The Home Bistro: Fear not …

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New recipes are created by screwing up old recipes.

The presidential primary clearly has people talking and worried. Among other things, my hope is that we don’t end up with a commander in chief who suggests we no longer have ethnic restaurants.

Given the diversity of the U.S. population, our choice in foods is amazing. Also, the organic and farm-to-table movement has made healthier foods readily available. When we dine out, we don’t always know what the heck is in those bargain, one-dollar meals.

Yet, if we do the math, paying a little more for certified organic and non-GMO foods really isn’t all that expensive. For one thing, meals prepared at home are normally smaller than meals prepared in fast-food and low-cost diners. Being cognizant of quality and portion size are important steps to being a wise cook.

Eating in restaurants is fun and allows us to try things we haven’t a clue on how to prepare. Most of us wouldn’t know if a fennel bulb or a Japanese eggplant is ripe or ruined. With that in mind, I always ask the produce manager, or the butcher, for guidance.

It also is true that most restaurants are not completely organic as they shop from purveyors with an eye toward controlling costs. At this moment, there are many competing eateries in Idyllwild. For the most part, I enjoy them all. Again, as I have previously said, that can be an expensive hobby. So, if you are going to cook, cook well. When you shop, shop smart and creatively. It is your opportunity to run your own bistro for any given meal. Preparing healthful and tasty food is a challenge that we need to keep up with. Why? Simply put, there are way too many people on the planet all wanting to live longer, healthier lives as well, and the competition for the best food will continue to increase.

Last month, I asked you to look around for a wok. A frying pan can work but a wok is best. It’s easy to clean, cheap and can cook almost anything. Thrift stores may have them. Friends have them. The issue is having enough heat.

Mountain cooking poses unique challenges. For one, unless you have a commercial stove, you probably can’t get the big flame like an Asian restaurant uses. Notice the fire under their woks next time you go for Asian food. So up here we need to work around that little nuisance. Stir-fried food is healthful.

Here are a few starting points. A slotted spoon is a good thing. You need oil (try canola or peanut oil), soy sauce, oyster sauce (some have no MSG), chili paste or something similar for heat. Some like fish sauce, but use just a little. Chinese five-spice is everywhere but has a really strong taste I personally do not care for.

The key to a good stir-fry is not to make it a mushy gruel. Cook things in order of density or crunchiness. Example: Start with a chicken breast or firm tofu chunk. Cut in small pieces to your liking; add a couple tablespoons of oil to the wok. Heat the oil well and stir-fry until almost completely cooked. Remove and set aside.

Dice up some celery, onion, bok choy, etc., in sizes you enjoy. There are endless ingredient choices. Add a bit more oil and toss them in. Add some soy sauce and maybe a little pepper. As they just start to soften, add the more tender vegetables like sliced mushrooms, bean sprouts, etc., to the wok. Stir fry the veggies then put the chicken and/or tofu back into the fray and add a couple of tablespoons of oyster sauce, and a scant teaspoon of fish sauce, if you wish. Continue to stir fry.

Then add in some chili oil or paste if you like it hot and spicy. Taste and adjust the seasonings. If you like more liquid, then you can make a cup of broth into a sauce using corn starch or other thickeners. (Think about Better Than Boullion. You can get it at Fairway or other markets.) Always mix the corn starch with a little cold water to remove lumps. Then add it to the broth, and then pour into the wok. Bring to a boil and stop. It will be thicker and ready to eat.

If you have prepared some rice or noodles then serve on top. Make enough as it goes fast. People appear magically when they smell food.

Always try to use some protein like chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or tofu. Shrimp cooks really fast and overcooking ruins it.

As for the veggies, use what looks good to YOU. Typical additions are canned bamboo shoots, baby corn, and sliced water chestnuts. Also nice are cashews, sliced almond, green onion, peas, etc. etc. etc … to quote a king.

Practice in the order that preserves the texture and keeps the flavors separate. No one likes glop.

The fact is, it will be delicious, healthful and likely never be the same twice, as you will improve in technique and selection.

Live large and buy a rice cooker, you will never regret it. It cooks quickly and keeps rice hot and ready when you are.

As always, let me know how it turns out.

If there is a specialty you would like to learn more about drop me an email at vicsirkin@yahoo.com.

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