Some people, on their birthdays, love to dress up and go out for an elegant dinner in a beautiful restaurant.
Me? I love Chinese take-out and a romantic comedy on DVD.
Living in the country means that everything takes lots of planning. The nearest decent (but not great) Chinese take-out is 12 miles away, so it's easier to make my favorite dishes at home.
The nearest Asian market (also decent, but not great) is 20 miles away, so I keep my pantry stocked with basics: soy sauces, hot sauces, chili paste with garlic, noodles, dry rice paper wrappers, frozen wonton wrappers, rice vinegar, sesame oil.
That way, when my birthday rolls around (as it did, yesterday), I'm prepared to make lo mein, nime chow, and beef teriyaki, all of which, despite their origin, are Chinese restaurant favorites here in Rhode Island.
There are two types of sesame oil, light (made by pressing raw seeds) and dark (made from hulled sesame seeds that have been toasted prior to pressing). For Asian cooking, you want to buy the dark oil, which you'll find in Asian markets; don't buy the lighter oil that health food stores sell.
Sesame oil isn't often used as the main cooking oil, though it does have a high smoke point. This oil can take the heat, but the nutty flavor makes it better suited to use as a seasoning towards the middle or end of cooking, or in marinades.
Stored at room temperature in your pantry, sesame oil will last for up to a year after it's opened, but, like all nut-based products, it can turn rancid if kept for too long. This is one condiment that I prefer to buy in small bottles; it's a bit more expensive, but I never have to throw out oil that's gone bad.
Beef teriyaki skewers
My favorite birthday menu always includes Chinese restaurant dishes, like these skewers. This time I tried a shortcut, by using some thin-sliced beef from the market, but the skewers were a bit tough. Next time I'm sticking with my original method; buy a piece of lean flank steak, freeze it for 15-20 minutes, and slice thin, across the grain. Serves 6.
1 lb lean steak (flank steak is my favorite), thinly sliced across the grain
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup agave nectar
1-1/2 cups dark soy sauce
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp shao hsing wine
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp grated fresh ginger root
1 tsp ground (dried) ginger
Soak skewers in water for 30 minutes or more (you can do this right before you're ready to cook).
Place meat in a zip-loc bag.
Add remaining ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until garlic is chopped and ingredients are well combined. Pour into the bag, press out the air, and seal. Massage the bag to coat the meat. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours.
Thread strips onto the skewers, and discard the marinade. Cook skewers on the grill, on a stove top griddle, or under the broiler for 3-4 minutes.
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