Archive for May, 2013


I’m supposed to be baking my twins’ birthday cake today. The recipe calls for 2 sticks of softened butter. Butter that I was going to get out of the freezer last night and set on the counter so it would be ready to go when I was. Guess who didn’t get the butter out of the freezer last night? Yep- this currently addle brained mother of 3. This week has gotten so insanely busy that I forgot in all my running right up until bedtime to set the butter out. Sigh. But it’s ok! I learned a trick a couple years ago that gets me softened butter WAY faster than leaving it out & waiting and doesn’t leave me with half melted, half hard butter from the microwave. Behold…

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Yes- it’s a piece of marble (formerly a cheese slicer) and a glass bowl. You can just as easily use ceramic or stoneware- that’s what the person who gave me the idea used. The point is to use something that will hold heat, softening the butter gently. The water out of our tap’s hot side is about 120 degrees (my in laws won’t set it lower) so it’s hot enough without heating it farther. If you don’t have water that hot out of the tap heat enough water to fill your bowl in either the microwave or a kettle. Once the water is hot use it to heat the plate (or in my case the slab of marble), then discard the water in a manner of your choosing. Although you might hang onto it in case you need to heat your bowl & base again! Once your bowl & base are heated make it look like the picture and leave it to sit for awhile. In my case about 45 minutes to an hour because it was frozen. If you’re starting with butter out of the fridge it will take about 10-15 minutes. It takes a little longer but I like this method MUCH better than the microwave.

Now I can move on to cake baking. I hope; assuming I haven’t forgotten anything else!

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When I was pregnant with my twins I got a craving for Chinese food. A bad one. In fact, it didn’t go away when I ate Chinese food. It would subside- mostly- for awhile, only to come back a couple of days later. Then my ex-husband left me while I was still pregnant and I became a single mom of twin infants- with a budget to match. Needless to say, money was too tight to go out for Chinese. I met the man who was to become my husband/soul mate and things got better. But money was still super tight so going out for good Chinese was not an option. (And why would you settle for mediocre food if you’re spending money to go out to eat?!) It was a year and a half before I got to go out for Chinese food again. That put the total time for having my craving go unfulfilled at two years. Two years!! I won’t say it was agony- I’m not that dramatic. But there were times that it wasn’t pleasant. I know what you’re thinking: “Why didn’t you just make some Chinese food?” The answer is that I was afraid. The really good recipes called for ingredients like Oyster Sauce and Sweet Chili Sauce- things I’d never bought before. I was… intimidated. I was too scared to try cooking with such things. A foolish fear, I know. But I was. I’m not proud of it. But I finally bit the bullet, so to speak, and bought the ingredients. Then I felt like the fool I had been; the food was delicious! And so easy! Had I taken a deep breath and forged ahead I could have saved myself two years of craving Chinese food. I vowed never again to be afraid of trying my hand at a cuisine and have been much happier since 🙂 I now have a few great Chinese recipes in my repertoire.

Mongolian Beef is one of my favorites. It’s got great flavor the first time around but it’s as leftovers that it really hits it’s stride- like good Chinese food should. I’ll post some more craving-busting Chinese recipes later, but this makes a good start as it’s super simple and doesn’t require any special ingredients.

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The only noteworthy ingredient here is the beef. I use flank steak, sliced thin. You could certainly try another cut but I don’t know what the results will be. I stick with flank steak and if I can’t get it I make something else. Toss the steak with corn starch (a.k.a. corn flour) and let it sit for 10 minutes. This is a very important step because you need to let the cornstarch soak up some of the moisture from the beef so that it forms a breading instead of just falling off in the oil. The result will not be terribly attractive, but it’s ok. This is exactly how it should look, so you don’t worry…

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While the meat is resting in the cornstarch, start heating a pan or deep fryer filled (no more than half way or you will be sorry!) with oil. Heat it to about 375 degrees. If you don’t have an oil/candy thermometer it’s ok. You can heat the oil and then put in a cube or small piece of bread. If it turns golden brown in about 30-45 seconds you’re there. Ten minutes should be plenty of time for the oil to heat up so once the 10 minutes are up start frying your beef in small batches, frying each batch for about 3-4 minutes. Once again the result will not be Vogue cover-worthy, but it’s ok. The flavor of the finished dish is fantastic- looks aren’t really paramount here.

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While the meat is frying you can go ahead and mix the sauce ingredients. What you start with will look nothing like the Mongolian Beef sauce you’re familiar with.

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It looks like soy sauce with garlic- unevenly sized pieces of garlic at that. Completely unremarkable. But once you put this over the meat & onions things will get interesting, I promise. SO once you’ve finished with the meat and the sauce, put a scant teaspoon of oil in a nonstick pan or about 2 teaspoons of oil in a regular skillet and saute the onions until they just begin to soften. They don’t do this in the restaurant version but I like the way sauteing brings out the full flavor of the onions so this is how I do it. Add the sauce to the pan and bring to a rolling boil, then add the meat and let the whole thing boil until the sauce thickens; about 5-8 minutes.

A note: unless you like VERY hot Mongolian Beef DO NOT put the red pepper flakes in until the last 30 seconds to one minute. The garlic and ginger already add a small amount of heat to the sauce so there are days I don’t put the pepper flakes in at all. But if I do add them it’s at the last moment and it’s a nice touch of heat. Adding them at the beginning would let the heat build to the point of needing a warning for any spice wimps in the house!

I only serve this over noodles (mine happen to be a Ramen/chow mein type noodle but you can even use spaghetti noodles if you want) but you could serve it over rice if you wanted to. I’ve tried it with rice but it tasted like something was missing without the noodles there. If I were to serve it over rice again I would use fried rice… that sounds good… now I’m going to have to make this again soon 😉

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Now doesn’t that look like it just came out of a take out box? This is one of my family’s favorite chinese take out fake out dishes. Whenever I make it the girls ask to take it to school for lunch the next day- and it’s even better than it was the day I made it. In fact, sometimes I make this just to have the leftovers in the fridge for lunches- it’s that good! And I can have it any time I crave Chinese. Life is good 🙂

The Recipe:

1 1/2 Lbs. Flank Steak, cut into 3rds WITH the grain (long ways), and then sliced very thin AGAINST the grain

About 1/2 C Cornstarch, or enough to coat the steak evenly as pictured above

1 t Powdered Ginger (if using freshly grated you will need about 2 teaspoons)

2 T Garlic, minced (about 4 LARGE cloves)

1 C Soy Sauce

1 C Water

1 C Brown Sugar (I know this sounds like alot but this sauce makes enough to cover 1 1/2 pounds of meat, veggies, and noodles so it gets spread out)

¼ C Rice or White Wine (I use more water if I don’t have any wine in the house, which is most of the time)

4 Green Onions, green and white parts, sliced thin

½ Medium Onion, sliced thin

1 t Red Pepper Flakes

Noodles (or rice) to serve with

The Method:

*Heat a heavy pan or deep fryer filled no more than halfway with oil to 375 degrees.

*While oil is heating stir cornstarch into the meat and let sit for 10 minutes.

*After 10 minutes and once the oil is heated fry meat in batches, cooking 3-4 minutes per batch. Drain and let cool. Break up any meat that has clumped together (not usually a problem but every once in awhile you’ll get some meat that likes to be a little too friendly).

*While the meat is frying mix sauce ingredients together, reserving red pepper flakes for last unless you are REALLY into super spicy food.

*Saute onions 2-3 minutes, until just beginning to soften.

*Add sauce mixture and bring to a rolling boil.

*Add meat to sauce and onions and boil until thickened, about 5-8 minutes.

*Serve over noodles or rice.

I’m sure that it will surprise no one that The Humble Food Snob dislikes cheap chocolate. And when it comes to cheap chocolate you can’t get much cheaper than Hershey’s. My main complaints are the fact that it’s grainy (to me, anyway) and sickeningly sweet with a slight chalkiness. Now, I never noticed these qualities until I got my hands on some high quality European chocolate. I had a taste of a Lindt milk chocolate bar (from Switzerland) and it was an epiphany for me. I know; that sounds a little melodramatic, but it’s true. I put the thin square in my mouth and it was silky, mellow, creamy, milk-chocolatey bliss. In that instant I knew I would never look at chocolate- or confectionery in general, for that matter-  the same way again. The next time I ate a Hershey’s Kiss I actually spat it out into the trash. True story. So now I spend the money on good chocolate and consume it judiciously. It works pretty well- except for things like chocolate milk. Expensive chocolate melts fine for hot chocolate but when you want an ice cold glass of chocolate milk… well, it doesn’t work at all. So I had no choice but to use Hershey’s syrup. At least until I made my own syrup, that is. Now I can play with the recipe and up the vanilla a little bit to make the flavor a little smoother and give it that special something that you don’t recognize until it’s not there 🙂

Yes- that is Hershey’s cocoa powder in the picture. Yes- I can be a great big hypocrite. I’ll be the first to admit that. But Hershey’s puts out a good cocoa powder so that’s what I use. If they could just stick with cocoa powder things would be fine.  But they insist on butchering other chocolate products and therein lies the problem. Thankfully I’ve figured out a way around that 🙂

These really are all the ingredients you need to make chocolate syrup. It’s astonishingly simple and SO much cheaper than the store bought stuff. The fact that they charge so much for chocolate syrup in the store should be a crime. (Of course, so should adding all of those other nasty ingredients but that’s another post.)

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I could say “all you have to do is put these ingredients in a pan, stir, boil, and you have chocolate syrup”. But I just can’t do it. I have to be honest with you because I don’t want you to feel like I betrayed you. While this recipe is really, REALLY easy, there is a hitch: cocoa powder is quite possibly the most hydrophobic substance in the world. When you add the water to the sugar and cocoa powder it will disappear beneath the surface and you will wonder if you ever actually put the water in at all. You will have to get your whisk out and stir- a lot. This recipe takes about 10 minutes to make and 4 of those 10 minutes is whisking the ingredients to combine them. Just when you’ve given up all hope of combining water with cocoa powder it will magically come together and you can stop whisking and let it boil. Make sure you’ve put the ingredients into a medium sized sauce pan because the mixture will expand as it boils! I made the mistake once of making this in a small sauce pan and had to change pans after it started boiling because it wanted to boil over the top of my little pan. After boiling for 5 minutes and adding your vanilla you should have something like this…

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Oh, that’s pretty 🙂 Don’t worry about the bubbles- those will go away once the syrup is cooled completely. And if your syrup is a little thinner than you expected when it’s done it’s ok. It will thicken up after it’s chilled thoroughly. Zachariah asked for some chocolate milk when this batch was done and he’s such a good boy I couldn’t turn him down 🙂

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My sweet little boy! He was thanking me while smiling for the camera while trying to take a drink. Who says males can’t multi-task? 😉

The Recipe:

1 1/4 C Sugar

1 C Cocoa Powder

1 C Water

1/4 t Salt

2 t Vanilla

The Method:

*Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium or large saucepan until COMPLETELY combined.

* Bring to a boil over medium low heat.

*Boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

*Remove from heat and add vanilla.

*Let cool and transfer to a storage container (I use a canning jar with a clean, used lid that I can’t use for actual canning anymore). Store in the refrigerator and use as you would store bought chocolate syrup.