Lady and the Tramp, Anyone?

I love Disney. Even with its subliminal messages and not so subliminal ones.

I love the simpleness of its romances. I cannot see spaghetti and meat balls without thinking of Lady and the Tramp. Of course, no real person, or dog, would slurp a strand of spaghetti without chewing through and breaking it. That makes the scene all more romantic. I like the film even though I honestly can’t remember anything else about it besides that scene, but I thought about it today while I thought, planned, and made dinner.

Simple spaghetti and meatballs.

Okay, maybe not that simple. I did use whole wheat spaghetti and ground flax after all. I know, I can’t leave anything well enough alone. But regardless of all my efforts at health-isizing this dish, it retained its heartiness. A true comfort food through and through.

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and dig into the meat with your fingers. This helps to distribute the spices without overworking the meat and produces the most tender meatballs. Be sure to give the meatballs a deep golden brown, this contributes greatly to flavour.

The ground flax is not really noticeable in the meatballs, but you’ll that it’s there to give your meal fibre and Omega 3 fatty acids. I also used prepared pasta sauce to speed up the process, and also because I didn’t have any tomatoes. Feel free to substitute your favorite recipe for tomato sauce.

Cat’s Spaghetti and Meatballs (Be comforted in knowing that this comfort food is somewhat good for you)
makes 4-6 servings

3/4 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt
1/2 c. dried bread crumbs
a few dashes Worchestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley
scant 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/3 c. minced onion
2 Tbsp. ground flax, optional
1 tsp. olive oil
1 24-oz jar of prepared pasta sauce (I used garden vegetable)
1 lb. spaghetti, whole wheat

  1. Place the ground meat, Worcestershire, herbs, pepper, onion, garlic powder, flax seed, and bread crumbs in a large bowl. Salt generously.
  2. Plunge all ten fingers into the meat and mix thoroughly. Shape into 24 meatballs. Wash your hands well afterwards.
  3. Heat the oil in a large sauce pan and brown the meatballs in batches, until well browned.
  4. Pour the pasta sauce into the pan and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Toss with the sauce. Serve piping hot and twirl away.

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Happy Birthday Franklin!

Today is my brother’s birthday. We celebrated on Sunday with his church friends and a much-loved soccer ball cake. My mom and I cooked a lot of food for dinner today. It was a feast, as I’m sure my stomach will happily tell you. Here are some pictures, enjoy!

This is This is Braised Smoked Pork Shank. We purchased the pork shanks partially cooked and smoked, and braised it in soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, and green onions. The soy sauce is probably why it turned out so dark, but looks notwithstanding, the meat was tender and wonderfully smoke infused.

This is Tofu with Fish Sauce. The tofu is panfried until crisp and then briefly cooked in the sauce. The sauce has nothing to do with fish. It’s simply a version of a sweet and sour sauce with Sichuan peppercorns.

I’ve never seen vegetable Asian noodles before, but today at the supermarket Franklin requested them so we bought it. It’s flavoured with spinach and reminds me of spinach pasta. This is Stir-Fried Vegetable Noodles with ground pork, mushrooms, and zucchini. The Chinese traditionally eat noodles on birthdays because the noodle’s length symbolizes a long life.

Mom’s specialty. Simply stir-fried shrimp. See it also here.

Baby bok choy with dried salted shrimp. It’s refreshing to have a simple vegetable dish in a multi-course meal.

This is a cold dish and makes a great appetizer. It’s blanched long beans tossed with soy sauce, black vinegar, and smashed garlic. Very addictive.

Chinese chives with squid. Both main ingredients are fresh-tasting and complement each other. The squid is tender;  the chives are vibrant. I realized that I may possibly like squid more than shrimp, perhaps because there is no shell to peel. Lazy me. 😉

The last dish is just peanuts roasted in the wok. This dish usually accompanies potent Chinese liquor such as Maotai. We didn’t drink with our dinner but included this dish because mom wanted to make eight dishes. Eight is an auspicious number in the chinese language because when pronounced, the word sounds somewhat like the word “to become rich.” So it wouldn’t do to have only seven dishes. Gotta have eight for my brother. The peanuts are wonderfully salty and nutty because of the low heat and long toasting time. Use high heat the peanuts will be burned. My mom rushed making this dish because we all wanted to start eating already.

What do you say? Isn’t Franklin a lucky boy?

Chicken Stir-Fry with Broccoli and Carrots

Here is a fairly classic stir-fry combination, at least around my house. You get kind of a tri-colour effect, green-orange-white, which is very eye appealing. The key here is to marinate the chicken briefly with cornstarch added to incorporate flavour and to promote tenderness. If you just slice and fry, the chicken breast will dry out.

Another very important thing is to fry the chicken first, then the vegetables, then add the chicken back to the wok. This prevents the chicken from becoming overcooked.

I used about one tablespoon of a Korean sweet chili sauce. It’s not enough to get a discernible increase in the heat of the dish, but it does give an anonymous sweetness and very very subtle kick to the dish. Feel free to leave it out if you don’t have the ingredient.

Chicken Stir-Fry with Broccoli and Carrots
serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as part of a multi-course meal

1 lb. chicken breast, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. light soy sauce
1 Tbsp. Chinese rice wine
generous pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. corn starch
1 crown broccoli, broken into florets
2 medium carrots, cut on a bias into slices
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
2 green onions, sliced
3 Tbsp. oil, divided
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns
1 Tbsp. Korean chili sauce, optional
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Mix together the chicken, soy sauce, rice wine, salt, and corn starch with your fingers. Set aside for 15 minutes, while you chop the vegetables.
  2. Heat a wok on medium high heat. Add 2 Tbsp. oil when hot. Add the peppercorns and toast for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the ginger, garlic, and green onions. Fry for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
  4. Add the chicken, stir-fry until cooked, about 5 minutes. Be sure to separate all the pieces. Remove from the wok and set aside.
  5. Reheat the wok with the remaining Tbsp. oil. Add the chili sauce and fry for 30 seconds.
  6. Add the broccoli and carrots, toss in a couple Tbsp. cold water. Stir well and cover. Cook 2-3 minutes and stir again. Continue to add little bits of water and covering the wok until vegetables are cooked crisp tender. Salt to taste.
  7. Add the chicken back to the wok and stir together. Heat 2-3 minutes until all is heated through. Serve with rice.

Red-Cooked Spareribs 紅燒排骨


Personally, I like red-cooked anything. What is that, you ask? Well, it’s a sweet, spice-infused way of Chinese cooking. Typically this is done with pork belly, or any other cut with some fat attached or can otherwise be tough and fibrous to cook with a quick, searing heat. Therefore we braise. We braise until the meat is fall off the bone tender, if there are bones involved, glistening with sauce, and deep red in hue. Which translates into all around yumminess. 😀 Now, you can red-cook a lot of things, such as ribs, as I’ve done here, chicken drums are especially good as well, tough cuts of beef, duck, tofu, or even eggplant.

I employ a method that I like when it comes to cooking ribs, the same method that I used with the sweet and sour ribs I posted about before, and that is simmering the ribs until pretty tender, and adding about a cup or so of cooking liquid to the sauce. This ups the meaty taste. My ribs did not turn out as red as I would’ve liked because I didn’t have dark soy sauce on hand. It’s different than most standard soy sauces that you come across in that it has a deeper flavour and most importantly, a deeper colour. Try to find it if you can, most Asian food stores carry it.

Red-Cooked Spareribs (紅燒排骨 Hong Shao Pai Gu)

2 lbs spareribs, cut into individual ribs and in half crosswise, if you could
2 green onions, cut into 1/2 inch segments
3 big slices of ginger, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. Chinese rice wine
a couple of big pinches of salt

3 Tbsp. oil
1/4 cup sugar
10 Sichuan peppercorns
3 star anises, broken into pieces
2 green onions, cut into 1/2 inch segments
2 slices ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Chinese rice wine
2 Tbsp. light soy sauce
2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 cup reserved ribs cooking liquid

Place ribs in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and skim off the yucky scum stuff floating on the top. Add the 2 chopped green onions and 3 slices of chopped ginger to the pot. Pour in the 2 Tbsp. rice wine and toss in the salt. Cover partially, reduce heat to medium low, and let simmer for at least 45 minutes or until the ribs are tender. Remove from pot and reserve a cup of cooking liquid. Drain well.

Heat up a wok or large frying pan on medium high heat, add the oil and the sugar. Stir with a spatula and heat until the sugar is liquid and turning a deeper amber hue. Add the ribs, remaining green onions, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, star anises, and garlic. Toss well, then add the soy sauces, rice wine, and cooking liquid. Cover, and reduce heat to medium. Braise for about 20 minutes, turning the ribs occasionally, or until the sauce is thickened and coats the meat. Season with additional salt, if needed.

Enjoy! 🙂

Add some spice to your life…Cumin Pork

Okay, I didn’t mean it literally. Although, if you have recently added some spiciness in your life, good for you! 😉 For the rest of us, the kick in Szechuan dishes is quite enough.

Traditionally, and typically found in Szechuan Chinese restaurants, cumin “meat” dishes are full of heat and numbness. The numbness that I’m speaking of here comes from Szechuan peppercorns, a mouthful of those babies could probably get you through your wisdom teeth extraction. Who knows, maybe give you a spice-induced high while you’re at it? The meat can be chicken, beef, pork, or lamb, although the last one is the most popular and pairs best with cumin. All the flavors explode on your palate all at the same time, competing for dominance. Best to have lots of water and rice on hand, as well as some “neutral” dishes such as simple greens. I added broccoli for the color and also for nutrition. Gotta eat your vegetables. 😀

Cumin Pork

(makes 4 ravenous people [Ian] servings or 6 normal people servings :))

1 lb pork tenderloin (you could easily substitute beef, chicken, lamb, or even firm tofu)
2 Tbsp. corn starch
2 Tbsp. Szechuan peppercorns
3 Tbsp. cumin seeds, or 2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
Note: See how all the spice is in tablespoons? Not for the faint of heart. On the other hand, don’t be scared either. 😛

3 Tbsp. oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. ginger, minced
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Chinese rice wine
1 large onion, diced
1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets (again, you can substitute any vegetable or omit)
1 Tbsp. cumin, ground (optional, for the extra kick)
1 Tbsp. chili sauce, with oil (老干妈 “Old Grandma” brand preferably)
Salt to taste

Cut meat into very thin slices, about 1/8 of an inch. This is most easily done when the meat is still semi-frozen.
Put all spices, except for the chili sauce and the optional cumin, into a pan. Toast on medium high for about 2 minutes, until you smell the aroma. (be careful, you may have a sneeze attack due to the chili pepper, no joke) Ground the toasted spices, I used mortar and pestle.
Rub the ground spices and corn starch into the meat slices until evenly distributed. Put it into the fridge and forget about it, 3 hours or more.

Heat the oil until hot, sweat the garlic and ginger until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the meat, soy sauce, and rice wine. Stir fry the meat on medium high heat until cooked, about 6-7 minutes. Season to taste and place on a plate. Add the onions and broccoli to still hot wok or pan. Stir fry until cooked through but still crisp tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the meat back to the wok, along with the chili sauce and extra ground cumin. Mix well and heat through.

Now dig in and prepare to be intoxicated! 🙂

Ahh…That was a good dinner…Sweet and Sour Ribs (糖醋排骨 Tang Cu Pai Gu)

As I am sitting here busily typing away, there are three happy bellies busily doing their jobs in this room. There would’ve been a fourth if my sister isn’t down with the hateful stomach flu. Indeed, I love Chinese food. Who doesn’t? Well, the good ones at least. Take a close look at the Sweet and Sour Ribs we had for dinner and tell me it isn’t good.

Ribs is kind of a lie here. See, they are country ribs, which is just an euphemism for “HUGE chunk of meat attached to one small chunk of bone.” So I cut each huge chunk into smaller but still sizable chunks. The result was big tender pieces of meat to fully sink your teeth into. The sauce is sweet and tangy and contains all the good meatiness from simmering the meat. The lightly stir-fried greens provide the perfect crispness and cut into the grease of meat. (So we can have an excuse to eat more) Even the rice was good (once soaked with sauce). And I’m not much of a rice person usually.

This version does not involve any deep frying and is relatively healthy, which makes me happy since a lot of other recipes out there call for a cup of oil absorbed into the ribs (wholly unnecessary in my opinion). It bogs down the dish and adds to your waistline. Not this one! 😀

I won’t hog this goodness all to my self. Here’s the recipe.

Sweet and Sour Ribs (糖醋排骨 Tang Cu Pai Gu)

inspired by Steamy Kitchen

(makes 4 generous servings)

2 pounds meaty country or spare ribs, cut into chunks (baby-back ribs are also good)
about 9 slices of ginger, 1/8 in. thick, cut 3 slices into strips
4 green onions, cut into 2-inch sections, divided, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine, divided
generous pinch of salt
about 10 szechuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tablespoon dark soy sauce (I used light because I didn’t have dark on hand, it would give a redder appearance)
4 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil

In a large saucepan, submerge ribs in water and bring to a boil. Skim off the gunky stuff that floats to the top. Add the peppercorns, salt, 1 Tbsp. of rice wine half the green onions, and the 6 slices of ginger. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until tender. Save one cup of cooking liquid and drain the rest.

In a large wok or frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of oil until fairly hot, add remaining ginger and green onions and fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the ribs to the pan and fry on medium high heat, for a few minutes, until lightly browned. Add soy sauce, sugar, remaining rice wine, and reserved cooking liquid. Reduce the sauce on medium heat while spooning it over the rib pieces continuously, for about 20 minutes, or until sauce thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Add the garlic and black vinegar and cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the sauce is sticky. Turn off the heat and drizzle with sesame oil. Garnish with green onions.
Don’t forget to prepare some rice to soak up all the yummy sauce!