It's Sunday evening.
The fridge is brimming with an assortment of purpose-bought Asian ingredients, painstakingly gathered on a special mission to Chinatown.
For the past two days, all free time and brain-space has been occupied with thoughts of a fresh, balanced Chinese banquet, to be prepared for family dinner that night.
The husband, who was supposed to keep the children happily occupied while the cook cooked with something resembling focus, has suddenly announced that he must disappear to the office for "a few hours."
A) Reach for the Bolognaise sauce you prepared yesterday, fire up a pot of pasta, and call it a night?
B) Refuse to relinquish The Vision, despite the fact that (1) the children are already hungry and complaining (2) you've never prepared any of these dishes before, (3) you haven't even begun on the Chinese Braised Mushrooms, with a cooking time of one hour and forty-five minues, and (4) you have to take the puppy out every hour, on the hour, to pee.
Which option do you think I chose?
I am a crazy, stubborn woman.
But I am well fed.
Circumstances necessitated a quick triage of the menu and I settled on preparing a single dish, the cornerstone of the intended banquet: Sung Choi Bao Of Pork, Ginger And Mushrooms.
Apron tied on, rice crackers thrown in the children's direction, and the puppy wrestled into a pull-up (no, I'm not thatcrazy...yet), I got to chopping.
One and one half hours later, there was a mountain of vegetable peelings, cutting boards and bowls, taller than my oldest child, teetering in the sink. It took another two hours of decompression and a glass of wine just to face it.
But, my word, was it ever worth it.
Not just because the Sung Choi Bao was delicious - the pork was rich and flavorful, the lettuce cool and crisp, and the contrast fantastic - but because both children loved it.
In the Venn Diagram of foods each of my children will eat gladly, the overlap is slim indeed.
Add to that the fact that they were both greedily devouring lettuce, and it was was cause for celebration.
My pitch ("Build Your Own Dinner") may have helped; the lack of utensils certainly didn't hurt.
Finally, it proved as versatile as it was delicious. Tripling the recipe, as I did, may have tripled the prep time, but it also solved my dinner dilemma for three nights running.
On night two, the Sung Choi Bao was reincarnated as a Chinese Omelet* for the grown-ups.
Tonight it will reappear as Pork Fried Rice when the boys sit down to dinner.
During my pre-dish-washing-decompression period, I flipped through the latest issue of Donna Hay Kid's Magazine while sipping my wine, and came across a much-simplified version of the meal I had just prepared (below, bottom of post).
Looking at the pared-down list of ingredients and preparation, I reflected.
It would have been easier, no doubt, but would it have been as well received?
I like to think not.
Sometimes a bit of crazy is the critical ingredient.
Kylie Kwong's Sung Choi Boa of Pork, Ginger And Mushrooms
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon ginger julienne
1 garlic clove, finely diced
2/3 cup fatty pork mince (*fat component is key to flavor and tenderness of the final dish)
2 tablespoons drained and finely sliced "Braised Dried Chinese Mushrooms"
2 tablespoons rougly chopped salted radish
2 tablespoons roughly chopped pickled mustard greens
2 tablespoons finely slice lup cheong sausage
2 tablespoons shao hsing wine
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup carrot julienne
1/2 cup bean sports
1 tablespoon roughly sliced green shallots
1/4 cup finely sliced Chinese white cabbage
1 large red chilli, finely sliced
1//4 cup shallot julienne
handful of coriander sprigs
Soak lettuce leaves in cold water for 1 hour, drain them well and set aside, covered, in the refrigerator.
Heat peanut oil in a hot work, stir-fry ginger, garlic and pork mince for 1 minute. Add mushrooms, radish, mustard greens and sausage, and continue stir-frying for 5 seconds.
Pour in wine, sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil, and stir-fry for 2 minutes or until pork is cooked. Toss in carrot, bean sprouts, shallots and cabbage, stir to combine, then remove from heat.
Serve pork mixture in a bowl set on a large platter, garnish with chilli, shallot julienne and coriander, and accompanied with the lettuce-leaf cups. To eat, simply spoon pork mixture into lettuce cups, roll up to enclose the pork and eat it with your fingers!
Omelet - microwave pork mixture. Heat vegetable oil in non-stick pan over high heat. Whisk two eggs in a bowl, season with salt, and pour into pan. Allow to set (it will happen quickly). When nearly all the liquid on the top surface has solidified, add the pork mixture and fold the omelet. Garnish with coriander leaves.
Pork Fried Rice - using cold, left-over rice. Add 1 tablespoon oil to non-stick pan or wok. Add pork mixture and heat through. Add cold rice and heat through. Separately, scramble an egg, chop and add to the rice mixture, along with any other vegetables you may have on hand. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
Donna Hay's Chinese Pork In Lettuce Cups
100g vermichelli noodles
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
500g pork mince
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 green onions (scallions), trimmed and chopped
1/4 cup (60 ml) hoisin sauce
1/4 cup (60 ml) soy sauce
100g snow peas (mange tout), trimmed and sliced
baby cos (romaine) lettuce leaves
lime wedges, to serve (optional)
Place the noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over high heat. Add the pork, garlic and onion and cook, breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon, for 8-10 minutes or until browned. Add the hoisin, soy sauce and snow peas and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the snow peas are tender. Serve with the noodles, lettuce and lime wedges. Serves 4.