I could've predicted that the second sick days were no longer a part of my life, I'd get sick. Last week was the first week that I was needed to come every day and I had to stay home Wednesday so I could lay in bed. I didn't even wake up until 12:30pm today and now I'm so exhausted I'm about to temporarily hit the hay and it's only 6pm.
I've been craving chewy spicy things like crazy. I think it's because I barely have any taste in my mouth and head's all stuffed up, so burning and chomping give me a boost. Today I've been eating spicy bamboo shoots from the jar and tripe from a plastic container. I'm not a fount of knowledge where Chinese food is concerned but I try and food hobbies keeps me out of trouble. (I'm so irked. This afternoon I wanted to watch the first installment of the new Gourmet show Diary of a Foodie, especially since it was a China episode, but something was wrong with channel 13; the image kept blinking and the sound was sputtering. I DVR'd it and now the episode is totally unwatchable. And to add insult to injury, both channels on either side were fine. Unfortunately, I had no desire Buried Secrets on 12/Lifetime or The Sandlot on 14/ABC Family.) I'm not clear how you're supposed to eat these often-pickled condiments. Do you put a couple spoonfuls over rice? Eat them on the side with other dishes?
I don't know who makes these bamboo shoots, the only English clue reads Hunan ZhuZhou Aolin Seasoning Foods Factory, which turns up zilch if you Google it. I might just be drawn to this brand because of the cute fire-breathing chile logo. I usually get their spicy radish variety, which comes with a red cap rather than a purple one. The ingredients listed are simply bamboo shoot slice, sesame oil, red pepper and salt but it seems like there's something else in there. The mushy, oily crunchy consistency almost feels like canned sardines.
Yesterday I went on one of my NJ shopping-for-things-I-could-find-in-NYC-but-don't-have-the-patience-to-do-so missions and hit Costco, Trader Joe's, Home Depot, Pathmark, Applebee's (more later) and Kam Man.
There are plenty of Asian grocery stores in NYC, just as there are numerous American grocery stores. And they're cramped and crowded and infuriating. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up in an urban setting nor a third world nation, so the charm of fighting for space and skimming shelves while being jostled is lost on me. Hong Kong Supermarket in South Plainfield is a lovable wide aisled gargantuan, my favorite, but I didn't make it out there yesterday. Kam Man in Edison isn't necessarily more spacious than its inner city counterparts, but it's more manageable by suburban default. It's easy to maneuver and the shoppers are relatively well behaved.
It can be painful trying to read packages or even stand still at the Hong Kong Supermarket in Sunset Park. No matter how you position yourself you're invariably in someone's way. Like I said, I'm no Chinese pro so I appreciated being able to leisurely scout out all the items on my list in peace. And almost everything I needed was strangely in a one foot radius: dried tsao-ko, which I'd never heard of but need for a red-braised dish, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chiles, Chinkiang vinegar and sesame oil.
I originally had plans to make a bunch of Sichuan dishes tonight but ended up solo this Sunday and hate making tons of food just for myself. Mondays I work till midnight. So, the beef and lotus roots will have to wait. Tonight I went simple made a cold noodle recipe from Land of Plenty.
I suspect these noodles might be the dish pictured on the cover of the book. If so, mine don't resemble that aspirational model in the slightest. I tossed mine which gave them a murkiness instead of sheen and used a full 16-ounce package of noodles instead of the suggested half-pound so the overall appearance was dry, not that slick, chile oil Sichuan style. But hey, they still tasted good.
Spicy Cold Noodles with Chicken Slivers
Ji Si Liang Mian
About ½ pound fresh Chinese noodles, Shanghai-style, a little thicker than spaghetti
1 ½ tablesppons peanut or salad oil
3 ounces bean sprouts
1 small cooked chicken breast or some leftover chicken meat
4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sesame paste, thinned with 1 tablespoon water
1 ½ tablespoon dark soy sauce
½ tablespoon light soy sauce
1 ½ tablespoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
1 tablespoon white sugar
2-3 cloves or garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper
2-3 tablespoons chili oil with chile flakes
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling water until they are just al dente-take care not to overcook them. Rinse with hot water from the kettle, shake them in a colander and quickly spread them out to dry. Sprinkle over the peanut oil and mix it in with chopsticks to prevent the noodles from sticking together.
Blanch the bean sprouts for a few seconds in boiling water, then refresh in cold water. Drain them well. Squash the chicken breast slightly or whack it with a rolling pink to loosen the fibers, and tear or cut it into slivers about ¼ inch thick.
When the noodles and bean sprouts are completely cold, lay the bean sprouts in the bottom of your serving bowl or bowls. Add the noodles.
To serve, either combine all the seasonings in a bowl and pour the mixture over the noodles, or just scatter them over one by one. Top the dish with a small pile of chicken slivers and a scattering of scallions. Allow your guests to toss everything together at the table.
Serves 4 as a snack, 2-3 as a main lunch dish