Confessions of a food snob and karma in the kitchen.
Not long ago, I was lamenting about the lack of good Chinese food around these parts to some friends. But what I forgot to mention was that the one dish that our so-so take-out joint did do well was their stir-fried beef and broccoli. But, guess what? Sadly, they, too, have succumbed to the fate that too many businesses have recently and are the latest casualty of the economy. So, another recipe was heaped onto the development schedule because that dish is one of our favorites.
Their closing gave me pause and now I’m beginning to wonder if Adam and I have or innocently exude some kind of restaurant curse. I’m serious! We have a history here, now that I think about it. Whatever restaurant we have visited or frequented over the years either goes out of business or something weird, freaky or disastrous happens. Like the time I ordered fajitas at the grand opening of a very reputable Mexican place and found that one of the pretty little red pepper strips on my sizzling skillet still had the vegetable PLU produce sticker attached. I didn’t even want to imagine what was not happening in their kitchen. They went belly-up in two weeks. That Thai restaurant that didn’t have the decency to send out a memo that they were calling it quits when we had a hankering something fierce for take-out one night. Our all-time favorite Nashville steak house, Houston’s, unexpectedly closed its doors. Boo hoo. We heard they lost the building’s lease and the owner had other ideas about the space. They leveled it and put another Walgreen’s in its place. It’s a sad day when pharmacy trumps prime rib.
Another very fine eating establishment, regaled as the place to go in one of our favorite cities, served Adam his Caesar salad with a surprise ingredient. He crunched down on something hard and very odd. Upon discreetly extracting the item from his mouth, he saw that it was no crouton he was munching on. It was a huge piece of glass. Digging around the bowl with his fork, he discovered that there were several more pieces tucked in between the romaine. Unforgivable. Fortunately and miraculously, he didn’t swallow any glass or cut himself.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky one particular night. We were having dinner at our “Please Don’t Come For the Food, but Do Stay For the Atmosphere” bistro when the owner passed by and asked how everything was. Adam, always gracious and enviously eloquent, kindly told him the truth – some of it was okay and some of it wasn’t (the crab cake appetizer was horrible). The owner, a super nice guy, was quick to apologize and didn’t hesitate for a second to say he would take it off our bill. Not our intention, of course, but appropriate to the situation.
As soon as he left, I picked up my water glass to take a sip. What happened next is still surreal to me and unexplainable. The glass exploded in my hand. The unmistakable crashing sound drew the entire restaurant’s attention to our table. Shards flew everywhere, including several that whizzed across my wrist, cutting it just shy of my vein [pause for dramatic effect]. It wasn’t a deep cut, nothing a little Band-Aid couldn’t take care of, but it kind of freaked me out and got me thinking.
Now, Adam and I make no bones about being food snobs…but we’re closet food snobs. That is to say we don’t turn up our noses in public or would never say something out loud like, “Hello? You people ever heard of salt?” or “Dude, you couldn’t find Flavor Town with GPS and a flashlight.” (I won’t lie – we can really talk some trash in the privacy of our car on the ride home, though.) The opposite is true – we are prolific apologizers whenever we have to send something back or are pushed to give our unflattering opinion. So sorry about this…blah, blah, blah. Honest!
But, with the second glass incident on the heels of the “complaint,” I am wondering if all our food snobbery hasn’t created some kind of bad restaurant karma and maybe, just maybe, our dissing average food really does comes back to haunt us. Should we back off the mediocrity thing and embrace what many people consider to be “good” food? Should we stop telling the truth when asked if we enjoyed our dinner just to be on the safe side? Should we lower our levels of expectations for quality to save other possible eating establishments a surely foreboding future?
Nah. We’ll risk it. We like to tempt fate.
Wok this way:
Now, let’s talk about the recipe. One of the things I love, love, love about stir-fries is how blazingly quick it is to get a delicious dinner on the table. Plus, it’s just fun to whip out my wok (and fun to say!). Talk about Flavor Town – the sauce is full of sweet heat with a cast of serious supporters – soy, ginger and honey. I particularly love the addition of orange juice. Citrus just has that way of brightening any dish, elevating it without dominating it. Serve it with some sticky rice and just try not go back for seconds.
Stir-Fried Beef and Broccoli
- For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons black vinegar
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons beef stock
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
- For the beef:
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 pound stir-fry beef, thinly sliced into bite-sized pieces
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- 1 small sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1-1/2 cups broccoli florets
- ½ red pepper, cut into strips
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons beef stock
- Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
- In a bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and whisk until blended. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the garlic powder; add the beef, tossing to coat completely.
- Heat the oil in a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat until the oil runs easily, but is not smoking. Add the beef, cook for several minutes until well-browned, stirring, moving the beef around very frequently. Push the beef to the sloped sides of the wok to clear the center (if using a sauté pan, remove the beef to a bowl); add the onion, broccoli and pepper to the wok, lightly season with some salt and pepper; stir in the beef stock and continue to stir-fry until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the beef back to the wok and pour in the sauce. Continue to cook and stir until the sauce has thickened, 1 to 2 minutes more.
- Sprinkle over some toasted sesame seeds and serve right away.
…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:
Planning: I like to use flank steak for the beef in this recipe. To make the meat easier to slice thinly, freeze it until firm, about 30 minutes. Since stir-fries happen so quickly, it’s really important to have all your ingredients at the ready and close by the stove. If you don’t own a wok, get one. They’re available at supercenters and Asian markets and are quite inexpensive.
Product Purity: Black vinegar has a very distinctive flavor and worth a trip to the Asian food store. It’s inexpensive, lasts a long time and is so delicious. It makes all the difference in this dish, so please scope it out. I use organic hoisin sauce, since many other brands contain high fructose corn syrup. Kitchen Basics makes all-natural stock with no added MSG.
Presentation: There are a couple of fun ways to present this dish. To get a little fancy on a plated serving, summon your Iron Chef and make a rice mold with a chef’s ring or simply a measuring cup. Pack the rice in the cup and press down. Invert onto your plate and spoon the beef and broccoli around. Or, my favorite – serve dinner in purchased Chinese take-out boxes (available at crafts stores). Your family/friends will love it!