Let that idea marinate in your brain for a bit. Scary, right?
I went into #18 with a bit of trepidation just because I really love Chinese food and despise Wok and Roll, LaChoy mall food court Chinese food. I have cooked a lot of Chinese food in my day. In fact, it is a tradition of mine that I make an 8 course Chinese feast every New Year’s Eve. I think that NYE 2010 was my sixth. The menu changes every year. Sometimes I include Korean and Japanese dishes, too. I’ve made dried-fried string beans, fried tofu, bulgogi, Shanghai soup dumplings, Japanese pickles, tea eggs, Bang Bang Chicken–but my scallion pancakes and black bean spare ribs are the best.
I am happy to report that #18 Sweet and Sour Shrimp was quite benign. It was a lighter, pared-down version of the Sweet and Sour Shrimp you’d get at a American-Chinese restaurant (donut-encrusted shrimp in scarlet-red syrup). Depending on your opinion of Sweet and Sour Shrimp, #18 may or may not be a great improvement. I, not being a huge fan of battered deep-fried shrimp swimming in what looks like half-set cherry Jell-O, this was a pleasant surprise.
I also took the opportunity to put my own spin on the sides…
I did not include won-ton soup for a handful of reasons. 1. They do not have frozen or canned won-ton soup at the Safeway. 2. Although I have made homemade won-ton/dumplings before, I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it for a Dinner is Served! 3. Yes, Paul Chen’s Chinese Restaurant is just up the street, but I didn’t want to send Cleve up there just for that, especially since he doesn’t particularly like won-ton soup. And I don’t like their food.
So in place of the soup I threw together (and by threw together I mean plated) a bit of banchan. But totally not banchan because the elements were decidedly Chinese, and not Korean, but I served them as such. Anyway, there were spicy pickles (gherkins) and bamboo shoots in chili oil. It’s what I had in the fridge from the last time I hit the Asia mart.
I also switched up the dessert which should have been Lemon sorbet with Chartreuse. Believe me, I searched the Safeway’s frozen dessert section and there was not a lemon sherbet to be found. Lime, orange, tropical, pineapple, strawberry-kiwi–they were all represented. Even in Italian Ice, there was just cherry. What the hell? I love lemon sherbet! It was the palate-cleansing element in the epic “traditional dinners” at Lombardozzi’s Restaurant on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Little Italy (Bloomfield). Sadly, as I found out the last time I was there, Lombardozzi’s traditional dinner no longer includes the lemon sherbet. What the hell, Lombardozzi’s? However, the stuffed clams and the marinated mushrooms are still choice. Seriously, I want some marinated mushrooms right now. And I am also feeling quite nostalgic for Bloomfield and my Gramsy. And I want Mancini’s bread. I miss Pittsburgh.
Shit, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, lemon sherbet. They didn’t have it at the Safeway. So I bought lemon popsicles instead. Cleve didn’t mind. And even if I did track down some lemon sherbet, I wasn’t going to buy a bottle of Chartreuse because what in the world would I have done with it afterwards? Besides, I think that it would be mad-expensive.
The bean sprout salad was good. But I think mostly because I conjured up my own dressing. If there is one Chinese foodstuff that I can make, and make well, it is a nice dumpling dipping sauce. And that’s what I put on the blanched sprouts. You can tailor it to your taste buds, but this is what I used (for 1/2 lb sprouts):
- 2 scallions, white and green parts, cut into small rounds
- 1 tbsp oil (I had a veg/canola mix)
- 1.5 tbsp soy sauce (light or dark)
- 1/4 tsp minced garlic
- 1/8 tsp honey
- 1/8 tsp chili oil
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
Mix it all and chill. I didn’t make too much because it was going to be on a dressing (and who wants bean sprouts that are completely drowning in sauce?), but you can adjust this basic recipe for other applications and amounts. When I am making a dipping sauce I also include minced, fresh ginger. But alas, I did not have any at the time. I also would increase the amount of vinegar in the sauce if it were to be used as a condiment.
Ok, back to the bean sprouts themselves. I blanched them quickly in boiling water, but the directions on the bag of sprouts stated that once microwaved they could be served with mayonnaise. Mayonnaise? I was intrigued. And since I was already preparing a quasi-dipping sauce, I also whipped together a reasonable facsimile of that great spicy/sweet pinky mayo sauce that is sometimes served at sushi joints.
There’s no big secret to it. In its most basic form, you could just mix some siracha or sambal with any sort of mayo. But I promise you that it won’t be the same. You need to use Kewpie Mayonnaise. Kewpie Mayonnaise is produced in Japan and is recognizable by it’s distinctive squeeze bottle with a Kewpie doll on it. The packaging is simultaneously cute and unsettling. And in the best possible way.
I think that Kewpie tastes like Miracle Whip with just a little less of that tangy zip. It’s a thinner consistency than normal mayo, so it’s perfect when mixed with the chili sauce/paste of your choice because you can actually drizzle it instead of just blob or spread. I also add ketchup because it gives the sauce a deeper pink hue and just a hint of sweetness. And ta-da! Sushi restaurant pink mayo sauce!
Onto the main event, timeline included. Cleve wanted dinner at 8pm. I began at 6:15.
- 6:15 boiled shrimp in water for 3 minutes and then poured that water over the diced green pepper. Put both in the fridge
- 7:00 blanched bean sprouts and combined ingredients for dressing. Put both in fridge to chill.
- 7:15 1 hour in and totally on target!
- 7:30 began preparation of sweet and sour sauce. In small saucepan: pineapple juice, lemon juice, mustard, salt, ginger and CURRANT JELLY (Yay! Already used the $5 jar of jam twice in 2 days!).
- 7:43 microwaved rice while the sauce sat on the stove on low heat
- 8:04 combined cornstarch and water as thickening agent. At this point just waiting for the rice to finish in the microwave
- DING! Rice stayed in the microwave for 5 minutes while I put the shrimp, water chestnuts, green pepper, and pineapples into the sauce to reheat.
- Boom. 8:15 Dinner is Served!
I think that it would be a helluva show and I hope that one day he writes it. Anyway, we closed out this night by watching Bye Bye Birdie, starring Mr. Lynde. And more importantly, the always divine Ann-Margret. But before that we did a little search on Paul Lynde, and came across this gem. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Toledo’s pride and joy. I swear, I could post pictures of Paul Lynde all day long.