A Culinary Tribute to the Most Honorable Motherland

Upper management here at the Squabblery is 50% Chinese, so in tribute to the Most Honorable Motherland we have embarked upon an epic gastronomic journey. We are going to (or at least aspire to) cook our way through The Food of China cookbook (Murdoch Books, recipes by Deh-Ta Hsiung and Nina Simonds). Yuan gave this book to Little Miss for Christmas a few years back because it has great food photography, seemingly delicious recipes, and it appears to have been on sale. So far we’ve made a few things from it here and there, but now we set out to conquer. It seems to be a pretty good overview of some of the classic dishes of the various regional Chinese cuisines, and it is relatively short (relatively), so we actually stand at least some chance of completing our self-assigned task.

Our first foray took place about a week ago. Yes, I know, I have been slacking on my posting duties. Apologies all around. The occasion this time was catching up with a friend Yuan hadn’t seen in a while, and the (eventual) arrival of Ji, amateur whistling virtuoso and East Coast Chair of our Council on Gastronomic Indulgence.

There was no real rhyme or reason to our menu selection this time around – in fact, it mostly consisted of Little Miss wanting to make everything and Yuan putting his foot down. In the end, we concocted perhaps not a well-rounded menu but a satisfying one:

We started with a winter melon and ham soup. I’d actually never had winter melon before, and as it turns out I’m a big fan. It’s not sweet like you’d expect, but still has that mild, smooth taste that American melon-eaters (hee) are used to. The melon took on the flavors of the ham and some dried shrimp, which gave the whole dish a rich, savory kick in the flavor pants.

This soup was warming and hearty in the same way a much heavier wintry soup would be, but it was clear and light and simple.

Steamed beef with rice flour, a classic Shanghainese dish and a staple of Yuan’s childhood. The meat is marinated, coated in toasted ground rice, then steamed.

The rice hydrates and gets all fat and soft, and absorbs the flavor of the marinade.

I think our favorite dish from this tribute was the jellyfish and shredded chicken salad. The salad is an exercise in contrasts, blending crunchy jellyfish and celery with tender chicken, sauced with a rich soy-sesame-oyster sauce concoction, but with a gingery vinegar dressing to be drizzled over individual portions. Garnished with cilantro and toasted sesame seeds, this was crunchy, perky, and not your typical “Asian chicken salad.” Not unlike myself…

We finished off the meal with some dragonfruit, which we’d never had before but which looked too comically alien to resist when we were at the market. For those who haven’t seen them, they are fiercely pink and covered in large green-tipped petals, for lack of a better word. The flesh tastes like a mellow, less-tart version of a kiwi, and the texture is similar as well. Its a good thing Yuan bought it before realizing how expensive it was (that and the cherimoyas we also bought but which weren’t ripe yet), because otherwise we might not have known how deliciously cartoonish they are!

I believe all partakers would agree, or at least not deny, that the first Culinary Tribute to the Most Honorable Motherland was pretty much a success. Stay tuned, we have quite a bit of cooking ahead of us, and as always we’ll have cameras at the ready.

thanksgiving: a delicate dance of wine, football, and culinary excess

Ah Thanksgiving. A holiday tradition that cuts right to the chase. No religion. No inedible rituals. A day that is all, and only, about eating, drinking, enjoying the company of loved ones, and watching tv. Clearly, this is something all three of us can support without reservation.

Little Miss and the Princess set up camp in Davis, while Yuan provided the lynchpins for basically a banquet in Mill Valley. His post is forthcoming. (That’s right Yuan, I called you out. Now you have to post your pictures.)

The photographic highlights of our foodie high holy day:

Bjorn bought a cast-iron dutch oven so he could make no-knead bread, using the New York Times recipe from a couple of years ago.

It was a breadmaking miracle! The results were perfect – crispy crust (ohhhh… symphony of crackle…), chewy interior with nice big bubbles and all the other things you want in a nice fresh loaf of bread (that I don’t know the names of. Something about a crumb. Don’t you judge me.).

We put Garrett and Bjo
rn to work on the green beans.

We brined the turkey overnight with salt, brown sugar, sage, thyme, orange peel, peppercorns, and a couple of bay leaves.

Lisa squished copious amounts of lemon-herb-garlic butter under the skin, then gave him a thorough butter massage and a liberal peppering. It was hot.

Mr. Turkey was not sacrificed in vain, for he was freakin’ delicious. His meat was juicy and flavorful, his skin crispy, his gravy luscious. And there was much rejoicing.

Incidentally, my arms and back are a little sore from hauling a 20-lb bird in and out of the oven. Some might take that as a sign they should go to the gym. I take it as a sign I should roast and eat more turkeys.

Bjorn made butternut squash soup with carrots, apples, ginger, thyme, and sage. It was rich but not heavy, the perfect balance of sweet and savory, intensely autumn.

Apple tart. Pastry by Stephanie, fruit mosaic by Lisa. Teamwork is delicious.

The spread.

A trio of tarts: apple, pumpkin, and cranberry eggnog. Tart not pictured: your mom.

We found ourselves facing a happy ratio of one dessert for every two people/eaters/celebrants.

We performed admirably.

Now, if you will excuse me, there’s a fridge full of leftovers that aren’t going to eat themselves.