Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Naughty by Nature

I was a model citizen growing up. I always followed the rules (and made sure everyone else did too), always got perfect grades, and always tried really hard to please the adults in my life. The times I did make mistakes are singed into my memory, like a brand on a bull's rump. There was the time I got in trouble for bringing ranch dressing onto the school bus and the driver came unhinged and screamed at me. I also remember the time I recorded over a book on tape from the library, and how I had to apologize to the librarian. And the time I stole gum from the market (my mom made me give it back.) And the time I was busted for coercing the younger neighbor kids to write bad words with a sharp nail into the wet stucco of new construction nearby...really, really bad words. And how I was introduced to the concept of Karma when I faked being sick so I could stay in bed and read, but ended up really breaking out in the Chicken Pox that very same day. Boy, now that I read that laundry list, I'm not so sure I was the good girl my memory tells me. Well, at least I was a whole lot better behaved than my sister...

Actually, despite all that, mostly I did what was right. My only real teenage rebellion, was when I became a born again Christian in high school, which drove my agnostic parents crazy (and subsequently started dating the pastor's son...I hope you all warn your daughters about PKs...very dangerous indeed). But all in all, it could have been much, much worse.

That probably explains why as an adult, I get a sick thrill out of breaking popular cultures so-called 'rules' and doing things differently, like breastfeeding for eternity, and having babies at home, and eating healthy, organic foods when everyone else seems to subsist on fast food dinners. It's pathetic, I know, but I feel especially wicked when I don't follow recipes exactly, when I take an idea and hijack it to become my own and best the so-called experts with their fancy test kitchens. But I do it all the time, and it gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction. It all starts with the art of improvisation, not being afraid to try new things, and most importantly, not being afraid to fail. Believe me, I make the occasional bomb too. But by and large, I'm pleasantly surprised with the food I prepare in my kitchen and am especially proud when it is entirely of my own creation.

Which brings me around to my dinner tonight. I made it with chicken and green beans, but if you have pork and asparagus, that would work too. Or shrimp and zucchini, or beef and bell peppers, or tofu and snap peas. The point is, is that you should have confidence in your cooking and understand that recipes are meant to be adapted to suit your mood (or what is in your refrigerator). That being said, it is important to follow most baking recipes exactly. Baking is much more about proper chemistry than a stir fry is.

I bought some beautiful garlic, ginger, red spring onions and green beans (I know...already?!?) at the farmers' market on Sunday. Chopped up and stir fried in a fermented black bean sauce, it made a simple, yet interesting weekday dinner. My kids (well the two that weren't at baseball) inhaled this dish, even though it was a bit spicy. And the basic sauce and method would translate well to whatever veg and protein combination you can imagine...probably.

Generally I find Martha's methods cumbersome, and just an excuse to dirty yet another dish, but her advice on how to peel ginger is really handy. If you press the edge of a spoon into the skin of a fresh ginger root, it peels right off, along with the stringy part. It's much easier than using a peeler or knife (and safer too, at least for me). To quickly cool the green beans, she often recommends an ice bath. For me, that just means one more dish to wash. So I dump them out into the colander, top with a few ice cubes and run cool water over it. It seems to work just fine...and personally, I'd rather have slightly overcooked beans than have to wash another dish. But, I always take my beans out when they are still pretty crisp, and not at all soft.

Chicken and Green Bean Stir-fry with Black Bean Sauce
serves 4

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1 pound green beans, trimmed into two inch segments
1 bunch of spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1, inch segment of ginger, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1/2 large jalapeno, minced (seeds removed if you don't like it too spicy)
2 T Black Bean and Garlic Sauce
canola oil

Sauce: In a small bowl, mix together 3/4 C broth (whatever you have is fine), 2 T soy sauce, 1 t sugar, 3 T dry sherry, and 2 t cornstarch.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add green beans and blanch for 2-3 minutes or until crisp tender. Drain in a colander and top with a few ice cubes. Run some cold water over the top to stop the cooking.

Heat 2 T oil in a large skillet, dutch oven or wok. When it is almost smoking add the ginger, give it a stir then add the onions, garlic and jalapeno. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the black bean sauce, along with the chicken. Stir fry until chicken is cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in sauce and cook for 2 more minutes, or until thick and glossy.

Serve with plenty of hot rice, and some chili garlic paste on the side if you are really feeling rebellious.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Your dinner looks awesome! I'm so jealous you got fresh beans already. The Orleans Farmers Market just opened last weekend and the only food for sale was lettuce and kale. But I did score some awesome heirloom tomato plants.

Thanks for making me laugh. You remind me of myself as a kid - mostly good, with a bit of mischief thrown in. And I was definitely better than my brothers...