Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chinese New Years IV

Chinese New Year
Part 1
Part II
Part III
In the late 90's I visited Uwajimaya's in Seattle (the old store) to re-supply for Chinese New Year's.In the produce section I saw a huddle of old woman turning over a pile of vegetables that looked like shallots crossed with a wrinkly mushroom. The sign overhead announced that these were "water potatoes." Inquiry informed me that these were the starchy roots of an aquatic plant which were a local delicacy in those parts of Guangdong where it grows in the streams and lakes. It is crunchier than a potato but more starchy than a water chestnut. We managed to sprout one and grow a handsome reedish plant. But mostly we ate them. Here is the menu for our Chinese New Year party in 2003.

Dum Luk's pot rack
Longevity Noodles
Cook a pound of noodles. Chop a quarter cup of scallions and slice several radishes. Sliver a third of a pound of salmon with a half pound of calamari. Place some of each in a bowl. Add heated Chicken stock.

These are a traditional wish for a long life. the bowl is supposed to be placed in the guest's hand as soon as they arrive -- get settled for the visit.A dozen or so people were invited so adjust the quantities accordingly. The bowl should be small. The noodles few, and the meat and vegetables less than the broth which would be about a half cup per serving. The hot stock cooks the fish or any other meat or fowl you prefer provided it is cut small and thin.
Spring Rolls
Bone a chicken breast and matchstick the meat. Thinly slice some bok choy , separating the leaves from the stalks. Matchstick three scallions. Peel and matchstick two water potatoes. Rinse a quarter cup each of sliced bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. Smash two or three ginger root slices with cleaver.
Heat oil in wok. Add ginger. Stir. Add chicken. Stir fry. Add garlic and a teaspoon of hoisin sauce. Stir. Set aside. Clean wok if needed. Heat more oil. Add vegetables. Mix all and thicken with a tablespoon of cornstarch or drain as you fill the wraps. Deep fry.
Deep frying does not require fancy equipment. If myou already have a wok put the oil in that and fry away. A modest cast iron stew pot is the preference of the French. Mainly you want a pan whose sides are tall enough to catch the majority of the spatters. A slotted spoon or long handled strainer is a great tool for removing food from the oil. A thermometer is a good idea. I set up two trays. One is lined with parchment and holds the food before frying. The second is large enough to contain a half sheet cookie rack. I line this with paper towels and set all in the oven at 'warm' or 'hold'. This receives the cooked food. Double frying is essential for French fries, but is also useful for do ahead cooking. Get your spring rolls all but done and set aside. Then a quick immersion makes them hot for guests. Spring rolls are around four inches long and so are usually served cut in three pieces. The cool dim sum way to do this is with a scissors.
Lamb Mai
Coarsely grind a pound of lamb with an onion. Finely dice two water potatoes, two tablespoons of red bell pepper. Strip and finely chop the leaves from a half dozen stalks of Chinese celery and Italian parsley. Finely slice the celery stalks.
Heat oil in a wok. Add the meat and onion mixture. Stir fry til meat is browned. Add a teaspoon of garlic and a tablespoon of oyster sauce. Stir. Add a tablespoon each of curry powder and sesame seeds. Add celery seeds. Add the vegetables except the leaves. Mix two teaspoons of corn starch in a little water. Add to wok. Stir. Add leaves, stir and remove from heat.
Using round sui mai wrappers form open topped dumplings using a teaspoon of filling each and place in oiled bamboo steamer baskets.
Steam a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes.
If you do the steaming a day before, or the morning of your party there will be less fuss at the party. You can mix the steamed stuff so that each basket contains some of each and just set ovor boiling water for about fivwe minutes to heat through and serve in the baskets. If you don't have baskets, do the same with the serving plates. Use a round lid to seal in the steam and line it with a paper towel to keep from flooding the plate with condensate.

Cha Siu Bao
Filling: Dice a pound of Cha Siu (barbecued pork) fine. Dice leek tops very fine. Combine with a half cup of Chee Hou Sauce. (a spicy hoisin sauce)
Dough: Combine two and a half cups of warm water with a like amount of flour. Add sourdough starter. (Or yeast) Set sponge to rise.
Add three cups of flour, a quarter cup of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Mix and knead to a soft dough. Add more flour if needed. Let rise.
Cut the dough into twenty four pieces. Roll each piece out to a circle about 4" in diameter that is thicker in the middle than at the edges. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center and stretch the sides over it and pinch together to completely enclose the filling. Place this seam side down on a three inch square of parchment paper and place in steamer. Let rise a half hour. Steam for 15 minutes or until done. Pinch the dough lightly. If it relaxes it is not done. Fine cold, but easy to reheat just by steaming again for five minutes or so. You can bake these instead. I think steamed is much better. That possibly is another spring roll question, i.e.: how you had it first is the best way.
Pressed Duck
Quarter a duck. Steam two hours using the bowl in a pot method. When cool enough to handle, remove bones. Continue to cool duck under a weighted plank.
Place duck on top of a cup of water chestnut flour and steam thirty minutes.
Deep fry 'til golden. Reassemble quarters and chop into bite size diamonds.
Without disarranging, move the duck to a bed of chopped lettuce.
Soak a cup each of dried apricots and prunes in boiling water with two star anise overnight.
Drain. Matchstick a half cup of scallions. Lightly stir fry a half cup of almond slivers. Add the scallions and stir fry briefly. Set aside. In a sauce pan bring one half cup of rice vinegar, one half cup of sugar, and a cup of plum sauce to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Add the fruit. Two tablespoons Dum Luk's sauce, a tablespoon of pickled ginger, and some celery seed. Simmer until thick. Add the scallions and nuts. Pour over duck.
This is not the recipe Kam Lan's used. There are many varieties of this dish. The easiest way to quarter the duck is to buy it frozen and ask the meat cutter to run it through his band saw twice.
Turnip Cake
Peel and grate one and a half pounds of daikon. Put in a sauce pan with a tablespoon of peanut oil, a tablespoon of sugar, pepper and two and a quarter cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for fifteen minutes or until the daikon is tender.
Dice two Chinese sausage (lap xuong), and a half cup of shrimp. Chop three scallions — about half a cup — and some Italian parsley. Mix a half cup of corn starch in water.
Stir fry the meat. Add scallions. Add a teaspoon of rice vinegar and sugar. Add some mirin and soy sauce.
Add the parsley and corn starch to the daikon. Stir into the meat. Mix well and pour into an oiled square cake pan. Cover with foil. Steam one hour.
Rhoda Yee's recipe calls for cake flour as a thickener which she says has no substitute. Maybe so. But cake flour was not a common ingredient in south China when this cake, or pudding, was developed. Nor was corn starch as in this recipe. This year I used rice flour with good results. The water chestnut flour used in the pressed duck is also possible though harder to find. Taro starch, tapioca starch, and arrowroot are also in the running, though I haven't tried them. The quantity required will vary according to the thickening power. Also this year I did not pre-cook the turnips. They were grated and quickly stir fried in oil for about two minutes. For Chinese sausage substitute ham. I have always used fresh shrimp rather than dried because it is easier to come by. Add a cup of reconstituted shitakes chopped fine.
Line a covered round casserole with parchment paper. Separate four eggs. Beat whites stiff. Beat yolks light. Add 1 cup of sugar.
Add 1 tablespoon water and a teaspoon vanilla. Add 1 cup flour and a half teaspoon baking powder. Fold in egg whites and pour into casserole. Cover. Steam 30 to 35 minutes.
In the 1600's the Portuguese began infiltrating South East Asia. Like all soldiers and sailors every where they longed for home and the comforts of familiar food. In particular they longed for sponge cake made with many eggs and baked to golden exquisiteness. But there were few bake ovens in the orient. There was little wood to waste heating ovens. Instead they steamed. A grand compromise was struck and Kasutera was the result. In Japan it is packaged in wooden boxes and sold as a gift in the railway stations.
Almond Cookies
Set oven to 350° f. Grind ten almonds fine. Cream 1 cup lard with 1 cup sugar. Add one egg and one teaspoon almond extract. Add two and a half cups flour, one and a half teaspoons baking powder and a pinch of salt. Form into a roll about two inches in diameter and cut into thirty six slices. Press a whole almond into the center of each cookie. Bake about fifteen minutes until golden. Var.: Brush tops with egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of water.
These are the classics. Do use the lard as it gives them a light, crisp texture not to be found with other fats.

This series has not even brushed the surface of the possibilities for Chinese New Years. Once you try Dim Sum, you will find reason enough to make it throughout the year.
-- ml
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Chinese New Years III

Chinese New Years
part I
part II

Steamer baskets and a Japanese sushi press overlook Dum Luk's Kitchen.
In 1978 Diana pushed me into Dim Sum cookery with Rhoda Yee's Dim Sum: The Delicieus Secrets of Home Cooked Chinese Tea Lunch. It remains a favorite source. A search on Dim Sum at your favorite suspect will provide a plethora of titles at least one of which will suit.
Some quintessentials:
Spring rolls: A deep fried roll of thin pastry wrapped around a filling of stir fried meat and vegetables. Pork is most common. But also add pork and shrimp, chicken, fish, calamari or shell fish. Just vegetables also works. Bean sprouts and bamboo shoots are not required. But the spring roll will be 'off' without them. The intrepid may make the wraps (similar to making pasta) while the rest can buy the ready mades, which are much easier to find nowadays than thirty years ago. They are delicate to handle. So patience is requisite. Start atone edge of the stack and stroke the top edge until it lifts . Tease it across the full width and then down the length. An assembly line is useful. One chef can separate skins while another fills, seals and places on a parchment lined tray to await cooking. An excellent variation is Thai Spring rolls mad with raw vegetables wrapped in rice paper wraps. The wraps are soaked in hot water, one or two at a time, until they are limber enough to wrap. Add hot sauce to the filling. Dip in peanut sauce. Excellent summer fare.
Gyosa, or pot stickers, or pork dumplings, were my favorite quick snack in Japan. I was delighted to see them arrive in the States ten to twenty years ago where they are now well established. The Classic explanation is that a cook was making steamed pork dumplings. Just as he was about to cover the pot, something distracts him. The unattended pot boils dry, browning the wrap. Rushing back the cook is just in time to save the dumplings by adding water and covering the pan to steam the dumplings. Use round wraps maybe three inches in diameter. The filling is usually ground pork with ginger and garlic. Scallions are good, or celery. Stir fry the filling and thicken the juice with a teaspoon or so of corn starch [n.b.: Mix corn starch with a bit of water or stock or pan juice to dissolve. Pour into boiling liquid in pan. Stir pan and at the same time add a bit of water to the container to get the rest of your cornstarch mixture into the pan. I use a Chinese restaurant tea cup to mix the starch. Cook until the sauce becomes clear. Arrowroot, or rice flour may be substituted] The wraps form a half moon around the filling. Start them in an oiled frying pan with a tight lid. When one side is brown turn them over to brown the second side. Add a cup of water and clap the lid on. That will steam them done in a few minutes. Serve with soy or Mirin. Mirin is half rice vinegar and half sugar with the merest hint of a splash of soy. Well, that's how I learned it. Per Wikipedia it is sweetened rice wine, i.e. sake, heated to reduce the alcohol. You can buy the stuff bottled or make your own as you need it. Make it by the pint or quart if you eat oriental more often than once a year as it is useful at least once in every meal.
Siu Mai, or steamed meat dumplings: These I usually call Lamb mai as ground lamb is my filling of choice. More usually they are pork with shrimp or pork sausage. The round wrap is tucked around the filling so that the top is open. Steaming can be done in bamboo baskets, in metal steamers or by putting a pie pan inside a kettle with a tight lid on top of a tuna can to keep the pie plate from getting too hot. All that is required is away to surround most of the food with steam without boiling it in water, or exposing it to a dry heat.
Bao, or steamed buns: A sweet yeast bread surrounds a tasty filling of sweet or savory. Bread doesn't need sugar in it, though most people like homemade bread with a tablespoon of sugar in it for two loaves. This dough has between a third and three-quarters of a cup of sugar for a similar amount. Steaming offers a unique texture to the bread. It is springier and has very tiny holes from the gas produced by the yeast. It remains the color of the dough rather than browning as baked bread does. You can use the same dough to make dinner rolls, just leave the filling out and steam as usual. this might be good with a pot roast or cassoulet instead of dumplings. The filling can be anything you like. See here and here for more of my bao lore.
Don Tots, or egg custard tarts: A flaky pastry about three inches in diameter holds a smooth egg custard. Well baked the custard is a sun yellow with not the least hint of caramelizing brown. Absolutely simple. Nothing much. Yet this is what sells out first at the bakery no matter how many they bake. When you make them at home be sure to hide one for the chef or there'll be none left for him.
Chinese New Years IV

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"My Best Gingerbread"

Dorothy spent her early teens as a slavey in her mother Florence's Baltimore boarding house. Then Florence married Strother Judson Clark, a dashing road builder who sometimes sailed the windy side of finance. This allowed them to make a new home on what Dorothy always, rather grandly, but with a mischievous glint in her eye, called "the north shore of Virginia." I knew that innuendo was present. Just wasn't sure what. Maybe it was insinuation.
Her step daddy, known as SJC, was part of the Clark family that lived on the plantation next to George Washington's Mount Vernon. William Clark, whom Jefferson sent west with Merriweather Lewis, was SJC's great, great, or better, grand relation.
At some point between getting a step-dad and graduating in the, then, new field of Home Economics from what was then called the Virginia Normal or Teacher's College, Dorothy visited Mount Vernon and took note of Martha Washington's 'Receipt Book'. This was the ledger where Martha kept her kitchen records including her recipes. Dorothy came away with one called "My Best Gingerbread."
Lots of people did. Search for 'Martha Washington's gingerbread' to find many, many more.
Gingerbread was a great favorite with the English/Americans of the sixteenth century through the Nineteenth (scroll down for another one from Martha). One speculates that George's famed wooden teeth might be a result of his fondness for gingerbread.
Here's what I found among the shards of Dorothy's recipe box:
"My Best Gingerbread"
By Martha Washington
1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 cup lard
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1 cup dark molasses
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1 cup cake flour
Preheat oven to 325-3500f. Cream sugar with lard and butter. Add egg and molasses. Sift dry ingredients and fold in. Bake in a greased pan for 35 minutes.
This doesn't quite suit.* Dorothy makes a variation by adding 1 1/2 cup of flour and a cup of hot water. Flour the pan.

After trying both I made note that 1 extra cup of flour was all that's needed.

Tonight I just cut the molasses to a half cup. This makes a moist not quite sticky gingerbread.

So, is this authentically Martha's Best?

I don't think so. All of the recipes, save one, cited here are in modern measures and use modern ingredients such as baking powder instead of saleratas or wild yeast, or beer for leaven. The spicing is also changed. Ingredients such as dried fruit or buttermilk or sour cream or milk that I would expect to find are not included. Martha's best bolted flour would be very different from the modern instantisedtm, pulveravished, send to infinity - turn it around three times - and bring it back, cake flour.
Dorothy copied a recipe from Martha's book and then set about translating it into something that would work in her kitchen with the ingredients available to her. Its like Del's story of the axe: "It's had three new handles and two new heads, but it's the same god damn axe my great grandfather brought out here on the Oregon Trail."
That to one side, "My Best Gingerbread" lives up to Dorothy's highest approbation: it is very easy to eat.
A very Happy Birthday to the first President of the US!
UPDATE 7/28/2010: *Curiously enough, it does. The trick is in the pan. Put the original recipe in an 8" X 13" pan and it bakes up fine, particularly if you like the Gingerbread gooey and sticky as many do.
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Monday, February 19, 2007

Substance Abuse

Digby remarks in the midst of a long and as ever worthy post:
But a single source had given Gerth the tip on the story and arranged for him to meet Jim McDougal, who was at the time suffering from manic depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, and bankruptcy.
As if money was addictive.

oh ...


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Chinese New Year II

Two years in Japan, courtesy of our Uncle Samuel and his lovable (just ask us!) swabbies, imbued me with the culinary delights of East Asia. It also offered a few pointers on cooking.

Once, returning late from Shinjuku, I arrived on the last passenger train of the day at the town near my base. A noodle shop was still open, though I was its only customer. So I asked for a bowl of Yaki Soba (aka the Japanese hamburger due to its ubiquity). After providing it the owner returned to the cooking lesson she was giving to her apprentice just the other side of the counter from me. This was:
How to Chop an Onion
First you slice the stem and blossom ends off the whole onion.
Second you cut it in half from pole to pole.
Third you remove the dried skin from either half and discard it in the pig slop bucket. (I use the compost heap.)
Fourth you place one half on its cut face with the poles going across the line of your knife cut, or athwartship as us cool (only in our own eyes) nautical types say. Slice latitudinal cross sections of the half onion as thick as you wish the final result to be. If you want long julienne strips, omit this step. Fine dice requires many cuts with your blade.
When you have finished the latitudinal work , turn the onion half by ninety degrees and lay the slices over like a deck of cards so that the onion is as flat as possible. Hold this to the board with your non-knife wielding hand with the tips of your fingers curled under so that the first knuckle from your palm juts out. Now rest your chopper against the knuckle and on top of the onion where you want the first cut to go to give you the size dice you want and Bametty- bam- bam- bam. Its done.
Do likewise to the other half.
Use the cleaver to move the diced onion off the board into the prep container.
n.b.: beginner's should work a cut at a time and pick up only as much speed as you are comfortable with as you gain facility. Most important is the little crab walk of the non-chop hand which never, ever, ever, gets out from under the knuckle's protective overhang. Second most important is to never raise the knife edge to knuckle height. The side of the blade must always be riding on your knuckle so you know --tactilely -- where the edge is. Near the end of each half the slice will enlarge due to the curvature of spheres. Let the last bit fall on its beam end and continue chopping at 900.

Back in the states I acquired a proper wok, tool set and Chinese style cleavers. To the left is a picture of that first spatula where it hangs in honorable retirement above the stove. Over the years
I had to turn it a new handle, which I secured with one of the copper nails I used to make. The split in the shovel area is the result of use. Years of back and forth thinned and work hardened the steel until it parted.
During our sojourn in Connecticut, after college, we visited Chinese Markets in both New York City and Boston. In a department store I found the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller. (Link takes you to paperback description because it has more info. There is also a hard cover so do a search) Miller was my mentor and guide through many of the realms of Chinese culinary skills.

When we first moved to Washington State, I got a job with Expo '74's Folklife Festival as a programmer -- which meant something different to the Folklife Festival than it does nowadays. I was supposed to find and vet the craftspeople who would form our display for a week. Typically there were two or three cooks prepared appropriate food samples, artisans and craft people displayed their skills, and performers sang , danced, and/or acted material appropriate to the week's theme whether that was an ethnic group or a trade such as logging or boat building. My first assignment was for our Chinese Week. Somebody else found the initial contact months before. My task was to make sure that what our contact had put together would work. The contact was a lovely young woman who worked in an art gallery behind (South) of the odd triangular building that then housed the fabulous Tashiro's Hardware (which was included in the Whole Earth Catalog for its traditional Japanese pull saws). My contact introduced me to the Wing Luke Museum which was then a storefront just getting itself organized. She guided me through the International District of Seattle east of the King Street station. This included Uwajimaya's Grocery and all things Asian store, The Kau Kau which still offers the best barbecue pork in Seattle. And she took me to lunch at the King Cafe.
Alas the King cafe is no more. The buildings on that block were demolished to make way for the new Wing Luke. After some 35 years of daily operation the family that opened it decided to close it rather than move or sell it on to a stranger. That might have been problematic as the recipes were mostly in the head of the Brother who cooked. I hope that the Wing Luke museum has a project to record those recipes.

The King cafe was in a narrow building two stories tall in the middle of the block. The door opened into a small area which contained a stair case with a cash register counter tucked under it. The always cheerful Sister greeted and worked the til. There were two small tables along one wall where guests sometimes ate if the upstairs overflowed. Most times they were occupied with young nieces or nephews 'helping' Sister. The rest of that floor, behind a swing door, was the kitchen. At the top of the stairs the second Brother waited. There were many tables and a dumb waiter that communicated to the kitchen. At lunch time the room was full of people and noise. Chatter and laughter and joyous screams and jokey arguments and greetings hailed across the room in Chinese and English. Frequently newcomers had to wait in line all down the stairs until a seat became free.
Once seated a waiter (Brother or a 20 something nephew) arrived with tea and water. If you wanted anything besides dim sum you told him and he would scribble it down before crossing to the dumb waiter to shout the order down to brother in the kitchen. A second waiter would arrive bearing a three foot diameter tray covered in small plates. The plates were of different shapes: round or oval. Some with a stripe in the glaze; others plain. Occasionally plates would be stacked two deep. Each plate held two, maybe, cha sui bao - steamed bread hiding a pocket of barbecue pork; or three, maybe spring rolls; four fried won ton; or six delicate sui mai -- tasty ground pork flecked with bits of vegetables and ginger and water chestnuts steamed in a thin wheat dumpling wrap. How many of each item were on each plate depends more on how much the item costs than how big they are. The shape and coloring of each plate meant a different price. As a plain oval was $1.20, perhaps while the oval with the stripe was a $1.50. If there were two plates, the price doubled. A succession of waiters bore trays filled with dim sum from the dumb waiter around the tables and back to the dumbwaiter empty. Shouts down the shaft with distant responses up the shaft. Creak-- here comes the next couple of trays and this time they might contain ha gow (shrimp bonnets). Slam! Clatter! The dumbwaiter descends with trays of dirty crockery. Over sated at last we beckon and the waiter appears to tote up all our plates: so many at one price so many at another. Down the stairs we groan to compliment Sister and pay the modest bill. Maybe the door to the kitchen opens as someone goes through to permit us a peep at the Brother who cooked, sweat streaming, as he runs to pull more Shrimp toast out of the deep fryer or turnip cake out of the steamer.
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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Enter the Red Fire Boar!

The Year of the Red Fire Dog is past
Fancy origami depicts Chinese description of the Lunar New Year which began today (18 February 2007). In China and much of Southeast Asia this is a major festival celebrated with much visiting to family, friends, and bosses (whether political, economic, familial, tribal, societal or ideological). There is much cleaning of houses and finances. The small statues or pictures which represent the kitchen gods have their mouths smeared with fat so they will speak well of the family when they fly off to report to heaven at this time. Many foods prepared in traditional ways are served. Each region, each village, has its specialties and rituals that are similar to but not the same as those elsewhere on the continent. Festivities take ten days or more. What I report here is possibly apocryphal and not necessarily universal, but what I have been told. As no offense is intended, I willing apologize for any errors in advance.

Here at Dum Luks our celebration is less extensive. We use it as a good reason to make dim sum for a few friends.

My connection to things Chinese began when I was but a child. Earle, as part of his role as a manager, was active in a local businessman's group. It might have been the Chamber of Commerce, or it might have been something else. The group stood sponsor for a local Cantonese restaurateur's family with the INS. Earle approached this situation as a typically practical engineer would. Since the group was financially liable if the restaurant didn't succeed, he took his family to eat there. Often. It was no hardship as the food was excellent. I was maybe eight the first time we went.
We quickly learned that dishes were to be shared. Variety was better than a surfeit of one dish. We quickly developed favorites. Spring rolls we ignorantly called egg rolls and could not do without. No other spring rolls anywhere else have ever been quite as good as those first ones we ate at Kam Lan's. You will dispute that based on where you had your first spring roll. That will be your Michelin standard than which there is no than whicher. Another was pressed duck. But after these essentials were mentioned Earle would tell Charlie -- of course he was known as Charlie. This was the Midwest where the melting pot worked or we would know the reason why. "Charlie," Earle said, "Just bring us what you think we will like." And Charlie did just that. And we did like it.
We asked Charlie why he called his restaurant "Kam Lan's" He told us that Kam Lan was an ancient capital of China similar to King Arthur's Camelot. I have never found any other reference to this.
Charlie and Kam Lan's did flourish for many a year past my knowledge. Two or three years ago I found a web site for the restaurant. Alas it is not findable now. I suspect that Charlie's great grand children have moved well on from his early hard scrabble days in the land of the golden mountain.

During my several cross country treks as a student there were always two sub-quests to the main reason for traveling. First was finding a cafe that served real hash brows. Occasional successes were to be savored. "Real hash browns" means they started from an actual potato you could wash the dirt off of less than a day before. It meant that the potato was cut into quarter inch cubes and not miscellaneous gratings. It meant that the potato had never been frozen or dehydrated or reconstituted -- but I digress. The second sub-quest was to find a Chinese "greasy spoon" for dinner. To call them "greasy spoons" was a calumny of the first water. What we meant by that was, not to cast aspersions on the sanitation, but that the decor was unprepossessing. An absence of glitter and glitz was warrant to me that the food was good enough not to need distractions. Most of the time I was right. I remember one in Cheyenne, Wyoming, that was significant because my trail mate and I had stopped in a haberdashery so I could buy my first (and last) Stetson just before we found it. Just off the main drag on a side street was a narrow store front with plate glass windows flanking a central glass paned door. The glass had that vaguely fuzzy look that comes of being cleaned for decades. It could no longer sparkle. But it wasn't dusty. To say it was dusty meant that you hadn't really looked. Inside the air was redolent of oriental herbs, peanut oil and ginger. Paper lanterns shrouded the bare bulbs that lit the tall ceiling and cast a dim hazy bistro light on the tables. Booths lined one wall and a half dozen tables of various sizes filled the other side. Each table had a white cloth that had seen the inside of the laundry tub and the starch bucket many times. The large menu bound in hazed plastic sealed with black tapes held a plethora of choices. The tantalizing promise of the menu was exceeded by the food.
Here I'll pause. As Mark Twain said, "It's a terrible death to be talked to death. So every now and again I pause to allow you to escape." But please return for more of China and Dum Luks and many New Years.
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Aw Shucks ...

So, Roy went and nominated me for a Koufax in the Best Series category.
I might say "Gosh, ya shudtnna!" in my best Bert Lahr voice. Or I could snarl: "Where were the rest of you slugs?"

But the rules! The rules:

So ...
I admit to being honored out of my pea brain to be among such fine company. As Bob Kerr a veteran CBC announcer once said of Ian Alexander a young announcer who now is in the stratosphere of broadcasting house in Toronto:
"He's so frighteningly competent!"
Follow the link to start reading some of the most imperishable verbiage produced on the great wonder that is Blogtopia during 2006. Go here to start reading my Series on Myths Classic and Hard Won.
When voting time comes around be sure to vote for your favorite.
Thank you.
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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An Arrow and an Error

A sweet for St. Valentine's Day. What have we? Hmmm...
Not enough cream for pots de cream. Not enough eggs for Chocolate Steamed pudding. (A dense dark chocolate cake smothered in a golden custard sauce.) Looks like an attack of bad planning. What do we have? Dark chocolate pastilles. Pie cherries, frozen. Hazel nuts. Ah, yes: Frangelica hazel nut liqueur. So:
Valentine Cake
Preheat oven to 3500
Butter a nine inch square pan. Cover with a layer one deep of frozen cherries, about one and a half cups. Sprinkle with a third of a cup of brown sugar and three tablespoons of Frangelica. Grate a cup of hazel nuts medium fine. Melt a quarter cup of butter. Beat one egg til light. Slowly add a third of a cup of white sugar. Beat until dissolved. Add a half cup of cream and the melted butter. Add a cup of flour and two tablespoons of baking powder. Mix well. Add the nuts. Spread on top of cherries. cover top of cake with semi-sweet chocolate pastilles. Bake for 30 minutes or until done.
-- Dum Luk's
Well, that was the arrow intended to show my heart's devotion. I took the butter out of the freezer and put it in the micro to melt. That was the last I thought of it until I opened the micro door to set the timer. Fortunately there is the cream, so hopefully it will work.

Following an au gratin vegetables with barley, avocado salad and lamb chops the Valentine Cake worked quite well, though it was close to dry. Another time I would use the butter and three-quarters cup of cream to make the cake a bit more moist. Maybe an additional egg, too.
n.b: that's the handle of one of my Chinese cleavers stored between the counter and the stove to the left of the cake pan.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Oenophile Disaster

February 13, 2007
Scalzi's Pix and map remind me:

Just arrived back at Antioch from the Navy (circa 1969), I was lucky enough to have a former room mate and best friend who provided shelter while I sorted myself out.
Life continued and I discovered my friend Richard had invested in wine. He had, I seem to remember, 39 cases of a Montrachet 1957 stored in a three sided barn adjacent to his house.
Then came a storm, not quite as ferocious as that John Scalzi and the East Coast are currently experiencing, but enough to freeze the wine in the shed. That destroyed the investment value.
The investment was gone, sad to say, but the wine he served for the next little while was far more delicious, prized, exquisite, and valuable then most of what I have experienced since. For that, and much, much, more, I thank him.
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Monday, February 12, 2007

Unintended Consequences

Greenman Tim at Walking the Berkshires has a cogent post about unintended consequences. Boy are we humans full of them! Please read him and follow the links to get a good take on the global warming affray. It's my springboard to:

Del began working as a deck hand on tugs while still in high school just after WWII. Through college he worked his way into the engine room and then up to the wheel house as skipper. He was there when his tug company was bought by Foss. Foss painted thir boats yellow and green. The old company painted the boats blue and red. Foss had the yard paint all the boats the Foss colors. Out they'd go as smart as can be. So soon as they cleared the breakwater the deck hands would open the paint locker. When the tug returned it was a sparkling blue and red. Foss tried reason, bribery, spies, rotating crews, confiscating paint lockers and brushes. After some months of this they gave up. They were spending their profit on paint for well painted boats.

But the story with the unintended consequences happened when Del was chief engineer. He had a layover with not much to do, so he did some routine -- and not so routine -- maintenance. His engineering skills convinced him that the engine would run more efficiently at a couple hundred rpm more than it was used to. When the Skipper -- an old timer -- came aboard Del reported the change. But he didn't explain it. This Captain did not suffer explanations gladly. With a laconic "Very well" (or whatever) he turned back to the boatsun and ordered engines to standby. Del dove for the engine room two decks below and off they went up the sound.
Some hours later they were threading a narrow channel between islands -- possibly Drayton Passage -- When Del took a break on deck. He recognized the trees where they were. He checked the time. It was what he knew it to be. That meant the state of the tide was not able to serve. He dove for the engine room once again and threw the engines in reverse just as the keel slid firmly into the mud at the peak of the channel. The air was already turning blue from the wheel house, outwards and mostly downwards.
They sat there in splendor an hour or two until the flow of the high tide floated them off. They were fully visible to that part of the fleet that happened to pass by on the other side of the island.
How this happened is that the Skipper knew the channel, he knew the tides and he knew the speed of his boat. He planned to take a short cut through a shoal channel which he knew he could pass provided the tide was not too far out. At the regular speed there would be no problem.
Del changed the speed of the boat by increasing the rpms of the prop. So the tug arrived sooner than the Skipper planned.
A more efficient engine and an unintended consequence.
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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tell the World

Archy asks if one oils or foils a baked potato.

Poke holes in the skin to avoid steam build up exploding the potato (honest-- not a terrorist weapon) all over your oven unless you like cleaning the oven.

Oven roast potatoes are peeled, thereby avoiding steam build up and placed in boiling water for a few minutes (3 to five) then drained. Then add oil, salt and pepper, and swish them around and place on the rack beside the roast. The oil plus the softened outer layer of potato turns crisp and brown and tasty.

Wrap potatoes in foil with a bit of butter to throw on the barbie or camp fire.

Best is Angelo Pellegrini's recipe for adult fries: Mix cut potatoes with salt, pepper, fresh rosemary and olive oil. When well covered pour into an oven proof dish and bake at 400 degrees f. for about 40 minutes. Turn about half way through.
All your problems will disappear.
Cross posted to Archy's comments
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Friday, February 09, 2007

Sickies' Soup

The Kidtm came home from her day at college and asked if she could have some lemony soup. This is loosely based on Avgolemono. I make it whenever any household member has a stuffed head.
Of course chicken soup is where you start. Make a broth if you are in to that or just brown a few pieces of chicken in some oil or fat with an onion coarsely chopped. Today I used two legs, but a breast would also do. When the chicken is browned and the onions are translucent, add a quarter cup of garlic, two or three pieces of smashed ginger root, a half teaspoon of cayenne, a can of chicken stock and two cans of water. If you have hot peppers add them. Also chop and add a rib of celery, a carrot, a bit of red and/or green pepper, and whatever else looks good for the pot. Some cauliflower and broccoli went into mine today with a couple of mushrooms. After the stock begins to simmer add a half cup of rice or orzo or barley. When that is cooked add a lemon. You can add it as grated rind and juice or as sliced whole lemon. When you are almost ready to serve add any leafy greens you might have: cilantro or parsley or watercress or cabbage or mustard greens etc. You can also add an egg by mixing it in a bowl with a cup of hot stock and while still stirring pouring that into the pot. Or you can pour a lightly beaten egg into the hot soup while stirring to make an egg drop soup effect.
What goes into this soup depends on what is in the cupboard, not a particular recipe. Add herbs as you like. The main thing about it is that the spicing is meant to blow the top of the sickies head off so that the mucous drains. You know you have it about right when the sickie can just taste the garlic and peppers or cayenne, while it is as spicy hot as the well ones can stand. Tell them it is insurance.
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Real Swedish Pancakes

Every year a local group throws a pancake breakfast to raise money for their good purposes. One in particular, in an area with lots of Scandahoovians and their descendents, features Swedish pancakes. One year we decided to attend to see what these were like. They were very good, worth the wait which was more than the money because lots of people came. You know Swedish pancakes? Light, eggy, served with berry jam and sour cream. They are somewhere in the vicinity of crepes and blini.(If the links disappear search 'Swedish Pancakes' on the Food Network)
I mentioned our jaunt to Del who gave voice:
"Oh, yes. They are quite tasty and the men have so much fun playing chef while the women organize them. But they aren't real Swedish pancakes. They are something you might find in Aunt Agatha's Tea Shoppe in Stockholm, But real Swedes would laugh it back to the kitchen."
Did I mention that Del was half German and half Sicilian? So of course he knew.
He gave me the following recipe which, I cheerfully admit, makes a wonderful pancake -- particularly if you plan to split a cord or three of firewood that day.
Real Swedish Pancakes
Mix 4 cups rolled oats, 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons soda, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and a pinch of salt.
Add 4 beaten eggs, 4 cups buttermilk, 1/2 cup melted butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Stir. Let stand 45 minutes to thicken.
Do NOT add more liquid.
Fry on griddle by spoonfuls.
The warning is apt. The temptation to dilute -- while great -- must be resisted. I have kept the batter overnight in the fridge and for as much as a week without apparent ill effect. That's strange considering that the baking powder and soda, once wet, should loose their leavening power in less than a day.
Also this recipe scales nicely. Divide the major quantities by four and the leaven and vanilla by half for a modest breakfast for four or six. At The Kid'stmrequest I occasionally use a waffle iron instead of a griddle.
Waffles: Better butter and syrup traps.
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Monday, February 05, 2007

Meditation Mantra

We know that science can proceed along a false or misleading path for a long time when the cultural biases of the scientists lead research.
Science is a bitch discipline. Nothing is taken for granted. Assumptions are the most deadly opponents. Beliefs too often masquerade as facts. Facts that all us monkeys agree make reality. Before you know it fiction is truth.
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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Marmalade Season

Seville Oranges arrived in the local market last week. They usually ripen at the end of January or early February in the US Southwest. Some folks (Tempe residents, for instance) can find them on their streets ready to pick from the ornamentals in the median. Up here in the left hand corner we have the honor of supporting the sellers and growers with cash. Which I am happy to do to get some good marmalade for the rest of the year.
Dorothy always had James Keeler's Dundee Marmalade in its ceramic pots with a paper hoop top. Made handsome drink containers and pencil jars when the last golden chunk of orange peel and sugar was scraped from the bottom.
The classic tale of marmalades origin is that a "canny" Glaswegian ship skipper overreached himself by buying up a cargo of oranges from Seville dirt cheap. Since he took his vitamins strictly in the form of single malt, he didn't realize how bitter his cargo was. Naturally, in his distress, he turned to his wife for assistance. Being a grocer's daughter she recognized the opportunity and invented marmalade on the instant. Likely that's marketer's blarney. But there is a strong connection of marmalade to Scotland.
To make a preserve of bitter citrus is not uncommon if you think of the various chutney's from India or the sour plum jam so highly prized in Japan. The recipe I take off from is to be found in Jennifer Brennan's: Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and Cook Book of the British Raj (try the usual suspects for used or new copies), which combines many fine Anglo-Indian recipes with memories of growing up in India in the late forties. There it betrays its Scot's roots in it's title: Granny Whitburn's Marmalade. I call mine Single Malt Marmalade.
To begin, you'll need about two and a quarter pounds of Sevilles, about six or seven, a lemon, some sugar and a decent single malt. For my taste the darker, peatier and smokier the better. Pity I can't afford Laphroaig. Dalmore's nice and Lismore works with the advantage of fitting the budget. But that is just me.
The first step in the process is to sharpen your knives. If you keep on top of them, that only means a whet or six to the paring knife. For more extensive operations go here, and here and then take your pluck in one hand and plunge in.
On your cutting board lay a square (better then a foot square} of cheese cloth. Remove the zest from the Sevilles and Lemon.

I had a half grapefruit rind left from breakfast so in it went. Zest is the outer skin which contains the color. When it turns white and soft its called pith. You can make the zest what you will. Line it up in military squares and chop it with a ruler. I do think using a micrometer in the kitchen is a bit absurd. Or cut it higgledy-piggley as you see here that
I prefer.
Quarter the fruit and pull the pith off the meat. Over the stock pot or jam kettle cut the quarter half through from the center and squeeze from either end to get the pips to gather in your fingers. These and the pith go onto the cheese cloth.The sharp knife makes this whole process go faster which is nice as at this point. If you have any cuts around your cuticles you will notice the intense impact of the acidic citrus juice on your digits.
Now the fruit and zest are in the pot and the pith and pips are on the cheese cloth, right? That's okay. Pick the pith out of the pot and put it on the cloth. Keep going until all the fruit has been prepared.
Now gather the corners of your cheese cloth around the pith and pips and tie it up like a hobo's bindle, ready for the stick. add it and a gallon of water to the pot and bring it to a boil. Let it sit there smiling away for a good three hours. Watch it until you are sure it won't boil over.
Let the pot cool and put it out of your way overnight.

The next day, pull the cheese cloth bag out of the marmalade and squeeze its juice back into the pot. That juice is full of the citrus' natural pectin. Discard the pith and pips ball.
Yesterday's boiling reduced the liquor to near half. Measure it into a clean pot and make it three quarts with fresh water. Add between six and eight cups of sugar. How much depends on the bitterness/ripeness of the fruit and your taste preferences. A second opinion is essential here at Dum Luk's because not every one is as found of tart/bitter as Dum Luk's himself is. (If you like the sweeter "California" style you might go to nine or even ten. But better would be to use Valencias rather than Sevilles and two lemons and a lime. The sweeter oranges need less sugar to balance them.) Set the pot at about half speed to bring it slowly up to almost a boil to caramelize the sugar and turn the juice a rich dark golden brown. This takes an hour and a half or thereabouts. While waiting you play find the pips. They usually are the round things floating next to the square cut peel pieces. Cheer up even though you know you found them all Aunt Tilly will extract one from her plate at the all important breakfast.
Towards the end of that get about eight twelve ounce jars, or equivalent, a funnel and a ladle ready to sterilize.
When the marmalade is dark enough to suit you, turn the heat up full to quickly raise the temperature to a jelly stage -- 2200f. at sea level. I keep a couple of steel ice cream dishes in the freezer for jam testing. Put a half teaspoonful of juice in the bowl and tip it so the juice cools rapidly. If it doesn't respond to gravity when you tip it upside down, beyond a yearning bulge in the direction of the floor, then its ready to jar and seal.
OOOPS! Greenman Tim points out I skipped a step. Before you jar... Remove from the heat. Add 3 tablespoons of single malt. Re heat for 1 minute. Let sit for fifteen minutes. Then jar. You can expect about 72 ounces. More than that makes a topping for ice cream (or fresh snow if you have any.) Less than that heads in the direction of juggler's balls.
Now to make some bread ...
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