A Nice Change of Pace

This past weekend was completely unlike the one that preceded it. For a ton of reasons. But let’s first state the obvious, most polarizing difference: this past weekend, Chris was on his way to China for a week (yes, without me – again!), and the weekend before it, we were both in the country.

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s move on.

The other big difference is that two weekends ago, Chris and I took our first overnight backpacking trip into the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur, going “balls to the wall” and hiking a round-trip 23 miles of bonkers up-and-down trail, where we saw mountains, redwoods, waterfalls, pretty greenery, the ocean, and at the final point for the night, a campsite right near natural hot springs. Which means we also saw hippie naked people, our own stinking dirty clothes, and freeze-dried food that didn’t taste half-bad.

It was pretty amazing, to say the least. Amazing and really, really hard. I’m pretty proud of us for roughin’ it out there, and can’t wait to do it again. (Here’s the pics, if you’re interested. There aren’t many since we were more focused on things like not toppling over from the weight of our packs!)

This weekend, I was left to my own devices, and I definitely didn’t go backpacking. Instead, I painted my toenails and fingernails (purple!), I got a massage, I went for a run and a couple of small bikes rides, and I survived my first hot yoga class. Just barely, though.

I also managed to sit out in the sunshine and soak in some Vitamin D. Ironically enough, I watched the “new” Twilight movie and read plenty of ‘Salem’s Lot, too. I did not sleep in a coffin, in case you were wondering, but I did wake up to my second memorable earthquake since living in San Francisco, which is noteworthy.

It wasn’t the same as my usual weekends around here lately – hiking and such – but it was certainly a nice change of pace. And it kept me from sitting in a quiet house with two lazy cats staring a me.

And while I could have easily procured a few microwave dinners to get me through the week food-wise, I had some produce leftovers from last week, and I decided that I couldn’t go one more day without making one of my very favorite dishes, bibimbap. I can’t put my finger on it, but the combination of flavors in bibimbap something that I seem to crave every now and then, and the taste isn’t comparable to anything else I know of. It’s the mixture of veggies with soy sauce and sesame oil, the Korean chili paste, the textures of all the different, individual cooking of ingredients, and the runny, fried egg on top that I absolutely can’t resist. I made enough for 2 servings this time (the recipe below is still scaled to 4, but it does half easily) and I ate leftovers so quickly that I almost poked myself in the face with my fork.

I took a picture with my phone and texted it to Chris, thinking he’d be totally envious and ready to come home right away. But then I remembered he was in, well, China. There’s good food in China.

And then I licked the rest of the chili paste right outta the bowl. I mean shoot, no one’s watching, anyway. But would I care if they were? Prolly not…

Bibimbap, previously: Beef & Asparagus Bibimbap
Korean, previously: Korean tofu tacos

Vegetarian (or not) Bibimbap
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2012; serves 4 

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
1 c uncooked short-grain brown rice
8 oz extra-firm tofu, drained (or sirloin, chicken, or pork)
1/3 c water
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2 t sugar, divided
2 t garlic, minced & divided
1 t fresh ginger, minced & divided
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1 c carrots, julienned
2 T lower-sodium soy sauce
3 T dark sesame oil, divided
1 c fresh bean sprouts
5 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced
9 oz fresh baby spinach (usually a large bag)
4 large eggs
4 T gochujang*
1/4 t kosher salt

*gochujang is Korean chili paste. You can usually find it at Whole Foods (the Annie Chun brand) or other brands in Asian markets

instructions
Cook rice. Bring 2 c water and rice to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until water is absorbed. This can be done days in advance to cut down on cooking time.

Meanwhile, cut tofu into 3/4-inch-thick cubes. Place tofu in a single layer in between a kitchen towel. Let stand 30 minutes, pressing down occasionally.

Combine 1/3 c water, vinegar, 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, 1/2 t ginger, and crushed red pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add carrot, and remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Drain.

Combine remaining 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, remaining 1/2 t ginger, soy sauce, and 1 T oil, stirring with a whisk. Remove tofu from paper towels. Place tofu in a medium bowl. Add 1 T soy sauce mixture to tofu; toss gently. Let stand 15 minutes.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over high heat for 4 minutes. Add 1/2 T sesame oil; swirl to coat. Add rice to pan in a single layer; cook 1 minute (do not stir). Remove from heat.

Turn on oven just enough to warm and then turn off. Keep the following components warm by putting them on a baking sheet and keeping them in the oven until all pieces are sautéed. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 t oil; swirl to coat. Add 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture and bean sprouts to pan; sauté 1 minute. Remove sprouts from pan; keep warm. Add mushrooms to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture; sauté 1 minute. Remove mushrooms from pan; keep warm. Add 1/2 T oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add tofu to pan; sauté 7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove tofu from pan; keep warm. Add 1 t oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add remaining 1 t garlic and remaining 1 T soy sauce mixture; sauté 30 seconds. Add spinach to pan; sauté 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Remove spinach from pan; keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 1 t oil to pan, more if desired. Crack eggs into pan; cook 4 minutes or until whites are set. Remove from heat.

Place 1/2 c rice in each of 4 shallow bowls. Top each serving evenly with carrots, sprouts, mushrooms, tofu, and spinach. Top each serving with 1 egg and 1 T chili paste. Sprinkle evenly with salt.

Fair and Square

One of our favorite types of food these days is ramen. No, not the 10/$1.00 packs that come in all sorts of flavors, like chicken, oriental, and beef, but the actual kind that you are given in a restaurant, in a gigantic bowl filled to the brim with steaming hot broth, ramen noodles, pork (or fried chicken. fried chicken!), and all sorts of other ingredients that have me salivating right this second.

We’ve tried a handful of spots in the city over the past few months, and every time I’m feeling the need for some warm comfort food my mind goes straight to ramen. I can’t get enough of it.

Of course, while waiting for said ramen to make its appearance at the table, it’s never a bad idea to have an appetizer or three. Many of these ramen joints make killer meat skewers, but often times all I want is a freakin’ potsticker. Something about a little sheet of dough enveloping a bite of meat and veggies, and then steamed and served alongside some sort of amazing dipping sauce makes me so amazingly happy. So happy that I could likely eat a couple orders of them and call it a night, if it weren’t for the ramen making its way to the table.

But when you’re home, that’s another story. I’ve eaten potstickers only quite a few times.

Potstickers are those little treats that look so damn hard to make, but are in all reality, probably one of the easiest dishes to throw together, minus the time. You toss the filling into a food processor, which means your initial chopping skills really don’t matter all that much, as long as things are similarly butchered to smithereens. You put the filling onto pre-made wrappers. You fold them (which is what people think is so dang hard. It isn’t.), and then you steam them. The sauce is nothing but a handful of ingredients whisked together (and for that, there are thousands of choices, but I’m a fan of a spicy peanut sauce, I am). Then you’re ready to chow down.

Sure, they look intricate. And sure, it might take some precision and a little patience, but there isn’t much that can go wrong, even if the wonton shapes aren’t winning beauty pageants. Either way, what results are little pockets of delightful goodness that you, I promise, won’t be able to resist.

You can even take them to a potluck if you want. And when that potluck gets canceled without your knowledge, you can smile a little on the inside, because they just turned into lunch, which means you can eat like, 10 of them, instead of 2. That’s what I call winning – fair and square.

Shrimp & Ginger Potstickers w/ Spicy Peanut Sauce
makes 24 potstickers – 4 servings as a meal, 12 as an appetizer

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
potstickers
3/4 c Napa cabbage, shredded
1/3 c scallions, chopped (+ more for garnish, optional)
1/4 c carrots, julienned
2 T cilantro, chopped
1 T low sodium soy sauce
2 t fresh ginger, minced
1 t dark sesame oil
1/2 t salt
1/2 lb shrimp, cooked
sriracha, optional but totally not optional
24 small wonton wrappers
2 T cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 T canola oil, divided
1 c water, divided

sauce
1/4 c water
1/4 c reduced fat peanut butter
2 T low sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 T rice vinegar
1 1/2 T chile paste w/ garlic (sambal oelek)
1/2 t sugar

instructions
combine 1st 10 ingredients (sriracha to your liking) into food processor and pulse ~4 times, or until coarsely chopped and mixed together.

working with 1 wrapper at a time, spoon 1 1/2 t of filling into the center. wet the edges of the wonton with a small brush and bring opposite corners together, pinching to seal. place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch/arrowroot powder.

heat 1 1/2 t canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 12 potstickers to pan and cook for 2 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown. slowly add 1/2 c water, cover and cook for 4 minutes. uncover and cook 3 more minutes, until the liquid evaporates. Repeat again with remaining oil, potstickers, and water.

prepare sauce by combining all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and whisking until mixed.

serve potstickers with peanut sauce, garnishing with green onions, if desired.