Make It Quick! – Ginger Sesame Dressing

They say that variety is the spice of life, and is true on so many levels. Variety on my place is the key to Edwin’s happiness; especially when he’s had a long day at the office. When I have a long (late) day at the office I find myself turning quite often to salads. I suppose I could resort to leftovers, but since I’m often relying on these for lunch, twice in one day does not a happy Edwin make.

Minced Garlic and Ginger

I know quite a few dressing recipes and today’s is in my top five. I really love sesame oil as an accent to a dish and the salad is no exception. With just a little chopping, you can have a dressing that goes great with lettuce, sliced bell peppers, julienned carrots and sliced celery. Of course, when I’m feeling especially lazy I’ll just do the lettuce!

Sesame Ginger Dressing with Lettuce

Ginger Sesame Dressing
I like the thicker effect of dark soy sauce for this dish, but by all means go for regular soy sauce as well.

1 clove garlic; minced;
1 teaspoon minced ginger
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar or agave nectar

Combine all into a small mug or bowl and whisk until well combine. Add to salad and enjoy.

D’oh! As I started to type I noticed that my hand felt sticky. I looked down only to find that my wedding ring is covered in cake! This is a pretty typical day in the life of Ghost Baker… actually this is a good day – normally if cake’s involved it’s probably also squished into my clothes or in my hair.

fermented black beans

The reason for today’s mess is that I’m working on a fairly detailed birthday cake for my mom for this weekend. I’ve even drawn specs for the cake to compare what different decorations might look like. We always want to impress our moms, right? Please keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Today’s recipe, however, features dinner, not cake. I was given Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook for Christmas (are you sensing a pattern? I was lucky enough to receive many excellent cookbooks!). Though I’d flipped through the book and oogled things several times before, this was the first time I tried a recipe. I was drawn to Martha’s “Stir-Fried Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce.”

black bean sauce

This recipe does require a trip to your local Asian grocery store, but if you haven’t been to one before consider this your special invitation! You can find great deals on certain things at Asian grocery stores (rice in bulk, various sauces, etc).

Let me warn you that fermented black beans smell a bit strong, but they’re just soybeans that have been preserved in salt. They are not the same thing as typical black beans. They give the dish a distinct flavor. If you like Asian food then you will likely enjoy this dish.

This would also work really well with tofu – either replacing the shrimp with tofu or adding tofu in with the shrimp. I didn’t alter Martha’s recipe too much, but I did try to make things a little simpler and take the edge off the salty black beans. I eliminated the soy sauce and scallions and added a little more hoisin sauce. If you try this with tofu, please let me know how it goes! Aside from a trip to the Asian market, this dish comes together very quickly and requires little prep.

shrimp with black bean sauce

Stir-fried Shrimp with Fermented Black Bean Sauce
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook
serves 2

5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed and crushed with the back of a spoon (found in Asian market in a small, usually clear bag)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced (be sure to lightly peel the papery covering off)
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine (found in Asian market, or if you have to you can substitute dry sherry or white wine)
3 teaspoons hoisin sauce (found in Asian market, or the international food section of your grocery store)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
12 medium frozen shrimp, peeled and dethawed under cold running water
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup white rice, cooked in a rice cooker or according to package instructions

In a medium bowl, whisk together garlic, peanut oil, black beans (don’t forget to mash them first with the back of your spoon), ginger, Chinese wine, hoisin sauce and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Heat wok on medium high until it sizzles when you sprinkle a few drops of water on it. Add oil to the wok (never add oil to an unheated wok… remember what my Chinese cooking instruction said, “hot wok, cold oil”). Right before adding the shrimp to the wok, toss it with the cornstarch to coat it. Add shrimp to the wok, count to 5 and then press down on the shrimp with your wok utensil for a few seconds to sear it. Stir it quickly a few times, then let it sit for another few seconds. Continue this pattern until your shrimp turn pink and curl up, just another minute or two. Shrimp cook quickly. Pour in the sauce mixture and turn the heat up on the wok. Cook for just under a minute without stirring to let the flavor lock in, then stir before serving to coat.

Serve shrimp immediately over rice.

Simple Pad Thai, a Quick Fix for Luxuriously Lazy Nights

So, I had been saving an empty boxed Pad Thai kit that I used to make dinner the other night, but it seems as though my husband does not value saving empty food boxes in the same way that I do, and he threw it away! Hopefully we’ll be able to make do here anyway.

Pad Thai spice

We picked up the pad thai box in the international section of the grocery store a few weeks ago. Back when the two of us were lazier, these little kits were an excellent choice for quick dinners and a welcome change from spaghetti.

Well, we were feeling lazy again last Friday, and we had half a rotisserie chicken left from when I made Sante Fe Soup earlier in the week. But as I was cooking the noodles and about to open the spice packet, I turned over the box to read the ingredients –

(Peanuts, Pure Cane Sugar, Salt, Corn Starch, Spices [Chili, Cinnamon, Pepper, Cumin, Clove], Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Yeast Extract, Green Onions, Citric Acid, Peanut Oil, Sesame Oil, Silicon Dioxide [To Prevent Caking])

I already had on hand chili powder, cinnamon, pepper, cumin and cloves, so I thought I could do without this processed version. I picked out a few of the peanuts from the spice packet (woops, that was one thing I didn’t have), threw the rest in the trash and embarked on a journey to recreate it.

pad thai noodles

I knew this wouldn’t be an authentic pad thai – though I have taken a Thai cooking course, this just wasn’t the night to break out the tamarind and fish sauce. I still have nightmares about working with fish sauce; in my Thai cooking course the instructor told us that it’s made by packing a barrel with fish and then collecting the water and liquid that runs off them… voila, fish sauce (shudder).

My attempt at recreating the boxed pad thai was pretty good, but I think I went a little wild with the level of spice. It’s possible that Edwin’s self-proclaimed “spicy wussiness” is making me overcompensate, and noodles are pretty good at retaining spice. I toned things down a little bit in the recipe below. If you have recreated a simple box pad thai with luck, please let me know!

Pad Thai

Thai Kitchen Pad Thai
(revisited especially for lazy Friday nights after a long week!)

1 box Thai Kitchen original pad thai
1/2 rotisserie chicken
handful of peanuts, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 bag frozen stir fry vegetables (or if you prefer fresh vegetables, shop for fresh snow peas, sliced carrots, sliced red and yellow peppers, onion, and broccoli or mushrooms)

Combine peanuts, salt, pepper, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, cloves and cayenne in a small bowl. Set aside. Remove rotisserie chicken from bone and cut bite size pieces. Set aside. Soak banh pho noodles according to directions on box. In the meantime, heat your wok to medium heat, then add 2 tablespoons oil. Stir fry defrosted or fresh vegetables until desired tenderness is reached.

When noodles are finished soaking, drain and rinse well. Add noodles to the wok, along with the pieces of chicken and spice mixture. Stir-fry for approximately 5 minutes, until fully combined and noodles are tender. Serve hot, garnish with extra peanuts.