Sunday Dinners

For Occasional Use Only

By • October 9, 2012 • 22 Comments

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This is the nineteenth installment of Sunday Dinners, a biweekly column from our own Tom Hirschfeld featuring his gorgeous photography, stunning Indiana farm, and mouthwatering family meals.

Today: Tom ponders both his sanity and his broken stove, with a Sunday dinner menu of Chicken and Tofu with Celery and Cashews, White Rice, Sort of Jiro-Style, and FrancesRenHuang's Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans.

I have had a lot of visitors lately. It has been fine, I actually like for them to visit.

One of our recent visitors is a repairman, and he has been to the house enough that I am starting to consider him a best friend. He even comes in through the mudroom -- and you know only friends and family come through the mudroom. It is clearly becoming habit for him to stop by for coffee and fix the stove.

I swear my stove is a lemon. Among other problems, about every two years the ignitors burn out, and one or the other ovens -- sometimes both -- won't light. The real issue is that they never break at the same time. If you unknowingly turn on both ovens, one will build up gas until the other ignites the two, causing a rolling wave of flames to climb out the oven door and up about two or three feet above the stovetop. Needless to say, it is not a welcome surprise.

I complained enough when I called -- something about showing them a video on You Tube -- that this time the manufacturers' rep came with the repairman. Long story short, the answer I heard from the rep went something like this: "You know, they don't build these things anymore for people who use their kitchens. They are really only for occasional use." Can you imagine the look I had on my face? I read the literature before I bought and had I read for occasional use only, you can bet I would have taken my business elsewhere.

The answer rattled me.

I get accused of being mildly obsessive about cooking (there are those who might leave out "mildly"). I wondered, have I lost it? Do I need therapy? Am I the out-of-touch-right to the rest of the world's occupy-Wall-Streeters? I had to ask myself: am I the only one who cooks anymore? My stove is on morning, noon, and night -- is that wrong?

We built our kitchen so it is central to the entire house, and we spend most of our time here. The kids do their homework and art projects, and eat at the counter. When we have parties, more often than not everyone congregates around the prep island.

In the kitchen I am always trying something new -- a new cooking method, a cheat, a hack -- and I am always trying or creating new recipes. Cooking is a huge part of my identity, my core. It is who I am, but I am beginning to wonder if I'm nuts.

Tell me for example, is it wrong to watch a movie about the world's greatest sushi chef, observe him making rice, and then start making it that way by putting weights on top of the pot? Or how about growing San Marzano tomatoes and reducing them to an unctuous tomato-y conserva? Or the time I converted a steam table and a fish tank pump into a ghetto sous vide machine? While I am at it, how about making tofu from scratch, sausage, beer, wine, sauerkraut, cordials, Orleans-style red wine vinegar, and a whole host of other things including a pressure cooker? And just so I have it all out there, I grew a specific type of corn this year especially for slaking and making hominy, which then becomes fresh corn masa for corn tortillas.

But it is Sunday. My stove is broken and the parts are on back order. I find my outdoor propane stove that generates a huge number of BTUs -- 120,000 to be exact -- and sounds like a jet engine when it is fired up. I remember that I once heard a cookbook author say in an interview that you can't cook good stir fries at home because American stoves don't have enough BTUs.

I open the fridge and get out the container of homemade tofu. It is a beautiful ivory instead of pure white, feels firm, and smells of fresh soybeans. It is better than the best storebought but not by much -- still, I'll make it again, and see if I can make it better next time. I reach for my Chinese vegetable cleaver and think, "Maybe I am nuts." Then I hear myself whisper, "I'm good with that."

Sunday Menu:

Chicken and Tofu with Celery and Cashews
Serves 4
For the marinade:
2 tablespoons rice wine, sake, or dry sherry
2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 cup chicken thigh meat, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 pound sprouted firm tofu, or your choice of firm tofu
For the stir fry:
1 cup Chinese celery or regular celery
2/3 cups unsalted cashews
2 cups spinach leaves
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
3 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons rice wine, sake or dry sherry
2 teaspoons black vinegar or malt vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons cornstarch
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

White Rice, Sort of Jiro-Style
Serves 4
2 cups medium grain rice, kapika processed
2 cups water
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

FrancesRenHuang's Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans
Serves 2
3 handfuls green beans, trimmed
5 dried chilies
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
2 teaspoon green onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoon Chinese preserved mustard, chopped finely
2 tablespoon ground pork
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
Unflavored oil for frying
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Jump to Comments (22)

Tags: sunday dinners, Tom Hirschfeld, rice, Sichuan, tofu

Comments (22)

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almost 2 years ago ntt2

great post -- have had same issues! What kind of stove do you have?

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about 2 years ago garlic&lemon

Thanks for this great post, Tom. I, too, am on a first name basis with our stove repairman, Daryl (isn't that classic?). The two dogs no longer bark when he comes over. We have also gotten to know his wife over the phone because he forgets to send us a bill or cash the check. Since he is one of the very few repairmen for this type of fancy stove, it is in our best interests to keep him solvent. He told us that of all the home versions of this restaurant-type stove that he services, ours is definitely the most used. Both he and we consider that a good thing. But the stove is 20 years old and I never expected to be so familiar with Daryl. Also, the some of the parts are no longer in stock regionally and we have to wait while they get here from the manufacturer. But when it works, it's great! And when it doesn't, we grill, toaster oven, crock pot, and borrow the son's tiny rice cooker, and electric tea kettle. I love your columns, Tom. We should all be so happy with our eccentricities. They make us interesting.

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about 2 years ago weshook

When we remodelled the kitchen, we had plans to just eat sandwiches or prepared food...it lasted for one meal and then I cooked on the camp stove and the barbecue for weeks. Food defines my life--cooking it and eating it. It is time for a new stove for me too; the burners are unreliable, sometimes heating up red hot on medium. Scary. Haven't decided which one to purchase yet, but definitely a new stove in the near future.

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about 2 years ago weshook

When we remodelled the kitchen, we had plans to just eat sandwiches or prepared food...it lasted for one meal and then I cooked on the camp stove and the barbecue for weeks. Food defines my life--cooking it and eating it. It is time for a new stove for me too; the burners are unreliable, sometimes heating up red hot on medium. Scary. Haven't decided which one to purchase yet, but definitely a new stove in the near future.

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about 2 years ago the musician, who cooks

I'm right there with you. I evaluate the success of my day by how well things went in the kitchen regarding whatever food experiment I'm attempting. I live for trying new things as a cook. And reading your post has put ideas in my head about what else I can grow at home...hmmm, let's see...

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about 2 years ago lapadia

Thanks for sharing your tales in the kitchen, Tom. I’ve gotten to know a couple repairmen the last 2 years for similar reasons, very frustrating, and the quick fixes are amazing = occasional use, ha! The outdoor propane stove and/or charcoal grill has saved me a couple times, as well! Cheers to your Sunday dinner…

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about 2 years ago thirschfeld

You are welcome. The problem is the part isn't built to last. If they would redesign one part the stove could last a long long time

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about 2 years ago Pat in SoCal

When I think of all the stoves I've known....( doesn't that sound like the beginning of a song?)... By far my favorite was my first.... a circa 1920's gas stove with no thermostat ...just on and off. I learned to cook on that because had to watch the food and not a timer. I now have a 6 burner, two convection oven beast that does it all....but I fondly remember that little old white porcelain gem from many years ago. "Occasional use?"....sure! When you're a cook everyday is an occasion!

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about 2 years ago Pat in SoCal

When I think of all the stoves I've known....( doesn't that sound like the beginning of a song?)... By far my favorite was my first.... a circa 1920's gas stove with no thermostat ...just on and off. I learned to cook on that because had to watch the food and not a timer. I now have a 6 burner, two convection oven beast that does it all....but I fondly remember that little old white porcelain gem from many years ago. "Occasional use?"....sure! When you're a cook everyday is an occasion!

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about 2 years ago thirschfeld

or a good novel.

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about 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I've been having stove replacement thoughts lately. Thanks for the heads-up about asking if candidates are for use or decoration. Electronics are my bane. They see me coming and begin shaking their heads, muttering, "No, I don't think so. Not today." I've been known to yell loud enough to frighten the dogs. And probably the neighbors.

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about 2 years ago thirschfeld

I have that effect on computers.

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about 2 years ago Marisa McClellan

As someone who cooks all the time and is considering finally redoing her 42 year old kitchen, the idea that I could end up with a stove that was designed for just occasional use terrifies me a little.

But you're not the crazy one. It's all those people who are settling for lousy food made by strangers that are nuts.

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about 2 years ago thirschfeld

I at one time had a stove that was from the 40' or 50's( I am guessing) and it was a champ.

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about 2 years ago Bevi

This is a keeper for the times my stove decides it doesn't like me!

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about 2 years ago thirschfeld

It's not that it doesn't like me but more it likes to taunt me.

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about 2 years ago cookinginvictoria

Tom, your menu sounds delicious as always (homemade tofu, yum!). So hilarious that the stove is "for occasional use only." It's not you that is going crazy. It is the world at large, filled with so many busy people who are sadly out of touch with the pleasures and rewards of home cooking. Keep acting just as you are, so that the rest of us can follow in your footsteps, wearing out our own stoves. :)

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about 2 years ago thirschfeld

thanks cookinginvictoria

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about 2 years ago nannydeb

You're a good kind of crazy in my book!

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about 2 years ago thirschfeld

thanks nannydeb for the vote of confidence

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about 2 years ago healthierkitchen

You are not nuts - more like role model! I think it's time for them to replace your stove entirely.

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about 2 years ago thirschfeld

thanks healthierkitchen. I doubt they will replace it at this point and besides without the quirks I'm not sure life would be the same.