The Gleeful Gourmand: 30-Minute Mongolian Beef

Friday, February 7, 2014

30-Minute Mongolian Beef

This is the second post in my delicious series on cooking Asian food without sesame seeds or sesame oil. Thanks for reading!

The best laid plans.

I had them for this post. This recipe for 30-Minute Mongolian Beef was actually the recipe that first inspired me to jump into Asian cooking, and it comes from the delicious and gorgeous food blog, Just A Taste.

If you've ever explored my blog beyond the few last months, you'll notice that my food photography is not the best. I was really resistant to making photos a priority because I'm a writer, first and foremost. I wanted my food blog to be about words, not about what I considered to be slick photography.

Short-sighted of me, no? Then a couple of years ago my trusty point-and-click camera died a sudden and rather unceremonious death. I knew what I wanted for its replacement, though. It had to be a DSLR. Somewhere in my protestations about not wanting the photos to be the focus, I realized that I was missing the point: Blogs are meant to be a visceral experience. Words count, but in food blogging, photos count too. Sometimes even more than words. If I was going to be serious about this blog, I had to admit that I had to get competitive, and I had to learn.

Cue the big sighs. First I had to figure out the basics of how to use a DSLR. Then I had to figure out how to really capture the pictures I wanted: by shooting in manual mode - a whole new ballgame. Apertures. Shutter Speed. Reflectors. Artistry. White Balance. It's enough to make your head spin. But I was determined to try.

I'm still learning, working on it every week. I know I have a long way to go. So bear with me, will you? I want you to love the words I write, but I also want you to love the photos, too.

I want you to want me. (Don't you just love that song?)

So anyway, there I was 5:00 Wednesday evening, knowing I needed to get out of the chair I was sitting in, chin on chest, eyes closed, book open in my lap, sweater pulled tightly around my neck and shoulders fighting off a chill. Wild Kratts playing in the background to occupy the kids. I wasn't feeling great - still trying to recover from a cold. I had to get up because this was the night I had scheduled to make this meal. I had plans for photographing it, too.

Buck came home from work and I finally dragged myself off the chair, shuffling into the kitchen. He graciously offered to slice the flank steak for me.

Yes, that's a lox and cream cheese bagel cutting board. Jealous?

I started working on the sauce, which is really what makes this recipe special: spicy ginger, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce. It's rich and delicious, and makes you feel like you just sat down at your favorite Chinese joint. Coating the flank steak in cornstarch helps to velvet it, breaking it down a little just before you flash fry it in a wok. I also added a heaping handful of sliced baby bella mushrooms for a veggie aspect.

Flank steak, hanging out in cornstarch.

Everything went wrong. The ginger. I had bought a nice big piece from the store and was excited because that meant I could freeze the rest. The ginger root had somehow gone bad in just three days, and I resorted to powdered ginger. The sauce. I tried to scale back the sugar content again, and misjudged terribly. To say that it ended up salty is an understatement. The beef. I forgot to dust off the excess cornstarch. Guess what happens when a ton of cornstarch goes into a piping hot wok? Lumps, that's what. The brown rice. I don't even understand what happened here, except it seemed to take about 5 hours to cook down.

Mushrooms and steak simmering in sauce.

Our kids were now sitting at the table and most of them were crying. I cooked. I took photos. I cursed the rice. I may have even cried a little too - when I wasn't sneezing. Needless to say, the food made it to the table, and was gobbled up by all, despite my oversight with the saltiness.

This is the shot you get when food is being whisked to a table full of crying children.

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

Plans do go astray, and quite frequently, especially when you've got a family to feed. But sometimes it's not about getting the perfect shot, or even getting the dinner itself perfect. Sometimes it's just about taking a quick photo, and then sitting down at the table and eating. I'm okay with that.

Believe me when I say this recipe is amazing. It doesn't need to be fooled with, because it's pretty perfect as is. It's delicious and comforting and fun, and you can find it here: 30-Minute Mongolian Beef.



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