Bo Luc Lac (Vietnamese Shaking Beef)
As the arrival of our daughter gets closer, J and I have started perfecting some of our favorite restaurant dishes at home. We finally got this dish perfect and couldn’t be happier. The original recipe can be found here.

Beef Marinade Ingredients (makes the gravy):
1.5 pounds beef sirloin (or any cut you like) cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1.5 tablespoons sugar (we have found brown works pretty well)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce (we used regular, but the original recipe calls for thick)

Vinaigrette Ingredients (for quick pickling of the veggies and a tablespoon or two in some white rice makes a HUGE difference!):
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoons salt

Dipping Sauce Ingredients (this is our favorite part, it really brings the whole dish together!):
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

Non-sauce Ingredients:
1 red onion, thinly sliced (you can use yellow in a pinch)
2 bunches of iceberg or watercress or romaine, long stems trimmed
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
Cooking oil for frying

Directions:
Prepare marinade by combining garlic, oyster sauce, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil with the beef for at least half an hour, preferably 1-2 hours let marinate in the refrigerate. (Note: If you’re thinking ahead (like we occasionally do), feel free to combine the beef and the marinade and freeze the mixture. Then you can just take it out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator when you leave for work.)

Prepare vinaigrette by mixing rice vinegar with salt and sugar. It should be a balance of sour, salty and sweet. It should look something like this:
Vinaigrette for quick pickling

Thinly slice the red onion and use about 3-4tablespoons tablespoons the vinaigrette to pickle and set aside covered in fridge for about 10 minutes (longer is better here too!). Prepare bed of lettuce and tomatoes in a serving platter and set aside.

Heat a large wok or pan over high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons cooking oil and when it begins to smoke, add an even layer of beef and allow to sear for about 2 minutes, before “shaking” to sear the opposite sides for about another 1-2 minute more to brown all the sides. Do this in batches to cook all the beef if necessary. This will sear the beef so it looks like this:
Vietnamese Shaking Beef

Transfer beef to bed of watercress and tomatoes. Drizzle another 3-4 tablespoons of vinaigrette over the beef and greens and top with pickled red onions. Lastly, squeeze lime juice over salt and pepper in a small bowl and use for dipping the beef, or feel free to just drizzle it on. The dipping sauce should look like this:
Bo Luc Lac dipping sauce

My opinion:
This has to be in my top 10 favorite dishes of all time. I love the veggies and the balance of all five flavors. I also love that the rice isn’t even really necessary for this to be a filling meal. Plus even if you do all the prep work right before dinner, the whole start to finish time is only about 30 minutes.

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Thai Beef Salad
Summer finally arrived about a week ago and it’s been too hot to cook. Too hot for heavy meals and just generally too hot. My favorite thing about this dish adapted from this Shape.com recipe is it’s served chilled and for a light dinner, it is really filling.

Ingredients:
Well-marbled New York steak or a skirt steak, grilled (we broiled and pan-seared a couple of times when it was too hot to grill) to your liking, but preferably no more than medium rare
1 small red onion, sliced into skinny wedges
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped, no stems
Large handful cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (or 1/2 vine-ripened tomatoes cut into wedges)
1 green pepper, sliced thin
2 limes (or about 1/4 to 1/3 cup lime juice)
1 tablespoon brown sugar (you may need more. Note: the original recipe called for palm sugar, but we’ve had a hard time finding it)
1.5 tablespoon fish sauce
Thai chili powder to taste (we found a blend at Penzy’s Spices that we love for this dish – Bangkok blend)

Directions:
Grill, pan-sear or broil the meal as directed above and slice into thin strips after allowing to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes. Put the brown sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl, add some of the lime juice and mush into a thick liquid form. Add the rest of the lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar.
When the steak has cooled, Add it to the sauce mixture. Toss with your hands to incorporate all over the steak. Add the rest of the veggies, toss and taste. Tasting as you go is the most important part. Add more fish sauce if it needs more salt, or more sugar if it is to lime-y.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or so to let the flavors meld. Then serve on a bed of lettuce and garnish cilantro.

My opinion:
You can add the cilantro into the sauce mixture, just give it a rough chop. If you want to quick sautee your veggies in peanut oil (or your favorite cooking oil), feel free it adds another layer of flavor. This is the perfect dish for a hot summer evening.

Penne with Garden Fresh Tomatoes and Basil and Mozzarella
Our garden seems to choose every year what it will do well and what it won’t. One year, it was zucchini. Another year, basil. This year seems to be tomatoes. So with the overabundance of tomatoes and a few small basil leaves, we wanted to make something that would be quick and easy and not super hot, since of course it’s late August in Missouri.

Luckily, J found this super simple recipe on the Food Network. We’ve talked about how we love lots of Emeril Lagasse’s dishes before (here, here and here) and he did not disappoint this time either.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
5 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 pound penne pasta (we used whole wheat)
1/2 cup shredded basil
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound fresh salted mozzarella, sliced or cubed (I don’t know if we used the whole 3/4 of a pound. We did just get a fresh mozzarella log from our favorite grocer)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (J added this to his, I left it out)
Balsamic vinegar to taste

Directions:
Put a large pot of salted water on for the pasta. Meanwhile, prepare your sauce. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute or less. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, just until they begin to release some of their juice.

Cook the pasta in the pot of salted boiling water for 12 to 13 minutes until al dente (you’re best bet is to follow the package directions). Drain the pasta. Add the pasta and basil to the pan with the tomatoes and toss. Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve the pasta in bowls, equally distribute the fresh mozzarella between the bowls. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the bowls of pasta and serve immediately.

We reserved some mozzarella to top the pasta and then drizzled it with Balsamic vinegar.

My opinion:
So very tasty and perfect for a hot summer evening. Next time we might add additional veggies like onions or zucchini.

Oysters are amazingly delicious, but not easy to get in to. It can be intimidating to open an oyster, particularly after seeing the professionals use special chain-mail oyster-shucking glove and knife. After our jaunt to New Orleans in March, we decided not to be intimidated by oyster opening anymore. Plus, we really wanted to recreate the chargrilled oyster recipe from Acme Oyster house.

What you’ll need: An oven mitt, a flat-head screwdriver and a pairing knife serve as a low-cost alternative to the traditional tools.

First set the Oyster  flat side up.  Second, near the hinge, insert the flathead screwdriver between the shells. Then twist to pop the oyster open.IMG_0360

It might take a few tries. IMG_0359

Use the screwdriver to twist and pry the oyster all the way around if it doesn’t just pop open. IMG_0358 IMG_0361 IMG_0362

Eventually, you’ll see the oyster flesh. IMG_0363

Scrape the oyster from the top shell. Then lift the top completely off. Take the pairing knife and release the oyster from the bottom shell. Now, you’re ready to move on to the recipe.

For the Chargrilled oysters we adapted this recipe from Food.com to mimic the dish we had at Acme Oyster house.

Ingredients:
12 fresh shucked oysters, on the half shell (we found these whole at Lucky’s in our town)
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
10 garlic cloves, pureed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1 ounce white wine
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

Directions:
Place in a baking dish (we used a pie pan) filled with ice cream salt (to keep the oysters steady) with the meat up. Melt half the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add your lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, green onions and all herbs and seasonings. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, and then stir in the wine. Keep stirring and remove from heat as soon as the green onions wilt. Let cool for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rest of the butter and stir until completely incorporated.  Heat grill to 350 degrees and place oysters without the sauce on grill.
IMG_0364

When the oyster liquor starts to bubble, spoon 1 tablespoon of sauce on top of each, then top with 1 tablespoon of Romano cheese. Let the cheese melt. When oysters begin to slightly brown at the edges, remove from grill and place on a heat proof plate or tray.  Top each oyster with an additional tablespoon of the butter sauce and serve immediately with slices of French bread for dipping. Garnish with minced Parsley. Serve while still sizzling with Lemon wedges and fresh bread.

Note: It stormed the day we made this and there was no way we were going to grill, so we just made use of the broiler on high in our oven. It worked perfectly. Just make sure to keep an eye on the dish while it is under the broiler, you can go from perfect to burnt pretty quickly.

5368f89650fcc.image

My opinion:
The only thing missing was the family-style tables and neon signs.

If you work in an office for long enough, you’ll realize that there are certain kinds of people who share your space, building and office kitchen. Sometimes your office mates brighten your day and sometimes they’ll drive you crazy.

There is one office event that can make even the most diminutive colleague competitive: free food. In a newsroom, nothing makes journalists run faster than an email that states, “[insert food item here] is left over from a meeting in the kitchen. Help yourself!” You can almost hear the stampede to the kitchen, but don’t wait too long or the Food Hoarders might clean out the left overs before you’ve had a chance to even get to the kitchen. Like vultures descending on prey, Food Hoarders don’t wait for the person who sent the email to actually finish putting the tray down before scooping up every morsel they can.

Food Hoarders are the colleagues who don’t just take a piece of cake, they take several pieces of cake for later. They don’t just take one bag of chips left over from boxed lunches, they take three bags to keep in their desk.  This wouldn’t be an issue if the person wanting to take three bags of chips waited until everyone had a chance to have one bag, but these food hoarders simply see the free food as a first come, first serve opportunity. This inevitably means someone feels left out. Someone who was in the middle of doing their job and couldn’t run to the kitchen didn’t get a snack or the few minutes of water cooler chit-chat.

Over time, you might start to notice a pattern: the same people who race to the kitchen are the ones eating the bags of chips days, even weeks later. Unchecked this can lead to resentment. Or worse, the Food Hoarders could get left off the original email so as to give other people a chance for free food.

So don’t be a Food Hoarder. Be respectful of your friends and colleagues and see the free food email as a way to have a snack, not a meal and definitely not as a way to cram your desk full of food.

About Aurora

My father named me after Sleeping Beauty. The princess theme stuck. Unfortunately, the only castle I can claim is the one in Disney Land. These are the musings of a princess without minions, knights or fairy tales. I have to do my own bidding.

The views in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer or clients.

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