Cooking when you’re busy: sometimes shortcuts are not a good idea

So, you all know I’ve been busy, what with revising one ms (MOUNTAIN) to remove one of the two protagonists, a big job, as you can imagine; and as it happens I also have (what I hope will be) final editorial comments on another ms (THE KEEPER OF THE MISTS). MISTS ought to be turned around, ideally, by the middle of January, and have I looked at it yet? No. Because, Christmas, plus MOUNTAIN, which I need to get to a stopping place before I, uh, stop.

Also, I accidentally started a book that I turned out to really love, so then I had to read that and the sequel, which was distracting. I knew I should have stuck to nonfiction. I’ll review them for real some time.

Also, I have zero room in my freezer right now. The whole thing is taken up with cookies. Which, yes, btw, cookies freeze beautifully; if you offer people two plates of room temp cookies, they won’t be able to tell which ones were previously frozen (yes, I tried this), except for pastry types of cookies, which do decline in quality if frozen.

All this makes it hard to cook real food, so when I was picking up the ingredients for tamales and fancy sandwiches and so on, I also impulsively picked up three instant “noodle bowls” of “Thai food”. I just had one of these for lunch. It was, to be specific, the “Garlic Basil Singapore Street Noodles”, of the Simply Asia brand. I added a handful of snow peas and a bit of this and that.


Not to put too fine a point on it: This was dreadful. Dreadful.

To say that the sauce was too sweet and not spicy enough would imply that the sauce had some kind of flavor, which in fact it really did not.

Now, Singapore Noodles are not actually from Singapore, but they are very good and not difficult at all, so in case you have tried instant noodle bowls such as this awful Simply Asia kind, and thus gotten turned off of the whole idea, let me provide the recipe I should have made, which is in fact quick to make if you are pressed for time, and believe me, next time I will make it.

Singapore Noodles, based on Mark Bittman’s recipe from THE BEST RECIPES IN THE WORLD

I am sizing this recipe for one (very generous) serving, which is how I make it. Almost every ingredient is optional

4 oz thin rice noodles, the kind that are called rice stick or rice vermicelli
1 Tbsp vegetable oil, whatever kind you like
Optional: 4 oz boneless chicken breast, boneless sliced pork, sliced Chinese sausage, peeled shrimp, or tofu, or any combination. Or if you don’t have any of the above, then fine, just go on to the next ingredient.
Optional: 1 egg, beaten
1/2 onion, sliced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger, and incidentally, the best way to store ginger so you have “fresh” ginger available is to peel it, slice it, and put it in a glass jar with rice wine or vodka or sherry to cover. It will last nearly indefinitely in the refrigerator and can be used whenever you need fresh ginger.
1/2 Tbsp curry powder, preferably a fairly hot variety
1/2 Tbsp sugar
Generous 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
Generous 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce, or more soy sauce if you prefer
2 Tbsp chicken broth or water
1 Tbsp sliced fresh basil, if you have it handy.
1/3 C sliced scallions, if handy
1 Tbsp chopped peanuts

Okay, now that looks like a lot of ingredients, but basically you don’t HAVE to have anything but the rice noodles, onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, sugar, soy sauce, and peanuts. Whatever else you have, great. Now, here’s what to do with it all:

1. Cover the rice noodles with boiling water and set aside.

2. Slice the chicken breast and/or pork and/or Chinese sausage, and/or peel the shrimp, and/or dice the tofu. Set aside. If you’re using the shrimp, set it aside separately from other meats.

3. Slice the onion.

4. Mince the garlic and ginger.

5. Heat a bit of oil in a small nonstick skillet, pour in the egg, and let set on the bottom, then jiggle it around and more or less turn it over, let it cook through. Turn the omelet out on a cutting board and slice.

6. Okay, now, here we go: Heat the rest of the oil in a bigger skillet. Sauté the chicken, pork, and/or sausage until basically cooked. Remove to a bowl. Sauté the shrimp until no longer pink. Remove that to the bowl, too. Add more oil to the skillet. Sauté the onion three minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté 30 seconds. Add the curry powder and the sugar and stir once. Drain the noodles and add those. Stir and toss for about a minute. Add the soy sauce and fish sauce. Add the cooked meat, shrimp, and/or egg, plus a tablespoonful or so of broth or water. Stir and toss until the noodles begin to brown, about five to seven minutes. Add the tofu, if you’re using that, and stir very gently until heated through. Toss in the basil, scallion, and peanuts. Turn out into a bowl and dig in.

Fair warning: if you have any horrible instant “noodle bowls” in your pantry, you will probably throw them away after you try this.

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