Stir Fry Secrets

We do stir frys on the regular, but in the last year or so I’ve learned a couple of secrets that have dramatically upped my stir fry game. Apparently it’s all in the method.

1) Velvet the chicken*–this is the biggest game changer

2) Have everything ready to go, including meat and vegetables chopped and sauce made–I mean, I guess this isn’t really a secret; maybe everyone already does this, but, like starting with a clean kitchen, this tip is money

3) Use one pan–first do your meat (then remove it), then add vegetables in order of cooking time needed, then add the meat back, and finish with your sauce (just long enough to coat everything really)

The nice thing about stir frys is that they are so flexible. This one is my go-to recipe, but it is endlessly changeable depending on what you have (or don’t have) on hand:

*Velvet the chicken–I’m guessing it’s called this because it makes the chicken velvety? I don’t know; I just know this method keeps the chicken from being dry or chewy. I’ll never skip this step if I can help it.

  • 1-2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips or cubes
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil

Combine all these ingredients together and then marinate the chicken while you prepare the sauce and vegetables. Meanwhile, bring water to boil in a medium/large saucepan or wok-like pan.

When your sauce is made and vegetables chopped, boil the chicken for three minutes, drain, and set aside.

Prepare the sauce

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I usually leave this out per family preference)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-Spice
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup coconut aminos (you can also use soy sauce, but since it has a stronger flavor, I’d probably use less)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Combine all these ingredients and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables

Go crazy with whatever you like. I usually use about

  • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 1-2 carrots, sliced
  • 1-2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced

Put it all together

  • oil
  • vegetables you’ve prepared
  • chicken you’ve velveted
  • sauce you’ve prepared
  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or wok (I use the same large pot/skillet/saucepan thing I used earlier for the chicken).
  2. Add the vegetables and sauté until almost tender (usually about 5 minutes for the onions and carrots; I’m usually fairly lazy and throw all in at once, but you could go crazy and add the faster-cooking vegetables later).
  3. Add the chicken back to the pan and then add the sauce.
  4. Toss and let cook for just a couple of minutes to let the flavors blend.
  5. Serve over rice or noodles.
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Homemade Taco Seasoning

IMG_5255This recipe is endlessly adaptable. Your family likes their tacos hot? Add more red pepper flakes (we like it mild, so I only add half). Like it salty? Double the salt. Don’t like cumin? Use less or leave it out. You get the idea. The base amounts here makes about 3 tablespoons. In tacos, I like to use about 3 tablespoons per pound of meat, so when I make a batch, I usually double or triple the spices (pictured is a quadruple batch).

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano (I use flakes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon flour (optional)

Directions:

  1. Stir all ingredients together until combined.
  2. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Make-Ahead Baking

This is so brilliant — and so simple — I can hardly stand it (and I wish I could find the article that sparked the idea to give credit where credit is due. Genius woman out there in the blogosphere, I salute you!): mix the dry ingredients for your favorite baked goods and store in bags (or jars). Write on the bag the remaining (wet) ingredients and baking directions. When you’re ready to go, add the wet ingredients and bake. Suddenly a 20-minute + process is cut down to 5. For Jason, this will mean we can have muffins during the week and not just on the weekend. It’s like freezer cooking for the pantry.

This morning I made up two batches of baked oatmeal and two of muffins.

Okay, come to think of it, this idea is no different from those cookie mixes that you buy at the Farmer’s Market. But somehow the idea of thinking ahead for things I actually make (or would make) on a regular basis seems rather revolutionary.

Things I Wish I Would Remember

These are things that I don’t always do when I bake (or cook) but that make the whole experience so much more pleasant.

  1. Start with a clean kitchen.
  2. Get all my ingredients and/or necessary tools out before I start.
  3. Clean up/put things away as I go.
  4. Get up  before the kids wake up (unless I am specifically doing something for fun with them, of course).
  5. Drink coffee when baking, wine when cooking.
  6. Use the baking time/downtime to blog or read (or organize recipes?).
  7. Make some notes on the recipe for next time.

What would you add?

Tip on Double-Boiling

“It could be curtains or dishes or a [beat] double-boiler!” This was my one solo line in the 7th grade Exploratory Music course’s short recital. Anyone know the name of the show tune it comes from?

Does anybody have a double-boiler hanging out in their cupboards anymore? I have an old scratched one I’m a bit afraid to use, so I modify my approach. I use a small saucepan with a Pyrex glass dish set on top. Just keep the glass dish from touching the boiling water below and you’re good to double-boil your heart out.

Recommended Resources

Reader participation required!

What are your favorite recipe books? I mean, what are you tried-and-true faithful resources for finding a satisfying casserole, an amazing bread recipe, an hors d’oeuvres everyone will remember?

Comment with titles, authors, magazines, websites, whatever you use on regular basis.

Election Day 2008

Voted

Rebecca and I share a love for election day, and we agreed that we should make a holiday of it. So after we each voted, we loaded up the young ones and headed first to Runza, where Liv added an “I ate at Runza today” sticker to her “I voted today” sticker (what would life be like if we wore stickers advertising our activities each day?) . We then had a little picnic at the Lincoln Foundation Garden before heading over to Starbucks to claim our free coffee (they also gave Liv a free treat — a little cup of whipped cream with chocolate shavings).

I think Starbucks is the only place in Lincoln offering something free for voting (correct me if I’m wrong), but if you have them in your area and you vote, you can also claim free food from Krispy Kreme, California Tortilla. Shane’s Rib Shack, and Ben & Jerry’s.