A mission statement

Hello, and welcome to My Kitchen and I. Every year I choose a cuisine to explore. This year, it's the year of the Snake! And I'll be continuing to cook mostly Asian foods, particularly Chinese dishes. Have I finally found the best cuisine in the world? Come explore and cook with me and let's find out. Please feel free to share your stories and comment on anything you see here, and thanks so much for visiting. Hope you enjoy the Year of the Snake in food!


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lop Cheong and the Great Bean Sauce Search

This past weekend, I probably spent three or four hours trying to find a type of bean sauce in Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's book, "Mastering The Art of Chinese Cooking," that I swear does not exist on any Asian grocery store shelves. I had a copy of her characters, duplicated about as well as I could do by hand. Her strokes are not always clear in the book, as they are stylized to look very pretty and artistic. They look nice, but it makes true identification very difficult. One of the downsides to her book.

I looked at every jar at my usual market, and there were literally hundreds. Not all were bean sauce, of course. There was leek sauce, there was sesame paste, there was chili paste — but a surprisingly large portion were bean sauce. It was quite overwhelming!

And how could I choose just one? Especially when not one matched what I was looking for!

So I ended up coming home with six different jars of bean sauce, all with different characters, and none matching what I had been seeking.

One of these, I thought, is bound to work. I will just ask my friend Jeff which is closest. But he didn't recognize Yin Fei Lo's characters either. He thought it may be something old and not much used any more. He thinks I've gotten pretty close with this ground bean sauce, though.

So here are the characters for that, in case you, too, are looking for this mythical bean sauce. ;p~

Yin-Fei Lo's book says the ground version is a little saltier than what she recommends, so I will just use that and omit some salt elsewhere in the dish. In the meantime, if any of you know for sure what kind of bean sauce she means ... do tell! Here's a picture of the characters she gave.

I will be trying all these other bean sauces in all the same recipes to see which I like best, and eventually, I'll report back on which is good, better and best.

This shopping trip was building all the pantry ingredients for the recipes I'm going to make in coming days. Sort of a beginning Chinese pantry. I consequently had a lot of different ingredients on the list, most of which I found!

Surprisingly, I even found the bean curd juice, which I didn't expect. I had in fact looked for it two times before and never found it. Because of its characters, I was looking where the red bean sauces and cubes were kept. It was actually in a different aisle with soy sauces and vinegars.

I just about could have kissed that store clerk when she came around the corner with that bottle — but of course I did not say or do any such thing. Good thing, too. Apparently you do not kiss Chinese strangers, nor even joke that you might do so. Jeff says she would have thought I was a really crazy American.  

That is OK, though, maybe. Because I AM really crazy. :)

My Chinese is not very good yet, but still good enough to get the store clerk to show me exactly where she'd found that bean curd juice.  So now I can even locate it again if I decide it's a keeper. 

The store clerk was quite proud of herself for finding this ingredient, and mentioned it was new. She herself didn't seem too sure about using it. She asked me something like ni zenme zuo le, 你怎么做了,which I took to mean she didn't know how I could make anything off the crazy grocery list she saw. 

I didn't know how to tell her too much about that. So I just said, wo xiang zuo zhen de zhongguo cai. 我想做真的中国菜。I'd like to make real Chinese dishes.

She shook her head. I'm not sure if that's because my Chinese wasn't correct, or if she doesn't think the ingredients I'm buying are right. Maybe a little of both?

At any rate, after that trip, I have a lot of new ingredients to explore!

I'm also installing a new garden to grow some ingredients that I cannot readily get where I live. There's an evergreen variety of onion that is cold tolerant. And a green onion that's more like a micro green, to garnish sushi. I have a beautiful Thai basil, mizuna and tatsoi, shiso leaves ...

A broccoli that is heat-tolerant, called gai lan. I've had it at the tea house, and it is really great steamed with a little oyster sauce to finish the dish. I also bought some Malibar spinach which is heat tolerant and doesn't bolt. It's a vine, so it's a really great plant for small spaces, although it is not really spinach. It's just very similar.

There's a winter melon vine coming, balloon flower, Chinese and Japanese radishes — hen duo shucai 很多蔬菜! Exciting stuff to explore! And lots of digging to do. :(

With the warmer days getting so busy and jam-packed with digging and digging and digging, I've been sticking to some very simple easy dishes. This is one that surprised me, and it's so good and so easy, I've actually made it a couple different times now.

It uses a Chinese sausage called Lop Cheong. This is a savory sweet style of sausage that according to some of my cookbooks will keep for weeks even without refrigeration.

However, my package said to refrigerate, so I did.

There are many different kinds of these sausages at the store. This is just the one that I was told is the most popular seller.

A store clerk also explained to me that on this particular package, the Chinese is written right to left instead of the usual left to right. So if you're buying a different brand, it may well be in reverse order.

Since making these I've discovered many more recipes with this ingredient, so you'll be seeing more of these in the near future, but in the meantime this simple dish is well worth making for a quick and easy lunch.

Lop Cheong Steamed Rice
Measure out two cups of rice ....

and place in a pot with four cups of water. Bring to a boil. Let the rice begin to swell a little.

Then place four lop cheong sausages on top and put the lid on it.

Cook for 15 minutes on low heat. Turn the heat off and let the pot sit for five minutes. And that is it. You are finished! If you want to fancy it up, you could shred some carrot to cook with the rice, but I think this is really good just like this.

I've been serving it with some fresh seasonal fruit and a batch of my cucumber salad. hen hao chi! :)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sweet and crispy, fried honey walnuts — 核桃

After making several versions of these so-called honey walnuts, I have begun to wonder if some people might skip making the recipe they've published in their cooking book or blog. I found so many bad versions of these wonderful walnuts!

The best version so far is in Yin Fei Lo's cookbook, Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking. She notes that these nuts do not traditionally contain honey, though they are called honey walnuts.

They do taste like honey, despite the lack.

I did find several recipes that advocated using honey to make these nuts, but after trying it a few different ways with honey, I really cannot recommend it. It sounds wonderful, but you lose the crispy, snap-crackle-pop texture that makes these nuts so special. Honey picks up moisture quickly, and a few hours later the nuts have already lost their zing. Honey also seemed to burn more easily.