misWanting to be wildly yet rationally optimistic, I am hopeful about the future…

For every discouraging article or missive I read about the state of food, culture and nutrition I wish I could point to the amazing enthusiasm home cooks show, the passion and skill they already demonstrate. And I am hopeful that this knowledge will spread not just to those eager-to-learn, but to those who haven’t yet formed the basic skills.

One of the more focused on-line communities I have become part of is cooking their way thru Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge, by Grace Young. I noticed some beautiful meals tagged with #WokWednesdays and followed the crumbs. The blog and the companion facebook group have been very encouraging, especially to novice and returning wokkers and Grace herself has been very engaged and personally welcoming and answering questions. 

Every other week, a particular recipe will be cooked and discussed and blogged about, and although the recipes will not be posted, they will clearly be indicated by page number and name. I have been lurking for a while,  as I tune up my wok after a long sabbatical, sitting unused. I have been using it several times a week now for the past few months as I lurk and occasionally cook along, as I am about to replace our cooktop, and my wok will be replaced as well with a flat-bottomed one from Tane in San Francisco. I hadn’t delurked yet because I wanted to buy the cookbook with the new wok, but as the induction stove is pushed out further on our schedule I decided I needed to earn the patina along with the skills on my trusty wok of nearly 40 years.

wok patina

I have one of those original Taylor & Ng Wok kits sold at Cost Plus in the 1970s in San Francisco. That was when the only Cost Plus was in San Francisco, spread across several blocks, near Tower Records. It has moved everywhere with me every since I began college – for many years, in the original box. I still have the lid and one of the utensils, a steel spatula though I fear it will scratch my hard earned patina, so I am trying to use a kinder fish spatula made of heat-resistant material when I remember!

Fast forward to my adult life and cookware with an electric stove, and I really had given up high heat stir frying and used my much beloved All-Clad high-sided wok-shaped copper core pan. It is a beautiful pan – I really love all of the All-Clad we have, especially the pretty copper core ones. But it is NOT a wok. So I climbed up on the “make-tall” and brought the wok down from the high cupboard in the pantry and gave it a place on the stove or hanging on the pot rack, always ready. A couple of the recipes had actually been published in interviews with Grace, but I wanted to be committed and play within the rules. My book arrived last week, and so here I am with cashew chicken! Thank you to everyone in WW and to Grace especially for your kindness as I have lurked! And if you are curious – also visit Grace’s web site to learn more.

The cashew chicken is on page 123. And, if you want to try out one of Grace’s very accessible recipes, you can even find this one on Leite’s Culinaria!

cashew stir

I noticed a tip from Grace earlier this week about kicking the spice up a bit with either jalapeña or  some crushed red pepper. That resonated with me immediately. I minced a half of an fresh jalapeña after removing the ribs and I would say it gave a nice backbone to the generous ginger dose I used.  I also wanted to use some rainbow carrots, which I had and were a little less sweet, because I didn’t want the dish to go too far in that direction. I do think a sweeter carrot might please more people and caramelize nicely. Otherwise, I cooked to the recipe and of course, all the time is in the prep. I popped the chicken in the freezer for an house to chill it a bit firmer to make dicing easy, since I find prepping chicken a little wiggly. Once you have everything organized it is pretty quick, so have your rice done before you heat up the wok.

My dish isn’t as ‘pretty’ as the bright orange carrots might make it, but it was a lovely dinner and with rice, served two very generously. We had brown basmati – not traditional, but it was on hand and worked with my timing. I think this would be lovely on its own with other rice or even with quinoa. It is delicately, tho generously sauced, with soy, sherry or Chinese wine and broth, and a minimum of cornstarch.

We were greedy and there were no leftovers!

served cashew