My long-time readers know there was a time when making any kind of food was a challenge. Working outside a recipe was (is!) unthinkable, and thinking fast on my feet, such as making substitutions, was beyond the realm of possibilities.
I'd like to think I'm past that now, that two years of cooking has taught me a few things. But, oh, I have learned! I am not there yet. That's what Donna Hay taught me.
Donna Hay, if you don't know her, is like the Martha Stewart of Australia, except even more artful and tasteful. Her recipes are always deceptively simple, and accompanied by droolworthy, perfectly art-directed photo layouts. My good friend Ryan sent me two of her cookbooks out of the blue, and after a quick perusal of "Off the Shelf", I identified a couple recipes to try.
So, I reasoned the Thai spice would still come through if I subbed Panko bread crumbs for rice flour. She recommended I combine quartered chicken breasts with all of the ingredients at once — egg whites, rice flour, red chilis, cilantro leaves and the lime leaves. I scoffed at her suggestion, particularly since I didn't have some of those ingredients.
Instead, I lightly beat some egg whites in a bowl, and then on a plate, placed bread crumbs, red chilis, cilantro leaves, sesame seeds and a couple squirts of lime juice. So far so good.
I covered the pieces of chicken with the mixture, and then we put it in a pan on medium heat with three tablespoons of peanut oil. Guess what happened?! The panko bread crumbs were burned black faster than I'm assuming the rice flour would have been, and it took foreeeeeeeeevvverrrrr to get all the chicken cooked throughout.
I suppose the peanut oil burned at a higher heat than I'm used to...or the panko was a bad idea...or maybe I was a mess because I was trying to rush through making dinner while finishing up an article from home? Whatever the reason, it left me frazzled.
Meanwhile, I realized I totally did not have the right noodles. It said maybe Chinese egg noodles would work and I thought, "Hmm...I have some leftover tagliatarelle...that's egg pasta...how bad could it be?"
I combined the tagliatarelle, which we cooled with cold water, with the shredded zucchini, chopped cilantro, chopped mint leaves, lime juice and honey.
And at 9 p.m., we sat down to eat this: Burnt breaded chicken and the slimiest, most disgusting pasta ever.
The lesson: When that nice lady Donna Hay takes the time to tell you how to recreate her genius, don't mouth off and tell her she's wrong. She's right. And you...you are still pretty new to this domestication thing.
(The postscript would be that the chicken still tasted pretty good and the combination of the red chilis, cilantro and sesame seeds was a nice spin on the usual boneless chicken breast.)