Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dinner at 5:30 in the morning

I am a list-maker.  I am a planner.  I am also an insomniac.  You might think I'm also a bit off-kilter and lack spontaneity with all of these things converging.  Let me allay your fears and concerns.  All of these factors seem to harmoniously and serendipitously come together when I finally get out of bed at 5:30 a.m.  Once upon a time, I would get out of bed after laying awake in the dark for more than an hour.  Now I just lay awake in the dark and think, plan, make lists in my head.  I've told you about this little habit of mine before.  Now, I'm not saying that I'm not tired.  I'm just saying that I have my day/social calendar/excessive dinnerware storage solutions planned by the time I'm out of bed and I'm ready to go.

So I can imagine what your face looks like right now when I tell you that by the time I got out of bed one morning this week, I had reviewed the day's schedule, listened to the entire Bach Mass in B Minor in my head, visualized and inventoried the kitchen freezer, made a mental grocery list and planned the evening's meal.  Oh, and I composed a letter to a hotel chain that I particularly dislike right now for its lack attention to its guests needs.

Planning dinner in the middle of the night makes some people, like my friend TX Mama, hungry and over-stimulated.  I just feel relieved.  I especially feel relieved when there's a long day ahead of me and I know that I will be exhausted and brain-dead from lack of sleep when I walk through the door, rendering me incapable of putting a coherent sentence together, much less think up something to have for dinner.

Following are the recipes for the meal that I sleeplessly planned in the dark, a riff on Ming Tsai's "Chicken Chow Mein My Way" from his 1999 cookbook Blue Ginger.  I used Ming's marinade with boneless chicken breasts that had been sliced thinly (although pork slices and/or shrimp would also be good choices) and omitted the lo mein noodles.  I added extra heat with two fresh red jalapeno peppers and sweetness with sugar snap peas.  I had regular, run-of-the-mill cabbage in the fridge, not the bok choy Ming calls for, but it added a wonderful crunchy texture along with julienned carrots and strips of white onion.  Running a bit in the direction of Thailand, I made coconut rice, which foiled the heat beautifully with its creaminess.  I cut up a fresh pineapple, which made a lovely, light dessert.  And to drink while cooking and dining: Driftwood Estate Winery Cuvee Blanc 2010 (Driftwood TX), which comes in a lovely cobalt blue bottle that I will give to my friend for her bottle tree.  The wine is dry, spicy, floral and unoaked, a nicely balanced blend of Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Muscat Blanc grapes.  It was a harmonious choice for the main course.

Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry

2 Tbs. cornstarch
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1/2 cup oyster sauce
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh ginger
1 bunch scallions, trimmed, using both white and green parts, sliced 1/8" thick
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. sambal oelek
2 boneless chicken breasts, sliced across the grain 1/4" thick
3 Tbs. peanut oil, divided
1 white onion, cut into strips
2 carrots, peeled and julienned into 2" long strips
1/2 head cabbage, sliced 1/4" thick
2-4 fresh red jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4" strips (optional)
2 cups fresh or frozen sugar snap peas
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock or water

1.  In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cornstarch and wine and blend well.
2.  Stir in oyster sauce, ginger, scallions, black pepper and sambal oelek.
3.  Add chicken and stir to coat well.
4.  Cover, refrigerate and marinate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.
5.  Heat wok or deep skillet over high heat.
6.  Add 2 Tbs. peanut oil and swirl to coat sides of pan.
7.  When the oil is shimmering, add chicken with a slotted spoon, letting marinade remain in bowl--you may have to do this in two batches.
8.  Stir-fry chicken until lightly caramelized, scraping up any bits as you cook.
9.  Transfer cooked chicken to a plate to keep warm.
10.  Add remaining 1 Tbs. peanut oil to wok, heating again to the shimmering point.
11.  Add onions and carrots, stir-frying until vegetables just begin to caramelize.
12.  Add cabbage and optional jalepenos, stir-frying until cabbage just begins to caramelize.
13.  Add sugar snap peas and garlic, stir-frying until snap peas are bright green.
14.  Mix chicken broth or water into remaining marinade.
15.  Add mixture to wok, stirring to coat all the vegetables.
16.  Return chicken to wok, and reheat briefly.
17.  Serve over hot rice.  Serves 4.

Coconut Rice

1 1/2 cups jasmine or long-grain rice
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt

1.  Combine rice, coconut milk, water and salt in a rice cooker and cook according to manufacturer's directions.
2.  Alternatively, combine all ingredients in a medium-sized sauce pan and bring to boil.
3.  Cover and reduce heat to low.
4.  Cook on low heat for 18 to 22 minutes.  Serves 4. 

May your tastebuds dance!

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