Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Literary Feast on November 13th! With some of my heroes!

In just a month, the San Francisco chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier will be hosting “A Literary Feast” – and you are invited! Mark your calendar for Sunday, November 13, from 3:00 to 6:00

This is going to be an extraordinary event, with some of the leading ladies in the culinary world on hand. 

Just think of it: Paula Wolfert, Dorie Greenspan, Joyce Goldstein, and Georgeanne Brennan, among many others, will be there. You will get to not only meet these authors, but also taste samples from their cookbooks and buy some of their works. 

Does life get any better? Probably not.

This is the first time the City’s LDEI has held such an event, and I’m delighted to say that not only will I get to go (to be honest, little could stop me), but I’ll even be offering samples of my own from All Under Heaven. I’m thinking Sea Moss Sandies, Candy Coated Almonds, and Fried Lotus Chips.

You can get a discount if you purchase the tickets in advance here, or you can buy them at the door. Proceeds from this event will go to the LDEI-SF Culinary Scholarship Fund, which aims to give a leg up to worthy female culinary students, and also to the Garden Project, another really great cause.

Bring a big bag for all those books, as well as a warm jacket in case the fog rolls in. Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Interview on The Beijinger + some more good publishing news

Lots of great things have been happening with All Under Heaven and the Dim Sum Field Guide these past couple of weeks, so I thought I’d do something slightly different this week and give the usual highlights, as well as the start of a fun conversation I recently did with the online Chinese magazine, The Beijinger. Robynn Tindall asked some wonderful questions, which I’m delighted to share with you below.
First, though, a recap!

All Under Heaven was again featured in the New York Times as one of Fall 2016's best cookbooks, and this time the shout out came from Sam Sifton, so that is totally amazing. 

Diana Zheng is writing about the brilliant cuisines of northeastern Guangdong, where the port cities of Teochew (Chaozhou) and Swatow (Shantou) hold sway. She was kind enough to ask my opinion on things, and you can find them here inside of her find article, "Tracing the Teoswa," in The Cleaver Quarterly. 

If you haven't heard much about that region's foods, much less reveled in their deeply savory flavors and punchy seasonings, you are definitely missing out. A bunch of Chaozhou recipes can be found in All Under Heaven, but I can't wait for Diana's book Jia! (or, Eat!) sees the light of day. 

The "Breakfast Show" on KCRW's Good Food podcast is continuing to receive considerable attention, even though I am in there talking about dim sum. Thanks again to Evan Kleinman for being such a great interviewer!

And now, on to that review...

*  *  *

I have been following food writer, scholar, and illustrator Carolyn Phillips' excellent blog "Madame Huang's Kitchen" for years so it was with much excitement that I learnt that she was publishing a book, All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China (McSweeney’s + Ten Speed Press, August 2016). A comprehensive look at China's many fascinating regional cuisines, All Under Heaven is as much a personal memoir and academic work as it is a cookbook – those looking for step-by-step recipes and plenty of pictures to flick through may want to look elsewhere (the book is instead illustrated with Phillips' own drawings). However, for a compulsive collector and reader of cookbooks, this is the perfect in-depth work. 
Below, Phillips tells us about her culinary journey of discovery and offers some advice for budding food bloggers looking to make the leap from screen to page.  

For those of us reading in Beijing, All Under Heaven is available for purchase as a Kindle book from or to order from The Bookworm.

What first brought you to Taiwan/China?

What I told my mom was that I wanted to learn Mandarin, but I think I just wanted to eat and eat. I had learned Mandarin and Japanese in college, and of course was therefore virtually unintelligible in either language. I applied to both Taipei and Tokyo for language classes, found a last minute opening in Taipei, and the rest is history.

How did you become so interested in Chinese cuisine?

My first two years in Taiwan in the late 70s had me dining on all sorts of street foods from every part of China, as well as great home-cooked meals with my host family and lots of friends. My new Chinese husband then introduced me to an even broader variety of great cooking, and then when I worked as the main interpreter at the National History Museum and National Central Library for five years, this meant dining out many times a week at Taipei’s greatest restaurants. I really was in an amazing place at an amazing time, for many of China’s most renowned chefs had moved to Taiwan after 1949, and money started to flow into the island with the tech revolution, and so fabulous dining palaces were springing up all over with outstanding cooks at the helm.

As I ate my way across Taipei, I started to notice the differences between the many cuisines, and as I tried to get a handle on them, I started to read lots of books and even cook some of the foods I had eaten the previous week in an attempt to figure them out. I had always been told that there were eight great cuisines (Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, and Sichuan), but the more I ate, the more confused I became, because this seemed to be such a limited view of what China had to offer.

When we returned to the States, I continued to try to parse my way through these food traditions, and although I worked as a Mandarin court interpreter during the day, in the evenings I spent more and more time working on this puzzle. I finally quit my day job to focus my attention on the cuisines of China and become serious about writing a cookbook. I started with my blog, and this gradually morphed into All Under Heaven.

(Read more here on The Beijinger.)

Monday, October 10, 2016

A creamy, cold weather delight from South China

A wonderful surprise was in store for me a few evenings ago when I finally had time to catch up on my favorite podcasts, and lo and behold, there was All Under Heaven being featured and loved and totally understood. 

To top it off, I only discovered this spectacular review a month after it had been aired! (I still need to figure out how to Google myself without being weirded out by all the people who share my name but are simply the dearly departed or the recently arrested. Mine is one popular name, it turns out.) 

Anyway, a long time favorite cookbook reviewer, T. Susan Chang, started a new podcast last month called The Level Teaspoon, and my two books are featured in the very first episode! (The praise starts at the 5:00 mark, if you're in a hurry.) Subscribe to this free podcast while you're at it - you'll be doing yourself a favor if you love cookbooks as much as I do.

And you don't get to consider your bucket list fulfilled as a cookbook writer if you haven't yet been given the seal of approval by the esteemed cookbook site, Leite's Culinaria. Well, that just happened to yours truly, and All Under Heaven somehow made it to the top of their list of "Best Cookbooks September 2016." Call me stunned, thrilled, happy... All I know is that their wonderful reviewer, Melissa Maedgen, completely comprehended what I was trying to do, made a batch of recipes that worked for her (hallelujah!), and had all sorts of nice things to say. Thank you, Melissa!

The Wall Street Journal also quoted me this last Saturday in the well written and oh-so-timely article "Chinese Food in New Translations," which is celebrating the thoughtful and exciting exhibition "Sweet Sour Bitter Spicy" exhibit at the Museum of Chinese in America. The author of this article, Jamie Feldmar, studied in China, so her love for the foods of my adopted country echo throughout this article. Plus, she's a heck of a lot of fun to talk with when you're barreling on a train from New York to DC. 

Finally, you can find me jabbering away about dim sum this week with Evan Kleiman on her tasty and knowledgeable podcast "Good Food," which is on the public radio station KCRW out of Los Angeles. Now that is one GREAT interviewer. I was told I'd sound better than I ever had before, and since that has been proved to be true, I must owe it all to Evan and her talent crew. Thanks, Evan!

* * *

The autumnal equinox has passed and the northern half of the world is becoming chillier. And that’s just the way I like it, because it means I get to dine on the warming comfort foods of China. This country has a marvelous battalion of soups, stews, and braises that are specifically designed to warm your toes and make even the crankiest diner happy. And this is one of them. In fact, this dish is downright luxurious.

Traditionally, this cured duck casserole is just pieces of the cured bird simmered with taro and a bit of ginger. And it’s good that way, but not the kind of thing that keeps me up at night with anticipation. Some recipes suggest adding coconut milk, and that is what got my mind really revving, since coconut milk always equals comfort food in my book. It’s sort of like adding heavy cream or a rich béchamel sauce to a dish, but with a delightful tropical twist.

I then went a bit nuts and took this dish many steps further down the road to hedonism: There’s rice wine in there to vibrate against the cured duck, the green onions and ginger are toasted to make them nothing less than absolutely mellow, I fry the duck after simmering it to give the skin a lot more interest and flavor, and the tangle of golden ginger is reserved to act as a chewy foil for all the soft textures underneath it.

Fuzzy baby taro
But I also took a cue from Macau’s great chicken dishes and broiled the top of the braise, which supplies yet another layer of texture, since a skin forms on the top of this rich coconut sauce and turns a rather boring looking dish into something that is quite beautiful. Finally, it all got lavishly decorated with garnishes that turn this dish into a celebration.

Do note that the ratio of taro to duck is huge. That’s because the duck acts more as a seasoning here than as a regular meat. When it’s cured like this, the bird becomes intensely flavored – a lot like prosciutto – which then turns around and seasons everything in its path. The duck is also very salty, and that’s the reason why it needs that initial hot bath to wash off a good part of the cure and also plump up the flesh a bit.

You can find cured duck (làyā 臘鴨) in most Chinese grocery stores all year around, but it will be best from autumn through spring, when the turnover is much faster. Try to find ducks that are grown and cured in the States, rather than China. Since the duck is completely cured, the unopened packages will keep forever in the refrigerator.

Use whatever kind of taro you like and is available. Mature taro – which looks a bit like a football and is very heavy and starchy – will make the casserole creamier and have more of a tropical flavor. Young taro are more vegetal and juicier, and in their own way are just as fine here. So, go with what you like.

Those lovely, creamy insides
I suggest you get a good-sized amount of taro because you will probably be trimming off a good portion of the flesh in addition to the skin, since things like bruises will have to be cut away. When it comes to young taro, trim off anything that is not creamy white, and keep only the lavender parts of more mature taro. (Do note that some varieties of mature taro will come in different colors – if you get a particularly pale or deep-colored root, you will be able to easily figure out what parts are good and what parts should be 86’d.)

To select taro, first eyeball them. They should look plump all over. When you see shrinking around the base, that means they have been hanging around too long and will be dry, which in turn means that they will take forever to cook. Avoid any with mushy spots, as this indicates rot. They are quite hairy, so you will have to fondle them in the vegetable bin – try not to make a scene while doing this or frighten the children.

Lots of times the mature taro will be cut in half or pieces and wrapped in plastic. There’s nothing essentially wrong with these, but do realize that they probably had their rotted parts trimmed off and so should be checked over very carefully for signs of further damage or excessive age.

Keep your taro dry and chilled and wrapped up in a bag with a paper towel, for this will help prevent them from sprouting or decaying. Wear kitchen gloves when you start to peel them if you are allergic to their juices. (Mature taro is much more irritating to the skin than immature ones, for some reason.) 
Fry the duck & onions

Use a potato peeler to remove the skins and then carve off any less than perfect parts. They don’t have to be soaked in water like potatoes, and if you do lots at one time (highly recommended if you are a taro fanatic like me), freeze them in a single layer and then store them in a freezer bag; they do not have to be defrosted first for most dishes.

Cured duck and coconut casserole with taro
Yézhī lìyù làyā bào  椰汁荔芋臘鴨
Southern Guangxi and Guangdong
Serves 4

1 Cantonese-style cured duck leg
Boiling water, as needed
Around 1½ pounds / 700 g baby or mature taro
¼ cup / 60 ml toasted sesame oil
¼ cup / 30 g thinly julienned ginger
4 green onions, trimmed and cut into fourths
¼ cup / 30 ml mild rice wine (mijiu)
1 (13.5 ounce / 400 g) can whole fat coconut milk
Sea salt to taste
1 green onion, trimmed and finely shredded
¼ cup / 30 g unsweetened grated coconut, toasted

1. This is great the same day that you make it, but gets even better with a day or two of rest in the fridge. Use a heavy cleaver to whack the leg into pieces that are around 1 inch / 2 cm wide all around. Place them in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring the pan to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes to remove the extra salt. Drain the duck well in a colander set in the sink, and then pat it dry with a paper towel.

2. Peel the taro, and if you are using mature taro, be sure to wear gloves if you are allergic its raw juices. Rinse the peeled taro and cut the baby ones in half or quarters, while the mature taro should be shaped into cubes that are also around 1 inch / 2 cm all around.

Chewy fried ginger!
3. Set a wok over medium-high heat and pour in the sesame oil. Sprinkle in the julienned ginger and stir the ginger constantly to toast it to a golden brown, adjusting the heat as necessary. Remove the ginger to a small work bowl. Return the oil to high heat and slide in the duck and green onions. Fry them all over so that they too are a golden brown. Pour in the rice wine, coconut milk, and a can full of boiling water, and then add the taro. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook the duck uncovered until the taro is creamy, which may take from 15 to 30 minutes, depending upon the quality and age of the taro. Taste and adjust the seasoning with a bit more salt, if needed. At this point the sauce should have the consistency of heavy cream, so reduce it if necessary. The dish may be prepared ahead of time up to this point and refrigerated. Heat the dish through again before serving, of course.

4. Turn on your broiler. Scrape everything into a heatproof 4 cup / 1 liter casserole. Set it about 2 inches / 5 cm from the broiler. Keep a close eye on the dish, and remove it as soon as the top is covered with golden leopard spots. To serve, sprinkle on the green onions and then the coconut flakes and fried ginger. This is great with steamed rice of any kind plus a green vegetable stir-fried with little more than garlic and salt.

Monday, October 3, 2016

How to make a Lazy Dragon

Happy news on the book front:

The New York Times featured All Under Heaven in its Cookbook Issue last week. Huzzah! To quote this lovely review by Sara Bonisteel, "'All Under Heaven' follows the illustrated tradition of books like Shizuo Tsuji’s 'Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art' and Julia Child’s 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking,' and therein lies its strength. Ms. Phillips’s simple line drawings cover everything from pulling noodles to removing pig hairs. It’s almost as good as watching over the chef’s shoulder." 

I mean... I'll stop swooning in a minute or two.

I am so looking forward to SF's LITQUAKE Festival this Sunday (10/9 from 11:00 to 5:30), where I'll be camped out with a table full of food and books. Be there or be square. Or be at home watching a ballgame. (#1 is the correct answer.) 

This last week the wonderful radio host R. Gallyot of KWMR in West Marin conducted a radio interview with me called "Some Dim Sum." This interviewer is someone who really loves the foods of China, and since we had only a half hour last Tuesday, we concentrated on "The Dim Sum Field Guide." He asked lots of great questions about the finer points of dining etiquette and we had such a good time that I am clamoring to go back. Actually, I'm pretty much ready to move to this lovely coastal area just north of the Golden Gate at the drop of the hat. Check out these photos of Point Reyes and West Marin if you want to be convinced.

And finally, I was in Bon Appétit! I got to natter there endlessly about my love for char siu ribs and delve into the reasons why this is pork candy. I waxed poetic over why I get all hot and bothered about those gooey, red, meaty, juicy, amazingly addictive slabs that lure me into Chinese delis. There's lots of info there on what goes into a perfect slab of ribs and explains to some degree my inability to resist the temptation. Just please don't get me started on Cantonese roast duck or braised chickens or just about anything else that hangs in a great deli window.

I am still convinced that I'm dreaming all of this.

*  *  *

Your basic Lazy Dragon
My mother-in-law made this beautifully named dish – and how can you ever come up with a better name than Lazy Dragon, I ask you – for her family when my husband was still a tyke, and he’s never forgotten it. It was a rare occasion when she made it (for she never really enjoyed hanging out in the kitchen), but her eldest son still thinks fondly on those couple of times when she fed the family well on her steamed breads. Even today he gets more than a bit misty-eyed at the thought of her steamed bread (mantou) made with powdered milk, for he would rush home from school whenever he knew it was on the menu.

Since these steamed breads mean so much to him, over the years I’ve figured out how to make pretty much everything that he used to munch on as a kid. A Lazy Dragon isn’t particularly hard if you’ve ever made, say, mantou or filled buns (baozi). In fact, it’s a million times easier than wrapping up a bunch of baozi since you really are just curling the filling inside of the dough like a jellyroll.  

I’m basically using ground pork and cabbage here, but you can use just about anything you’d like. Just count on making around 2 cups / 900 cc of filling. If you are a vegan, chopped mushrooms with onions would be delicious, as would any other vegetarian recipe for baozi. If you don’t want pork, ground turkey is fabulous. Beef would be great, too. You can also sub in spinach or bok choy for the traditional napa cabbage and then season it however you want. My mother-in-law also added cellophane noodles, which she would soak in cool water until they were soft and then chop into smallish pieces. Really, this is another one of my World Famous Templates, and you really can’t go too wrong.
Fluffy vs juicy layers

The only thing I’d suggest you keep an eye on when making a Lazy Dragon is ensuring that the sauce is thick, because soupiness will inevitably sog up the bread. So, simmer down the sauce toward the end to make the seasonings cling to the ingredients. I’d also caution against thickening the filling with things like cornstarch, since you already have that lovely bread working on your side, and you don’t need another layer of starch to gum things up.

Now, let’s get to the part where I talk about the eating end of the recipe. A Lazy Dragon is one very fun thing to serve, especially now when the weather is cooling down and you want to serve something warm and filling. Kids go bonkers over the very idea of dining on a dragon (use spinach juice if you really want to flip them out). Actually, if you were to serve this in honor of the Khaleesi to celebrate the next season of Game of Thrones, I wouldn’t hold that against you in the least. Names aside, Lazy Dragon is a wonderful variation on the baozi theme, not only because it requires a heck of a lot less work, but also because the dragon turns out to be much juicier and a whole lot more interesting that the usual stuffed bun (imho).
Lots of punchy flavors & textures

Why it’s not made all the time is beyond me. Here’s to changing all that...

Lazy dragon
Lănlóng 懶龍
North China
Serves 4 to 6

Steamed bread:
1 teaspoon active bread yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
10 tablespoons (½ cup + 2 tablespoons) / 150 ml warm water
1½ cups / 230 g Korean bread flour, plus extra for kneading (or, 1 cup / 120 g all-purpose flour mixed with ½ cup / 60 g pastry flour, plus extra all-purpose flour for kneading)
Toasted sesame oil, as needed 

5 dried black mushrooms, either soaked overnight in cool water or soaked for at least 30 minutes in boiling water
2 tablespoons dried shrimp
Boiling water, as needed
Half a small head of napa cabbage (about 14 ounces / 400 g), chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
4 green onions, trimmed and chopped
8 ounces / 225 g ground pork or dark turkey meat
2 tablespoons / 30 ml mild rice wine
1 tablespoon / 15 ml regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper

Spray oil

Leave a clean edge
1. First make the bread wrapper: start at least 4 hours before you want to serve the Lazy Dragon. Place the water in a measuring cup and sprinkle on the yeast and sugar. Give the yeast time to wake up and foam, about 20 minutes; if it is not foamy by that time, the yeast is too old and you’ll have to buy a new batch.

2. Place the flour in a medium work bowl and then stir the foamy liquid into the flour to form a dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead it until it is smooth and shiny, adding more flour if necessary. When it is as soft and supple as an earlobe, clean out the mixing bowl, dry it thoroughly, and rub a bit of sesame oil all over the inside. Place the dough in the bowl, turn the dough over a couple of times so that it is completely coated, cover it with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise either on the kitchen counter for a couple of hours or in the refrigerator for about 8 hours, or until the dough is at least double in size.

3. While the dough is rising, prepare the mushrooms and dried shrimp, if you haven't already done so, by covering them in separate bowls with boiling water. Soak them until the water is cool and the ingredients are supple. Drain the mushrooms, remove their stems, and finely dice them. Drain the shrimp, remove any discolored or hard areas, and mince them. Place the cabbage in a colander set in the sink and toss it with the salt.

4. Squeeze the liquid out of the cabbage. Set a wok over high heat and add the sesame oil when the wok is hot. Swirl the oil around and then add the ginger and onions. Toss them in the oil, and as soon as they smell great, add the cabbage. Continue to toss these over high heat, and as the cabbage starts to wilt, break up the raw meat and add it to the wok. Toss these together until the meat has lost most of its pink color. Then, drizzle the rice wine and soy sauce around the edge of the wok and sprinkle both the sugar and black pepper on top. At this point, you probably will have lots of liquid pooling up in the bottom of your wok, so scoot the ingredients up the sides of the wok so that the juices can heat up rapidly at the bottom and evaporate easily. As soon as the liquid has reduced to a tablespoon or so, toss the ingredients with this syrupy mixture. Take a taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Remove the wok from the heat and let the filling cool down to at least body temperature.
Pinching the dragon

5. Now it’s time to roll out the dough. Turn the dough out onto a dusted board and roll it out into a rectangle about 12 inches high x 15 inches wide (30 cm high x 38 cm wide) –  it does not have to be exact. Spread the cooled filling over the dough, leaving around ½ inch / 1 cm space along both sides and the bottom, and about 1 inch / 2 cm clear at the top, as this will help keep the filling from spilling out as you roll up the dough. Starting with the edge nearest you, roll the dough up to form a long cylinder that’s not too tight, as you want to give the dough room to rise some more. When you get to the end, pinch the end of the dough into the cylinder to seal it and also pinch the two ends closed. Gently roll and shape the cylinder into a rope around 20 inches / 50 cm long. Spray a steamer basket with oil and, even better, line it with steamer paper or damp cheesecloth to help prevent the dough from sticking to the steamer. Arrange the rope in the steamer so that it looks like a snoozing dragon. Cover the steamer and let the dragon rest for around 20 minutes – if you need to wait longer than that before you cook it, place the steamer in the refrigerator so that the dough does not over-expand.

6. Fill the steamer’s pan with a couple inches of water and bring it to a full boil. Place the covered steamer over the pan so that it fits tightly. Reduce the heat to medium, or to maintain a steady boil. Steam the dragon for around 20 minutes, and then remove the steamer from the heat. Let the steamer rest for another 10 minutes or so to assist the dough in keeping its shape. Remove the dragon to a serving platter and slice into wedges. You can also freeze it, either uncooked or already cooked. Serve this as is, or with a chile sauce on the side.