It is unfortunate that so many types of condiments are readily available at the supermarket.  Being able to walk down an aisle and toss in a jar of jam, bottle of ketchup, or any number of types of hot sauce distracts the collective “us” from the fact that none of these products are as good as we can make in our own kitchens.  This point is only magnified when looking into imported ethnic condiments.  There is the allure of some tasty sauce shipped in from around the world and many cooks  (including myself) can sometimes lack confidence when branching out to culinary styles not grounded in our continent of birth.  One look at the ingredient list of these foods though and we are reminded of the uncertain quality of foods with mysterious origin.

All of these complicated thoughts were running through my mind the other day when I happened upon Sherri  Brooks Vinton’s recipe for Asian Plum Sauce in her book Put “em Up.  I am a firm believer that a high quality condiment can transform an ordinary meal into something special.  Since plums are literally falling from the trees right now, there is no better time to capture that goodness in this deeply spiced tangy sauce.  The directions for canning the sauce are included, this sauce is sure to taste even better on a rainy or snowy day in February than it does now when these fruity tastes are so abundant.  I also included the half batch proportions, because I can see whipping up this sauce in advance of my next eggroll party.  What? You have never had an eggroll party before?  Me either, but it sure sounds like fun to me!

And now for the winner of the Canning Supplies Give Away…  Kalamckala from Eating on a Napkin is the lucky winner.  She says, “I’m a newbie with the whole canning and preserving thing but I made an apricot preserve with vanilla and cinnamon – I may have fallen for the entire process! I only hope to can more and more this summer! ”  It sounds like these supplies will be put to good use!  Thank you to everyone who commented!  There are so many great ideas in the comments of that post.  Check them out and get inspired!

Generator Min: 1 Max: 57 Result: 52 Powered by RANDOM.ORG

*A note about the winner selection.  There were 69 comments total, 12 were my responses.  Since it would be strange for me to win my own prize, I used a random number generator to select a random number between 1 and 57.  1 was the first comment and 57 the last.

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Thai Lettuce Wraps

May 26, 2011

The end of the school year is near, which always means my life, as a teacher, becomes temporarily overwhelmingly busy.  The good news is that in two weeks I will be off for the summer with nothing to do but play with the kiddos, work in the garden, and of course cook.  The canning jars are all nearly empty, taunting me with possibilities.  But right now, in between writing finals and grading the last of the lab notebooks, there is little time for much else.  Thank goodness for quick and easy meals that still make dinner seem like a special time of day.

In between all of the bread and the cake that we have been eating lately, I thought we needed to have at least one meal that lacks a substantial carb load. Thai Lettuce Wraps always satisfy on many levels. The combo of sweet, salty, and spicy is so completely delectable that it distracts from the fact that there is no bed of rice or noodles (of course you can add those if you choose).  They are super quick and budget friendly.  Let us not forget that they are also fun to eat!


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Sesame Ginger Meatballs

April 16, 2011

The best weeknight meals are those that are simple to prepare, nutritious, and are greeted with delight by the hungry munchkins at the table.  By the time the kids and I get home, everyone is tired and hungry.  When I am really tight on time, I start the rice cooker in the morning before I go to work.  When I return home the rice is ready and all I have to do is whip up something to serve on top.  These Asian-inspired meatballs are a great alternative to our regular stir fries.  A bonus, my kids love meatballs and broccoli!  They squealed with delight the last time I served this :)

Ginger Sesame Meatballs are very easy to make and super tasty!  Mix up the pork with garlic, ginger, soy and other flavors, form the meatballs and cook.  I serve them with brown rice and broccoli or another seasonal vegetable.  A little terriyaki sauce on top and some sambal oeleck on the side adds another dimension of flavor and color.

These meatballs are really good!  Don’t let the photo fool you.  The truth is, it is very difficult to take a good picture of a meatball!

Ginger Sesame Meatballs

adapted from Cooking Light

serves 4

1 pound ground pork

1/2 cup panko

1 egg

1 tablespoon ginger, grated

1/4 cup green onion, minced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon chile paste (sambal oeleck)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for frying)

sesame seeds for garnish

Terriyaki Sauce  (optional)

Mix all ingredients except for vegetable oil and terriyaki sauce in a bowl.  Form meat into balls.  I like to make large meatballs for this dinner.  You could easily make smaller ones if you prefer or if you are making these for an appetizer.

Preheat oven 400 degrees.

Heat cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Coat pan with vegetable oil.  Fry meatballs in pan, turning so that each side is evenly brown, but meat is not cooked through.   Transfer the pan to the oven (or put meatballs on a baking tray if your pan is not big enough).  Bake for 10 minutes or until the center of the meatball reaches 160 degrees.  Serve hot with rice and veggies.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Ginger Sesame Meatballs

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Vietnamese Hue Noodle Soup

February 27, 2011

Somewhat recently, I discovered Vietnamese Pho and its cousin Hue.  There are a number of restaurants in town that dedicate almost their entire menu to these hot and spicy soups.  At first, they seemed so exotic and indulgent with the fresh bean sprouts and peppers topping the hot rich broth perfumed with fresh basil or cilantro. When I first made the soup myself though, I realized how incredibly simple and healthy they are.  A few simple fresh ingredients come together with some basic Asian cooking staples: rice noodles, fish sauce, and sambal oeleck.  The result is a hot and spicy nourishing soup.

To speed up cooking time, consider cooking the broth and meat in a pressure cooker.  In just ten minutes, the meat is cooked to an almost divine tenderness.  You save time and energy, and the dish is possibly more delicious than the traditional method of slow simmering.

This recipe for Vietnamese Hue Noodle Soup is incredibly versatile.  Feel free to substitute chicken or even tofu for the beef (and decrease the cooking time).  The garnish is also very adaptable.  We have an uncommon fondness for cabbage, so that is our go-to condiment, but that can be replaced with bean sprouts as well.  Trade the fresh hot peppers for dried chilies if you prefer.  If you do not have lime on hand, give the soup a splash of rice vinegar at the end to add the bright acidic finish.  This soup is very good, one of our favorites. Try it and let me know what you think!

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