Wednesday, April 14, 2010

World Peace via Condiments

Hello. My name is Heather and I have condiment issues. Yes, you heard me, condiments. I don't know who it is that designs refrigerators, but they do not give enough of a nod to the condiment. My fridge, for instance has 4 shelves and a butter keeper in the door. They are packed full and overflowing. I have jars on top of jars, bottles squeezed in. It is so bad that sometimes when I pull the door open I get attacked by selfish thrill-seeking condiments. I've learned the expected trajectory of the usual suspects; mustard, plastic lemony thing and sun-dried tomatoes. I've got their game covered.

Then there is the Tetris-esc assembly of condiments in the shelves. One must consider height, kid reach-ability, probability of use, likeliness of escape, and stack-ability. Do you want to segregate your condiments by nationality, or experience that whole melting-pot thing? Thoughtful arrangement of condiments goes a long way in making cooking easier and more enjoyable.

We reached the height of condiment overload when I bought the cookbook Cooks Illustrated, Best International Recipes last summer. I love the Cooks Illustrated folks. The balance of science and food, the lengthy explanations, all lend a weighty confidence to their recipes. Prior to this cookbook, my Asian cooking wasn't much more than bottled Teriyaki Sauce on white rice. Now I make pot-stickers, stir-fries, curries, all sorts of great veggie-loaded, low-meat meals. The health benefits, fabulous. That the kids will eat carrots, broccoli, bell peppers, edemame and other great veggies in one meal, couldn’t be happier. The effect on my fridge door, not so good.

Here is the problem, for just the Asian chapters alone I have had to add Fish Sauce, Oyster Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, Black Bean Sauce, Green Curry Paste, Lemongrass Paste and Thai Red Chili Garlic Paste. Add that to the existing Soy Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce and Sweet and Sour Sauce. That is a whole shelf!

But wait, it gets better... want to add another culinary culture? You have to add more condiments! I have Italian; capers, sundried tomatoes, and basil pesto. Two salsas and Taco Sauce for Mexican. Tahini for homemade Hummus, which I wouldn't mention, except it is such a large bottle! Add this to the regulars; two jams, lingonberries, syrup, 4 salad dressings, mayo, 3 mustards, whipped cream, chocolate and caramel sauce, maraschino cherries, ketchup, pickles, two kinds of olives, lemon and lime plastic juice fruit, yeast, 2 kinds of butter, probiotics, cream cheese, chicken base, 2 kinds of Bar-B-Que Sauce, Tarter Sauce, Cocktail Sauce (Hey, sweetie, I found the Cocktail Sauce!), kefir, half and half, and milk. You get the picture.

I would love to cook from some of the other chapters, but I just don't have the real estate.

Humor aside, I am so blessed to live in a place in which all of these ingredients are available to me. As the world is shrinking, I feel a responsibility to introduce my kids to far away lands. I don't know many languages and probably will never be able to afford to take them to the far corners of the earth. But I can open up their taste buds to a variety of cultures and hopefully link our lives to places afar, one dish at a time. A culinary global initiative. If I have to give up refrigerator space for world peace, well, I can live with that.

This stir-fry recipe is a good place to start on the Asian map. The sauce is from Best International Recipes with a couple tweaks, 'Stir-fried Shrimp, Asparagus and Carrots with Orange Sauce.' Not too many condiments and a good base that works well with shirmp, salmon or chicken. It lends itself to the time-impaired, especially if you buy some or all of the veggies pre-sliced. You will find that the cutting prep work is extensive, but cooking takes about 5 minutes. Make sure that you all your prep work is done and you have everything lined up on the counter before heating the pan, because the cooking's quick.

Stir-Fry Shrimp with Orange Sauce

1/2 cup Orange Juice (or 2tbl Orange Juice Concentrate and enough water to make 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup Chinese rice cooking wine or dry sherry
2 tbl soy sauce
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or 1/2 tsp red chile sauce)

Stir Fry:
1 pound large shrimp
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice cooking wine

3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tbl minced fresh ginger
2 green onions, minced
2 tbl vegetable oil

2 red, green or yellow bell peppers, cut into thin strips
1 large head broccoli, cut into medium florets
25 baby carrots, sliced in halves or quarters for uniformity
1/4 cup water

For the Sauce: Wisk all ingredients together and set aside

For the meat: Toss the shrimp with the soy and rice wine and set aside, 10 minutes to one hour.

For the herbs: Mix together minced onion, ginger and garlic with oil in small bowl. Set aside.

To Stir Fry: Heat 1 tbl oil in large non-stick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half of shrimp and cook, without stirring until the shrimp are browned at the edges, about 1 minute. Stir/turn shrimp and continue to cook until they are nearly cooked through, about 30 seconds longer. Transfer the shrimp to a medium bowl and repeat with more veggie oil and shrimp. Remove all shrimp and cover with foil.

In the same pan, heat 1 tbl oil on high heat until smoking again. Add broccoli and carrots and toss for 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup water, lower heat to medium-high and cover with lid. Steam for 2 minutes, until veg is crisp tender, then uncover. Add bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes more.

Create a hole in center of veggies in the pan and pour garlic mixture into the hole (see picture). Cook garlic mixture, smashing it into the pan for 30 seconds and then mix it into the veg.

Add shrimp and sauce to the pan and stir/cook for about 1 minute until sauce is bubbly and thickened. Spoon over rice and enjoy.

Recipe Notes:
Here are my ingredients. I use the Chili Garlic Paste and throw a bit of Hoisin in there, too.  You don't need to do that!  You might want to add 1tbl of brown sugar to the sauce, though, if your Orange Juice isn't very sweet.  I like to line up all my veg on the cutting board, just like this, so that it is easy to swipe into the fry pan. 

Do you have one of these?  It is a great tool for sauces that switch between tablespoons and fractions of cups.  I just pour in what I need and never have to dirty my measuring spoons.

How much ginger is one Tablespoon?   I put R2 next to a piece of ginger that is about 1 tablespoon.  Does that help? I have found that you want the same amount of ginger as garlic in volume.  So go ahead and guess, and then just add or subtract until it looks like the same amount. 

My broccoli and carrots are steaming away.  Don't steam them into mushy-ness or they will get even more mushy as you cook everything else.  Better to undercook in the steaming stage and then extend the boiling of the sauce at the end if the texture isn't to your liking.

Now the peppers are in the pan.  I like to keep the peppers pretty firm, so this goes quickly!

The veg in this picture has been moved to the rim, allowing a space directly on the pan to add the garlic mixture.  You don't want the garlic to get brown or burn, but you do want to cook it till you can really smell it.  Smush it around!

Here the sauce is added and it is getting all bubbly and thick.  Cornstarch thickens at boiling, so make sure you see the bubbles.

You might have noticed there aren't any shrimp!  This day I made the veggies seperate and grilled some salmon for the meat component. Because I wasn't adding shrimp or chicken I could use my aluminum pan instead of the non-stick.  Use your non-stick if you are adding shrimp.
This recipe also works with chicken.  Slice 2-4 breasts very thin and in a bowl add:
1 tbl cornstarch
1 tbl flour
1 tbl soy sauce
1 tbl rice cooking wine or sherry
2 tbl sesame oil

Mix well with your fingers and let sit 10 minutes to an hour.  Heat the same amount of oil and cook just like the shirmp, in two to three batches, flipping when slightly brown.  Set aside and cover with foil and add back to the pan when you add the sauce!  This process is called velveting and is useful in many asian recipes.  It is imperative, though, that you use a non-stick pan if you add chicken, as it will stick!!

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