Phil's Cookbook Reads of 2021

phatch

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Today's entry is Gok Cooks Chinese by Gok Wan.

I thought this was a pretty good Chinese cookbook. It has a distinctly modern slant drifting into fusion. So instead of salt and pepper pork, you get salt and pepper pork chops. And while I know the Chinese do use fish sauce, I've never seen it show up so often, even in the mapo tofu and also some ostensibly vegetarian dishes as well.

The Garlic Chicken and Sichuan Chicken both struck me as simple and worthwhile approaches to those flavors.

There are odd things like 4 chicken breasts that manage to only weigh 500 grams total for Dad's Drunken Chicken. His hot and sour soup is unlike most anything else of that name. Happiness in a Bowl is just shrimp wonton soup but that naming needlessly complicates finding what is otherwise a common recipe. And bonus points for making shrimp shell stock for that soup.

Organizational choices mean all categories of cooking are scattered throughout the book. I did enjoy the one-pot chapter as that's a different but useful way for a westerner to think about a Chinese meal for simple cooking.

There are some occurrences of sexual language and ethnic perjoratives that strike me wrongly for a cookbook. Perhaps that's part of his public UK persona but it was in poor form I thought.
 

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I forgot to mention two other recipes i wanted to call out, both steamed eggs. He does a regular version of steamed eggs with shrimp. It's good to see this dish cropping up more frequently.

The other was eggs cracked into a bowl, not mixed or whisked, topped with meatballs and steamed. This was a new variation for me and I look forward to trying it.
 
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Been out sick. Covid test was negative. Hope to get back to my reading again soon. Still caught workingin my backlog of life that builds up while sick.

Xi'an Famous Foods is almost done. It was on many best of 2020 cookbook lists last year.
 

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Xi'an Famous Foods by Jason Wang (and others).

The food of Xi'an has become more mainstream in the last 5 or so years. Probably more than that, but I live in a culinary backwater. Sure, we have a disproportionate representation of cuisines for our size -- I credit the Mormon Missionary program for people bringing back a love of a foreign cuisine and some related immigration as well. But hand pulled noodles have penetrated America's Test Kitchen so it must be more mainstream.

The organization of the content is fairly biographical. They start in Xi-an, move to America, move around a bit while Dad works the Chinese restaurant circuit. You can read about this circuit in Jennifer 8 Lee's Fortune Cookie Chronicles. They start a food cart, They grow. The author returns to Xi-an and realizes they're cooking a snapshot in time as Xi'an cuisine has evolved as Xi'an has grown and become important.

In the middle, he gives recipes and directions for a number of popular dishes they serve at the restaurant. A lot of this relies on some seasonings they make in bulk and dole out in various amounts to other recipes. Chili oil, XFF Noodle Sauce, XFF Liang Pi Sauce, XFF Dumpling Sauce. These mostly riff on black vinegar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, star anise, bay leaves, sugar and so on in different proportion to each other. This makes a lot of sense for restaurant production. It makes a lot less sense for a home cook making a single recipe here or there.

As to Liang Pi, knowing how to make my own gluten is interesting. You do use the starch water leftover from making the gluten for making the noodles. And I've watched Souped Up Recipes do it on Youtube a few years back. But I can buy gluten/seitan. I can buy wheat starch, how about some simplification here? https://misschinesefood.com/the-wheat-starch-cold-noodle/ for example. But as I've not eaten Liang Pi from scratch, maybe the difference is worth the extra work. I respect preserving the traditional knowledge. But some modernization options would have been appreciated by me at least.

When Jason returns to Xi'an, the cooking simplifies to more approachable home cooking levels and the is the part of the book that most interested me. Soup, hash, a sort of spaetzle noodle I'd never seen in Chinese cooking before. This Liang Pi skips washing out the gluten and just steams the batter directly and is dressed in sesame sauce. I'm not chasing down lamb heads or spines...

I do think this is an important cookbook. Both for capturing that snapshot of what Xi'an cuisine was and the core techniques, but also for recognizing that things change. Both are good. There's not a lot here that I've seen in elsewhere in print. What I've seen of this regional cuisine is mostly Youtube cooks. I don't know for sure what to try out. It's all quite new and the flavors and unclear to me in many ways. I should Mix up some core sauces and try out some hand pulled noodles and cold skin noodles it seems.
 

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# 14: Chinatown Kitchen: From Noodles to Nuoc Cham - Delicious Dishes from Southeast Asian Ingredients by Lizzie Mabbott.

The subtitle has more to do with this cookbook than the main title. Except that you go shopping in Chinatown to find the ingredients. This is a pan-Asian cookbook with a bit more focus on the spicy cuisines of Southeast Asia. Japan and Korea do make appearances. Further, this is highly modernized and adapted, and in a number of cases diverging sharply from what you might expect of a dish of a particular name.

Lizzie grew up eating primarily Chinese food in Hong Kong but didn't learn to cook it in her youth. She self-educated herself on the topic later while living in England. Her book is organized by ingredient category, but this sometimes creates an odd mishmash of dishes in a particular chapter with savory and desserty sweet type items side by side. I can respect the organizational approach though as the cuisines of Asia tend to mix sweet and savory in ways uncommon in the West.

Lizzie likes her spicy hot dishes more than I do and this can manifest in weird ways. She offers a Red-Braised Ox Cheek for example. Red-cooking is usually about a master stock heavy with spices, soy, sugar, rice wine and dried tangerine, a sweet-savory simmering technique where you re-use the stock over and over and develop an ever richer base. She offers up a recipe based in doubanjiang and yellow bean baste, a bit of rice wine and minimal star anise. And I think it would taste pretty good but I don't see the red-cooking connection really. It would certainly kick with heat and fermented bean taste in a way unlike red-cooking.

Where she got her Bo Kho idea is completely lost on me. Kho usually indicates a Vietnamese savory caramel cooking base, or at least a good dose of sugar. Here it become a beef curry based in curry powder and no sugar to be seen. Again, it seems a perfectly fine dish, but it's not what the name would indicate.

The book strikes me as highly personalized and adapted rather than representative of any particular cuisine or experience. I'm likely the wrong audience for this book as I'm more interested in tradition and practice than she is. If you want something pan-asian with fusion-ist ideas and a modern approach to the tastes, this seems pretty reasonable.
 
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phatch

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Beans, Greens, & Sweet Georgia Peaches: The Souther Way of Cooking Fruits and Vegetables by Damon Lee Fowler.

Fowler is my preferred author for topics of Southern Cooking. Not that he has covered everything there is to cover or knows it all, but he digs pretty deeply into the past and has a good palate.

In this book he argues that produce is the backbone of southern cuisine rather than the meat the produce surrounds. And really any cuisine really. I was once taken to task for lamenting the sad sides at a particular barbecue restaurant. The people I was talking to said that you go to barbecue for the meat. In my mind, I went for the meal. Most meals are produce-centric for economics, optimal nutrition and yes, taste. Except for salt, our seasonings and aromatics are plants or parts of plants. Fowler doesn't have to convince me of the claim.

With produce as the topic, he logically organizes the book seasonally for when the food is in season. There are a few stretches to this concept. He gives some accompaniment such as corn bread and grits that aren't seasonal. And the South covers a broad geographic and climate range so there are things that struck me oddly because I sometimes don't think of Florida as the South, though it clearly is. That particular dish was Grapefruit and Avocado Salad. Something about that combination knocked me out of a Southern mindset entirely and that is my bias on display as they are grown in the south though not natively originally.

I was introduced to a broader range of cooking for many vegetables. The artichoke options included an interesting braise and an artichoke and oyster soup. That is not a combination I'd have come up with. I was surprised at the number of ways he offered for edible flowers. I wouldn't have thought that was particularly southern, but it seems to be practiced more than I knew.

A gumbo for Okra of course, but a few other stews and soups also. I struggled with its use in a salad. He points out you need young pods so that there is no goo/slime. I only ever see mature or frozen in my market so this option never occurred to me either.

Peanuts get some interesting entries, but again some require a fresh peanut I'll never see in my area. That's OK. It's good to know what's possible with optimal ingredients or what to look for if you're traveling in the right season.

I've made and enjoyed some fruit soups and salsa before. He calls out a particular Georgia Peach Soup in a more savory approach than I've ever seen before.

Georgia Peach Soup SERVES 8

Fruit soups are not intended to be sweet. They are served, not as a dessert, but as a first course in much the same way as a fruit salad. This particular one is popular in Georgia hotel dining rooms and in restaurants that cater to visitors. Though it is sometimes served warm, and I’ve given directions for serving it that way, it’s more usually served well chilled, and is best that way.

6 medium, ripe yellow peaches (about 2 pounds)

1 lemon, cut in half

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup chopped shallot or yellow onion

2 cups Chicken Broth (page 21) or 1 cup canned broth mixed with 1 cup water

2½ cups heavy cream (minimum 36 percent milk fat)

Nutmeg in a grater

1 tablespoon bourbon

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1. Put the peaches in a large heatproof bowl or a stockpot. Bring a large teakettle of water to a boil and pour it over the peaches. Let them stand in the hot water for 30 seconds and then drain. Rinse them with cold water, slip off the peelings, and then halve them and remove their pits. Cut into thin wedges and put them into a glass bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice over them, then toss to coat them well.

2. Put the butter and shallot or onion in a heavy-bottomed 3½- to 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Sauté, tossing often, until softened and transparent but not in the least colored, about 4 minutes. Add all but 1 cup of the peaches and stir until warmed through. Add the broth and let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the peaches are tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.

3. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, and return it to the pot. Cut the remaining peaches into small chunks and add them to the puree. The soup can be made several days in advance up to this point. Let it cool uncovered, and then cover and refrigerate it until needed.

4. To serve it cold, stir in 2 cups of the cream and season to taste with a few generous gratings of nutmeg. Stir until smooth. To serve it warm, gently reheat it over medium-low heat, stir in the cream, and just let the cream heat through. If it’s too thick once it warms (which may happen because of the acid reacting with the cream), thin it with a little milk. Just before serving, stir in the bourbon.

5. If serving it cold, whip the remaining ½ cup cream until it forms soft peaks and garnish each serving with a spoonful. If serving it warm, don’t bother to whip the cream, but simply drizzle a spoonful into each serving. Top with a sprinkling of mint and freshly grated nutmeg.
He retreads a few ideas he's used before. He recycles mayo-based potato salads in a baked casserole. And that's not a bad dish, just one he's talked about in other books.

I think this book will introduce new ideas and treatments to most cooks. I fully recommend his other books, particularly Classical Southern Cooking, Essentials of Southern Cooking and New Southern Baking. He also wrote the Ham book in the ever-increasing topical set of books in the Savor the South series.
 
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phatch

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Lao Style Recipes by Barbara Riddle.

This is a short book introducing you to Lao cuisine. It's the first Laotian cookbook I've read and I don't really have any other exposure to the cuisine so it's very difficult to judge how Lao it is. It seems to hit those flavor points bridging Vietnam and Thailand that I would expect, with some crossover sorts of dishes like Pad See Ew which I've seen in Thai books and restaurants. This book alleges it's a Chinese Fusion concept and it does show some Chow Fun with added vegies approach.

There are some ingredients that are poorly explained. A section on specialty ingredients is not in the book. Yanang extract for example, but you're using a 14 oz can of it?. At a later point the actual yanang leaves are used, or the canned extract can be substituted. So there is a bit of round about explanation. Ivy Gourd leaves are another I'd have like to have a substitute for.

Other times there are calls for what seem a likely ingredient, but then get a restriction. Coconut, semi-mature for example. I don't know how what that means for coconuts and it isn't explained. Or making two milk extractions from a coconut and using the resulting different milk in different ways. I have a guess as to how this is done, but I'd prefer instructions. And couldn't I use canned coconut milk or thin it with water?

At another point, you're de-shelling shrimp and instructed to reserve the tomalley. I don't' think I've ever seen shrimp described as having tomalley. I wouldn't know what to save.

The cuisine features a fair amount of pounded or ground aromatic pastes. So have a mortar and pestle ready if you want to cook and eat Laotian cuisine.

It does seem to have been written for cooks with a basis in Lao food which I am not. I thought this Chicken Salad dish looked simple and interesting for a first effort. I do have the ground toasted rice on hand already.

Minced Chicken Salad – Laab Kai​

This dish is tangy and fragrant, with little to no fat, so it’s perfect for summer dining. You can make it with chicken, as in this recipe, or with shrimp, duck, pork or beef.

Makes 4 Servings

Cooking + Prep Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:
• 4 boneless chicken thighs
• 1 bunch of cilantro
• 1 bunch of basil, Thai
• 4 scallions
• 1 small onion, red
• 2 lemon grass sticks
• 1 fresh lime, juice only
• 1/2 cup of broth, chicken
• 1 tbsp. of fish sauce
• 1 tsp. of sugar, granulated
• 1 tsp. of flour, toasted, rice
• Optional: 2 chili peppers, red, hot
• Kosher salt
• Ground pepper

Instructions:


1. Cook chicken in large covered pot of salted water at a boil on med. heat for 25-30 minutes.

2. Chop Thai basil, cilantro, scallions, chilies, red onion and lemon grass.

3. Firmly chop chicken.

4. Mix all and add chicken broth.

5. Add fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and ground rice flour. Combine well.
6. Serve warm with glutinous rice, cucumber slices and mint leaves, or as desired.
 
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That recipe sounds real close to Thai Larb/laap ;)
Actually sound like an interesting book to me, but then I like SE Asian food
 

phatch

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It was interesting. I just need more information to cook from parts of it.
 
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If you have somebtime, check out
Shesimmers.com and vietworldkitchen.com
Both sites that I really like. Unfortunatelly, shesimmers hasnt been posting new entries.
Lots of info on SE Asian cookinh in both :)
 

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Virtworldkitchen is one I've read before. She simmers is new to me.
 

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Tomorrow, I add two more books to my list.

Mister Jiu's in Chinatown


My Shanghai: Recipes and Stories from a city on the water

 

phatch

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My Shanghai is not available yet in ebook format.

Anyway, today is about Fried Rice: 50 ways to stir up the world's favorite grain by Diane Centoni.

She starts discussing cooking rice of various lengths with a few types of flavored rice she'll use later on in book, from plain rice to coconut rice, or dashi, or tomato or lemon rice. Also a few specialty ingredients and garnishes. Most of the rest of the book is organized in broad geographic swaths of Asia, America, Africa, and Europe. And a final mostly off topic chapter of sweets.

There is a pretty good version of cha shu fried rice and then she starts riffing across the region. The Pho fried rice and Banh mi fried rice were stand out ideas to me. But they begin to show her methodology for most of the rest of the book. That is the dishes start to become more like a " salad" based on a fried seasoned rice that is then layered with other ingredients prepared separately. To me, the idea of fried rice is much more like a US style hash.

I'd have liked a few more established forms of fried rice too. She offers a kimchi fried rice but only with bulgogi. Kimchi fried rice deserves more exploration than that including simpler versions and their meatier variations.

I also liked the Indian style fried rice she demonstrates. I'd have appreciated some notes on regional variations she alludes to but didn't explain. She takes mujadara from a casserole of rice and lentils into a fried rice variation. Ok, but this seems like extra work. Still I'm intrigued.

I found her Eastern European ideas more appealing than her other parts of Europe. I struggled particularly with some of the Italian. ideas. Carbonara fried rice seems to miss the synergy when reduced to bacon fried rice with cheese and fried eggs. While not a fried rice, I'd probably approach it more like a risotto shakshuka with the eggs maybe poached separately and slid into place. I thought the Arrancini was a bit of a cheat. Yes, it's rice and it's fried but it's not fried rice in the hash style.

Some of the American ideas settle back into a better groove. The Buffalo Chicken rice looks like a fun jumping off point. I'd probably change it to match my hot wings preferences. The cheeseburger one seems pretty good too.

Adding pineapple to Spam fried rice and calling it Hawaiian seems a bit weak considering the places Spam fried rice crops up such as in kimchi fried rice or in the philippines. But it is certainly done in Hawaii too, even without pineapple.

And the sweets chapter can just be ignored in my opinion.

There's a lot of inspiration to me in adapting rice hash to other cuisines. If that sounds interesting to you too, give this book a closer look.
 
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phatch....if you are interested in Macanese cooking you might like (The Adventures of) Fat Rice if you haven't read it. The style is quite fun and it covers quite a bit.
 

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Reading in Food of Singapore. Sweet black sauce is listed as a type of soy sauce in addition to the common light and dark types. I'm thinking they mean kecap manis or thick sweet soy as koon chun sauce factory would call it?

They don't really explain it.
 
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Yeah, I would say it is, or similar to, kecap manis (ketjap manis).
What recipe do they use it in? Can you give an example?

On a different note: did you read/ go through "phoenix claw and jade trees" and "beyond the great wall" from Alford and Duguid?
Just curious what you think.
Same of Ken Hom ;)
 

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Beyond the great wall as I remember was more of a skim. Not much actual cooking. Unless i am misremembering.

Phoenix claw i reference but haven't gone through everything. I respect it but it doesn't resonate strongly with me as other books do.

Ken Hom, I'm actually going through his Chinese Cookery right now alongside The Food of Singapore. The Food of Singapore has not held my interest well though the recipes are interesting, I've covered a few other cookbooks while only looking at FoS in short bursts. I may have read Cookery years ago but it's not sticking out to me that way yet.

Hom's poverty upbringing seems to have influenced his approach to food in a way that emphasizes less bold flavors. Theres a cookbook autobiography he wrote at one point that was pretty sad food of a desperate family. And this is food that he identifies with in a strong way because it was formative and important to him. I saw notes of that in this recipe last night.

watercress soup
Regions: Canton and Fujian
Here is a soup from my childhood. My mother used to make it with pork pieces and its delightful fragrance emanating from the kitchen signified good things to come. I would remove the pork pieces from the soup and dip them in soy sauce before eating them. Then I would pour some of the soup into my rice bowl to flavour the rice. In our family restaurant, this soup was a favourite at staff meals because of its wonderfully delicate flavour and because it is so easy to make. Nowadays I prefer it plain, without any meat added. Use only the leaves of the watercress for a delicate taste.
Serves 4
1.2 litres (2 pints) Chicken Stock ( here )
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
150 g (5 oz) watercress, stems removed
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
3 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
Bring the stock to a simmer in a large pan. Add the soy sauce, sugar, salt and pepper and simmer for 3 minutes. Then add the watercress leaves, ginger and spring onions and continue to simmer the soup for a further 4 minutes. Serve at once.

Something like that without the meat and cress but with iceberg lettuce sticks out in my memory from that autobiography.

My focus on Chinese food started in the 80s, a time in the US of Martin Yan on PBS. Ken Hom had some programming then too though not as much. He has a place in my library from being an early influencer.

Simple flavors can be great and Hom is not locked into it only. But it does seem to run through his favorites at least in my view.
 
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phatch

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Sweet black sauce example
Tauhu Goreng


Deep-fried Tofu Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing


A popular dish at food stalls in Singapore, especially in the morning, the fried tofu is usually halved diagonally and stuffed with a mixture of blanched bean sprouts and raw cucumber, and drizzled with a delicious Spicy Peanut Dressing.


2 cakes pressed tofu or firm tofu (about 500 g/1 lb total)


Oil for shallow-frying (about 3 tablespoons)


1 cup (75 g) bean sprouts, rinsed and blanched in boiling water, then drained


1 small cucumber, sliced into thin shreds


2 spring onions, sliced into thin shreds, to garnish (optional)


Coriander leaves (cilantro), to garnish (optional)




Spicy Peanut Dressing


2 tablespoons oil


8 shallots, sliced


5 cloves garlic, sliced


2-5 red finger-length chillies, deseeded and sliced


1/2 teaspoon belachan (dried prawn paste)


2 tablespoons sweet black sauce


2 heaped tablespoons tamarind pulp mashed with 1 cup (250 ml) warm water, squeezed and strained for juice


1 cup (175 g) coarsely crushed fried or roasted peanuts, or 10 heaped tablespoons crunchy peanut butter


1 To prepare the Spicy Peanut Dressing, heat the oil in a saucepan and stir-fry the shallots, garlic, chillies and belachan for 5 minutes until fragrant. Then add the sweet black sauce and tamarind juice, and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. When cooled, grind the mixture to a paste in a mortar or blender. Add the crushed peanuts or peanut butter and mix well.


2 Shallow-fry the tofu in about 1 cm (1/2 in) of oil over medium heat in a skillet until light golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side Remove from the oil and set aside to drain and cool. When cool enough to handle, cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces.


3 To assemble, arrange the bean sprouts, cucumber and spring onions (if using) on a plate. Top with the fried tofu and pour the dressing over. Serve garnished with coriander leaves. Alternatively, serve the dressing in a small bowl on the side with another bowl of freshly sliced spring onions if desired.


Note: To save time, prepare the Spicy Peanut Dressing in advance. If sweet black sauce is not available, substitute black soy sauce sweetened with sugar.


Serves 4 Preparation time: 20 mins Cooking time: 10 mins
 

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