Wednesday, July 11, 2012

(In)Convenient Casseroles

The plan was to marinate and grill a flank steak for dinner,  but I forgot to take it out of the freezer last night.  I did so this morning but when I got home from work it was still frozen.  Certainly not ready for the marinade, at least not for several more hours. 

Moving to plan B, well actually plan C once I rejected the take-out pizza option, I decided to make one of Al’s favorite Thai dishes called pad kee mao, which translates roughly to "stir fried drunkard," or more commonly, Drunken Noodles.  I have no idea why it is called that; there is no alcohol in the recipe.  Anyway, it is a favorite, and all the ingredients were pretty much at hand. The Asian market near our house was out of Thai basil, but the sweet basil in my garden is growing well, so I thought I could use that.  I have included the recipe at the end of this post in case anyone is interested in trying it.

We sat down on our deck to enjoy our yummy noodle dish along with some stir fried bok choy.  It would have been a little better if we weren't being pestered by some tiny flying beetle-y things and it would have been a little better with the Thai basil, with its more pronounced flavor, but it was all right.  

Good even.

I must admit that I was feeling a little smug, thinking “This is a far cry from the casseroles I grew up on.”  I was specifically thinking of the ubiquitous 1960's dish made from macaroni, tomato, ground beef and, if the cook was feeling a little frisky, onion.  My family called it “goulash”, my school called it “American Chop Suey” and Al’s family called it “slumgullion.” Although similar, these dishes are not identical.  “Goulash” usually had onion and was always made with tomato sauce.  “Slumgullion” never had onion, used canned whole tomatoes and included generous amounts of catsup.  I don’t know what “American Chop Suey” had in it.   It was one of the great mysteries of school lunch.  It has been years, maybe even a decade, since I have had any variant on what must have been the national dish of my youth. 

Yup, Pad Kee Mao is nothing like “Goulash.”  Pad Kee Mao is good.  It is sophisticated.  It has noodles, beef, sauce…

Oh my!

Is my fancy-pants dinner really just thaigullion or  thaigoulash?

Maybe so.

Certainly more elaborate. 

Admittedly, less convenient.

Well, then.  Harumph.

Speaking of convenience, 7-Eleven is celebrating its 85th birthday today.   It began in 1927 as the Southland Ice Company, but also sold convenience items like bread and milk. I going to guess that they did not sell slurpees back then.  The name 7-Eleven was first used in 1946 to highlight the uncommonly long hours of operation. Of course, now most 7-Eleven’s are open 24 hours a day, for our added convenience.  I was surprised to learn that Taipei, Taiwan has more 7-Elevens per capita than any other city and I can attest to the fact that there seemed to be at least one and sometimes more on every block.  It seemed like there were more 7-Eleven's in Taipei than Starbucks in Seattle.  Here in th e US, we might find it convenient to stop at 7-Eleven on the way home from work for gas, milk and a bucket of pop or a cherry-coke slurpee, but the Taiwanese take convenience to the next level. According to our hosts, in Taiwan you can do your banking, pay your doctor, and even pay for college tuition at 7-Eleven. Strangely though, when I came down with a bad cold in Taipei, I couldn’t find a single throat lozenge.  How inconvenient!

Here is that recipe I promised:

Pad Kee Mao (Drunken Noodles)

Photo from Flickr.  
Ingredients and preparation:
3 Tbsp Golden Mountain Soy Bean Seasoning Sauce
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp. sugar
1 ½ tbsp. Sriracha chile sauce

Whisk together in small bowl

8 ounces of wide (1 cm)  rice noodles

Place noodles in large bowl or pot.  Cover with boiling water.  Soak for 10 minutes and drain.

6-12 ounces meat
Slice chicken, steak or pork very thin (2 or 3 mm Cuisinart blade).  Can also use ¼ inch slabs of extra-firm tofu.

6 ounces snow peas

Clean and snip ends if needed.

Red pepper 
Slice into thin strips

8 ounces of bean sprouts

½ cup Thai basil leaves
2 green onions sliced

Cooking instructions:
Heat 1-2 tbsp canola or peanut oil in wok until very hot.  Stir fry meat until cooked through.  If using tofu, stir fry until lightly browned.

Add noodles and sauce and stir fry until well mixed and heated through.

Add pepper, bean sprouts and snow peas, continuing to stir fry until veggies are crisp-tender.

Add basil and green onions and cook until basil is wilted. 

Serve with lime wedges and chopped peanuts if desired.

Today I am grateful for fresh herbs from my garden. How convenient to snip herbs like basil, thyme, sage, rosemary, mint and so on whenever I may need or want them.  

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