My grandmother favored menus with fewer ingredients and less fuss. Pork chops cooked in sauerkraut, or bratwurst, knackwurst or any wurst for that matter, were favorites. Sometimes we’d have lamb chops or a simple beef stroganoff (did I spell that right?).
But if were really lucky, she would spend hours in the kitchen making her wonderful tomato sauce with ground beef and sausage. Yum. That was her go-to dish for special occasions and everyone loved it. (Her lasagna and sausage and peppers were tasty as well.)
And woe was thee to anyone who didn’t just rave over the dish de resistance! Oh, I can still remember the dagger eyes that shot the poor soul who dared to exclaim, “This is really good. You know who makes the best marinara sauce? My brother …” Or something to that effect.
My mother on the other hand favored a different kind of simple – it came in a box and mixed with ground beef. And that is all I am going to say about that.
Anyway, there was definitely a comfort zone – however different for each – that my grandmother and mother would stay in while cooking. These are the foods that I now consider to be “typical” American dinner items – corn, green beans, peas, pasta, etc.
But me? I knew there was a whole world of great foods out there just waiting to be tasted. And I couldn’t wait to try them all. When I got to college in New York, I began sampling all sorts of foods that were exotic to me – fresh mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, couscous, Japanese dishes, Korean food, Ethiopian . . . and eventually, sushi.
Strangely, while I was willing to take leaps with foods I ate, I took baby steps with foods I cooked. Talk about comfort zoning! My staples were stir fry, pasta (in a variety of flavors, really), and . . . toast. No kidding. But over the past few years, those baby steps have turned into leaps and bounds though. Chard, bok choy, kalamata olives and a whole wealth of other things have wound their way into my cooking.
Now the truth? Will isn’t too fond of typical veggies like green beans, peas and carrots. But give him a ton of Brussels sprouts, a pile of chard or a head of broccoli (which is admittedly fairly typical) and he’ll go to town. He’s more likely to munch on a spear of asparagus than a French fry. And believe me, I am not complaining.
The funny thing is, at least to me, this dish, which I am submitting for Presto Pasta Night hosted by Ruth at Once Upon A Kitchen, is somewhat of a stir fry at heart . . . You can take the girl out of the comfort zone, but you can’t take the comfort out of the girl. Or something like that.
Actually, I am not sure I have a comfort zone anymore. I try everything. And the more fearsome, the better. I can’t tell you how nervous I was about strawberry jam before I made it. And guess what? It’s as simple as you can get!
The pasta portion of this dish is a rice noodle – mai fun – which is like an angel hair. Be sure to soak it in cold water to soften before you cook though (as noted). Otherwise it probably won’t cook through in time. And don’t be intimidated by the number of steps. Everything moves quickly.
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp extra light olive oil, divided
1 onion, finely diced
4 cups mixed veggies (I used chard, sundried tomatoes, carrots and snowpeas)
2 tsp barbecue seasoning
3/4 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup cold water
1 package (about 6.5 oz) mai fun noodles, soaked in cold water for at least 45 minutes and drained well
1/2 lb stir fry beef, just browned (but still red on the inside and perhaps a bit of the outside)
Gather all your ingredients and have them ready to go. This is a quick moving recipe.
In a small bowl, stir together soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Set aside.
Heat your big ol’ wok over high heat for about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and stir in the onion. Cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. You want them to be just starting to turn translucent but not cooked through – they have plenty of time to finish cooking through when the other ingredients are cooking.
Stir in the other tablespoon of olive oil along with the vegetables. Cook, tossing or stirring often, for another 3-4 minutes (if using a leafy green like chard, then look for that to just start to wilt). Sprinkle with the barbecue seasoning (it’s a dry spice located in the spice aisle of your grocer). Stir well for about 1 minute.
Now, get that reserved soy sauce mixture and stir again to ensure everything is mixed well. Pour into the wok and stir with the veggies. Add the vegetable broth and water and bring to a boil over high heat. It won’t take too long. Trust me.
Next step: get those well drained mai fun rice noodles and stir them into the wok. Cook for another 3-4 minutes. You want them to be softened and just tender enough to eat. There should still be plenty of liquid in the wok too.
Alright, you are almost there.