Teriyaki Chicken Wings and Asian-Style Succotash

I had big plans last Friday. I had a hankering for grilled steak with fresh corn, green beans and some perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes. In fact, I even bought all of my ingredients while I was at work (yay for being a meat distributor — a good steak is easy to find!) and biked them all the way home. The bike ride was not fun, and might be why you do not see a picture of a fat grilled steak at the top of this post.

See, when you bike a backpack brimming with goodies uphill 8 miles on a sunny Friday afternoon it does something to your motivation level — like kill it completely.

As I was unpacking all the groceries, I spied a bag of chicken wings in the fridge and suddenly the thought of starting up a grill seemed like too much effort. And the thought of chicken wings sounded like the most brilliant idea ever.

I have talked before about my serious love for my grandmother’s chicken wings. They are Heaven on Earth. They are the reason I keep five-pound bags of frozen wings on hand at all times — because it just doesn’t make sense to make any less than that. I can eat about a third of a batch in a single sitting. It’s not pretty, but it’s true.

So…my grilled steak turned into this:

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Flanken Shortribs for the Grill: Fast, easy and wonderful!

I have always been a big fan of flanken ribs, even before I understood what they were all about. I just knew that they were incredibly tender, with fat so crispy it melted in your mouth and they usually came seasoned with flavors of soy and sesame. I didn’t know where they came from on the cow or what their NAMP number was. Now, because I work as a meat distributor, I actually ended up in a Facebook conversation regarding such things after posting the above picture. That conversation led to all of my co-workers (including our master butcher) discussing it the next day, which just made me laugh later thinking about it. Because, wow, what a group of meat nerds! Seriously!

At any rate, flanken ribs are also known as galbi or Korean ribs, and are usually taken from the shortribs plate or chuck rib section of the cow and cut across the bone. Usually those ribs are cut thicker (like 2-3 inches) and are made for braising, but these guys are cut super thin. Like a quarter of an inch or so. They are typically run across a bandsaw while partially frozen, so the cuts should be nice and uniform. Like this:

This means instead of slow and low, you want to cook them quickly over very high heat. You can also see that the ribs are quite fatty, so you want to be sure to crisp up that section as much as possible. Left undercooked, it will still taste fine but the texture will be lacking. The crunchy fat is the best part!

The next important thing to note when making these ribs is that the marinade is critical. I have tried a few different recipes, and there are still some I am dying to try, such as this one  which calls for an Asian pear to help tenderize the meat. However, I always forget to go shopping before I make these (like last week) and thus I’m left with pantry staples.

Luckily this recipe from Bon Appetit worked out just fine. It called for the all of the basics, which I happily had on hand: soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, lots of garlic, sugar and rice wine vinegar. Since I only had about a pound and a half of meat, I cut the recipe accordingly. Then I took my lovely little ribs and let them soak for 24 hours in the mixture.

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Adventures in Dim Sum: Project Bean Curd Rolls

I love dim sum. I know I’ve mentioned that before in my posts about making Chinese dumplings and scallion pancakes. I love dim sum to the point where I bring my own Tupperware for my leftovers because I am serious about leaving no dumpling behind. I also tend to order as if I am eating with a very hungry army instead of with just one or two friends. I have also been known to hide the leftovers so my husband can’t find them. Please don’t judge me for that.

One of my all-time favorite must-eat items at dim sum are the bean curd or tofu skin rolls (also known as fu tse juan). The first time I tried them, I had no idea what they were made of, which is always a little nerve-wracking. There are so many things that can either be amazing or unfortunate at dim sum, and you really have to choose wisely. My experience eating congee with fermented eggs is not one I’d like to repeat.

But my friend Ariel, who is experienced at dim sum dining, gave me her word that I would like them. And I did…a lot. So much so that we immediately ordered another serving lest things come to blows over who got the third roll. (Why does food always have to come in threes when you’re part of a pair?)

First off, I should tell you a bit about these things in case you’re as confused as I admittedly was by the layman’s term “bean curd roll.” I originally thought these had bean curd in them and was so perplexed at why they tasted like mushrooms and pork instead of tofu. Luckily Ariel was there to explain that the wrapper is actually made of pressed tofu. It’s much easier to enjoy something when you know what it’s made of!

Now that I am also a dim sum regular, it’s hard to imagine that these glorious things could have caused me even one moment of anxiety.

Ok, sure maybe they don’t look as appealing as perfectly crimped dumplings or as pert as little steamed shu mei, but trust me. These things are made of magic. My first line of evidence in this fact is that they are stuffed primarily with mushrooms — an ingredient I usually despise. And yet, I can down an almost embarrassing number of them.

Anyways, the concept of these rolls intrigued me and I think I spent oh, about a year, gawking at recipes online, dreaming about making my own. In all my searching, this recipe is the best one I found (and I love the blog in general), so it was the one I used when I finally got around to making them.

Bean curd skins

Which was last weekend — hooray!

I invited my partner-in-crime DB to come over for a little dim sum extravaganza. First we went shopping for the tofu skins and after scouring H-Mart, we finally found them in the freezer aisle. Be warned — these suckers are huge. I mean, really, look at these things!

That mission accomplished, we moved on to the rest of the ingredients. One of the best things about this dish is that it’s pretty simplistic. Pork, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, bean curd. The writer of the recipe didn’t clarify what type of pork to use, so I figured one pound of pork tenderloin would be a good choice. Next we grabbed an 8 oz can of bamboo shoots and some mushrooms. We decided to go light on the mushroom flavor so we just used shiitakes and none of the dried Chinese mushrooms. In hindsight, I think I’d maybe lessen the bamboo shoots a smidgen and add more mushrooms. I can’t even believe I wrote that — as a life-long dedicated mushroom hater, my parents would die if they heard me say that out loud!

Pork tenderloin, sliced bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms

Anyways, slice the mushrooms, bamboo and the pork into strips. Mix some cornstarch, soy and wine in a small bowl with the meat and give it a good toss. Then sauté everything up together until the mushrooms are tender and the pork is just cooked through.

We also added generous squirts of my favorite chili oil, salt and pepper. Next time I might go against tradition and add in some garlic, ginger and maybe some chopped green onions just because. The flavors were good, but it was just a touch bland, though the chili oil helped perk things up tremendously.

Then it’s bean curd time. Cut the skins into strips — they will be a little brittle, so be gentle. Since mine were circular, we trimmed them into rectangles, as instructed in the recipe (though I really don’t know if that’s necessary in the long run). At any rate, each circle made four rolls. You want them fairly long because it’s as much about the wrapper as it is about the filling. Soak them for a second or two in hot water until they are pliable.

Now it’s on to wrapping! (More pictures of this process in the gallery below)

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The profound ups and downs of pork chops and pineapple

Making this meal put my emotions on a roller coaster ride. Thankfully it was the type of ride that as soon as you’re finished, you run to get right back in line.

It started with the build up of anticipation. The second I saw this recipe for Pork Chops with Pineapple Fried Rice on The Pioneer Woman’s blog, I immediately posted it to my friend Oliver’s Facebook page with the question, “Should we make this?!” I got back an almost instant reply of “Yes. Like now.” Even though it would be pure torture to wait a whole week, we planned to make it for our next Gossip Girl extravaganza.

I was so excited by the pictures Ree posted, that the next day I couldn’t help but show all the girls in my office so they could drool with me. My friend Ariel, whose desk is right by mine, was immediately hooked. I promised I would tell her the following week if it lived up to the hype, but she told me, in no uncertain terms, that it looked so good, she was going to beat me to making it.

And she did. Two days later she was nonchalantly eating her leftovers for lunch while I hovered enviously near her desk waiting for her recipe feedback. In between bites of rice and pork, Ariel confirmed that the recipe was equally easy and delicious.

Oliver and I spent the next few days eagerly discussing how magical “pork chop night” was going to be. Then — finally!! —  the big day arrived.

If I'm cooking, you can bet that there will be beer involved. That is a promise.

We convened at my house, where I had the rice already cooked and cooled. Oliver arrived with pork chops (we decided to go for boneless chops just because) and a jar of pimentos. We got down to business.

I pounded the chops just a bit and Oliver started cutting the pineapple into chunks. We weren’t ambitious enough to grill it, so we just cranked up a heavy skillet and sautéed the fruit until it was tender with a nice golden color. While that was working, we seared up the pork chops in a separate pan, added the onions and let it cook down into awesome-ness. The smell was overwhelmingly good.

Then came the wet ingredients (honey, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar). The pork chops actually cooked pretty quickly so we removed them and let the sauce cook down with just the onions. Once it had thicken, we poured it on top of the pork chops in a bowl while we got rolling on the fried rice.

Look at how pretty this fried rice is!

Here’s where things took a sudden dive. We cooked the rice exactly as instructed and it certainly looked divine, but when we tasted it, the flavor was a bit flat. It just wasn’t quite snappy enough. We were panicking…well, I was panicking — Oliver wasn’t overly concerned. But after all the anticipation, I was not going to settle for sub-par fried rice. I threw in a bunch of chopped green onions, a squirt or two of sesame oil and reread the instructions. Sure, there was the sauce with the onions, but when we poured it in the bowl with the pork, it didn’t seem saucy enough to punch up the flavor in a full skillet of rice.

After a bit more soy sauce and some lime juice, I finally decided to stop tinkering. It would just have to do, I thought sadly. At least it looked pretty and colorful, and even if it wasn’t amazing, it would be good enough.

Then things took a final upward swing. When I pulled out the chops to slice them, the sauce seemed to have tripled. I felt a ray of hope as I threw half of the saucy onions into the rice and gave it a good stir. Then we plated up our rice, pork and finished it with caramelized pineapple, generously drizzling extra sauce over the top.

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My Swedish grandmother’s amazing recipe for teriyaki wings

Chicken Wings 3

My grandma (also known to me as Mormor, the Swedish word for maternal grandmother) is responsible for bestowing upon my family our time-honored recipe for teriyaki-style chicken wings. Sure, her pickled herring, headcheese and potato sausage are revered as well (some more than others) but it’s her chicken wings that I remember most fondly from childhood. The pickled herring I only ate once on a dare. It was as awful as it sounds.

Anyways I’m not sure how the chicken wing recipe first came to be a family favorite. The vague explanation is that it was passed to her from my mother’s best friend’s mom more than fifty years ago. Where she found it, I have no idea and why she gave it to my grandma is another mystery — though a fortuitous one for sure.

Normally I would never do this, but it's just too fitting to this story

Normally I would never subject you to a plate of eaten food. But here’s a picture I recently sent my cousin (now in Texas) after I polished off a bunch of wings — I admit I wanted to torture him a bit.

It’s one of the dishes that my grandma makes every time I go to visit her and my grandfather (along with her Swedish hotcakes which she makes every Saturday morning without fail). As a kid, when we would visit them on vacations, she used to make the wings for my brother, my older cousin and me. My brother has always enjoyed them, but my cousin and I were obsessed. We would race to eat as many as we could — counting up the bones when we were done to see who was victorious. I think most of the time we actually tied — which looking back was quite a feat. It should be noted that my cousin is now taller than me by more than a foot and is a boy to boot and I can still eat as many wings as he can.

My mom also made them for our family. They were what I requested for every birthday or “special occasion” dinner. They were what I craved on my winter breaks during college. They were the first recipe my mom wrote down for me and the only reason I own an electric frying pan. It’s impossible to make them as good without one.

Three generations later and these wings are still one of the dishes I make, along with my mom’s chicken casserole, when I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Which is fairly often.

Over the years, I have been spreading the chicken wing love. My best friend Nikki Sea had me email her the recipe a while back and I have now gotten my husband hooked on them as well. In fact I usually make about three times what the recipe calls for because I tend to hoard the leftovers so I can enjoy them in secret or sneak them to work for my lunch.

However these wings are so sticky and messy, they are difficult to eat covertly. My grandma always says we should serve them with finger bowls, though instead we just plunk down a huge pile of napkins in the center of the table. Last year for my birthday party, I set out a huge platter of them. We went through a lot of napkins that night and the wings were all but gone. Luckily there were a few left over for me to snack on the next afternoon while I cleaned. Though you better believe I had some tucked away in the back of the fridge, just in case…

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