s held up well. I sure hope this one shows the same longevity. With this kind of cookware, washing in soap will ruin the seasoning, so it just needs hot water and scrubbing, meaning that I won’t be able to put off dishes and let food dry onto it. Sure hope I can manage that. Doing dishes really sucks.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Outlaw Potatoes

There’s a little barbecue joint near us.

We’re not sure what it’s called. The owners themselves don’t seem to really know what it’s called, either. In some places, it’s “Taste of Texas,” and in others, it’s “Texas BBQ Joint.” Neither are particularly imaginative, but I don’t really mind because their food is pretty good.


One thing on their menu is a concoction called, “Outlaw Potatoes.” It’s a baked potato smothered in sour cream, cheese, green onions, and either pulled pork or chicken.

This is my own version of it.

I did this first part the night before, since I want dinner to be ready when I got home today and didn’t really want to wait forever. Anyway, last night, I coated russets in olive oil, sprinkled them with coarse kosher salt, and put them in an oven. The foil underneath was to catch oil as it dripped.


After an hour, they were soft when squished, so I took them out, let them cool, and refrigerated them.

Next, I prepared the slow cooker Texas pulled pork. First, put some vegetable oil in the crock pot. I was using brand new measuring spoons because most of mine have mysteriously (and maddeningly) disappeared from my kitchen over the last month or so. I have no idea where they’ve gone and this is driving me absolutely crazy. Two sets, practically obliterated. *sigh*


Next, put a chunk of pork in there. The recipe said to do four pounds, but this piece here was that big and seemed like far too much.


So I cut it in half


And only put half in the crock pot. The other half went in the freezer. I think I’ll be making jambalaya soon with it.


Now for the sauce. Here’s some barbecue sauce (Famous Dave’s, of course).


Normally I like to mix up the sauce separately, but this time around I didn’t want to dirty any extra dishes, so I put it right on the pork.


Then I added some apple cider vinegar.


And chicken broth (I always use reduced sodium, if I can).



We’re just getting started. Here’s a bit of brown sugar added to the pot:


A bit of yellow mustard:


Some Worcestershire sauce:


Some chili powder:


Some dried thyme:


And finally, some minced garlic:


I had waited until this point to mix it together, but now was a good time for that.


Lastly, I chopped an onion and added that.



And with that, I put the lid on it and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I took it out and plugged it in.

After I got home from work that afternoon, it smelled amazing. This is what it looked like:


Remarkably fork tender.


Just a few minutes of shredding with two forks, and this is what it looked like.


Now for the assembly. First, I sliced a potato lengthwise, heated it up in the microwave, and pushed the ends toward each other to open it up a bit.


Added some plain Greek yogurt (healthier than sour cream!), shredded cheese, and chopped green onions. They probably would have added crumbled bacon at the Taste of Texas, but I didn’t think it would really add a ton so I didn’t bother.


Then, finally, I topped everything with the pulled pork.



Very delicious.


An easy dinner, and a satisfying one. Very flavorful and filling.

And very easy. Perfect for a weeknight.