Beef Stew with Red Wine // Homemade Crusty Bread

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My house is so silent during the day. Sometimes, like today, it is comforting seeing as it is cold and dreary outside once again, but other times, it can get pretty lonely.

In the past couple of months of change and adaptation, I think I’ve learned how to live with the silence and find things that will complement it instead. Like getting lost in the pages of a book or writing a posts like this to share on the Internet. When I really can’t stand it anymore, I turn on the television for a little background noise or the music player when I am motivated enough to clean and potter around a part of the house.

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Right now, Mark and I are playing the very challenging game of waiting. Each day seems slower than the one before and I grow so impatient, so quickly. They say everything is slower by the water and the living is easy, and I can’t disagree. It is to many extents. But now, I crave the intensity that life can bring. Some aches, soreness and true tiredness that people complain about so often. I must sound ungrateful but I suppose I miss having a purpose.

Somehow, I’ve managed to channel most of my energy to spending more time in the kitchen. From starting out as a novice college cook to finally accomplishing to baking my own bread, I’m not hesitant to give myself a small pat on the back for this tiny yet significant achievement.

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For Sunday supper last weekend, I wanted to fix a dish that would compliment my Sunday baking project, which was a homemade crusty loaf of bread. So I thought what better way to eat it with a rich hearty stew. Mark and I were more than content with the result. I lit candles all around the living room while the stew gently simmered away in the kitchen like a pot of liquid gold and the bread rising wonderfully in the oven.

I was ecstatic when everything came together so perfectly. We poured ourselves a glass of Merlot each, cozied up on the couch and watched episodes of House of Cards on Netflix while dipping bits and pieces of the bread into our bowls and savoring it’s deep flavors.

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Beef Stew with Red Wine
Recipe adapted from Food Network

1 pound beef, cut into cubes (I used some cuts of steak and it worked fine)
1 can diced or crushed tomatoes
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken or beef stock
1 cup red wine (I used Merlot, but recipe suggests dry red wine ie. Pinot Noir)
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Italian parsley for garnish (optional) 

Directions:

Melt 2 tbsp of butter in Dutch oven or deep pot. Brown cuts of beef until almost cooked and most of the liquid has evaporated. Transfer to bowl.

Add remaining butter to pot. Stir in onions and carrots and cook until onions are translucent. Add bell pepper and incorporate flour to the vegetables and mix well. Stir in beef and pour chicken stock, wine and rosemary to pot. Turn heat up until mixture comes to a boil and then lower heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about an hour partially covered. Stir occasionally.

Add potatoes to pot and cook covered for another 45 minutes until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally. Garnish with parsley and serve warm.

Homemade Crusty Bread

I followed instructions from Simply So Good for this recipe and it’s the best. She does an excellent job at explaining everything to a tee and even giving solutions or alternatives. My bread turned out great despite using active dry yeast instead of the instant kind. Mark loved it, and so did I.

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Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

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Well the supposedly long weekend came and left in a blink of an eye.

Why does time have the pesky habit of doing that? Or maybe it’s an indication that we should slow down and catch up with its pace instead. Regardless, I can’t seem to have enough lazy Sundays on the couch with Mark while he watches action films or plays video games or his guitar. One of the above.

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I celebrated Valentines Day for the first time in 23 years this year. I had been jokingly pestering Mark about his plans for me since it would be the first I actually had somebody to celebrate it but I knew I would be happy just having quiet time with him at home. But about a week before the 14th, he came home to tell me that we wouldn’t be gone the entire weekend for Valentines but he wouldn’t tell me where.

So on the morning of Valentines, I crept out of bed before he woke up and plastered the bathroom mirror with love notes written on yellow Post-Its and left a bag of chocolates right beside his razor. He brushed his teeth, shaved and came back into the room with a thank you. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with chocolates.

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We jumped into my car and was on the road almost as soon as he got off that evening. He said we had a four hour drive ahead of us, so we loaded the iPod with an audio version of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and a satirical encyclopedia by The Onion. Before I knew it, our drive had come to an end and I was greeted with a beautiful view of a resort in the Outer Banks and the salty taste of ocean air.

The next two nights were spent comfortably in a spacious hotel room that featured a king-sized bed and patio. We laughed, sang, drank wine and slow danced in the middle of our room to cheesy love songs. We also shared a bonfire with other couples, went for a morning run, indulged in a full-body massage and ate at a quaint local restaurant downtown.

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I couldn’t help but feel immensely grateful and happy for this love. In so many ways, it’s been the one I’ve been waiting for all my life. I’ve never really known what it’s like to have a partner, somebody to share every single aspect of my life with. Some days it’s daunting but mostly, it’s comforting.

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It’s a little embarrassing to say, but this meal was inspired by our empty pantry upon coming home. All I had was some ground beef, lots of canned tomatoes and some spaghetti noodles, so I decided to throw everything into a crockpot and see what happened.

The result was a rich, extremely flavorful sauce that I would make over again. Plus, it’s freezer-friendly!

Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced, or petite diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
*4 ounces cream cheese

Directions:

Brown beef, onion and garlic in a pan. Drain grease and transfer into slow cooker. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and seasoning. Cook on high for 3 hours and turn heat down to low for 2 hours after that. Stir in cream cheese until it melts and is mixed evenly with sauce.

Serve over buttered noodles and garnish with fresh basil and parmesan reggiano if preferred.

*You can substitute cream cheese with 1 cup of whole milk if you like. I used cheese because that was all I had on hand! 

Classic Chili

I decided to make dinner in my pajamas today. Not because I was lazy and had been wearing them all day, but because I chose to slip into them right after my shower because they were so warm. And comfy. Primarily comfy.

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Winter is definitely upon us now, even here by the beach and today was another snowy day. Well more like a rain and snow mix kind of day, which is really gross and super dangerous to drive in. I chose to stay home all day with Mark and took the time to get out of bed (as usual). Eventually, I wandered downstairs to find him and we lazed on the couch before making lunch together.

Cold days often mean lazy days for me. I thought this was also true for Mark as I found him comfortably falling back asleep on the couch right after lunch. Honestly, I cannot wait for spring and the luscious vegetation it will bring, especially in our region. I’m anticipating a lot of colorful produce in my kitchen for the next couple of months and can’t wait to try recipes with it.

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I’ve been spending less time on the Internet now, which I think is a bit healthier and instead finding more time for myself. Currently, I’m reading a book by author Kazuo Ishiguro, titled Never Let Me Go, that is part of my reading list. The first couple of pages were a little difficult to get through, just because I hadn’t read a book in a while but now I can’t seem to put it down. I’m hoping it will be a good read.

Since it’s cold again today, we decided to turn to comfort food for dinner and nothing spells w-a-rmth like a good bowl of chili. I’ve alwaaays liked chili because it’s so hearty and you get all your necessary food groups in one bowl. Carb, protein, fiber, vitamins… Not to mention it’s absolutely delicious and just bursting with flavor.

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Chili’s also one of those dishes that you can make to suit your taste. I found this easy recipe while browsing one day and decided to make it again because it was so good. I think you could easily customize and add to or subtract from it as you please.

Classic Chili
Recipe adapted from The Turqoise Home

Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef (or meat of choice)
1 can Pinto beans
1 can diced or petite diced tomatoes
1 onion
1 green pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

In pot, saute garlic, onions and green pepper until onions turn translucent. Brown beef and drain grease. Stir mixture back to pot and add cumin, chili powder and Worcestershire sauce. Cover with water and simmer on low heat for 1 hour.

Add can of tomatoes and salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Add beans and heat to the pot.Serve with cheese, sour cream, corn chips and garnish with cilantro if you like.

Homemade Wonton Soup

Sometimes I find myself at a dead end with conversations.

As much as I love to find myself engaged in interesting dialogue with another person, to listen to perspective and learn about experiences, sometimes talking just leaves me…tired.

When that happens, I find myself shrinking like a turtle into its shell and being content with sorting my thoughts into words. Sometimes I feel like I run through over a million thoughts in a day and the process of sorting each one out with relevance becomes therapeutic and so personal.

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I started writing when I was 12. I kept a purple journal, the first one I ever purchased on my own. It was $1.50 from the bookstore by school and I carried it home like a trophy. I filled its pages with events from the day, lyrics from favorite songs and magazine cut outs of 90s boybands and heartthrobs.

When I first had a crush on a boy in middle school, I started to write about him like any other pre-adolescent girl would. I daydreamed in my journal and wrote about premature feelings of heartbreak in its thinly lined pages. Since I knew it held my vulnerability, I started hiding it– under the layers of my clothes, behind my dresses in my closet, under my bed– until I was ready to open and fill it with more parts of myself again. Suddenly this cheaply bound book became my biggest secret.

After that, I kept three more journals before moving my writing online onto blogs that I shared with friends. By that time and age, I’d learned to mask myself up a lot better by writing vaguely because I was sharing a part of myself, yet I still found the same comfort in turning my thoughts into words.

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I’ve been writing for over a decade now. Each year more different than the last but I still get the same feeling of familiarity when I’m able to turn an empty canvass into a space filled with thoughts and emotions that make sense– to me at least. But after all this time, I still don’t know how to explain to people exactly the purpose of why I write. I’ve came up with a bunch of reasons over time, most of which are reasonable but only half truthful. Maybe one day I’ll be able to work up the courage for an honest answer.

Last week, Mark and I got into a small kick of making wontons (see cream cheese wontons in previous post). This was the first batch we made that were classic meat-filled wontons, half baked and half cooked in broth, which we turned into a soup fit for dinner. It’s really easy and the process of making these could almost become a date night activity if you really wanted to turn it into one. Either way, they’re delicious and the possibilities for the wonton fillings are almost endless.

Homemade wonton soup 

Ingredients:
1 can chicken broth
3-5 slices ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tomato, quartered
3 cups water
3 cups Napa cabbage, chopped
1/2 packet rice vermicelli, or rice sticks
Salt and pepper to taste.
Wonton skins

Filling
1 lb ground pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-inch ginger, minced
2 stalks green onion, sliced thinly
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch

Directions: 

In a medium-sized pot, heat some oil. Brown garlic and ginger until aromatic. Pour chicken broth and water and bring to boil then turn the heat to low and let simmer. Bring some water to boil in another pot and cook rice sticks until al dente. Strain and let cool.

In a separate bowl, mix all the ingredients for filling until well combined. Spoon small spoonfuls of filling into center of wonton and seal edges by wetting the sides with a diluted corn starch mixture.

Bring pot of broth up to boil and add tomatoes. Gently ladle each wonton in, letting cook for about 4 minutes or until wontons float to the surface. Remove wontons and divide them into bowls. Add Napa cabbage to the broth and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes, until cabbage is soft.

Divide rice sticks into bowls with wontons and ladle soup into each bowl. Garnish with more green onions if desired.

Cream Cheese Wontons // Kung Pao Chicken

Today I was feeling ambitious.

I’d spoken to my mom for 2 hours on the phone, patiently listened to her and my dad’s advice on life, marriage and money, and still had the motivation to carry on through the day. That’s kind of a personal win.

I stopped by a small Asian grocer that I happened to discover while driving home one day. I remember the friendly Filipino lady telling me that on Wednesdays they receive shipments of fresh vegetables not usually found in regular grocery stores. So I decided, why not?

True enough, there were an assortment of produce I thought I’d only see in markets back home. Bitter gourds, long beans, plump okras and even a type of leafy green known to Malaysians as kangkung (which happens to be one of my favorite vegetables, lucky me!) It took a lot in me not to splurge on produce. I walked away with a small Daikon radish, a fistful of kangkung and a loaf of pineapple cream bun, which I thought Mark would like.

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I’m so glad Mark’s not a picky eater in a way. I know there are things he likes, things he dislikes and then things he swears by, like pizza and an Italian BMT from Subway. But other than that, I think he’s been pretty adventurous so far. I, on the other hand, have a pretty adventurous palate. I think I would try just about anything once.

I’ve been getting tired of the daily fares here. Don’t misunderstand, I still love a guilty fettuccine alfredo or a juicy burger, even a large, fresh salad but I miss having at least three different dishes on the dinner table along with soup and rice. It’s weird how much variety there is, at least in homes in Malaysia, compared to everywhere else. And now that I actually cook every day, I’m amazed at how my mom was able to get dinner ready on time every night, sometimes even earlier.

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In an attempt to recreate dinner just as it was growing up, I took the time to make three different dishes and rice. I wish we had a dinner table so we could properly sit on something and not have to perch over the coffee table for a meal. But I guess the time will come. Our apartment is small and probably temporary, so I can’t complain. That’s one last piece of furniture we have to move out of here.

It was kind of Mark’s idea to make the cream cheese wontons. I’ve honestly never had them until I dined at a Chinese restaurant here but the ones we made were pretty delicious. They were baked, as opposed to the deep fried ones you find, which took some of the guilt off. We also substituted the crab meat for turkey bacon instead.

The Kung Pao chicken was something I had never tried making before. I looked up some recipes online and finally came up with one that would cater to our taste buds. It was actually pretty easy to make and I think a lot healthier than the ones you find in restaurants that are usually filled with MSG and sitting in a pool of questionable brown sauce.

Kung Pao Chicken 

Ingredients: 
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1/2 yellow onion
Knob of ginger
1 clove garlic
3 green onions, chopped
Handful of peanuts
5-6 dried red chili
3 tbsp canola or peanut oil

Marinade
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soy sauce

Sauce 
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/3 cup water
1tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar

Directions: 

Mix chicken and marinade in a baggie or covered bowl for about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, heat 2 tbsp of oil in large pan or wok. Fry chicken until almost done and remove from pan. Add remaining 1 tbsp of oil and fry garlic, ginger and dried chili until fragrant. Stir in onions and cook until translucent. Add chicken back to the pan and stir in sauce until evenly coated.

Let simmer for about 5 minutes or until sauce thickens up. Throw in green onions and peanuts. Serve with warm rice.

Cream cheese wontons 

Ingredients: 
4 oz. cream cheese
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
3 turkey bacon (or regular bacon), chopped and cooked
1 tsp honey
Wonton wrappers
1 tsp corn starch, diluted in water

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 375 degree F.

Combine cream cheese, jalapeno, bacon and honey in a bowl. Spoon small amounts of cream cheese mixture into the center of the wonton wrappers. Dip a finger into the corn starch solution and wet the edges of the wonton wrapper. Fold the wrapper envelope and press gently to seal the wonton.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until skin turns golden brown.

Makes about 12 wontons.