Bok Choy & Red Pepper Stir Fry

Bok Choy Stir Fry

Bok choy & red peppers star in this simple, quick stir fry

Tomorrow I return to work after a much-needed spring break from teaching, putting me in boo hoo mode, but at least I finally finished grading the essays I brought home. (Oh, the joys of teaching English.)

I did manage to set up the spring veggie plantings, trim a few trees in the backyard, and write a few letters to my nephew who recently headed off to Marine Boot Camp. 

However, I didn’t manage to read any novels, which I’m bummed about, and I didn’t take care of spring purging around the house. Honestly, I don’t know where the days have gone considering I got so little done.

Speaking of where the days have gone, I really don’t know how two months have passed and I’ve only blogged once! Somehow I lost my motivation and energy. The muses left me high and dry. Sinus infection and allergies contributed to the absence as well as a heavy work load of essay correcting (all my own fault for assigning so much work, I know).

Plus, hubby has returned to work after a couple years of schooling for a career change, and now our balance needs readjusting. He used to take responsibility for dinner since I was the one gone all day. Now I get home before him, so I find my evenings filled with kitchen duty, leaving little time and energy for blogging. 

Despite my absence the past couple months, I have experimented with and collected a few recipes to share, one of them this Red Pepper Bok Choy Stir Fry side dish. 

This dish cooks up quickly, uses few ingredients, has crispiness and crunchiness, and contains oodles of nutritional value. Plus, it’s pretty to look at with the bright red and green colors and the sprinkling of sesame seeds. And for us, at least, it adds a new veggie–the bok choy–to our lives, creating a nice break from the heavy doses of broccoli we consume.

It pairs well with brown or white rice for a veggie rice bowl, complements chicken and beef, and tastes especially yummy with Asian meatballs. Or, just eat it all on its own for a filling meal.

Bok Choy & Red Pepper Stir Fry

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp. dark sesame oil (don’t skip, for this adds a rich nutty flavor)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced (I omit this)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bunches bok choy, sliced any size you prefer (I got about 8 loosely packed cups from a bag of baby bok choy from the Asian store; I’ve used less, too, as well as used “grown-up” bok choy)
  • 2 red peppers, deseeded and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1-2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • toasted sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS

  1. Add vegetable oil and sesame oil to a wok, heating over medium-high heat (use a large pan if you don’t have a wok). When the oil begins to shimmer, add the peppers, onion, and garlic; toss/stir constantly.
  2. After 3-4 minutes, when the onions turn translucent and golden, add the bok choy, stirring/tossing often. Cook for 1 minute, then add the soy sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes more, just until the green leaves on the bok choy begin to wilt. 
  3. Garnish with sesame seeds. 

SOURCE: slightly adapted from Cook for Your Life

Chocolate Babka

Back in December 2009, I clipped a recipe from Cooking Light magazine for a chocolate-laced bread called babka. Since then, I have attempted that particular recipe on several occasions, only to face undercooked bread, issues with the dough not rising, and bread with HUGE air pockets.

Babka

Chocolate Babka: bread laced with chocolate filling

I have persevered, though, because the swirls of chocolate filling enticed me. I finally tried another sweet bread recipe from Lindsey at Pinch of Yum and combined it with the filling method from Cook’s Illustrated cinnamon swirl bread. Finally, success!

Babka

Aren’t those swirls of chocolate and cinnamon filling gorgeous!

Wondering about the origins of the name babka, I googled it to learn that babka is a Ukrainian sweet bread made for Easter. In my Croatian heritage, my mom and aunt always make Easter bread, which is a tad sweet and dry. Theirs bakes up lighter than this one, but the breads share the same level of mild sweetness. I prefer this one due to the chocolate spirals inside, though. I took it to work (to prevent myself from devouring it all), and my coworkers loved it.

So, I present to you a version of babka that took me five years to perfect.

Babka

Utterly delicious sweet bread

Chocolate Babka

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INGREDIENTS

Dough

  • 1 package (2 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 8-9 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • optional: zest of one orange

Filling

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips or 4 ounces finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate (or dark chocolate, if you prefer)
  • 3 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Egg Wash

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 tsp. milk (or you can use orange juice to enhance the orange flavor if you used orange zest in the dough)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS

  1. To make dough: In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, allow the yeast to dissolve in the warm water until it reaches a frothy state.
  2. Add the milk, sugar, salt, eggs, orange zest (if using) and 2 cups of flour; using the paddle attachment of a standing mixer, mix on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  3. Switch to dough hook and add 3 more cups of flour; mix at a slightly higher speed. The dough should appear smooth and glossy.
  4. Add the melted butter; mix until dough appears glossy again.
  5. Stir in remaining 3-4 cups of flour a little at a time until a stiff dough forms. You will probably use closer to 3 cups of flour rather than 4.
  6. Transfer dough to a generously flour-coated surface, gently rolling dough around to coat it with flour. Place the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
  7. Using mixer, knead dough at low speed until smooth and satiny, about 4 minutes. Place dough into a lightly greased mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and allow it to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in size (my dough took almost 2 hours to rise).
  8. To make filling: Whisk together powdered sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and salt until well combined.
  9. Grease two loaf pans (I used shortening).
  10. Rolling dough and adding filling: After dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface; divide dough in half (at this point, you can wrap one half in plastic wrap, place in resealable bag, and freeze for another time; to use, allow to thaw overnight in refrigerator and to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or so). Working with one half at a time, roll dough into a large rectangle, roughly 14×16 inches and about 1/4-inch thick.
  11. Using a spray bottle, lightly spray the dough with water. Sprinkle half of the filling mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border on sides. Spray filling lightly with water (FYI: the powdered sugar absorbs water, forming a sticky paste that helps to hold the layers together, eliminating pesky air pockets).
  12. Starting from the longer side of the dough, roll dough away from you into a firm cylinder. Pinch ends closed. Holding dough by ends, gently twist the cylinder 4 times, as if wringing out a towel (this creates a spiral effect with the filling). Place the dough into the prepared pan, squeezing it into an S-shape to fit. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  13. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  14. Brush the loaves with the beaten egg so bread will bake with a golden crust. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F.
  15. Remove from oven, place bread pans on cooling racks for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and allow bread to cool completely on wire rack before icing and slicing.
  16. To make icing: Combine icing ingredients and mix well. Drizzle over cooled bread.

SOURCES: inspired by Cooking Light; adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Cinnamon Swirl Bread and Pinch of Yum

Lemon Garlic White Bean Dip & Pita Chips

Need an appetizer idea for Superbowl Sunday? This smooth Lemon Garlic White Bean dip whips up quickly in the food processor (or blender) and packs a whollop of flavor due to the soft cannelli beans, the garlic and lemon, and of course the hot peppers.

Lemon Garlic White Bean Dip

White bean dip flavored with garlic, lemon, and a kick from pimientos (or jalapenos)

You can serve the dip with chips or crackers, but I prefer to use pita crisps, which you can make easily and for far less than the cost of a bag of chips. Just cut pitas into wedges, brush with a bit of oil, and season with your choice of flavors. Bake for a few minutes. That’s it! Easy peasy.

Oh, one more tidbit about the dip: it tastes fantastic spread onto toast and suffices quite nicely as a quick snack between meals.

Lemon Garlic White Bean Dip

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INGREDIENTS

  • 2 (15 ounce) cans cannelli beans, drained and rinsed (cannelli beans also go by Northern Beans or white beans)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or finely grated
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest (from one medium-large lemon)
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 (2-ounce) jar diced pimiento (I used 1/2 of a pickled jalapeno instead, finely diced + 1/2 tsp. of the jalapeno pickling juice)
  • 2 tbsp. minced parsley leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (I used Himalayan Pink salt)
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a food processor, combine beans, garlic, zest, lemon juice, and oil; blend until very smooth.
  2. Place in a small bowl, then stir in pimientos, parsley, salt, and pepper.
  3. Serve at room temperature with pita crisps, tortilla chips, or crackers.

SOURCE: 200 Appetizers by Donna Kelly and Sandra Hoopes

Pita Chips

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package pita bread (about 8 pitas), white or wheat
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, finely grated
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper into a small bowl. Stir to thoroughly  mix. Using pastry brush, spread mixture onto both sides of each pita.
  2. Stack pita bread, then use a large knife to cut pitas into 6-8 wedges. Arrange wedges in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees F for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn, though!

Honey Mustard Pretzel Crunch

Superbowl mania–not my thing. Food? Yes. So allow me to share a superb Superbowl munchie with you: Honey Mustard Pretzel Crunch.

Honey Mustard Pretzel Snack Mix

Honey Mustard Pretzel Snack Mix with a touch of heat from chile powder

Last summer I attended a food fest to launch the Hatch Chile Cookbook from Melissa’s Produce, and this snack mix graced the tables laden with bowls and platters of goodies that each included some form of Hatch chiles. It scores big points for yum factor and even more points for its addictive quality. It contains honey mustard pretzels, smoked almonds, and the not-so-overpowering surprise kick of chile. Somehow it all works, and it works amazingly well.

Butter and honey both flavor and bind all those yum factors together along with a quick bake in the oven. Don’t fret about the sticky state after you pull it out of the oven; once it cools, the initial stickiness disappears. Do fret, though, about making enough as your guests will gobble it down very quickly (as did the guests at a recent book club meeting)!

Since this snack mix requires both honey mustard pretzels (did you know you can buy those at the bulk bins at Sprouts?) and smoked almonds, it amounts to a splurge but a deliciously worthy one.

Honey Mustard Pretzel Snack Mix

Honey Mustard Pretzel Crunch

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INGREDIENTS

  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 (12-ounce) packages honey mustard and onion flavor pretzel pieces (I used 18 ounces and reduced the amount of almonds to compensate)
  • 3 (6-ounce) cans smoked almonds (I used 12 ounces rather than 18 ounces)
  • 2 tbsp. chile powder (I used Melissa’s Hatch Chile Powder)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a couple baking sheets (I used two 10X15 inch sheets) with parchment paper (or lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking oil).
  2. Combine honey and butter in a small saucepan; heat over low flame until butter melts, stirring to blend. Alternatively, combine butter and honey in a small microwave-safe bowl; microwave in 15-30 second increments until butter melts, then stir between each microwave heating interval.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the pretzels, almonds, and chile powder. Add honey and butter mixture; mix well. Spread the pretzels/almonds in a single layer on the baking sheets; bake for 15 minutes.
  4. Allow snack mix to cool completely. Break into chunks and transfer to a serving bowl.

SOURCE: Hatch Chile Cookbook from Melissa’s Produce

Mashed Cauliflower (truly imitates Mashed Potatoes!)

In addition to taking longer than I thought to get this Mashed Cauliflower post up, it has also taken me awhile to get around to trying this recipe in the first place…like several years!

Mashed Cauliflower

Mashed Cauliflower mimics mashed potatoes in flavor and appearance–really!

So glad I did finally try it, though. It tastes as great as everyone has said. Truly, it tastes like mashed potatoes, its claim to fame.

You can dress it simply, with just a pat of butter and some salt and pepper. Or you can add yummy ingredients such as cream cheese, sour cream, cheddar cheese, assorted herbs and spices… I added a touch of parsley to jazz up the appearance. If I’d had chives, I would have tried that instead.

Upon first bite, I didn’t think it paralleled mashed potatoes. However, after keeping it warm in the oven for about an hour and then tasting it again with the Beef Wellington dinner extravaganza, I forgot that cauliflower served as the star of the dish. And hubby thought it was mashed taters until I told him it was actually cauliflower!

So, if you haven’t tried these yet, please do! If you love smooth and buttery mashed taters, this mashed cauliflower will surprise the heck out of you because it genuinely resembles mashed potatoes, both in appearance and flavor.

Mashed Cauliflower

Mashed Cauliflower

Mashed Cauliflower

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (probably about 1 cup)
  • 2-3 ounces (about 1/4 cup) cream cheese (depends on how much tangy flavor you like)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cut cauliflower into florets, rinse under cold water, then steam them, along with garlic cloves, using your favorite steaming method (steam basket in a saucepan over heat, microwave, or steam in about an inch of water or broth). Steam until tender.
  2. After draining cauliflower and while the florets are still hot, place in the bowl of a food processor along with garlic cloves. Puree until smooth.
  3. Add Cheddar cheese, cream cheese, butter, and parsley. Puree until all ingredients are blended.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: If not serving immediately, you can either store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for a couple days and heat in the oven when ready to eat. Or, cover with foil and place in the oven at low temperature to keep warm for about an hour.

SOURCE: Maria’s compilation

Beef Wellington (Classic Style)

Hubby and I spend each New Year’s Eve quietly at home, enjoying an elegant homemade dinner. This year, I opted to try Beef Wellington, a recipe I had clipped from the Jan. 2011 Fine Cooking magazine.

Beef Wellington

Beef tenderloin wrapped in chicken pâté/duxelles, crepes, and puff pastry

It just looked so yummy in the magazine: juicy red beef enveloped in flaky puff pastry crust. I knew one day I would try it.

Beef Wellington

Isn’t the baked Beef Wellington gorgeous all wrapped up in puff pastry?

Well, it’s more than just beef wrapped in puff pastry. It’s actually quite an involved recipe that takes several steps of prep (some which can be done in advance) and requires a lot of expense. See why I saved it for New Year’s Eve dinner? It’s definitely a splurge, both in cost and time.

Let me briefly explain Beef Wellington: a tender slab of center-cut beef tenderloin enveloped in a mixture of liver pâté and cooked, minced mushrooms spread onto crepes that are wrapped around the beef, which is then all wrapped into a puff pastry dough.

The pâté/mushroom mixture releases some fat into the meat as well as some savory flavor. The crepes help absorb the meat juice and keep the puff pastry crisp. It’s baked until the meat is rare,  then it is sliced and served with a savory and sweet Madeira sauce.

So, it involves buying an expensive piece of center-cut beef tenderloin, which I purchased at a local butcher shop.

I made my own beef broth, but you can easily purchase broth instead. The broth is used to make the Madeira sauce, which is poured over the cooked slices of Wellington (or you can serve the sauce in small dishes and use it for dipping, I suppose). The homemade broth can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a couple months.

Next, I bought pricey Portobello mushrooms to make duxelles (duck-SO), which is a mixture of finely minced mushrooms, shallots, and herbs sautéed in butter and used as a stuffing or in sauces (see link for more uses). This step can be made ahead of time as well, refrigerated for a few days or frozen up to a couple months in advance.

Duxelles

Duxelles–not the most photogenic food, but the minced and cooked Portobello sure add savory depth to dishes

Then, I made chicken liver pâté. Chicken livers are inexpensive, the pâté is easy to make, and it actually tastes very savory spread on crackers or baguette slices. This, too, can be made a few days in advance and refrigerated (not sure if it can be frozen). It later gets mixed with the duxelles to form the pasty mixture that is spread onto the crepes and wrapped around the beef tenderloin.

Chicken Liver Pate

Chicken Liver Pate–tastes a lot more appetizing than it looks!

I made my own crepes, which can be a bit tricky. I’m not sure if crepes can be purchased frozen, but that would save some time. The crepes can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge.

Crepes

Crepes all ready for the duxelles/pâté spread

Beef Wellington

Dotting the pâté/duxelles mixture to make spreading it over the crepes easier

Beef Wellington

Place browned and cooled tenderloin onto crepes spread with pâté/duxelles, and wrap crepes snugly around tenderloin

Beef Wellington

See those extra crepes on the end? Cut them off; otherwise, you’ll get bug chunks of baked dough on the ends like I did!

You can make your own puff pastry, but I opted to purchase it instead–much easier and quicker.

Beef Wellington

Beef Wellington getting wrapped in puff pastry

Beef Wellington

Beef Wellington snuggly wrapped in puff pastry and ready for baking

You’ll need a bottle of Madeira wine to make the sauce.

Beef Wellington

See the Madeira sauce in the background?

It takes a lot to make this, but it’s well worth it, especially if you want to impress some guests.

Let’s recap quickly: beef tenderloin, duxelles, liver pâté, crepes, puff pastry, and Madeira…and time.

Throughout the process, I thought, “This is the only time I’m going to go through the effort to make all this.” However, now that we’ve tasted it and savored it for leftovers for two nights, I would certainly make it again, and the steps don’t seem as daunting now that I’ve made it.

What made the whole experience even more fun, though, is that I pulled out my fine china (rarely used), set up a lovely table, and had everything ready to serve the minute hubby walked in the door from work. I even got semi dressed up to celebrate the new year (and the excitement of hubby having started a new job right before Christmas, a career change that required two years of schooling and lots of interviewing these past few months). All in all, the entire meal was a smashing success!

Beef Wellington

Beef Wellington–layers of savory goodness

By the way, I served the Beef Wellington with Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Mashed Cauliflower.

RECIPE:

Rather than  type up the entire lengthy recipe, I found a link to it on Fine Cooking’s website along with a video. Truly, it’s not as daunting as it all appears, and it’s well worth the effort if you are game for trying something new and on the gourmet side of cooking.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts (and the book Food Matters)

Despite all the sweet treats I share on the blog, hubby and I actually do eat fairly healthy a good portion of the time. Case in point, these roasted brussels sprouts, seasoned simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

If you remember last year around this time, I shared a Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad, which served as my initiation into liking brussels sprouts. Prior to that, hubby had only steamed them, which simply releases their atrocious sulfurous compounds and ruins the taste. Yuck!

But roasted? Totally a different story, folks! They get a bit charred on the outside yet transform into tenderness inside, and no stinky sulfurous release, either. Yay! The generous sprinkling of sea salt along with pepper and olive oil enhance the flavor, too. I LOVE ‘em this way. So simple yet so scrumptious.

Now for Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. I spent the past couple days reading this book by Mark Bittman. Yes, it’s been around since 2002, but I’m a busy gal, okay? The basic premise of the book is to eat like food matters. I love that idea. I need to remember that what I put into my body matters.

Bittman suggests eating lots of plant foods, as close to their natural state as possible, as well as veggies, beans, fruits, and whole grains. He calls this sane eating vs. the insanity of eating excessive animal products, refined carbs, and junk food (and he provides tons of research to support the negative effects of insane eating, both on the individual and on the environment).

Now, the book isn’t about a specific diet but simply about changing our habits to eating like food matters. He writes, “…deny nothing; enjoy everything, but eat plants first and most” (65). Two-thirds of the book then provides recipes and ideas for eating like food matters.

In the past few years, I actually have practiced what Bittman advises, so his book simply reinforces a style I have embraced already. I really enjoyed the basic premise, though, and will reiterate it once more to close: eat like food matters. Let that guide you as you move forth into 2014. And consider starting soon with these roasted brussels sprouts. Cheers to a healthy new year!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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Yield: 2 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces brussels sprouts
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. (or more) of sea salt (I used Maldon sea salt)
  • sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cut off the stem ends of the brussels sprouts. Pull off any yellow and spotted outer leaves. Cut brussels sprouts in half lengthwise and place on sheet pan. Toss with olive oil, then spread out on pan. Generously sprinkle with salt and lightly sprinkle with pepper.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn sprouts over; bake another 10-15 minutes until crisp on outside yet tender on inside.
  4. Sprinkle with more salt, if desired, and dust with parmesan cheese.

Note: I baked the sprouts an hour before serving, so I covered the pan with foil and placed back into the oven, heat as low as possible, to keep them warm.

SOURCE: slightly adapted from Food Network, Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa)