Operation Cook Down My Kitchen (CDMK) Kicks Off With Dan Dan Mian … and a Giveaway

Noodles, noodles, noodles ... what to do with these noodles?

We’re doing it again. Moving that is.

This is the second time in less than a year, the fifth since we married in 2002. And, I’m not counting the periods in-between living out of a suitcase in a hotel or someone’s guest room for weeks at a time.

Five times in nine years isn’t bad for a military family if you think about it. Still, I am tiring of it.

This time though, I’m not focused on the actual, physical act of moving. Yes, there are books to box and clothes to fold into suitcases. There are toys to give away and furniture to sell.

But this time is different.

This time, my husband, my son, and I are moving away from the Washington, D.C. area. But this time, we’re headed for different destinations. Isaac and I are moving to Seattle to spend the next year living with my sister and her husband (and two dogs!). My husband is deploying to Afghanistan. He’s not going overseas till late March but he left this past weekend for four weeks of training.

In his brief–for now–absence, I am also “in training.” I am preparing myself mentally and spiritually for our 12 month separation. I am anticipating Isaac’s reaction to daddy being gone with an aching heart. I am practicing the art of being Zen (absolutely necessary with a toddler).

And, I am strategizing on how to use up all the noodles, canned foods, sauces, condiments, etc., etc., lurking in every corner of my tiny kitchen.

This bottle of tahini dressing has been languishing in my fridge since I bought it several months ago.

Considering we’ve only lived in our current apartment for eight months, I really don’t know how I managed to accumulate enough food to feed a Navy flotilla of starved sailors when I only live with one.

To start Operation CDMK, I inventoried my entire kitchen. I’m sure I’ve missed a can of corn or two hiding out under the sink but here’s what I have:

Dried food
Black rice
Rice noodles
Egg noodles
Red lentils
Rose petals
Lasagna noodles
Cornbread mix
Mochiko flour
Roasted peanuts
Sesame seeds
Palm sugar

Canned food
Coconut milk
Crushed tomatoes
Coconut water
Straw mushrooms

Frozen galangal
Banana leaves
Pandan leaves
Green beans

Tahini dressing
Tamarind paste
Pickled ginger
Duck sauce
Soy sauce (3 types)
Fish sauce
Wasabi powder
Balsamic vinegar

Gooseberry preserves
Branston pickle
Peanut butter

And of course I have myriad spices: coriander, cardamom, turmeric, paprika, etc., etc.

With only four weeks till we move, my tactic is to use up as many items as possible in one dish.

Am I in trouble? If someone has a 12-step (or less!) kitchen cleansing program, I obviously need to hear about it.

Or better yet, please leave me suggestions for interesting flavor combinations/recipes using my ingredients above in the comments section. To make it a little more fun, I’ll give away 2 downloads of my “Asian Ingredients 101” iPhone app. I’ll be looking out for recipes that use the most ingredients at one go, and/or the most creative recipe

***This giveaway will remain open until March 1st, so do keep your suggestions coming!***

My husband has been gone almost a week now and I’m surviving. I only suppress the tears whenever Isaac comes home to an empty house crying out, “Dada … dada … dada?” But he’s a tough kid and is easily distracted by choo choos and Elmo.

Looking on the bright side, I’ve checked off a few things from my list. In fact, the first recipe I’m featuring, Dan Dan Mian (Szechuan/Sichuan Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce), used up five items!

So wish me luck and success as I embark on Operation CDMK, and the next phase of my journey.

P/S: Please help spread the word about my giveaway by sharing below!


Dan Dan Mian (Szechuan/Sichuan Noodles in Spicy Peanut Sauce)

I came across a recipe for dan dan noodles (“mian” means noodles in Mandarin) in Bon Appetit magazine the other day and immediately recalled the hand-shaven noodles soaked in a spicy, peanutty broth I used to inhale at Seven Stars Pepper Szechuan Restaurant in Seattle. The version I adapted isn’t as brothy and uses tahini/sesame paste instead of a peanut base which is just fine with me because I had a bottle of tahini dressing I had absolutely no idea what to do with. Since I was trying to use up what I have on hand, I substituted or left out what some might consider key ingredients (yes, that would include Szechuan peppercorns). Nonetheless, it turned out to be the perfect solo lunch. Double or quadruple the amounts to feed more people.

Makes: 1 generous serving
Time: 30 minutes

4 ounces fresh, fat Chinese egg noodles (or Shanghai cu mian or udon), or 2 to 3 ounces dried noodles
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus a little more
6 ounces ground pork
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon minced, peeled ginger (from a 1-inch piece)
1/3 cup chicken stock, or more
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or Chinkiang black vinegar
3 teaspoons tahini dressing (or 2 teaspoons tahini/sesame paste)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili flakes or chili oil (more if you like it spicier)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Dash sesame oil
1 tablespoon chopped roasted peanuts
1 green onion, chopped
Fried shallots and fried garlic (optional)

Cook noodles according to package directions until just tender, taking care not to overcook. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Drizzle with a little oil to prevent the strands from sticking and set aside in a large bowl.

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pork and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to break up the pork and cook until halfway done, about 2 minutes.

Add the ginger and cook until the pork is cooked through and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, tahini, soy sauce, chili flakes, and sugar. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 7 minutes. (Add more stock if you’d like a soupier dish.)

Stir in the sesame oil and pour the pork mixture over the noodles. Garnish with the peanuts, green onions, fried shallots and fried garlic.

Pat’s Notes:

Chinese egg noodles, Shanghai-style noodles, or udon can be found at Asian markets. Substitute with linguine if you must. Tahini is available at specialty markets and at Middle Eastern markets. If you’re already at an Asian market, try looking for Chinese sesame paste.