Monday, October 11, 2010

Sweet and Sour Pork

I love a good sweet and sour pork dish. Sweet and sour chicken or even shrimp. Unfortunately, often restaurants will smother the ingredients of the stir fry in a super sweet, sticky, bright red food colored sauce. All you can taste is the sauce which oozes all over the place and covers anything else on your plate with sweet and sour sauce.

The sauce in this recipe is sweet and sour without being gloppy. You don't want to drown the ingredients: just lightly coating them in the sauce is best.

This is a recipe that was given to me about 25 years ago by my Aunt Rachel. Her huband was a Colonel in the Air Force and they spent quite some time stationed in the Orient. Japan, Guam, Phillipines. As the wife of an officer, she had quite some time to be a dillitante. The other bored out of their minds women would take classes to while away the time and to learn new and exciting skills, like silk flower making and arranging (seriously......they did). She also, to my great benefit, spent some time in each location learning the local cuisine. Consequently, I have some awesome and authentic recipies.

Stir frying is not hard as long as you realize that preparation is key.

Slicing the ingredients and sorting into piles according to cooking times. (See below in the instructions)

The meat and sauce are prepared ahead of time.

The final cooking takes place in a very few short minutes in a spectacular fashion when you begin tossing into the sizzling wok the ingredients. Tossing and turning with abandon. This is a great meal for a party because it can almost all be prepared in advance and your cooking technique will impress your guests.


Batter1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tbs beaten egg
1/2 cup water

Sweet and Sour Sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup pineapple juice
4 Tbs catsup
4 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sesame oil

1/2 lb pork, cubed
1 small red pepper, cut in 1" cubes
1 small onion, cut into 1" cubes
1 large carrot, sliced
1 cup pineapple chunks (completely drained if using canned)

1. BATTER for pork: Mix the dry ingredients together and gradually add the water and beaten egg until it reaches the desired thickness. It should be thicker than pancake batter but not as thick as a dough batter. Set aside until ready to fry the pork.

2. SWEET AND SOUR: Add all ingredients together in a small sauce pan and stir constantly over medium heat until the sauce is clear and thick should take approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Keep stirring and be patient the sauce will suddenly become translucent. Set aside in the pan. If you are making the sauce a day ahead: cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate and bring back to a warm temperature before using. You don't want to put cold sauce into your HOT wok.

3. VEGETABLES: Have pre prepared various vegetables cut into approximately equal sizes. This is a very free form type of cooking. You can use many different types of vegetables, but the most common are listed in the ingredients above. You can also use mushrooms halved. Bok Choy, Red Pepper, Green Pepper, Carrots or what ever you would like. The sizes should be the same to ensure even cooking. Segregate the vegetables into piles according to hardness or how quickly they will cook. For instance the mushrooms and the tops of Bok Choy will cook quickly the bottoms of the Bok Choy, onion, etc will take a longer time to stir fry.

4. Heat oil to a depth of 1 inch in a fry pan or wok (preferred). Dip the pork cubes into the batter and deep fry in small batches for 3 to 5 minutes or until the pork is cooked through and the batter is crispy. Turn the cubes over with chopsticks or a fork to make sure they get crispy on all sides. Drain on paper towels. In the same wok, drain most of the oil. Begin stir frying the vegetables beginning with the hardest or longest cooking. When the vegetables are crisp/tender add back the fried pork cubes. Stir fry until they are warm. Add the pineapple and toss briefly. Add the sauce and stir fry and toss until heated through. This should only take a minute or so.

Served with a side of steamed rice. Serves 6 people.

Notes: I don't care for green peppers so I will substitute red peppers. Pretty much any firm types of vegetables you like can be used. Do not use summer squash, they will turn to mush. If you do want to experiment with mushrooms just add them at the very last, with the meat and before adding the sauce. The catsup isn't exactly a traditional Chinese ingredient, but it works well in this sauce.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Finally Fall: Bean Soup

The weather has finally turned from hot to a more normal fall. Crisp cool mornings and evenings with still some lingering warm afternoons. We even had some rain early this morning so I decided to make a meal that my husband has been craving.

Frugal, filling, satisfying and ever so easy. Ham hocks and bean soup with cornbread.

Ham Hocks and Bean Soup

2 cups Great Northern Beans
3 large meaty ham hocks
one large onion
3 stalks of celery (with leaves)
3 stalks of celery
2 carrots
1/2 scant tsp pepper
1/8 tsp or less red pepper flakes
kosher salt

Rinse sort and soak the beans either overnight or quick method. I generally use the quick method. Put the beans in cold water, bring to a boil. Then turn off the heat and let the beans sit for several hours.

Add the ham hocks and add enough water to cover. Cut the onion into large chunks, about 1 inch and toss into the pot. Toss in the whole stalks of celery with leaves. If they are too big to fit into the pot, cut them in half. The celery with leaves can even be old and wilted. They are just to give flavor to the broth and you will remove them later. Crush the garlic cloves and toss into the pot. Season with pepper. Don't salt at this time. The ham hocks may be salty enough.

Bring the soup to a low simmer and cook covered for several hours, adding more water if needed. Check the beans occaisonally for tenderness. You don't want to cook them until they are mush, but you also don't want hard undercooked beans. Remove from the heat. Remove the ham hocks and let cool enough so that you can handle them. Remove the celery stalks.

Separate the meat from the bones and put the meat back into the pot. I often also add back the bones from the hocks to continue to give flavor to the broth.

If you want a more spicy soup, you can add a small amount of hot pepper flakes. Be sparing with this as the longer you cook it the hotter they will get. Simmer until the beans are tender. Keep checking the water level. If it seems that the bean soup is getting dry.....add more water. Taste and if needed add salt. Peel and chop carrots into a rough dice about 1/2 inch. Cut the remaining celery into 1/2 inch chunks. Toss the carrots and celery into the pot. Add some parsely if you feel like it. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.

As you can see....I'm not very precise with my recipes. I tend to wing it with this soup. If I have a left over meaty ham bone I will use that. I like my bean soup a bit more on the soupy side and not cooked to a paste. I also like the vegetables to be on the more crisp side, rather than cooked to a pulp.

Bean soup is a great pantry or survivalist meal, meaning almost all the ingredients can come from your pantry. Dried beans. Dried onions. Canned carrots. Canned ham or spam. Celery salt if you can't get fresh celery.