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30 September 2010

Leaving China


(Image found HERE)

September has come to an end and that means we must bid farewell to China. I don't know about you, but I learned a lot about Chinese food that I didn't know before. I honestly had no idea they had traditional bread recipes. That sounds ignorant, but do YOU ever get baskets of hot coconut buns at Chinese restaurants prior to your Egg Fu Yung? If you do, call me! I want to eat where YOU eat :)

China was my test run for this new blog adventure and I think it went off quite nicely. There was so much I learned that I wasn't able to share (time constraints, you know) but it's info that I'll take with me and hopefully be able to explore in depth at a later date.

For starters, I'm drinking more green tea. Practically every day! It's good for you, you should try it. Tazo makes a really refreshing one with lemongrass and spearmint, aptly named "Zen". I've met many people who don't care for green tea and I think I may know why. They steep it too long. Black teas and herbal teas, which we as a culture drink more of than green and white, can be steeped up to five minutes without getting that pungent, bitter taste that many green tea haters lament. Green tea, however, needs to be steeped for no longer than three minutes in water that JUST CAME TO A BOIL. That's the other secret. Don't use water that's been boiling in the kettle for a minute and a half. It goes against all convention, but watch that pot. When you start to hear the water simmering, pay close attention to the spigot. When steam starts to come out, turn the heat off and pour the water over the green tea. Set your time for two and a half minutes and voila! Green tea without the burnt bitterness.

I also discovered that I'm in love with wontons and could eat them every day. Seriously. Yum. In fact, the more I think about it, I wonder if I could fill them with cheese. You know, like ravioli. Ravioli soup. China meets Italy. Could there be any greater culinary delight? Yes, I'm well aware that I'm a bit strange.

China has SO MUCH to offer, not just in food, but in culture and art. I'd have to spend a year (or more) reseraching and exploring these places in order to communicate all my interests and fascinations. If you have the time and the inclination, do a little Google searching on your own. I think you'll be amazed at what you find! And feel free to drop me an email with your discoveries. I'd love to hear about them.

So what's next for our virtual trek? October will find me gallivanting across the Himalayas in search culinary delights and random facts from Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. I'm not at all ashamed to say that I harbor a deep seated desire to visit these three, mysterious countries. Kathmandu calls to me. Yak butter tea intrigues me. The idea of a country who's sole concern is Gross National Happiness as opposed to Gross Nation Profit sings with promises of Shangrila.

Until next week, dear Vagabloggers, I bid you adieu. Or, as they would say in China,
yī lù shùn fēng and mànmàn chī!
(bon voyage and bon appetit)

Jen

28 September 2010

There will be BUNS

Yes my friends, there will be. Just as soon as I post this teensy update!
The blogfest was a SMASH hit!! I've met so many fabulously talented bloggers/writers already and I still have over half the list of participants to go! It may take me the rest of the week, but I'll make it by. I shall! And I'll bring coconut :)

(The blogfest is officially over, but you can still read all the posts! Get in on the hooplah HERE.)

Now then, coconut buns. Or, more professionally, Cocktail Buns (pay no attention to the photo in the upper left hand corner of the original recipe site. Mine look nothing like that. Mine are more compact and portable! Pocket-sized, for your convenience.)

First off, you need to make your dough which is super easy and gives plenty of time for other pursuits as it rises. Like house cleaning, novel reading, a rousing game of mahjong.... (original recipe HERE)

You'll need:

•1/3 cup very warm water
•1 teaspoon granulated sugar
•2 teaspoons active dry yeast
•1/3 cup granulated sugar
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•3 tablespoons cooking oil (I used vegetable oil)
•1/4 cup boiling water
•1 large egg, fork-beaten
•Approximately 2 1/4 cups white bread flour

Stir warm water and first amount of sugar in small dish until sugar is dissolved. Sprinkle yeast over top and let it stand for ten minutes. Stir to help the yeast dissolve.



Stir the second amount of sugar, salt and cooking oil in large bowl. Add your boiling water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in the egg and the yeast mixture.





Slowly work in enough flour until soft dough forms. I worked my flour in a half cup at a time and ended up adding the remaining 1/4 as I was kneading.





Turn out onto lightly floured surface. The original instructions say to knead for 10 minutes but mine was ready in about 5. You want it to be smooth and elastic but don't over work it. Place the dough in large greased bowl, turning once to grease top.





Cover with greased waxed paper and tea towel. Let stand in oven with light on and door closed for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until doubled in bulk. (I'm not sure of the significance of the turned on oven light but at least you'll know the dough won't have to sit in the dark. Alone.) Punch the dough down, re-cover and let rest for 5 minutes.



(as you can see, I took the suggestion of a tea towel quite literally)

While the dough is resting, it's time to make the coconut filling (and preheat that oven to 350 degrees!):

•1 1/3 cups coconut flakes
•1 tablespoon granulated sugar
•2 tablespoons margarine or butter, melted
•1 large egg yolk

And the lovely egg and honey washes for the finished buns:

•Egg Wash:

•1 large egg
•1 tablespoon water
•Honey Wash:

•1 tablespoon honey
•1 tablespoon water

Process coconut and sugar in blender or food processor until very fine. Dump into a small bowl.



Stir in the melted butter (or margarine) and the egg yolk until it's got a paste-like consistency. I ended up using my hands for this. The recipe said it makes 2/3 cup of filling but I ended up with more. This isn't a bad thing :). The original recipe also only calls for half of the dough recipe. THIS I did not read prior to making. So, instead of 6 cocktail buns, I made 11. See. I told you having more than 2/3 cup of filling wasn't a bad thing :) I stretched it to fill almost a dozen and could have made another had I not made two of them rather plump!



Divide the dough into 11/12 portions. Press and stretch each portion into 5 X 3 inch oblong shape. It will try to shrink on you. Squish it good. Place about 1 tablespoon filling lengthwise along the center of each piece. Bring long sides up and over filling, pinching all edges together to seal.



Place, seam-side down, on greased baking sheet. Cover with greased waxed paper and a tea towel. Let stand in oven (again, with the light on and door closed) for about 1 hour until doubled in size. Make sure you grease that waxed paper! This dough is really sticky.



For the egg wash, beat the egg and water together with a fork. Brush over the buns.

Bake in 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.



For the honey wash, combine honey and hot water. Brush over warm buns. Serve warm.



Verdict:
My husband said, and I quote "These are the best rolls I've had in a very long time."

Happy baking!

27 September 2010

Banned Books Week



It actually started Saturday, but my Internet at home has been down. It seems the gods of the aether are angry. Ah well.

I know this is NOT going to a popular subject with some folks. And that's fine. Everyone has a right to their own convictions. In fact, I encourage discussion on this topic by those who agree and those who disagree with me. We are all free to our own opinions and have the right to speak out. Popular, unpopular. "Acceptable", "Un- acceptable". That is, after all, what this is all about.

Banned Books. Hmmmm, such a bizarre notion. Seriously. Why ban a book? Because some people decide that they should decide what we should or should not read.

I have a big, BIG problem with that.

There are those who would stand up to me, tell me that it's for the best, for the children that books are banned. Is it? Would you really want to raise your children in a world where someone (not YOU, the PARENT) tells them what they can and cannot read? Do you really want someone else dictating what's ok to put into your child's mind?

I don't.

Yes, there are books out there with some heavy material. There are books out there children are too sensitive to read, or, quite frankly, shouldn't read. BUT...

NO ONE has the right to tell me, my child, my family, my nieces, my nephews, my friends WHAT IS ACCEPTABLE. That is a decision based on free will and the parents of said children.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Not just because I'm a writer. Not just because I believe in free speech for all, but because

THE MINUTE YOU ALLOW SOMEONE THE POWER TO DECIDE WHAT WE CAN AND CANNOT READ, YOU GIVE THEM THE POWER TO TAKE AWAY OTHER FREEDOMS. Freedoms such as what we can and cannot write, watch, wear, think, say, do. Be.

Are you really willing to go that route?

If you really want to do something for the sake of the children, teach them. Read to them. Talk to them. Let them explore and find their wings. Be there to guide them, to hold them, to protect them from the monsters when things get out of hand. But if they're never allowed to face the monsters, how will they grow? How will they realize they really are strong.

And if you would take away their strength, their means to communicate, by taking away their books, you are taking away their choice, their thoughts, their dreams.

That's not protection. That's control.

You also might be taking someones ability to open up about something that happened to them, that they can relate to. Something horrible that they need healing from. Something that may never before have been able to be talked about until they read it. In a book.

Yes. Books are THAT powerful. Perhaps that's why some people want them banned. It's an interesting fact that during a revolution, some of the first people to be imprisoned or killed are writers and artists.

I'm willing to fight for books of all shapes and sizes. If I don't, it may be mine story that's banned one day.

And I will not let them silence me.

Thoughts?

Read more on this:
American Library Association
Mad Woman in the Forest
Operation Awesome
Through My Eyes
Ten Surprisingly Banned Books
Amnesty International
Celebrate Your Freedom to Read
American Booksellers Foundations for Freedom of Expression

24 September 2010

Writing Compelling Characters

It's bonus day here at Culinary Vagabonding! You get two (TWO) posts for the price of one!

This post, however, is writing oriented whereas the first one is just plain weird food oriented. If you missed it (and are vaguely interested, HERE you go).

I am a writer, first and foremost. This blog has been through so many different changes and the culinary vaga-blogging is my way of taking a respite from the YA trilogy that is sitting on my desk. Glaring at me. Boring holes into my soul.

The Ever Fabulous Elana asked for writers willing to blog about a topic of her choosing. Being the adoring fans, we followed blindly and over 150 of us are blogging about characters today. How cool is that? I love being a minion ;)

Characters are the meat of any story. They are the reasons you pick up the book, the reasons you keep reading. Characters can be ordinary humans, supernatural beings, a Sasquatch with a penchant for poetry. A character can even be a setting. I, however, am not Ernest Hemingway so I shall refrain from attempting that form of characterization.

For me, the most compelling characters are those that make me angry. Love them, hate them, if they don't do something that elicits a "what the FLEEP are you DOING!!!!" loud enough to startle my cat and six neighbors, they're just 'eh' in my book. I've thrown books across rooms because of characters (that one's for you, Samwise Gamgee). I've cried, yelled, slammed doors. Even sworn never to read another book by that author again because of what they did (or didn't do).

One of my favorite created characters has a moment where he goes all jerk on the main character, even though he knows better. To put it bluntly he has a major pity-party-melt-down. And I love him for it.

I've heard it before (in fact, read it in some of the other posts on this theme), that flaws make the character. It makes them believable, yes, but it also makes them relateable.

Because we all have flaws. We all have those little annoying things that grate on everyone's nerves, including our own. I write my flaws into my characters and not just my bad guys. Nasty flaws like short tempers and whining (not that I ever whine...). I find those are the characters I love the most. The ones that show me my own shortcomings in a believable light and, lo and behold, come out all right in the end.

One of my favorite characters is Meg Murray in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. She has horrible self esteem, pretty much hates herself, thinks she's ugly, is clumsy, has a nasty temper and tends to point fingers at everyone but herself. And you know what? When I first read her I saw myself. A confused, scared teenager who just wanted to be seen for who she was, with dreams bigger than the confines of her high school and the peer pressures put forth by her friends. To this day, when I'm feeling particularly lonely, I go to Meg and remember that things turned out ok for her.

I'm pretty sure they will for me too.

(Make sure you follow the link above to Elana's place to click on the links of everyone participating. It'll keep you reading all weekend!)

Mental Filter Busted

Proceed with extreme caution. Author has not had much sleep or chocolate in the past 14 days. Her appropriate blog material filter is busted.

You know, the filter that tells you "don't post that! it's disgusting/irresponsible/not suitable for children under the age of 115". Yeah...that one.

On the agenda for the weekend: Coconut dinner buns!!
So, I haven't made any of the delicious bread I posted Tuesday. I've thought about it (though not dreamed about it) and have decided that this weekend I shall bake me some buns! (why does that make me giggle?)

As I was pondering some bun baking last night, I realized that next week is our last week in China! Honestly, I've not done as much as I'd wanted to with the first month of this blog, but I consider the first month of anything a learning phase. I know what works, what doesn't, what I'm going to have time to do, and what is simply me wishing I was Wonder Woman. The upside, however, is that I've learned a lot about Chinese food, found a library of links on China and Chinese culture (for further perusal on a rainy day) AND I've eaten more fried rice in the past four weeks than in the past four YEARS!

Thank you all for putting up with my erratic posts and even stranger personality :)

Seeing as it's Friday (*cue the trumpets, marching band and juggling elephants*), I wanted to do something fun. And what's more fun than

WEIRD FOOD

Have you ever Googled "weird food"? It's a lesson in what the Internet can produce. It's also a reminder of how thankful I am that I inherited my father's iron stomach.

Things weren't too bad at first:
fish head soup
fish flotation bladder
live shrimp swimming in a bowl of rice wine
birds' nest soup (actual birds' nests kept tightly woven by the little birdies' spit)
jellied blood
camel tendons
baby mouse wine (a bottle of wine with baby mice stuffed inside. Ew.)
(all of these are courtesy of weird-food.com)

I also saw scorpions, cow heads, unmentionable parts of male bulls. But the thing that did me in was this:



photo found HERE

Deep. Fried. Spider.

Ok, so it was found in Cambodia. Not China, but still an Asian food that popped up in the Google search of "Weird food China" (oh, ps: DON'T click on the image tab if you Google weird food. Of course, now that I've told you not to, you're going too *insert evil grin*. Seriously, though, it's not something you want to look at if you're even the least big queasy. I'm not and it was a bit...gruesome. Interesting to my bizarre (and slightly twisted) curiosity, but it could do damage to young minds (or anyone eating anything that remotely could be mistaken for giant, hopping spider/bugs...

Yeah.

Fried spider. What possessed me to even put the picture on my blog? Shock factor. I am a very adventurous eater yet severely arachnophobic. I just don't know if I could do it. I think I may have met my culinary Waterloo.

But, it's Friday, and I wouldn't DREAM of leaving on the notion of fried spiders and six legged cows (wait, did I fail to mention THAT picture? *shudder*)



photo found HERE

There. Now we can all die happy and slightly less disturbed.

Happy weekend!
Go eat something adventurous! You can thank me later ;)
Jen

PS: I WILL make coconut buns this weekend. I WILL! And I shall post pictures for you next week. Promise ;)
PPS: I have 133 followers!!! Thanks, guys! Bear with me; I'll be by to thank you new-comers as soon as I'm able.

22 September 2010

~ Quick Writing Related Post ~

Hey guys!

I know, I know, it's Wednesday, but I just discovered something too fabulous NOT to pass on. Thanks to the splendiferous Shannon O'Donnell over at Book Dreaming, I made my way over to The Bookshelf Muse. Holy cow, can I just say this lady has a library of amazing information for writers. I maybe blogging on food and travel right now, but the YA manuscript is still sitting on my desk, patiently awaiting my return.

The Bookshelf Muse is having an AMAZING contest : 1000 follower's contest. If you follow and leave a comment, you're entered for a general drawing for several first page or first chapter critiques.

However...

If you BLOG, FACEBOOK, TWEET or otherwise get the news out into the universe about her generous offer (and fill out a quick form on her site), you'll be entered into a drawing for a THREE MONTH MENTORSHIP. Wow. That's about all I can say about that.
So wander on over, check out her site, and get the word out!

Writers helping writers: that's what it's all about!

Cheers,
Jen

21 September 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival (and why I WON'T be making moon cakes)

Tomorrow is the celebration of the Chinese festival of Mid-Autumn (aka Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival). The Chinese use a lunar calendar (as opposed to our solar calendar) hence their New Year celebration always being different (sometimes a month out) from ours. According to this calendar, the moon is at its brightest on this night.

According to legend, the moon fairy leaves her crystal palace and dances on the moon's surface. This story of the "lady living in the moon" is an ancient one and supposedly dates back to when there were ten suns in the sky. The Emperor had a famous archer shoot down the offending nine suns. As compensation for his good deed, the archer was given a pill from the Goddess of Western Heaven that would make him immortal. His wife, however, found the pill, took it, and was banished to the moon. Legend says she is most beautiful on the night of Moon Festival.

There are several legends surrounding the Mid-Autumn festival, but the most famous may have roots in actual history. China was overrun by Mongols in the thirteenth century. It is rumored that they used mooncakes (which the Mongols did not eat) to pass around secret information pertaining to a rebellion. Everyone was instructed to save the cakes for Moon Festival. The rebellion took place in 1368 AD and China overthrew their Mongol oppressors.

When I first heard the name "moon cake" I was intrigued and declared I would make them. I then looked up a recipe for moon cakes. They're not impossible to make; they just require ingredients that I have no access to. In the easier of the two recipes I found, red azuki beans are used for a filling. I momentarily pondered using another type of bean for this but "black bean paste filled cakes" just didn't have the same, appetizing ring to it. A more complex recipe calls for lotus seed paste. Unfortunately, in the south, Ingles doesn't carry lotus seed paste. If any of you do happen to live in a town with a good Asian market, feel free to see some out OR you can always buy them pre-packaged. I'm going to keep an eye out next time I'm in Atlanta at the International Farmer's Market. I will of course report back my findings.

On our Western calendars, tomorrow is the Autumnal equinox or The First Day of Autumn. I don't know about you, but I'm definitely ready!

Happy first day of fall!
Jen

20 September 2010

I heart bread

I love bread. I really ,really do. I inherited it, you see. From my mother. She loves to tell this story of when she used to work and stop on the way home for groceries. She would buy a loaf of bread and start eating it on her way home, tearing little bits from a slice, rolling it into a ball and nibbling until she pulled into the drive. My sister and I both inherited this love of yeast and flour.

I found several recipes this weekend for Chinese bread, or, as they call them, buns! My favorite is by far the coconut dinner buns I found here. I'll definitely be making these this week. Expect another photo montage of my efforts (exciting, I know).

You know those little fried donuts you find at all Chinese buffets? I found a recipe for those too! Oh yum, fried donuts. Lovely, melty, greasy puffs of sweetness! I'll be trying those too. (Oh, and there's a short cut version on that site as well made with canned biscuit dough, in case you're prone to that sort of thing).

I indulged in my dream this weekend and walked to the Chines restaurant for wonton soup, crab rangoon and a spring roll. Can I just say yum? It was fabulous and the crab rangoon was some of the best I've ever had. That reminds me...I still have three in the fridge. Hmmm...I know what I'm snacking on when I get home :)

Happy Monday fellow vagabloggers!
Jen

17 September 2010

Dreaming of Chinese Food

No really. I dreamt last night about eating at a Chinese buffett! I was quite a pig and made certain I got the last 5 wontons in the wonton soup dish (taking only the tiniest bit of broth!) and the crab rangoon was out of this world! I think sushi was involved. This was right before I was running from grenade launching bad guys in a swamp and marsh video game setting.

er...yeah...must have been the pizza.

Speaking of pizza, remember that left over pork I had after making those lovely dumplings? It topped our pizza last night, along with some scrumptious pepper jack cheese. Not Chinese, I know, but related. As in second-cousin-on-his-mother's-side-twice-removed related but related.

While making said pizza, I got frustrated with the sauce having huge chunks of tomatoes in it. I like chunks of tomatoes in my pasta but not on my pizza. Instead of trying to spread around the chunks with the spoon, I started spreading the sauce with my hands, discarding the little devils back in the jar to live on a bowl of pasta another day.

That's when it hit me: we, as a culture, are soooo distanced from our food. Yes, these profound moments happen when I have a hand covered in red sauce and a 25 cat mewing at my feet. I've posted in the past on the "modern" American diet versus "slow food" and the dangers of the former, benefits of the latter. I hate seeing food turned into something to just wolf down between work and home life, between arguments, or between traffic signals.

With that thought planted firmly in my mind, I hummed a little tune while spreading the rest of that sauce with my fingers, while crumbling up that Chinese-ish pork and onions and scattering the mountain of pepperjack across that quazi-circular piece of dough.

I want to eat my food and taste it, enjoy it, not swallow it whole because the phone is ringing and if I don't answer it the boss will get angry. I want to savor the flavors available in a ham and cheese or a plate of Peking Duck. It's hard in this "modern" life (yes, modern is in quotations for a reason. I thought to modernize was to better something? In regards to food, we've failed)

Take some time this weekend and enjoy your food. I don't care if it's a muffin you thaw out for breakfast or a pot roast you slaved over for 6 hours. Pause, taste it, enjoy it!

Just don't dream about it...

Happy weekend,
Jen

14 September 2010

Dim Sum, Have Some

delicious noms found here

Why have I always been enamored with the idea of dim sum? I googled picture after picture of it. Cute little balls of dough filled with delicious mysteries paraded around on a cart or offered in bamboo steamer baskets or small plates. I've never actually ordered dim sum nor have I ever been to a restaurant specializing in it. Unfortunately, there are no dim sum carts in my neighborhood. Still, the idea intrigues me and I'm getting up the nerve to try my own little night of dim sum. It makes sense that it should strike a chord with me. The name actually means "touch the heart".

Dim sum is one of the best ways to sample a glorious amount of sweet and savory snacks. From my research, I've learned that when ordering dim sum, you order one of several different little foods instead of a whole bunch of one type. Dim sum got it's start playing second fiddle to the ancient tradition of tea tasting or yam cha. It seems that travellers along the famed Silk Road would stop into tea houses for a bit of refreshment and quiet contemplation. Field workers also congregated to these tea houses during the day for a respite from work. It was once thought inappropriate to eat while drinking tea. The ancients actually thought it would contribute to unnecessary weight gain. When it was discovered that tea actually aids in digestion, the tea house owners started serving assorted snacks to their tea tasting clientele. And lo, dim sum was born!

The Cantonese in southern China developed dim sum and transformed tea time from a quiet event to a boisterous dining experience. Some restaurants in Hong Kong start serving dim sum as early as 5 a.m. as it is tradition for the elderly to gather after morning exercises, read the paper and eat. Most dim sum restaurants only serve dim sum until mid-afternoon. I hear that the best dim sum in the world is made in Hong Kong. Who am I to argue?

Want Some?

For a mind boggling overview of dim sum, tea tasting and a run down of dishes, check out wikipedia's entry here (ps: it's where I found most of my info so if anything seems askew, blame them and let me know!)

Siu Mai pork dumplings

Savory dim sum recipes on Asian Online Recipes (I for one am eyeing those shrimp dumplings...)

Dim Sum Recipes (mmms, cucumber and spicy minced lamb with chili sauce!! I'm there!)

Asian Dumpling Tips (and where was THIS when I did my dumpling post ?!?! Yeah, Google, I'm talkin' to you.)

Speaking of dumplings, every one of my posts so far has involved little stuffed dough concoctions! I'm hopelessly addicted to bread, ask anyone who knows me. I promise my next post will not contain any type of dough filled delicacies. At least, I'm pretty sure they won't *grin*

Cheers,
Jen

PS: I know this has nothing to do with Chinese food, but I found this neat-o cooking website thanks to a kind email from it's creator. It's the blog belonging to Culinary Arts College, a site devoted to helping people find cooking schools. A worthy endeavor. She just put up a groovy link-fest for home canning (something I've been hesitant to try for years). The most recent post, however, is links to 50 travel/food blogs. Looks like I've got a lot of perusing to do! Enjoy.

13 September 2010

I'm in the mood for WONTONS

A new reason to play with your food: origami wontons!


Seriously. I've been craving them. I did a ton of research on some classic Chinese cuisine last week and wontons have been haunting my dreams (ok, I'm not THAT far gone...not yet).

Everyone who's ever had Chinese food has seen, smelled or tasted a wonton. The most popular way to eat these delicious, airy dumplings is in broth with chopped scallions floating amongst them. Wonton Soup is something I could eat every day and never, ever get tired of it. Those puffy little pillows of delectable delights floating around in golden broth. Mmm, reminds me of lazy clouds drifting across and evening sky. Conveniently enough (at least for this metaphor) the literal translation of the Cantonese for "wonton" means "swallowing clouds". And who hasn't had fried wontons? A crispy little bowl usually sat before you when you sit down at your favorite Chinese restaurant, they're Asian equivalent of chips and salsa. Crispy, greasy, and marvelous with duck sauce or spicy mustard, these little guys also pack a nice crunch when tossed in the wonton soup. Think of them as crispy clouds. Fried wontons are an American-Chinese creation but they're still delicious.

Traditional fillings for wontons are pork, shrimp or oysters but any meat will do. Just know if you put hamburger in those wrappers, you can't call it "authentic Chinese cuisine". Couture labels, however, matter not in the food world. It's the flavor that counts.

Every region in China has it's own version of the wonton which differs slightly from it's neighbors. Hong Kong wontons developed after World War II as a street food and was served from carts and only later found their way into restaurants. Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of the humble wonton if you're interested.

Wontons are also boiled and enjoyed sans soup or, in Chinese-American cuisine, fried with crab and cream cheese filling (also known as crab rangoon...yum).



You know, I've got a bit of pork filling left over from the dumplings. Mayhaps I'll pick up some wonton wrappers tonight and use the rest of that pork for some wonton soup! Until then, here's some delicious links to get you started on your own wonton adventure. Linkage away!



Wonton Soup
Crab Rangoon
Wonton Recipes
Recipes using Wonton Wrappers



Now excuse me while I go dream of crab rangoon and cloud swallowing.
Jen



PS: As always, if ANY of these recipes sounds (or taste) a little less than authentic to you, please let me know. I'd LOVE to try them all out but that would require a windfall in finances so I could stay home all day cooking and eating. Until that blissful day occurs, I'm open to corrections from you dear souls who have been to China, cook and/or eat authentic Chinese food often, or who know a heaping helping more than I do (and I dare say, that's a bunch of you). If you try any of these recipes, please let me know how they turned out!

09 September 2010

Hong Kong - An Overdue Overview

You'd think working for an I.T. company, I wouldn't have to deal with the Internet being down...

I could spend years studying Chinese food and culinary customs. I could take a topic on Chinese anything and stretch it into months and months of research. Strange as it sounds, I'd love that. I'm a research hound. If I could get paid to research, I'd be in heaven. (anyone hiring a research assistant?)

I had originally thought to traverse length and breadth of China, discovering ancient cuisine and full filling my desire for new and exotic locations. I quickly realized that would take a life time of travel, even if I stayed virtual. I had to narrow it down (not easy) and pick one place where I could get a good idea of Chinese culture and cuisine. Lo and behold, I landed in Hong Kong.

picture found here

Hong Kong is separate from mainland China. I didn't know this until very recently. I'd heard people say, "I've never been to China, but I've been to Hong Kong" and never understood it until now. It was under British rule from the early 1800's until 1997 but still remains independent from the People's Republic under the "One country, two systems" principle. If you'd like an in depth look at this interesting predicament, you can find some really good information HERE and HERE.

picture found here

I was pleasantly surprised when I began digging for cuisine specific to Hong Kong. Many people go to Hong Kong just to eat! There are over 6,000 licensed restaurants offering not only Chinese cuisines but world cuisines as well. Of the major Chinese cuisines I discovered, it seems Cantonese is one of the best. Even during the Imperial era, people would travel to the southern Chinese province of Canton (Guangdong) to dine. Not much has changed, as this quote reveals: "Cantonese people, more than any other race except the French, believe that they live to eat rather than vice versa." It is still the most popular form of Chinese cuisine.
Nothing goes to waste in a Cantonese kitchen, hence the rather bizarre and sometimes baffling ingredients seen on websites devoted to Asian cuisines. This quote sums it up quite nicely: "The only things with four legs a man should not eat is a table". I'm pretty brave when it comes to food and I'd like to think I'd be able to try just about anything put in front of me. Still, there are a few things that can cause even the most steeliest of stomachs to question their courage (duck blood and sandworms anyone? Oh, word of caution: if you're NOT one of those with a stalwart stomach, or are of a sensitive nature, you might want to forgo those links. Consider yourself warned.)
For the remainder of the time we're in China, I'm going to focus on the diverse food culture of Hong Kong (sandworms and rats withstanding). Steaming and stir frying predominate and seafood, pork, fowl and vegetables take center stage with Cantonese and I'll be focusing mostly on this particular tradition. I can't make any promises, though. I have a tendency to step off the path and go off on tangents :) Again, you've been warned. Oh, and I have developed a little side project during this year of culinary wandering. More on that later (cue evil laughter).

picture found here

If you're interested in some really informative links on Hong Kong travel, cuisines or a general look at Chinese food culture, here are a couple of wonderful links to check out:
Jen

07 September 2010

Labor Day Weekend & Hong Kong

I suppose I should preface this post by saying I did NOT spend the weekend in Hong Kong. Fabulous as that sounds, I was local, in Decatur, for the annual book festival. Yes. I am a nerd and a proud nerd at that.

Decatur is a map dot in the metro Atlanta area filled to overflowing with creative venues, pubs, independent book shops and cafes. We got to sit in on some panels which discussed publishing and promotion as well as creative world building in fantasy. This particular panel had a FABULOUS line up of authors. One of whom wrote this:

I discovered Jessica Verday's first book The Hollow last year, quite by happy accident. It's a new twist on one of my favorite stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The Haunted is the second book in her Hollow Trilogy

My darling husband bought the new book for me, stood in line with me for at least a half an hour and I ended up with an autograph and a snazzy photo with a truly fabulous, talented and SUPER sweet author:

Behold!
A little fuzzy, but it was on a camera phone. BIG thanks to Jessica for travelling down to Georgia and being super nice and patient with the long lines of adoring fans :)

As for Hong Kong, I've decided to spend this week there. I've got some researching to do, fellow vagabonds, which is what I'll be spending my evening doing. I'll sum up my travels and we'll venture there together starting tomorrow. And who knows...there might be a recipe or three awaiting us!

Here's to book festivals, Chinese food, and three day weekend! Oh, and short work weeks. *grin*

Cheers!
Jen

03 September 2010

Dinner at Last!

I've always been a sucker for anything bread related. Doesn't matter what it is, grind it up, roll it out and bake it and I'll probably eat it! I've eaten dumplings many times but I'd never once thought of making my own. "It would be too hard", I reasoned. Oh pish-posh! How hard can it be? Actually, it's not hard at all.

Note: I have a sneaky little habit of looking up recipes and changing them as I go along. This recipe is no exception and the recipe here is my modified version. The original recipe can be found at Chinese Food DIY.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups flour, sifted (or, if you're like me and don't have a sifter, run a whisk through it a few times to break up any clumps)
1 lb ground pork (Not a pork fan? Try some ground beef! The site also recommended mutton.)
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
6 1/2 tbsp scallions, chopped
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp oyster sauce
1/8 tsp five-spice powder

1. Mix the flour with enough water to make a dough (approximately 3 1/2 ounces of water and yes I DID break out the scale to weight the water in ounces). Knead until smooth and let it stand for about 30 minutes. The dough will be sticky so you might want to flour up your hands.



While the dough is resting, mix up your filling. Mix the pork, scallions, five spice powder, soy sauce, salt and oyster sauce in a bowl until it makes a paste (word of caution: go easy on the salt! Soy sauce is REALLY salty and, if after they're cooked and you need more flavor, do like we did and dip the dumplings in more soy sauce.)

Divide the dough into 3 portions and roll into logs.

Cut each log into about 10 pieces (no need to be exact). Roll each piece into a ball and flatten with the palm of your hand until they are approximately 2 inch circles.




Take a spoonful of the meat mixture and place it in the center of each wrapper. A tablespoon will work just fine for this. Take the dough and fold it over or around the meat, pressing the edges firmly together. If it oozes out, scrape off the excess until the dough will close neatly. I made half moon shaped dumplings. You can also gather the edges up at the top and make little purses.







**If you end up with more meat mixture than dough, don't worry: just freeze it and make up some more dough later. I have a nice, fat little zip lock bag of spiced pork and onions in my freezer right now!)
Bring 8 cups of water to a boil over high heat and add half the dumplings carefully, don't splash! Stir them gently with a ladle and let the water return to a boil. Add enough cold water to stop the boiling, then bring it back to a boil. When the water boils again, add more cold water and bring to a boil a third time (this takes a lot less time than you're thinking). The dumplings will be done when they float to the surface.


Remove the dumplings and drain well. I put mine on a paper towel. Don't want those dumplings soggy! Make sure the water is boiling again and add the rest of the dumplings. Repeat the 3-boil process once more until all dumplings are cooked.

Serve with soy sauce and chop sticks and a side of green tea. Oh! And be very, very careful. These suckers are HOT inside!

Cheers, or rather, gan bei!

**Try it, like it, hate it? Let me know! Have a great weekend and a Happy Labor Day to all my fellow Americans. I'm off to the Decatur Book Festival!

02 September 2010

Glitches and Dumplings and Decisions (oh my!)

Remember that whole learning curve I mentioned a few posts back? Well, I'm leaning on it today. I do have dumplings for you this morning! Just not pictures. Yet. Last night wasn't a good night health-wise so I wasn't able to load the dumpling photos (they're quite lovely, in my humble opinion). AND that lovely Chinese junk boat I posted was in Vietnam! HA! How's that for a glitch? In my defense, it WAS a CHINESE junk boat. I get a half point for that, right? ;) Thanks to Linda for pointing that one out.

So...if no one objects, I'm posting the dumpling recipe today and dumpling photos tomorrow. I decided if I lived on Saturn I'd have enough hours in every day. Maybe.

(Unless the Archduke of Saturn decided to stretch out the work day hours to correspond with Earth's work hours. Geez...that would be like...well...a lot more than 8 1/2 hours a day! I'll stick to Earth. Besides, I hear our atmosphere is best.)

OR

I could wait until tonight and post the whole shebang? Recipe, step-by-step photos, tantalizing, juicy dumplings with soy sauce (and a snazzy semi-pro food shot by my dear photographer husband). What say you? Honestly? I'm leaning towards waiting until tonight. Ugh. What to do...what to do....

*sigh*

It's your call, fellow vagabonds. If you want the pictoral version of the dumplings, we'll wait until this evening. If you want your dumplings NOW, I'll gladly deliver without visual aides. This is turning into quite a saga, now, isn't it?

Yours frustratedly,
Jen

01 September 2010

Junk Boats and Boiled Dumplings

image found here

There's a piece of me slowly sailing on a junk ship. You know, one of those over crowded mish-mashes of flotsam that traffic jam the water ways in many Asian countries. My soul tip-toed on one this morning and refuses to get off. Sails unfurled like paper fans, the breeze is caught and on we drift, in search of another life and, perhaps, dinner.

The mountains, don't they look like finger stubs, parts of hands? Long ago, giants must have resided here. After tiring of kicking up crust and creating Himalayas, they settled down beneath the waves, giving their work a hearty "two thumbs way up". Now we get to navigate them. Sometimes I swear I hear them laughing at me, this lanky American far from home.

The clacking of my keys is an imagined engine. At least, I'm pretty sure they have engines. Most are too large for a paddler or ten. Last I checked, Ben Hur wasn't stowed away underneath. Another clacking sound comes to mind. Chop sticks, those precarious little overgrown toothpicks that, once mastered, open doors to culinary experience (and one or two gasps of amazement when you're the only one at the table able to maneuver them around a Pu Pu Platter).

Speaking of food, I'm in the mood for dumplings. Boiled dumplings: Jiao Zi. Sure, I've made fried rice before. I've even folded a wanton or three in my day. But dumplings? Hmmm...this I've got to try. Interested?

The kitchen is open and I'm off to experiment. Good Lord willing and the river don't rise (or the giants return to play kick the junk boat), I'll have a platter of them all piping hot come tomorrow morning to share with you.

Mmm...dumplings.
Jen

PS: Check this out: I figured out to attach my snazzy little Facebook profile link to my blog. How's that for technological prowess? Honestly, I'm impressed. I didn't shut down the Internet or anything!

...and don't forget to pack clean underwear.

A good traveller packs light, remembers to call home and always forgets something of importance. (And always eats what the locals are having...even if it's still squirming.)

The most intoxicating aspect of virtual travel (or getting out and exploring your own community) is no fear of forgetting your toothbrush and having to settle for some exotic plant that may or may not be toxic. True, your job's still there (lurking), and your phone and the 1001 stresses of everyday life, but it's virtually free and that's got to count for something!

I know lots of people who long to travel but can't. The biggest barrier to indulging your inner gypsy, is seems, is money. That's always been mine. If it was up to me, I'd travel 3-5 months out of the year! So I cooked up this idea and I hope you'll follow along. I can't promise we won't hit any turbulence, and I can almost guarantee there will be pot holes, but I figure in a couple of months we'll settle into a nice rhythm. Or not. Who knows? Predictability is frightfully boring.

The goal isn't to stay in front of a computer. Oh no. I'll be venturing to the kitchen and into the wilds of ethnic restaurants and markets. I might even learn a foreign phrase or three! And yes, there will be recipes, pictures (I hope...), and my own humble reviews.

Before I get started, I do want to say that if any of you catch any discrepancies in any cultural descriptions or information I may post, please let me know! The Internet may have an eternal cache of information, but it's not infallible. I'm always open to constructive criticisms and corrections (the key word here, folks, is constructive). I'm not big on posting blog "rules" but here goes: be kind or go home. It's that simple. No culture bashing, people bashing, me bashing. If you feel you must be mean, just know it won't be published. I do have that power.

Ick. Glad that's out of the way.

Anywho, this is a practical journey, one lived vicariously through information and tasting. Cultural discovery through food; travelling through taste buds. Culinary Vagabonding. In getting out there and learning about cultures foreign to my own, I hope to get lost: lost to myself, to my own preconceived notions, my own cultural limitations. I hope to meet people, cook meals and understand through the shared needs to communicate, feast and express beauty. I'll be collecting far more than I can post on this little journey but do stay tuned: there are more kettles brewing on the stove than just this one. How's that for a teaser, hmmm?

Now then, pack your bags, ladies and gents. We're off to CHINA!