Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kitchen Chinese....a must read!

I am so proud of my sorority sister I'm about to burst my buttons. Ann Mah is a freelance journalist based in Paris. Her first novel, set to hit the bookstores in February (but you can pre-order NOW), it's already getting rave reviews from some of the culinary world's most esteemed authors.

“Ann Mah’s richly detailed Kitchen Chinese is humorous enough to make you laugh out loud, and so delicious you are sure to begin craving Peking duck and dim sum. A true tale of reinventing oneself in a new and foreign world.”

–Patricia Wells, author of We’ll Always Have Paris… and Provence

A brief description of the novel from Ann's blog...

After a career-ending catastrophe, Isabelle Lee leaves the magazine world of New York for the magazine world of Beijing, one that’s considerably more limited given her rudimentary knowledge of Chinese. Despite being Chinese-American, Isabelle only knows the kind of Chinese that is spoken in the kitchen.

Fortunately, this includes the language of food, and soon Isabelle immerses herself in Peking duck and Mongolian hot pot, when she’s not engulfed in pea-soup pollution and culture shock. There’s also the challenge of reacquainting herself with her older sister, Claire, now a high-powered lawyer living the expat lifestyle. But as she learns more about Claire, Isabelle begins to suspect she’s not the only who’s run away to China.

After many moments of cultural confusion, Isabelle can’t help but wonder if moving to Beijing was a mistake. Or is this frenetic, vibrant city of the future the perfect place to figure out who she really is?

I hope you'll share in my enthusiasm and go buy Ann's book! Goodness knows, it's tough times these days for writers...and with the fall of Gourmet Magazine, food writers in particular. But, of course, this isn't just a novel about food, it's about life's challenges, family relationships, and self discovery....I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!

Friday, October 16, 2009

At Market....Pumpkins

Pumpkins by the truckload are arriving at a market near you. Have you been to a pumpkin patch yet? Ours is way out in the country, where any respectable one should be, I guess. Being California, it's usually hot, and always dusty. There are bands, farm animals, a tractor ride, a sunflower field (where a community-wide scarecrow contest takes place) and a corn maze (pictured below).

I love these extra long stems on freshly harvested pumpkins. I wish they left them that way. I choose my pumpkins based on the stem--it must be long, and preferably curled in some way. It gives them more character, don't you think?

Always eager to help support our local farmers, I'm thrilled to fork out $20 for the corn maze...okay, maybe not, but I don't mind all that much. Their year's livelihood must be made in just a few months of sales. A couple of years ago, they lost much of their crop (and some homes) to a fire. We're glad they keep at it!

These are my favorites...the ugly squashes....turbans, kabocha, butternuts, and hubbards (which are actually what canned pumpkin manufacturers use for their product). Their flavor bests even the famed "sugar pie" pumpkin....really.

And what's a trip to the pumpkin patch, without eating a caramel apple? I wouldn't know...we do it every year!

I hope you have a chance to get out and support your local pumpkin farmers too!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bao Wow

I always seem to undertake these massive cooking projects when I am the on a weeknight, when I've been cooking for work all day, helping with homework all afternoon, and shuttling children to their various extracurriculars. Such was the case with these Bao.

A childhood favorite of my husband, he used to eat them on Sundays when his family went to Dim Sum at a restaurant in Chinatown. For the uninitiated, Bao are steamed buns, usually filled with sweet barbecued pork. We'd had some disappointing ones recently at the Hollywood Bowl, and were craving a better version. When I saw this article in the food section of the Los Angeles Times, I knew I had to give them a try.

They were about as complicated as I expected--a multi-step process that took the better part of the afternoon. But, you've got to remember, I had lots and lots and lots of interruptions too.

Before I did anything else, I had to make the barbecued pork. I totally cheated and bought a jar of Chinese barbecue sauce...I thought it was quite flavorful (and very comparable to when I've made it from scratch)...and I wanted to save time since I knew assembling the Bao would be very time consuming. So....I used a jar (can you tell I feel guilty about this?). I marinated about 3 pounds of pork country ribs in the sauce overnight. The next day, I placed them on a cooling rack over a foil-lined baking pan and baked them at 250 degrees for about 3 1/2 hours....until they were tender and had a burnished exterior. I also reserved the marinade and basted them occasionally, and flipped them about half way through baking. With the meat chopped and set aside, I was ready to make the dough for the Bao.

The dough is leavened with a combination of yeast and baking powder and when steamed, it becomes light and airy, like a meat-stuffed cloud, if there were such a thing. After it had risen, I divided the dough in two, let is rest then patted each half into eight 6-inch disks. The Times article had some complicated business about using a special mini-rolling pin...blah, blah, blah. My fingers worked just fine. The dough was tender and yielding enough to handle a pat down. And frankly, it felt good to give something a hearty smack. The most important part is that the dough is thicker in the middle and thinner on the edges. We did just fine, I think...the dough and I.

The process of bundling the meat (which, by the way, had been sauced some more after it was chopped up) was not graceful or pretty by any means. In fact, it was kind of clumsy, especially at first. But the dough is forgiving and will stretch tons before finally ripping and spilling its saucy guts (it only happened a few times) and is also very easy to patch together, thankfully. Mine are a very bad imitation of what professional dumpling makers put out...but it's about the taste right? Basically, it goes like this (please forgive my tacky flash's getting dark EARLIER isn't it?)...Fold one side of the dough over the stuffing. Then pleat the dough, all the way around the sides, folding it up over itself, until you have a big bunch of dough in the middle. Twist the dough, the same direction you have been pleating it, to seal the top. Then set the dumpling on a square of parchment paper.

What you end up with, eventually after some trial and error, are pretty little twisted buns, ready for the steamer. They were two kids who eat "weird" food like this gobbled down several, as did my husband and I. Our final assessment, was that the meat needed to be a bit saucier, and the dough needed to be a bit below, are adjustments to the Times recipes that we think will give them the taste my husband remembers from the sunny days of his childhood, spent happily enjoying Dim Sum in Chinatown.

Bao Dumpling Dough
makes 16

1 1/2 teaspoons fast-acting dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Scant 3 cups bread flour

Dissolve the yeast in the water mixture and let sit for 5 minutes.

Combine the sugar, baking powder and flour in the bowl of the food processor fitted with a steel blade attachment. Pulse a few times to combine. With the motor on, pour the yeast mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream and allow the machine to continue running until the dough starts coming together into a ball, about 20 seconds. Run machine for 45 to 60 seconds more to knead most of the dough into a large ball that cleans the sides of the bowl--expect some dangling bits. Press on the finished dough--it should feel medium-soft and tacky but should not stick to your finger.

Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rest until it doubles in size, about 1/2 an hour. Pour dough out onto a floured board and cut in half. Set one half aside, covered with plastic, and roll the other half into a snake, about 12 inches long. Cut it into 8 segments and pat or roll each section of dough into a round disk that is thicker in the middle than the edges. Lay on a floured surface, cover with a cloth and repeat with the other half of the dough. Fill each round with meat (as described above) and place on a square of parchment paper, pleated side up. Cover with a cloth and let rest for 30 more minutes, or until doubled in size.

Prepare a steaming basket (bamboo is ideal, but my pasta pot worked fine too). Place buns, on their parchment, in the pot, leaving about 1 inch of space between, and steam for about 15 minutes, or until dough is cooked through. Repeat with other buns if necessary.

I made a delicious dipping sauce with a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce, a splash of toasted sesame oil, some sliced scallions, and a hearty pinch of black pepper.

Sauce for Barbecued Pork

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 pinch salt
1 pinch ground white pepper
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
4 teaspoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 teaspoons canola or peanut oil
4 scallions, chopped, white and green parts
1/2 pound Chinese barbecued pork, homemade (as described above) or store-bought, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 4 tablespoons water

In a small bowl, mix together sugar through sherry. In a medium skillet, heat canola oil over medium heat. Saute scallions for 2 minutes, or until they become tender. Add meat, and stir until sizzling hot. Pour in sauce and heat to simmering. Add cornstarch mixture, and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes. Take off heat and cool completely before stuffing into buns.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Just dropping in to let you know I'm thinking of you...Today I made a huge mess of my kitchen making all kinds of muffins, and I have 8 pounds of apples ready to go for more fun tomorrow. All my hard work is coming to fruition as Disney finally has some of my recipes up with photos. You can find them here and here. I've got 15 days until my deadline and about 30 recipes more to deliver....then it's back to blogging! Promise.

In the meantime, I'll share some more newsy items for food geeks like me. Check here, here, and here, if you don't mind grossing yourself out a little. It's really shocking stuff....or at least it should be, but it's all too much the norm, isn't it?

Have a lovely evening!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Happy Campers (and a recipe link too)

Okay, so we weren't camping, technically. And we weren't really roughing it either, though the rooms lacked phones and televisions (thank god!). What we were doing was getting out of here...out of the relentless heat, smoke and other unpleasant facts of life in "autumnal" Southern California. I needed some fall in the worst way--some cool temperatures, some changing leaves, some fresh, clean air. So Saturday evening, after a long day of soccer, we drove north to my dad's house, our route illuminated by a spectacular harvest moon.

Sunday morning, we headed out to Yosemite's western entrance, to the Evergreen Lodge, which I highly recommend, by the way. It was cold when we we got some hot cocoa. Other guests we spoke with had tried to drive into the valley, but turned around when they met with a hail storm. Wimps. We pressed forward to the park...and instead of hail, we had snow...the first snowfall of the season. Who would want to miss out on that?

And, as I'm sure you know, where there is snow there are snowballs...and where there are snowballs, there are big brothers who throw them at you...and hit you smack on the back.

We had such a nice time and I'll post more pictures of our trip a bit later, but I did want to mention that my work for Disney's is slowly appearing on their site...but there are no photos yet. Please feel free to try, rate and comment on the recipes posted here. And I will try to have a recipe posted on my blog, just for you...soon.