Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Adventures of Ma Po Dofu

On Being Martha Stewart - or Not, Really.

Made a successful batch of Ma Po Dofu (Spicy Chinese tofu and ground beef or pork) last night - from SCRATCH! I'm so proud. It's not that it's hard, I just never got around to getting all the right ingredients. See, the sauce pouch I usually buy for it is kind of expensive and I got to thinking that in Asian countries this dish isn't considered a fancy dish or anything, I ought to be able to just make it myself a lot cheaper. So I looked in my Asian cookbooks and lo and behold there was a simple recipe! All I needed was Dark Soy Sauce because I usually only keep the Light on hand. So I went to the Asian Market and found Dark Soy Sauce (only 99 cents for the Superior brand really good stuff) and stocked up on other things I was low on like Sushi Rice and canned bamboo and water chestnuts. I don't know why it took me so long to finally buy Dark Soy Sauce, because it's very handy in Asian cooking and I often regret not having it.

Anyway - I made the stuff for dinner. The recipe beats the pouch hands down and is actually HOT, instead of the "We were just kidding - it's not really that hot" that usually happens with pre made mixes.

I approach recipes like I do much of life. The recipe is mostly a guide. Might be a really good guide, but it's not a law. I don't always measure, and I hardly ever follow any recipe exactly. For instance, I forgot to get green onions yesterday while I was out and was too tired to go back to the store so I substituted dried chopped onions from my spice cupboard. That is definitely not entirely kosher - green onions would give the dish a distinctly different taste, I realize. But it was just fine that way, and next time I will try to remember them. This variety of outcomes partly assures we never get bored with my cooking.

For me Adventure Cooking/Eating goes like this: "Hmmm.... I wonder how this would taste with that?" or: "I don't have any of that. I wonder if this would work instead?" I've made some fantastic discoveries and I've also created some disasters! But the disasters are rare, because the good usually outweighs the bad in this particular event.

I have a friend who says that the worst thing in the world she can think of happening to her is if she puts something in her mouth that she doesn't like. And whenever she says that I think to myself: I can think of much worse. MUCH, MUCH worse. Like, maybe getting beaten up or broken up with or shot or having someone steal your identity.... If you put something in your mouth and you don't like it, you can spit it out. (maybe gag a little in some cases) Then you gulp some more water or wine or beer or coke and you're good to go. If the taste is still there, you go brush your teeth and rinse with Scope. Voila. All gone. 10 minutes tops is the duration of your misery. But if you try something new and it's GOOD..... then how fun is THAT!? In my opinion, the risk of gagging is not really that huge in comparison to the fun potential.

Robert Fulghum says this in his book Uh-Oh, Some Observations from Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door:
"The recipes in the cookbooks and the meals we really eat are not the same thing.
Just as a map and the highway it describes are not the same thing.
The map does not tell of sun, roadwork, grumpy companions, or the games played with children in a car. And the cookbook does not speak of the pleasures of winging it alone in the kitchen in the dead of night, eating without rules.
Maps and cookbooks help - they are one way of describing reality.
Manuals have their uses.... but they are not to be confused with the living. "

There is Alchemy in the living. Wonder and Curiosity form an idea here, another there, an adventure, an experimental what-if...

"Uh-oh" + "oh-wow" + "uh-oh" + "oh, God" = "ah-hah!" - Robert Fulghum

~ This post was inspired by a combination of reading Robert Fulghum in the tub last night, Ayekah's post this morning, and of course - dinner last night.


  • Sounds like you're bouncing back from the bad coffee. I am not yet a sophisticated enough cook to veer very far from a recipe. Not afraid of bad food myself, but rather of scaring others off with it!!

    By Anonymous Mawci, at 2/15/2006 9:55 AM  

  • How cool! You make cooking sound almost fun! (And your Asian dishes sound like they are to die for! When is lunch???)

    By Blogger SpookyRach, at 2/15/2006 12:23 PM  

  • When I first starting reading I thought "uh oh" hormones of last trimester at work here.......and thought maybe that hot spicy would surely start your labor........:) wishful thinking huh??? And I love Robert Fulghum......maybe that's why some of those recipes end with "season to taste"...just like life.......

    By Blogger Ayekah, at 2/15/2006 3:07 PM  

  • "Manuals have their uses, but they are not to be confused with the living." Love it!
    You're a fabulous cook; you almost inspire me to cook!

    By Blogger Just Pat, at 2/15/2006 5:27 PM  

  • I love this, it is so rich in meaning beyond just cooking, especially for one like me who always follows the recipe exactly.

    (Well, I am getting better in my old age, when I cook, but in my past, if the recipe said stand on head while scratching tummy and stir 9 times, that is what I would do!)

    By Blogger annie, at 2/15/2006 7:05 PM  

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