Cream of Celery Soup…An Exercise in Better Uses for Celery.


Celery…conjuring memories of low-fat diets since the 1980’s. Relegated to the crudite platter.


Ahhh…FANCY ants on a log. You can do better celery. You can do better. (Pic snagged from Pinterest).

Such a sad existence. Now, I’m not telling you to spearhead some sort of Celery Festival equipped with it’s own Celery Queen riding astride a large green float and waving wistfully to the crowd. What I am saying is you should give celery a second try…just not in the form you’re familiar with. Paired with some really good butter and a whole lotta cream your ol’ standby celery can go from the dark, lonely corners of the vegetable bin to something pretty fabulous. I stumbled upon cream of celery soup (no, not the red-and-white canned kind) when I was trying to use up a couple of bunches of celery that were going nowhere fast. It was chilly at the time and a big ol’ bowl of soup sounded pretty delightful. Peering into my generally packed-to-the-hilt fridge, I found a motley crew of a stick of butter, a pint of cream, our sad celery, and some chicken stock.  With a serious case of the lazies, I donned my kitchen apron over my PJs and got to work.  A little saute with some bits of onion in a few tablespoons of butter, simmered in chicken stock, pureed, and topped off with cream—winner! Best news is it is packed with nutrients and no flour is required to thicken the soup (feel free to roll with a classic roux, but I really prefer it without). The good portion of fat keeps you full too (ahem–not to mention it tastes ah-mazing!). Tonight this little beauty serves as a starter to our pre-hurricaine dinner. No better time to clear out the far reaches of the fridge!

Cream of Celery Soup

  • 2 bunches of celery (about 350g)
  • 1/2 small onion (about 50g)
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 0.5 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • peppercorn melange to taste (black pepper works well too)

Roughly chop the celery and onions while melting the butter in a large saute pan. After the butter is finished foaming, place the celery and onions in and saute until beginning to soften. Add 1.5 cups of chicken stock and the bay leaf and simmer until all bits are cooked through and soft. Remove the bay leaf, remove the pan from the heat, and cool a bit. Process until smooth in a heavy duty blender (like a Vitamix!). Return the soup to your pan and slowly stir in the heavy cream. Add a small amount of water or cook off a little liquid to perfect the consistency (since we didn’t use a roux as a thickener). Adjust seasonings.

You can certainly strain the small bits of celery fiber through a fine strainer (like a bouillon strainer or fine chinois cap), but most of the time I prefer to leave them in for a little heft. A super smooth, strained soup does however, make a nice accoutrement to a fine dinner. Add a drizzle of chive or parsley oil for an added punch of flavor and a little color. And just like that, your sad and lonely celery becomes a star!




Cauliflower Faux Fried Rice



So. Yeah. This cauliflower craze. It’s a love and hate thing. I love that I can eat some of my favorite evil comfort foods without furthering the heart disease caused by my love-affair with The Pig. Often healthful recipes meant to mimic comfort foods are almost universally straight up disastrous.  Or maybe I’m just THAT much in love with all that is intent on shortening my life on this planet?  That means I’ve tried  a lot of utterly disappointing faux recipes involving cauliflower. Failures include recipes that still taste like cauliflower, those that are too soggy, ones that fall apart, and ones that are too dry or have no flavor,  and on and on AND ON. After a lot of trialing, I was finally able to conjure up some stir fried rice that comes really, really (I mean really!) close to the real deal. Indeed, this stuff was so good that it instantly transported me to eating fried rice as a child in the old international food court that used to sit off of N. Market Street.  When I make this, I make a vat and eat it all week. It’s seriously that addicting.

The keys to whipping up some of this delicious faux fried rice include pre-cooking the ‘rice’, squeezing the liquid out of the cauliflower rice, getting a little caramelization on the rice, and adding some flavorful ingredients. The caramelization/drying step takes a little bit of time, but no longer than cooking a pot of rice and busting out a wok. Also, feel free to get a little freaky and throw in whatever ingredients you like best–just like fried rice, this little gem is forgiving.  Be prepared to fall in love with something that is actually good for you!

Faux Fried Rice (Cauliflower Fried Rice)

  • 1 head cauliflower, riced, steamed, and squeezed free of liquid
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup of frozen green peas
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 4 ounces of ham (or pork, or chicken, or shrimp)
  • 2 tsp Sesame oil
  • 1 TBSP Ponzu sauce (in the ‘international’ section of your grocery store or make some)
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce or liquid aminos
  • 1 TBSP rice seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • scallions for garnish

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Rice, steam, and squeeze the fluid out of your cauliflower like the technique used in our cauliflower crackers and cauliflower tater tots. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread your cauliflower mixture in a thin layer. Cook until lightly browned a slightly dried a bit.  This step adds flavor, decreases the familiar cauliflower flavor, and helps the ‘rice’ grains stay separated when adding the other ingredients (don’t skip it!). Cool your cauliflower rice on the pan. Break up any clumps and set aside.  Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add your carrots and saute until beginning to soften. Add your onions and saute until translucent. Add your peas and saute until just heated through. Remove all vegetables from pan. Place the ham in your pan and cook until edges are browned. Remove the ham from the pan and add to the vegetables. Assure the pan is adequately lubricated with oil. Add your whisked eggs and scramble, leaving them in bits about half the size of your pinkie finger (any smaller and you lose their texture and flavor amongst everything else). When you are done scrambling your eggs, return the ham and vegetables to the pan. Add your cauliflower ‘rice’. Add 2 tsp sesame oil, 1 TBSP ponzu sauce, 1 TBSP soy sauce or liquid aminos, 1/4 tsp white pepper, and 1 TBSP rice seasoning. Stir gently to incorporate the ingredients and heat the cauliflower rice through. Serve and enjoy tremendously! If you’re in the mood to wrestle with a little food guilt, serve your healthy fried rice with Shanghai Red Cooked Pork Belly or Chinese Red Cooked Beef. Grilled chicken or shrimp would be a great pairing too. You won’t be disappointed!



Cauliflower Tater Tots


Everybody loves a tater tot. Eh-vreh-body.

cauliflower tots

Tater tots and ligers. Both favorites.

A place The Hubbs and I hit up a few times a year has straight up ol’ skool tater tots and ketchup. Before going there, I had not indulged in a tater tot in about 20 years. And then, just like that, I was totally obsessed. For obvious health reasons, being obsessed with tater tots is not a good thing. So, I set out to make a healthy alternative.  A good place to start for carb-bread substitutes is cauliflower.  Man, I was pleasantly surprised! A little snappy sauce and they’re a perfect guilty pleasure packed with nutrients. AND they’re baked. You’re welcome!

Cauliflower Tater Tots

  • 1 head of Cauliflower, riced, and squeezed of it’s liquid
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup of sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 TBSP almond flour
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • salt to taste

Prepare a baking sheet with a parchment sheet that has been lightly sprayed with high-heat cooking oil or cooking spray. Rice, steam, cool, and de-juice your cauliflower like the technique used in our cauliflower crackers.

cauliflower tater tots

Cut your head of cauliflower into florets

cauliflower tater tots

Next up…the Cauliflower is ‘riced’ and steamed. Doing so allows us to get the most moisture out of the cauliflower when you give it the big squeeze.

Next, add the eggs, cheese, almond flour, onion powder, white pepper, and salt.

cauli tots

Throw in all of the other ingredients and mix well.

Mix the ingredients well. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Using the space where your hand meets your fingers, form your cauli tots by gently squeezing and rolling a small amount of the mixture while lightly tapping down the ends to create the familiar barrel shape. Place your tots on the parchment, leaving a bit of space between each one. When all of your tots are lined up, spray the tops lightly with high-heat cooking oil or cooking spray.

cauliflower tots

Your tots are ready to pop into the oven. Having tots without the guilt and carbs is so worth the wait!

Pop your tots in the oven and bake for 12 minutes or until browned on the bottom. Roll each tot a quarter of a roll and cook 5 or so minutes until the new bottom is browned. Repeat the quarter-turn roll and cook another 5 minutes or so until the bottom is browned. Repeat the roll one last time to make sure all sides are browned and crisp.

cauliflower tater tots

Ermagahhhhd. Tots! Even Napoleon Dynamite would stuff these into his pants pockets!

I’m a big fan of serving these tots with a mayo-ketchup-horseradish sauce. After all, if the tots are all full of goodness you can get a little cray cray with your condiments!

Cauli tots

Eat them up!

Cured Egg Yolks


So, I’ve decided to conquer the yardbird. It seems I tend to tackle certain foods or techniques every season. Three was the season of shortribs and braising (and waist expansion). The season of learning how to master my smoker. The season of soups. The season of the barbecue. I really tend to avoid chicken. It is just so much work. And I usually love the skin or sauce more than the actual chicken. But I’ve decided I will conquer that yardbird (Yaahdburhd if you’re into the correct southern pronunciation)! To get going, but not ruin my day, I decided to start where the chicken started…the egg. Don’t worry, I’ll move on to the whole chicken later, but we’re starting with something I already love. Now that we know why we’re tackling this egg, why cure it? Salt. Fat. Umami. Fun. Need I say more? And hey, if the Zombie Apocalypse hits, you’ll still be able to eat like a king!

Don’t go thinking I’m some kind of culinary genius. Salted, cured egg yolks have existed for a long time in the form of Bottarga. Bottarga is salt cured fish roe sacs. Don’t worry a bit, with shad roe season starting here, we’ll be making some of that too! I digress. Salted hen yolks have a slightly salty, fatty, magical flavor. They’re quick and easy to make and can totally transform pasta, salads, and soup. Just use a fine grater or micro planer to give your dishes a little dusting. I’m practically drooling thinking of a yukon gratin with sage and a little dusting of cured egg yolk.

To kick off your cured egg yolk addiction:

  • 1 container, about 2 inches high, 8 inches long, and 6 inches wide
  • 2 cups of Kosher salt
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 4 egg yolks (freeze the whites in ice cube trays for later use, make a little Angel food cake, or make some cloud bread)

Thoroughly mix your salt and sugar and place a decent layer in the bottom of your container. Make four little nests in your mixture with the back of a spoon. Separate the whites and yolks. Place each yolk in its nest.


Just look at that little golden globe of goodness!

Gently cover with the rest of the salt-sugar mixture. Place your lid and tuck into your fridge. Let sit for 1 week. After the week has passed, gently remove the yolks from your mixture. They will be slightly translucent and the firmness of a dried apricot.


You can see the difference between fresh egg yolks going down for a little salt slumber and those that I’ve just dug out of their cozy cocoon.


These little gems are like adult salty jelly beans!

Rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.


Don’t be afraid of the cold water rinse. It’ll get rid of excess salt and the yolks won’t melt.


Good morning sunshine!

Place in a dehydrator set at 145 degrees. Dehydrate for 3 hours or until firm.The yolks will continue to firm up as they cool. Grate, grate, grate away! They’ll last a month in a sealed container in the fridge, but I guarantee they won’t stick around that long!


Serious goodness. I prefer the uber thin tendrils produced by a micro planer, but the slightly more dense shavings produced by a grater work well too and may stand up to robust dishes a little better. Either way, just get that goodness on there!


White Onion Soup


Search ‘onion soup recipes’ and you’ll find almost 6 million results…nearly all of them concerned with the French onion soup we’ve all grown to love. If the beefy, buttery, cheese-and-crouton soup is peasant food, then white onion soup is it’s long-lost, classy cousin. The two are in no way similar other than being soup and having a base of onions. The classic French onion soup calls for caramelized onions and beef broth while white onion soup calls for softened onions and cream. One is deep brown in color while the other is a pristine snow white palate. As far as flavor, white onion soup does taste of onions (obviously) but not overwhelmingly so while floral notes peak through a creamy, buttery base. It’s divine. And simple. Just a handful of ingredients are required to create a truly delightful bowl of soup. It’s a great meal on it’s own, paired with a salad, or as a starter for beef, lamb, and pork meals.  Along with cream of celery, it’s one of my ‘go to’ soups. Even if you’re not crazy about onions, give white onion soup a try (just get those tissues ready–it’s a pile of onion to cut!).


I couldn’t help it!

White Onion Soup

  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 3 pounds of onions, sliced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 4 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 2 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat.  When the butter’s foam subsides, add the celery and cook until it begins to soften, a few minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent and soft, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook the onions until they are very soft, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes.


The onions need to be very soft, but don’t let them brown.

Do not let the onion brown. Add the chicken stock and process in small batches in a blender until smooth (if you are using a regular blender, this may take 2-4 minutes per batch). Return the soup to the pot and add white pepper and cream. Heat thoroughly. Add 2 TBSP of parmesean. Salt to taste.


This soup is so good on it’s own that you don’t need many accouterments.  A little chive oil and peppercorn melange suits just fine. 


Roasted walnut oil, roasted beets, and red onion jam fit nicely too. Golden crunchy potato strings or cheesy croutons and white truffle oil would work as well.

My favorite additions are a dotting of chive oil and a sprinkling of peppercorn melange. We’ve also tried walnut oil, roasted beets, and red onion jam.  I’m itching to try some crunchy potato strings or cheesy croutons and white truffle oil.


Nutrition per 8 oz. cup: Cal 212 kcal, Fat 15.1g, Sat Fat 9.7g, Chol 44.4mg, Carb 15.1g, Fiber 2.6g, Sugar 7.2g,  Protein 5.3g

Onions have higher levels of tryptophan, B vitamins and vitamins A and C, copper, manganese, and phosphorus. Onions are a prebiotic and are high in polyphenols, expecially flavanoids like quercetin.




The weather’s starting to cool here a bit and that means it ‘s the perfect, perfect time to set up camp on the back porch and break out all of the barbecuing toys.  And barbecuing toys mean ribs, ribs, and more ribs. Some associate ribs with the sweltering, surface-of-the-sun heat of mid summer, but I much prefer them when the weather starts to turn and football is in gear.  There’s no way to cook ribs quickly, so that lends itself to a few hours of watching football, having some bevvies, and hanging out. Just when everyone’s getting tired of chips and dips and their adult beverages are getting the better of their appetite control…enter the rack o’ ribs.  Started when everyone arrives for festivities, they finish up right when everyone is ready to chow down.

If you do a quick search of The Interwebs, there are hundreds of ways people swear by to get that juicy, tender, fall off the bone rack of ribs. I listened to none of those. Nope. I went straight to the source of the best ribs I’ve ever eaten. Dad. The Hubbs, the dogs, Pam and Dad and I hung out one afternoon and I decided it was time for the Pirate Incarnate to relinquish his secrets. I was terrified I’d mess them up (since we were all there for dinner!), but with the guiding hand of The Pirate Master I learned all I needed to know–and it was surprisingly simple.

It seems there are several keys to good ribs. A good rub. A good sear. A low and slow braise (aka the ‘Texas Crutch’). Time, time, and more time. A little patience (*hums Guns and Roses*). And a good sauce to finish ’em on the grill. It’s not hard and the reward is a tasty, tasty pile o’ meat. Win, win!


Mmmmmmm. Riiiibs.

What you’ll need for some Homer Simpson, lip-smacking, finger-licking ribs:

  • (2) racks of pork ribs
  • Gas grill

For the rub:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup salt
  • 1 TBSP paprika
  • 1 TBSP dried celery
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp dried mustard powder
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper

For the Eastern North Carolina sauce: (This sauce is fully adjustable and not a science; Adjust to preferences)

  • 1.5 cups apple cider vinegar ( I use Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar)
  • Tomato paste (I use about 1 TBSP–but you may like more or less; Adjust to taste)
  • 2 TBSP brown sugar (use dark if you like a bit of molasses flavor)
  • 1 TBSP salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • For more heat, feel free to add hot pepper sauce, like Cholula Hot Sauce)


  • Apple juice, apple cider, beer, or stock for braising (I’ve even used water in a pinch!)


Blend all rub ingredients in a food processor or in batches in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Rub generously into ribs. You should have enough to cover (2) racks of ribs. Let rest at least an hour, covered, on the counter to bring the temperature of the meat up to room temperature. If you’re a good planner, you can cover your rubbed ribs and let them chill in the fridge over night. Just make sure to bring the ribs up to room temp prior to cooking.

In the meantime, mix your sauce ingredients thoroughly and heat to simmering. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat, and cool.

After your ribs come to room temp, heat your grill to Hinges-of-Hades hot. Quickly sear the ribs, about 5 minutes per side. Turn your grill off. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.


Perfectly seared ribs

After searing the ribs, wrap each rack in a double layer of aluminum foil with a quarter cup or so of liquid (apple juice, apple cider, beer, or stock work well).


See the bit of liquid at the edge of the ribs. You just need a bit to effectively braise the ribs.

Close the packets tightly, folding the edges neatly and tightly. You don’t want the steam to escape as we are essentially braising the ribs.


See the neat, tidy folds that close the package? No wadding up of aluminum foil allowed. You don’t want steam to escape and you want to be able to get in and out of the packets quickly to test whether the ribs are tender.

Pop the packets into a preheated 325 degree oven and cook until the meat begins to pull away from the bone a bit and the meat is fork tender but not falling apart.


Ribs after the crutch.


See the meat pulling away from the bone? Yeah…that means melt in your mouth goodness.



When the meat is tender, about 2 hours, remove the packets from the oven at allow to sit (still wrapped) for 10-15 minutes. Heat your grill to approximately 400-500 degrees. When you grill is at temp, unwrap your ribs, and coat with sauce. You can use the North Carolina Vinegar sauce or a sauce of your choosing (Mustard sauce is a favorite in these parts and a good, smoky tomato-based sauce works well too). Place the ribs on the grill and cook 2-3 minutes per side, working only to achieve crusty bits, color, and caramelization of sauces as the ribs are already cooked at this point.


Finish the ribs on the grill for sticky sauce that’s finger-lickin’ good. Eastern North Carolina sauce can be placed prior to the ribs going back on the grill and/or afterward.

Remove your ribs from the grill and allow to rest, loosely covered in aluminum foil, on the counter for 10 minutes. Create some elbow space and grab your brew.  I highly recommend an American Lager with BBQ (hello Pabst Blue Ribbon!). Trust me, it’s better than it sounds!  Commence to digging in!

**Note the conspicuous lack of plated pics. Taking time for plated pics was not an option. I had to get all up in it or there would have been none left!**

Shanghai Red Cooked Pork Belly


I first fell in love with Chinese red cooking when I adapted a red cooked beef finger recipe. It was truly addicting. So much so that I ran, nay sprinted, many blocks, in flood water rains to procure the necessary items to make steamed bao buns.  During the treacherous drive home, my mind had a stroke of genius…if red cooking made beef that tasted like a magical gift from the heavens, what would it do for  my dear and longtime friend, Mr. Pork Belly. If the fatty beef fingers were delectable in the deeply satisfying red-cooked sauce, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr. Pork Belly would be absolutely divine. So, I sprinted again, through monsoon rains to our local Asian market for a couple of pounds of pork belly…and a cup of hot tea, a bowl of beef Pho, and a cruise around the store to pick up $100 bucks or so of stuff I absolutely needed (quail eggs, new chopsticks, wuyi oolong tea, sake, rice seasoning, etc.).

Like the beef recipe, most pork belly recipes called for blanching the meat prior to braising. Like the recipe for Chinese Red-cooked Beef, I opted to sear the meat to add to the depth of the final dish. I also wanted a bit of the ‘bark’ or crispier edges that searing provides. Again, bao buns were on my mind. Soft pillowy clouds wrapped around crispy, sticky, sweet and salty pork nuggets, all laced with spicy Kimchi. Yes. Please.

The ingredients are identical to my Chinese Red-cooked Beef recipe, but pork belly brings a whole new level of business to the game. Add Kimchi and you are all up in it. All I can say is ‘no leftovers’. What? Yep. No leftovers. I shouldn’t admit it, but we (proudly) took down 2, count them, 2 pounds of pork belly. It took a whole day, but we indeed did it (and made sure a hefty workout was on the books for the next day!). This stuff is like meat candy. You’re gonna want to get on this. Pronto.

Shanghai Pork Belly

  • 2 pounds of pork belly, skin on, in 1.5 to 2 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 and 1/2 cups dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce or liquid aminos
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried orange peel (you can substitute fresh zest if necessary)
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 red chilies, diced (or 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes)
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1.5 cups water or pork or vegetable broth (no or low sodium); as much as needed for appropriate liquid level

Caramelize your sugar and make the Sherry-sugar sauce just like in the Chinese Red-cooked Beef recipe.  Next, brown those little nuggets of goodness, or pork belly cubes if you prefer to call them that (*frowns*). Remember, dry your pork nuggets thoroughly, make sure your oil is well heated, allow plenty of room between the nuggets, and allow the pan to come back to temp between batches.  Remove the nuggets and set aside on a plate.


Remember to dry the pork thoroughly, heat your oil well, and leave enough room between pieces so they don’t steam instead of sear.

IMG_2275 2

Golden pork nuggets!

Drain most of the fat from pan.  I know, I know.  I usually display exaggerated disapproving facial expressions at those committing the crime of  ‘fat draining’, but sometimes there are exceptions.  More fat will render during cooking and all will be well. Trust me.  Now, reduce your heat to medium-low, add your dry spices to the pan, and heat them for about 1 minute. This allows the oils in the warmer spices to bloom.  Add your red pepper flakes here if you’re not using fresh chilies. Next, add the soy sauce or liquid aminos. Add the ginger, garlic, and peppers. Deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom with the edge of a wooden spoon. Once all the good bits are worked free from the bottom of the pan add the sugar-sherry mixture. Return your pork nuggets to the pan, placing them in evenly in one layer.


Check out the beautiful mahogany-colored sauce. The scent of star anise, orange, cinnamon, and ginger will fill the house. Commence drooling.

The sugar-sherry liquid level should come up to about 1/2 the level of the top of the meat (we want to braise the meat, not stew it). Add water, pork stock, or chicken stock if needed to achieve the appropriate liquid level.  If you add stock, be sure it is no- or low-sodium as there is plenty of salt to be had otherwise. Bring the pork and liquid mixture to a simmer, place the lid, and tuck it away in your preheated oven. Cook until the meat is fork tender and the fat and connective tissue is dissolved, about 2-3 hours.

Remove the pork from the pan to a plate. Try really hard not to eat it right away. You will need to exercise extreme discipline at this point or perhaps try physical restraint. I am not ashamed to admit I failed (and earned a blister on the roof of my mouth to prove it!).  Remove your star anise from the pan liquid and boil the sauce until it is glossy and reduced to about a cup.


Look. At. That.

Serve meat, drizzled with sauce, over rice or with your favorite steamed or sauteed vegetable. My preference is sticky, salty, sweet pork nuggets tucked into airy Bao Buns, nestled alongside spicy and sour Kimchi, and paired with lightly wilted bok choy.  None better. Broccoli, broccoli rabe, bok choy, kale, or spinach pair well too. Enjoy!


Kimchi is the perfect partner.


Eat it up. Shanghai pork and kimchi ride along perfectly in little puffy bao buns.



Chinese Red Cooked Beef


Home-cooked Chinese food is typically not ‘my thing’.  I’ve just never really taken the time to learn the techniques or accumulate the tools. It might also have to do with a few of my Mom’s failed attempts at Chinese cooking back in the 70’s (Public Service announcement: By no means should Betty Crocker or Redbook recipes be your guide to Chinese cooking!). And then I read a recipe for Chinese Red-cooked Beef. Truth be told, I practically slobbered all over the cookbook. For those that don’t know (I didn’t), Chinese Red Cooking is a soy sauce-based braising method, more properly called hongshao and popular in Shaghai, which imparts a dark red-brown color to beef and the sauce.  Soy sauce, bean paste, rice wine or sherry, and/or caramelized sugar work to impart the red coloring and provide a deep savory flavor. Warm spices like star anise, cinnamon, and ginger give incredible flavor. Think of it as another version of your favorite slow-cooked stew sans veggies. Jack. Pot.

Due to the ‘low and slow’ cooking method, fatty cuts with a lot of connective tissue work best. Your mind should skip to rib meat (commonly called ‘beef fingers’) or short ribs. Don’t forget about your friend pork belly either. All you need is a bit of patience and some time and you’re good to go. There are no crazy techniques or super specialized equipment. Simple gets the job done here.

Instead of blanching the beef in boiling water like most recipes, I opted to sear the beef to add more meaty goodness and depth of flavor.  Call me crazy, but the browned beef bits make a difference in the end result. Also, don’t skip the caramelized sugar part–it adds depth too!

Chinese Red Cooked Beef

  • 2 pounds of beef fingers
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 and 1/2 cups dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce or liquid aminos
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried orange peel (you can substitute fresh zest if necessary)
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 red chiles, diced (or 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes)
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1.5 cups water or beef broth (low or no sodium); as much as needed for appropriate liquid level

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir to dissolve. Continue to cook on medium heat, watching carefully, until golden brown. If the sugar crystallizes at the edge, push it back into the liquid with a wet pastry brush. Once sugar is caramelized, remove the pan from the heat, wait about 1 minute, and add the Sherry. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Shanghai Beef

Just starting in the carmelized sugar process. Don’t skip this step! It adds depth of flavor.

Chinese Red Beef

The water has been added and the sugar is a handful of minutes into cooking. Notice the faint golden color. Watch very closely as the sugar can go from caramelized to burned in seconds.

Red braised beef

The color is a bit darker, but we’re not done just yet!

Shanghai beef

There we go! Nice dark color but not burnt. Burning the sugar will give you bitterness instead of deep flavor.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Completely dry beef with paper towels or bar towel.

braised red beef

Just like any other time you sear meat, dry thoroughly. Too much juice on the surface leads to the meat steaming at the surface instead of undergoing the Maillard reaction which gives the nicely browned surface. You want that browned crust to build layers of flavor.

Heat high-heat oil (beef tallow works best) in a pan until almost smoking. Place beef with a bit of room between each piece (crowding the pan begets steaming the beef, not searing), and sear the beef until well browned on all sides.  Remove the beef from the pan to a plate.

braised beef

Sear your beef. Be patient. When the beef forms a good crust, you’ll be able to turn it without it sticking to the pan. The key is to dry the meat and have a well-heated oil. Don’t crowd the pan and allow the pan to return to temp between batches.

Drain fat from pan.  I know I usually hold high disdain for those ‘fat-drainers’ out there, but trust me on this one, you’ll make more fat during cooking. Reduce heat to medium low. Add dry spices to the pan and heat for about 1 minute. Add your red pepper flakes here if you’re not using fresh chilies. Add the soy sauce or liquid aminos. Add the ginger, garlic, and peppers. Deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom with the edge of a wooden spoon. Once all the good bits are worked free from the bottom of the pan add the sugar-Sherry mixture. Return the beef to the pan, placing it evenly in one layer.

Chinese beef

Add the beef to the super flavorful sauce. Practice patience. Or maybe tie yourself up Houdini-style. It’s going to be hard to resist the aromas emanating from the kitchen!

The liquid level should come up to about 1/2 the level of the top of the meat. Add water or low sodium beef broth if needed to achieve the appropriate liquid level.  Bring the beef and liquid mixture to a simmer, place the lid, and tuck it away in your preheated oven. Cook until the meat is fork tender and the fat and connective tissue is dissolved, about 3 hours.

Chinese Red Briased Beef

If I didn’t learn from past mistakes (i.e. blistered and/or skinless mouth), I’d dig right in straight from the pan. This stuff smells righteous!

Remove the meat from the pan to a plate.Remove star anise from the pan liquid. Boil the sauce until it is glossy and reduced to about a cup. Chop or break meat into chunks.

Chinese Beef

You. Have. No. Idea.

Serve meat, drizzled with sauce, over rice or with your favorite steamed or sauteed vegetable. We love to pair it with Bao Buns picked up from a local Asian market, Kimchi, and wilted bok choy. Other veggies such as broccoli, broccoli rabe, bok choy, kale, or spinach pair well too. I’m not ashamed to admit this deliciousness never makes it to the table..strictly a stand around the kitchen table, getting jiggy with the beef-bao bun combo, and rolling eyes in delight. Enjoy!

Chinese red-cooked beef

Dig in! Kimchi, bokchoy, and bao buns make delightful additions!

Cucumber Sour Cream and Onion Chips

Cucumber Chips

MMMM…Potato Chips. I can’t even bring them into my house. Especially Sour Cream and Onion potato chips. Seriously–I.Have.No.Will.Power!

I’m not the only one that has a potato chip fetish, er, problem.  In recent years the potato chip market generated over 16 billion in revenues per year. I don’t turn my nose up at any chip but I’m a complete and total sucker for Sour Cream and Onion potato chips.  I don’t know that the chip is where it’s at when talking about Sour Cream and Onion chips.  After all, I have been known to lick the powdery dusting off of them when in a glassy-eyed potato chip daze. So, in my continual search for eliminating processed and high glycemic foods in my diet, I began thinking about ways to get the same Sour Cream and Onion fix without all the muffin top-inducing effects of a traditional potato chip. I think Wilford Brimley had it right….

Cucumber potato chips

Yep. Tha ‘Beetus. Nobody wants it.

After trial and error, I think the Cucumber Sour Cream and Onion Chip is where it’s at. Cucumbers are flavor neutral enough to not get in the way of the tart flavorings and can be easily sliced thin enough to get some crisp on when placed in the dehydrator. Cooled and packed in a Ziploc with a desiccant pack, they’ll stay crisp enough to keep around for a week or so.  Feel free to make double or triple the recipe…these things are seriously addictive. We can’t even wait for them to cool down before we’re going at ’em like rabid dogs. Trust me on this.

Cucumber Sour Cream and Onion Chips

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 2 TBSP Light Tasting Olive Oil
  • 2 TBSP Cultured Buttermilk Powder
  • 1 TBSP onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Food processor or mandoline (get yourself a handheld one here)
  • Dehydrator with mesh inserts (allows drying of smaller or thin items)

Whisk olive oil, buttermilk powder, onion powder, dill, garlic powder, and salt in a bowl.

Cucumber Chips

Mixing up the ‘chip’ flavoring. The cultured buttermilk powder really does the trick!

Wash and peel your cucumbers as the skin can get a little bitter when dehydrated. Slice your cucumbers at about 2-3 mm thickness.

Sour Cream and Onion Cucumber Chips

Thin slices = less time until you eat chips!

Working in small batches (about 1/2 cup), very gently toss the cucumber slices in the olive oil mixture.

Cucumber Chips

Gently coat the cucumber in the olive oil mixture. Working in small batches will help prevent the salt in the olive oil mixture from drawing out too much water from the cucumber and/or causing the cucumber to fall apart.

Place in single layers on dehydrator racks and dehydrate according to manufacturer settings until crisp.

Sour Cream and Onion Cucumber Chips

Ready to dehydrate. The waiting is the hardest part. Make enough for a week if your dehydrator is large enough. You’ll need them.

Mine generally take 6 or so hours at 135 degrees.

Cucumber Chips

Super crisp and melt in your mouth if cut at 1mm…the crisp and body of a potato chip at 2-3mm. Either way you’re going to need a lot of these…they’re just too good to put down. Forget a standard potato chip…I’m not even looking back!

Cool completely and store in a Ziploc with a desiccant pack in the refrigerator. Next time your snack attack hits…reach for your cucumber chips and you won’t have to feel bad for a minute!

Who needs Crackers and Chips…I’ve got Cabbage!

Cabbage chips

Need a little chip for your work week (or any other time) snack? Try cabbage chips! They’re big enough to hold some serious eats and let you snack until your heart’s content with no guilt. Beach season here I come!

‘Tis the season of sweat. The more your parts aren’t sticking together, the better. Am I right?  Much like the rest of the country, I’m always looking for ways to reduce my habitus.  Cutting back on carbs always seems to work wonders.  But what’s a girl to snack on during movie time? Or who’s gonna help you with your hummus, guacamole, or olive tapenade during lunch time? Cabbage, that’s who. Wait, what? Are you suddenly conjuring ideas of digging into a steamy bowl of braised cabbage while renting 50 Shades of Grey? Flashes of guacamole atop your pile of shredded cabbage? Probably. But that’s not what I mean.

So, undoubtedly you’ve heard of the A-lister favorite, kale chips.  Yes, they are good, but they’re a bit like seaweed, get soft fast, and there’s no putting any kind of dip on a kale chip. You could make up some cauliflower crackers, but they do indeed taste a bit like cauliflower (amazing, I know).  So, in my hunt for something with a least a little crunch, no grains, fairly flavor-neutral, and big enough to put some dip on…I found cabbage.  Much like using collards in place of bread or wraps, using cabbage in place of chips or crackers wipes out grain consumption and reduces carbs and calories.

Trust me, try these and they’ll be a new tool in your fight for wearing your favorite thong bikini!

Cabbage Chips

  • 1 head of cabbage (use regular or savoy), separated into leaves, stems removed
  • Salty water for blanching
  • Ice bath
  • Paper towels
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dehydrator

Gently peel the leaves of cabbage away from head, keeping the leaves intact. Remove stems and blanch. Plunge leaves into ice bath. Drain and pat dry with paper towels (or tea towels to reduce waste). Cut leaves into desired size (for crackers I usually split larger leaves down the middle and keep smaller leaves intact).  Place the leaves in a single layers in your dehydrator and season them to taste with salt and pepper.

cabbage chips

Cabbage leaves ready for dehydration. Three hours until crunchy goodness.

Dehydrate according to your model’s directions until the leaves are crisp.  Mine took 3 hours at 135 degrees. Let the chip-crackers cool completely. To keep them crisp all week, place them in a large Ziploc bag with a desiccant pack and store in the fridge.  Feel free to snack away–that thong bikini will still fit!

cabbage chips

These chips hold up. Although they’re difficult to dig into dip with, they’re perfect for smothering in guacamole, salsa, hummus, tapenade, or otherwise. They’ll bend a little, but won’t crumble like kale chips. They’re the perfect go to instead of crackers or pita bread points.