Saturday, May 11, 2013

Nina Simonds' Chinese Peanut Dressing - Huzzah!

Should be on your bookshelf
Wil Haygood interviewed Nina Simonds on WHYY's Fresh Air about her new book, Asian Noodles: Deliciously Simple Dishes to Twirl, Slurp and Savor, on April 2, 1997.

I bought it the next day, and it remains on my "absolute favorite" shelf.

Why I love this book (beyond the recipes)

Remember, this was 1997, before you could buy rice noodles and Sriracha in every grocery store in America. The first few pages has beautiful, clearly-labeled photographs of almost every noodle you would ever want to cook, and it follows on with exacting instructions for cooking each one.

I went from the bookstore to a Chinese market on University Avenue in Saint Paul, walked the aisles, filled my shopping cart, went home to cook, and never looked back.

The recipes

Asking for a list of "favorites" is a lot like asking a parent to name The Favorite Child. Some have become my staples: Chile Noodles (p.28), Ginger-Scallion Noodles (P. 30), Curried Vegetarian Noodles (a version of Singapore Noodles) (p. 34), Singapore Fried Rice Noodles (with shrimp) (p. 93) and the door-opener to my favorite recipe of all, Rainbow Peanut Noodles (p.82).

The backbone of Rainbow Peanut Noodles is Chinese Peanut Dressing (p. 122) which reminds me that a  pantry with a very large jar of peanut butter, some ginger and garlic, and spaghetti can feed five people for 10 days or 10 people for five days.

Simonds says:

She writes "My refrigerator would seem empty without a batch of this all-purpose peanut butter-based sauce. I serve it with vegetable and noodle salads, and as a go-with-anything dipping sauce."

But there's more: spread it on toast, bagels, or matzoh; two-three tablespoons will zip up any stir fry; add a bit to any coconut-based stir fry sauce and swoon. This dressing/sauce/dip is a friend to chicken, shrimp, and crispy tofu. I have seen people grab spoons and eat it straight from the bowl.

Chinese Peanut Dressing (adapted from Asian Noodles)


  1. This can be multiplied to the limit of your food processor's capacity.
  2. I buy fresh ginger by the pound and then freeze about half in 1-inch cuts. Frozen ginger isn't great for stir fry, but it works in this recipe, and it makes dandy ginger tea.
  3. Adding fresh chili gives this a real kick.
  4. Simonds suggests Worcestershire sauce as a substitute for Chinese Black Vinegar. I have never done that, so I have no idea how it would taste. I use Chinkiang brand black vinegar. Buy a few bottles. This vinegar lasts forever. 
  5. No, I don't make my own chicken broth. I use 1T Penzey's Chicken Soup Base and 1/4 cup of water.
  6. Simonds says that this keeps in the fridge for two to three weeks. I have never made enough for that to be a possibility.

1 inch chunk of fresh ginger (or frozen ginger from your ginger stash)
8 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled
1-2 tsp fresh jalapeno or serrano chili, finely chopped (optional)
1 tsp of Sriracha or any other hot chili sauce (or more)
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 T sugar
4 T Chinese Black vinegar
4 T toasted sesame oil
3 T Chicken broth or water
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (or more)

  1. Finely chop the ginger, garlic and fresh chili (if using) in a food processor. Add all remaining ingredients except peanut butter and blend until smooth.
  2. Add the peanut butter and blend. Taste. Taste again.
  3. Thicken with peanut butter; thin with chicken broth. Taste again.
  4. For a dressing: the sauce should be like thick heavy cream.
  5. For a dip: the sauce should be like thick yogurt.
  6. For a spread: Slightly thinner than plain peanut butter.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Grocery surprises: frozen cheese sandwiches & oatmeal in packets

I have always loved grocery stores.

Grocery shopping pattern set by Mom

The pattern for my shopping was set when I was a tiny child. Once a week until I left home, I walked with my Mom up and down every aisle in the Giant Food Store in Mt. Rainier, Maryland. She always had a list, but she also knew exactly what she needed to keep her pantry stocked. She taught me to shop the whole store, and to remember the shopping list.

Delicious & Requires measuring equipment

Years in grocery stores

I spent all day every day in grocery and drug stores in the 1970s when I worked for a San Francisco food broker and a national manufacturer. With retail and wholesale accounts from Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz, I got to see the differences between chain and independent stores in their approaches to sales and marketing, and the differences among stores within chains as their managers tweaked their shelf facing plans based on their customers' needs. It was endlessly interesting.

I walk all of the aisles today, and like to keep track of new products and new categories. Sometimes, I'm surprised.

Frozen Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Except for peanut butter and jelly, no sandwich is easier to make than grilled cheese. I was surprised to see Chef MJ Brando American and Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwiches in the freezer section at Rainbow Foods in Saint Paul. As in Star Wars, there is another: you can find Frozen Swiss Grilled Cheese Sandwiches on the Brando website.

Still reeling from cheese sandwich shock, I had a bad feeling, and Googled "frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich." I am apparently the last person in America to discover that PBandJ can also be found in the freezer aisle, in Smucker's Uncrustables.

When did "packet" become the measure of oatmeal?

True confessions: I own seven sets of measuring spoons, three sets of measuring cups, and I am not afraid to use them.

Wandering in the oatmeal aisle, I found 21 products that required measuring cups or spoons, and 47 with twice as many facings with products that use "packet" as the unit of measure.

When did this happen? How hard is it to measure a quarter of a cup of dry oatmeal? Has America lost its measuring cups and spoons? Has anyone noticed that the cost per serving of oatmeal-in-packets is ridiculously high?

This may be related to the rise of the single-cup coffee maker, which, in addition to generating tons of plastic trash, may have deprived several generations of the technical skills required to use a measuring tablespoon.