My mom worked at P.F. Chang‘s China Bistro early in the restaurant’s history. It was a ritzy new joint at Fashion Island with call-ahead seating and a bustling reservation list. She arrived nightly to hostess in slick black pants and a skinny shirt, her hair spiky and fashionably coiffed. (My mom, incidentally, is gorgeous. Once, I even had the following conversation on the phone: “Hi Brooke! I heard your mom was in town this weekend. I wish I could have met her. My mom said she looks just like you, but pretty.’ And, really she does. She is so pretty.)
The year we were married, John and I visited Southern California, sleeping on an air mattress in mom’s tiny Costa Mesa apartment, waking to the thick marine layer and smell of salt in the air. Mom kept worrying about us sleeping on the ground. Worrying about the size of her apartment. Worrying that we were having a good time. Always a hostess, that mom of mine. We assured her we’d sleep on a bed of steel-dipped porcupines if it meant waking up in California. Love that place.
On our third night there, mom took the night off of work and treated us to dinner at PF’s. We sashayed ourselved through a black, sea-soaked night and walked right into the restaurant. They sat us immediately at a table. We felt very snazzy. Even more so when mom snapped her hand and summoned the waiter. “No menu’s, thank you.” She didn’t need them. She was about to order one of everything off the menu. Allright, it probably wasn’t one of everything, but good heck. Twenty minutes later, our table was filled to the gills with lettuce wraps and wontons, spring rolls and shrimp, ahi, egg rolls, steamed veggies, spare ribs. Every sort of gourment chinese food that has ever been imagined graced our tables and slid it’s way into our bellies. We talked and ate and laughed and ate the night away. The evening was long and sweet and savory. Even as I replay it now in memory, I imagine us laughing in slow motion, heads bowed together then thrown back in great delight, over and over and over again, until we were good and ready to be done.
When we finally hefted our well-fed selves up from our seats and started heading for the door, I turned to say thank you, but discovered mom walking far behind us. “Thank you,” I mouthed through the crowded room, motioning that we’d wait for her outside. She smiled. Her eyes smiled. She stood watching me this way for a moment. Then, she winked. It was as if to say that the whole night had been her pleasure. It was as though she thought that having me on the floor of her apartment, eating breakfast at her kitchen table, watching me walk out the restaurant door, it was all her pleasure. Though, it was so clearly mine.
Always the consummate hostess, that mom of mine. Ever the adoring mother.
Thank you, mom. I love you.
Orange & Kumquat Glazed Chicken
It was a drizzly Saturday and seven-year-old daughter, Alyssa, announced that she wanted chinese take-out, and she wanted it bad. We had a crowd to feed, and I started adding up the total, should we trip down to the usual fast-chinese joint and grab us each a box of Orange chicken. $6 x 8= $48. Yikes! That was half the grocery money I had left until payday. Instead, we headed to the grocery store and spent six bucks. A dollar for 6 packs of ramen noodles, a dollar for frozen stir-fry mix, four bucks for a package of chicken. One hour later, two gigantic, steaming bowls–one of chinese noodles, one of gleaming orange chicken–were set upon the table. If you’ve ever hosted a crazy-mad craving for orange chicken, be prepared to love this recipe even more. The sauce is gloriously thick and sticky with a hint of spice. The addition of sliced kumquats kicks up the orange flavor and makes for a stunning presentation. Tune in Thursday for the noodle recipe, which pairs perfectly with this chicken.
1 ½ lbs chicken breast, uncooked
3 well beaten eggs
2 T. milk
1 c. cornstarch
Salt & Pepper to taste
Slice chicken into bite-sized pieces. Dip chicken pieces in egg mixture, coat in cornstarch, then dip again in egg mixture. Fry in oil heated over a medium or medium-high stove, until lightly browned on both sides. Remove and allow to cool on a paper towel before transferring to a cookie sheet. To cook, make sure chicken pieces are in a single layer on cookie sheet, coat with orange-kumquat glaze and bake according to directions below.
Orange & Kumquat Glaze
½ c. soy sauce
¼ c. catsup
½ c. honey
¼ c. orange juice, freshly squeezed
Zest of 1 orange
8 kumquats, sliced
2 T. white vinegar
1 T. chives
1 T. red pepper flakes
1 T. sliced almonds
In a medium saucepan, combine soy sauce, catsup, honey, orange juice and zest, kumquats, chives and red pepper flakes. Stir together over medium heat and bring just to a boil. Drizzle sauce over prepared chicken. Bake in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, stirring often to coat the chicken with the glaze. Remove from oven when glaze is no longer puddled around the chicken, it should be sticky and fully coating the chicken. Garnish with chives or chopped scallions, red pepper flakes, kumquat sliced and sliced almonds. Serve immediately over rice, or with $2 Chinese Noodles (recipe arriving Wednesday right here on Cheeky Kitchen).