Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Year’s Tradition

Sadly, I will not be in Boston for Chinese New Year’s because on this day, some families consider this the Superbowl of traditional Chinese food lunches.  Let me help you avoid the bunch of cliché online drivel regarding Chinese restaurant specialties and little Chinese themed recipes.  A true Chinese New Year’s involves some of the following food items:


Traditional Grub

1). Chinese Sesame Beignets  IMG_3955 IMG_3957

It’s not the thick skinned, sticky itty bitty suckers with the red bean paste in the middle that you may get from the dim sum restaurants.  Those are imposter metropolitan run-of-the-mill inferior sesame balls, see below…


The ones that we have for New Year’s are the big hollow thin donut balls seen above being fried by my grandma below.  Fried puffy sweet crispy balls of goodness.  Traditional local heirloom recipe boys and gals – so sorry, no sharing.


2). Shrimp Chips


It’s hard to get the heirloom recipe stuff, but its easy to get a nice package of shrimp chips from a Chinese grocer and fry some of those bad boys up.  Be careful, don’t throw too many into a hot fryer, they expand to 4 times their chip size.  Crab chips are also mucho tasty.  This pic is from somewhere else random, but you get the idea.  Personally I don’t buy the ones with color because I find the simple white ones in the longer boxes taste better and end up bigger.


3). The Vegetarian Mixing Bowl aka Luo Han Zhai   

Loosely translated, it is simple named “Zhai” or sometimes known as Luo Han Zhai or something stupid like “Buddha’s Delight.”  New Year’s day is also the day you are not supposed to be eating meat – one rule that I simply have not been able to follow consistently.

What normally ends up in this veggie pot wonder is a ridiculous assortment of stuff, all eventually cooked in one pot and melded into a crazy assortment of flavors.  The classical Luo Han Zhai is supposed to have 18 items named after the 18 monks they represent.  Well mi familia normally rocks it with the following minus one or two things from the list:

1. Yuba (tofu skin)

2. Fat Choy (a super thin weave of black noodles, actually a veggie of some sort)

3. Fried tofu

4. Snap peas

5. Vermicelli

6. Shitake

7. Napa cabbage

8. Daylily buds (aka golden needles)

9. Wood Ear (aka black fungi)

10. Water chestnuts

11. Dried oysters

12. Arrowhead

13. Fried Wheat Gluten

14. Carrots

15. Bok Choy

16. Lotus Root

17. Peanuts (untoasted)

18. Bamboo shoots

Pretty much the most ridiculous thing you can ever eat.  It tastes pretty awesome.


4. Mochi Cake – aka Nian Gao

It’s a glutinous rice cake that gets steamed.  It is sweet, gooey and can be eaten cold as well.  I honestly do not touch the stuff.  Some people love it like my moms, but it is one of the few things that I do not shovel in my mouth – a rarity on this blog.


5. Pan Fried Yuba Rolls

We normally eat these guys with shitakes, water chestnuts, vermicelli, bamboo shoots, golden needles and smothered with a savory sauce.  Pretty awesome.  This is an example of how it might look (except those have shrimp in them).


Rules and Superstitions

Think about this for a second, it’s a holiday devoted to stuffing your face with food and stuffing your pockets with money.  It’s a total win-win situation.  Now that we’ve identified some of the food, here are some basic rules to follow:

1. Do not wash your hair, it means you’re washing away your luck.

2. No cursing

3. Do not eat meat.

4. When visiting family bring a shiny box of something (cookies, cakes, nuts, etc) and don’t forget to put oranges or tangerines in the bag.  Preferably 3 I think.

5. Red envelopes are passed to those who are younger by generation and by marital status.  So if I happen to have a 21 year old uncle/aunt that just got married, he’s going to be throwing some cash my way.  Yes, it does pay somewhat to be single during New Year’s or you can look at this from the perspective that this is another sacred thing that marriage has ruined.

6. Don’t keep your hand out when expecting a red envelope unless you are expecting a backhand (just kidding, not really).

7. Pour and serve tea to parents and grandparents and always pass tea cups with two hands. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesday Test Kitchen

Yeah, its been a while.  Personally, I’d love to get more stuff up quickly, but the last few months have just been go go go.  Where does the time go?  Hopefully sooner or later, certain things come to fruition and I can start freely updating the blog with a little more frequency and regularity.  I think I still have yet to finish my NY trip recap.  Doh.

These were a few dishes I had been messing around with for the last couple of weeks.  They’re not particularly special in much of any way, but rather more of just a byproduct of the stuff I’ve been able to get my hands on. 


Seared Short Rib w/ Bitter Melon and Black Bean Sabayon  

IMG_3966  IMG_3974

IMG_3972 IMG_3975

Basically, it’s a semi-Chinese classic reinterpretation.  Black bean sabayon is crack good though.  Didn’t bother to do much with plating, it was more family style kind of dinner and I was probably a little lazy.



Roasted Trout on Bed of Salsify Garlic “Noodles” w/ Meyer Lemon 

IMG_3980 IMG_3981

IMG_3984   IMG_3995 

Fried Trout with Savoy Cabbage Salad, Cayenne Mint Nuoc Cham

IMG_3985 IMG_3987

 IMG_3990 IMG_3994

I ended up with two 1.5 lb trout from my buddy Ben who happened to be fishing over the weekend and decided to make a nice little trout dinner.  Happened to have some meyer lemons from Hamada and some tender baby savoy cabbage from Dirty Girl. 



Itty Bitty Piggy Buttermilk Biscuits. 

IMG_4007  IMG_4010

I made a couple of duck ones too.  Hmm… piggy.



Dungeness Crab Tomalley & Roe Custard Cake with Ikura and Aged Shoyu

IMG_4012 IMG_4015

I made the custard cake after I hosted a crab dinner with some friends.  They were wondering what we should do with all the gooey stuff that was coming out of the middle shell, so I naturally showed them that eggs + gooey crab guts/roe = tasty.  I bought an entire sack of ikura which was a pain in the ass to clean, but 1/2 the price per pound and I could control how much brine it was going to get.  Sometimes they overwhelm it with salt when you buy it cleaned/brined. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Beating A Dead Horse


I truly understand, respect and acknowledge the importance of the critic and their ability to elucidate some of the more nuanced and overlooked details of the dinner experience, but I’ve also realized that there are a few topics that I just generally have no interest in hearing about any longer.  At some point, certain topics can be left to be addressed by the diner and does not warrant a discussion so frequently.  There are also a few topics that every critic seems to pick at despite how it sensibly has no technical use or application for their actual job.  The writing is fantastic and eloquently argued at times, but increasingly, the topics are becoming masturbatory.  Here are a couple of list of things that I would like to see the critics and writers to start to move on from…

The “Let It Die” topics of yesteryear:

-Restaurant noise

-Charging for bread and water



-Top Chef

-Bacon (soon to be the “Tuna Tartare” of this decade)

-Bourdain comments on Alice Waters and Food Network (it was fun… a year ago)

-NY vs. SF


The “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” self-serving topics of restaurant critics:

-The importance/relevance of critics

-The unimportance/importance of bloggers or blogging

-Being a critic today versus critics of the past

-Creating new diner etiquette based on personal opinion/value/digression

-Defending ratings systems