Spicy Cold Noodles with Beef Slivers for Kitchen Chinese

We, at Cook the Books Club, are currently reading and getting inspired by Kitchen Chinese, a delicious, little debut novel by Ann Mah. Fairly light weight, but I very much enjoyed it, both for the storyline and an up close look at a country headlining the news lately, mostly in a negative way.

 Our protagonist, Isabelle, has come to a standstill in her life, with loss of job, no romance in sight and craving some new horizons.  She decides to explore the family connections in China, where her sister is working as an attorney in Beijing. One drawback being that her knowledge of the language is limited to a bit of "kitchen Chinese" picked up watching and helping her mother cook while growing up.

However, once there, Isabelle manages to land a job at a magazine for the expatriate community in Beijing and connect with a small circle of friends. The relationship with her high powered sister is not so smooth, and they circle one another warily at first.

From the Publishers: "Kitchen Chinese, Ann Mah’s funny and poignant first novel about a young Chinese-American woman who travels to Beijing to discover food, family, and herself is a delight—complete with mouth-watering descriptions of Asian culinary delicacies, from Peking duck and Mongolian hot pot to the colorful, lesser known Ants in a Tree that will delight foodies everywhere. Reminiscent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s runaway bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, Mah’s tale of clashing cultures, rival siblings, and fine dining is an unforgettable, unexpectedly sensual reading experience—the story of one woman’s search for identity and purpose in an exotic and faraway land."

I was inspired to make a cool summer dish, given the hot weather we've been experiencing.  And while a Mongolian hot pot sounds delicious and  is something I do want to make, along with Peking duck one day, not at the moment.  So, I thumbed through my cookbook, Land of Plenty, by Fuchsia Dunlop for a dish that wouldn't turn the kitchen into an oven.. What immediately hit me was this title "Spicy Cold Noodles with Chicken Slivers."  Not having the small bit of cooked chicken it called for, but instead a nice piece of tenderloin steak, the substitutions began.  No green scallions, or bean sprouts, okay, we do have fresh fiddle head ferns, and some Brazilian spinach to stir in there.  Added to which I thought a bit of chopped red bell pepper would be nice for both color,  taste, and because I like more vegetables.  With a garnish of garlic chives.  And there you have it, my version of Ji Si Liang Mian. Perfect.  You see that little dab of hot sauce?  It's all I'm brave enough to try of the Hawaiian Chili Pepper Sauce I just made.Yowza!  Salt brine fermented, it's the bomb!

Spicy Cold Noodles with Beef Slivers
Adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop

After all, it should really be about the taste, helped along by eye appeal. I'm sure your average Chinese country woman or man would use what was fresh and available, in the spirit of the dish. For note on the black vinegar, sauce ingredient, see the comments below.

She notes that this serves 4 as a snack, 2-3 as a main lunch dish.  Sorry dear, this is going to be dinner.  For 2.  We've been eating pretty light these days.  We both scarfed this down, so good, and I'll be making it again, with variations given what's on hand.

To be shared over at Cook the Books for my contribution this round.  You do have time to join in, as the deadline is July 31st.  Also I'll link up with Marge the Intrepid for our Weekend Cooking event, and with Heather for her July edition of the Foodies Read Challenge.  I hope you'll visit everyone for some great food and reading ideas.


A New Sort of Monkey Bread

I'm going to share a recent read, The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, and a recent food creation, with a very loose          connection. Well, maybe connections would be that the ingredients in the Monkey Bread were all essential, and that both the book and the recipe were delicious. I loved them both.  And, I just noticed that this is actually book 1 of a series, so looking forward to reading her next, The Lost art of Mixing.

The novel is about a basically self taught chef and restaurant owner who opens up her premises once a month, on Mondays, the day the restaurant is closed, to a small group cooking school.  Of course, all of the students, in the manner of a Maeve Binchy story, are revealed in their unique characters and situations, and come together, helped by the learning experience and the creating of good food.

From the Publisher's Weekly:

"In this remarkable debut, Bauermeister creates a captivating world where the pleasures and particulars of sophisticated food come to mean much more than simple epicurean indulgence. Respected chef and restaurateur Lillian has spent much of her 30-something years in the kitchen, looking for meaning and satisfaction in evocative, delicious combinations of ingredients. Endeavoring to instill that love and know-how in others, Lillian holds a season of Monday evening cooking classes in her restaurant. The novel takes up the story of each of her students, navigating readers through the personal dramas, memories and musings stirred up as the characters handle, slice, chop, blend, smell and taste. Each student's affecting story--painful transitions, difficult choices--is rendered in vivid prose and woven together with confidence. Delivering memorable story lines and characters while seducing the senses, Bauermeister's tale of food and hope is certain to satisfy. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"


A Blue Zones Kitchen in June

I was happy to finally arrive at the top of our library's list for The Blue Zones Kitchen, by Dan Buettner, having been curious as to what that sort of cooking would involve.  The recipes presented, from each zone are all very simple and easily prepared.  No fancy cooking involved here.  A back to the elemental basics, plain food.  So far, I've made three of the recipes, was quite happy with them all, and am looking forward to trying a few more before the book goes back.  A summary from the Publishers:

"Building on decades of research, longevity expert Dan Buettner has gathered 100 recipes inspired by the Blue Zones, home to the healthiest and happiest communities in the world. Each dish-- uses ingredients and cooking methods proven to increase longevity, wellness, and mental health. Complemented by mouthwatering photography, the recipes also include lifestyle tips (including the best times to eat dinner and proper portion sizes), all gleaned from countries as far away as Japan and as near as Blue Zones project cities in Texas and Hawaii.. Innovative, easy to follow, and delicious, these healthy living recipes make the Blue Zones lifestyle even more attainable, thereby improving your health, extending your life, and filling your kitchen with happiness."

The recipes are divided between the five featured zones of Sardinia, Okinawa, Nicoya, Ikaria and Loma Linda.  As well, a new discovery for me - that "The Blue Zones Project was also launched in Hawaii in 2014...works in eight communities across three islands--Hawaii Island, Maui and Oahu." Further, that "Hawaii Island is the first county in the country to receive a Blue Zones designation." He added that, "Hawaii is currently ranked first in well-being and happiness compared with other states in the nation."  Maybe partly explains why we love it here.  Buettner also included one recipe for our island, Breadfruit (ulu) Poke, which I had tried previously at a Blue Zones restaurant here.

Another first for me was the idea that cooked greens are healthier than raw.  See, all along Bob has been on to something, not particularly liking salads. Ha.  Anyway I'm really loving the mixed, sauteed greens and herbs substitution.  As Buettner says, "Consuming cooked greens is one of the greatest predictors of longevity; we surveyed 670 people over the age of 60 and found that those most likely to survive the next 10 years were eating at least a quarter of a cup everyday.  Cooking greens, incidentally, breaks down cell walls in the plants to release nutrients."  

I did  the Sardinian recipe for Quick Greens and onions, adding as you'll observe above, garlic to the mix.  I've always enjoyed a mess of greens as a side, though usually one kind, sauteed, such as chard.  But what a super idea, going about the garden with a basket, foraging for various greens and any herbs that might be a good flavor addition.  Above you can see some Brazilian spinach, Okinawan spinach, (purple leaves) collard greens, fiddlehead fern and Vietnamese cilantro. Delicious! I was going to include dandelion greens, but forgot.  Next time.

Another dish we tried were the "Yuca Cakes", which I'm calling Pia Patties since pia is the Hawaiian name for that plant, sometimes called cassava, manioc, tapioca, etc.of many incarnations around the world.You basically boil the peeled, cut up tubers for 30 minutes or so (sweet potatoes can be substituted), til soft.  Then mash and add chopped mini sweet red peppers, culantro, salt and make into patties.  Fry til crispy, or you can bake at 350F for 15 min.

I paired them with sauteed sausages and onions, and a side of the mixed greens.  The sausage dish was not in the book, as he only included vegetarian recipes.

Later in the month I made the Greek, Ikarian version of Ratatouille, called Springtime Soufiko in the book. Very similar to my usual recipe, excepting only that they included butternut squash and green onions, rather than regular onion.  I love how the flavors of the vegetables meld together, enhanced with garlic, olive oil, and a bit of red wine.   Grated Parmesan cheese can be served on the side.  I had mine with polenta.  The left-overs, alongside fresh baked sourdough bread, as suggested in the book, were especially good.  We had some vegan friends over, and as a last breath to June, I made Coconut Banana Ice Cream.  Not in the book, but quite Blue Zone, and very nice indeed.

This post will be served up at Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marg the Intrepid, with the July edition of the Foodies Read Challenge, hosted by Heather, and with Sherry who hosts IMK (In My Kitchen).


Fat Cakes for Precious and Grace

 I have posted twice on the books of Alexander McCall Smith, both times from his 44 Scotland St. series, here: The Bertie Project, and here: A Time of Love and Tartan.  However, McCall Smith is really best known for his wonderful African, Botswana set series, featuring The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, headed up by Precious Ramotswe.  In them we clearly see his deep and abiding love for the country where he spent so much of his life.

This novel, and my most recent read in the series, Precious and Grace, has inspired a long overdue review.  Smith is a writer, unafraid to take his time, sometimes meandering, with deep thoughts and insightful meditations on the times, the people and morality, serious, yet with humor throughout.  His main character, especially true in this book, is often way more patient and understanding than I would be in a given situation.  A very good prod for my soul.  And his novel is particularly apt in our current National crisis - on forgiveness - so needed for healing.  Coincidentally, it was our Pastor's sermon topic last Sunday.  From the Publishers:
"Forgiveness is often the solution," observes Precious Ramotswe toward the end of Smith's warmhearted, humane 17th No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novel. Mma Ramotswe is referring to the book's main case, which involves a Canadian woman in her late 30s, Susan, who spent her childhood years in Botswana and now wants to find Rosie, the nursemaid largely responsible for raising her. Mma Ramotswe places an ad in a Gaborone newspaper, which brings a woman who claims to be Rosie to the detective agency. Grace Makutsi, the agency's prickly co-director, suspects this Rosie is a fraud, while Mma Ramotswe senses something not quite right about Susan's quest. Meanwhile, the ladies deal with a couple of minor cases: their assistant Fanwell rescues a stray dog that needs a home, and Mr. Polepetsi, their sometime helper, becomes an unwitting pawn in a pyramid scheme involving cattle. As ever, Smith adroitly mixes gentle humor with important life lessons."


May Highlights In My Kitchen

 I left you with the brining  ham last time, so here it is cooked up

The highlights of May. My version of In My Kitchen! Sprinkled through the various meals I fixed are a few books, and I read some very good ones in May; several on my new Kindle and a couple from our newly re-opened public library.  Actually the ones I got through Kindle were via the public library Overdrive program. We now book an appointment at the library, then go to the front doors, wearing a mask, to collect our books.:)  These last two months have been just hilarious. Ha ha.

 A Roots Soup, which was absolutely delicious!

I read a couple of Martha Grimes' novels, her books are always enjoyable, several by C.S. Harris with her Sebastian St. Cyr, English Regency period mysteries, and a new favorite author, Donna Andrews, who has an iron-mongering artist sleuth, with a totally hysterical family, whose Crouching Buzzard Leaping Loon was my most recently read. I heartily recommend these for any of you who want less angst and dread in your lives, to be replaced by humor. 


Hippie Food and Me

Our current selection from Cook the Books Club, is being hosted by fellow Hawaiian, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen. Much of this well researched tome, Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman, echos my own history.  I lived this darn book, some of it anyway.  Caught up in the world directly around us as we were, much of what Kauffman recorded was part of the "Mainland" story or only hearsay.  We were hippies, Bob and I, of a sort, back-to-the-landers (if you can go back to where you never were in the first place) in rural Hawaii.  Building a basic, simple home, planting trees, a garden and etc. However, we were under no illusions about supporting ourselves solely by farming, and had no inclination to live off the State.  So, day jobs. Me with commercial art and raising our daughter.  Bob in Real Estate.  Also, coming to know Jesus was a large factor in our staying together and staying sane through it all.  Plus, setting aside some unhealthy drugs was a big help with that too.

As far as food goes, Kauffman focuses mainly on the vegetarian aspect of "hippie food", which I don't think really merited all that emphasis.  We had a very short period of interest in vegetarianism while backpacking in Southeast Asia, China and Japan, before acquiring our parcel of land in Hawaii.  So would agree with what he said (page 198) about the counterculture taking up "the idea of eating as a political act and converted millions of people to vegetarianism, at least for a year or two."  But, helping at our food c-op, making home cooked meals, granola, and bread, cutting out processed foods, and trying to stay with organically raised produce, was definitely a priority for us then and remains so. I have researched the subject, and would encourage everyone to do that.  Find out for yourself why eating organically raised, less processed food is so important.


Making Chocolate From Beans to Bars

Continuing on with the goal of making more from and using what we have!  I made a large batch of chocolate from our cacao this past week.  Of course, if you start the timing from picking the fruit, and cutting open, then letting it ferment a week in a big pot, next drying on trays for about a week, then roasting, husking and grinding, the time can be spread out quite a bit. For more in depth instructions, see the Chocolate Alchemist's video series.

I usually let the beans sit in containers after the initial drying stage.  They keep quite well and we can let them accumulate until there's enough to make a chocolate production worthwhile, instead of (as per usual) just using the ground, roasted nibs for my cocoa drink in the morning.  As you might notice, our cacao tree, below, has no fruit at the moment.  Though we have a few other trees, they're not yet producing.  More on the process here, from an earlier post.


Tapioca - Not Pudding, but Fritters and Pizza!

Going along with the concept of less shopping and more eating what we have, I've recently been posting on and using various staples from our tropical garden, a living, growing pantry.  Thus we showcase Tapioca here, AKA manioc, yucca, cassava, pia, (Hawaiian) or ubi kayu (Malay).  So many names for this very useful plant because it's in use all over the world.  Well, the warmer, zones at any rate. It's a pretty garden plant, and when you think it might be ready, dig it up and use the root.


Hola! Heart of A Peach Palm

Sometimes when looking up recipe ideas, and following various trails on the internet, I lose track of what got the process started.  I believe in this case it was a mention of Costa Rican Ceviche Salad, utilizing heart of palm. But the most important thing mentioned on that recipe site (for me anyway) was that Peach Palms are clonal - i.e. clumping.  At that point a little light bulb flashed in my brain. I jumped up from the computer and ran downstairs, out to the garden, to inspect my Peach Palm. It had been planted a number of years ago with the idea of providing us heart of palm, as an alternative to cutting down a coconut palm for its heart, which is the growing tip at the very top of a palm, inside the bark.  Not that I would.  When one of my brothers was a tree trimmer, in his youth, he brought us some.  However, in the years following, always in the back of my mind, I had the idea that cutting the peach palm down for a salad would be wasteful, and then there would be no more. So it remained untouched.

But, clonal means that the palm should be making little ones, known here in Hawaii as keikis.  Sure enough, that tall palm had a friend, right in back of it, which I hadn't noticed - so there were two tall ones.  And, at the base were new sprouts coming up, next to where a load of mulch had just been dumped. Oh boy, one of my happy dances ensued!  Right before chopping down a palm (yes, with some delegating). Now we can look at the palms as a sort of pantry, in which are now included various coconut palms here and there, which have sprouted from dropped coconuts, and were about to be uprooted and tossed.  Oh no!