Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cooking with Gas...Finally!

Have you ever known a mechanic whose family cars never seemed to run real well?  How about the landscape guy whose front yard looks like Green Acres?  The construction contractor whose home is forever in remodel mode?  How does that happen, I mean, is there such a disconnect between career and home that the two seem to be oddly divergent?

Actually, I understand completely from first hand experience.   You see, a chef being married to another chef isn't all Martha Stewart garden parties and putting the 'Bam!' in the evening meal.  It seldom is.  Just like every other household where both parents work, putting on an evening meal is a challenge.  A challenge made even more so when the stove top and oven are '60s vintage, wacky-wired pieces of culinary dysfunction. 

Was preparing a meal recently when another coil burner went on the fritz.  I slammed the pan down as the buzz of an electric arc shorted out my mid-saute' endeavor.

"Son-of-a-bi..." I fumed.
"Da-DEEE!", warned my 6 year old daughter, "DON'T say that BAD word!"  Siobhan was creating  another work of art on the grocery list dry erase board when the equipment failure and Dad's subsequent expletives flared up.

"...Gun!" I followed, giving Siobhan a glance over my reading glasses, "Gun, I was going to say Gun."
"Nuh-uh, I know what you were going to say, 'cuz you say it ALL the time when you get mad," she noted.
"Can you pick me up and pretend that you're dropping me?  And catch me when I almost touch the ground?" she queried, "You NEH-verrr play with me, come on, it's been TWO DAYS!...," as she pulled my hand away from the pan and onto her hips.  With a giggle fueled launch, she was touching the ceiling then nearly dropped to the floor. 
"Do it a-GAIN, daddy!" she squeeled. 

I was immediately in a better mood.

We had acquired a gently used Viking 6-burner gas range with convection oven from a contractor friend a while back and had it sit in the garage for two years during two home improvement projects of greater priority.  Once the basement was redone, it was noted that the panel and home needed to be rewired and updated.  The recent reduction from 4 electric burners down to ONE, however, provided the impetus for us to move on the new stove.  Maybe it was the night when our Chinese exchange student, Chuyang, aka 'Fred', came out on the back deck one night and asked,

"Mistah Kween, why ah you kooking ow-sigh?"  Squatting over my crab boiler burner, I was sauteing up a stirfry in a 12" pan.  Sweet peppers, onions, pork, and sausage with thin slices of ginger sizzled away as Fred noted,
"Een my country, pee-po kook like this ow thee time," he continued, fueling laugh lines from Brendan and Liam.
"Yeah Dad, you look like the dudes on the sidewalks in Hanoi only you should have like a lit cigarette dangling from your mouth," chided Liam.
"Nuh, nuh, nuh...the country side outside Beijing," snorted Brendan, "and you need flip-flops!"
Both boys spoke from first hand experience having travelled to these counties in past summers with our former exchange students. 

Heckle and Jekyl continued to crack each other up at my expense until dinner was ready.

Flippin' comedians, we have our share in the Quinn household, but, they were right.  It was time to get that range in the house ASAP!  This is ridiculous having a home with two chefs cooking like 3rd world street vendors.  Fortunately, we found out during trick or treating with our little girl, that our neighbor Tony happens to do home remodels.  After a pair of meetings, he committed to getting it done in a couple of weekends at the 'Brother-in-law' price.   

With very little assistance and the suggestion of "You can help best by just staying outta my way," he had it knocked out in no time.  Gas line, 220V plug for the oven, stainless hood, it was all there and working!  A quick once-over with the shopvac and you could hardly tell he had been there. 

I stood there looking at it.  Wow, it's just like at work, only better.  Flicking a knob, the electric ignitor sparked a steady blue flame to life.  Then another, then another till all burners were raging.  I chuckled, then, looking around like a kid getting caught playing with fire, shut them down quickly.  Placing a 10" saute pan over a flame, I watched as the underside became enveloped by this evenly distributed, perfectly blue heat source. 

"This is how Life is supposed to be," I thought, "I can now live to the fullest intent of the Creator..."

"So, when's dinner ready," asked Liam, bombing through the front door from the gym, "WHOA...DUDE!  It's working! Niiiicccce..." he added seeing the finished project in place and functional. 
"Soon," I offered, "and it's going to be a stir-fry."
"Sweet, ahma take a shower...," Liam hollered as he headed down the basement steps.

As I was saute'ing vegetables and strips of beef, I began to kick my self for not making this change sooner.  All the parts were there, it was just a failure to launch.  "Never have the time, it'll be too expensive for us right now, the inconvenience will be unbearable..."  There was a litany of excuses including the basement and wiring projects, however, in hindsight, we could have piggy-backed the stove onto one of the other projects and just dealt with it!

The rice cooker 'dinged' me out of that thought stream to indicate the sticky rice was ready.  A few more flips of my saute' pan and we were in the home stretch.  Brendan arranged plates on the kitchen counter ( I prefer to dish up and garnish the plates) and scooped a portion of gleaming white, short grain rice onto each plate.  Dad followed with veggies and beef steaming an ambient aroma of ginger, peppers and Hoisin sauce.  Sprig of cilantro over the top.
All were called to the table, plates were placed immediately as the heady vapors continued to waft gently from each dish.

A blessing was said.

"Nice...ow-ow-OW-OW-OW...good stuff...mmmmMMMM!" were some of the immediate comments.  The plates were colorful, healthy and piping hot.  A stir-fry is a perfect way to clean out the crisper section of your fridge, too.  What do you do with half and onion, two carrots and a partridge in a pear tree before it goes South and you give it the pitch?  Combine all with a remnant protein and soy sauce based condiment, then, create!

"I'm LIKIN' that new stove, Dad," Liam said as he stretched back in his chair.  And in his best Vietnamese accent followed,
"Now, yew no-mo koo ow-sy.  Yew very RICH man!"
Indeed, rich in family with all the laugh lines and whoopy cushions that follow. 

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry: serves 8

2C    Rice, white short grain
3C    Water,
pinch  Salt

2     Onion, medium, sliced
3     Carrots, sliced
4     Celery ribs, sliced
1      Ginger, fresh, thumb-sized piece, sliced paper thin
any  Vegetable remnants: sweet peppers, spinach, kale...
2lbs  Protein: beef, chicken, pork, fish, cut in fork-sized pieces
1/4C  Soy based sauce: Hoisin, Plum or the like.
1C     Water

Method: rice, salt and water in a small rice cooker.  If you don't have one of these, go to an Asian market and buy one.  They are cheap (less than 20 dollah), easy to clean and beyond useful. a large (9" or better) saute' pan or wok on a burner and let 'er rip on high for about a minute.  Add a small amount of cooking oil to just coat the bottom of the pan and carefully add the sliced onions.  Shake to prevent sticking and add the celery, carrots and ginger once the onions are beginning to get some nice brown color.  After 3 or 4 minutes, turn out the veggies into a mixing bowl and set aside.  Return the pan to the burner and re-heat for 30 seconds.  Add a small amount of cooking oil and carefully slide the protein into the pan.  Don't pile it up; you want all the protein to make contact with the pan and just leave it alone for a couple minutes.  This is allowing the meat to get some color by the caramelization process of the high heat.  If things are moving too quickly for you (there's smoke!), reduce your heat to a comfortable level.  With a metal spatula or tongs, turn the meat to sear on the other side.  Once meat is done, return veggies to the pan, add soy-base sauce, water and a lid if you have one.  There might be some scary sounds coming forth (steaming), but, be strong!  Have Faith!  This is what it's supposed to do.  Give it a couple flips with a spatula to blend all ingredients and scoop onto the shiny white rice on the plates. 
I love to incorporate leafy greens like kale, chard or spinach to add texture and great nutrients.  It's neat too, to see the brothy sauce fall through the rice and pool on the plate, YUM!  Those little grains of rice working like miniature sponges for all that flavor!

It's exciting, exotic, nutritious and hits a perfect price point: cheap.

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends
the Best Things in Life aren't Things."


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