Slow-Cooker Beef and Stir-Fry Vegetables

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A popular choice from Chinese-restaurant menus, this is a surprisingly easy dish to prepare at home: just a few minutes' work in the morning and a workday's time in your slow cooker or crock pot will give you an aromatic and lick-the-plate yummy main dish for dinner. Or, make a batch on the weekend to have for several meals during the week. The beef and sauce freeze well, too - so you can always have this handy for when you need to prepare a quick dinner.

We just wrapped up a Chinese New Year dinner for families we met on our adoption trip as well as at our daughter's school - and this was a big hit! The citrus and ginger give it a bright flavor and helps it better pair with vegetables.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds chuck steak, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, thin sliced
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Vegetables for stir-fry: carrot, broccoli, peapods, red pepper, water chestnut - about 1-1/2 pounds, cut (fresh or frozen are just as good: they're going into the slow-cooker)
  • 2 teaspoons Sesame seeds
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Preparation:

  • Add a liner to your slow-cooker or crock pot and set temperature to low
  • Slice the onion and steak, add to the pot
  • Add the wet ingredients, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger to the pot
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  • Cover the slow-cooker and keep on low for 4-6 hours or overnight. More time will break down more of the beef's connective tissue and fats; if you like bigger, discrete chunks of meat then the 4-hour range is more your style. I like the meat and sauce to be well-mixed for this dish so I go for 8 hours.
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  • Take about 1/2 cup of the sauce from the pot and whisk in the cornstarch, one teaspoon at a time. Then add the mixture back into the pot and stir through completely. If you like your sauce thinner, use less cornstarch.
  • If you're cooking ahead, this would be the right time to take the mixture off the heat, let cool, and transfer into storage for the refrigerator or freezer. When you're ready to finish, bring it back up to 150 degrees F and continue with the next step.
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  • Add your vegetables and sesame seeds and cook on low for a half-hour

Serve over steamed rice or noodles.

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Pineapple-Apple-Macadamia Nut Pie

While on vacation recently on Maui, my family had lunch at award-winning Leoda’s in Olowalu, on the Honoapiliani Highway about 5 miles south of Lahaina. In addition to remarkably good burgers, sausages, and sandwiches, Leoda’s is famous throughout the Islands for their desserts and baked goods, which incorporate lots of local produce.

We enjoyed several tiny little pies with our meals, including a banana cream, an Olowalu lime, and a pineapple-apple. To this Midwesterner’s taste buds, used to all manner of apple pie treatments, this was a complete revelation! Sweet but not to put your teeth on edge; citrusy tart but not sour; satisfyingly dense but not gut-bomb heavy. I did actually say out loud in the restaurant, “why don’t we do this on the Mainland?” And conversations I’ve had with coworkers and family since then have generated much the same reaction. Talk about a delicious mix of cultures!

Back home, I consulted one of the Minnesotan holy books of baking, “Betty’s Pies Favorite Recipes” – not that she ever made a pie like this, but for advice on how to mix fruits together successfully.

By comparing several recipes, and with a bit of luck, I found this combination worked especially well. The flour and cornstarch are a bit higher than with a usual apple pie to handle the extra moisture from the pineapple. Care needs to be taken with the macadamias to prevent burning, but to give them enough time to brown and release their wonderful crunchy aroma.

Filling:

  • 1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
  • 4 cups peeled, sliced baking apples
  • 2 cups (one large can) crushed pineapple (unsweetened variety preferable)
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Topping:

  • ¾ cup old-fashioned oatmeal
  • ½ cup coarsely-chopped macadamia nuts
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, in small chunks
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425°. Make sure your baking rack is centered in the oven to ensure even heating all around the pie.

Dice the baking apples and squeeze as much juice as practical from the can of pineapple, then combine in a large bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix well to thoroughly coat the fruit. Set aside and prepare the topping.

For the topping, in a smaller bowl mix the dry ingredients and butter until moist clumps form.

Apply non-stick spray to your pie pan and place and crimp the crust. Add the filling mixture and pack to compact. Then sprinkle the topping mixture over the filling, covering it evenly and completely, making sure the blobs of butter are well distributed.

Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375°. After another 10 minutes, cover the top of the pie loosely with aluminum foil to help prevent the macadamias from scorching. Continue baking for another 35 minutes – or as long as needed for the apples to get tender and the sauce to start bubbling at the edge of the crust.

Cool 2 hours after removing from the oven; serve hot or cold. The pie will keep for a week in the refrigerator, but you’ll have polished it off well before then…

Fast but Good Ramen

We had been traveling for five days and this was our first full day home. Still experiencing jetlag / daylight-time / up-way-too-early hangover, I hadn't realized tonight that our usual dinnertime had come and gone, and I was wondering why I was feeling so uncomfortable...

There was one slice of last night's pizza still in the fridge, but I needed to make something nutritious for our daughter and was craving Asian food after being in an area where we couldn't get it.

And of course, it had to be fast... using whatever I had in the refrigerator and cupboard.

I had picked up this premium ramen noodle at United Noodles earlier this winter, and this seemed to be the right time to try it. This package had four "biscuits" of noodles - so the price per serving is actually well under $1.00.

  It comes with the usual foil packets of dry flavoring, but also packets of congealed fat to add in. Use them - it makes a big difference!

It comes with the usual foil packets of dry flavoring, but also packets of congealed fat to add in. Use them - it makes a big difference!

Other ingredients:
* Baby carrots, sliced into bite-sized chunks
* Spinach, chopped into thin julienne strips
* Half a turkey kielbasa, sliced in quarter-inch medallions
* A dash of soy sauce
* A couple dashes of lime juice
* A couple dashes of sesame oil
* Five-spice powder
* Pickled ginger
* 1 teaspoon Sesame seeds

I put a pot of water on the stovetop at high heat while I chopped the carrots, spinach, and kielbasa. As the pot came to a boil, I added the carrots and kielbasa to it along with the soy sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, and a shake of five-spice, and also two biscuits of the ramen noodles.  I placed the spinach in the serving bowl for later.

After 3 minutes I added the foil packet of spices and the plastic packet of pork fat to the pot, let that boil for another 3 minutes, and then turned off the heat.

I transferred the contents of the pot with most of the broth into my serving bowl, hit it with another shake of five-spice, the sesame seeds, and about a forkful of pickled ginger strips.

  Along with five-spice powder and a good-quality soy sauce, pickled ginger is another must-have "secret ingredient" that makes your home-cooking taste more like what you'd get from a real Asian restaurant. A little goes a long way!

Along with five-spice powder and a good-quality soy sauce, pickled ginger is another must-have "secret ingredient" that makes your home-cooking taste more like what you'd get from a real Asian restaurant. A little goes a long way!

And here's the finished product, four servings total. Plenty of greens and veggies with just enough low-fat meat to get your needed protein. The carrots had cooked to a soft texture while the spinach stayed crisp. The pork-fat packet gives the broth a smooth, smoky texture (and really doesn't add too many calories when split over multiple bowls.) 

 The judgment - would my daughter eat it? Enthusiastically, slurping the bowl clean and asking for seconds!

The judgment - would my daughter eat it? Enthusiastically, slurping the bowl clean and asking for seconds!

Of course, with more in the fridge I would have sliced up some green onion, cilantro, and perhaps some red pepper, but these ingredients did the job tonight - tasted authentic - and even gave me enough for lunchtime leftovers tomorrow.