I haven't written about food in this space lately, so here's a food post! Yay!
:: I've owned a steel wok since college, but despite the wok's status as the single most versatile cooking utensil in the history of the Universe, I've never used it a whole lot. So I decided a couple of weeks back to dig it out and make some fried rice, using some instructions from a couple of different cookbooks (both of which are by Martin Yan). I've made fried rice before, but it's been a long time. Basically, though, fried rice is one of those wonderful dishes that exists for no other reason than to simply clear out the fridge. Any cooked meats, seafoods, veggies, whatever are fair game to be tossed into the wok, stirred around at high heat, tossed with some sauce, and served up on a nice big bowl.
For my first go-round, I opted for a seafood fried rice. I already had some cooked shrimp in the freezer, but I wanted something else, so I picked up some frozen scallops and thawed half the package.
Then it was prep time, which is the most important part of making any stir-fry dish. Stir-frying (or "chowing") is one of the fastest cooking methods, which means that if you realize halfway through that you've omitted an ingredient, it simply isn't feasible to stop the chowing process and prep the missing ingredient. The whole concept of mise en place -- everything already diced, chopped, measured and ready to go -- is essential to chowing. So here's everything I was to use:
Yes, I used pre-chopped, frozen stir-fry vegetables. Sue me!
First I heated my wok. Woks are intended to be used on very high heat. I've always preferred a gas stove for this, because you can have a better control on the specific amount of heat being kicked out by the burner, but we're not so lucky at Casa Jaquandor and we're equipped with electric burners. Thus, to control heating and cooking, I set the burner almost on 'High' and then, if I think things are cooking too quickly and I have too much heat in the wok, I don't adjust the burner. I just pick the wok up off the burner until it cools back down, a matter of seconds.
Next, I added a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil, swirled it around for a couple of seconds making sure to get it on the sloping sides of the wok, and dumped in the scallops.
At this point I'm already getting hungry! It takes a few minutes, nothing more, to cook the scallops (you don't want to overcook the little devils), at which time I removed them from the pan and set them aside on a plate. It was time for the veggies, and when they were done, the two beaten eggs:
I probably should have got the veggies a little more "done" before I added the egg, but all was fine. At this point the steam is rolling out of the wok most impressively!
Next it was in with the rice, and then scallops and the shrimp. All got tossed around at high heat for two or three minutes. (According to Martin Yan, for best results in fried rice dishes, you're best off using day-old cooked rice, as opposed to cooking the rice and then immediately using it in fried rice.)
Finally, the resulting dish:
Wonderful stuff! We just added garlic sauce at the table for personal seasoning.
A few days later, I remembered that I'd only used about half the rice I had initially made for the first fried rice, so I make fried rice again, this time with pork instead of seafood.
For the pork, I just cut a boneless pork chop into thin strips and marinated it for an hour or so in a mix of sesame oil, honey, soy sauce, and Chinese five-spice powder. The resulting dish was very different in terms of flavor, despite being almost identical to the first in terms of preparation.
(BTW, I am now a huge fan of Green Giant's stir-fry vegetable blends. These are awesome. I used some from the same bag for an omelet a week later.)
Now I want to start looking into other wok applications and stir-fry dishes as well.
:: I almost always eat breakfast; I find that if I don't, by late morning I'm famished to the point of being useless at work, and I don't typically eat lunch until 1:00 pm at the earliest. (My whole life, starting in high school, I've had late lunches. It's so ingrained in my brain now that I'm not sure if I could ever get hungry for lunch at noon on a regular basis.)
My breakfasts tend to be fairly simple affairs: Orange juice is a must, and then I tend to alternate between a small number of typical selections: toast or an English muffin spread one side with either peanut butter or Nutella, and on the other side with lemon curd; oatmeal with brown sugar and maple syrup; or cold cereal. Now, with cold cereals, I like the sweetened and flavored Cheerios (albeit in The Store's brand, because paying an extra two bucks for the Cheerios label is just silly), or raisin bran, or a couple others. I tend to go for the high fiber cereals, mostly; my favorite is actually frosted shredded wheat, which I love to top with berries (fresh is great, but frozen's fine). Here's my all-time favorite simple breakfast, then:
Yes, I do put milk on the cereal, but not a whole lot, because soggy cereal depresses me. I doubt I'd want to live in a world without blueberries.
:: Finally, it fell to me to cook lunch on Mother's Day. The Wife still had to go to work -- a fact of life in the restaurant business -- but since she works the night shift, she at least got to have a lazy morning and lunch with the family. She requested that I make her some Chiavetta's chicken.
Now, for those who don't live in Western New York -- and that's just about all of my readership these days -- Chiavetta's is a local outfit that does a lot of catering for special events and fundraisers and the like. One always knows when one is in the vicinity of a Chiavetta's catering event because they literally pull up in a U-haul sized truck, set up enormous grills outside the venue, and cook immense amounts of chicken on those grills, sending gigantic clouds of barbecuey-chickeny scented smoke wafting through the neighborhood. The scent is instantly mouth-watering. Their sauce is a salty, vinegary, garlicky blend that is one of the signature flavors of WNY. (Another local outfit called BW's does a very similar barbecue, but Chiavetta's is the almost universal term used for this kind of thing.)
That's not the only way to partake of Chiavetta's barbecue, however; they sell their marinades in the local stores. We always have a bottle of the stuff on hand.
It's a very simple process, actually: marinade your meat for a while, and then grill or bake and serve. (The bottled instructions say that once grilling is done you're supposed to put the meat into a pan like a foil baking pan, baste heavily, wrap or cover and then allow to remain on the heat a while longer so the flavors can steam into the food. In truth, I almost always omit this step.) I was going to grill today, but Mother Nature decided that Buffalo needed one last visit from the Winter Gods, so there were actual snowflakes in the air this morning. No accumulation on the ground, but still: snow on Mother's Day. Yikes! I confess I thought about just layering up -- I don't own all those pairs of overalls for nothing -- and grilling anyway, but I decided that reading the Sunday paper over coffee while the oven in the kitchen did the work was the more appealing course of action. (Or, one could say that I wimped out. What can I say.)
When I do Chiavetta's at home, I like to have leftover chicken. What's the point otherwise? So even though there are only three of us and one leg quarter apiece would certainly suffice for this one meal, I marinaded and baked five leg quarters and four thighs! It made for an oven full of chicken.
(I preheated the oven to 450, and when it reached that temp, I put the chicken in the oven and turned the heat down to 375. I like the way an initial temperature that's quite a bit higher than the main baking temperature browns the surface nicely.)
And when all was done, the meal was served. Chicken with baked beans, grapes, and the first fresh strawberries of the year. (No, not local strawberries. I feel no great compunctions about consuming produce trucked in from some far-flung part of the American Empire.)
The important thing, of course, was that The Wife was totally happy with the meal. Huzzah!
And happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there. In the immortal words of director Michael Curtiz, "Always a bridesmaid, never a mother."