April 24, 2012

Singapore Noodles for Sartre

Rice vermicelli noodles always remind me of Singapore-style noodles, a Hong-Kong-style dish and my mother's go-to dish to bring for potlucks. So when I came across a package of them in the market the other day, I thought I'd try making this dish on my own for the first time.

Interpretations of Singapore-style noodles can vary depending on the Chinese restaurant, but if you order it, you can usually expect to get a steaming plate of curry-flavored rice vermicelli studded with some chunks of eggs, onions, and shrimp.

I added cabbage to my version tonight, which was an excellent decision, if I do say so myself. Anyone else who has been privy to my cooking can attest to my love for cabbage, and it looks like Jean-Paul Sartre and I have that in common...
"But Sartre enjoyed eating. His favorite food was the rich Alsatian cuisine his mother had cooked in his childhood--cabbage, pork, and all kinds of sausages filled with fat. He hated vegetables and fruit. He loved cakes, chocolate, and sugar-drenched desserts. And he never touched lobsters, oysters, or any kind of shellfish."
Tete a Tete, Hazel Rowley
I share Sartre's love of cabbage, sausage, and sugary desserts. But unlike Sartre, I also love shellfish, fruit, and vegetables. Whether or not that means I love too many kinds of food for my own good is a conversation for another time...

Singapore Noodles, Sartre-Style
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 large yellow or white onion, sliced
1 cup cabbage, shredded
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp curry powder (more or less)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
7 oz. rice vermicelli (cooked 1 min in boiling water, then drained and set aside)
1/2 cup suan cai (Chinese pickled vegetables) or kimchi, as topping/garnish

Scramble the eggs over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. When the eggs are almost set, remove them from the pan and set aside in a bowl. Return pan to heat and saute the onions, cabbage, tomato, and garlic over medium-high heat until the cabbage is softened. Return the eggs to the pan and add in the curry powder, soy sauce, and shrimp.

Once the shrimp begin to turn the slightest shade of pink, add in the rice vermicelli and saute until everything is well distributed and the shrimp are completely cooked. Taste and keep adjusting seasonings if necessary. Serve with a sprinkling of suan cai or kimchi on top (trust me, it's a delicious addition, and adds some nice crunch and tangy/sour contrast).

April 22, 2012

Anthologies and lazy day food

I recently bought the 2012 PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, mainly because the first sentence contained breakfast food in it: "In the morning, at his favorite restaurant, Erick got to order his favorite American food, sausage and eggs and hash-brown papitas fried crunchy on top." It was only later that I realized that this was the beginning of a story by Dagoberto Gilb, the author of The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuna, a book I had read and disliked in college. I guess that's the fantastic thing about short story anthologies: You might discover new writers to follow, but you might also change your opinion of a writer, based on a taste of his or her other work.

Anthologies are ideal for readers who are too lazy to do research to find out about new writers they may or may not like. It's probably one of the fastest ways to discover new writers that otherwise might never have come across your radar. Sometimes this backfires, of course. I once read a short story by Kate Walbert in a collection, and liked it, only to be disappointed by the novel inspired by that same short story, The Gardens of Kyoto

But more often than not, you get lucky and discover writers who remind you of other writers you love.
"He wanted to work, to work well, to be a good hand, long before he was capable. By the time he became more or less capable of work, he had become capable also of laziness. Because he knew about work, he knew about laziness. Though he could not always resist the temptation to be lazy, he knew that laziness was what it was, and he was embarrassed by it even as he indulged in it."
—"Nothing Living Lives Alone," by Wendell Berry
This passage made me think of a mix of Hemingway and Steinbeck. The part I especially liked was the end of the passage: "...he was embarrassed by it even as he indulged in it." 

When it comes to farming, laziness might be something to feel embarrassed about, but I think that is definitely not the case in cooking. As long as the results are delicious, the method doesn't matter. There is no A for effort, only for tastiness. When you're feeling lazy (but not quite lazy enough to order delivery), one of the best options is fried rice. All you need is a bit of leftover rice, and a smattering of random ingredients. That, plus eggs and scallions are the three key ingredients. Then you can build off that foundation and add in whatever else you want: imitation crab and lettuce happened to be in my fridge tonight. 

Tip: Make sure you don't add the rice before the eggs have solidified; I've made the horrible mistake of throwing the rice in while the eggs were still runny. You end up with rice kernels that are coated in egg, rather than delicious chunks of fluffy scrambled eggs, which is what I much prefer.

Lazy Day Fried Rice
1-2 eggs, beaten
2 scallions, sliced
3/4 cup shredded cabbage
1/4 lb imitation crab
~1 cup leftover cooked rice (break up the clumps with your fingers or a fork)
salt (or soy sauce) and pepper, to taste

Scramble the eggs in a large saucepan until almost cooked. Add in the scallions, imitation crab, and whatever other ingredients you want, and stir fry for a bit. Add in the rice and break up any remaining clumps. Smash the rice and incorporate it with seasonings over high heat for a few minutes. Serve immediately (preferably with some Sriracha sauce!).

April 3, 2012

C-king Chewy Cookies

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single day in possession of a crummy mood must be in want of a good cookie. Today, I wanted a gigantic cookie, the kind that's really chewy (almost to the point of doughy) in the middle.

The great thing about baking is that you know you're being productive in positive way that will make somebody happy (even if it's just you) — something that's unfortunately not true of a typical lackluster workday. It may be stupid, but baking these awesome cookies makes me feel like I at least accomplished something today.

The cookies ended up tasting quite similar to the brown sugar cookies from Magnolia Bakery, except theirs are tiny (meaning they have fewer soft, doughy parts and more edges). Make these cookies right now, and you shan't be disappointed. (Image below depicts a cookie split in half, to show a cross-section that betrays those deliciously chewy innards.)

Chewy Chocolate Chipless Cookies, aka Brown Sugar Cookies
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 °F. Fold the butter with the sugars and vanilla extract until smooth. Then incorporate the egg and egg yolk and mix well. Add in the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and stir until combined.

Line a cookie sheet with foil and distribute the dough into 1/4 cup-size balls (for large cookies). You should be able to yield 12 to 16 large cookies. Make sure to leave a few inches between every two cookies, since they'll spread out quite a bit.

Bake for exactly 13 minutes and remove from the hot cookie sheet to let cool. Serve with ice cream if it's been an extra crummy day.

April 1, 2012

April Fools', pasta rules!

Ah, April...the first full month of spring. Unfortunately, things were somewhat cloudy here in New York, but no matter. Rain or shine, no one can deny that April is a captivating time of year. There's a reason that it serves as the time span of The Enchanted April, a novel about four strangers who rent a castle together for a month, seeking a romantic respite from everything they find unsatisfactory about their routine lives. What an odd notion, but also quite delightful to fantasize about.
It was very well cooked, but Mrs. Fisher had never cared for macaroni, especially not this long worm-shaped variety. She found it difficult to eat — slippery, wriggling off her fork, making her look, she felt, undignified when, having got it as she supposed into her mouth, ends of it yet hung out. Always, too, when she ate it she was reminded of Mr. Fisher.  He had during their married life behaved very much like macaroni. He had slipped, he had wriggled, he had made her feel undignified, and when at last she had got him safe, as she thought, there had invariably been little bits of him that still, as it were, hung out.
The Enchanted April, Elizabeth Von Arnim
What a strange creature this Mrs. Fisher is...macaroni is one of the best pasta shapes, ever. When it comes to pasta, I'm pretty loyal to macaroni and spaghetti. Every now and then I opt for penne or rigatoni. As cute as they are, I've never cared for bow ties, and definitely would never willingly buy or cook orzo.

The appeal of pasta is that it's so easy for it to become a meal, as long as you add some kind of protein and some kind of vegetable. And when it comes to protein, how much simpler can you get than sardines out of a can? I'm a fan of canned sardines, and they're a great source of calcium since you're eating the tender bones of the fish. That said, they probably get a bad rap because some brands are definitely better than others. If you're going to buy cheap sardines, opt for one that's packed in tomato sauce, not flavorless oil or water. (Side note: The cheap sardines in tomato sauce, in the cylindrical cans, are incredibly delicious mixed with some skinny somen noodles and a dab of sesame oil...a kind of Asian twist on the following dish.) If money is no object, I would go with Bela Olhao every time, for its smoky flavor.

Quick Pasta With Peppers and Sardines
1/4 lb spaghetti, cooked al dente
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 tin smoked sardines, packed in olive oil
1 (or 2!) egg(s)

Drain some of the olive oil from the sardine can into a large saucepan, and discard the rest of the oil or save for other purposes. Saute the red bell pepper with the drained sardines, and add the egg(s); when the egg begins to solidify, toss in the pasta and serve immediately.