IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER

It has been many years since food was all that important to me. I used to eat more than I do. I can’t eat so much — of anything — these days.

Chinese lily

I was a really good cook, back when cooking mattered more than it does now. These days, my goal is to turn out tasty meals that take under half an hour to prepare — half that to clean up. Other than Japanese food, we no long bother to go out to eat. The restaurants in this area are … I’m searching for a polite way to say this … uninspired. Bland. If I want something with a lot of flavor, I make it myself.

I learned to cook Chinese cuisine a long time ago. Way back when I was first married and we went out to eat Chinese several times a week, which on an adjunct professor’s salary (I was still in college), was burdensome.

I figured if millions of Chinese women could do it, I could too. I bought a cookbook. A wok and a cleaver. I found ingredients. It was 1966. There were no oriental grocery stores locally. Nor did I have a home computer or an Internet through which I could buy anything. I winged it.

kitchen condiments

Last night I made a beef stir fry for dinner. These days, I have a rice cooker. It makes preparing rice a no-brainer. I had frozen Chinese veggies, hoisin sauce and four kinds of soy at hand. Fresh ginger, chopped garlic. Broth. I diced the steak earlier in the day.

Cooking was done in a flash. The labor-intensive part is in the slicing and dicing. Cooking is accomplished quickly, at high heat and of course, the rice in the cooker takes care of itself.

I remembered how I labored over those first Chinese meals. The cookbook open on the counter. Timing the rice. Measuring carefully each ingredient. Now I eyeball everything, throw it in the big iron skillet and I know by the way it smells I’ve got it right.

I guess that’s the payoff for forty plus years of cooking daily or nearly so. There ought to be some benefit, right?


Food for the Soul (and the Stomach)



Categories: Food, Personal

Tags: , , , , ,

32 replies

  1. It is a relatively healthy cuisine – a very much wing it type of cuisine.

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    • It is healthy. Lots of vegetable, relatively low meat content. Very little fat. And you really can, if you have the right spices and condiments, throw something together from whatever you happen to have on hand.

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  2. It all sounds good to me!
    Leslie

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  3. I, too, love condiments. They comprise at least a third of the space taken up in my fridge.

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    • If you’ve got the right herbs, spices, and condiments, you can turn anything into something delicious. That’s what’s wrong with this area. They think salt, ketchup, and mayonnaise is the beginning and the end of gourmet cooking.

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  4. I love Chinese food and there is a great Chinese restaurant literally right across the street. I treat myself to Chinese food there once a week. There’s also a sushi place across the street, an Italian place half a block away, a Thai place around the corner, and a great pizza place two blocks away. I love living in the city.

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    • I remember the food in San Francisco is wonderful. There were more great restaurants per block there than in all of Massachusetts. Especially the Blackstone Valley. We have some of the most atrocious restaurants. I don’t know how why they are still in business.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post. But an hour after I read it, I wanted to read it again …

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  6. I think you summed up my thoughts on cooking at the top of your post. Food just isn’t that important to me. Cooking is a necessity because I have kids to feed. My cooking is not art, but I try to make it healthy.

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  7. Funny how dinner changes in importance for some of us over the years. It used to be a big deal for me. As the oldest of 3 brothers (no sisters), I always drew the short straw in the kitchen. I watched and played second chef as my Mom cooked. Since Mom and Dad worked (Dad often 2 jobs), I often drew first chef duty. I was okay. I drew on the family’s West Indian heritage in cooking. I wasn’t really a happy camper because the other kids were outside playing and I could frequently hear them calling my name to come out. In all fairness, I did get to spend time outside. Back to the kitchen. Once I graduated from High School and was a “Man” in my eyes, I decided I had seen enough cooking duties. So it was that I morphed into an adult male from central casting who did the absolute minimum cooking as a long time bachelor. That attitude, unfortunately, continues as Marilyn and I approach our silver anniversary in marriage. Age also has minimized my interest in dinner food. I have one or two favorites but that’s it.
    It is what it is.

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    • And fortunately — for both of us — we don’t eat much. Whatever gets cooked is pretty easy and I am the world’s neatest cook, so there is little to clean up afterwards. I admit most of my recipes are as focused on easy clean up as quick prep. My gourmet days are done and gone.

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  8. My mom bought me an International Cookbook so I could make authentic meals for the fam when I was about fifteen or sixteen. The first time I make Sweet and Sour chicken the via the recipe, she flipped her lid because it wasn’t the way she was used to. She was used to a very sweet sauce made with mostly brown sugar and pineapple sauce and the chicken wasn’t deep fried (I don’t know where she got her recipe). I told her I’d followed the recipe in the book to a T, but she said to never cook it that way again. Ha!

    I took my cookbook with me after I got married and used it a lot. You’re right, it was way labor intensive, and not just the Chinese stuff. I remember making some kind of chicken/crepe dish that took me hours… and tasted awful! I haven’t been able to eat crepes since.

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    • I got an International Cook Book as a wedding present. The only good part were the bread baking recipes. Most of the food was unnecessarily complicated and too heavy with butter, not to mention expensive ingredients you don’t find in most grocery stores. I learned Italian (always a good fallback position when money is tight). Later, Caribbean (a bit more work, but still, not a killer). Chile. Back when we still consume big hunks of meat (I can’t do that now), I could make a wicked good pot roast and meatloaf, but I don’t think I could eat it, much less cook it now. I use a lot less meat and I wish I could find a way to not eat it at all. I’m not a very good carnivore.

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      • I’ve found that I don’t tolerate beef as well as I used to, but everything else seems to work okay. But, you’re right, some of those dishes were way complicated… Still, it gave me something to do.

        Back when I had a family to cook for, I made a mean lasagna. Alas, I can no longer eat lasagna without paying a steep price.

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        • We found we don’t like pork and I can’t remember the last time I bought any, aside from an occasional package of bacon. Beef, whatever the cut, tends to be diced and become something else. We eat a lot of fish and chicken. More fish. I used to make a lot of chili, but Garry doesn’t get on with beans.

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  9. I cook Chinese, but am not sure if Wong Hi Wang would agree that it is chinese. I use Soy sauce, but that’s about it. I bought my super Wok about 10 years ago and often use it. Chopped chicken breast, bean shoots, china cabbage, carrots, leek, you name it I have it and it all goes stir fry in the wok and we eat it. Neither Mr. Swiss nor I have been to China so we get no problems on the validity of the dish. I don’t like eating out, I am a suspicious eater and start wondering how they did it. i have my methods in cooking. Sunday I like something I can begin to cook after breakfast and serve at lunch time without bothering about the progress. If I ever pay a visit, it’s ok for you to cook chinese, looks good from the ingredients.

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    • Basic Chinese cooking is ginger, soy sauce, garlic, chicken or beef broth, vegetables (whatever you like and have available) plus some kind of meat. Served with rice. There are other things you can add, but that’s a basic stir fry and it’s easy. Something else to make when you are tired of the usual.

      I was surprised how easy it really is. Once you know which spices to use and how much of what … and can cut things up neatly … the cooking is very fast and simple. You just can’t walk away and forget it. THAT is disaster because wok cooking is done on high heat and you can torch everything in very short order. Otherwise? It’s as easy as it gets. At least that kind of cooking. There IS fancy cooking, but I don’t do the fancy dishes much, not these days. I used to, though. I don’t do much fancy cooking any time now. I’m too tired of cooking.

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  10. I had to laugh when I read “now I eyeball everything”. I remember when I started cooking and asked my Grandma about measurements. Her favorite reply “a little bit of these” or “to taste” I had no idea what she was talking about. Now you hear me say the same every time someone asks…”to taste” 🙂

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    • I say things like “a dollop” or “a spilling of salt” or “a shake of garlic powder.” I don’t even know how to describe it. I learned a lot by watching my father cook. He was a very good cook. Watching my mother was a cautionary tale, a clear reminder of what NOT to do. Kids who watch us cook become good cooks. They’ve actually done studies on it. They also learn a lot of about measurements and understand stuff like 1 cup is still 1 cup when you pour it into more than one container … and kids that don’t watch others cook are surprisingly retarded about this. I found that interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I learned cooking from my Grandma and then had to really do it when we got married. Money was tight, we were both students eating out was not in the budget. The American way of cooking came later and I needed books. We don’t have children (not by choice) but I have a handful of Godchildren and two of them were my cooking slaves when they were young. I never thought about it, but you are right they learn from us by watching, like we did.

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        • It turns out that kids who watch mom or grandma in the kitchen are smarter when they get into school. They already know stuff other kids who never hung around the kitchen don’t know and will have to learn. I didn’t know that when my son was little, but having the kid hanging around and helping in the kitchen seemed totally normal to me.

          So what kind of cooking did you learn first? My father did a lot of fancy French-style stuff, but I was never as fond of that as I was of Mexican, Caribbean, Italian, and Chinese. I’m actually not sure what American cooking is because everyone I know cooks whatever is traditional in their family. I did learn a lot of eastern European Jewish dishes, but they are rich and too heavy … and you can’t make them for two people. They are all meant to feed a crowd.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Half of our farm was in Italy the other half in Austria. I grew up learning the Austrian/Hungarian way of cooking and the Italian way of course. My Grandmother was part Jewish so I learned some typical dishes like the “noodle kugel” :-). American cooking…good question. I think the biggest shock was eating toast as bread, and the gravy, the white gravy. A Bechamel Sauce for breakfast with a biscuit…it floored me. Next thing cornbread…still can’t eat it. Have you read the story about the German lady who baked cornbread, thinking it would be a yellow cake and put chocolate icing on it? I read it it had me rolling, could have been me. BBQ, that I had to learn, making burgers and pulled pork..stuff like that. I called my kitchen blog “bringing worlds together in my kitchen” and I think that’s what I tried to do. Put his upbringing and mine in a pot and make something out of it :-).

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            • I am trying to imagine what cornbread with chocolate icing would taste like. I can’t even begin to express my horror.

              I make REALLY good cornbread from a recipe I got off the back of a bag of stone ground corn meal. I think half my best recipes came off the back of whatever package the ingredients came in. Garry and I had a brief conversation and decided there is no American cuisine. It’s whatever the various immigrant groups brought with them, adapted to local taste and ingredients.

              I love Hungarian cooking, but it isn’t one of the simple throw-it-together cuisines.

              Liked by 1 person

              • The package recipes, gosh I love those. They are everywhere in my cookbook. I never made cornbread from scratch, maybe that’s why I don’t like it. My husband would love it, I might knock at your screen and ask for the recipe :-). American food for me is Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers, baked beans, chicken fried steak.

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                • Durgin Park’s Famous Corn Bread Recipe (Durgin Park was (is?) a very upscale steakhouse in downtown Boston):

                  3/4 cup sugar
                  2 eggs
                  3/4 teaspoon salt
                  1-1/2 cups milk
                  2 cups flour
                  1 cup corn meal
                  1 tablespoon baking powder
                  1 tablespoon melted butter

                  Mix sugar with beaten eggs. Sift (I don’t sift; I just mix) flour, salt, and corn meal together. Add melted butter and milk. Beat up quickly (do NOT overbeat — just until it’s all lightly mixed) and bake in a large buttered pan in a very hot oven (very hot = 450).

                  It’s done when it’s lightly golden on top and has pulled away from the side of the pan. If you touch the top lightly, it should spring back. If you use a large pan so it isn’t very thick, it comes out better. I use a large 9 X 12 approx. pan. Don’t forget to grease the pan!

                  Liked by 1 person

  11. I think Chinese food is the easiest cuisine, just marinade and throw everything together and toss them until they’re cooked. It saves time and pots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree. There are difficult, complicated special dishes … Peking duck comes to mind (and I’m horribly allergic to duck, the ONLY food to which I’m allergic, which is a pity because I really love it) and I don’t usually bother with them. Too much like work. But you’re right. It’s the nature of most Chinese cooking that once you’ve got your ingredients cut up the way you need it, the cooking is minutes and all in a single pan … except the rice, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

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