Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stir Fry Shrimp and Vegetables with Chinese Chili Sauce

The second half of my college years was a formative time in my cooking life. My roommate and I lived off campus in a rented condo and we really got into cooking Chinese stir-fry. This cookbook became our bible and we spent lots of time making stir-fry sauces and chopping vegetables.

The main spicy stir-fry sauce stayed with me in the years after college. I shared it with others who loved it and they even named the sauce after me. It was fun to know that coast to coast people were cooking a recipe with my name on it.

For the past few years, I've been making the sauce again and doing some tweaks on the recipe. After a few years of trials, I'm ready to reveal the 2.0 version.

Let's start with Chinese Chili Sauce:

For the red chili paste, you should start with a bottle of Huy Fong Foods' Chili Garlic Sauce. But there are other options. With the current Sriracha sauce craze, you likely have a bottle of that which you can use. For a twist, I've sometimes added a Thai element by using Thai Kitchen's Red Curry Paste.

In a large bowl mix together the ingredients in the recipe below and set aside.

Chinese Chili Sauce

  • red chili paste - 3/4 - 1 teaspoon (adjust to your taste)
  • soy sauce - 2 tablespoons
  • sherry - 1 tablespoon
  • sugar - 1/2 - 1 teaspoon
  • cornstarch -1 teaspoon 
  • fish sauce - 1 tablespoon (optional)
  • sesame oil - a few drops (optional)
  • water - 1/3 cup

Stir Fry Shrimp and Vegetables

Frozen shrimp can be tricky to work with. Because each shrimp is coated with ice, it's easy to create a runny, tasteless stir-fry. So take the shrimp out of freezer early and allow it to defrost in its bag at room temperature until you can see the ice separating from the shrimp. When that happens, open the bag and pour the shrimp into a colander and rinse with hot water while shaking the colander. I also like to wrap the shrimp in paper towels to draw out any more water.

I cook the shrimp ahead of time to make sure they are done well. I also use a little butter in order get some browning on the outside.

In a wok or large skillet, heat a high-smoke oil (peanut, grape seed, canola, etc.) and an equal amount of butter. Add some minced garlic and then add the shrimp. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze in some lemon juice. Cook shrimp until done with some browning on the outside. Set aside.

The vegetables are next and you should prepare them well ahead of time. You can use any vegetables of your choice. But the following are some of the basics:
  • celery - sliced on the diagonal
  • carrots - sliced
  • broccoli - florets
  • mushrooms - sliced
  • bell pepper - sliced
  • bok choy - quartered
On this particular evening I was using up some Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Add your prepared vegetables to a hot skillet or wok and stir constantly over high heat. As they approach being done, add back in the cooked shrimp and stir to mix. 

Give the sauce another stir because the cornstarch has likely resettled to the bottom. Break up the gooey base by stirring to mix. 

Add the sauce to the stir fry and mix constantly spreading the sauce to allow it to coat everything. 

Feel free to add some peanuts or cashews at this point. 

As you stir, the sauce should add a glisten to everything once it has coated the stir fry. If it seems too gummy, add a bit of water and mix it in. 

Serve as is or over rice.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Butternut Squash Hummus

Because I'm always looking for ways to use up the plentiful butternut squash that come in our box, I had saved this recipe from the Whole Food website. It seemed like an interesting take on hummus--which we enjoy quite frequently.

The results were quite tasty. I adapted the original recipe by adding more garlic and a splurge of hot sauce. Other interesting ethnic spices could be added as well. This is a great starting point and you can make it your own by trying out different ingredients.

Chickpea hummus can leave you feeling bloated after you eat enough of it. Not so with this butternut squash. This hummus is lighter with the butternut squash adding a slight sweetness. But the tahini keeps it creamy.

Butternut Squash Hummus


  • 1 small cooked butternut squash - you want about 3 cups
  • juice of one small lemon
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 8 pitted olive, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 nice splurge of your favorite hot sauce. I used Crystal.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Cut the squash in half and clean out the seeds
  • Rub the inside of the squash with a bit of olive oil
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Place squash in a casserole dish and cook until done (about an hour)
  • Add all other ingredients to a food processor
  • Remove squash when done and let cool
  • Scoop squash out of peel into the food processor
  • Puree all ingredients, adding 1 or 2 tablespoon water, if needed
Serve as an appetizer with assorted vegetables (celery, carrots, radishes, etc.) or with crackers.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sausage, Butternut Squash, and Kale Minestrone

I have been making a fair amount of soup and soup stock these days just because all the right ingredients are arriving in the box (leeks, potatoes, carrots, onions). I've made a few batches of Leek and Potato soup loving the way that the potato can add that creaminess but without the heaviness.

Recently, I adapted a soup recipe that was included in the box. We had most of the ingredients on hand through recent deliveries. Then the other ingredients were just regular items that we keep in our pantry (squash, beans, and cans of diced tomatoes).

Now, as for the sausage. We don't eat meat but you can use your favorite meat sausage if you do. We have been enjoying the vegetarian Field Roast Italian Sausage in some dishes recently (they also have a blog). The sausage has a nice consistency with fennel seeds giving the sausage an authentic taste. It's nice to brown it in another skillet and add it to the soup during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

The way I adapted this recipe was to make it into a larger batch. The original recipe only called for 3 cups of broth but I've upped the carrots and celery and broth. It's the kind of soup that you can make without a timeline and you can tweak or improvise the ingredients. Start working on it on a weekend afternoon and just keep the heat down low. You will be able to enjoy this tasty soup for days (lunch for work or weeknight leftovers).

Sausage, Butternut Squash, and Kale Minestrone


  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3-4 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 3-4 carrots, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. herb blend - like Italian or Fines Herbes
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (preferably with seasoning)
  • 1 quart broth (veggie preferred)
  • 1 small or 1/2 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed (potato can be a substitute)
  • 1 19 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 19 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 bunch kale (Lacinato or Dino kale preferred), stemmed and chopped
  • 2-4 sausages, sliced and browned in a skillet
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)


  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook until softened and beginning to get translucent (about 10-15 minutes).
  • Add celery and carrots and cook another 5-10 minutes.
  • Add the herb blend, diced tomatoes, broth, and squash cubes. Cover with a lid and cook over low for at least 30 minutes to soften the squash.
  • Add the kale and let it cook down.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the beans and browned sausage during the last 15-30 minutes.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Kiwi Apple Dressing

We had a number of kiwis in our CSA box recently. I was intrigued by one of the suggested recipes on the sheet in the box. But more on that later.

While researching the background of this fruit, I learned that the name kiwi is has been shortened from its official name: kiwifruit. Most people also assume that kiwis must be from New Zealand. They are actually originally native to northern China where they were declared the National Fruit of China and called "yáng táo." Seeds were taken back to New Zealand where they first fruited in 1910. Twenty years later, they were becoming popular in New Zealand where they were called Chinese Gooseberry. During the WWII years, "Chinese Gooseberry" was too political so it was named "melonette" for a brief time. Then a New Zealand grower and exporter dubbed it kiwifruit in 1959; after the New Zealand bird, kiwi (both small, brown, and furry).

This dressing is super easy to make and is quite unique. Tasting right after its made reveals a lot of complexity with many different flavors working quite well together.

Once you add it as a dressing on a salad you will find that it's a unique, clean, peppery, tangy dressing that is unlike typical dressings you've had. 

Kiwi Apple Dressing:

  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. apple juice
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I used Crystal)
  • 3 kiwifruit, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients in a blender or small food processor and process until smooth.

Refrigerate dressing in an airtight container for up to five days. Stir well before using.

Monday, October 14, 2013

In the Garden: Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Things are winding down in the garden. I will probably start pulling up the tomato plants soon. For the first time this year, I planted a tomatillo plant and I wasn't sure what to expect. But I quickly learned that tomatillo plants need a good amount of space. While you can keep tomatoes somewhat contained in cages, tomatillos are more of a sprawling plant that can grow 3 feet tall as well as wide. It shot out branches into the nearby basil plants. Since it likely didn't get the sun it needed, my tomatillos were somewhat smaller than normal; though maybe normal for home gardens. One of my goals in planting tomatillos this year was to make salsa verde.

Now I luckily live in a part of the country where I can usually find fresh tomatillos in my supermarket. But the other day in my local supermarket I noticed that canned tomatillos are an option. You will find a variety of opinions about how they compare to fresh but if you have no other choice it's an option.

While we're on the topic, salsa may be one of those condiments (like ketchup and mustard) that don't get used on a daily basis. So you spend $4 on a bottle of salsa and a few months later you find it has turned into a science experiment. I recently read an article suggesting that a more frugal alternative is to spend less than a buck for a 7 ounce can of the highly-rated Herdez salsa verde. You are more likely to use it up before it gets bad. And even if it does go bad, you're out a buck. Look for the 7 ounce can next time you're at the market. I have walked past it all these years because it's not in the same place as the bottled salsas.

Now to the salsa that I made during halftime of the most recent 49er game:

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

  • 12 good sized tomatillos
  • 3-4 Serrano chiles (4=a very spicy salsa so judge accordingly)
  • 1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup white onion, finely chopped and rinsed

I will let Rick describe the recipe for you and then some.

My variation was to add both the chopped cilantro and onions into the food processor right towards the end. It was a good way to really incorporate the cilantro and onions into the salsa. Garlic and lime juice can also be introduced as additional ingredients. You can always thin it with water as well.

More resources:
LA Times article 
Bonnie Plants: Growing Tomatillos
Sunset Magazine article
YouTube video

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Spicy Pickled Corn

I'm just starting to get into pickling. I've been drawn to a number of recipes that involve pickling recently. I'm fascinated by the process of preserving fresh produce in this method.

At this time of year it's all about preserving the good produce. Recently, our supermarket had Brentwood corn 6 for $1. Incredible. We picked up six ears and had two for dinner. I dog-eared this recipe in a recent Bon App magazine and gave it a try as way to use up the other four ears of corn. The photo in the magazine was gorgeous and it captured my curiosity.

I made 3 jars. I put up two and one was not filled enough to store so I stuck it in the fridge and figured out how to use it up. I have added the spicy corn to salads, omelettes, and stir fries with good success. It packs a spicy punch so be aware of the heat as you work with it.

I doubled this recipe:

Spicy Pickled Corn

In a large bowl, combine:
  • 2 small red dried chilies
  • 1 seeded thinly sliced jalapeno pepper
  • 1/4 thinly sliced medium red onion
  • 2 ears corn kernels cut off of cooked corn cobs (a few minutes in boiling salted water)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup white wine or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
Bring brine to a boil. Pack sterile jars with corn mixture. Pour brine over the corn mixture to fill the jar (I ended up doubling the already doubled brine mixture). Put the lids on the jars and put them in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. Or else stick jars in the fridge and use up the contents within a few weeks.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Avocado Chimichurri Bruschetta

We were attending a dinner party and we had committed to bringing an appetizer. The theme of the dinner party was a celebration of the end of summer produce. As the date drew closer, we still had not decided on our appetizer. Finally, we decided on making a tomato bruschetta using some backyard tomatoes and CSA box heirloom tomatoes.

But while looking at recipes online, I found this Vegetarian Times recipe so I went for a double bruschetta appetizer. The traditional tomato bruschetta was well received but did not get the raves that this one did.

Serve this during the height of summer or, as we did, in late summer as a reminder of the fresh produce available to us as the days get shorter.

I doubled this recipe:

Avocado Chimichurri Bruschetta

  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 avocados, pitted and cubed
  • bread, sliced
Combine lemon juice, vinegar, salt, red pepper flakes, oregano, and black pepper in a bowl. Whisk in the oil, then add cilantro and parsley. Fold in avocado cubes. Stir to mix. Spoon avocado mixture onto bread slices (toasting is an option) and serve. Serves 6.

To save time, make the sauce ahead of time but cut the avocados at the last minute.