What I’m cooking: Chinese Noodles for All Occasions, including Falling in Love

Summer has finally arrived!  This means that most days I do not feel like turning on the oven or generating much heat.

Do you remember back in the day when we used to buy cookbooks, with money, in bookstores?  Today you can find any recipe you can conceive of in a Google heartbeat, but there was a time when recipes had to be tracked down, collected, catalogued ….  I have a paperback cookbook called Fresh Ways with Pasta that I picked up for $5 from a Barnes and Noble bargain book table a couple of decades ago, and it has stuck with me ever since.  I was younger then and still learning how to cook.  Not a great improviser, all I knew about cooking was this: Find a great recipe, follow the recipe to the letter, and do not lose that recipe.  What I was learning was that some recipes just work, and they are crowd-pleasers, and you hold on to them.

This particular recipe is named Szechuan Noodles with Beef, but the title is dubious. They are more like generic Chinese noodles.  What is fabulous about this recipe is that the longish ingredient list gives it a lovely, balanced, light flavor with some umami from the beef and mushrooms.  They can be made ahead and served warm, cold, or in between.  You can swap out the beef for edamame or tofu to make them vegan.  If you double the recipe you can easily feed a crowd, so I take this to potlucks, where people slurp up the noodles and ask for the recipe.

This recipe also has a special place in my heart because it’s the first dinner I ever made for my husband.  I don’t know why I chose it except that it was probably the best thing that I knew how to make at the time.  I still remember sharing these noodles with him by candlelight in my small Cambridge apartment, where the table was in a little nook surrounded by windows that gave it the effect of being inside a lighthouse, especially on a dark January night.  Afterwards we went to see Princess Mononoke at the Kendall Square Theatre.

But it’s not just for sentimental reasons that I am still making these noodles.  I keep making them because they are perfect, and when you find something perfect, you hold onto it.  This week we celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.  A lot of people say that marriage is hard work, but my secret, which makes for the worst relationship advice ever, is this:

If you are lucky enough to find the right person, then it doesn’t feel like work at all.

Life is work.  Life is hard.  But for reasons that I do not understand at all, being married to Rob is easy.  For years I thought that we were just lucky because we hadn’t been tested by real misfortune or challenges.  But then this past year happened.  And even as the whole world became warped and unfathomable and menacing, our marriage was as solid and warm and comforting as ever.

You know how in every romantic comedy the two leads bicker adorably to create dramatic tension?  Well, we don’t do that.  We’re more like the sidekicks to the two leads, like Carrie Fisher and That Other Guy in When Harry Met Sally, like Sarah Paulson and David Hyde Pierce in Down with Love.  So, if you’re looking for your Mr. Darcy, my advice is STOP. Start looking for your Mr. Bingley.  As Mr. Bennet says to Jane, “I have great pleasure in thinking you will be so happily settled. I have not a doubt of your doing very well together. Your tempers are by no means unlike. You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on….”  That’s me and my sweetie.

In our wedding ceremony 15 years ago today, Rob’s sister read part of Haruki Murakami’s short story, “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One April Morning.”  So Gen X we were, tempering our romantic idealism with a self-conscious wink to the absurdity of finding “the 100% perfect girl/boy.” Even today, I delight in the unnecessary, goofy assertion of 100% perfection.

When you find something perfect, you hold onto it.  Ooo, that’s what they should be called.

100% Percent Perfect Chinese Noodles

Ingredients

1 lb Chinese egg noodles or rice noodles (I use white rice spaghetti from Pasta Joy)
12 oz lean beef sirloin
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in very hot water for 20 minutes and drained

Sesame-soy marinade

4 T soy sauce or tamari
2 T Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
2T rice vinegar
1-2 tsp chili paste with garlic
1-2 tsp grated fresh ginger root
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dark sesame oil
2 T canola or other neutral oil
2 T toasted sesame seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
5 spring onions, very finely chopped
handful fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Garnish

1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
toasted sesame seeds
fresh cilantro

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Cut the beef across the grain into julienne about 1.5 inches long and 1/8 inch thick.  Cut off and discard mushroom stems and slice the caps into thin strips.  Combine the beef, mushrooms, and spring onions with one third of the marinade.  Let this mixture sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put water on to boil cook noodles.  When they are finished, drain them and rinse with cold water so that they do not stick together or overcook.
  4. Heat 2 T of oil in a heavy frying pan or wok until very hot.  Add the beef/mushroom/onion mixture to the pan, allowing excess marinade to drain off into the bowl.  Saute just until beef loses its pink color, about 2 minutes.
  5. Place the noodles in a large serving bowl.  Add the ramaining marinade and toss with noodles.  Make a shallow well in the center of the noodles and spoon the beef mixture into the well.  Garnish with cilantro, sesame seeds, sliced cucumber.

What I’m cooking this week: Ramps and Rhubarb

Last fall and winter, when I was so completely devoid of energy, because chemo, I had wonderful friends and family cooking and bringing us food, and I swear I didn’t cook a single dinner for like four months.  Thank goodness.  At the end of each day (which was 4:00), I was tired enough to cry, and I often did.

Being on the receiving end of the love that dear ones put into cooking for us made me see anew how cooking is a form of care and of self-care, and eventually I was eager to get back to cooking.  I’m still pretty tired at the end of the day, so instead of cooking during the week I set aside time on Sunday to cook things that I genuinely enjoy making.  This often means trying out new recipes.

These past few weeks have been full of Ontario spring staples.  Sundays we have slow roasted fish for dinner with ramp pesto, which was a revelation when I discovered it, especially since I’m only moderately fond of traditional pesto.

The farmer’s market is full of rhubarb, so we made rhubarb compote, which is great on oatmeal, yogurt, and ice cream, and these carrot and rhubarb muffins (GF&V).

Who knew rhubarb and carrot are such a great combination?  The carrot and spices are warm and comforting and then there’s a pop of tart, juicy rhubarb.  To cap it all off, for my veggie-loving son’s birthday this weekend, I made Smitten Kitchen’s rhubarb upside down cake.  And it even popped out of the cast iron pan in the perfect upside-down shape!

This week I made these black bean and sweet potato burgers for the first time; I got the recipe when Susan the World’s Best Next-Door Neighbor made them for us last fall.

With the rest of the beans I’m going to make a black bean salad with black beans, olive oil, red onion, lime juice, corn, and cilantro. Sarah Waldman claims that you can turn a slow cooker full of black beans into a week of dinners.

Rhubarb Compote

  • 1 bunch rhubarb (about 1 lb or 6 cups), chopped
  • 1 cup sugar, or more to taste
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • lemon zest, to taste
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 T tapioca

Combine all ingredients except tapioca in a saucepan over medium heat.  Once it reaches a steady simmer, stir in the tapioca and reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour.

Breakfast Cookies: vegan comfort food without gluten, dairy, soy, or nuts

There are at least two ways to think about diet after a cancer diagnosis.  One way is to say, “Look, I have CANCER.  I’m going to eat whatever makes me happy,” and the other is to say, “I have cancer, FFS, I’d better find out which foods promote cancer growth and which inhibit it.”   Guess which approach I’m taking?  (My friend Rachel’s response: “I guess this is what happens when a Type A person gets cancer.”)

If you’re interested in learning more about food and cancer, a good place to start is Foods That Fight Cancer by Richard Béliveau and Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber.  It turns out that foods that promote cancer are just about ALL THE COMFORT FOODS, including dairy, sugar, gluten and refined grains, alcohol, and meat.  So I’m seriously limiting these foods, which is not as drastic a change as it may seem, since I’ve actually been eating dairy-free and gluten-free for 4 years.  The big adjustment was going from meat-loving quasi-paleo omnivore to nearly vegan.  Fortunately, there is a vegan renaissance happening, a.k.a. a “new veganism” movement, a.k.a. “vegetables forward” cooking, evidenced by a number of popular blogs and cookbooks and even a number of vegan restaurants popping up in my small Ontario city.  I’m in the midst of a deep dive into these cookbooks and food blogs, and I bring you the fruits of my labor.

Behold: The Breakfast Cookie!  This recipe is from Sarah Britton’s My New Roots. Here’s what I love about it: it’s a grab-and-go food, it provides the comfort of an actual baked good, but it also meets my onerous dietary restrictions.  Since it’s nut-free, I can put it school lunch boxes, and it has less sugar than granola bars.  (Even the healthiest home-made granola bar recipes rely on a lot of honey/agave/maple syrup to hold them together.)  This one is held together with white beans, coconut oil, and soaked chia seeds.  The orange zest gives it a really nice flavor.  However, Rob would want me to add the caveat that these are not really cookies in the sense of being sweet, sticky treats.  They’re more like healthy snacks that are shaped like cookies.

I tested this recipe with different gluten-free flours in place of the processed oats, and the texture was too heavy.  I also tried replacing the 1/4 cup melted coconut oil with one egg because I think it’s better for binding and browning, and that worked fine, though it makes the cookies not vegan.  I tried different combinations of dried fruits, and all were good.  I also tried replacing the applesauce with carrot and beet pulp from our juicer, and that was fine, too, if you’re looking for something to do with all of that vegetable pulp.  No doubt you can go to town with nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, whatever you fancy.  If you want it sweeter, you could easily double the maple syrup.  It’s a pretty flexible recipe.

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Breakfast Cookies from Sarah Britton’s My New Roots
Makes 10-15 large cookies or about 24 small ones

1 tablespoon chia seeds
3 1⁄4 cups / 325 g gluten-free rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1⁄2 cups / 250 g cooked white beans, such as navy, white kidney, or Great Northern (about one 15-ounce / 250 g can)
1⁄4 cup / 60 ml coconut oil, melted, or 1 egg
1⁄4 cup / 60 ml pure maple syrup or raw honey
Grated zest of 1 organic orange
1⁄4 cup / 60 ml unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄3 cup / 60 g chopped unsulphured dried apricots
1⁄4 cup / 30 g  raisins
1⁄4 cup / 35 g pumpkin seeds
2 cups / 60 g organic, non-GMO cornflakes (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
    Combine the chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water in a small bowl, and set aside for 15 minutes to gel.
  2. Pulse 1 1⁄4 cups of the oats in a food processor until they resemble a very rough flour. Transfer the flour to a large mixing bowl and whisk in the remaining 2 cups oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Pulse the beans with the coconut oil in the food processor until the mixture is creamy. Add the maple syrup, orange zest, chia gel, applesauce, and vanilla extract, and pulse until smooth.
  4. Add the bean puree to the oats mixture and stir until everything starts to come together. Add the apricots, raisins, pumpkin seeds, and cornflakes and stir to combine—you may need to use your hands at this point.
  5. Shape the dough into balls, and then flatten each one into a patty shape. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the bars are golden. Let cool completely before enjoying.

My young assistant demonstrated that these can be shaped as round cookies of different sizes or elongated bars or irregular lumpy masses.

Pickled Eggs

In the first trimester of both of my pregnancies, I craved deviled eggs.  I’m not sure why, but it was so strong that I irrationally worried that people around me who didn’t know I was pregnant would guess based on the insane quantities of deviled eggs that I was eating.

Anyway, we don’t celebrate Easter, on account of being Jewish, but I do love eggs.  And I love colors.  So my interest was piqued when I got a Food 52 newsletter with a recipe for pickled eggs In Every Natural Flavor and Color Under the Sun.  Using beets, red cabbage, and turmeric, we got pink, yellow, and purple pickled eggs.

If you crack the shell and leave it on, you get this:

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A nice spin on deviled eggs.

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