Speaking of Chinese Food, I Just Made Some

I have food issues (he typed, whilst chowing on a huge slab of bread made with figs and anise). My issue is that I like to eat, and yet am not huge on cooking. I do all the cooking in our house, because I stay home and write while my wife Cat leaves the house every day to go out and have an Actual Life. So I do all our cooking. Cat, thank God, is not a picky eater. Neither am I. I’m happy to eat pretty much anything that comes out of a box.

Tonight though, I made Chinese food. I think. Or something. Anyway, here, in order, is what I did to arrive at what my wife and I will be eating in about an hour:

Went shopping. Bought veggies. Didn’t buy enough to make dinner for tomorrow night, because apparently I’m congenitally incapable of buying food for more than one meal at a time. I have no idea how to change this.

Came home. Busted out large pot, cutting board, big knife, small knife, and knife sharpener. Sharpened knives. Felt very Samurai Chef as I did. Wiped blade of knife (and thus carbon dust) on my pants when I was done sharpening each knife, cuz it makes me feel cool to do that.

Into bottom of pot poured extremely generous amounts of olive oil and sesame oil (mmmmm….sesame oil….) — and then threw in a slice of butter just to be safe, because I hate things to go dry when I’m trying to fry/saute them. Turned on gas low-medium to start heating up oil(s).

Cut up onion (using my Awesome Onion Cutting Technique, which I learned a zillion years ago in one of the best cookbooks ever, Tasajara Cooking). Put onion in heated oil.

Cut up red bell pepper. Added to onion.

Sliced up celery. Added to onion and bell pepper. Let simmer/fry a bit.

Chopped up garlic cloves. (I’m more of a chopper than a crusher of garlic, for some reason. I hate the waste of crushing, which is so stupid.) Put results on little plate.

Took chunk of raw ginger; used sharp little knife to shave off woody outer part; chopped ginger until I had about the same amount as I had of chopped garlic; put on little plate next to chopped ginger.

Now I had a little saucer plate with a small mountain of chopped ginger on one side of it, and equal size mound of chopped garlic on its other. For some reason this makes me very happy. I feel like Spice King.

Dump garlic and ginger into pot.

Take bunch of asparagus. One by one, bend each stalk in half until it breaks naturally. Throw the bottom half away. Wash top halves. Cut in fancy diagonal slice for no reason other than that I think it might impress wife. Throw in pot.

Wash carrot. Slice into pieces so thin you can practically see through them, which takes forever. But they’re as much for color as anything else, and I need them to cook through. Put in pot.

Wash, chop bok choy; throw in pot. Enjoy, because bok choy seems like love child of spinach and celery.

So now I have stuff in the pot that I really want to cook together, and get all juicy and soft and yummy. So I add a little water to the pot — just enough to allow the veggies to cook and release their own veggie juices — crank up the heat, get it boiling, reduce to low, and then cover. The key is to keep it wet without turning it into soup, cuz we’re going to have this over rice. (I use a rice maker, always. I’m insane for rice makers. They work so well that … well, that even I can use them to make Actual Rice. I generally use brown Basmati rice from Trader Joe’s.)

Drain, wash, cut up tofu. Be slightly dismayed the degree to which the company that made the tofu wasn’t kidding when it labeled it “Firm Style.”  It’s like a brick. So I cut into very small pieces, and add to the Chinese Rice Topping Sauteed Stuff That’s Wet But Not Soup that I’m making.

Add salt, more soy sauce and more sesame oil, since I know that if I don’t I’ll end up having to eat something that tastes like vegetables and soy bean curd.

Clean kitchen. Write this blog. Wonder what in the world has moved me to write about what I made for dinner tonight. Fear it means the end of all my good ideas of things to write about. Wonder what I’ll do for a living when I can’t write anymore. Know it won’t be cooking.

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  • Order pizza, John. Order pizza. *shakes head in amusement* Spice king? No, that would be my daddy, whose spice mixes can kick you daddy's spice mixes in the posterior. Or yours, as the case may be. 😉

    Two questions: Do they have asparagus in China? and… why is it that all guys are obsessed with making their food, well, you know, weird? (I'm a guy, btw, so this includes all guys except me, who actually makes normal foods like… meatloaf, now and then.)

  • To your two questions: Yes, and because men hate to commit — we prefer to keep things vague, and messy.

  • so.. did Cat eat it? 😉

    i think you could have a career in…cookbook writing!

  • Okay, she ate so much of it it was actually WEIRD. She hardcore SCARFED. I’m six-two; she’s five-two. She ate TWICE as much as I did, in easiy half the time. It actually kind of freaked me out. Her fork was just … a blur. I was actually starting to wonder if there was going to be enough left for her lunch tomorrow.

    Anyway, yes, she more than ate it, thank you very much for asking. She vacuumed it. Cracked me up.

  • Excellent! You guys seemed perfectly matched!

  • Ohmigosh! This totally explains why my husband cooks the way he does. I plan meals for a week, I clean as I go, I’m efficient, and we end up with a halfway decent meal. He looks in the cupboards, throws things in a pan at random, and we end up with a delicious meal and a mess of a kitchen.

  • That IS, though, a LOT of money to spend on knife. It seems … okay to just SHARPEN a regular carbon knife, like, every time you use it.

    I mean, I love good tools, same as anyone. But DANG. One hundred forty dollars, for one 7" knife. As I get older, I'm trying (and most often failing, I should note) to become a little more sane about how I spend my/our money. We're trying to save to buy our first HOUSE (which, right there, tells you about everything you'd want to know about how we've handled our money thus far). I'm thinking maybe this ONCE I might not buy the absolute best of something I can possibly afford.

  • On the other hand, what's better than a good kitchen knife? And I HAVE been using the same wood-handled Chicago Cutlery knives now for about 25 years (and I've LOST two of the original five). So it IS time for a change…

    Except it IS Christmas, when one really SHOULD be spending one's money on gifts for others….

    Wow. It's amazing I don't have anything more weighty to think about. Cool.

  • Ross

    Surely you couldn’t have cooked what you did with and write about it and not enjoy cooking somewhat.

    I love to cook; wish I could do it more.

    Now I’m going to give you a tip and you can thank me later. As you well know, good quality sharp knives are a necessity for successful cooking. Particularly if you making stir fry…lots of dicing. Myself, I’ve used a set Wusthoff- Trident knives for years and in mainly the 7″ Chef knife. The workhorse of the kitchen.

    Pay attention now. A few weeks ago, I ordered a 7″ Santoku made by Shun. This is the Rolls Royce of Santoku knives. You know the knife, the one Rachel Ray uses and probably half of all the Food Network hosts uses these days. Or do you not have cable? I can’t remember, but props to you if you don’t. In ’06 I went without it the whole year…liberating. But alas, I’ve back slid and am back on the “grid”.

    Anyway this knife by Shun is rated as the best Santoku by everybody from the New York Times to Cooks Illustrated. The problems is the thing retails from $140 to $110 depending on where you buy, (Amazon is the cheapest). Conveniently for me, Mom wants to get me an expensive cookware set for Christmas, which I don’t need but inform her that less money can be spent for something else I would like.

    So the knife comes to me a couple weeks ago. Only somebody who cooks could understand how sweet this knife is. Literally dices onions like a butter knife through room temp. butter. Not joke, no exaggeration. It’s so rad that I come home from work hoping wife hasn’t made anything so I can dice some onion or something.

    You need this knife. Don’t worry about the price; after using it for a while you’ll think you would have paid double for it and it would be worth it. Your enjoyment of cooking will be greatly enhanced as well as the speed at which your prep work is completed.

    Lastly, Alton Brown swears by these knives and actually reps for Shun. You seem like an Alton Brown type of guy.

    Bon Apetit

  • I don’t have cable (and I’m afraid don’t know who Alton Brown is), but I HAVE been ogling that EXACT knife (I don’t have a 7″ knife, and almost desperately want one) in some catalog we just got. Seriously: that exact knife. Weird. Good input! I think I’m gonna do it.

  • Ross

    Don’t think twice about it; Cat will reap the benefits as well.

  • snowhite197

    OMG This sounds so good! I am going to have to try it.

    I just made my first perfect omelette today. 🙂 I'm very proud. I've only been cooking for a little while but I LOVE it.

    I think I am going to give in a buy a rice cooker.

  • OK, first of all, you poor uncultured sap, while I respect your non-cable decision, you need to know that Alton Brown is the little-g-god of coolness in TV cooking. I use tons of his recipes. I might even have a crush on him.

    And second, I’m all for the quality cutlery too. We splurged on a Cutco set a few years back and LOVE, L-O-V-E, it. For me it takes cooking from drudgery to sometimes-almost-fun. You don’t have to get Cutco…but it’s one of several possibilities. Maybe you could get someone to spend their money on it for you this year. If you don’t mind knives as a Christmas gift.

  • Laura

    I’ve always wanted a rice cooker. But, considering that I already have two crockpots, an omelette maker, a toaster oven and many other gadgets in my tiny little apartment kitchen…. no room 🙁

  • No, no! I’m telling you! I, too, have tons of that stuff sitting unused in every cabinet in my kitchen! A rice cooker is Actually Different!!! Like, it WORKS. They ALL work! And they’re amazingly simple to use. And they make rice PERFECTLY, which otherwise is quite the pain. And they’re CHEAP. And totally easy to clean! You can totally screw up all the measurements with a rice cooker, and IT DOESN’T MATTER!

    Besides the blender, a rice maker is THE most useful kitchen machine-tool thing I know of. I was SURE I’d never use it. Wrong. Fifteen years down the road, it’s still something I swear by. (As opposed to AT … but why bring my can opener into this?)

  • That's the real way to make rice. It's ALL about those things. I was a vegetarian for some 23 years, and it took me, like, TWO YEARS of screwing with rice before (lo these many years ago) I settled into the exact knowledge you're here presenting. That's it: right size pot, right lid, SAME RICE IF YOU CAN, same WATER if you can, controlled heat, LEAVE IT ALONE.

    Even with a rice maker (as you surely know), you need to control what variables you can. But MAN they're easy for people who aren't likely to deal with how to make rice without one, I think. What happened with me is that I LOST my Prize Rice Pot, was dismayed, and then on the maniacally strong recommendation of a friend, bought a rice cooker. And never looked back.

  • I have to admit that I was a rice cooker kind of gal before I met my Mexican husband. His mother nearly had a coronary when I pulled out my rice cooker. She taught me how to make stovetop rice that is fluffy and light, just like rice is supposed to be. I learned that half of the technique of good rice is about having four things: the correct sized kettle, a snug fitting lid, the ability to control the heat on the stove and the self-control to not stir the rice and LEAVE THE LID ALONE. I guess that’s five, but there you have it. Also, I’m with Skerrib on the AB issue. Kudos to you for avoiding cable TV, but go to altonbrown.com and meet the man, the legend, the foodie himself.

  • Ross

    The steel on Shun knives are not just high carbon steel; can't remember but it's an amalgam of high carbon steel and something else (can't remember) and something like 14 different pieces of it are sandwiched together. Really, it's quite different than your Chi. Cutlery or any other knive. The upshot is that it's much sharper than other blades and it stays sharp much longer than other blades. You should look into them yourself.

  • OK, that's it. I'm looking into it with an eye to doing it. A good knife is one of life's true pleasures. You freak.