Singapore Noodles

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Singapore Noodles

Singapore Noodles

I had these at a restaurant in DC once and then shortly thereafter ran across the recipe in a cookbook I have by Nina Simonds called Asian Noodles. There are actually two almost identical recipes in the book, one just vegetable and one with shrimp. This time around I made the vegetable version.

I go through phases where I really like curry for a while then can’t stand it for a while. This is one of the things I make when I’m in the like-it phase because it’s easy and definitely gives you a curry fix. (If you don’t like curry powder, you can just stop reading right now; it’s not an optional ingredient in this recipe.)

One of the reasons I like this recipe is because I can never get my stir-fry sauce to turn out quite the way it does at a restaurant, and this one doesn’t have a cornstarch sauce that needs to thicken, so you don’t feel like you did something wrong when you’re eating it. Also it’s quick and flexible.

I think all the other times I’ve made it, I’ve used slightly thicker rice noodles, but this time I used the vermicelli that the recipe calls for. I think it would be good with pretty much any thickness of rice noodle. Also I’m pretty loose with what vegetables I use. I picked up some bok choy and a red pepper, so I used those, then added carrots, because I always put carrots in my stir fries, they’re cheap and good and pretty, and also bamboo shoots because I had them. This meant that I ended up with a lot of Singapore noodles, which I was worried about finishing before getting sick of them, but then I ate a lot of Singapore noodles so it turned out fine.

Okay enough with the background, here’s the original recipe, as printed. Feel free to adjust as much or as little as you like.

Singapore Noodles
from Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds

1-1/2 tablespoons oil

Curry Seasonings
1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1-1/2 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Madras

2-1/2 cups very thinly sliced red onions
2 cups thinly sliced red bell peppers
4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage

Basic Chinese Sauce
Mix together
1/4 cup chicken broth [or vegetable broth or water]
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 pound thin rice stick noodles (vermicelli), softened in hot water and drained

1. Heat a wok or a heavy skillet over high heat. Add the oil and heat until very hot, about 30 seconds. Add the curry seasonings and stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the red onions and stir-fry for about 1 minute, until barely tender. Add the red peppers and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the cabbage and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until all are crisp-tender.

2. Add the basic Chinese sauce and the noodles, and carefully toss to mix. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot or at room temperature.

Interesting Project

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I love that my friends send me links to food projects they think I’d like when they run across them.

The latest is over at Slate, where one of the bloggers is attempting to turn over a new leaf and eat right. She’s blogging about her experience — and including pictures of everything she’s eating, I like it when other people have to suffer through that! — and discussing the most common obstacles to eating better and what she’s learning as she tries to work through everything.

I learned about the project last week (thanks, Carrie!) when it had been going on for ten days, and I started with the “healthy food costs more” post and was like oh no, not this again. But then I went back and started from the beginning and realized she wasn’t necessarily saying that good food costs more, just that it was something that people thought.

Last week was interesting, she was trying to see how much it cost to eat healthy, so she was calculating costs and posting that along with the pictures. I don’t have a problem at all with what she’s eating, it all looks very good, but I thought some of the costs seemed really high. I think she had a salad with baba ghanoush and hummus that cost over $5. Yikes! But she’s not posting grocery lists (or if she is, I haven’t seen them) so I can’t really tell where the costs are coming from. Also it seems to me that trying to do things cheaply can’t be that much of a priority, otherwise she wouldn’t be eating fresh blackberries and blueberries in January.

But whatever, I’m looking forward to reading more of it, and may have further comments at a later date.

Also I bought a copy of Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, which I posted a picture from during my food project, that a friend had emailed me when I told him what I was doing. The book actually looks fascinating, it’s not just pictures of what people buy but also stories about how they shop, what kinds of foods are available, how people in different cultures eat, etc. I’m really looking forward to spending some time with it.

And I made a recipe yesterday that did not involve pork fat or heavy cream, so I’ll be posting that soon. Need to get through a couple of deadline-oriented things first but it shouldn’t be long.

Happy (Belated) New Year

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lucky Meal

Lucky Meal

A friend of mine has a Hoppin’ John party every year on New Year’s Day, but I don’t usually go as I prefer a festivity-free New Year (another long story that I will spare you the details of).

But it seemed like it would be a good break from the database work, so I decided to go this year, but it turned out it wasn’t such a good idea because I was in total database mode, at that point trying to figure out if I could set up a recursive custom function to match event dates, so that an event would show up on the list of upcoming events whether it started on that date or if it was the second or third day of a multiday event, which was not so hard but not so easy either, and required me to figure out something I hadn’t worked with before. And this is what I felt like talking about at the party, you can imagine how well that went over.

So I had some black-eyed peas and greens and started a Scrabble game outside (it was 60 degrees here on New Year’s Day) but quickly realized that I was going to lose my database mojo if I stayed much longer, so I headed home.

And it was just enough black-eyed peas and greens to make me miss the version I make, which is from Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking, published by my friends at UNC Press. So I made that yesterday in my effort to re-start the New Year right. A week or so late, but still good. And hopefully what I had on New Year’s Day will be enough to sustain my luck for the year.

I’ll give the recipes straight up below, but here are a few notes.

It turned out I didn’t have a lot of black-eyed peas on hand so I just made what I had — it was about half a pound (which was a little over a half cup of dried peas).

For many years I made vegetarian versions of recipes like this, sautéing in olive oil or substituting butter for bacon grease or fatback, but then I got salt pork for some recipe I was making and had a whole bunch left over so cooked beans in it and discovered what I had been missing. Beans cooked with pork fat are substantially better than those cooked without. So I picked up some fatback at King’s yesterday before making this.

And I don’t follow the recipe exactly, since the beans and rice are cooked fresh, I just put them together with tomato and scallion and cheese as garnishes. The second night, I do it like the recipe says and mix it together in the pan and heat through. It’s good both ways.

I did follow Bill Neal’s braised greens recipe, which is the first time I’ve made them like that. Usually I sauté kale in olive oil and garlic and add red wine or balsamic vinegar, and a little salt and pepper, and I like that a lot. I’ve made collards that way too but don’t like them nearly as well, and King’s had some good-looking collards so I got those and did the braised version, though I am currently out of bacon grease so I had to leave that part out. They were good, and it felt nice and traditional.

I’m also including my minimalist cornbread recipe that I came up with by looking at all the different cornbread recipes I had. You can adjust the sweetness to taste — recipes I looked at varied from 1 tablespoon of sugar in a recipe with 2-1/2 cups of combined cornmeal and flour to 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of honey in a recipe with 2 cups of combined cornmeal and flour. At one point a number of years ago I discovered that I’d been making it with 1/3 of a cup of honey because I’d been consistently using the wrong measuring cup. It was good with that much sweetener, but more like a breakfast bread. I’ve since cut back.

I keep powdered buttermilk on hand, which I mix in with the dry ingredients then add 1 cup of water with the liquid.

So here are the recipes, the first three from Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking and the last from me.

Happy New Year!

Field Peas

Cooking time for these peas will vary greatly depending on size, variety, and freshness. Always keep enough water in the pot so the peas will remain whole. No pea is ever cooked to mushiness, though often leftover peas, especially black-eyed peas. are mashed, formed into small cakes, and fried in bacon fat.

Yields 6 servings

1-1/2 pounds shelled cowpeas, lady peas, crowder, or black-eyed peas
3 ounces pork sidemeat
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup thinly sliced onions
1 bay leaf
1 red pepper pod
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
2-1/2 cups water

Recommended equipment: a 3-quart saucepan

Wash the shelled peas and drain well in a colander. Cut the sidemeat into nine strips and along with the salt, onions, bay leaf, pepper, and garlic simmer in the water for 15 minutes. Add the peas (and water to cover, if necessary). Simmer for 35 minutes to 1 hour or longer, depending on the maturity of the peas.

Hoppin’ John

Southerners may make resolutions for the New Year, but they know success (or lack of it) depends more on what is eaten on 1 January than on all the good intentions in the world. More black-eyed peas and collards are consumed on that day than any other time of the year — part of an antique gastronomic insurance policy. Collards are for a steady supply of folding green in the coming year; black-eyed peas for plenty of pocket change. Hoppin’ John is a sort of jambalaya with a light touch. Do not stew the different elements into a homogeneous mush. Each pea, grain of rice, chunk of tomato, and piece of scallion should retain its individual identity, flavor, and texture.

Yields 4 to 6 servings

2 cups cooked Black-eyed Peas (see above)
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup chopped fresh tomato
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cheddar cheese, grated (optional)

Recommended equipment: a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or enameled cast-iron saute pan with cover

Heat the peas and rice separately if cold. (Add 3 tablespoons water to cold rice, cover and steam briefly.) Combine lightly in the skillet or saute pan, sprinkle the chopped tomato and scallions over all, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and heat through. Add grated cheddar cheese when serving, if desired.

Braised Greens

The following recipe is a basic one for all the commonly used southern greens. Cooking time will vary for the type of green, its maturity, and the time of year. During hot weather, it may be wise to blanch turnip or mustard greens before a final cooking to relieve them of excess bitterness. The pot should simmer, not boil. You are not overcooking a vegetable here, but braising it much in a French manner to slowly coax and develop flavors. It will be instructive for you to taste the mess of greens often, anticipating and savoring the developments.

Yields 6 servings

7 cups water
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 ounces pork sidemeat, diced (or a small ham hock)
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 tablespoons bacon fat
1 teaspoon sugar
2-1/2 pounds greens — turnip, mustard, kale, or collards, or a combination

Garnishes: crisp bacon bits, hard-boiled eggs, sliced green onions, chopped fresh cayenne, Pepper Sauce, and Indian Dumplings

Recommended equipment: An 8-quart stainless steel or heavy aluminum stockpot with lid.

Bring the water and seasonings to boil over high heat and boil for 20 minutes. During this time wash the greens well — usually at least twice to remove the grit. If the stems and ribs are anything but very small and tender, strip the leaf off and discard the ribs and stems.

Add the greens to the pot, cover tightly, and bring back to the boil. Uncover and stir down the leaves, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook about 1 hour. Remove greens from pot, reserving potlikker if required for future use, and serve with any of the garnishes suggested above.

Buttermilk Cornbread

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 (or smaller) pan, or a cast iron skillet.

Sift together:

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add to dry ingredients:

1 to 4 tablespoons of sweetener — granulated white sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses (if you use liquid sweetener, add it in with the liquid ingredients)

Beat together lightly:

1 egg
1 cup buttermilk

Add to liquid:

2 to 4 tablespoons of liquid fat — vegetable oil, or melted butter/margarine/shortening/bacon grease, or some combination

Mix together the dry and wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until all is combined. Pour into the greased pan and bake until the top is golden brown and the center is set.

Did You Finish Anything?

Monday, January 10, 2011

My mom came to visit in March for her basket convention, we went out the back door, she said, “I thought you said you were going to fix that door.”

I said I was going to try to finish things so I could get to things like fixing the door. Which is not the same thing as saying I was going to fix the door. But whatever.

My parents were coming down in October, I meant to get a new door when I was at Lowe’s while I was getting stuff to deal with the shower (which is a long, sad story that I will spare you all the details of), but I forgot. I have trouble thinking about more than one thing at a time.

I got home and took the door off the hinges.


The shower is not fixed, but I did get a new toilet, and it’s quite exciting to be able to have people over and not cock my ear after anyone uses it to listen and make sure it stops running. I realize that that’s a fairly pathetic level of progress but I’m going to have to take it.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s I started to feel bad about the many things I didn’t finish and the few I did, and decided it was time to finish the Scrap Exchange database upgrade that I started on 12/28/2008. (As much as I might have tried to forget about how long I’ve been working on this, I could see the creation date of the file every time I opened it, so there was no getting around it.)

That was one thing that had been hanging over my head that was actually close to being done. So I worked on that over the break and 38 hours later (plus the prior 60+ hours spread out over the past two years), it is done and up and running.


The rest of the year gets pretty mixed results in the Finish department.

I did get a source of heat installed in my office, the importance of which cannot be overstated. That was eleven years in the making and allows me to work all year in the same place without having to shift everything around for four months between mid-November and late March. This is a very, very exciting development, so that gets another Hooray.

I did do a somewhat exceptional amount of paid work (well, exceptional for me), which is good. Make hay while the sun shines and all that. Though not all of it is done yet, which is not so good.

I was thinking about the Word of the Year for 2011, and it seemed like I need a year with the word No before I can make it through a year with the word Finish — I wasn’t able to finish anything because other stuff kept coming up. But I wasn’t quite ready to commit to a year of No, it seemed so negative.

One of the books I’m hoping to write about in more detail at some point is an Island Press title called Holistic Management, which was written for people managing land but offers many useful ideas that can be applied to life in general as well as to land management. The subtitle is “A Framework for Decision-Making” and the main point is about how to make decisions that solve problems without creating a whole bunch of new problems that you hadn’t even thought of. (Like for instance people solving erosion problems by planting kudzu; these are the kinds of things we’d like to avoid.)

There are a series of tests you apply in your decision-making process, one of which is the “weak link test” — the idea that you should always focus on your biggest problem first, because “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Their point is that any resources you expend fixing something that is not the biggest problem are wasted, because no matter how strong the rest of the links are, a chain will fail at its weakest point. So you need to shore up the weakest point until it is no longer the weakest point, then move on to the new weakest point.

I think this is one of the most useful ideas in the book, and I try to think about whenever I’m trying to decide what to focus on.

Like most people, I’d be happy to lose weight and exercise more, but neither of those is my biggest problem right now.

I decided that my biggest problem right now is a lack of structure and inability to set a schedule. This is one of the reasons I didn’t finish things in 2010, because I dealt with everything as it came up instead of trying to impose some kind of order on it. It’s also making me feel like I’m working all the time, even though when you look at the number of hours I actually worked, it’s not that bad. (Days where you spend six hours thinking about how you should be working and two hours working feel worse than days where you spend eight hours actually working. Days where you spend eight hours thinking about working and zero hours working are even worse.)

So my goal for the new year is to do a better job of managing my schedule so I have some kind of structure — with actual breaks from work, when I’m not spending the whole break thinking about how I should be working — instead of a giant amorphous blob of stuff that I can’t seem to get through. And then maybe I’ll be able to finish things. Or at least stop thinking about them.

I haven’t quite started with this new plan yet because I feel like the start of my year got delayed by a week, since I lost a week working on the database. My friend Jenny said I should think about it like decades, like the ’60s didn’t really start until 1962 or 1963, before that it was still culturally the ’50s.

So in that spirit, I think I’m going to cook up some collards and Hoppin’ John for dinner on Monday and take it from there.

I’m thinking about trying again what I tried at the beginning of last year, to test out a new healthy, whole-grain recipe once a week and write up the results. And maybe make up for the past few months, since most of what I posted was about as far from healthy and whole grain as you can get. (But I’m not apologizing for the egg nog, that was good!)

So Happy 2011 to everyone, and the next recipe I post will be healthy. I promise.