Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgving for the thankless

Being in a strange city on a National Holiday makes you feel ever more like an alien. Without gas to power the stove in our new house, and fearing the result of room service at the hotel, Ghassan and I drive the lonely streets of Torrance searching for a meal.
We are rejected at the door of Marie Callander's after arriving minutes before the last seating. Dejected, we venture furthur away from the hotel. One neon sign flashes in the distance. We follow the talisman, curving left and right, and ending at "Chinese Sea Food Restaurant". With hesitation, we enter.

A petite woman guides us to a booth near the door and hands us worn leather-bound menus. We opt for the set menu featuring soup, fried spring rolls, rice and choice of a main course. Within minutes, we have hot, dark tea to sip on and a soup mascarading as Hot and Sour arrives. The soup is missing any semblence of heat, relying on the dishwater the cook must have used for a base for flavour. After two sips, the soup is set aside.

Crisp spring rolls arrive next, accompanied by a sweet apple sauce and mustard so hot it might actually burn right through the roof of your mouth into your nose. But the rolls mimic the soup in their (lack of) flavour.

Thankfully the server arrives with something edible next. At least, it was edible for me... my husband, a Muslim, delined on eating the pork fried rice. I made quite a scene out of enjoying the first tasty dish that night, humming over the garlicliky rice, moist pork and bright green peas. He stared of in distance, trying to ignore me. A waiter holding a huge whole fried fish paused for a second at our table, just long enough to drop off Almond Chicken and Beef with Green Peppers.

We heap the saucy meat over our rice, season with soy sauce, and dig in. The beef is thinly sliced and chewy, with a thick gelantenous sauce enrobing it. It is passable, only slightly better than your typical shopping-mall Chinese food. Under-cooked green peppers add a crisp contrast to the chewy beef.

I try the Almond Chicken next. At least the name is not misleading- it is merely chicken and almonds. Some spice, or any addition of flavour would be welcome here. Still, the hole in our stomachs begs to be filled and we make a brave attempt to finish the meal.

After consuming nearly half of the huge portions given to us, we sit back and ponder our fortunes. "Unless we change direction we are likely to end up where we are going." Well, there is no way to dispute this fact. My husbands' fortune is more appropriate: "There is absolutely no substitue for a genuine lack of preparation." What an apt description of this, our first American Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Buffet World

Hello, and welcome. Hang up your keys.
This is your home! The land of the free. More buffets than the eyes can see!
For one low price we'll hand you a plate
Take as long as you like, we'll stay open late.
Start with the soup, it's just delish.
I will make sure, not one dish will you miss.
Salad? Walk right past that green,
Why are you here? Not to stay lean.
Pasta is next. lots of cheese please
More than one spoon! Don't be a tease.
Walk right ahead to the meat carver
Finding space on the plate is getting much harder!
Pass me the bicuits with lots of sweet butter
I said biscuits, not rolls, by chance did I stutter?
Go ahead for round two, and loosen your jeans
The first time around you missed pork and beans!
Now for the sweet stuff, check out the selection
Take a sample of each and every confection
Cake, pastry, fruit and ice cream
Lick your plate until it is clean
Extra dessert? Here is your spoon.
You stomach will grow as big as the moon.
Order a coffee to finish the meal
You pour in the sugar and cream with zeal
The check has arrived, so cough up the dough
$10.99?!!! The price is so low!
Here are your keys, here is your coat
There is your car, as big as a boat
Off you go home to watch your telly
And ponder the growing size of your belly.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Kettle Corn

This sweet and salty corn is super-addictive and kids love it. It's a recreation of old-style popped corn from carnivals, fairs, and beach boardwalks.


2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp clarified butter
1/2 cup popping corn
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1) Heat a stock pot with tight fitting lid over medium-high heat.
2) Add oil and butter and heat until quite hot, about 2 minutes.
3) Stir in sugar and mix together well with a long spoon until sugar is incorporated.
4) Stir in the corn. Heat, stirring ocassionally until the corn begins to pop.
5) Place the lid on tightly, and grab the pot by its two side handles. Shake the pot back and forth on the burner, continously. It is very important to keep the pot moving back and forth, to prevent direct heat on the kernels.
6) Once the popping slows, remove from the heat.
7) Sprinkle with salt and stir well.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Yellow Thai Curry


1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp yellow curry paste
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger root
1/2 tbsp minced lemongrass
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced
2 cups chicken stock
1 can coconut milk
1 cup yams, peeled and chopped into large chunks
2 lime leaves
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp mild soy sauce (Thai preferable)
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp sugar
1 or 2 bird's eye chillies (optional)

1) Heat oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat.
2) Saute curry paste and onion together, until onions are beginning to get soft ( about 2 minutes). Add garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and sliced chicken. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken begins to colour (another 3 minutes).
3) Add all remaining ingredients to the pot, stir to combine, and bring to the boiling point. Reduce heat to medium low, and allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes.
4) Adjust seasoning.
5) Serve hot over rice, with a wedge of lime on the side.

Lemongrass can be found at Chinese supermarkets. To prepare lemongrass, first bruise the lower 3 inches of the stalk by smashing it with the broad side of your sturdy kitchen knife. Then carefully, but with force, slice into pieces. The chop away, or blend in a spice mill. Remember that only the purplish part inside the bottom 2 or 3 inches contains any flavour. So don't waste your time with rest, unless you instead to make stock! Or, you do what I do, and travel over to the freezer section of the supermarket and pick up a little plastic container of pre-minced lemongrass.

Thai soy sauce has a lighter flavour and is less salty than it Chinese or Japanese counterparts. The brand I usually buy is called "Golden Mountain" and it is also a terrific marinade for beef or chicken.

If you cannot find lime leaves (check the freezer section!) then 1 tbsp of lime zest is perfectly good alternative.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Monsoon Fried Chicken

This Chicken is so tasty, it is one my most requested dishes. It is crisp, sweet and salty- perfect on a bun or on top of a salad.


6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/3 cup oyster sauce
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp garlic powder

1) Pour oyster sauce over top of chicken and allow to marinate for 5-10 minutes.
2) Mix together flour and garlic powder in a large bowl.
3) thoroughly coat chicken in flour, pressing the chicken firmly into the flour. Transfer chicken to a plate. Set aside for at least 10 minutes to give the flour a chance to seal around the chicken.
4) Heat a pot of oil two inches deep on the stove (be careful!), or turn on your deep-fryer. Heat the oil to approximately 350'.
5) carefully place chicken into hot oil, cooking two at a time. Turn after 4 minutes, then cook additional 4 minutes, until brown and crisp.
6) Transfer cooked chicken to a plate lined with paper towels.