Last night I achieved what I thought was only possible in my wildest dreams. I conquered this Real Simple recipe. I am a bona fide noodle fiend, so when I saw a salmon lo mein recipe in the January 2015 issue of the magazine, I knew it would be mine. I have never successfully made my own Asian food, unless it’s a starter kit out of the frozen section and let’s face it, that is not what we’d call cooking. Usually, it ends up being overcooked stir fry, which is not my favorite by any stretch, or it’s a sad, bland substitute of the real thing and I immediately wish I had conned Hubs into ordering takeaway instead.
The image on the page looked simple enough and it called to me, begging me to try it. The instructions were clear and well written, as usual, and there was nothing I saw that scared me or caused me to grab my phone and start manically Googling every other ingredient. There were no unfamiliar techniques or footnotes offering suggestions for how to manage this culinary feat, so I figured this was a worthy opponent for my mediocre skills. Just boil up some noodles, bake some salmon and toss a salad. Huzzah! Mama can do all that!
I made my list, headed to the market and got ready to get my noodles on. I am not allowed to have a smooth time of anything, so there were, of course, challenges to be faced. The first hiccup: no lo mein noodles. No problem, we have spaghetti noodles at home and I know they’ll work in a pinch.
Second hiccup: What the heck is a Fresno Chili? I was working on very little sleep since Miss O has been waking up at 2:30 AM the past two nights/mornings and I breezed right through the produce section and headed to the asian food section of Whole Foods. It made sense at the time since I know that’s where most of the things I only need a small bit of, but have to buy a whole bottle of, live. I was absolutely wrong. The extremely patient associate Hubs cornered had no idea what it was either, but after consulting her phone (what did we all do without cell phones and internets?!), she walked that whole store and found someone who knew if they carried them. Food Goddess bless her, she reappeared about 5 minutes later bearing a single, perfect, chili-red, fresno chili. Hint: It looks exactly like what you think a red chili pepper looks like.
I have never been so excited to cook something. Asian food has long been comfort food for me (thanks, Mama!) so I am down for rice or noodles any night of the week. Sadly, my bank account is not. Hubs is also not nearly the noodle addict I am, so it’s never his first choice. He does, however, love himself some salmon. If I could swing this, it would be, as they say, a feat of epic proportions.
I followed the recipe to a T. It was ridiculously easy to prep and for once I actually timed all the elements of a dish perfectly. Not to brag, but um, yeah, I earned it this time, I was also cooking a separate pot of “wheels” pasta for Miss O, just in case this didn’t fly with her and I actually managed to time that right along with everything else. Thank you, Thyme!
The salmon cooked perfectly. The noodles didn’t overcook or stick together. The slaw was perfectly chopped and the dressing mixed completely. I kept waiting for the oven to burst into flames or realize I forgot an ingredient. Nope. All there. Then it happened. The truly amazing part. I plated that meal and it looked just like that siren image in Real Simple. That’s when I started to think this might be edible, because we all know it can’t be both pretty AND edible, right? That’s pushing the limit of all that is reasonable in the average American household.
I served this gorgeous plate of achievement with a side of hope and watched Hubs taste it on pins and needles. Now, my husband will eat almost anything you put in front of him and tell you it’s good. I think he’s told me he doesn’t care for something maybe twice in the ten years I’ve been cooking for him. I take his analysis of my cooking with a very big grain of salt. Well, after that first bite, he dove in like a champ, put that whole plate down and got up for more. I got two bites in and knew it was a keeper the second I started thinking about all the people I could cook it for.
There was not one bite left. Miss O, who has a habit of investigating our plates on her own if we haven’t offered her any, noticed the salmon and was instantly on board for a tasting. I was nervous about the chili, even though she’s had some spicy food before, so Hubs plucked out any little red bits and gave her a taste. Instant happy-dance in the booster seat. That was the trifecta that has secured this recipe in our big green notebook for life.
I have to say, I’m pretty stinking proud of myself. Not only did I finally a cook a dish we all love, I managed to plate and present a meal from Real Simple magazine that looked almost exactly like the photo on the page. I know it’s not rocket science, but for a busy full-time working mom, that’s nothing to scoff at. Real Simple, you have my thanks and my kitchen.
So what about you? What dishes have you been afraid to make? What have you made that’s disappointed you? There’s no judgement here, I promise.