Best read by 28/02/2007

As if I don't have enough to do with my time and now I'm supposed to do another post for Freya because she got the new Phoenix Wright game for the Nintendo DS. I won't be seeing much of her for a few weeks and neither will you probably. And I have mentioned to her that I am at least as busy as she. I spent an hour working on the Victory today and only managed to add three pieces. It's not the gluing or the nailing, but the endless sanding that seems to take the most time. My boss Ken says it will take me about 150 lunch hours to finish the timber portions and then another 100 to do the rigging. I guess that equates to exactly one year. I don't mind; it appeals to my meticulous nature, but the fact is I don't have the room on my desk for the thing with all the drawings I'm supposed to be doing as well. And all my jobs lately have looked like this:
Well, I hope that whomever moves into this penthouse apartment appreciates the headache caused to the poor truss designer who engineered his roof!

I know this isn't a ship-building or roof designing blog and frankly it's your loss, but the point of all the preamble is to demonstrate an important factor dictating my cooking style. Time is that factor. Freya ogles cookbooks all day and late into the night. She plans what she wants to make during the next three months. She organises menus and plans dinners that we probably will never find time for. She makes lists of ingredients and utensils she'd like to acquire. This all suits her just fine because she's passionate about food. I suppose if my expanding stomach is anything to go by, so am I. The difference is that I want food and I want it now. I don't care who gets in my way! If I were in charge of a food blog there wouldn't be any pictures on it because there's nothing worse than staring at a plate of food that's rapidly cooling wanting to eat it, but having to wait. I cook food that's fast and simple, the antithesis of my writing style.

You’ve probably figured all of this out for yourselves from my previous posts. You probably also know that I don’t pledge allegiance to food porn or food obsessions. Food fads and dietary trends don’t really interest me at all. A fad is flawed by its very nature. Popular thought is historically incorrect thought. Classics are classics because they are effective. A plain old-fashioned pork chop is good without some pompous chef slopping a bunch of mango salsa on top. The mango salsa may be good and I’m happy to give it a go, not for £25.00, but I’ll give it a go. I guarantee you though that twenty years from now this will be considered naff retro food but people will still be making plain old-fashioned pork chops.

This is why I sing the praises of chefs like Justin Wilson and Jeff Smith. They were committed to classic and neo-classical cuisine. In fact, next to my side of the bed you will find a book called The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines. This book is loaded with what can only be described as culinary anthropology. Among thousands of revelations in this book we learn that frozen food was invented in China several thousand years ago for a hungry emperor who wanted his dumplings on demand, Nero ate leek soup every day to ensure his voice was “clear and sonorous”, and that the first cookbook was written by a Greek in the fourth century B.C.

I like trying new foods, even experimental foods, but with billions of recipes from hundreds of countries, some originating several millennia ago, I don’t feel the need to reach deep in my pocket to stroke the egos of so-called innovators. I’m always disappointed when I eat out. The food is never consistent and I inevitably have to compromise. Moreover, I instantly dislike anyone in uniform especially when they’re asking for money.

And now the point of my post and if it seems like a non-sequitor at first, please bear with me for a bit.

Sunday afternoon is, as previously stated, a day to eat what’s simple and fast. This is great for me! I like the freedom of cooking off the cuff. I enjoy going to the fridge and grabbing “stuff” and seeing what develops, but with an emphasis on simplicity. There is nothing new or revolutionary going on in the kitchen on a Sunday, just good old fashioned cooking the way it’s been done for thousands of years. I try to use up the food that is nearly inedible, which is difficult sometimes because I don’t have faith in expiration dates. I think that sell-by and use-by dates are just a measure introduced by commerce to limit liability. For instance, yoghurt is the result of primitive methods to preserve milk and I once ate some a year past its’ use-by date with no ill effects! I use what needs using and I feel like a Frugal Gourmet.

This past Sunday was like any other (apart from the zucchini bread I’d made before 9AM). I cleaned out the fridge taking out the old vegetables and a container of organic prawns. I figured it was the perfect foundation for a stir-fry and some wontons. While cutting up the vegetables I made Freya the mashed potatoes she’d been begging for since Friday and served them up with fish fingers and beans. She was content. I went back to my vegetables, cutting and chopping, mixing a variety of items for three separate dishes.

The key with most cooking is timing and Asian food is no exception. In fact, it’s probably the most crucial element of all since the food is meant to be fresh, hot, and perfectly cooked. It is therefore very important to consider the density of individual ingredients when chopping the ingredients and when adding them to the wok. It is also an important part of the overall method to avoid waste. In accordance with this principle I use every part of the vegetables I cook. As an example, to use up the stocky bits of broccoli, I slice them into thin strips and use them as a fresh substitute for bamboo shoots (see photo above). I also prep seasonings for several dishes at once as this saves time and effort and minimizes waste.

In the end I made three unique dishes and my total prep and cooking time was approximately twenty minutes. I used up some vegetables which probably would have gone to the compost bin otherwise. Best of all, I thoroughly enjoyed traditional food cooked traditionally, I didn’t compromise, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Make sure you put this on first. It’s terrible to realise you’ve forgotten this five minutes before everything else is finished. Once made, it will stay fresh and hot for a very long time. Lots of people seem to have difficulty making rice, even Delia. I don’t understand why as it’s the staple ingredient in the diets of 2/3 of the world population. To make perfect rice sticky enough to eat with chopsticks, mix 1 part plain long grain rice (not easy cook) to 1¾ parts water in a pan. Bring just to the boiling point, turn down the stove to the lowest setting, cover, and let cook for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and leave on hotplate until ready to serve. Save leftover rice to make fried rice at a later date as this works best with cooked rice which has gone slightly dry.

10 Medium cooked and shelled prawns
1 Small chili
3 Spring onions
20g Beansprouts
1 Clove garlic
1 Teaspoon fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 Teaspoons cornflour
8 Wonton wrappers (Very hard to get in the UK, these are not spring-roll wrappers. You can make your own, but my results are always hit and miss.)

Mix soy sauce and cornflour in a cup until the cornflour is completely dissolved. Chop all remaining ingredients very finely and mix in a pan. Add soy sauce/cornflour and place on preheated hotplate. Cook just until sauce thickens and remove immediately from heat. Place a small spoonful of the mixture in the middle of the wonton wrapper folding all corners up to meet in the middle. I seal them by dipping the entire thing in a mixture of one beaten egg and one tablespoon water. Fry in moderately hot oil until the outside is brown and crispy, about 30 seconds.

100g Fresh green beans (make your kids cut the stems off, but leave the tails)
1 Clove garlic julienned
1 Red chili julienned
1 Teaspoon sesame oil
Pinch of salt

Par-boil the beans until the outside is slightly tender (In an effort to avoid waste, I boiled these in the same water I cooked Freyas potatoes in. Don’t do this! The starch in the water stuck to my pan.) Drain thoroughly. Add to hot wok with a bit of peanut oil and all remaining ingredients. Stir-fry (chow) until beans are tender through, but retain a bit of bite.

1 Head broccoli chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 Carrot cut into thin shavings
1 Onion coarsely chopped
1 Pepper sliced
Water chestnuts sliced (Mother-in-law won’t have this. She calls them raw potatoes.)
25g Dried mushrooms rehydrated (save water for the sauce)
100g beansprouts
1 Bok choy
2 Cloves garlic diced
2 Teaspoons grated ginger
2 Tablespoon cornflour
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sherry or equivalent
½ Cup water from mushrooms
White pepper to taste
Peanut oil

Mix soy sauce and cornflour in a cup and set aside. Heat peanut oil in a wok or frying pan. Add garlic and cook until browned removing immediately before burning. When wok is very hot, add carrots and broccoli cooking for about 2 minutes. Add ginger, onions, peppers, and chestnuts cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and beansprouts cooking for another minute. Add all remaining ingredients and cook until sauce thickens. Serve immediately.


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Wish you cook any day at my house! That looks terrific!

Lydia said...

I used to love The Frugal Gourmet when the show was on PBS many years ago -- always learned something interesting about the context in which the recipes developed. It was, certainly, the first show to celebrate sub-30-minute cooking.

wheresmymind said... got ditched for "Nofriendo"! *smirk*

Kathryn said...

I was reading this post, thinking, this combination is going to look vile, and understanding Freya's preference for fishfingers and beans, and then I saw it and it looks really good! I'd have that over fishfingers any day. Yum. I'm impressed you'd go to that effort, just for you!


Melting Wok said...

hey freya, thx for the info re:my pie post hehe :) anyway, your stir fry looks great, so healthy and refreshing !! :) oo..I adore fresh water chestnuts, such a huge difference compared to the canned ones :)

Joanna said...

Hi, found your site through WHB, really like it, and have just ordered a copy of Three Ancient Cuisines from Amazon (bargain £1.32, the postage will be more!) because it sounds so intruiging.