how orange beef and broccoli saved my teenage soul

freestyle friday
notes from maggie's farm

I had just turned 13, and so wanted to be worldly beyond my years.

The faculty sponsor of our Y-Teens chapter was taking the officers to dinner after our monthly meeting. Now she was worldly. She wore Erno Lazlo makeup.  I knew this because I had seen it in on the vanity in her bathroom, where the meeting took place.  It had to be glamorous because I had seen it in Glamour magazine.  Very worldly. I was all swagger and false bravado and pretended I knew so, so much about Chinese food, when asked. "Yes!  I love Chinese Food".  All the other girls did.  

My parents were both frugal (bordering on stingy, my 13 year-old-self thought) and rather boring (I also thought) when it came to food.  On the completely unexpected occasion that we did go out as a family, it was either (the now defunct) Minute Man hamburgers,  Casa Bonita (as far from real Mexican food as you could get, but it was cafeteria style, which appealed to my parents), and the rare Sunday after church at Franke's Cafeteria.  

No Chinese food.  

I'd been a little sick to my stomach on the ride over.  I had no idea how I was going to pull this off.  As we read down the menu, my fellow officers were quite sure of (I thought perhaps a bit cocky) the dishes they wanted.  "Moo Goo Gai Pan", "Sweet and Sour Chicken", "Shrimp Fried Rice", and as each order was given, I, knew that I was closer to being next on the spot. When my moment of truth arrived, I chucked all to the wind, took a deep breath, and with all the confidence I could muster, and a little too loudly, asserted "Orange Beef and Broccoli".  

There were ooohs and aaahs.  "Really?  You're getting broccoli?"  "I've never had that", and, from our sponsor,  "I'm not surprised you chose the most exotic".  I beamed.  No one noticed that it was the bottom entry on the menu--I had no idea what it was, but it was the item my eyes, swimming in a sea of I-don't-know-what-any-of-this-is, landed upon when the waiter asked "And you?".     

How am I going to eat, or perhaps get out of eating, orange beef and broccoli, I thought.  I had never seen orange beef.  Were they sure it hadn't spoiled?  I hated broccoli.  It was yellow and limp and watery and horrible.  What was orange beef going to do to make it palatable?  

What arrived in front of me that auspicious day was not orange beef. It was not yellow broccoli.  This was broccoli?!? No, this was not like any broccoli I had ever been fed.  Not even at Franke's. It was green and crisp!  Just a hint of orange and flavors I'd never before experienced-- they smelled as good as they tasted. It was a little spicy and sweet and fresh and fabulous and I fell in love.  Which was a very good thing, because I was committed and there was no turning back.  

So, in the end, my risk had paid off.  Everyone at the table wanted a taste of my dish, simply because it appeared to be more appetizing than anything else that was ordered. I, of course, acted as if I knew this all along.  I regained my swagger.  

I'm telling you reputation, and my teen-aged pride, was saved by

adapted from Eating Well magazine


3 oranges
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons peanut oil, or canola oil, divided
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 pound beef sirloin, trimmed and sliced against the grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices  (see tip below)
4 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
6-8 small dried red chiles (leave whole, or chop, seeds and all,  if you really want it hot)
2 pounds broccoli, cut into small florets (6 cups)
1/3 cup water
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1/2 cup sliced scallion greens


Zest, with a citrus zester or the fine side of a grater, two of the three oranges.  Squeeze juice from all the oranges into a small bowl (for about 3/4 cup). Add soy sauce,  sherry, cornstarch, sesame oil, and sugar and stir to combine; set aside.
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Add beef and stir-fry just until no longer pink (see note below) on the outside, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.
Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pan and heat until very hot. Add garlic, ginger, chiles and the reserved orange zest; stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broccoli and water. Cover and steam, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated and the broccoli sizzles, about 3 minutes. Add bell pepper and stir-fry for 1 minute more.
Stir the reserved orange sauce and pour it into the wok. Bring to a boil, stirring; cook until the sauce has thickened slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Add scallion greens and the reserved beef and toss to coat with sauce; heat through.

NOTE:  Freezing the beef sirloin for 30 minutes makes it easier to cut into very thin slices.  
Honest Moment from the Kitchen:  I didn't, and I'm sorry for it.  It would have been better.  Also, if this had not been intended for company that would simply not be happy with any amount of pink, I would have kept the beef medium rare.  Again, it would have been better.  

Now, I thought, if I could only figure out these chopsticks...

Join us tomorrow for our citrus-y Orange Maple and Five-Spice Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes on 

Saturday Special
Notes from Maggie's Farm.

Have a great weekend!


  1. I love the story.

  2. Great Story:) I'm definitely trying this recipe. I've heard that freezing the meat makes it easier to slice, although I've never tried it.

  3. @Steph, haha, I posted a comment on your blog while you were posting on mine. Cha ching!
    @Steph and Tom, thanks for laughing with my awkward teenaged self. Oh, I was a hot mess.

  4. Loved this! Great photos and story. Food is a thread in all of my memories. I may not remember the date or the names of all the people there but I always remember what I ate and how it made me feel!

  5. Thank you! I've always wondered if it was because of, or in spite of, my childhood diet's lack of 'culinary creativity' that spawned such a love of all things food.


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