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Gingered Pork Stir Fry

I know I speak about my grandmothers a lot here, and quite honestly I forget what I’ve said and what I haven’t said (and am entirely too lazy to go back and look).  But this recipe is another one courtesy of my mom’s mother, Grace.  And it serves as Cuizoo Arsenal meal #6.

Grace is an interesting woman.  Her father was an Irish Linen importer who valued education tremendously. Her mother was very musical and played the organ at Christmas time in the big department stores in New York City.  Grace went to college at a time when women rarely did; she was a nutrition major and did research on the benefits of breast milk in the 1930s; she traveled to China and Hong Kong with my uncle when he was traveling as an ethnomusicology professor; she painted (art, not walls); she played the piano; and she was a great writer and poet (all of which she still did up until just a few years ago when arthritis finally crippled her hands).  And of course, like many of us, she did this while raising three wonderful kids and keeping a home.  So, it’s not often (in the US, at least) when your best stir fry or spring roll recipe comes from your 97 year old grandmother.  But I’m lucky like that.

And this stir fry technique is my absolute favorite.  You cook marinated meat, remove it, and then steam the vegetables in a Sherry/Ginger/Garlic mixture, and add it all back together to make a deliciously fragrant sauce.  Unfortunately, take-out Chinese will be forever ruined for you once you taste it.  And it is the perfect arsenal meal because it uses a small amount of meat (or none at all, if you like) and a lot of vegetables, it is flexible — virtually any veggies or meat that you have will work, it is cheap, and you can easily have it cooked in 30 minutes.

Typical stir fry vegetables all work — think broccoli, peppers, onions, snow peas, green beans, bok choy, carrots, etc.  But don’t be afraid to add in others — edamame, mushrooms, corn, cabbage, and radishes all work too.  The protein can be pork, chicken, tofu, shrimp, steak, or simply a nice handful of nuts or pumpkin seeds on top.   The key is the marinating liquid and the steaming liquid.  They make the dish.  Feel free to serve over brown rice if you have time or white rice if you are rushed.  (Or no rice at all, which is what I just had for lunch.)

Gingered Pork Stir Fry

Serves 4-6

3/4 pound of pork tenderloin (or other cuts, or other proteins)
2 T, plus 1 T cornstarch
1/2 cup, plus 1/3 cup Sherry
1/3 cup soy sauce, plus extra for flavoring
2 inch piece of fresh ginger
4 large cloves of garlic
1 red pepper
1 large carrot
1 medium onion
1 small head of baby bok choy
1 1/2 cups of green or yellow beans (*I used frozen and thawed yellow beans from our summer CSA and they were great)
3 green onions
1/2 cup of water or broth
Salt and pepper
Steamed Rice

1.  Slice pork tenderloin into thin strips.  In a medium bowl, make the marinade by combining 2 T cornstarch, 1/3 cup Sherry, and 1/3 cup soy sauce.  Add pork to marinade, mix well, and set aside. (If you are serving this with rice, start it now.)

2.  Chop ginger and garlic finely and place in a small bowl.  Add 1/2 cup of sherry to that and set aside.

3.  Prepare vegetables by coring and slicing the red pepper, peeling and slicing the carrot, peeling and slicing the onion, chopping the bok choy into ribbons, stemming and chopping the green or yellow beans into bite sized pieces, and finely chopping the green onion.

4.  Mix 1/2 cup of water or broth with 1 T cornstarch and set aside.

5.  Heat wok or large saute pan over medium high heat and add about two or three tablespoons of mild flavored oil (light olive oil or vegetable oil).  Add meat, draining most of the marinade off as you add it to the pan, and cook for 3-5 minutes until almost done.   (It may stick a bit, but that’s OK.  Just try to let it get a good sear and stir fry, scraping up the bits as you go.)  Remove meat from pan and set aside.

6.  Add a bit more oil to the pan and add denser vegetables — in this case, carrots, onions, and green or yellow beans.  Stir fry for 3-5 minutes.  Add peppers and the entire bowl of Sherry/Ginger/Garlic.  Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and cover and let steam for about 3 or 4 more minutes.

7. Remove lid and add the cooked pork or meat, the bok choy, green onions, and the water/broth and cornstarch mixture.  (Make sure you give the cornstarch mixture another stir before adding it b/c the cornstarch will have settled to the bottom).  Stir well to combine and cook for about 2 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and thickened.  Add soy sauce (and hot sauce if you like it spicy) and salt and pepper to taste and serve over steamed rice.

Quick African Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

For the fifth meal of the Cuizoo Arsenal, I was planning to do a hearty soup.  Because this time of year especially, it is a fantastic one pot meal for cold days.  I thought I’d do something with beans and maybe some sausage, because that is an almost weekly occurrence for us.  But after doing the Black Beans and Rice, I realized you could simply tweak that a bit, add more broth, saute some sausage and you’d be going down a path for a decent bean soup.  I figured maybe I’d branch out and do something a little different and I had a ton of sweet potatoes to use up.  So, I started searching for recipes and the African Peanut Chicken Stew at Simply Recipes caught my attention.  Obviously, I would have to modify it for my daughter’s nut allergies, but it seemed like a flexible recipe that could easily be made into a weeknight meal.

In my version, I used skinless, boneless chicken thighs and skipped the stock making step with the chicken parts.  You could still do this if it is a weekend or you have some extra time.  Because I don’t have stock in the freezer right now and I have decided not to buy the boxed stuff anymore (most are really bad products),  I just made a simple vegetable stock with carrots, onions, celery, turnips, and garlic.  Your own veggie stock is going to taste much better than any store bought stock (chicken or otherwise) — and it is basically free (water and leftover veggies hanging out in your fridge) and has no additives or chemicals.  Quite honestly, even if you don’t have time for that, I think plain water would be as effective as any store bought stock.  The thing that stocks impart (in most cases) is really just salt.  So, in a pinch, just use water and up your seasonings.

I didn’t make it too spicy because of the kids, but that’s easily remedied with a bottle of hot sauce on the table.  My kids were divided — the boy loved it, the girl barely tolerated it (she is picky with soups), but managed to get through her plate because there was dessert on the horizon.  In most cases, I think kids would like it, especially if you focus on the fact that it is “Sunbutter or Peanut Butter Soup.”

And it’s obviously very reasonable to make.  The major ingredient is one package of chicken thighs and the rest you may have in your pantry and fridge already.  Feel free to substitute other nut butters and other seeds or nuts.

As far as flexibility goes, even though it seems very unique, you must think of it as a basic stew.  This one happens to be thickened and flavored with sunbutter/peanut butter and nuts/seeds, but you could just as easily remove the nut butter and thicken with a flour or cornstarch slurry, a roux, beans, heavy cream or simply cooked down white or sweet potatoes.  Other versions of stews that you could make might include a Chicken Corn Stew or Chowder, made instead with white potatoes and corn and thickened with cream or a slurry (and seasoned with Thyme and Sherry); a Thai Chicken Stew, keeping the nut butter, but adding a bit of Thai Red Curry Paste and coconut milk; a Smoky Vegetarian Stew with lots of root vegetables (some mashed to thicken it), Smoked Paprika, with maybe some Corn Bread Dumplings on top; or a Mexican Chicken version with added diced tomatoes, thickened with Masa Harina, and topped with shredded cheese.

I *hope* what you are beginning to see is that you have to look at any recipe as more of a method, where ingredients can be interchanged and experimented with based on what you have or what you like.  While I think you will really like this recipe, I am more interested in you knowing how to look at your refrigerator or pantry and and invent your own versions.  When you get to that point, cooking becomes much more interesting and takeout seems far less attractive.

Quick African Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 6-8

Inspired by Elise at Simply Recipes

1 cup pumpkin seeds (hulled)
3 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5-2 pounds)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger root
5 cloves garlic
2 red peppers
1 large onion
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
5 cups of stock (veggie, chicken, or just plain water in a pinch)
1 cup of Sunbutter (or other nut butter of your choice)
1 t coriander
1/8 t cayenne pepper
2 t salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
Fresh Cilantro
White or Brown Rice (if desired)

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Peel and chop sweet potatoes into 1 inch cubes.  Peel ginger root piece and finely chop.  Peel and finely chop garlic cloves.  Peel onion, cut in half, and slice.  Stem and core the red peppers and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.

3.  Spread pumpkin seeds in a thin layer on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven and toast for 8-10 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven.  Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and brown on both sides over medium heat.  Remove chicken to a plate.

5.  In the same pot, add a bit more olive oil and add chopped ginger, garlic, and sliced onions.  Saute for 3-5 minutes over medium heat until fragrant and slightly softened.

6.  Add the sweet potato chunks, five cups of stock, and the browned chicken thighs.  Mix in the 1 cup of sunbutter (or other nut butter), coriander, cayenne pepper, 2 t salt, and 1 t pepper.  Bring to a boil.  While you are waiting, place toasted pumpkin seeds in a plastic bag and smash them finely (you can use a food processor if you like).  Add 3/4 of a cup of the ground pumpkin seeds to the stew (reserving other 1/4 cup).  When it has come to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. (If you are cooking rice, you will want to start it during this cooking time.)

7.  After about 30 minutes, add the chopped red peppers and cook for 15 minutes longer.  Remove chicken thighs and let cool slightly.  Mash the sweet potatoes in the soup so they are not large chunks.  Shred or chop chicken thigh meat and return to the pot.  Add about 1/4 chopped cilantro and simmer for 5-10 minutes longer.  Serve as-is or over rice (if desired) with additional chopped fresh cilantro and reserved pumpkin seeds.

Creamy Grilled Peach and Bourbon Sorbet

OK.  So I am in a conundrum as to what to call this dessert.  I started out thinking this was going to be an ice cream. But then I decided to up the amount of peaches and add grilled peach puree to the ice cream base — making it more icy than creamy, but also a lot peachier.  So, the idea of sherbet came to mind — a fruitier, lower fat version of ice cream– but my recipe has cream in it.  I am sure somewhere in the land of ice cream making that there is a term for whatever this is … but I settled on a Creamy Sorbet, which itself is somewhat blasphemous because sorbet is icy and fruity but is never made with dairy.

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I guess, in the end, I decided on “creamy sorbet” because it sounded nicer than sherbet.  The end product also reminded me most of sorbet from a textural perspective.  I am not a purist, nor am I classically trained (or trained at all, for that matter), so you’ll have to put up with my limited knowledge.  But I do know that regardless of what you call this, it tastes delicious and is really refreshing on a hot summer night.

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It is lightly sweetened with honey (use sugar if you like, but you’d have to heat the cream to dissolve it) and uses grilled peaches — which really enhances their flavor.  The sorbet (or whatever you call it) is finished with some bourbon, and while I used two tablespoons, I think you could add a bit more if you weren’t worried about serving it to children. However if you enjoy giving your children bourbon, please feel free to add more.  It is the end of summer, and I know we are all feeing it, aren’t we?

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Creamy Grilled Peach and Bourbon Sorbet

Makes about two quarts

8 ripe peaches, halved and pitted
1 1/2 cups of cream
1 1/2 cups of milk
1/2 cup of honey
1 t vanilla extract
1/8 t of salt
1/4 t ground ginger
Zest of one lime
2 T bourbon

1.  Grill peach halves for 5-7 minutes until nicely charred.  (You can broil them instead, just flip them half way through).

2.  In a blender, combine four grilled peaches (8 halves), cream, milk, honey, vanilla, salt, ginger, and bourbon.  Blend well until completely pureed.  Stir in lime zest and chill mixture very well for several hours. (If you are short on time, pour it into a medium bowl and place medium bowl inside a large bowl filled with ice water, making sure not to get ice water into the peach mixture.  Stir frequently until chilled.)

3.  Freeze mixture in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s instructions. During the last five or ten minutes or freezing, chop remaining four peaches (8 halves) and add to ice cream freezer.  Serve immediately or put into a container and store in the freezer until ready to serve.  It will be quite hard out of the freezer, so give it time to soften.

(Note:  I served these with a ginger variation of the honey tuile cookie.  To make six cookies:  combine 1 T honey, 1 T brown sugar, 1 T melted butter, 1/8 t cardamom, 1/8 t ground ginger, 1 T white whole wheat flour, and 1 T sesame seeds.  Spread six rounds of the batter into circles on a parchment lined sheet and bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 6 minutes until bubbly and golden.  You can shape them if you like when they are hot or leave them circular.)

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Newtons Two Ways: Rhubarb Ginger and Fig Lavender

I am not a fussy cook.  I have great respect for those who are, but I just seem to lack the patience and precision to do fine, detailed work.  So, pastry chefs have my ultimate admiration.  If I make cookies, they are usually drop-style rather than rolled and cut out.  Any cake I make usually tastes great, but looks a little suspect.  (Especially if you were able to see it before I serve it.  I generally fly by the seat of my pants and figure out a way to make it look decent with a pastry tip and some shaved chocolate.  Garnishes are my friend.)  And my favorite desserts to make are crisps, cobblers, and anything “rustic.”  Rustic is my friend too.

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So, these cookies are definitely more fussy than I would like.  But I have wanted to make homemade fig newtons for some time.  Not sure why, but I am thinking it involved a dream with a fig tree and someone I went to high school with.  I’ll spare you the details, because we all know that there is nothing more boring than listening to someone describe their dreams.

I decided the time was right the other day when the grocery store had fresh figs (unfortunately, we can’t go local with figs).  My mind started to wander though … I definitely wanted to make a whole grain version, I wanted to use honey (and not too much), I wanted to dress the fillings up a little bit, and I wanted to make them seem summery.  So, I settled on two fillings:  one with figs and fresh lavender and one with rhubarb and ginger.  It ended up that I liked the rhubarb filling better than the figs.  And in my last batch, I actually combined the fig filling and the rhubarb filling to create “Rhubarb Fig Newtons” and that was great.  The tang of the rhubarb really balances the sweetness of the figs.

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Getting back to the fussiness factor… I made these on a very hot and humid day which made the job a lot harder.  The cookie dough must be thoroughly chilled to keep it firm, but just slightly softened to wrap around the fillings.  I’d suggest making them on a cooler day or turning the AC on.  Every time I’d take the dough out of the fridge it would warm so quickly that I couldn’t work with it.  Regardless of the weather, I think this is an easier job if you divide the work over two days — make the fillings and the dough the first day so they are nice and chilled, and then roll them out and bake them the next.  And I wouldn’t bake them way ahead of time because they seem to dry out easily.

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Because I am lazy, the next time I make these I am going to try them as a simple bar cookie — just roll out the dough, divide into two equal pieces and make a sandwich with the filling.  Then all you’d have to do is bake them and cut into bars.  If anyone tries going that route, please leave a comment with your experience.  And I also got thinking as I made these that a savory newton would make a great appetizer.  How about fig and goat cheese, or apple with a bit of camembert?  I am definitely going to figure that recipe out — because that is a cookie you could have with wine.

Rhubarb Ginger And Fig Lavender Newtons

Makes about 2-3 dozen, depending on how big you cut them

Rhubarb Filling:

2 1/2 cups of chopped rhubarb (about 3 long stalks)
Zest of one lemon
3/4 t fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup honey
Pinch Salt
2 t cornstarch mixed with 1 t water
1/2 t vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients, except vanilla extract, in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until completely smooth and thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Let cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor (or with an immersion blender).  Chill for at least an hour or two (or overnight).

Fig Filling:

2 1/2 cups of fresh figs, stemmed and chopped
2 t fresh lavender, chopped and divided into two equal piles
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of orange juice
Pinch of salt
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla extract

Combine figs, one teaspoon of lavender (reserve other one), honey, orange juice, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes until smooth and thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, vanilla extract, and remaining teaspoon of lavender.  Let cool slightly and puree in a blender or food processor (or with an immersion blender).  Chill for at least an hour or two (or overnight).

The Cookie Dough:

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup of honey
Zest of one lemon
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour

Cream butter with electric mixer until it is light and fluffy.  Add honey and lemon zest and  continue to mix for 2-3 minutes.  Add eggs, one a time and mix well to incorporate.  (I find that when baking with smaller amounts of honey, sometimes the eggs won’t emulsify with the butter – but just keeping mixing for a few minutes and it comes back together.  It helps if the eggs are at room temperature.)  Add salt and vanilla extract and mix.  Slowly add in the flour in three additions and mix until just coming together.  Finish mixing with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Place dough on one sheet of plastic wrap and cover with a second sheet of plastic wrap.  Pat the dough into a rectangular shape and wrap tightly with the plastic.  Chill for several hours or overnight.

The Assembly:

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a cool place, roll out the cookie dough between the two sheets of plastic wrap until it is about 1/4 inch thick and the rectangle is about 13 inches by 15 inches.   Cut into four equal strips.  Slide onto a baking tray (with the plastic still on) and put in freezer for 5-10 minutes so it can firm back up.

Spoon a thin line of the filling down the center of each dough strip.  (If you have too much filling on it, it will ooze out like crazy — no big deal, just take some out.) Fold one side of the dough strip to the center, slightly covering filling.  Fold other side of the dough strip on top of that and gently pinch the dough together to seal it up.  (You will have one big “log”).  Repeat with remaining dough strips and filling.  Put all the logs in the freezer for another 5-10 minutes to firm up again.

Place the logs seam side down onto a parchment lined baking sheet and slice into individual cookies (about 1 inch each and don’t forget to remove the plastic wrap if it is still on!).  Space the cookies evenly for baking.   Bake for 15 minutes and if you have multiple trays in at once, rotate them half way through.  Remove from sheets and cool on racks.

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Rhubarb Applesauce

When I picked up our CSA share yesterday, I got another bunch of rhubarb to join two others in my fridge. We like rhubarb, so there is no good reason why we haven’t used it. I guess between weekend travel and having no time to make a dessert (which is how we prefer it, obviously), it has just started to pile up. I wanted to do something slightly more savory, which is tough with rhubarb because it is very tart and needs some sugar. I settled on the idea of something “applesaucey” and it was a hit with our grilled pork. It would be great with some strawberries added in (if you like the strawberry-rhubarb combo and are willing to part with your strawberries — but I’m not there yet.)

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I added fresh ginger because it marries with the rhubarb so nicely, but the kids probably would have enjoyed it more without it. There were yelps from my almost three year old son about it being a little “spicy” — but I have a hard time judging that because he thinks rosemary is spicy. His other beliefs include: 1) Don’t trust anything with a tongue (“lickers” as he calls them) based on a fear of dogs who lick him, 2) The best parts of being a grown up are being able to watch Harry Potter movies and touch the ceiling, and 3) The purest form of evil is the garbage disposal. So, take or leave his cooking advice.

I sweetened this with a bit of honey (not to be confused with a bit o’honey) and it worked well. If you are making this for a more mature audience (one not afraid of lickers), I think it would be wonderful with some freshly chopped chives or rosemary.

Rhubarb Applesauce

Serves 4

4-5 cups of rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces
3-4 cups of apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 cup of water
1 T freshly chopped ginger
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of cardamom
Freshly chopped herbs (if desired)

Combine all ingredients (except herbs) in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes until completely softened and the rhubarb is falling apart.  If your apples are still too chunky, you can use a potato masher to break them up.  Serve as a side dish or with grilled meat.

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