Beef, Broccoli, and Bananas

Yesterday was Family Day, a statutory holiday here in Saskatchewan, and in honour of Family Day, I wanted to make dinner for my family. For supper, I ended up making a beef & broccoli ramen stir-fry (I also did some baking, but more on that later).

I have been looking for a good beef & broccoli stir-fry recipe for awhile now. Beef & broccoli is a dish that I knew I wanted to learn how to make at some point during my Learning Project because it is one of my favourite Asian take-out dishes and I thought it would be neat to learn how to make a homemade version. It just so happened that I came across a recipe for a beef & broccoli ramen stir-fry on Twitter a few days prior to Family Day. The recipe was posted by Chungah Rhee, author of the food blog Damn Delicious. I decided on this recipe in particular for two reasons:

  1. I have used Chungah’s blog as a resource before when I was learning how to make pasta (and I connected with her on Twitter afterwards). I find that her recipes are always clear, simple, and easy to follow, which I appreciate as an amateur chef.
  2. Most of the beef & broccoli recipes that I looked at used rice. This recipe, however, called for ramen noodles. I have never worked with ramen noodles in a dish before (other than the instant Mr. Noodle bowls), so I thought it would present a challenge having to work with a new, unfamiliar ingredient.

Shopping for the ingredients for this recipe was very frustrating — I had a hard time finding some of the ingredients. For example, the recipe calls for refrigerated Yakisoba noodles, which are basically just a brand of ramen noodles. I checked three separate grocery stores and had no luck. I even tried a local Asian grocery store (which was a little out of my comfort zone, and it made me uncomfortable that I was uncomfortable, so I had to evaluate my privilege) where they finally told me that refrigerated Yakisoba noodles do not exist in Regina. Great. So, I ended up buying no-name instant ramen noodles instead, having no idea how they would work in the recipe.

Shopping for the ingredients was also frustrating because it ended up being very expensive. Up until now, I’ve lucked out with my recipes because my mom has had a lot of the basic ingredients that I’ve needed at home. However,  this recipe calls for a lot of oils and sauces which I didn’t already have at home like rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and Sriracha. We also ran out of honey, so I had to buy a jar, which I discovered is like a bazillion dollars (okay, $8, but still). Here is the breakdown of how much I spent on this meal:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Ramen noodles – $1.20 (I bought a box of 24 packages for $4.80 and used 6 packages)
  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)
  • Beef – $16.38 for 2 lbs
  • Broccoli florets – $3.99 (I bought a bag for $7.98 and used roughly 1/2)
  • Sesame seeds – $0 (had at home)
  • Rice wine vinegar – $4.18
  • Sriracha – $2.98
  • Sesame oil – $3.28
  • Soy sauce – $1.88
  • Honey – $7.97
  • Beef broth – $0 (had at home)
  • Brown sugar – $0 (had at home)
  • Minced garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Cornstarch – $0 (had at home)
  • Ginger – $0 (had at home)

Total = $41.86

Aside from the cost and my shopping frustrations, I have to say, this meal turned out great!

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The finished product — complete with sesame seeds.

My mom and brother collectively rated it a 9.75/10. Their only critique was that there was not enough broccoli, and I agree. I ended up doubling the amount of beef and noodles because I wanted to ensure that I had a lot of leftovers for the week, but I had trouble estimating the amount of broccoli that I needed. I used roughly 1/3 of the bag, which seemed like a lot when I was washing it, but compared to the beef and noodles, the broccoli ratio was definitely off. This was a quick fix though. To make sure there was enough broccoli with the leftovers, I simply stir-fried more broccoli in a separate pan and then added it to the beef and noodle mixture after it was done. I also made a slight modification to the recipe. I’m still not good at predicting how a certain ingredient is going to affect the overall taste of a dish, but my mom informed me that one tablespoon of ginger seemed like a lot, so I halved it, which I think was a good call because you could still taste the ginger but it wasn’t overpowering.

Overall, this is a recipe that I would definitely cook for my family again because of how easy it was. Plus, now that I have most of the basic ingredients, it won’t cost me nearly as much to make next time.

16807217_10154326871237393_2912163514471367280_nI also attempted some baking on Family Day. We had some overripe bananas in the house, and since I’m all about saving money in this project, my mom suggested that I try to find a recipe where I could use the bananas so they wouldn’t go to waste.  In the end, I actually found and tried three different recipes using the bananas. And, the best part: since I had all of the ingredients at home already, it cost me absolutely nothing to make these three recipes! This kind of made up for the fact that I was almost $20 over-budget with the beef & broccoli recipe.

First, I made two different types of banana bread — a regular banana bread and a double-chocolate banana bread. I found the recipe for the regular banana bread on a food blog called Eating on a Dime, which is another blog that I have already used in my Learning Project. The other recipe I found on Pinterest, which was originally posted to a blog called Just So Tasty. Both recipes said to bake at 350, so I tried to be efficient by baking both banana breads at the same time.

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Prior to going in the oven.

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This made the timing a little tricky — one recipe said to bake for an hour and the other recipe said to bake for 45-55 minutes. As a compromise, I baked the breads for 50 minutes and did a toothpick test to check for done-ness. For my first attempt at baking, I’m very proud of how the banana breads turned out; they looked delicious and tasted even better! In fact, my brother asked if I could start baking all the time (no offence, mom).

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The finished products. 

While the banana breads were in the oven, I started prepping for my third recipe: baked banana oatmeal cups. I found the recipe on a baking blog called The Merchant Baker. This recipe appealed to me because it’s a quick, convenient breakfast idea, and I often don’t have enough time in the mornings to eat before I leave the house which is a) not healthy, and b) dumb because then I’m starving at school. In addition, aside from the sprinkling of chocolate chips on top, the recipe is quite healthy which also appealed to me.

This recipe has very few ingredients and very few steps, so the prep work was extremely easy. I was a little worried about how the recipe would turn out as the batter was quite liquid-y after I combined the milk mixture and the oat mixture. However, the recipe assured me that this was normal, and sure enough, the oatmeal cups turned out just fine.

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The finished product. 

If I was going to make these again, I would add a touch more vanilla or cinnamon — something to give the oatmeal cups a bit more flavour. They were good, but a little bland I thought. Also, something that I noticed was that, depending on the size of the muffin tin, the cooking time varied. I used two different sizes of muffin tins, and the batter in the larger, deeper tin took a few extra minutes to cook fully.

In total, it took me about three and a half hours to make all four recipes.  One thing that I think I need to improve on as a cook is balancing my time in the kitchen — I’m not good at multitasking. According to New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, there are four stages of teaching yourself to cook, and I am very much so in stage one: following recipes slavishly. For example, while making the beef & broccoli stir-fry, I followed each individual step one at a time — I started by making the sauce, then boiling the noodles, then cooking the beef, and finally combining all the ingredients and cooking everything together. Looking back, I realize that I could have saved time by doing multiple steps at once. I’m also really cautious in the kitchen because I don’t want to screw anything up — at one point while I was making the banana breads my mom laughed at how slow I was going because I was following the recipes so exactly. I wonder if I will get better at this with more time and experience in the kitchen?

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