Saturday, March 25, 2006

Zen and the Noodle Master

A student goes to his Zen master and asks him “How long it will take me to reach enlightenment?” The teacher says “10 years”. “But if I will study harder, try harder, how long will it take me?”, asks the student. The teacher looks at the student for a moment before replying “20 years.”

Sometimes you have to feel the Dharma to work in the kitchen. Sometimes it seems the more you push, the further you get from putting something edible on the table. You need some kind of inner quite inside the storm.

Last night, if you studied the pictures from my last post closely, you might have seen that the recipe and pictures don’t quite match. While I was making one part of the dinner, I think it was the soup, all the grapes for the other part of the dinner were being eaten. Right in front of me. In my anti-Zen frenzy, I didn’t even notice. And as I was cleaning up, getting rid of the spinach trimmings, the thyme went right down the disposal. All of it. The disposal smells great for a change.

Well, not to worry. I sat down, had a glass of wine, despite everyone wondering aloud frequently when we would be eating, and tried to get into the Zen of the moment. Not fight it, but go with it somehow. I mean, just because two of the major items for the main dish were now eaten or ground up, so what? I had to laugh. Fortunately, I had a bag of currants. And lots of fresh rosemary. I actually like the currents better than the grapes, and will probably change the recipe to reflect this. The rosemary was nice, but pretty strong. I’ll think that one over.

But dinner was served, everyone happy, more complements than usual (they were likely delirious from hunger and didn’t know what they were saying anymore). Serendipity saved the day. Not to mention a glass of good wine and feeling the Dharma.

So today, of course, things would go differently. The ‘right’ way, I naively repeated to myself, over and over.

That thought was gone by early morning. In last night’s frenzy, I had forgotten to get the fresh Chinese noodles for tonight. And I had to use up all that broccoli I had bought a few days ago – before it went bad. And we were already late for a soccer match, and I had not one drop of gas in the car, and, and … And there was no way was this going to work out.

Driving everyone to the soccer field, the frustration level was unconsciously starting to creep up, in the background, unintentionally, not really directly noticeable, until I caught myself gesturing a bit too wildly to some of the other drivers. I guess a few indiscrete comments slid out as well – to the amusement of the young soccer players in the back seat.

So I had some time while watching the game to zone back into a calmer, Zennier place. You just can’t cook well when there is a lot of negative stress. That’s when everything starts going down the tubes, and food begins to taste bad. Stress in general is not bad – if you’re in the ‘zone’, working effectively, handling the issues quickly and creatively. But a negative attitude always seems to turn up in the taste of the food somehow.

And eventually it came to me, that I had made the fresh noodles from scratch a few years ago, and they had turned out pretty well. Plus, it occurred to me, I actually had frozen a bag of the noodles a few weeks ago because I bought three bags and only needed two. That’s what negative stress can do – block the simplest things from your mind.

So that problem was solved. And I could get back to something more fun to think about, namely what to do with the fresh Key Limes I had just bought the other day. Something simple and fairly light – maybe a curd, or better yet, maybe try a Key Lime flavored Zabaglione. Use the Key Lime juice instead of the Marsala wine. That would be a nice finish to the dinner.

Now its time to meditate with my Médoc (another 2000!). Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm……….

Broccoli Beef on Fresh Pan-Fried Noodles

2 lbs flank steak – cut across the grain into paper thin slices
Mixed with:
2 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 cloves garlic
4 -5 slices fresh ginger
3 tbsp peanut oil

5-6 cups fresh broccoli, broken up into flowerettes, stems cut into 1 inch pieces

Gravy ingredients:
2 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster flavored sauce
½ cup water

Sautee the broccoli in 2 tbsp of the oil over high heat for a few minutes, stirring. Add 2-3 tbsp water, and cover. Cook for 2-3 more minutes, and remove to a bowl. It should still be a bit crisp!

Sautee the marinated flank steak slices, in batches if necessary, in 2 tbsp oil until the meat it browned on the outside. Add the gravy ingredients. Add all the steak (if you cooked it in batches). Add the broccoli, and stir to coat well.
Place the pan-fried noodles on a large platter, and tear into serving pieces. Pour the broccoli beef on top. Serve. Enjoy!

Pan-Fried Noodles

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 eggs
¼ to ½ cup cold water
Peanut oil

Sift together the flour and the salt in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour. Add the two eggs. Start mixing with a wooden spoon. Slowly add the water a little at a time, until the dough comes together in a ball. Knead the dough for 10 minutes on a floured board. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll out each portion paper thin on a floured board, using as much flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Sift flour over the top and the bottom of the sheet. Roll the sheet lightly like a jelly roll, and with a sharp knife, cut into thin strips.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Heat peanut oil on a heavy skillet till hot but not smoking. Add the noodles to the water and cook just for 2 minutes. Drain the noodles and toss immediately into the skillet. Spread the noodles out across the skillet, turn the heat down to medium, and let cook undisturbed until browned on one side. Carefully turn the noodles over, and brown on the other side.

Key Lime Zabaglione

6 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
¾ cup Key lime juice
1 tsp grated Key lime peel
ground cinnamon
vanilla extract
1 ½ cups heavy cream
fruit for decoration, if desired

Place the egg yolks and sugar in a large round steel bowl. Add lime juice, lime peel, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Whisk to mix.

Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (optimally, the steel bowl should not be touching the water). Whisk the custard mixture, making sure the water does not boil. Continue whisking for about 10 minutes, or until the custard has tripled in volume, froths up and becomes pale. It should have a texture approaching that of a mousse. Take the custard from the heat, and continue whisking for a few minutes to cool.

Beat heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Add ¼ of the whipped cream to the custard and mix gently but thoroughly. Fold in the remaining whipped cream.

Spoon the Zabalione into serving dishes and decorate with fruit as desired. Serve. Enjoy!

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Blogger ilva said...

I do so agree with you, I just talked to Marco about it how certain days the intuition is there, you float along the cooking and it turns out so good while other days it just doesn't klick because something is missing or in the wrong position in there in the creative centre of our beings. You call it zen and maybe that's it.

12:13 AM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Ilva - thanks for the comment. That's it exactly!

12:03 PM  

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