Years ago, when we still lived in the old house and the kids were all at home and hungry every single night, Mom and Libby gave us a 10 cup Tiger brand rice cooker for Christmas. I remember opening the box and trying my best to be excited. “What is it?” I asked, thinking I would have to shift some stuff on the counter if this was really going to have a place in my kitchen. Little did I know at the time that my daily existence had been altered by its presence. I could not have known how essential that machine would be to us. It not only cooked rice to perfection, but it kept it warm for days. The kids would come home from school, or practice, and if nothing else they could grab a bowl of warm rice and drop a chunk of butter on top, swirl it around with salt and pepper, and be satisfied until dinnertime. That particular rice cooker served us faithfully for 20 years, and only recently gave up the ghost.
When Down East Home was truly a bargain store, way back when, Mom and I hit a treasure trove one time when we came upon a shipment of rice cookers and AEG mixers at a screaming deal of a price. We bought all they had, and visited all the stores we knew in the valley, clearing out the inventory. They have been some of the best bargain purchases of my long thrift-seeking adulthood.
Add a large pot of Chop Suey to a nice steaming batch of rice and you are set for comfort. Chop Suey fits into the same category as chicken noodle soup in our household. It’s a familiar aroma: browned butter, seared chicken chunks and onions, mixed with the distinct scent of rice steam rising from the vent on the rice cooker. I don’t think there is anyone in the Connors/Hansen clan who does not like Chop Suey. It’s a Gramma Connors recipe, going way back to the time before there were children in our household. Dave’s mom was an exceptional cook. Her style was different from that of my mother. She followed recipes, using measuring spoons and cups. But she also knew the value of the taste bud and she was not afraid to alter if the tongue demanded. Everything she made was yummy, which is why so many of my recipes came from her. My mom also made yumminess, using her taste to guide the recipe. Many people do not fully appreciate the value of the tongue in cooking. (Nor, for that matter, do they fully appreciate the value of butter. But I digress.)
My Littles, every one of them, like Chop Suey. They have all sat in the high chair in my kitchen and picked the chicken, celery and bean sprouts out one at a time with their pudgy little fingers. I have taught Young Men and Young Women how to cook it as they clustered around my kitchen island. We served massive amounts of it from three large chafing dishes when Kate came home from her mission in Hong Kong. It’s a Connors staple. In fact, I made it last night. I had the breast on one chicken in my fridge. But I also had three large bunches of celery, four pounds of bean sprouts, and a 50 pound bag of onions in the garage. You can chop that chicken in teeny little pieces, add extra bullion for flavor, and stretch that recipe out to feed a crowd on a moments notice. Mmmmm.
Oh, and by the way, HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!
1/2 c. butter (1 cube)
1-2 lb meat (chicken or veal) cut in very small pieces
½-1 cup onions, diced
2 cup clean celery, diced
1 can chicken broth OR 1 c. water w/ 2T bouillon
1 lb fresh bean sprouts OR 1 big can bean sprouts, DRAINED and rinsed
1/4 c. cornstarch plus cold water
4 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 t. sugar, 1 t. salt / shake pepper
(your tongue is your friend, use it to adjust spices)
Slice celery in long strips, then chop in small pieces.* Chop onion * Cut meat into 1/4 inch pieces. * Melt butter in heavy fry pan. Sear meat. Add onions and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. * Add celery, broth, salt and pepper. Liquids should barely cover vegetables and meat. If they don’t, add more broth. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes * Add bean sprouts, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. * Mix cornstarch into 1/3 cup COLD water. Add soy and sugar. Stir into pan until thickened (add more cornstarch and water if it is not thick enough. Add chicken bouillon and soy sauce if you want more flavor). Serve over hot rice and dry noodles. (Note: I usually quadruple this recipe cuz I usually feed a lot of people. I'm guessing this would feed 4)
2 c. Rice * 4 c. cold water * 1 T. salt
Rinse and drain rice three times to remove excess starch.
Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, cover and let steam for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Or, if you are lucky, use your rice cooker.