Yesterday I prepared my adapted version of Szechuan Orange Beef that does not have too too much in common with the traditional version. I like both versions very much and will post the traditional recipe at a later date. I came to create my version when we ran across some beef dish that we liked a lot at a Chinese buffet restaurant in QuÃ©bec years ago. I looked into adapting one of my recipes and the one that came the closest to the style was orange beef. This recipe can be done with beef tenderloin, but I normally prefer a cut of meet that is stringier in nature like flank or ‘bavette’ (bottom sirloin butt or flap meat). Yesterday I prepared it with extremely tender marinated ‘arrachera’, a juicy staple of Mexican cuisine. To achieve the desired texture to the meat I prepare a tasty coating and then deep fry it first until the outside is crispy and the inside is still nice and tender. This is followed by stir frying before serving. To easily make strips of the orange skins use a sharp vegetable peeler and cut long strips of the orange skin, cutting just into the orange colored part, without cutting into the white flesh. Yesterday we served the dish with a nice rice dish with vegetables, or you can add some snow peas or other vegetables to the meat if you wish. We really like this dish, and last year we had a vegetarian acquaintance over for a meal and she ended up eating two plates of the stuff. I guess that says enough about how good it is…
1 1/2 pound beef tenderloin or flank cut into short thin strips with the grain
1 tbs Hoi Sin sauce
1 tsp Chinese chili paste
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp orange juice
1 egg yolk
1 tbs cornstarch
2 cups sunflower oil
Skins of two medium oranges without the white par cut into strips
8 chiles de arbol or thin red chilies
1 cup orange juice
2 tbs sugar
2 tbs Hoi Sin sauce
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs cooking sherry
1 1/2 tsp Chinese chili paste or to taste
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs sunflower oil
1 1/2 tbs cornstarch
1 1/2 tbs water
1 tsp sesame oil
1. With your hands mix the beef slices with 1 tsp of Hoi Sin sauce, 1 tsp of chili paste, 1 tsp of soy sauce, 1 tsp of sesame oil, and 1 tsp of orange juice until well incorporated.
2. Add the egg yolk and mix well again.
3. Add 2 tbs of cornstarch and mix until you get a very sticky mess.
4. In a measuring cup put 1 of cup orange juice, 2 tbs sugar, 2 tbs Hoi Sin sauce, 1 tbs soy sauce, 1 tbs cooking sherry, 1 1/2 tsp chili paste and salt and mix well to make the sauce.
5. Put 2 tbs cornstarch and 2 tbs water in a small bowl and mix well together with finger.
6. In a large wok place the 2 cups of oil and heat until ready to deep fry.
7. Deep fry the beef strips in batches until the outside is very crisp and the inside is still tender. Separate the strips as they cook, and drain them well after they are ready.
8. Clean up you wok and add 2 tbs of oil and place on high heat to stir fry.
9. Add the beef, the orange skins, and the chiles and stir fry for 3 minutes.
10. Add the prepared sauce mix and bring to boil covered.
11. Add the cornstarch in water to the mix and bring to boil to thicken.
12. Add the 1 tsp sesame oil to give a nice shine to the dish and mix well and serve while still hot.
We just got up from the table after a late breakfast and something dawned on me. Where did the taste go in most commercial food products? Recently I bemoaned the lack of taste in high production commercial cheeses that tastes more of plastic than of milk products, but why is this happening with most mass-market food products? I know that according to modern corporate practices and the search for the holy bottom line, large corporations tend to homogenize their products and go for the least common denominator, but is there a universal ingredient called ‘flavor’ that is so expensive in the future market that most corporations shy away from using it in their products? This morning we opened a new package of margarine, as well as new packages of ‘spreadable’ cream cheese and peanut butter. All were supposedly ‘new and improved’ and were definitely more ‘spreadable’ than older formulations, but all were lacking taste. In the quest for ‘spreadability’ the core of the product flavor was forgotten. The margarine was bland and tasted of nothing, the cream cheese could have been bland thick cream as there was no hint of the slight sourness that is normally associated with the product, and you would have been confronted with a difficult task in trying to decide what was put in your mouth if you had tasted the peanut butter blind. The peanut taste was so light that you had to double the normal amount used to get any hint of it. Maybe that’s what they are trying to make happen… All of those products were not ‘light’ versions of the regular brand, so that was not the problem. I looked into it a bit and found out that all the brands we had opened this morning were brands from the same mega-food conglomerate, so this might be a problem that is more specific to them, but I have noticed the trend in recent years in a variety of other brands. Has anybody out there found the same thing recently? Come on big food conglomerates; let’s put the taste back in your products…
Last weekend I was cleaning up the refrigerator of leftovers, both fresh and frozen, and ended up making one of our favorite stand-by. I have been preparing this great Szechuan recipe on a regular basis ever since I first learned it while taking Chinese cooking classes at the Chen School of Art in MontrÃ©al close to 25 years ago. It is very easy to prepare and I have cooked it with chicken, pork filet, beef filet mignon, scallops, or shrimps since then. It is normally served on a bed of stir-fried spinach, but I have rarely made it like this as I normally serve it with mixed stir-fried vegetables. The recipe I am presenting today uses what I had on hand in the refrigerator last Sunday, but could be made with a wide variety of vegetables. I also experiment a lot with the sauce’s ingredients to make it even more versatile. On Sunday I replaced the chicken with a medium-sized pork filet, that I had frozen since before the holidays, cut in 1/4" thick diagonal slices, but any meat or seafood can do in a pinch. I hope that you enjoy this quickly prepared recipe as much as we have done over the years.
1 pound chicken breast meat cut is bite-sized cubes
1 tsp soy sauce
1 egg yolk
2 tbs cornstarch
2 tbs sunflower oil
1" piece of ginger peeled and chopped finely
3 cloves of garlic chopped finely
2 green onions sliced thinly
1/2 pound broccoli florets cut in bite-sized pieces
1/2 pound cauliflower florets cut in bite-sized pieces
1 medium cucumber peeled and seeded cut in bite-sized pieces
1 small can of sliced peeled water chestnuts
1 can of baby corns cut in bite-sized pieces
1/2 pound mushrooms sliced
2 tbs sunflower oil
1 1/2 cup of chicken stock (can be made with powder)
3 tbs sugar
3 tbs sherry vinegar
1 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs cooking sherry
1 1/2 tsp Chinese chili paste or to taste
2 tbs cornstarch
2 tbs water
1 tsp sesame oil
1. Mix the chicken cubes with the egg yolk and the soy sauce with you hands.
2. Add the cornstarch and mix until the mixture clumps together.
3. Chop vegetables and mushrooms, and put in a large bowl.
4. Chop ginger, garlic and green onions and put in a small bowl.
5. Put chicken stock, sugar, sherry, vinegar, soy sauce, and chili paste in a measuring cup and mix well together.
6. Put 2 tbs cornstarch and 2 tbs water in a small bowl and mix well together with finger.
7. Heat a large wok over high heat and add 2 tbs of oil.
8. Stir-fry chicken until firm and no longer pink in center. The chicken will easily unclump when cooked. Put it back in its bowl when cooked.
9. Put another 2 tbs of oil in the hot wok and add the ginger, garlic, and green onion followed by the vegetables and mushrooms.
10. Stir-fry until cooked but still a bit crunchy.
11. Add sauce mixture and bring to boil covered.
12. Add the reserved cooked chicken and bring to boil again.
13. Add the cornstarch/water mixture to thicken and bring to boil while stirring.
14. Add sesame oil and stir well to add shine and taste to the mixture.
15. Serve on warmed plates.
On our recent trip to QuÃ©bec I was reminded of one of the few things that I was missing from living there. Cheeses! Tons and tons of varieties, the tastier the better… As with many places I have lived in the past, the cheeses available, in most supermarkets here in Mexico, tend to be bland and boring. Strangely enough, for a population that is so strongly attracted to tasty and spicy food, strong tasting cheeses are not very appreciated. It is somewhat understandable as a lot of time cheeses are used to cool off the taste of other stronger tasting ingredients, and as toppings. Most supermarkets have commercially-made high production cheeses of the common local varieties. Panela, a fresh cheese of wet rubbery consistency, Oaxaca, a tasty cheese made for melting that is available in long ribbons formed into balls, and some firm varieties, namely Manchego and Chihuahua. Strangely enough the local variety of Manchego is made with cow’s milk and is more reminiscent of a mild cheddar than the firm ewe’s milk Manchego of Spain. Of course, if you like shopping for fresh produces at the tianguis like we do, there are much tastier varieties of the same cheeses available there that have much fuller flavors as well as other small production farm cheeses. As always these cheeses have much better flavor and less of a bland taste as most large production cheeses. This is something that I have found in most countries that I have visited.
Being raised in a French household and surrounded by cheeses since infancy my understanding of the cheese culture is a bit different than most North American. My Dad’s taste for cheeses was always on the hard varieties like strong aged cheddars and a local semi-firm variety made by Trappist Monks in Oka, a small town near MontrÃ©al, and surprisingly named Fromage Oka. The later was, in its original incarnation, an incredibly pungent cheese that took a very strong stomach to approach from the smell alone, but that was of surprisingly mild and beautiful taste once you got past the smell. My own personal taste runs to the tasty, high fat, soft textured French cheeses with a mold crust like Brie, Camembert, Reblochon, but I have not met a well-made cheese so far that I do not like.
In the past 10 years the cheese industry in QuÃ©bec has evolved greatly in new directions. Still available are the high production commercial cheeses, but a new industry has developed that has created a huge variety of small-production artisan cheeses of all types and flavors that rival the French by their quality and creativity. It is too bad that they also rival them with their prices, but I guess that quality always has its price. Traditional techniques have been imported from France and, to lesser extent, other countries, and the use of ‘lait cru’, unpasteurized milk, is on the rise. As an unabashed lover of ‘lait cru’ cheeses I am very happy of the later development. By not pasteurizing the milk and letting its natural bacterial flora flourish these cheeses develop a much more interesting taste that can become very addictive.
It is common, here in Mexico, to serve some cheese as appetizers, but personally I much prefer to have a nice platter of room-temperature cheeses after the meal, to the point of replacing desserts with it. It is a fitting finish to an elaborate meal and it is normally the correct point in the evening to open the best bottle of wine. In my life, many fond memories were made over some nice runny, pungent cheeses with a fittingly appropriate potent wine bottle or three. It leads to inspiration and long lasting friendship of the best kind.
I will have more to say on cheeses in coming weeks, and in the meantime I hope that you can look for a nice piece of cheese to experiment with, for a nice bottle of wine to go with it, and more importantly for the time to relax and truly appreciate them with good friends.
I had a long day working straight since early this morning, and by this time I can barely keep my eyes open due to the inordinate amount of pollution in town the last few days, compounded by a bad cold I have been dragging since last week. I was trying to come up with a great subject for today’s post, and came up empty as my mind feels blank, and I am too lazy right now to write a recipe post. This would actually entail some actual work and thoughts and this would be too much for my poor addled brain.
I decided to fire up the text editor and see if I could get some stream of consciousness post going, but staring at the blinking cursor on a blank screen did not stimulate my mind enough. I then thought at recycling some old stuff I wrote ages ago and the digging through the archives was way too much like real work for my lazy mood to tolerate, so I guess you will have to read this short note about my writer’s block to satisfy yourself today. Hopefully when tomorrow rolls in my brain will come back to it’s usual self and I will find the energy to post something coherent and sticking to the topic of this blog. This reminds me to ask yet again the Padrino and Normita to write a few posts, as they promised many times, that I will be able to use on days like these in the future. Until then…
While we were in Canada we attended a wide variety of holiday-related meals and as usual one of the most appreciated hors d’oeuvre was my Aunt Michèle’s ‘Croutes Bernard’. They are delicious hot canapÃ©s that the entire family adores and if you are not careful you could eat the equivalent of a whole meal of them alone. For us the holidays would not be the same without enjoying them at least at one party. Try them and let us know how you like them.
1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped finely
3 slices of bacon cut in small pieces with scissors
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup gruyère cheese, grated
1 cup medium cheddar, grated
1 tsp butter
Slices of bread
1. SautÃ© in the butter the mushrooms, bacon, and onion.
2. When the bacon is cooked add the wine.
3. Simmer until the liquid evaporates.
4. Cool the mixture and add the cheeses and the egg and mix to a sticky paste.
5. Roll the sticky paste in sheets of waxed paper and tie the ends.
6. Freeze the rolls. It should yield two 7" rolls.
7. To serve, cut circles from the slices of bread with a glass and place on a cookie sheet.
8. Cut thin slices of the frozen mixture and place on the bread circles.
9. Put in the oven under the broiler until the mixture is bubbly and golden.
10. Watch them disappear quickly when you serve them.
We returned from a trip to visit the family in Canada last Friday and we learned an humbling lesson in traveling light. We used to carry a huge amount of stuff, most of it we never used, and in recent years decreased the amount of luggage we travel with dramatically, especially for Normita. Now with long delays in airports and major weight restrictions during peak seasons we are even more conscious about what we bring with us. Being stuck in Montreal at the airport most of the day last Thursday and needing to spend the night at a nearby hotel has us rethinking our traveling style even more.
For the first time since we met, Normita’s suitcase was even lighter than mine when we left, and due to some shopping even when we returned. This time we had packed only the essentials and brought with us only small format containers of things we really needed, like some cosmetics and creams for Normita and some vitamins for me. The rest like shampoo or mouthwash we bought when we arrived, and left there when we returned. We only brought a few changes of clothes and washed them a few times while we were there, thus reducing what we had in our suitcases.
My main problem is that I always need to bring my laptop with accessories, and since it died on me during this trip, I plan to buy the smallest one I can find for the next trip so I do not have to carry a huge clunker again next time. Since it was getting old I also needed to carry an external hard drive for extra storage and a bunch of adaptor cards for connection to the drive, modem, wireless networking, etc. Luckily a new machine will have all of that built-in with enough space on the hard drive for all of my stuff. This will make things much more compact, and also less painful to carry around the airport.
The next step will be to get lighter suitcase, as our old ones have been around the world a few times, and are showing it, and they are very heavy even empty. I’ll research what is available now and let you know what we find that is light, solid, and affordable. I brought back a nice leather computer case for the laptop that I had in storage in Canada, and found out yesterday, when I emptied it, that it was very heavy for its size, so I might shop around for something lighter too while we are at it.
After having to carry heavy suitcases for two days in the airport and hotels we made a New Year resolution of traveling extra light in the future.
It is strange to be back home after a few week’s of traveling. Especially since I managed to catch a bad cold over the weekend as the weather has been very cold here, and the new apartment freezing as it is not heated or insulated. I guess that I will have to stay active and wear warm clothes inside for the next month or so until the warm weather returns. As with most people, over the holidays, we managed to overeat more than a little bit. Combine that with a general lack of exercise and we both feel horribly bloated these days. Yesterday we mostly picked some fresh veggies and fruits at the tianguis for the week, and we will eat lightly and exercise a lot to get back in shape. Normita is starting her regular daily exercise regiment at the gym today and I will be taking long walks to go everywhere, so things should be back to normal in a matter of weeks. Today, to give some zest to a simple salad, I am offering a simple recipe of a tasty salad dressing that gives a lot of flavor without adding to many calories. That, of course, is if you do not use too much of it or munch on too many ‘nuez garapiñadas’. Have fun trying it and let’s start the New Year in style and try to keep our resolutions for more than a few days.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbs balsamic vinegar
3 tbs orange juice
2 tbs whole grain mustard
1 tbs rice vinegar
1 tbs honey
1 tsp sesame oil
2 limes, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Belgian endives
1 package of mixed baby greens
1/2 cup nuez garapiñada cut in half (sugar-coated walnuts)
1. In a bowl put the ingredients up to, but not including the endives, and whisk together.
2. On individual serving dishes, place some Belgian endive leaves and add some mixed baby greens on top.
3. Sprinkle some of the nuez garapiñadas on top and drizzle a few tbs of the dressing over the prepared salad plates.
We finally arrived back home after a day’s delay. Our flight was overbooked and we had to take a later flight a day later. We spent most of the day on Thursday at the airport waiting for flight status, until our travel agent told us to go to a nearby hotel and wait there overnight. There were only two Internet terminals in the entire airport and both were out of order. I managed to get online a few times on them, and found out when we arrived at the hotel that my laptop had finally expired.
The evening was salvaged by a great meal at a very nice Thai/Chinese restaurant next door to the hotel. We had some light Cantonese style food with a few pots of tea, as we did not want to indulge in spicy Sechuan or Thai food just before spending a day in airports and airplanes. It had been a while that I had a decent Chinese meal in a restaurant instead of at home.
Yesterday morning we were at the airport at 3am and were finally on our way to arrive home around 2pm local time. It was a great trip that permitted us to visit family and friends and to eat way too much on the way. We’ll take the day to catch up with life and unpack, and will resume regular postings tomorrow. Have a wonderful weekend and lets start planning the next great meal together.
As most of you must have noticed, the posting has been extremely light over the past few weeks. We had planned to post daily while we were away visiting the family in Canada, but circumstances beyond our control prevented us to do so. Everything from lack of time, minor family crisis, to technical problems with a broken laptop preventing us to connect to the Internet prevented us from updating the site. We are packing our bags today and we should be back home by tomorrow afternoon so regular posting should resume by Friday. We wish you all the best for the New Year and may the Gods of Food and Wine be on your side and make your bellies full.