Heavenly Food Secrets For Creating Taste Bud Orgasms
By Dennis Tkach. If you have even the slightest interest in gourmet cooking (that can be mastered by anyone AND on the cheap) read on. If you would love to see all who are seated at your dinner table gazing at you with wonderment and adulation as they drool and bow to your tummy yummy wizardry…. this column is for you.
I am no graduate of any college of the culinary arts, BUT on the subject of many diverse ethnic dishes I do consider myself a master chef. I say this, not with arrogant boasting but rather, with pride. Cooking for me has always been a passionate hobby. It has ever challenged me with an unquenchable hunger for learning, experimenting, improving and perfecting. I have spent my life traveling down a culinary road that will never end, visiting new recipes and gleaning countless cooking tips from anyone and everyone I meet along the who, like me, study their munchies with the religious intensity of an atheist who knows it all.
My ‘palette passionada’ started when I was but a child growing up in a Ukrainian home. My mother (and all babas down through the generations of time) was a true kitchen virtuoso magician. With chicken, beef, or pork Bess Tkach was a hunky dory alchemist who could transform base elements of fridge and pantry into gold succulence whose value was beyond measure. Give this queen of the pots and pans some flour, salt, sugar, along with a few common spices and ingredients and my mom morphed into a master baker. Her apple or raisin pie was to die for, her paska (easter bread)… nothing short of leavened heaven. And the list as Yul Brynner in ‘The King And I’ declared, ‘etcetera etcetera’!
It was our ancestors, cut from the roughest peasant cloth, who of necessity transformed the humblest of crops….. wheat, potatoes, onions, cabbage and garlic into what stomachs today embrace with pan-national hunger hugs. Our ancestors may have been poor and simple folk but the culinary legacy they passed on to their children like me was priceless. (Please note: this truism also applies to any nation, be it Latvia, Germany, China, Japan, India, Mexico, etcetera etcetera! World wide the humble offerings from diverse peoples and cultures who have cultivated God’s green Earth since time immemorial have blazed many a path to gastronomic nirvana.
I love the kitchen. It is my favorite room in the house. There, I can forget the worries of the world and time becomes meaningless as I prepare my favorite meals. Other than studying the sumptuousity of my favorite master kitchen sensaii (eg: Stephen Yan, Paul Prudhomme, Elka Pinson and Wolfgang Puck and their glorious ilk) I have always tinkered and experimented over the years in a determined effort to make favored food preparations better and better. I have dibbled with spices and dabbled with sauces. I have sought to refine my awareness of what constitutes the best cooking tools, the wisest choice of meats and produce, along with by trial and error, what methods and seasonings to use or not to use. For over five decades I have tested the results of my efforts on the toughest critics in the world… my wife, my children and my friends.
I was once asked to give a cooking class to a group of high school students in Calgary. The rapt attention of everyone present presented me with an unexpected epiphany: The love of well-prepared food is truly universal.
It gave me another thought: instead of wars, why not have rival tribes, religions and governments sit around an immense banquet table, sharing olfactory fragrances of steaming ethnic delights rather than inhaling the acrid fumes of gunfire and landmines? Let our eyes capture the visual succulence of a food feast rather than staring at prisoners of war or focusing on the bloody carnage of man’s inhumanity to man. Across this United Nations table we would lift our glasses in the universal toast of ‘a sante’ with all we would call our enemies. Let us recognize that war is the greatest of human tragedies. We will never find peace and harmony with guns, machetes, bombs, religion or politics. So why not try food? What do we have to lose except our hunger? In a food fight no one ever died from being hit by a bun or a handful of mashed potatoes.
It’s time to get off my soapbox and back to the Yum-Yum Den! I cannot promise world peace but I can promise you THIS food column will be unique. In it I will challenge you to put my kitchen revelations and claims to the test. While I recognize the adage that ‘taste is in the mouth of the beholder’ (some hate curries, some hate spicy foods, others hate bland food, etcetera, etcetera) the recipes, knowledge and techniques I will be sharing HAVE NEVER drawn negative comments and ALWAYS brought about a thunder of tummy rumbling applause.
My kitchen credo is simple: If my family and friends do not love it, I don’t prepare it.
In the weeks to come I will introduce you to many mouth watering treasures such as the proper, the ONLY way to cook a stove-top steak or the BEST method for creating little known oriental delights. My e-cookery-bookery will highlight treasures from the kitchens of the Jews, Ukrainians, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, Greeks, (etcetera, etcetera)….
So grab your aprons and your spatula and let’s begin!
Moo Shu Pork
Google ‘Moo Shu’ and you will find a variety of different recipes for this surprisingly little known favorite of China. I have experimented and learned from them all but I evolved MY version of this Mongolian treasure in the following manner of preparation using the following ingredients:
For each cup of flour (all purpose regular white) add one egg, ¼ tsp salt, ½ tsp white sugar and 1 tsp of peanut (or grapeseed) oil. Blend with milk until you have the consistency of cream. (Milk is a better binder than water. If you are lactose intolerant you can use water, but the viscosity of the batter will have to be thicker.) You should use an electric griddle where you can ‘fry’ approximately 10 2” (petite) pancakes at a time. One cup of flour and the above make approximately 20 – 25 pancakes. For a family feast you should use at least 3 or 4 cups of flour plus their ingredients.
Cover and set aside the batter.
Take 2 good sized pork tenderloin strips (half frozen is best for slicing thinly.) With a very sharp knife or cleaver slit the tenderloin in half lengthwise and proceed to (as thin as you can) slice the meat, casting aside any ‘fat’ or covering membrane. Place the finely cut pork in a bowl and add (or not) 3-4 minced cloves of garlic. Stir in ½ bottle of Oyster Sauce and ensure all meat is well coated. Set aside the other ½ of the bottle for the finishing cooking of the meat. Place marinading meat in the fridge while continuing with your preparations.
Note: You can substitute finely sliced chicken breast for the pork if you wish. To the pallet the texture is similar and the primary taste will be the oyster sauce, not the chicken or pork.
Use 2 large garden cucumbers (or English long), peel and julienne into ¼” thick strips approximately 2” long. (French fry size they should fit comfortably on the pancake.) Set aside in a bowl, covered, in the fridge.
Chop one whole bunch of green onion (omit the white end pieces if you wish). Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and place in fridge.
Have a bowl of approximately 4 handfuls of fresh bean sprouts set aside. If bought in cello packs I usually use 2 of these.)
Fill a soup bowl with Hoisin Sauce and place several teaspoons (handle out) in the sauce bowl, else you will have fighting over who gets to use the sauce first. Set aside.
You are now ready to proceed by starting with the pancakes. Check the consistency of the batter. It will have thickened as it stands so you should blend in a little more milk to return it to the thickness of cream.
Set your temperature control to 200F (your griddle may require more or less adjustment to attain the perfect temperature) You want to see your thin pancakes cook not to fast but not too slow. The added sugar provides a little browning (spots) that takes away the anemic look and announces that the ‘cakes’ are ready. (You will find kids love to eat the pancakes by themselves.)
Transfer batter from bowl to pitcher, thence to a 1 cup measuring cup for easy pouring onto the griddle.
With a plastic or teflon spatula ‘oil’ the griddle surface (for each batch of pancakes) with a tbsp. of peanut or grapeseed oil AND a tsp. of butter. The oil prevents the butter from burning or ‘browning’. It also adds flavor and prevents the pancakes from sticking together when placed in the serving dish. Repeat for each batch of pancake. (The ‘cakes’ will not be ‘greasy’ or ‘slick’.)
Pour each pancake to approximately 1 ½”amount equally spaced (approximately 5 across and 2 deep. The batter will spread to around 2” circumference.) When pan is properly heated it will only take a couple of minutes to cook the pancakes. When the surface of the cake is ‘dry or nearly so’ turn each pancake over for another 15 -20 seconds or so. (This is the most time consuming part of preparing ‘Moo shu’ but you will find a rhythm in preparing these tasty little cakes.)
Set aside (in a covered crock pan or pyrex casserole type dish) in the oven at low heat (200F). (You will need at least 10 cakes per adult, 3 – 4 per child) and any leftovers will never go to waste.)
Set table with Hoisin Sauce, green onions, julienned cucumber, and the dish of warm pancakes.
With a ‘VERY’ hot skillet (oiled with peanut or grapeseed oil) add the marinading meat. The key is fast frying. Electric stove tops are difficult to obtain optimum heat, gas ranges are better) BUT the object is to stir fry and cook the meat as fast as possible. Cook it too slow and the meat will toughen or dry out too much. When the pink is gone, take the mixture to a sink and pour it through a strainer (getting rid of the water extracted during the cooking.) Return the meat to the pan, add approximately 1/2 of the remaining bottle of Oyster Sauce and stir until hot and bubbling. Remove from heat.
In a large mixing bowl place ½ of your fresh bean sprouts. Pour the meat mixture on top and top with the remaining sprouts. Then, with fork and spoon, mix the sprouts and meat together. (As the heat from the meat is absorbed, the sprouts will soften. This process will continue until the last delicious morsel is consumed.)
You are now ready to experience the delights of Moo Shu.
Place each pancake on your plate. (5 – 6 on a big plate, 2-3 on a child’s plate.) With a teaspoon place a line of Hoisin Sauce in a strip down each pancake. Add a strip or two of cucumber (and a sprinkle of green onion) (for kids who don’t like onion, simply omit this delectable addition.) With a fork, place a tablespoon of the meat/sprout mixture on the pancake, roll it like a mini-taco and shove it in your yaw. Your taste buds will explode with joy!
Some menus and variations (such as Vietnamese style or Mandarin) will offer a fresh crisp lettuce leaf in which to wrap your loaded Moo shu pancake. (I sometimes add this option at my dinner table.)
Any comments or advice, please send them to me c/o The Yum-Yum Den.