Monday, December 6, 2010

The Finals Meal

Over the past month or so there has been an extreme lack of blogging on my part and for this, I apologize. My adventures in eating had not ceased; however, I had been short on leisure time. Now that finals are approaching and the year is winding down I can breathe a sigh of relief and thank God that I made it through another semester! I laughed, I cried, I read a LOT of slides...

          In honor of my farewell to the Fall Semester I made my "Finals Meal." Not to be confused with the Final Meal...I won't even go into that so if you're not familiar go and Google it. The Finals Meal has to be easy to make, it has to be healthy, and it has to come from stuff that I already have in my fridge...I used a chunk of my grocery money paying for popcorn and a drink at the Angelika theatre in Dallas. Normally I would smuggle in my own kettle corn in little plastic baggies, because I'm ghetto like that...Shhh! Don't tell anyone!

          I chose to make a stir-fry. Stir-frying is an art that everyone should master, because it's a great way to toss a variety of veggies together and make a meal fast! If you're not a vegetarian (I forgive you) you can stir fry your beef, chicken, or pork first and set it aside before you stir fry your veggies. Yes, there are pre-packaged stir-fry meals on the market...but trust can make one that tastes infinitely better and will have less salt and NO preservatives! The most time consuming part of making a stir-fry is chopping fresh vegetables. Keep in mind, though, that there are bags of frozen vegetables that are said to retain more vitamins and minerals than their fresh-produce counterparts. Quite frankly, I just prefer the taste and texture of fresh vegetables over frozen and I can control what size and shape they are cut. The cut of the vegetable is important for a successful stir-fry because keeping everything one size helps your meal to cook evenly.

          So what did I put in my stir-fry tonight? Thank you for asking! I began by putting 1/2 cup of Jasmine brown rice into my rice cooker with 2 tsp of peanut oil and 1 cup of water. Rice cookers can be your best friend since they do all the work for you, allowing you to move on to other tasks. You can get Jasmine brown rice at Whole Foods Market in the bulk isle. I love it; I always make sure I have some in my pantry.

My rice cooker--working up a sweat.

          Next I pulled out all of the vegetables: onion, red bell pepper, carrot, green beans, garlic, and green onion. The more colorful you can make it, the better! I chopped the onion, bell pepper and carrot into 1 inch strips; cut the ends off of the green beans and cut them in half (also 1 inch in length), and then coarsely chopped the garlic and green onion. For the protein portion of the stir-fry, I took out 1/3 of a block of extra firm tofu--cut it into 1/2 inch cubes and wrapped it in paper towels to drain. Once all of your veggies are chopped and ready the fun part can begin! In a wok I heat about a tablespoon of peanut oil on medium and then add the onions and bell pepper first. A lot of recipes will tell you to add the garlic in with the onion but this never works out for me...The garlic usually over-cooks or burns by the time everything else goes into the mix.

Okay, so maybe they are a little longer than an inch...
           Stir-fry the onion and bell pepper for a minute or so before adding the green beans and carrots. You want to add the things you know will take the longest to cook first. Cook while continuing to stir until the onions begin to look translucent. I threw in the tofu cubes at this point to brown them while there were no liquids in the pan. This is the lazy way to use tofu in your can bake the cubes for about 20 minutes coated in some oil beforehand or even freeze and thaw it first so it absorbs more flavor or has a meatier texture. I ground some black pepper over everything before letting it cook for another 5 minutes or so.

You have been tofued.
          I'm guesstimating on the amount of minutes it takes for each of these steps. There really is no strict guideline; it depends on how crispy you want your vegetables to come out or how browned you like them. I let everything cook until the tofu took on a browned color. I made space in the center of the wok and added 1 tsp of sesame oil. If you like the taste of sesame seeds, you will probably like the taste of this oil. I added the chopped garlic and stirred everything around and let it cook for another minute or so. To get the vegetables a little softer and to tone down the soy sauce I added 1/4 cup of plain water. You can use broth if you like. I used only 1 TBSP of low sodium soy sauce, but if you would like to add more I won't mind. ;-) Be careful though, because I over soy-sauced my stir-fry once and my boyfriend was sweet enough to pretend to enjoy eating it.

Just add water.

Put a lid on it.
          At this point I sprinkled some cayenne pepper in to give it a little kick, turned the heat up to medium high so the liquid began to boil a little and then turned the heat back down to medium and covered it all with a pot lid. Let everything cook for a few minutes under the lid and then remove the lid to let the liquid cook down and the flavors concentrate. The last ingredient to add is the green onion because it doesn't take much time to cook and you don't want it to be all soggy. Do you?

Add the finishing touches...
          So now my stir-fry is complete. My rice cooker finishes my brown rice just in time, and I can't wait to chow down! I like to eat Asian inspired food with gets really interesting when all that's left at the bottom of the bowl are a few grains of rice. That's when you pick them up and eat them one by one and reflect on what a superb stir-fry chef you are.

Time to get my nom-nom on.
           Last week I made one of my favorite Thai desserts: Coconut Sticky Rice with Diced Mango. I would look forward to eating at a Thai restaurant just to be able to order this unique dish. Now that I'm broke and unable to frequent restaurants as often as I used to; I decided to learn how to make it myself. It was EASY! Granted, I still can't get it quite as good as the professionals...but mine comes so close that I don't feel like I'm missing out. Look for it under my Stephfoodie's Favorite Recipes blog. Time to clean up my kitchen and get back to studying for finals. Fingers crossed for a 4.0!