Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cooking the Book: The Breath of a Wok - Ming Tsai's Mandarin Fried Rice

You know the drill, I needed something for lunch tomorrow, and fried rice seemed like a pretty good idea. Luckily, I had a pretty reliable recipe from Grace Young’s “The Breath of a Wok”. Called Mandarin Fried Rice, this was supposedly the first dish that Ming Tsai ever learned to stir-fry.

There was only one problem with this recipe; it called for Chinese sausage, and I wasn’t interested in digging through the freezer for a single sausage in a package of 12. So, I decided to substitute a couple of pork chops.

Obviously I couldn’t throw in two pork chops and call it a day. So I cut the chops into thin slices and made a quick marinade of shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, salt, and pepper.

While that was marinating, I got the rest of my ingredients ready.

Clockwise from the top, there are 2 eggs, beaten, ½ cup ( give or take) of sliced scallions, and 2 tablespoons each of minced garlic and ginger.

With the prep work done, I got everything in place and ready to cook.

Everything looks pretty good, so I was ready to make my lunch.

I put the spurs to my wok and when hot, added 1 tablespoon of chili oil (I used a homemade chili oil instead of canola oil) and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.

Next in went the eggs. The idea is to tilt the pan and make a thin egg pancake. A minute later, I did my best attempt at flipping the egg. Five seconds later, the egg was out of the wok and onto a cutting board.

After that cooled down for a minute or two, I cut it into fine shreds.

Like so.

Now that the egg was cooling, I remembered that I had forgotten to velvet the pork. So I added a little more chili oil, and dumped in the pork.

I didn’t want to overcook the slices, so I made sure just to cook them until they lost the raw color.

Two minutes later, I drained my wok and had my pork ready to go.

Adding more chili oil to the wok, it was time for the aromatics.

The garlic and ginger only needed to be stir-fried for 30 seconds or so, before the pork was reintroduced to the wok.

Stir-frying for just a minute, I then added the scallions and 4 cups of cooked rice.

I just wanted to heat the rice through before the last few ingredients were added. So after 2-3 minutes, in went the rest.

2 tablespoons or soy sauce, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon white pepper, and the eggs shreds were added to the wok.

Everything was given a good toss and was then ready to serve.

Fried rice is something that most people never really come to appreciate because it’s often seen as nothing more than a cheap side dish for General Tso’s chicken. This recipe bursts with the flavor of garlic and ginger and has a nice heat from the chili oil. The slices of pork weren’t a bad idea, but they were lacking something. Maybe next time I’ll try the Chinese sausage and see if the original recipe is best. Regardless, it made a damn fine lunch.

2009 Indianapolis 500 Meatloaf Cook-off

As much as I love the Indy 500, the race is exhausting. Even with a ride, it’s a schlep to and from the track, the crowds are disgustingly huge, and doing all this after consuming a number of adult beverages can be a real challenge. Thankfully the patron saint of Indianapolis, Mrs. Mary LaBuz, has a hearty meatloaf waiting at the end of the race.

Last year, while we were all enjoying a helping of meatloaf, Eric Jesse, my old fraternity brother, said that he could make a better meatloaf than Mrs. LaBuz. Even though it was said in jest, the gauntlet had been thrown down. Fast forwarding to Memorial Day 2009, it was time for the epic meatloaf cook-off between LaBuz and Jesse.

It’s a simple premise, but I would say that Mrs. LaBuz has the odds stacked in her favor. Regardless, Eric’s meatloaf looked pretty good in the formative stage.

You can’t help but notice the rough chop of the vegetables, but the recipe is much more telling.

Bread crumbs 3 or 4 spoonfuls
Emeril's Essence
Tony Chac's
Hot sauce
Steak sauce
Tomato Paste
Parm Cheese

Green peppers (one)
Onions (half)

The bacon is cut into 1/2 inch strips, while the green pepper and
onion are chopped and sautéed for a bit. Everything is hand mixed and and then formed into the loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, then serve.

I love the ambiguity of this recipe. I asked Eric if he had any exact measurements for his recipe, but like most family recipes, Eric said he just eyes everything.

Not only did Mrs. LaBuz’s meatloaf look much different than Eric’s

Her recipe had a number of start contrasts as well.

1 egg slightly beaten
2/3 c. milk
3 slices of bread
1 1/2 pound ground beef or sirloin
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 c. chopped celery - finely
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 c. catsup
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine egg, milk and pour over chopped bread - soak for a few minutes
mix remaining ingredients and then put soaked bread mixture - hand
stir until all ingredients are well mixed
Bake 375 1 1/4 hr. - drain off any juice at 1 hour and continue to bake.

Add a mother's love for good measure

Not having eaten much “traditional” meatloaf growing up, I was surprised to see how bread was used each recipe. While Eric used the more traditional breadcrumbs, Mrs. LaBuz had the odd tactic of soaking chopped brad in eggs and milk. I also thought it was funny that Eric used Anchovies in his recipes, while Mrs. LaBuz used Worcestershire sauce, a condiment known for anchovies.

I order to keep the identity of each meatloaf a secret, we, the judges, were served samples of meatloaf without seeing them still in the pan.

With the first sample, I was impressed with the flavor of the meatloaf. I really enjoyed the bold flavors and the visible chunks of vegetables. The only problem was that I could immediately tell that this batch was Eric’s. Not only did the meat have a slightly darker color, but the roughly chopped vegetables were a dead give away.

The second sample of meatloaf had a slightly mealier appearance.

With the first bite, an idea of a mealy texture vanished. This meatloaf was brimming with moisture, almost to a fault. I keep thinking I was eating an underdone sample of ground beef. Granted, the moisture was a selling point for many people, and I can’t fault Mrs. LaBuz for the flavor, as it was well seasoned and delightful.

In the end, between our panel of three judges, we arrived at a decision. After getting everyone in the kitchen, we announced that by a 2-1 decision, Mrs. Mary LaBuz was the winner. Needless to say there was some noise from the competition. Mostly, shouts of “I used bacon! How could I have lost?” Who knows, maybe there will be another meatloaf cook-off next year. I’ll have to bring my family’s weird version of meatloaf to the table.

The Perfect Bratwurst as Demonstrated by the Silver Fox

We were lucky to have an addition to the Indy 500 crew this year: my good buddy, Bill. Being a courteous guest, Bill brought a few bratwursts to cook for race weekend.

Hoping to learn the Milwaukee way to cook brats, I thought I’d take a few pictures of the process.

Oddly enough, the process begins on the stove. Starting with a deep pot, Bill filled the pot with mixture of half beer and half water. In this instance, he used a pitcher of Coors light keg beer, but we threw in a bottle of Smithwicks for extra flavor.

Next, onions are roughly sliced and thrown into the pot of beer

Bill commented that he liked to use Vidalia onions if they’re available, just to get a little extra sweetness, but Vidalias hadn’t made it up to Wisconsin by Memorial Day.

The next ingredient was a real surprise to me.

Bill added an entire bottle of grey poupon mustard.

After a quick stir, the pot was brought to a boil and was ready for the bratwursts.

The aforementioned brats

With everything in the pot, it was brought back to a boil, and I went outside to get the grill ready.

A few minutes later, the brats were mostly cooked

And ready for the next stage of the process.

The idea isn’t to really cook the brats, but just to give them a little bit of color.

That looks about right.

While the brats were getting some color on the grill, I put the pot back on the stove, and per Bill’s instructions, brought it back to a boil. The idea is to boil off any bit of the raw pork, and with a clean pot you can do this:

Now you can leave the pot on low, and have hot, delicious, beer boiled brats any time of the day.

Being an impatient man, I decided to try one right away.

Dressed with a little mustard and some of the onions, you’ll have a hard time finding a better bratwurst. From now on, thanks to Bill, I’ll have a little Milwaukee expertise when it comes to cooking a fine bratwurst.

Lamberts the Home of "Throwed Rolls" - Sikeston, MO

For the past 6 or 7 years, every Memorial Day weekend has found me on the way to Indianapolis for the Indy 500. At 600+ miles, it’s a lengthy drive, and without much between Memphis and Indianapolis, finding a decent lunch can be quite a challenge. Conveniently, as soon as you cross into Missouri, you’re inundated with signs for Lambert’s, home of “throwed rolls”.

Once exit 73 on i-55 north rolled around, I pulled off and was soon out of the car and walking to the entrance.

You can’t help but be a little shocked at the sheer size of Lambert’s and the constant smell of rolls.

When you step inside, you continue to be shocked as seemingly every piece of Americana and kitsch has made it inside this one building. From knick knacks on the walls to flags from every state, Lambert’s is a real slice of Middle America.

Even before I could a menu, the star attraction rolled out of the kitchen.

Hot and fresh from the oven, there’s a trick to getting a roll.

The idea is the roll man asks who wants a roll, and people yell and throw up their hands. Seconds later, a roll is hurled to a lucky recipient. I’ll admit the thrower has some serious skill. He will throw you a roll from 2 feet away to 100 feet across the restaurant floor.

Sitting at a bar next to the kitchen, I received my roll by a simple underhanded toss.

With a great crusty top and good flavor, the rolls really are the best thing at Lambert’s

How can you enjoy your roll without butter? Actually, once you get a little butter on one of the hot rolls, you’re hooked. It takes every measure of self control not to sit there eating nothing but butter and hot rolls.

A nice feature at Lambert’s is the idea of a “pass around”. Various members of the wait staff walk around the restaurant with a bowl or pot and pass out small servings of side dishes. The first “pass around” I got was a spoonful of fried okra.

Perfectly fried and not at all mushy, the fried okra were a great start to the “pass arounds”.

After 10 or so minutes without a menu, my waiter realized his mistake and quickly brought me a menu. Not having been here in a year, I asked him if Lambert’s was known for anything besides the rolls. With his negative response, I decided to try out their hot beef sandwich.

Doesn’t look too bad does it? It does to me. I hate eating on plastic plates, I feel like I’m at Piccadilly or a hospital.

The fries were the first thing I tried, and my God were they terrible. Dense and tasteless, these fries had the innate ability to go from oily & crunch to gummy in a single bite. Simply uncanny.

I thought I might fare better with the green beans, but I was wrong. Way too salty and tasting like they came from a can, I didn’t even dare to finish the bowl.

Roast beef with gravy is supposed to be a sublime dish, but a decent cut of beef is quickly ruined by a terrible, powdered mix gravy.

Leaving the entrée behind, I was soon able to get a tally of the “pass arounds” for that day: macaroni & tomatoes, fried okra, fried potatoes, and black eyed peas.

I was able to try some of the black eyed peas, and they weren’t bad. However, the first thing that popped in my mind was “these peas are a little flat, they need some pork.” That probably says more about me than it does the peas.

The last thing I was able to try was a generous spoonful of the fried potatoes.

Full of peppers and onions, the fried potatoes “pass around” might challenge the rolls as the best thing at Lamberts.

On the way out, I thought there is one thing that I can’t fault Lambert’s for, and that’s portions. For the sheer size of the entrees to the constant supply of “pass arounds”, Lambert’s is the perfect place to get a cheap, filling meal. However, the negatives of Lamberts outweigh the few positives. Besides, I stuck out like a sore thumb in madras and a polo shirt. I would need to buy more jorts, camo, and Jesus/American flag shirts to be a regular at Lambert’s.

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