October 24, 2007

Dinner for One?

I’m still learning to cook alone.

It’s funny; when I’m eating with others I usually want to spend time talking with them–chilling at a restaurant or laughing at a bar–rather than cooking them dinner. Last night, I ate some (admittedly delicious) takeout Orange Chicken, for once all by my lonesome in my house. I wondered why I hadn’t simply made some kind of Asian chicken myself, and realized: when other people are around, cooking is becomes this thrilling, unifying Group Activity. Everybody’s got something they can do. Got no knife skills? That’s okay, tear off those cilantro leaves. Scared of plants? Awesome, stir this pot for the next thirty minutes. Just here for a taste? Well, what do you think?

Also, my greatest successes in the kitchen have come with company or when it was for company. I love the solidarity you feel, tasting something alongside your sous-chef. I love the cooking-by-wiki way my brothers prepare chili. And, being as egotistical as I am, I love a flurry of compliments from the peanut gallery once the food is served (believe me, this only works with other people. Complimenting yourself is kinda depressing).

Of course, I’ve spoken about the pride I feel whenever I make something good. But the desire for that pride is always tempered by a combination of laziness and sheer terror. When I step into a kitchen alone, see the dutch oven looming, prepare my mise-en-place like a good little foodie and find it’s twice as big as I expected…I imagine just how much I can screw up. In my head I hear Statler and Waldorf cackling from the balcony.

“Oh, look, here comes my favorite part of the meal!”
“What, the main course?”
“No, the the Pepto-Bismol!”

It’s a little absurd that I’m more eager to try for my peers than I am for an audience of none, don’t you think? Particularly given just how good food can be when you give it your total, undivided attention. I need to remember that cooking isn’t necessarily about being impressive or perfect; it’s about making something that tastes good, and feeling utterly happy with your results. Regardless of whether or not you’ve got an audience.

No matter what these guys say, we can’t give into kitchen fear, or balk at cooking just ’cause we’re only doing it for one. After all, when I make a mess out of a dish and eat it anyway, at least I know I made the attempt; when I call in a cardboard-like Domino’s thin-crust, I’ve already admitted defeat.

Screw laziness, screw terror. I want more pride.

I think I’ll start with this: Chicken Lasagna. Sounds pretty delicious, and with pre-cooked chicken that’s one less step for me to screw up.

Other simple dishes to shut the muppets up:
Encrusted Walnut Chicken
Quick Chinese Pepper Steak
San Francisco Pork Chops

-Jim should probably read this book at some point, too

August 8, 2007

Dropping Elbows for Some Dumplings

How does Dumpling House (of Chinatown fame) do it?! They charge only $1 for 5 huge pork and chive dumplings. AND, they are delicious. The reason must have something to do the continuous dumpling distribution. You can buy 10, 20, even bags of 50 frozen dumplings. I seriously considered the latter option.

J* and I emerged from the Grand St. subway stop on a Sunday afternoon, roughly 3pm. We hoped the odd hour would help with the rumored crowd. We quickly scurried past the pungent odors of several fish markets to Dumpling House. Several people were grouped outside gazing at the menu over the entrance. Dumpling House is tiny, so you need to do your deciding outside. Only a single layer of people, maybe 5-6 people long, will fit up at the counter at one time. The back of the joint has a small counter with a few stools.

You need to be a bit aggressive to get up to the counter, with your money out, and make your order. And you have to pay attention to when your food is ready or you’ll lose it. While I was waiting at the counter for my food, a dumpling house woman was putting together another girl’s order and turned around for a second to retrieve something else, leaving a styrofoam container of dumplings in a plastic bag awaiting other items. A woman pushed her way up to the counter, put a dollar down, and snatched up the dumplings quickly, leaving with the stunned girl’s order despite shouts from the Dumpling House staff. I gave the girl a sympathetic glance and a shake of my head.

When our order came up, 10 pork and chive dumplings and a sesame pancake stuffed with beef, vegetables, and cilantro (paying $2.50 in total for two people), we quickly devoured it at the back of the restaurant. The dumplings were pan-fried (we specified steamed, but we weren’t going to cause trouble at the counter) and deliciously crispy on the bottom. They were large and generously stuffed with the flavorful pork and vegetable mixture. I loved the sesame pancake stuffed with beef even more, never having sampled such a pancake-sandwich (genius!).

I would fear to attempt Dumpling House during rush hours, but I will definitely be back on an odd afternoon for some cheap eats.

May 21, 2007

I’m a Giant in Chinatown

Please forgive me. Several weeks have passed since I took these pictures from the Taste of Chinatown. It’s about time I blogged about the food festival. It was a warm, Saturday afternoon and I was with a motley collection of friends. We zig-zagged through the crowd and fought our way over to the street-side tables, where $1 and $2 tasting portions were offered to the crowd. There were no tables, so overly hungry eyes could mean juggling several Styrofoam containers while eating standing up and walking through the crowd. (Sure, there were a couple chair-less tables scattered down the center of the street, but these were rarely open for occupation.)

Fried rice and pork dumplings were the first selection for which we fought, and for $2, we received quite a respectable portion. I shoveled rice into my mouth straight from the small container as we continued to scope out more food. The Peking Duck place looked amazing, and the line around the block confirmed our suspicions. In the end though, we were not motivated enough to wait (I will be going back for this, mmmm duck).

We visited this table next for a collection of egg rolls, steamed pork bao, fried shrimp, and these little pork burger-things which throughly confused me. The shrimp was quite tasty, but certainly unremarkable, and I really wasn’t a fan of the bao. It seemed a little too gooey on the outside for my taste. At this point, my friends and I were already too full and wanting to get out of the sun. We slipped into a bakery/tea shop/karaoke club for bubble tea. If you are not privy to the magic of bubble tea, it’s basically a fruity frozen drink with little balls of tapioca which you suck up through the straw while drinking and chew. This shop had a really nifty machine that seals the top of frozen bubble tea with a film of plastic, and can be punctured with the over-sized straw. Fun fun.

Visit Recipe4Living.com’s collection of Chinese Food recipes here.

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