Jan 18, 2009

birthday dinner

my daughter shares a birthday with martin luther king, jr on january 15 every year. it is a wonderful time after the holidays but near a three-day weekend and helps bridge the gap to valentine's day. it is always nice to have something to celebrate, especially in the dead of winter. (we woke up to more snow today, another 3 inches to add to the snowstorm from last week which seems to have permanently adhered to the ground due to the frigid arctic blast of cold that froze our well-insulated pipes and made the hydro air furnace seize up and stop working.) (really cold!) but it's all okay. all part of gaman. a japanese word which i understand means "enduring hardship, or perservering through difficulty." gaman is a source of pride, as you show a strength and fortitude that is admirable. anyway. it is beautiful and white outside and has been for a long time. we are fortunate to live in a snowy wood with field stone walls separating the stands of trees. we have beauty and gaman.

all the better to have a warming and delicious, life-affirming celebratory meal. her ideal menu rarely wavers: chinese chicken salad with lots of fluffy fried bean thread noodles and devils food cake with ganache glaze. we all look forward to it. both are sort of arduous to prepare, simple really, but lots of steps. it is always worth the effort. and i kind of enjoy the whole process. taking such care and working over several hours carefully and methodically, focusing in a zen like state to get it just right. searching out the best ingredients, preferring one chocolate over another for the ganache. this year it was so cold that room temperature was a little too cold to make the butter and chocolate behave quite right. it worked fine, just a little different, a denser cake and a thicker glaze. we are not going for perfection here. we like homemade, natural looking food. made it even more life affirming and delicious that it is so cold outside. gaman tastes especially good.

for the cake i use joy of cooking's "devil's food cake cockaigne" and "ganache glaze" recipes. i add an extra egg to the cake to fluff it up a bit and use a little less sugar. recipe copyrights are pretty strictly enforced, and bloggers cannot legally reprint recipes unless they have the express written consent of the publisher, so i cannot print these recipes here. but they use buttermilk to make the crumb more delicate. and it's the best recipe we've found. (by the way cockaigne means mythical land of peace and joy or luxury and ease or something like that, key word here is mythical) and it was the name of the country home of the editor's of joy. and they added it to the name of any recipe that was their favorite. anyway. i like it for reference type recipes, any recipe you can think up, they probably have a version of it, and a pretty good one. i like the edition before the last one that is a little more gourmet and healthful so they removed all the recipes with canned cream soup in them. less recipes containing canned cream soup. hooray. anyway, they got a lot of flack apparently, and put them back in the next edition. when it seems they are going to have to take them all out again. things are just going in the direction of more nutritious, less manufactured, organic, locally produced (within reason) foods. you can't go against this tide. the industrial manufacturing food complex influence on our diet is waning. it just is, that is all. like winter, it is going away. even if at this moment it seems to have a strong foothold. 

but don't get me started. in any case, the chinese chicken salad is my own concoction inspired by the many delicious versions of it i tasted during the two years we lived in west Los Angeles. so here you go:

chinese chicken salad

step 1. marinate
1.3 lb organic boneless chicken breast, cut into large strips
marinate for 2 hours in
1/3 c soy sauce
2 TBSP rice vinegar
2 TBSP sherry
1 TBSP honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP cilantro stems, minced

step 2. prepare veg
wash and dry all your veg. 
we use:
2 heads of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/3 head red cabbage, sliced very finely and chopped
1/4 head savoy or napa cabbage, sliced thinly and chopped
2 large carrots, grated
4 scallions, sliced
1 cucumber, peeled if you like, and sliced into half moon shapes
1 leek, sliced
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, stems removed

step 3. make dressing
2 TBSP soy sauce
juice of 1 orange, freshly squeezed
3 TBSP seasoned rice vinegar
3 TBSP olive oil
mix ingredients thoroughly

step 4. 
bean thread noodles, 3 oz package.
these are fun. first smash the package with your fist to break up the noodles before you open it. get about 3 inches of rice bran or other high heat frying oil going in your wok. rice bran is a wonderful oil available in japanese and asian supermarkets. it has all sorts of healthy fats, works for frying at high heat, as in tempura, and has a long shelf life. it is wonderful and not expensive. so much better tasting than say canola oil or even peanut oil. i hope someday it will be widely available. until then, i will go to the asian markets. anyway get the oil nice and hot but of course a good bit shy of smoking. throw in a tester noodle, it should sizzle and puff up rather dramatically. then the oil is good to go. have a plate or bowl lined with paper towels ready to go as well as a slotted spoon or strainer to pull out the noodles. fry up in batches. you will need to poke at the noodles as they are frying (happens in 15 seconds the puffing up) and possible turn them in mass to make sure you have fried all portions of the noodles. otherwise they remain hard to the tooth. too crunchy to eat.  so remove them quickly, it takes about 5 batches per package of bean thread noodles. set aside.

step 5. assemble 
lettuces, cabbages, cukes, carrots, scallions, leek in giant bowl. reserve bean thread noodles. make dressing.

step 6. broil
set broiler to high and when heated it is time to broil your chicken strips. this takes about 8 minutes, 4 minutes per side. sometimes less, sometimes more. it's nice if they are starting to brown nicely on the edges. flip them once to get them browned on both sides. pull from the oven and let them sit for 3 minutes or so. then slice up into bite sized pieces. added yumminess, sprinkle 1 TBSP of toasted sesame seeds on chicken pieces when you remove from the oven.

step 7. toss
toss the salad with the dressing. add in the fried bean threads. toss again lightly. assemble the chicken on top of the salad. bring to the table. enjoy right away. don't forget to save room for cake.

No comments:

Post a Comment