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Surprises and Kung Pao Chicken

Last weekend I flew home to Boston to surprise my older brother for his birthday. Living in LA now, I don’t see my family nearly as much as I would like to. We are all very close, and the fact that I am 3,000 miles away from them now can sometimes be pretty tough. I can’t make frequent trips home and keeping in touch can be hard due to the time difference. I like to make phone calls on my way home from work, but usually everyone is in bed on the east coast by that time.

I know that most people say they have the best siblings, but totally straight up, Dave is the best brother in the world.

No question.

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It is just the two of us. We are 9 years apart in age, so growing up we were always at very different stages in our lives. I remember going on college tours with him when I was only in 4th grade. But, I think this age gap made us closer. We were never forced to be competitive with each other and he always looked out for me, giving me guidance and support every step of the way. Fighting (while it did occur occasionally) was pretty rare for us. 

My mom loves to tell the story about when I was born, Dave used to come into my room every morning before he left for school just so that he could kiss me goodbye. That love never stopped. When we were younger, he constantly spoiled me with his hard earned allowance, taking me out to meals or buying me special presents. In middle school it was always a thrill for me whenever he drove to pick me up (which unlike most older brothers, he did willingly, of course). I remember wanting to show him off to everyone because he was the “cool older brother” who drove an awesome car with black tinted windows (and a subwoofer that you could hear from a mile away). 

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Dave is also the #1 gift-giver I know. He has a real knack of remembering the little things you mention you like in passing and he is always the first to discover new tech gadgets before everyone else. His gifts are always thoughtful and perfect. But, because of this, it’s always really hard to match his gifts, and since Dave got married a few months ago (to the most awesome sister-in-law I could have ever imagined), he pretty much has everything he needs.

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So this year, I decided to fly home and surprise him as his birthday gift.

Luckily, he had no clue and was completely surprised and appreciative. Being home was great (although I have to say, I LOVE not dealing with snow and cold temps anymore!). We celebrated over a meal looking out onto beautiful Boston.

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I appreciate being home more than anything now. While I love my new life in LA, my family is so important to me and I was so glad I was able to celebrate with Dave this weekend :)

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Okay, okay, enough sappy talk. Now let’s talk food.

As you can see, I am on a bit of an Asian kick, so we’re making real deal Kung Pao Chicken. 

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After picking up some dried peppers from the Grand Central Market in Downtown LA, I was eager to make some authentic Asian food.

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These peppers added the perfect level of heat for me. I don’t like things too spicy, but you could certainly add more peppers or use a spicier variety if you prefer you food really hot!

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If you have all of the ingredients already this meal can come together fairly quickly. While the chicken marinated in the fridge for half an hour, I chopped and prepared all of the other ingredients.

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This was really yummy and I thought it tasted pretty darn authentic! It also stays pretty well - I enjoyed great leftovers for lunch today :)


 

Kung Pao Chicken

Ingredients

1lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2/4 inch pieces

2 Tablespoons soy sauce, divided

2 Tablespoons dry sherry, divided

1 Tablespoon corn starch, divided

peanut oil

3 scallions, whites minced and greens finely sliced, separated

1/2 cup peanuts (I used cashews because I didn’t have any peanuts on hand)

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1 Tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1 Tablespoon sriracha (or another Asian chili garlic sauce)

2 teaspoons sugar

12 hot Chinese dry peppers, seeded

1 onion chopped

1 bell pepper chopped

brown rice for serving

Combine the chicken, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons dry sherry, and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly.  Allow to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to two hours.

In a small bowl combine the scallion whites, garlic and ginger. In another bowl combine the remaining soy sauce, remaining dry sherry, remaining corn starch, white vinegar, sriracha, and sugar and mix until the cornstarch is dissolved.

In a large skillet or wok, heat 1T of peanut oil. Spread half of the marinated chicken in an even layer. Cooking without moving for 1 minute and then cook, stirring constantly, for another minute and remove to a plate (the chicken should not be cooked through yet). Repeat with the second half of the chicken and remove to the plate.

Add another tablespoon of peanut oil to the pan. Add the onion and the pepper and saute for 2 minutes. Add the peanuts and the dried chilies, then add the reserved chicken. Make a center in the wok the add the garlic/ginger mixture and cook until fragrant (about 20 seconds). Then add the soy sauce mixture, stirring constantly until the chicken is fully coated.

Serve immediately with brown rice.

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Korean Rice Bowl with Steak and Snap Peas

Friends often ask me how I dedicate so much time to cooking “elaborate” dinners every night. I’m 22, young, new in my career, and in their minds it just doesn’t make sense that I devote an hour + every night to making dinner.

I always explain that it is my “thing.” It is what I enjoy doing after a long day. Some people want to vedge on the couch in front of the TV or with a good book and are totally happy with take-out. But me, I just really want to cook.

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But, confession time…it’s not like this happens every night. Sometimes, I get so busy that I don’t want to bother trying a new recipe. I get home and I am so hungry (and I mean ready-to-bite-my-hand-off hungry) that I eat the easiest and fastest thing I can. I am talking scrambled eggs, PB&J, take-out, basically anything in sight.

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But when I have the time, my absolute favorite thing to do is search through my bookmarked recipes (I must bookmark at least 5 recipes a day) and try something new.

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This dish is a take on a Korean Bibimbap. It is something I have wanted to make ever since I tried an amazing little Korean restaurant near my college campus last year.

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This dish is honestly pretty simple to make.

The flavors in the steak marinade are outstanding and the whole dish really comes together with a final touch - a fried egg on top. The idea is that you mix the hot egg into the steaming hot rice bowl and the mixture sort of becomes like fried rice. 

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I can’t wait to make this again. Next time, I am going to try chicken instead. I am sure vegetarians could make this with tofu, too. If you do, let me know how it is!

Korean Rice Bowl with Steak and Snap Peas

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon sesame seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1.5 lbs skirt steak, punded thin

1/4 cup soy sauce

3 Tablespoons Asian sesame oil, divided

2 green onions, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 Tablespoon dry sherry (or sake)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 lb baby snap peas

vegetable or canola oil

4 large eggs

Brown Rice for serving

Gochujang (or Sriracha) for serving

Toast the sesame seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until golden brown, stirring often (about 3-4 minutes). Transfer the sesame seeds to a small bowl and allow to cool. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the sesame seeds, salt, and chile powder (I used the back of a spoon and small bowl because I don’t have a mortar and pestle).

Place the steak in the freezer for 1 hour (this helps you slice it more easily). Cut the steak crosswise into 1/8 inch thick slices. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, 2 Tablespoons of the sesame oil, green onions, sugar, dry sherry, and garlic. Toss the steak in the mixture and let marinate at room temperate for 30 minutes.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil. Saute the snap peas until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Remove to a plate and sprinkle with the salt mixture. Tent with foil to keep warm.

Heat a griddle or grill pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches, grill the steak until just browned, about 1 minute per side (or desired doneness). Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet over medium heat. Crack the eggs on the hot skillet and cook until the white are set, but the yolk is still runny, about 2 minutes.

Divide the brown rice among bowls. Top with the snap peas and steak and finish with a fried egg atop each bowl. Mix the egg into the mixture while still hot. Finish with more of the salt mixture, gochujang and/or sriracha if you desire.

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Gluten-Free Almond Butter Cookies

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am obsessed with Peanut Butter. Now, we need not delve into the details of this obsession because it is safe to say you would be completely disgusted by the amount of Peanut Butter I can comsume in one sitting.

I like any kind of Peanut Butter. Natural, Crunchy, Smooth, and sadly even the kinds with High-Fructose Corn Syrup (yes, Skippy, I will always love you).

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This past summer, I decided to branch out and try Almond Butter as a healthier alternative. Now I am just as obsessed with AB as I was with PB.

I eat with it everything. Bananas, toast, smoothies, pancakes, eeeeeevvvvvverrrrrryyyyyyything. But, I will only eat one kind. The “grind your own” from Whole Foods. It is delicious, perfect, and totally overpriced. But WHO CARES. It’s THAT good.

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Now, I bring you Almond Butter cookies. They are Gluten-Free. No flour. Nada. Just a whole lot of Almond Butter goodness.

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And plenty of dark chocolate chips for good measure.

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Oh, and did I mention there is no butter or oil? Yeah, they’re low-fat, too.

BOOYAAAAAH!

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Healthy, nutty, chewy, chocolatey, yummy.

You know you want to take a bite.

Almond Butter Cookies

Ingredients

1 cup almond butter (I prefer the fresh stuff from Whole Foods, but any will do)

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1Tablespoon agave nectar (honey or maple syrup are fine, too)

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup slivered roasted almonds

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or a good bar of dark chocolate, chopped)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the almond butter and brown sugar. Add the egg, baking soda, agave, vanilla, and salt and mix well. Then add the almonds and dark chocolate.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out small scoops of dough and roll in your hands to form a ball. Place the balls on the baking sheet, making sure to allow at least 1 in. of space between the cookies (they spread out a lot in the oven). Bake 9-10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes. Then, using a spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

The cookies are best consumed on the same day.

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Red Velvet Cupcakes

This one time back in college I really liked this boy. He knew that I loved to bake, and he asked me if I knew how to make Black and White cookies.  This boy didn’t really like sweets (I know, he was kind of a weirdo), but for some reason he really liked those cookies. I said I had never made them before, but thought to myself, “How hard can they really be?”

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Well, this boy was studying very hard for finals at the time, so I wanted to surprise him (and impress him) by baking him his favorite cookies. 

I read various recipes and finally settled on one that looked perfect. I spent the next few hours in my college kitchen, mixing, baking, and icing these adorable cookies. I made plenty of extra so he could share them with his roommates (I, of course, had to win over his friends, too).

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Once every last cookie had been frosted, I perfectly displayed the cookies on a big plate and carried them over to this boy’s apartment. I rang the bell and waited.  He was surprised to see me and even more surprised by the mass amount of cookies on the tray I was holding. He let me in and was eager to try a cookie. He took a bite and his reaction was….well….not what I was expecting.

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He said, “These are the worst Black and White cookies I have ever had.” I could feel my face turn bright red immediately. First of all, how the heck was that possible? I was a PRO baker. And also, did he really have to be so blunt?

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He told me to take a bite and see for myself. So, I grabbed a cookie and took a big bite. They were in fact, the WORST cookies I had ever had. To be honest, I am surprised he didn’t spit the thing out of his mouth. Something had gone terribly wrong. I tried to figure it out. Was it the ingredients? Had my eggs gone bad? The buttermilk? Did I bake them too long?

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To this day, I have no freakin clue.

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So, why did I tell you that story? Because there is a lesson involved, you see.

You MUST taste everything you bake and cook before you serve it.

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And you must taste it twice if they’re cupcakes….because, well, they’re cupcakes…and you should be extra sure ;)

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These little red velvet babies are a little piece of heaven. I made these for a friend’s birthday and they were a big hit.

They are simple, moist, and have the perfect hint of cinnamon in the fluffy cream cheese frosting.

Make them for someone special this Valentine’s Day. But remember what I told you…

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg, at room temperature

3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 Tablespoons red food coloring

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature*

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

*To make your own buttermilk, pour 1/2 Tablespoon distilled white vinegar in a liquid measuring cup. Fill the measuring cup up to the 1/2 cup line with reduced-fat milk. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes.

Place a rack in the upper third of your oven. Preheat to 325 degrees.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat quickly until the egg is well incorporated.

In a seperate small bowl, mix the cocoa, vanilla and red food coloring to make a thick paste (this may take some extra muscle to get the desired consistency). Add to the butter, sugar and egg batter and mix until well incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides so all of the batter gets the red color.

Add half of the buttermilk. Then add half of the flour and salt. Mix until combined and then repeat with the remaining buttermilk and flour. Beat quickly until the batter is smooth. Then slowly add the baking soda and vinegar and beat for another minute.

Spoon the batter into a muffin tray lined with paper cups. The batter should fill about 3/4 of the cups. Bake for 23-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Let the cupcakes rest in the pan for 10 minutes and then remove and let cool completely on a cooling rack before frosting.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

2 1/3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

3 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature

4oz cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Beat the powdered sugar, butter and cinnamon in a bowl until the three ingredients are well mixed.  Add the cream cheese and beat until the frosting is well incorporated. Continue to beat the frosting until it is light and fluffy.

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