Dining Out, Dining In

20170513_120144.jpg

Dining out, for me at least, means ordering something on the menu I can’t reproduce in my own kitchen. The more I cook and bake, if in part, perhaps to keep on providing you with fresh ideas for your own table, means the list of dishes I’ll eat out grows smaller. Good for my wallet, especially with the exorbitant cost of childcare. (Seriously, you’d pass out if I told you what we spent in 2016 for our two precious girls.) There are some dishes I just can’t nail – baingan bharta, for example, is one that I will always order in a restaurant because I just can’t do it in my own kitchen. Hummus, too, I just can’t get right, although I recently heard a tip I need to try: run the food processor an extra 2 minutes, to help aerate it. We’ll see if that helps.

Chinese food is another that tends to taste better from a restaurant. But I had good luck with this Sweet and Sour Tofu-Vegetable Stir-Fry. It’s from Everyday Vegetarian: A Delicious Guide for Creating More Than 150 Meatless Dishes from the editors of Cooking Light. This recipe is exactly what you would have at the restaurant. Seriously, it’s spot-on. I’m an admitted broccoli junkie, and I freely admit to making this twice in a 4-day period. Rich, who would never willingly order tofu or request it of his own choosing, gladly ate this dish.

One of the nice features of cookbooks from magazines, like this one, is that there’s a full cadre of writers and cooks to test recipes. This cookbook has been more thoroughly vetted than the current president’s cabinet members. There are eight sections in the cookbook, plus an opening on the “Everyday Vegetarian Kitchen.” I’m looking forward to trying many of the recipes here, including Lemony Zucchini Pitas with Quick Pickled Dill Carrots and Spinach and Feta Quiche with Quinoa Crust. I have a feeling they will be as spot-on as the stir-fry.

20170608_123741.jpg

 

This week’s recipe was one of the recipes I’d accumulated during my broken computer hiatus and set aside until it was in season. Now that broccoli has arrived in this week’s CSA haul, I’m so so happy to share this one with you now.

Maybe also because it’s from a mainstream publication, they often “suggest” using ingredients like Uncle Ben’s in the Warm Brown Rice and Chickpea with Cherries and Goat Cheese, or Swanson’s when stock is needed. As I get older, short cuts in the kitchen like that make more and more sense to me, but I’ll leave what brands to use to your best judgement.

I made quite a few substitutions of my own. I never have dry sherry in the house, so I used sherry vinegar, which was a perfect substitute. I didn’t have fresh hot pepper in the house and used a pinch of red pepper flakes instead. Although the recipe calls for Broccolini, I used broccoli florets. I also skipped the carrots. I can’t stand cast-iron and never used my wok so I didn’t pack it when we moved, so I used a non-stick skillet. Yes, I am aware I spent time talking about how spot on this recipe is, then followed up by talking about the alterations I made to it. But I know the little tweaks I made wouldn’t change the flavors or texture of the recipe. And that’s what cooking is all about. It’s trickier to do that with baking, though.

Although the header notes say, This dish is mildly spicy; to make it extra kid-friendly, omit the chile from the sweet and sour sauce.” Beatrix, who at least tasted it because it was broccoli, something she will still eat, announced it was “too spicy,” and spat it out. Her loss, because this dish is fantastic.

Sweet and Sour Tofu-Vegetable Stir-Fry from Everyday Vegetarian: A Delicious Guide for Creating More Than 150 Meatless Dishes By the Editors of Cooking Light

Ingredients

1 (14-ounce) package water-packed extra-firm tofu, drained

3/4 cup water

1/3 cup rice vinegar

2 Tablespoons sugar

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 Tablespoons dry sherry (I used sherry vinegar, which was a perfect substitute.)

2 Tablespoons ketchup

2 Tablespoons finely chopped red hot chile (with seeds), such as red jalapeno or Thai chile (I used a pinch of red pepper flakes instead.)

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 ½ Tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce

2 Tablespoons canola oil

½ teaspoon salt

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

2 carrots, diagonally cut into 1/8-inch thick slices

1 (8-ounce) bunch Broccolini, cut into florets and stems cut into ½-inch pieces (I used broccoli florets.)

2 cups cooked brown rice

Directions

Place the tofu in a shallow dish. Place the paper towels on top, and weight with a cast-iron skillet or other heavy pan. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing down occasionally. Discard the liquid, and cut the tofu into 2 x ¼-inch pieces.

While the tofu stands, combine ½ cup of the water, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir half of the garlic into the sugar mixture. Stir in the sherry, ketchup, and chile. Cook the mixture over medium heat until boiling. Remove from the heat; stir in the cornstarch, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Stir in the soy sauce.

Heat a large cast iron skillet or wok over high heat. (I used a non-stick skillet.)

Add 1 Tablespoon of the oil swirl to coat. Add the tofu in an even layer; cook, without stirring, 2 minutes. Turn the tofu; cook 2 minutes. Place on a plate; sprinkle with the salt.

Add 1 teaspoon of the oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add the bell pepper; stir-fry 2 minutes. Add the remaining garlic; stir-fry 10 to 20 seconds. Remove to the plate with the tofu. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add the carrots; stir-fry 1 minute. Add the Broccolini; stir-fry 3 minutes or until the water evaporates. Return the tofu mixture to the pan. Add the sauce mixture; stir to coat. Place the rice on each of 4 plates. Place the tofu mixture over the rice.

 

 

Duly Noted

Forget Joyce’s Ulysses. More often than not, I find myself wishing for annotations on recipes I read. The offenders can be found everywhere: in cookbooks, online, in magazines…other blogs. I can’t be the only one who reads food preparation instructions with a raised eyebrow. Caramelize an onion in 15 minutes? I beg to differ.

As thrilled as I was to find a hot and sour soup recipe in a recent issue of the magazine Saveur, I was skeptical about the time it took, not to mention a seemingly out of nowhere addition of pork tenderloin. I’m a huge fan of this fiery soup and was excited to try out the recipe — with reservations.

And now, ladies and gentleman, I bring you Suan La Tang, Hot and Sour Soup, with my annotations in italics.

Suan La Tang –Hot and Sour Soup, Saveur #150 (November 2012)

For the pork:

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. brandy

1 tsp. cornstarch

4 oz. pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

[The addition of this animal seems completely unnecessary and without merit. I will ignore this direction and continue on with the rest of recipe.]

For the soup:

8 cups chicken stock

[Really, does it have to be chicken stock? Maybe we can just call it stock and keep it vegetarian?]

3 tbsp. soy sauce

3 tbsp. white wine vinegar

3 tbsp. corn starch

1 tsp. ground white pepper

[Um. White pepper? Is that really necessary? After checking a bunch of hot and sour soups online, it looks like an essential ingredient to the soup. Luckily, spices were 50% off at Star Market this afternoon. I will now have to find a dozen more recipes that call for white pepper, or, make this soup over and over and over.]

1 tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. cayenne

12 oz. firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/4” cubes

[But tofu usually comes in 14 oz. packages. I’m not going to use all but 2 oz. of tofu. That just seems ridiculous.]

¼ cup cubed potato

[I peeled and cubed the potato while I waited  for the broth to thicken. There was a lot of waiting.]

6 shiitake or wood ear mushrooms, cut into 1/4 “ pieces.

[I wonder what people who don’t frequent Ocean State Job Lot do when recipes call for a random amount of shiitake mushrooms.  Even though the directions didn’t call for it, before I tackled any of the recipe, I set the mushrooms in a bowl of near-boiling water and lidded the bowl with an overturned plate. The mushrooms soaked until it was time to add them to the pot. This made them much easier to cut.]

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro, to garnish

[Eh, I’m not going to bother with the cilantro tonight.]

Directions

For the pork:

[See above. I’m just going to completely ignore this part of the recipe and hope for the best.]

For the soup:

Whisk together stock, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, pepper, salt, cayenne and ¼ cup water in a 4-qt. saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

[I don’t own a 4-qt. saucepan, so I’m going to use the huge pot I use for making pasta. Do people typically own 4-qt. saucepans? About the boiling: It seems to take a good 14-17 minutes to bring 8 cups of stock to a boil, just an FYI.]

Add pork, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens, about 30 minutes. Add tofu, potatoes, and mushrooms, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

[As it turns out, the thickening took more like 50 minutes, rather than 30 minutes. The potatoes getting tender took closer to 25 minutes, rather than 15 minutes.]

Without stirring, slowly drizzle egg into simmering soup in a thin, steady stream. When egg strands float to surface, stir in the oil. Ladle soup into serving bowls and garnish with cilantro. Serves 4-6.

[Wow, the drizzled raw egg morphing into floating streams was almost instantaneous. So cool. I want to do it again.]

The verdict: This soup was excellent and worth sharing. With annotations. I started it at 5:30 and it was a little after 7 before we sat down to eat. Will definitely make it again, but will keep in mind for the next time that this soup takes about an hour and a half to prepare.

Put a Ring on It

About six months ago, my left ring finger started to itch and sting. I removed my wedding ring for a few days and applied Cortisone, but as soon as I put the ring back on, the itching returned. I switched the ring to my right ring finger, but the same symptoms appeared a few days later. After talking to friends and poking around on the internet, I realized that at some point I had developed a nickel allergy. Nickel, I recently learned, is mixed with gold to make the white gold my engagement ring and wedding band are made of. As I write this post, my hands are jewelry-free. At some point I’ll probably go to the jeweler and pick up a plain platinum band so there’s some sort of marriage marker, but I’m not interested in buying a new engagement ring.

We’ll be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary in June, and in the six years I’ve owned my engagement ring, I’ve received piles of compliments on it on a near-weekly basis. It’s not your typical metal band with a stone in the center, but an original creation based on an Edwardian design. It’s a band full of filigree, diamonds and lots of character. And they’re Canadian conflict-free diamonds, which was key for me. When Rich found the ring, he knew right away it was the right one. (Of course he knew, I had given him explicit instructions and design ideas for what I wanted.) He brought me to the jeweler to take a look, and I took it out for a test-drive. We brought it back, and then, because I’m me and like to make sure everything is just as it should be, we then went to 11 jewelers the next day. Just to make sure. Rich was not happy.

When we’d decided on my ring, we asked the designer, Ana-Katarina, if we could maybe replace the center diamond with a higher grade. “Oh no,” she said shaking her head, “You’re getting married. You need to save your money so that you can buy a home and have children. Don’t spend any more money than you have to on a piece of jewelry.” That summer was a hot one, and the store had a special discount depending on the temperature. When the thermometer hit 102, Rich made his move.

My sister and her wife loved my ring so much, that they also went to Ana-Katarina when they decided to get engaged. Their rings are both incredibly unique and inspire oohs and aahs wherever they go. I met someone last year and complemented her on her ring. It was also by Ana-Katarina.

I’ve been trying to make the best of the situation, making dishes that would have required me to remove my rings, like last week’s granola bars, these chickpea patties or this cabbage salad that required an even distribution of the dressing with a few down-and-dirty hand tosses.


I found this recipe earlier this week in “A Good Appetite,” Melissa Clark’s column in The New York Times, and you know how much I love her stuff. I’ve changed things up a bit, and employed my friend Tania’s baked tofu method in lieu of the one Clark suggests. I’ve also replaced the brown rice the salad rests on with wheat berries I soaked overnight and cooked in the pressure cooker.

March is one of those in-between months when it comes to vegetables: You’ve become a little sick of winter’s root vegetables, but asparagus and artichokes are still a few weeks away. Sometimes there are some nice, sweet parsnips that the farmer has picked, but there’s always cabbage. As Clark points out, one head of cabbage can make at least three separate dishes. I used a third of the cabbage I had in the fridge for this dish, and it fed three of us with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. I hope to use the rest of the vegetable for a warm borscht I’ve been plotting; more on that later.

Ironically, my nose ring is made of titanium, so, for the time being, that’s the one piece of jewelry that’s a constant in my life. And, I guess if this was India or certain African countries, it would be quite evident from that piercing that I am, indeed, happily married.

(Editor’s Note: Because there have been several off-line requests for a photo, I’ve “borrowed” this from one of AK’s albums. I’m a little worried I’m breaking some sort of copyright law by using this photo, so if anyone thinks this might end in a lawsuit, please feel free to chime in.)

Crunchy Vietnamese Cabbage Salad with Baked Tofu

Ingredients

3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

Zest and juice of 1 lime

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced (note: I had a red Thai chili and used half. I think any hot pepper will work in this recipe)

1 garlic clove, minced

4 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 pound extra-firm tofu

4 cups shredded cabbage

1 large carrot, grated

1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts, plus more to serve

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more to serve.

Directions

Preheat oven to 450.

Pat the block of tofu dry using a paper towel. Slice the slab into thirds, and then slice those into thirds. Using your hands, gently toss the slices in a large bowl with a few glugs of olive oil. Place the tofu pieces on an oiled baking sheet and place in the hot oven. At 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Using a silicone spatula, test one piece by flipping it over. You’re looking for a nice crust; it should be golden and beginning to caramelize. If it’s not there, place it back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan and flip over a piece. If it’s golden, flip the rest of the pieces and put the pan back into the oven for another 15 minutes. You’re looking for the tofu to be a deep golden and the pieces will be spongy, with just a hint of crispness. Trust me, the texture has an amazing mouth feel and you’ll want to pop pieces of this all night long.

To make the vinaigrette, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients, then gradually whisk in the oil.

In a large bowl, toss together tofu, cabbage, carrot, peanuts, cilantro and vinaigrette. Garnish with more peanuts and cilantro.

Champagne Wishes and Fish Sauce Dreams

A few weeks ago, I had a quick procedure. Not a big deal, not even worth getting into the details here, but they did need to sedate me. I was a little groggy afterwards, and I was given the instructions not to drive, go to work or operate heavy machinery for the rest of the day. But when Rich brought me home from the hospital, I grabbed a canvas grocery bag from the backseat and started wobbling my way to the market around the corner.

“Um, what are you doing, dear?” Rich asked.

“I have some stuff I need to pick up,” I replied.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, given your condition.”

“Oh, I’m fine. It’s 500 yards from our house, and I promise to use the crosswalks. There’s no heavy machinery involved.”

Rich soon realized this was a battle he would not be able to win, even though his opponent could barely stand up. He watched me steady myself to the end of the street, green sweatpants and all, and turn the corner.

I had had Vietnamese noodles on my mind for the past few weeks, and the chalush (an uncontrollable hankering) was one that not even a minor sedative would keep me from. The secret to Vietnamese noodles is fish sauce, which can be found in Asian markets, and more often than not, in the Asian aisle of most decent grocery stores. It’s usually made of anchovies, and is a bit akin to garum, the stinky fish sauce the Romans doused nearly everything they ate with. Hey, I said the blog is “mostly” vegetarian, cut me some slack.

And the noodles were perfect. They were exactly what I had hoped for. Looking back, I probably should have stayed out of the kitchen that afternoon, and not used the stove or a large chef’s knife. When I tasted the sauce, I thought it was too citrusy, so I stumbled around the kitchen adding a splash of mirin and a dash of soy. Of course, after a few minutes of fussing, I realized I hadn’t actually added the fish sauce; it had been measured and waiting next to the bowl. Oops. But I did succeed in the end, and somehow I managed to photograph it as well.

When Rich returned home from work that night, I greeted him with an offer of the noodles spiked with fish sauce. “Oh,” he said, “so you did end up making them.” “Huh?” I asked. “Oh, you don’t remember? When you came to after the anesthesia, you were mumbling noodles with fish sauce.”

Vietnamese Noodles aka Thai Noodles slightly adapted from Myers + Chang Thai Ginger Chicken Salad, minus the chicken salad, from Bon Appetit September 2011

Ingredients

1 Thai chili, sliced thin

Juice of ½ lime

2 Tablespoon mirin

2 Tablespoon rice vinegar

¼ cup fish sauce

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoon. ginger, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

12 oz. rice stick noodles

4 oz. cubed tofu

4 springs cilantro, stems included, chopped

Directions

Put a large pot of salted water onto boil.

Whisk first 8 ingredients in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Set dressing aside.

When the water boils, cook noodles until tender, but still firm to the bite, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain; put in large bowl.

Add cubed tofu to the noodles, pour the dressing, toss to coat, then sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.

Iron Chef: CSA

A few summers ago, I had the privilege of judging a local Iron Chef competition. The secret ingredient was not some creature off the ocean’s floor or an exotic fruit flown in from a far off island. Instead, it was the contents of the contestants’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, to highlight New England’s incredible summer bounties.

The teams used different farms and were assured that they didn’t need to use their entire boxes. To make sure the competition was fair, a list of standard vegetarian ingredients was issued, to be used in moderate quantities to enhance the vegetables: eggs, butter, up to 24 oz of soy products, 1 can beans/chickpeas or up to 2 lbs dried legumes, vegetable broth, garlic, onion,  nuts, flour, rice, quinoa or couscous, cornstarch, cocoa, sugar, up to 6 oz of cheese,  salt, pepper, milk, extra-virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, lemon/lime juice. Contestants were allowed to use any spices but got extra points for fresh herbs.

Some teams really stepped up for the competition and produced terrific dishes, including a refreshing tomato granita served in a hollowed-out cucumber and fresh, homemade pasta. Others, I am sad to report, did not. “A quiche?” I asked one team. “You bring me quiche? Do you want to win?”

(Side note: Before I get a dozen comments from people defending quiche, I just want to say, I get it. In fact, I keep a package of frozen Orinoco pie shells in my freezer, just in case I need to show up at a potluck at an hour’s notice: some eggs, some milk, a softened onion, a jar of roasted red peppers kept in the pantry for this specific food emergency, a fluffy pile of grated cheese. Yes, I get it. But there’s a contest going on, people!)

“Hey,” they responded, “We were at the Springsteen concert last night. It got out late. We didn’t have enough time. The crust is homemade, if that helps.” It helped, a little. Duly noted.

After the parade of dishes, we, the judges huddled upstairs comparing notes, where, a la Twelve Angry Men, I may have provoked a “spirited” conversation about which team should win. My favorite was the first team, which kicked off the competition with fresh summer rolls stuffed with ripe mango, served with a side of peanut dipping sauce. “But Molly,” my judges pointed out, “they broke the rules. There’s no such thing as a mango in a CSA box. There’s no such thing as a local mango, period. It’s New England! And rice papers? Peanut butter? Those things just aren’t allowed.” “But they were my favorite!” I argued. “I loved the mango in the summer rolls; so refreshing in this heat.”

I was outvoted ultimately, and realistically we couldn’t award the CSA Iron Chef competition to fresh mango summer rolls. I relented and begrudgingly shaved points from their score. The winner, I guess I should just mention at this point, was the tomato granita team, which was captained by my sister. Hey, I’m nothing if not impartial.

The fresh mango was such a treat for me. I never buy them, exactly for the reason why my fellow judges felt they had no place in the competition. But here’s the thing: It’s mango season, really and truly. As Melissa Clark wrote last month, springtime is mango season in India and all the hot steamy places mangoes grow. My Facebook feed is now full of photos of friends’ mango trees in Miami, brimming with the orange gems. Considering that we seem to have skipped from winter right into summer (complete with thunderstorms and tornadoes) the time is right for fresh mango summer rolls.

I bought my rice papers at H-Mart in Burlington, but I’ve also picked them up at Super 88 (now Hong Kong Market) at Packard’s Corner. The Thai basil and fresh mint are what makes it taste like a summer roll. I picked up my bunches at Russo’s this time around, but I know H-Mart and Hong Kong Market sells them as well.

If you’ve never made a summer roll before, don’t fret, it’s very simple. Think burrito. Some of the rice papers will rip, but just keep going. And please don’t worry if they don’t all look gorgeous; they’ll still taste delicious. Make sure you have all your ingredients laid out on the counter assembly-line style, starting with a pan of warm water for soaking the rice paper.

To prepare the mango: I peel mine with a peeler, then I stand it up and, with a sharp knife, cut the flesh right up off its pit. For this dish, I slice everything very, very thin, the length and width of two matchsticks.

Most recipes I’ve read for summer rolls call for Napa cabbage, although I’ve never actually been served them that way in a restaurant. After ranch dressing, this is the best use of iceberg lettuce.  I thought that some crisp, sweet red pepper would be nice with the mango, and it was. I also used some fresh tofu, and I’ve seen some restaurants use grilled meat in theirs. I say go for it, if that’s your thing. Otherwise, hello, vegan yumminess!

Fresh Summer Rolls

8 rice papers, but keep more around because some will rip

One head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced. Use a plastic knife if you’ve got one handy; steel knives will cause the lettuce to brown.

¼ cup Thai basil, julienned

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, julienned

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Half a red pepper, cleaned and sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One mango, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One block tofu, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

Directions:

Fill a large pan with warm water and set on counter. Next to that, place a large plate. If you have room on your counter, place the herbed lettuce directly in back of the plate. If not, place it right next to the plate. Next to that, set your plate of mango, tofu and red peppers.

Take one sheath of rice paper, gently lay it into the water, swish it between your fingers for about 15 seconds, until it softens.

Remove it from the pan and lay it on the plate.

Place about ¼ cup of lettuce near the bottom of the paper. Add a slice of mango (or two), red pepper and tofu.

Fold up the bottom, then the sides, and roll up to the top.

Repeat.

And please don’t get frustrated if the first two or three, or even the seventh, rips. It will happen.

Peanut Butter Sauce

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 tablespoon grated ginger

Juice of half a lime

Mix all ingredients in bowl and give it a taste. Maybe you’ll realize it needs more sugar. Maybe you’ll think it needs more ginger. Definitely fine tune it to your own tastes. Also, this makes a ton of sauce. It will keep in the fridge for a few days. My suggestion is to find yourself some steamed broccoli and some noodles. Maybe brown rice. I promise you at no time will you throw your hands up in the air and shriek that you have too much peanut sauce on hand.

Choppin’ Broccoli

Darn it, shoulda used extra-firm tofu.

I think Rich and I broke a holiday party record yesterday: four parties in nine hours. And the food. Oh boy, the food. Highlights include warm ricotta dip, fig and caramelized onions on parmasean tarts, Swedish meatballs, homemade marshmallows, roasted Brussels sprouts, two separate brie en croutes –all warm and melty with caramelized onions and cranberries spilling from underneath their puff pastry shells — a divine cheese platter and rich chocolate ganache cookies. I also drank some wonderful homemade merlot and was introduced to a fresh cranberry and vodka drink that needs further exploration.

So it’s no surprise that Rich and I woke up this morning still pretty full, and a little, just a little bit, grossed out by how much food we ate yesterday. So tonight I turned to my favorite dish I cook up when I think we need to hit pause on our holiday eating.

This recipe is adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Still Life With Menu Cookbook. I’ve found her original recipe to be too vinegary and lacking in soy sauce, so over time I have rejiggered it. She also calls for water chestnuts, which I never seem to have on hand, although last time I made this, I tossed in a can of baby corn. The dried black mushrooms are a pantry staple, thanks to Ocean State Job Lot. Tonight I added a block of medium firm tofu, although looking through the photos, should have been extra firm. Nonetheless, it still tasted great. The red chili flakes give it a good kick, so if you think it’s going to be too spicy for you, just use less than a teaspoon. Rich loves the extra kick and even adds Siracha sauce to his.

Broccoli and Black Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce

Adapted from Still Life with Menu Cookbook

Preparation time: 40 to 45 minutes (The actual stir-frying, once all prelimanaries are ready, takes only about 10 minutes.)

Yield: 4 main-dish-sized servings

Helpful hint: Put your rice on as you start to collect the ingredients, and it will be warm, ready and fluffy when the dish is done.

6 Chinese dried black mushrooms

2 cups boiling water

1/4 cup rice vinegar (cider vinegar will also work in a pinch)

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 medium-sized cloves garlic, coarsely minced

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons peanut or sesame oil

1 bunch broccoli (1 to 1 1/2 lbs.) stems trimmed and shaved, cut in 2-inch spears

salt, to taste

1 8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and sliced, OR 1 can baby corn, OR 1 package extra firm tofu — the choices are really endless, and entirely up to you

1) Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl. Add boiling water, cover with a plate, and let stand at least 1/2 hour (preferably a whole hour). Drain the mushrooms, squeezing out all excess liquid. (You may wish to reserve the soaking water for soup stock.) Remove and discard mushroom stems, and slice the caps in half.

2) Combine the vinegar, 1 1/2 cups of water, brown sugar, soy sauce, salt, garlic and red pepper in a bowl.

3) Place the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add some of the sauce, whisk until dissolved, then return this mixture to the rest of the sauce. Leave the whisk in there; you’ll need it again.

4) Have all ingredients ready and within arm’s reach before starting the stir-fry. Place a medium-large wok over high heat for about a minute or two. Then add the oil. After about a minute, add the broccoli. Salt it lightly, and stir-fry for several minutes over consistently high heat, until the broccoli is bright grean.

5) Add the black mushrooms and water chestnuts, or tofu or baby corn, and stir-fry a few minutes more.

6) Whisk the sauce from the bottom of the bowl to re-integrate the cornstarch. Pour the sauce into the wok, turn the heat down just a little and keep stir-frying over the medium-high heat for another few minutes, until the sauce thickens and coats everything nicely. Serve immediately, over rice.