You love the egg rolls and moo shu pork from your neighborhood Chinese restaurant, but you've made a point this year to cook at home more often. When it comes to creating burgers, tacos and pasta in your kitchen, that hasn't been much of a challenge, but now you want to celebrate the Chinese New Year (which kicks off Feb. 10) with a homemade meal. Could you possibly make egg drop soup and Sichuan beef in your own kitchen?
With some thoughtful shopping and simple techniques you can welcome the year of the snake with a meal that just might have you forgetting the phone number of your local takeout spot.
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It starts with Diana Kuan's "The Chinese Takeout Cookbook."
The Chinese cooking instructor and blogger came up with the idea five years ago when she was living in China yet missing the Chinese food she grew up with in Massachusetts. The book (Ballentine, 2012), she says, "celebrates Chinese food in the U.S."
"If you live in an urban area, chances are your kitchen drawers are filled to the brim with takeout menus, soy sauce packets and disposable chopsticks," she writes.
Guilty as charged!
Her book includes more than 80 recipes made without MSG and with ingredients commonly found in the Asian aisles at suburban supermarkets.
She recommends having soy sauce (make sure soybeans are the main ingredient), sesame oil (look for Chinese or Japanese oil in a glass bottle to add a nutty aroma), Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing is a widely available brand), Chinese black vinegar (slightly smoky with sweet aroma, or use or good quality balsamic vinegar) and dried shiitake mushrooms (to add real umami flavor) in the pantry. If you don't have a wok, don't walk away just yet -- a large heavy-bottom skillet will work just fine.
"I stir-fried for years in a 12-inch skillet," Kuan admitted. "But I recommend a wok, it's helpful for stirring."
Kuan's stir-frying tips: Use medium-high to high heat. Get the pan hot, then swirl the oil around. Make sure the oil is hot before adding the food "because everything happens so fast."
Gurnee resident and food entrepreneur Ying Stoller echoes that advice. She says the oil should be almost at the smoking point before the meat or vegetables hit the pan.
Stoller's line of Ying's Kitchen stir-fry sauces (made with natural ingredients and without MSG) make cooking takeout favorites like Mongolian beef and orange fish (or chicken) even easier.
Stoller said she stir-fries a few nights a week for her family. The key to fast meal prep is getting the meat sliced and marinated and the vegetables chopped before heating the wok.
"Stir frying is pretty easy," Kuan said. "Marinate the meat, mix the sauce, cut the veggies. When you break down the steps, it's really easy."
"It's healthier and faster than ordering takeout."