Chinese Street Food, a cookbook review

I grew up on simple, home-cooked Cantonese food.  I remember a lot of soups, stir-fried gai lan, fried rice, stir-fried noodles, stir-fried bok choy, etc.  If my mom was feeling particularly ambitious, she’d make squid or fried fish.  But there were somethings that my mom would never make like joong (aka zongzi) because “it’s too much of a pain in the butt.”  (Totally her words, not mine.)

In short, there’s a lot of Chinese food that I missed out on.  And now that we’re all older, my mom is honestly kind of tired of cooking the same recipes over and over again.  (But not so much that she’ll acquiesce to my requests to make joong together.  lol!)

I’ve been looking for some fun cooking projects that she might like and I think I might have finally hit the jackpot.  “Chinese Street Food”, by Howie Southworth and Greg Matza, is a collection of recipes that try to capture popular street food across China, food that is the equivalent of Western casual take-out.

The book is divided into these chapters:

  • What’s in a Name?
  • Good Morning, China
  • Muslim Street
  • When Ma met La
  • You’ll Love This, We Promise
  • Simple Poetry
  • What Came With the Camels
  • Chinese Hospitality
  • Now That’s One Express Panda
  • Sweet Street

Personally, I’m not in love with these titles.  For the most part, I can’t remember what recipes are in most of the chapters.  But I’ll forgive it because I want to try all the recipes anyway.

The recipes probably most recognizable are mantou (steamed bread), biangbiang mian (table slap noodles), jianbing (pancake wraps), youtiao (fried dough stick), and (cong youbing (scallion pancakes).

But there are a lot of recipes that I completely don’t recognize and my mother doesn’t either.  The book is in English, but the recipes also come with titles in Chinese characters.  I’m not sure if they’re traditional or simplified characters, but I think they look more like traditional characters to me.  It’s enough Chinese that it sparked joy and interest in my mom.  I didn’t get a chance to ask her which ones she most interested in, but I really, REALLY want to make la niurou (cured beef), which starts off the Muslim Street chapter.  It’s basically corned beef but with Chinese seasonings.  As someone who was raised in Greater Boston and loves a good New England boiled dinner, this is a must!  (Fact!  I make corned beef every year.)

In fact, I was planning on making la niurou for this review, but I had trouble getting my hands on beef brisket in a short amount of time.  (But since the Jewish High Holy Days are around the corner, I’m hoping I’ll have an easier time of picking up some brisket this weekend or something.)

(Too bad though, I bet it would have tasted fantastic with the vegan ramen leftovers.  *blinks innocently*)

Anyway, some of the recipes that I want to make at some point are:

  • Steamed brown sugar-filled triangle buns
  • Baked sandwich buns
  • Sesame Millet Porridge
  • Red bean filled zongzi
  • Stewed pork sandwiches

While I did not make the cured beef, I did try out one of the simpler recipes in the book.  It was for peanut butter pancakes from the sweets chapter.   The ingredients were straight-forward: all purpose flour, yeast, milk, sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs, oil, peanut butter, and soy sauce.  I really liked this recipe!  I’m not a huge “condiment” person so I only made a half-batch of the peanut filling which kind of reminded me of salted caramel.  I’m also not a sweet and salty person because I’m weird like that.  So when I make this again (and I *will*), I’ll probably just fill the pancakes with peanut butter or almond butter.

The pancakes themselves were easy to make.  They do require a little bit of planning because they are yeasted pancakes and need 90 minutes before cooking to bubble and rise.  But that yeast gave it a spongy texture that I really liked.  The yeast also adds a bit to the flavor.

The only thing about the recipe that I didn’t like was I wasn’t sure how big these pancakes were supposed to be.  I only knew that the recipe served 4-6, and I was supposed to use a small skillet with a lid.  (Yes, a lid.  These pancakes are not supposed to be flipped over.  You use the lid to trap steam and help cook up the top.  That was something that took me a bit to realize.)  In the end, I used two small ladles worth (as in salad dressing ladle) and made about 8 pancakes.

My overall impression of the book?  I love it.  And once you have what I consider to be the pantry ingredients, you are pretty much set to make a lot of the recipes.  There’s a lot of repeat use of dark soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, sesame paste (or tahini), soy sauce, star anise, etc.  The recipes also don’t look too intimidating.

I think the next recipe I make, I’ll let my mom pick it.  (Well, if I don’t make the la niurou first.)

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of Chinese food, or someone who is looking for a fun new cooking project.

 

Disclaimer – I received this book from Skyhorse Publishing for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Tea at the Langham Hotel, in pictures

1.  The Langham has a pink, old-fashioned looking taxi cab.

2. Their tea is more affordable than some other places around Boston, but still delicious.

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.32.52 PM

The house blends

The house blends

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.32.27 PM

Chicken salad was yummy but awkward to eat – I recommend doing it in one-shot which is not lady-like at all. Egg salad sandwiches were wonderfully life-changing, or something like that.

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.32.15 PM

delicious desserts with edible gold and silver foil

pink taxi!

pink taxi!

Missing from the pictures were are scones.  They may have been plain scones, but the raspberry jam, lemon curd, and clotted cream were awesome.  Clotted cream is like butter, except better.

In sum?  I loved it.  (^_^)

Staycation, day 4 (Mei Mei Street Kitchen)

We found it this time!  Mei Mei Street Kitchen is now under our food truck belts.

The menu offering is on the small side, compared to yesterday’s trip to Momogoose.  After much discussion, this is what we ordered:

Image

I got the barley salad with honey miso vinaigrette, scallions, cranberries, and peanut brittle.  (Mei Mei was able to accomodate my request for no cilantro.)

Continue reading

Staycation, day 2 (Fugu food truck)

Today, my lunch destination was the Fugu food truck.

I’ve been wanting to eat here ever since I saw their website… I might have to admit a serious interest in anything-steamed-buns.  (^_^)

Also?  I work in a location and live in a location that doesn’t have food trucks at all.  So, I feel very inclined to explore the food truck culture in Boston while I have the opportunity, especially on a gorgeous summer day like today.  (The cold air from yesterday?  Completely gone!)

First reaction?

DSC01007-1

Fugu’s steamed buns were not what I was expecting.  The buns themselves were good (but then again, I suspect most places don’t make their own buns and source them from elsewhere).  The filling was not at all what I imagined.  Pork belly is often braised, and  theirs were very soft… but I think I wanted something like a quick sear on the pork.  A bit of crunch would have given it a nice contrast in texture with the fat.  The part that I was really nitpicking over the most was the sauce.  I don’t know why, but it tasted like it came out of a jar to me.  It’s probably just a personal taste preference thing… that or my taste buds are seriously spoiled by the steamed buns at Basho (which are pretty stellar, by the way).

No worries, though. Continue reading

Zukay Kvass

Disclaimer:  I’m not getting paid for this review in any way.  I won some in a giveaway and I thought it would be fun to take photos.  And then I thought that if I were going to go through the trouble of taking pictures, then I might as well review.
DSC00846
I don’t know how to write reviews for a product that I both love and hate.  This is probably not the way to start a post, but there you go.  I am not the world’s greatest writer.

What do I like about Zukay kvass?  I like that it comes in different flavors.  I like that it’s a fermented drink.  I like fermented things!… even though I’m generally too lazy to ferment anything on a regular basis that’s not kimchi or bread.  Probiotics are good for you.  Natural, organic foods are good for you.  There is nothing to dislike about these drinks!  I even like the official website (I’m a nerd that way).

The one and only one thing that is keeping me from diving off the deep end into full-fangirl mode is that Zukay kvass are gently sweetened with stevia.  Even though it’s raw and unprocessed stevia, it still has that fake-sugar sweetness that is not my thing.  I’m not suggesting that I’m a sugar fiend.  I just have trouble with the flavor of many sugar substitutes.

I wish there were a choice of different sweeteners in the products, but that’s my only gripe.  I highly recommend Zukay kvass to anyone who is not bothered by stevia.  If you don’t like stevia, I recommend giving them a try with reservations.  I ended up drinking the kvass is intervals, instead of in one sitting.  It was a nice alternative to have on hand, but I’m sad to say that I don’t picture myself buying them regularly in the future.

Your mileage may vary.

 

Reference link:http://zukay.com/

Finally, my graze box arrived!

Disclaimer:  I’m not getting anything for this post.  I bought this for myself.

First things first, I had never heard of Graze until a friend of mine sent me an invite code.  (Yes, an invite code is currently required.)  Originally from the UK, Graze is a healthy snacking company.  You get a small box filled with four different goodies.  It’s a subscription service in that way, like Blue Apron.  If you don’t want any boxes, then you have to cancel or hold your shipments.  A nice feature is that you can change the frequency of deliveries.  It’s $5 per box and that’s with USPS shipping included.

The one gripe I have?  USPS can be really slow.  The company FAQs state that it can take up to 10 business days to receive a box, and they weren’t kidding.  I got my first box in exactly ten business days… which felt even longer than normal because February 18th was a national holiday.  So it was shipped on February 15th but I didn’t receive it until the 28th.

DSC00840
This box is the size a thick graphic novel.  Or, you can say that it’s pretty small since it’s designed to fit in your mailbox with your normal mail.  It’s 9 1/2 inches by 6 1/2 inches by 1 inch.  I took a picture of my box opened with a fork inside it just so that it gives a better visual impression of size.

DSC00845

Short reaction?  I kind of love it.  The snacks are small portions, but they are pretty tasty.   I’ve eaten the el picante, the summer berry compote with shortbread, and the hot cross yum.  The summer berry compote with shortbread felt like it was too small of a portion, but those were some buttery shortbreads!  So, I’m not surprised it’s on the smaller side of things to save calories.  (Note to self – must try all the flavors!)

My box also came with a little card of nutrition facts, which also contains allergy warnings, and “best by” dates.

I’m going to continue with my nibble box for a little bit.  It’s not the cheaper option (you’re better off price-wise buying trail mix from Trader Joe’s, yadda yadda yadda, or making your own), but I’m kind of tired of the snacks that I tend to have on hand.  I’m looking forward to the change of pace.

Here’s a link to the site, and if you want an invite code, drop me a comment.  I only get four invite codes at a time, just to forewarn you.   (Invite codes are also packaged into the box.)  (All gone.  I hope that everyone who got my email gets to enroll.  Graze was giving me conflicting information about the number of invites I had.)

https://www.graze.com/us/

Cha-an, Manhattan, a review

I was in Manhattan recently to visit a couple of friends. Originally, we were going to check out Ippudo, a popular ramen restaurant, but we didn’t feel like waiting the 30 minutes to get seated. So, our second choice was a Japanese tea house called Cha-an, located in the East Village.

DSC00816

It turned out to be the best decision ever. The friend who is an East Village resident had been there before, but I had not (which amazed both of us considering my great respect for Japanese art, culture, and food).

Continue reading

Blue Apron, part 3 of 3

Reminder – I’m not getting compensated for this post in any manner.  I shelled out the money from my own pocket just to try out the Blue Apron service for fun.

My last Blue Apron meal was Moroccan Beef Tagine with Dates and Honey.

 

Image

I think, of the three meals, this was my least favorite.  But I’m not trying to say that it tasted bad or anything like that.  If anything, I feel like it could have been better.  It might have been the cooking process.  It’s still a good dish, but the ground beef was really fatty and the fat dulled the flavors some.  On the other hand, the couscous absorbed most of the fat so at least I wasn’t left with a greasy feeling.  Too bad I’m not much of a couscous fan.  (But Israeli couscous is pretty yum.)  If I were to make this dish again, I would cook the ground beef first, then set it aside and tip out the extra fat.  The original instructions also say to add the vegetable stock and 1 cup of water but I made the executive decision to leave out the 1c of water.  It would have made it way too watery, and probably would have only diluted the flavor some more.  (Although, I probably would need the extra moisture if the extra fat were removed.)

It was a sweeter recipe than I expected it to be.  With the prunes and dates, I’m not really sure the honey was needed but I guess that’s more of a preference.  I tend to think tagines should be highly spiced in flavor.  I took a little longer cooking this dish because I wanted my carrots to be soft-ish.

Image

Anyway, my overall impression of Blue Apron is quite favorable.

Pros:  It’s a great way to experiment with cooking different dishes.  You can select a “meat/seafood” account or a “vegetarian” account.  Every dish is pre-measured to be two servings.  It’s not cheap, but it’s the cheapest food delivery service I’ve seen so far at $9.99 per serving.  Every week, there are three different dishes to make.  The recipe card is very easy to read and easy to follow along.  The packaging tries to be environmentally friendly.  The insulation in the box are ThermoKeeper liners which are biodegradable.  The ice packs are Nordic Ice packs, which are reusable and also biodegradable.  Plus, Blue Apron tried it’s best to give you quality products that are locally sourced.  (Well, locally sourced to them.  I don’t live in NYC.)

Cons:  If you don’t live in Manhattan, then your box is shipped to you via FedEx.  You are at the mercy of FedEx.  As sad cat macro from an earlier post indicates, I was not having fun with this.  Unfortunately, Blue Apron doesn’t automatically notify you of your FedEx tracking number.  Fortunately, Blue Apron does respond to their emails and we were able to track my shipment pretty easily.  The only other thing that I don’t like about Blue Apron is that, technically, it’s a subscription service.  It will automatically charge and ship me boxes if I don’t opt out of that week.  You can cancel your account at any time, but, as a general rule, I don’t think you should have to opt out.  I think it’s a better practice to have customers to opt in.  And for picky eaters (which is me sometimes), Blue Apron notifies you a week ahead what the next menu is.  So, if you don’t like it, you have some wiggle room to opt out (or opt back in if you do like it and you had already scheduled to skip a delivery).

So, I’m going to keep my account for now.  It’s not something I’m going to do every week, but maybe once a month?  We’ll see.  I’m also wondering if I should change my delivery date from Wednesday to Friday, but I’m not sure if that’s any better for my schedule if there’s a late delivery again.

 

Reference Links:

http://www.blueapron.com/
http://www.blueapron.com/recipes/moroccan-beef-tagine-with-dates-and-honey
http://www.thermopod.net/thermokeeper.php
http://temperatsure.com/nordicice.php