Monday, February 21, 2011

always be flexible in the kitchen

Always be flexible in the kitchen...
This is a lesson that anyone who cooks on a regular basis learns early on. I tested this last week and learned how to improvise and make a meal that, while not the intended dish, is still indeed tasty.

My goal last Thursday evening was to make Pad Thai. Now, I've made it once before and it was quite delightful. I looked up a few recipes online and said to myself "Sure, I can do this again. No big deal!"

So, off to the store I went for supplies.
Here are the ingredients:
Rice Noodles, Carrots, Extra Firm Tofu, ground chicken (or grilled chicken sliced), eggs, lime, thai spices, fish oil and soy sauce (which wasn't in the recipe, but i had a feeling I'd want it around at some point)...

Well, I realized that I forgot cilantro, which isn't in all recipes anyway, but I really like cilantro. I was too tired to go back to the store (not to mention that I didn't want to lose my fabulous parking space). So, this was concession #1. I had some chives laying around that I thought might taste kind of good, so I decided to throw those in there.

The first time I made Pad Thai, I used grilled chicken tenders that I sliced thin. I decided to go for ground chicken this time, which was a poor decision. I also incorporated tofu, which was a delightful decision.

So, start by browning the ground chicken. I seasoned it with some fish oil, and then realized that I HATED the smell of fish oil. I then decided that this was not going to be authentic Pad Thai, but that's ok. I used Soy Sauce instead, along with a Thai spice mix that I bought at the store. Put that into a bowl and put to the side.

Then fry a few eggs (I scramble them up after they've started to cook).
These will go on top of the dish.

Also, toast some peanuts and crush them. I have a little nut grinder thing that makes course or find ground nuts. It's whatever your personal preference is. These also go on top of the dish.

Then cut the firm tofu into bite sized chunks and drizzle some fish oil (if you like it) on there and season with some spices. Throw that in the pan that you used for the chicken and the eggs.

Then add the bean sprouts and carrots.
I also seasoned these with some soy sauce and Thai spice mixture.
I also have a Chinese 5 spice mixture that I may have thrown in there in attempts to get the fish oil smell out of my tiny non-ventilated kitchen.

See how this really is no longer Pad Thai?! I was feeling so guilty by this point... (soy sauce...Chinese Spice mixture...ohh, I'm so sorry. )

OK...back to the cooking.
While you're cooking the tofu, carrots and bean sprouts in pretty much whatever seasonings you'd like (since apparently the Pad Thai has gone out the window), boil the rice noodles for just a few minutes...
While those are boiling, add the chicken into the mixture with the bean sprouts, carrots and tofu.
Then toss the noodles in with that and add more seasonings. The rice noodles have pretty much no flavor, so they take whatever you add to them.

Mix well... and taste...
and if you're like me, you always think there's just something missing. So, since everything was just whatever smelled or tasted good to me that evening, I dug around in my spices to see what sounded / smelled appetizing.


If you've never cooked with saffron, you MUST try it. I've had it in Spanish dishes before, but I've also had it in mashed potatoes. I love it!

I also found it relatively cheap at Central Market, so I had just bought some when I bought all the other supplies for the evening.

I kept adding saffron until it tasted the way I wanted it to.
Then I put it in a bowl and topped it with the eggs, peanuts and a couple slices of lime.'s how the dish turned out:

Was it what I intended when I started the evening? No. Did I still enjoy it ... very much (although I still miss the cilantro on there).

For the beer pairing, I chose an odd combination, that worked ok, although I think next time I'd go for Kirin Ichiban or something along those lines.
I, however, chose Ayinger Celebrator.

"What's that hanging around the neck of the bottle?" you ask...
Here's a close up for you

That's's a plastic goat trinket...
or ram...

crazy Germans and their toys mixed with food. It reminds me of those Kinder Eggs, which apparently are illegal in the United States, yet somehow I remember having those toys when I was young...

Back to the Bock...
...and in case you want to know how dark a double bock beer is...
It's dark.

For the music of the evening, I went with Abigail Washburn. I saw her one year at Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL fest). I didn't know who she was, but only that Bela Fleck was playing with her as part of the group "The Sparrow Quartet."
Since I love Bela Fleck, I decided to check her out too. Her album, Song of the Traveling Daughter, has some folk songs with a bluegrass feel, but also traditional Chinese folks songs ...mixed with bluegrass music. She apparently lived in China for quite a few years growing up, so this shaped her music.
Here's one song in Chinese (pardon the anime, but this was the best music clip I could find online).
Here's another good bluegrass song that I just love her version of...Nobody's Fault but mine. This version is a little different than the one on the album, but both are fantastic.

Oh, and I recently found out on some NPR interview that she and Bela Fleck are married. How fantastic is that?!

Her voice is haunting and beautiful and since I was mixing cultures in all sorts of different ways anyway, the mixture of Chinese language and traditional Chinese folk songs with the banjo somehow fit. As my dad says "Ain't never been a pot so crooked there wasn't a lid to fit it."


  1. I love this line:
    "...pretty much whatever seasonings you'd like (since apparently the Pad Thai has gone out the window)"
    because seriously, this is so us, when we're cooking!

  2. I like to call it being flexible in the kitchen. Others might call it crazy. :)

    ...and yes, this is definitely how we cook!

  3. left my first comment! Yay!