Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Chinese Take-Out Party

I love Chinese food. Not the Chinese mega-buffets (we have two in our little town in South Carolina) but the Chinese food that I create in my own kitchen. Start with the basic cooking methods and flavors and just have a ball. I'm sure I've served up creations that a purist probably wouldn't recognize, but cooking IS an art, after all, and every cook should feel free to take artistic license with her creations. In fact, I insist on it!

Mochachocolata-Rita is hosting a Chinese Take-Out Party & Lucky Draw on her blog; be sure to pull out your favorite Chinese-inspired recipe and join the party! Here's mine; I have no idea where I found the original as it's been in my recipe files for a long time without credits, and I've made some changes in the meantime. Don't be afraid to try it, even if you think you don't like tofu. Even my tofu-less hubby loves this.

Tofu and Broccoli in Garlic Sauce

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Sauvignon Blanc wine
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground dried ginger
6 to 8 cloves garlic, crushed with a cleaver
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Beat all the sauce ingredients together in a small saucepan until peanut butter is emulsified. If necessary, heat very gently.

1 large head broccoli, cut into florets
2 yellow onions, sliced thin
16 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into 1 1/2-inch square blocks
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Marinate tofu in the 1/4 cup soy sauce for about 15 minutes. Put all but 2 tablespoons of the oil into a large fry pan and heat until very hot. Fry the tofu cubes in the hot oil just until browned on each side. Remove them to a plate and pour off any excess oil. Put remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Stir fry the onion slices until they are soft and transparent and a tiny bit caramelized, about 5 minutes.
In a large stew pot, steam the broccoli pieces, covered, in 3/4 cup water for about 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Do not cook the broccoli for more than 5 minutes total. It should be slightly crunchy. Add the sautéed onions and sauce mix; blend together and heat through for about 1 more minute.
Taste the sauce - it should be very slightly sweet and "hot" from the red pepper, and extremely garlicky. Add another 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and/or a bit more red pepper flakes if necessary.
Just before serving, gently stir in the tofu cubes with a large spatula, being careful not to break them up. I serve this over brown rice.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sugar Magnolia Not So Sweet

Last evening I went out to dinner with friends to try a new restaurant. First, I must come clean and tell you that this dinner group was comprised entirely of personal chefs. Yes, we are food snobs...just can't help it. We spend most days cooking and honing our craft for the enjoyment of our clients, so we really enjoy going out and having someone else do the cooking and serving.

Sugar Magnolia has a great online menu and I spotted a favorite wine on the wine list, so I was totally prepared with anticipation for a great evening at this new restaurant that touts itself as one of the "Top 10 new restaurants in Charlotte."

The waitress can set the stage from the get-go, and after sitting at the table for 15 minutes, I had to get her attention to come over and take our wine orders. Strike 1. I ordered a glass of the Pighin Friulli Pinot Grigio...., " May I please have a glass of the Pighin ("pigeon")?" She corrected me, "A glass of the "Pig-in." How irritating and unneccessary as she then informed me that they had just run out of the "Pig-in." My ruffled feathers were smoothed, however, when she brought out baskets full of the best cornbread and hushpuppies that I have had in years. I nearly melted with pleasure as I tasted the maple-butter on the cornbread! All was forgiven!!!!

The special for the evening sounded just wonderful, an 8-ounce mackerel steak sauteed with scallops and shrimp in a sauce of fresh cherry tomatoes and vegetables. Yum! The plating was beautiful and I was sorry that I hadn't remembered to bring my camera. (I always take pictures of food.)

My friend sitting next to me ordered the same special and we were ooo-ing and ahhhhh-ing and then we both tasted the sauce. "Hmmm....this needs something," she said. "Something flavorful," I agreed. "Capers and some hot pepper flakes." "Pass me the salt," she said.

First bite of the mackerel....1/4 oz. of fish and 1/4 ounce of big flat fish bones. The waitress happened by and asked how everything was, and I told her that there seemed to be a lot of bones in the mackerel on my plate. "I'm sorry," she looked down the length of her nose,"You must understand that this is a fish steak and not a fillet, so there will be bones and the chef leaves them in there to improve presentation. Try eating around the edges and not the center." Hmmmm. Who begins eating a steak of any kind in the middle?

Three more tries from different areas of the steak and the pile of bones on the edge of my plate threatened to spill onto the tablecloth. I took a tiny fourth mouthful of bones with a morsel of mackerel clinging to them and my stomach lurched and I just pushed my plate away.

I won't bore you with the details of what followed, but the waitress tried to force me to order something else, the manager blamed the waitress for not making it clear there would be bones in the fish, and finally the waitress came back with the check, apologized and told me there had been other complaints. Fine time to start to worry about a tip, honey.

Now, I must tell you that if there is one bad meal served in a hundred, it will surely come to me. It's a curse I've dealt with all my life. A flat fly resting under the slice of pizza when I lift it from my plate, raw ribs hidden under bbq sauce (see last post!), tuna cooked to dry wall consistency...oh...so many disasters. I'm used to it by now, but the consensus of opinion at the table last night was that everything was just so-so. Definitely not a good enough experience for me to either revisit or recommend. Not when there are so many other restaurants for us to try.

Here are some restaurants that I will return to again and again. There are many, but I'm just going to mention a few here. And in the meantime, we'll keep exploring!

Miro's Spanish Grille
Global Restaurant
Firebird's Rocky Mountain Grill