Category Archives: Mains

Thai-Style Stir-Fried Beef and Vegetables

Thai Basil

Sometimes that one-pound package of ground beef is begging for an inspired use.  It just sits there, daring me to come up with something slightly out of the norm to give it a sense of higher value.


I worked this up for a quick, weeknight meal with ingredients pretty much on hand.  It works with a variety of vegetables, although including Asian eggplant and Thai basil will increase its authenticity factor – should that matter to you.  Me?  I just want it to taste good.


The farmers at my local farmers market are still bringing in zucchini, eggplants, chiles and basil.  But the harvests are dwindling to a trickle now that we’re into autumn harvests.  Now is the time to give this a try, while these ingredients remain readily available.  I hope you can see the flexibility of this recipe and the wide variety of ingredients you can use.

So Many Eggplant Varieties!


A few advance tips:

Do not fret if you do not have Thai basil.  The dish will be delicious using whatever fresh basil you have.  Try adding fresh mint leaves to the basil for an interesting switch up.


The seeds and membrane of the jalapenos are where the most “heat” lives.  Remove these before mincing if taming the heat is important to you.  Also, wear gloves when handling spicy chiles, and avoid touching anywhere near your eyes if there has been any chile contact with your hands.


Fish sauce is a key ingredient for Southeast Asian cooking.  If you enjoy Thai, Vietnamese and similar cuisines, I highly recommend stocking fish sauce along with soy sauce.  Red Boat, the brand I use, has a 250-ml bottle that’s a good introduction to their product.  A little goes a long way.


Thai-Style Stir-Fried Beef and Vegetables


  • 1 pound ground beef (substitute any ground meat or crumbled, firm tofu, as you prefer)
  • 1 pound zucchini and/or eggplant, diced into 1/ 3” cubes (about 2-3 medium zucchini and/or Asian eggplant); about 3+ cups
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, Thai basil if you have them; plus extra leaves for finishing
  • 1/ 2 cup onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced; about 3 – 4 large cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, serrano or Thai chile, minced; or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste (I use Red Boat brand)
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons soy sauce, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • Fresh lime wedges
  • 2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil for stir-frying
  • Whole lettuce leaves for serving, such as Bibb or similar pliable leaf variety


  1. Heat a large, heavy skillet (or wok) over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and let heat until it begins to “shimmer”.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and chile (the “aromatics”); and stir-fry for just about one minute. Add the ground beef in several pieces and begin breaking it up in the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon.  The goal is to have crumbles of cooked beef that’s well-incorporated with the aromatics.  Remove the cooked beef and aromatics to a plate and set aside.
  3. Add the second 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and let it heat up over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and/or eggplant, stir-frying occasionally until lightly browned and nearly cooked through, about 5 – 8 minutes.
  4. Add the cooked beef mixture back into the pan; then add the fish sauce, soy sauce, and black pepper. Stir-fry to mix well, then lastly add the fresh basil leaves and give it a final stir to incorporate them.
  5. Remove from heat and serve in lettuce leaves or with steamed rice. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and include lime wedges for a fresh spritz of acidity to liven things up.

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Spicy Chicken Kebabs

Spices in yogurt for the marinade. Adjust to suit your palate,

Spices in yogurt for the marinade. Adjust to suit your palate,

     It’s time to get the grill going!  We’ve got birthdays and Father’s Day cookouts planned at our house – and I’m hoping for a few fog-less evenings so we can enjoy a dinner al fresco.  (Warm nights are not guaranteed here in the Bay Area.  In fact, it’s a treat for it to be warm enough to enjoy a back yard dinner!)

     Kebabs are ideal for summer grilling – they cook up quickly, leaving more time to relax and enjoy your meal with family and friends.  Plus they fancy up the plate making meal time more fun and festive.

     This marinade includes several ingredients, mostly spices.  As always, I encourage you to adjust the seasonings to suit your taste buds.  If in a hurry, use about one tablespoon of a prepared spice blend or curry powder for an even quicker fix.  And by all means, switch up the spices for different flavor profiles – the possibilities are limitless.Indian Spices in Yogurt Mixed

     I’ve included yogurt as the primary vehicle to tenderize the chicken.  You could also use buttermilk.  And if you’re dis-inclined toward dairy, substitute with 1/ 2 cup of white wine.  Honestly, it’s all good!

     These kebabs will grill up nicely on an indoor grill pan too, or even under the broiler.  The bit of dried chipotle chile brings a subtle hint of smoke along with it’s tingly heat.


A few advance tips:

  • I prefer chicken thigh pieces over breast pieces for their deeper flavor and juicy texture.  They are also more forgiving when cooking them…i.e. less apt to dry out.  Use breast meat if you insist; the kebabs will be tasty, and to your preference.
  • Cut the chicken into similarly sized pieces for even cooking. A medium-sized chicken thigh should yield about six pieces.
  • Longer marinating time means more flavor.
  • Resist adding too many vegetables to a meat-focused kebob. For a kebob-fest meal, you’re better off preparing separate skewers of seasoned vegetables and grilling them accordingly, to preferred doneness.

Bonus tip:  Dessert kabobs are a thing too!  Think of grilling skewered chunks of firm ripe peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cantaloupes, etc.  It’s a tiny step in a new direction…glaze with a favorite fruit preserve or marmalade that’s thinned with a bit of lemon juice, water; and a splash of a fruity brandy or eau de vie.  Oh yeah, we are indeed cooking with gas!

Rows of Spicy Chicken Kebabs_Close

Spicy Chicken Kebabs

Makes  four, 10-inch long kebabs


  • 1-1/ 2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut into about 1-1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 bunch green onions, cleaned and cut into 1-1/2-inch lengths


  • 1/ 2 cup whole milk, plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
  • 1/ 2 teaspoons each of ground ginger, coriander, salt and freshly ground black pepper; or to taste
  • 1/ 2 – 1 teaspoon ground guajillo chile pepper, to taste
  • 1/ 4 – 1/ 2 teaspoons dried chipotle chile powder, to taste (You can substitute with chipotle in adobo if you have it.)
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, to taste


  1. Mix the spices into the yogurt, lemon juice, and olive oil in a medium bowl until well blended. Add the chicken pieces and fold through the spicy yogurt mixture until the chicken pieces are coated on all sides.  Cover and set aside in the refrigerator at least one hour, up to overnight.
  1. Whilst the grill is heating up, skewer the chicken and green onion pieces onto a metal or bamboo skewers. If using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water for at least an hour before use.  This helps prevent the exposed ends from burning during the grilling.
  1. Grill over medium heat for about 6 – 7 minutes, then flip over to cook the over side until chicken is cooked through, another 6 – 7 minutes. Cooking times will vary based upon the thickness of the chicken and how tightly the pieces are packed onto the skewer.
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Miso Marinated Chicken

DJQ Cropped 20160804   A recent trip to Hawaii is the inspiration for this chicken recipe.  Within a short week’s time, I enjoyed several variations of the wildly popular misoyaki butterfish, made famous by chef Nobu Matsuhisa.  Small wonder this dish is so popular.  It.  Is. THAT.  Good!

   Misoyaki butterfish is typically prepared with Black Cod, also called butterfish owing to its creamy texture.  One might certainly substitute another fish for the Black Cod, but using chicken may bring wider appeal for its familiarity (read:  acceptance to new flavors for a familiar food) and accessibility (read:  much easier on your shopping budget).

   The instructions for misoyaki call for marinating the fish for several days, two to four.  I suppose one could marinate chicken for as long, but I’m more comfortable with an overnight or up to 48 hour marinade, unless your chicken is so fresh it has the echo of a cluck when putting it in its salty-sweet immersion.  And your refrigerator is very, very cold.

   If the Japanese wines, mirin (typically used for cooking) and sake (typically used for beverage), are new to you; do not fear.  They are both readily available in most well-stocked Bay Area markets.  Extra bonus points if you select sake and mirin made right here in Berkeley, CA at Takara Sake.  I enjoy several of their offerings, and used Sho Chiku Bai Nama Sake Organic for my recipe.

   If you haven’t been to the Takara Sake tasting room, I highly recommend checking it out.  Once inside you will feel transported to Japan, and into a serene environment with very knowledgeable staff to take you through varying flights of sake, from clean and dry to highly sweet.  Their museum and educational displays on sake history and production are very well done.

   I also highly recommend trying your hand at preparing this dish with Black Cod sometime.  The marinade is the same (although my version includes far less sugar, and cooking method and time differ).  The link for my original source is below.  You can watch Chef Nobu prepare it here.  And if you’re more into the details, here’s an interesting article on preparing the recipe from the folks at The Food Lab/Serious Eats.

Miso Chicken & Vegs

Miso Marinated Chicken

Adapted from Nobu:  The Cookbook/via


  • 6-8 chicken thighs, boneless skinless (substitute chicken breast if you must)
  • 1/ 4 cup mirin (substitute dry sherry, sweet marsala, dry white wine)
  • 1/ 4 cup sake
  • 1/ 2 cup white miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar


  1. Bring the mirin and sake to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Let the wines boil for about 20 seconds to burn off the alcohol.  Reduce the heat to low and stir in the miso until it dissolves.  Increase the heat to medium-high and add the sugar, stirring until it dissolves.  Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature.  This yields about 1/ 2 cup of marinade.
  2. Place the chicken in a large bowl (suggest glass or stainless steel). Add the cooled marinade and mix well to ensure the chicken pieces are evenly coated with marinade.  Cover and store in the coldest part of your refrigerator overnight, up to two days.
  3. When ready to cook, preheat BBQ or grill pan. Grill over medium, indirect, heat (not over open flame) for 5 minutes, then flip the pieces over and grill for 5 minutes on the other side.  Turn the chicken pieces over onto the first side cooked and grill an additional 5 minutes.  Turn the chicken one last time if needed to complete cooking.  Total cooking time, about 15 – 20 minutes, will depend on the thickness of the chicken pieces and the heat of your grill.
  4. Check the chicken every few minutes. The marinade has high sugar content and will burn quickly.

Note:  For fancy grill marks, the first side you place onto the grill is the “top” of the piece.  When you flip the chicken back onto this first side, turn it to a 90-degree angle from the initial grilling position.

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Crunchy Sesame Chicken

Crispy Crunchy Chicken from the Oven!

Crispy Crunchy Chicken from the Oven!

     Picnic season is upon us!  If it’s a fried chicken, potato salad type affair, this recipe is my go-to.  Frankly whenever I’m craving fried chicken and yearn for crispy, crackly, crunchy chicken, this is the one.  The sesame seeds add to the flavor profile and the optics of the dish.

     Here’s homemade fried chicken satisfaction, without the fuss and mess. This one is a winner – my family actually requests it year-round.  Frequently.

     The original recipe is for chicken wings only, which is how I first came to know it when my sister prepared it.  Over time, I’ve recreated it using all versions of chicken parts to suit the preferences of those at my table.

     If the green bean salad in the the featured photo looks as delicious to you, the recipe is HERE; slightly simplified by adding a few julienned red peppers.

A few advance tips:

  1. A short marinade before proceeding with the recipe below will dial up the flavor even more. It can be as simple as 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice, a splash of Worcestershire, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.   A 20-30 minutes soak will make a difference, and up to overnight is fine.
  2. If you are preparing different chicken parts at once, be sure to cook each part to its optimum point of doneness; meaning just cooked through but not dry.  This could mean adding chicken breast pieces to the oven a bit later, or removing them earlier than the pieces that take longer to cook.
  3. This recipe is easy enough for beginning cooks, including little hands who might enjoy the dipping steps. Be sure to wash anything that touches the raw chicken with hot, soapy water.  This includes hands, counter tops, everything.  EVERYTHING.
  4. The flavorings to the coating may easily be substituted with a prepared spice mix. I encourage you to explore different flavor profiles from myriad cuisines, using this technique as a jumping off point.
  5. Baking the chicken skin-side down first means that after flipping the pieces over, the presentation side is on top when you finish baking. This is the side that is more attractive for serving; so however you like to serve, bake with that side facing down first.

Oven Baked

Crunchy Sesame Chicken

Adapted from Martha Stewart


  • 8 whole chicken thighs, bone-in or skinless/boneless to suit your preference
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus about 2 additional tablespoons for brushing whilst the chicken bakes
  • 1/ 2 cup white sesame seeds
  • 1/ 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/ 2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 5-6 cloves fresh garlic, minced, about 2 tablespoons (Yes it’s a lot but trust me. And adjust as you prefer…)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon piment d’Esplette, to taste and tolerance (substitute any ground chile you like such as cayenne, chipotle, etc.)
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon dried herbs, such as oregano, thyme or marjoram

  1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 375°F on the “Bake” setting, or better yet, to 350°F on the “Convection-Roast” setting if available.
  2. Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl. Add the beaten egg and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and mix to coat each piece of chicken evenly.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the sesame seeds, flour, bread crumbs, minced garlic, salt, ground chiles and herbs (if using).
  4. Dip each piece of moistened chicken into the dry ingredients, one at a time, and turn to coat thoroughly with the dry mixture. Place skin side down on the lined baking sheet, evenly spaced for optimal cooking.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, and then flip each piece over. Use a pastry brush and lightly coat any dry areas with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Return to the oven and continue baking an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through (165°F at the thickest part).
  6. Remove immediately from the baking sheet onto a serving plate. The finished chicken should be golden brown, sizzle-y and irresistible.
Proof of EASY Clean-Up

Proof of EASY Clean-Up

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