sanity saving stir fry

There are some nights when dinner at our house is a leisurely, dare I say enjoyable affair; everyone is in a good mood, eats their meal without complaint and is rewarded with something rich and decadent for dessert. But then there are nights when everything is rushed, everyone has something to complain about and dessert is nothing more than yesterday’s memory. Sometimes I can anticipate ahead of time that were heading for disasterville and cook accordingly. Breakfast for dinner always makes them smile, my turkey meatloaf never fails to get a thumbs up and believe it or not any meal featuring shrimp is a Greco family favorite. Shrimp sautéed with onions and garlic over spaghetti, shrimp and veggie shish kabobs or even super easy shrimp stir fry is always a winner.

I’m a big fan of stir fries. They’re a great way to clean out your vegetable drawer, throw together a quick dinner and keep clean-up limited to one pan, one cutting board and one bowl for each person. I like to make mine with shrimp not only because everyone will eat it, but also because it literally cooks in minutes. I throw in a big variety of vegetables (this way any “offending” vegetables can be picked out and there will still be plenty remaining) and serve it over some brown rice with a few sliced scallions, chili flakes and soy sauce on top. Voilà! Dinner is served, peace reigns and all is once again right with the world. Until tomorrow night anyway…

Shrimp Stir Fry
To really make this a quick weeknight dinner you can buy pre-cut veggies and use instant brown rice.

stir fry4A

1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 cup water
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. sugar

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
5 cups mixed vegetables (broccoli florets, carrots, red peppers, etc.)
3 oz. snow peas
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 cup water chestnuts
2 tbsp. peanut oil
4 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
sliced scallions, for garnish
red chili flakes, for garnish
soy sauce, for garnish

  1. Place the cleaned shrimp in a small bowl. Mix together the water, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar. Pour mixture over the shrimp and let marinate for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove the shrimp and set aside, but reserve the marinade.
  2. Cut the vegetable into bite-sized pieces. Heat the peanut oil in a wok or a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and all the vegetables (except mushrooms and snow peas) and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms and snow peas and cook another 2-3 minutes or until all the vegetables are nearly cooked through. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.
  3. Add the marinade to the pan and heat until it begins to thicken. Add the shrimp and cook about 3-4 minutes or until shrimp are just pink. Stir in vegetables, coating evenly with the sauce, cover and let cook an additional 2-3 minutes until everything is heated through and the broccoli is crisp-tender. Serve over brown rice and garish with additional sliced scallions, chili flakes and soy sauce if you like.

*adapted from better homes and gardens

asian inspired salmon burgers

I’ve already told you that ours is a fish eating house; sautéed grouper, grilled clams and mussels, stir fried shrimp and of course my award winning baked fish sticks. And while this pleases me, what would make me even happier is if my family would agree to eat fishier fish— ya know the ones loaded with Omega 3’s. Perhaps some sardines or a few anchovies, a salmon filet or even canned Albacore tuna once in a while. But the three of them (my husband included) all make such a fuss at the mere suggestion, that I don’t even bother giving a fishy fish dinner a shot. Sometimes I sneak a few sardines into my stir fry or add a couple of anchovies when I’m sautéing onion and garlic for red sauce, but the quantity is so small that I’m sure the health benefits are minimal. (Sigh) It really is too bad.

However much to their chagrin, I do find myself making more fish dishes around this time every year. We happen to be in the midst of the Lenten season and while my family does not prescribe to the “Fish on Friday” rule, I can’t help but notice that the seafood at my local grocery store seems to be at its freshest and best price during Lent. And who am I after all to ignore a good sale?!?

Some of my seafood experiments have been definite hits, some huge misses and some eaten and tolerated without complaint, but clearly not enjoyed. Sometimes it makes me sad that my family doesn’t like the dinner I’ve made and sometimes it delights me when they do. And sometimes… Sometimes I think what I’ve made is delicious and I honestly don’t care what the rest of them think— more leftovers for me! Which is exactly what happened the other night when salmon was $4.99 a pound.

I happen to love most fish, but boneless skinless sardines and salmon are two of my favorites. Imagine my delight when I walked into the grocery store one Friday only to discover that salmon filets were on sale for half of their usual price. (I was almost as happy as the weekend broccoli rabe was $1.99 a pound. Yeah, that happy!) Anyway once I drew the line in the sand and made the decision to serve salmon for dinner, I was tasked with the job of finding a recipe to win over my family of non-salmon lovers over. They all seem to like the flavor combination of ginger, garlic and soy sauce, so I thought that would be the way to go. And I thought that if I could offer up this less than loved ingredient in a much loved form, it would be more readily accepted. What does my family love? Well burgers of course, so I went with salmon burgers loaded with all the Asian flavors I knew they enjoyed.

The resulting burgers were relatively easy to make, cooked up in a matter of minutes and succeeded in finally getting some Omega 3’s into my families bellies. And what did said family think? Well, they all ate the burgers without complaint but also without compliment or request for a repeat performance. I however thought the burgers were delicious!

While I won’t force them to eat salmon again for a while, they can surely bet on these burgers popping up again for dinner sometime in the future.

Asian Inspired Salmon Burgers
I like these topped with a little hoisin sauce, a few slices of English cucumber and some fresh cilantro. They’re also fantastic on a bed of spinach tossed with cilantro, raw onion and diced cucumbers and drizzled with the homemade hoisin sauce.

salmon burger

1 3/4 lbs. skinless salmon filet, finely chopped
1/2 cup plain panko crumbs
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
1 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
3 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tsp. lime zest
1 large egg
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. peanut oil (or canola), divided
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce (homemade or bottled), for garnish
English cucumber sliced thin, for garnish
additional cilantro, for garnish
5-6 sesame seed hamburger buns, optional

  1. Finely chop the salmon filet and place in a large bowl.* Combine all the remaining ingredients (through sesame oil) and add to the salmon. Mix well with a fork until everything is fully incorporated. Divide the mixture into 5-6 equal portions, gently shaping each into a patty. Place the patties on a plate and chill for at least 45 minutes.
  2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peanut oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add the patties and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side or until done.
  3. Place a patty on the bottom half of each bun; top each with a spoonful of hoisin sauce, several cucumber slices, a few sprigs of cilantro and the top half of bun.

*The first time I made this recipe I used my food processor to do the chopping and ended up with salmon paste, it tasted fine but the texture was unpleasant. Chopping the fish by hand takes more time but it’s worth the effort.

*adapted from cooking light

Homemade Hoisin Sauce
You don’t have to make this from scratch, but why buy a whole bottle when all you really need is a couple of spoonfuls?

1 1/2 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
1/2 tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/8 tsp. hot sauce
1/8 tsp. black pepper.

  1. Blend everything together really well (I used a mini chopper) and set aside.

*adapted from food.com

I ❤ Pork

“What’s for dinner tonight?” they ask. “Pork Medallions with an Orange-Ginger Reduction,” I reply. “Huh,” they say “pork what with what?” “Pork chops that have been sliced and simmered in a sauce of orange juice, soy sauce, garlic and ginger,” I tell them. “Ohhh, sounds good…”

From reading my blog you may imagine dinner at our house as an adventurous affair; exotic curries, soul satisfying soups and garlicky side dishes of every variety. And while some nights are a bit more interesting than others, I also serve not so fancy pasta with red sauce, simple grilled burgers and (the kids favorite) breakfast for dinner. Oh and lets not forget pork chops, also part of my weeknight dinner repertoire.

I would venture to say that I cook pork far more often than any other kind of meat. I think that’s largely due to the fact that it’s extremely versatile, typically inexpensive, and available just about everywhere. (Even Target sells pork loins and chops!) It takes well to marinades or simple salt and pepper and it’s delicious slow roasted, baked, stir-fried or grilled. Pork is like a blank canvas, full of possibilities. Yes, I guess it would be safe to say that I ❤ Pork. (I am the girl who introduced you to Candied Bacon Fudge after all.)

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads and you’re already aware of the existence of The National Pork Board whose mission it is to “educate people on the power of pork.” (Funny, right?) But did you know that they have a blog as well? Yup, it’s called Pork, Knife & Spoon and it’s full of inspiring recipes and interesting posts. This recipe happens not to be one of them, it’s actually one of my own concoctions, but perhaps after I contact the Pork Board they’ll be so impressed with my treatment of their most admired protein that they’ll feature my recipe on their blog and my blogging career will really take off. Then I could say that I owe all my success to pork. Yes, just perhaps…

Sliced Pork with Orange-Ginger Sauce
These are delicious and a far cry from the shake ‘n bake chops of your childhood!

orange-ginger pork

4 boneless center cut pork chops
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, grated
brown rice, for serving
sliced scallions, for garnish

  1. Heat sesame oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle each chop with salt and pepper, add to the pan and quickly brown, about 2 minutes per side.
  2. Remove the browned chops from the pan and slice each one into 1/4 inch slices. Wipe out the pan and return the sliced meat to it.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the ginger, orange juice, soy sauce, honey, mustard and garlic. Pour the mixture over the pork slices and simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pork is cooked through and the sauce has reduced a bit.
  4. Serve the sliced pork over brown rice, drizzled with additional sauce and garnished with sliced scallions.

All Dressed Up

I am always looking for ways to take the everyday and make it special. Sometimes I do this purely out of necessity (I’m a busy girl after all!) and sometimes it’s just because making a dish entirely from scratch isn’t dramatically better than tweaked up store-bought. I’ll make fancy from scratch frosting to go with boxed cake mix and homemade butter for store baked bread. Even something as simple as a pre-made fruit platter looks fancy when served in a pretty bowl with a few snips of fresh mint on top. I’m all for minimal effort, maximum impact.

As you know by now I love salad. I eat it nearly everyday, especially since I’ve begun harvesting it from my own garden, and I serve it anytime we have a sizable gathering. And what could be easier than a homemade dressing to fancy-up any otherwise ordinary tossed salad. Sure it’s easy to buy a bottle of dressing at the store (actually I usually serve something store-bought alongside my homemade for those “afraid of the unknown” guests) but homemade salad dressing is crazy easy to throw together and much tastier than pre-made.

In the past I’ve made a simple mustard vinaigrette and a garlicky pesto dressing, but having recently made hummus I really wanted to find another use of that container of tahini I had sitting in my refrigerator. Voilà… Lemon, Tahini & Garlic Dressing was born.

Lemon, Tahini & Garlic Salad Dressing
This was delicious drizzled on salad but I imagine it would work as well on a hummus and falafel pita or even steamed greens. And feel free to decrease the garlic and up the honey if a sweeter, milder dressing is what you prefer.

4 tbsp. tahini
3 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 tsp. honey
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil

  1. Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, water, vinegar and honey. Add to this the garlic, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Drizzle in the sesame oil and whisk everything together until it is thoroughly blended.
  2. Adjust the salt and sweetness to your taste, adding a splash more water if you prefer a thinner dressing, and chill for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving.

*adapted from eating well

wonton soup… who knew?!?

I love soup. Winter, Summer, morning or night; there is something so soothing about a nice warm bowl of homemade soup. It’s the perfect meal; one bowl, one utensil, one nice full belly.

After making the pesto and goat cheese appetizers last weekend, I still had half a package of wonton wrappers to find a use for. Having just used them in a non-traditional manner, I thought perhaps I should consider using them for their intended purpose. I had never made a dumpling or ravioli before, but since wonton soup happens to be one of my daughter’s most favorite foods, I was willing to give it a shot.

It turns out that making won tons is not only fairly easy to do but also quite gratifying. My homemade wontons actually looked and tasted like the take out version, only infinitely better. The wrappers were thinner, which made for lighter wontons, the pork filling was fresh and flavorful and the soup was really delicious with the addition of shrimp, Napa cabbage and a touch of sesame oil.

Attempting something for the first time only to discover that it’s both easy and rewarding is such a lovely surprise. I’m still marveling at just how simple and tasty this wonton soup was and how much my entire family enjoyed it. And rest assured, I will absolutely be making it again soon.

Shrimp & Wonton Soup
I added shrimp and Napa cabbage to my version of this soup. But straw mushrooms, a bit of broccoli or thin sliced carrots would work as well.

10 cups of chicken broth
1 pkg. wonton wrappers
1 bunch of green onions
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. ground lean pork
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
24 raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups of Nappa cabbage, shredded
additional tamari soy sauce and sesame oil, for garnish

  1. Slice the green onions and set aside all but 3 tbsp., finely chop those and put in a large bowl. Add to the bowl the pork, sesame oil, tamari, garlic, egg, salt and pepper. With a fork, throughly mix the filling together.
  2. Spoon a generous 1/2 tsp. of filling into the center of a wonton wrapper. Lightly moisten the front edges of the wrap with water and fold the wrapper in half (into a triangle shape) and press together to seal. Moisten the front two corners with water, bring them together (overlapping them) and press to seal. Set completed wontons aside and cover with a damp paper towel until ready to cook.
  3. In a large pot, bring the broth to a boil. Drop the wontons into the boiling broth and allow to cook for 4 minutes or until they float to the surface.
  4. Once all the wontons have floated to the surface reduce the heat to simmer and add the shrimp and cabbage. Simmer for 2 minutes, until the cabbage softens a bit and the shrimp turns pink.
  5. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the remaining green onion, a drizzle of sesame oil and a splash of tamari.

*adapted from nasoya.com