Thursday, November 1, 2007

How I Learned to Hate the Buffet

wednesday night was halloween. i did not cook. oh, i inTENDED to, but, alas, did not. why? because of the buffet. the evil, starchy, way too much weirdass food to be believed buffet. it's not ONE buffet in particular, so don't go looking for me to out some poor establishment whose only job is to make dough off of the cravings of others. i've done that. made dough off of the cravings of the masses. without resorting to ick foods, true, but i've done it. no, the buffet, in general, taken in this particular form, is, well, vile. there's a place in l.a. -- yeah, yeah, i know "shut the eff up about this shtuff in l.a.," but, please, indulge me -- called todai which is a seafood/sushi buffet that is killer. honest. total yum. however, that was not this and there are many just like this one in my coastal city of LA, so it's not a regional thing. it's a buffet thing. really.

we went to this outdoor mall -- strip mall, i suppose -- where they had safe trick or treating and activities with the different shops. it was fun and Brandon and Nicholas had a total blast. great. and this particular evening, every kid got in free to this particular buffet and, being a frugal sorta mom these days, i was ALL about it. oh, man. i think the last time i really went to a buffet like this was when i was a kid, so my memory of this was from watching FARGO. the boys were even intimidated, i could see, and they got their plates -- one plate -- and that was it. but they were severely full and i thought, "i'm the worst mother for doing this with them. yikes."

by the time we got home, they were not even interested in the candy they had gotten. no special dinners that night. just a lot of "oh, mom... my stomach..." oy vey.

but thursday night? i really had to make this up to them. or me, quite frankly. i felt like i had been way too lax with the food and needed to make it right for me in my heart by being good to them. nicholas wasn't feeling well. he had a cold that was getting a serious hold on him, so i ended up making TWO things -- two soups to help him with his cold and that would be seriously yummy. these were from a REALLY terrific asian cookbook that covers all of asia with these terrific color photos and step by step instructions. it's called A TASTE OF THE EAST by Deh-Ta Hsiung, Rafi Fernandez and Steven Wheeler. the two recipes were NOODLES IN SOUP (Tang Mein) from China and WONTON SOUP (WonTon Tang) also from China.

8 oz boneless chicken breast, port tenderloin or pre-cooked meat
3-4 chinese dried mushrooms (shiitake), soaked
4 oz sliced bamboo shoots, drained
4 oz spinach leaves, lettuce hearts or napa cabbage
2 scallions
12 oz dried egg noodles
2 1/2 cups basic stock
2 tbs veggie oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp light brown sugar
1 tbs light soy sauce

what to do:
1. thinly shred the meat. squeeze dry the mushrooms and discard any hard stalks. thinly shred the mushrooms, bamboo shoots, greens and scallions.
2. cook the noodles in boiling water according to package instructions, drain, and rinse under cold water. place in serving bowl.
3. bring the stock to a boil and pour over noodles. keep warm.
4. heat oil in preheated wok, add about half of the scallions and the meat, and stir-fry for about 1 minute.
5. add the mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and greens, and stir-fry for 1 minute. add all the seasonings and blend well.
6. pour the "dresing" over the noodles, garnish with remaining scallions and serve immediately.

here's what we did:
we ended up using pork and spinach. we didn't have any shiitakes so we used white button mushrooms. dark brown sugar instead of light as well as regular soy sauce instead of light. i end up using dark brown sugar instead of the light brown sugar in pretty much every recipe. there's a depth of flavor that just comes through with the dark. no bamboo shoots, but the rest remained pretty much the same. i added some ponzu sauce to it, which added a yummy citrus tang to it. this warmed nicholas up, he loved it and felt better. the broth we used was a low sodium chicken broth. this doesn't have a ton of liquid to it, but it still has a soup feeling to it, very warming and good.

6 oz pork, not too lean, coarsely chopped
2 oz peeled shrimp, finely chopped
1 tsp light brown sugar
1 tbs chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 tbs light soy sauce
1 tsp finely chopped scallions
1 tsp finely choped fresh ginger
24 ready-made wonton skins
about 3 cups basic stock
1 tbs light soy sauce
finely chopped scallions to garnish

what to do:
1. mix the pork, shrimp, sugar, wine or sherry, soy sauce, scallions and ginger in a bowl until well blended. let tand for 25-30 minutes.
2. put about 1 tsp filling in the center of each wonton skin.
3. lightly wet and join the edges of each wonton, pressing down with your fingers to seal, then fold each wonton over.
4. to cook, bring the stock to a rolling boil in a wok or saucepan. add the wontons and cook for 4-5 minutes. season with the rest of the soy sauce and garnish with scallions. serve.

here's what we did:
i used regular soy sauce and had egg roll skins, which are large squares. i cut a few down into four squares per each wonton skin. obviously, i peeled and DEVEINED the shrimp (you know how i feel about the devein thing) and ended up cooking this late last night before going to bed. i got two dinners out of these two. even brandon liked the soup, which was good. the wontons came out nicely and, again, this was a warming, yummy way to spend a chilly evening.

buffets... i see their point. honest, i do. when i was traveling through asia many years ago, hotel buffets saved me from time to time -- because i got a lot of food for cheap, not because the food was better. when you're on a budget, anything that can help makes a difference. and i was on a budget all those years ago when i was there.

i'm not saying buffets are bad for everyone. they haven't been great for us. and i do go to my share of indian buffets. nummy yummers. guess my thing about the buffet situation is this 'all you can eat" mentality that accompanies it. but i see their place in the world. just not for us so much.

yep, i'm a snob.

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