Said Simple Simon to the Pie Man “Let me taste your ware.”
Said the Pie Man to Simple Simon “Show me first your penny.”
Said Simple Simon to the Pie Man “Indeed, I have not any!”
Truly this is my own Simple Simon; out on the town and tempted by the modern day equivalent of the Pie: A Subway sandwich, a kabob with fries, a buttery croissant or rich, sugar-laden brioche. But as his pockets are normally empty, he comes to me, hand out, palm heavenwards, asking for what to pay the “Pie Man”. And inside the house, at my kitchen table, Simon is simple indeed: his diet is restricted to pizza, grilled cheese or tuna sandwiches, breaded fried chicken and burgers. Mr. Persnickety meets Simple Simon.
I remember the day that Simon stopped eating. Clamped those 2-year-old rosebud lips shut and that was that. White rice, pasta “in bianco” or with a plain red sauce, swordfish quickly grilled pfshhh pfshhh and placed in front of him with the merest drizzle of olive oil. Oh, fried he would eat and pizza received a nod of the head, but vegetables were henceforth relegated to the back burner and someone else’s plate.
One thing he fell in love with was Chinese/Vietnamese food. Strange for a kid who likes the bland and the monochrome. When we lived in Milan, we went weekly to The China Snack Bar, a tiny hole in the wall on the edge of Milan’s tiny “Chinatown”. People were willing to stand in line out on the sidewalk to wait for a seat at one of their six tables and the restaurant was truly a gathering place for the Chinese community who would come for the authentic cuisine. We would get there early and snag a table and order their soup with shrimp ravioli, chicken with black bean sauce or anything with crab. The boys would always ask for the fried ravioli. And then Simon would order and eat…white rice. Granted he was a young thing, but he felt safe with white rice. He needed to order something he was familiar with, knew exactly what to expect. And for one whole year, once a week, Simon would eat white rice. And watch us eat. Dishes would file past, change weekly, we would giddily try new things, eat with joy and groan with pleasure. And he would eat white rice and watch.
And then one day, just like that, out of the blue, Simon said “I want to try that” and reached across the table and dipped his fork into a piece of chicken and stuffed it into his mouth. Spoonfuls of soup were scooped up and sucked down and as he ate, the frenzy mounted until, fork flying, his body practically spread across the table, he had tucked away enough food for several people, all at the tender age of 4 or 5. We stared in amazement, minds boggled, never understanding what had triggered this eating fury, but thrilled that he had finally let his culinary proverbial hair down. And though he still ate Pesce Spada alla griglia or pasta in bianco at traditional Italian restaurants, his love of all food Asian was born.
So, for Simon, our first course today is:
SPICY ASIAN CHICKEN SALAD WITH GLASS NOODLES
1 lb (500 g) skinless chicken filet, breast or tenders
For the marinade :
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs light soy sauce
1 Tbs sweet chilli sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp curry powder
1 Tbs light brown sugar
2 Tbs chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
For the dressing :
4 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs light soy sauce
1 Tbs sweet chilli sauce
1 tsp sugar
For the salad :
About 4 oz (125 g) rice vermicelli or glass noodles
1 small bunch fresh coriander and/or mint leaves
Any vegetables you like, either raw or steamed crisp/tender such as :
1 very finely sliced small red onion, bean sprouts, thinly julienned carrots, red pepper and/or fennel bulb, steamed cauliflower or broccoli, water chestnuts, baby corns, bamboo shoots or anything you like that will go great with an Asian-inspired dressing
Cut the chicken into strips or bite-sized chunks and place in a large bowl. Combine and blend all of the ingredients for the marinade, pour over the chicken, toss until all of the chicken pieces are coated and nestled into the marinade, cover and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the vegetables, steaming and cooling whatever vegetables need it, slicing, dicing, julienning, draining. And toss the all in a large salad bowl. Cook the noodles in a large pot of salted, boiling water until done, drain and cool under cold running water. Add the noodles to the vegetables and toss.
Blend all of the dressing ingredients together – I do this in a jelly jar so I can then screw on the cap and shake. Pour onto the vegetables and noodles and toss until everything is coated with the dressing.
Heat a skillet or non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat and toss in the chicken pieces (lifted out of the marinade so as not to add too much liquid to the pan) and cook, tossing often, until the chicken is cooked and the outside is crispy good. If you must do this in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, remove the cooked chicken to a plate while cooking the remaining pieces and protect said plate of cooked chicken from wandering fingers.
When all of the chicken pieces are cooked, add to the salad and toss. Top with chopped fresh coriander and mint if using. Serve.
This is a salad loved by all and is delicious either at room temperature or as a hot dish. The chicken and the dressing are so tasty, Simon even eats most of the vegetables that I have tossed in, and that says a lot!
And onto dessert:
Simon is just as simple in his tastes when it comes to sweets. Nary a spoonful of tiramisu doth pass his lips. Panna Cotta is verboten. Ice cream is strictly vanilla, doused liberally with colored sprinkles when he is feeling a bit adventurous. Cake is limited to either our favorite chocolate cake with just the right chocolate buttercream or a delicate and simple coffee cake topped with streusel incrusted with chocolate chips the size of diamonds.
He does eat my chocolate chip banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, the crispy chocolate wafers – are we seeing a pattern here? – and astonishingly he adores my cranberry muffins and occasionally will deign eat a slice of apple pie. He loves profiteroles! He also claims that he has tried my pumpkin pie, but Simon is simple in his tastes and easily pleased. And for the perfect breakfast or snack served up with a tall, cold glass of milk, he always asks for brownies. This recipe is made with cocoa instead of melted chocolate so it comes out a bit cakier, less gooey, but it is moist and rich and perfect when you need a special treat to wrap up for a picnic, a lunchbox or to send to the office with the spouse.
COCOA BROWNIES FOR SIMON
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (90 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 cups (400 g) sugar (I used half white and half light brown)
1 cup (125 g) flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts, pecans or walnuts, though I prefer pecans
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a large baking pan or baking sheet with aluminum foil, leaving some overhang and either end for handles.
Melt butter gently over a low flame or in the microwave. Remove from the heat and stir in the cocoa powder until smooth, then stir in the sugar. Set aside to cool a bit.
Break in the eggs, one at a time, stirring hard after each addition. Combine the flour, salt and baking powder together then add to the chocolate mixture, blending well. Stir in the vanilla, then fold in the coarsely chopped nuts.
Spread into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until just set in the center but still soft.
Allow to cool in the pan before cutting and eating. With a tall, cold glass of milk. Or a scoop of ice cream, vanilla, please, for Simon.