Jho Can Cook (and CityBoy too)!

21 Feb

The Internet is a powerful thing.  I know you know this too, but for some reason, this fact broadsides me now and again.  A few weeks ago, I made Asian Chicken Salad for dinner (something CityBoy loves because, since it’s salad, he assumes it’s super healthy and thus eats several heaping bowlfuls, which I applaud because there’s nothing worse than soggy leftover salad).

The salad base is a mix of romaine lettuce and Napa cabbage, which in New York seems to only be available in a ginormous head, roughly the size of a basketball.  Not having cooked much Napa cabbage in California, I can’t definitely say that this girth is weirdly unusual, but it’s pretty amazing.  I wish I’d had the presence of mind to photograph it for you.

As you can imagine, we had leftovers.  Lots of leftover cabbage.  Which is where the Internet comes in.  I don’t know what home cooks did before.  Did they just subject their loved ones to days and days of raw cabbage salad?  Or sauteed cabbage?  Or cabbage juice?  Not so in our household.  Scouring the trusty Food Network site, I was able to find two intriguing recipes Ants in a Tree and Shrimp and Egg Fried Rice with Napa Cabbage.

I’m still not sure where Sara Moulton got the “Ants in a Tree” name from.  I’m assuming that it’s some literal translation of the quirky Chinese original.  As you can see above, it’s noodles and shredded cabbage with ground meat, in this case turkey.  It’s actually pretty tasty, though the recipe called for slightly more oil than I used and it still was a little too oily for my taste.  Since a major component of the dish is the cabbage, which becomes soggy quickly once cooked, I don’t recommend it if you’re planning on having leftovers.  You need to eat all of this immediately.  There’s lots of ginger in the dish, which I hadn’t used much before and it adds a lovely zing to the dish.

The shrimp and egg fried rice is much more visually appealing (I took someone’s online recommendation of adding carrots to “color up” the dish) and has more elements in it, so the wilted cabbage isn’t so off-putting on the second or third day.  I had a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen shrimp in the freezer from about a million years ago (when it was still warm), so it was just a matter of chopping, defrosting, and dumping…my favorite kind of cooking.

My mom was kind enough to send me a collection of Filipino flavor packets, used to make traditional dishes like caldereta (originally goat stew), adobo, and sinigang (tamarind soup).  I’ve been making the caldereta, which is so easy a child could make it (as long as you’re okay with your child handling knifes and hot pans).

It’s basically a matter of browning, then boiling, cubed beef, chopping potatoes and carrots, and simmering the whole thing with the seasoning until you’re ready to go.  I add a handful of peas to make myself feel more virtuous (as well as to try to use up the never-finished package in the freezer – I swear those things are reproducing in there).  The best thing about most Filipino cooking is that it only improves with time, so that the stew still tastes great (and my mom would argue, better) a couple of days down the road.  Most Filipino food is pretty hearty stuff, so I guess the extra time allows the flavors to combine more powerfully.

CityBoy also logged a lot of time in the kitchen these past few months, expanding his repertoire of salads and canned fish meals into soba and even pasta.

Isn’t his soba soup pretty?  We’re huge fans of ramen soup and cold soba, so I love when he makes this.

I’m usually the one making pasta (which I could eat every day of the week, no problemo), so I was surprised when CityBoy chose this dish (above) to make one night, Chicken and Mushrooms with Egg Noodles.  He had to buy vermouth for this, which made me more than a little nervous, since the only time I’d had vermouth was as a desperate teenager, pillaging someone’s parent’s bar for anything alcoholic.  Let me assure you, vermouth by itself is a nasty, nasty thing.  Probably worse than just guzzling the stuff out of your neighbors’ gas tanks.  But the dish turned out really tasty, especially since I love anything with mushrooms in it.  I rarely eat egg noodles too, so that was a pleasant surprise.

I’m happy to say that I’m building quite the little repertoire of dishes, though I’m still not at the point where I can make something without consulting the recipe.  I’m hoping to take a class this summer at the Institute of Culinary Education.  In particular, there’s one where the instructor takes you shopping in one of the city’s many farmer’s markets.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  To be able to just go, with my little basket in hand, and see what’s fresh and ripe and be able to concoct a dish from there?

It’s important to have dreams, people, and go after them.

– Jho


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