We have been eating many noodles these weeks, my husband and I, and I thought that I might tell you a bit about them.
Our favorites are the Asian noodle dishes that we have found in cookbooks and online sources; they are quick to make and, to my husband at least, taste like home. One of the satisfactions of cooking Asian food with an Asian spouse is that at least one person in the kitchen knows what the food is supposed to taste like. Take the dan dan mian, above, which my husband grew up eating from time to time, but I first sampled in Chengdu, Sichuan. Plain wheat noodles are topped with ground pork, cabbage, pickled vegetables, and a spicy sauce of Sichuanese peppercorns (prickly ash), red peppers, sesame paste, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Sprinkle a few green chives or scallions over the mess and you have dinner in a bowl, and an appreciative husband across the table. He made the sauce, I chopped the vegetables, and we could not get over how much these noodles tasted of China -- how much they were China, right there on our little table.
Our chap chae was less successful -- but then again, neither of us really knew what it was supposed to taste like. Our Korean food comes out of recipes, not memories, and perhaps for that reason it fell a little flat. We were missing the notion of how much soy to use, how much sugar and how much shrimp, and though the vegetables were beautifully cut and the noodles were slippery, something was lacking. I liked the dish in any case, but Chuan couldn't hide his disappointment.
Next up for me, when my sister joins us here in Minnesota tomorrow, are home-made Udon noodles. I have a hankering for Japanese food, and found a tidy recipe for the noodles at Cook & Eat. The recipe calls for both regular flour and bread flour, and because I have never made noodles from scratch before, I went to the grocery store this afternoon and purchased a bag of bread flour. I cooked with a wise chef this summer who taught me that it is best to follow the recipe to a T the first time around; after that, if you improvise, you'll know why it worked or why it didn't. I am more of an improvisational cook to begin with, so this dictum is often hard for me to follow, but when I do follow the recipe it does make all of the difference. This is especially the case, I have found, with Asian food, as I have yet to develop a sense of what "works" in a dish and what doesn't. My husband finds the idea of measuring ingredients while cooking Asian food to be very strange, but until I develop the intuition that my mother-in-law has in the kitchen, I will stick by my measuring cups and teaspoons.
Future culinary endeavors: Udon noodles, roast chicken (as I will not be roasting the turkey this year), and onigiri (Japanese rice balls). All this, and I have no idea yet how I will contribute to Thursday's feast!