Filled Cherry Tomatoes

First off, I apologize for not having blogged in like two months. I’m the worst. We’ve been suddenly very busy, doing pop-up dinners for a local inn and running our Airbnb, which is finally up! (Come stay with us!) Most of our cooking at home is trying out new stuff for guests, so we haven’t had a lot of time to play around with random new stuff for us. But we promise we’ll get back to the Too Many Cookbook Challenge. The next book on the list is…problematic, so we’re probably going to pause there and jump to the vegetarian section of our collection while we can still get vegetables. Winter is coming.

But I digress. If you knew me in the ’90’s, you would know that the answer to the question “What does Kate love?” was “MARTHA!” It’s true. I was a Martha Stewart fangirl. I was obsessed. I watched the show over and over, I bought the books, I subscribed to the magazine, I wanted everything to be Just So. Of course, it rarely was. Martha’s genius is that she makes everything look effortless, and once again, I was sure that I could make something of hers and have it be stunning. And once again, I was wrong.

We were having people over and I wanted to be fancy, and the Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook was next on the list, so this was a perfect opportunity! We had some delicious white bean mash in the fridge, so I decided to make her Filled Cherry Tomatoes. Just hollow out some cherry tomatoes, fill them with something delectable, and you have a lovely, healthy party snack! So simple, right? Oh, Martha. You got me again.

What an absolute pain in the ass. Even with the sharpest knife we own (yes, it was sharp, Rick Brown) I couldn’t slice the tops off neatly. The ones in Martha’s book look like they were surgically sliced with a laser. Mine were a hot mess, but eventually I got all the little fuckers hollowed out. Of course, there were tomato seeds everywhere. I tried to wash them, but it just kept being messy and the clock was ticking. And neatly putting a wee bit of bean purée in the cups was next to impossible. There were minced onions in the beans and they stuck like glue to everything. Then there was the fun of wedging enough blanched haricots verts into the other cups. Too tall and they fall over, too short and they look ridiculous, too few and they fall over AND look ridiculous.

I took like a million photos and they were all terrible. Then when I went to select one for this, they were even worse than I thought. I actually spent about half an hour photoshopping one of the photos, but I’m going to share an untouched pic so you can see how honestly terrible they looked (and what a bad photograph it is.) SEE??? I had to surround the tall ones with the bean mash ones as kind of a shield. Nothing I could do made those tall ones stand up on their own. Martha must have glued hers to the plate.

Ugh. Never again. But they all got eaten, and the green bean ones were especially delicious. So damn crisp and tasty. But NO! NEVER AGAIN! NO MORE MARTHA. Ooooh, Gazpacho in Cucumber Cups. Doesn’t that sound delightful?

Please send gin.

Next up: Square Meals : America’s Favorite Comfort Cookbook by Jane and Michael Stern OR The Flexitarian Table by Berley and Singer

Our Valentine’s Day Chinese Feast

Bill Lee’s Bamboo Chopsticks, Bakersfield, California, the early 1970s: my first experience with Chinese food and also the first time I ever had rice that didn’t come out of a box or a boiling bag. That meal was a revelation and the beginning of my lifelong love of Chinese 10982472_1544562569145642_7033656787876584065_nfood. From the Americanized Cantonese food of Bill Lee’s, I moved on to the more “exotic” Mandarin cuisine at Yen Ching, where I went out with my first serious girlfriend Lisa before prom, and discovered pot stickers, sizzling rice soup and mu shu pork. I’ve never looked back or stopped finding new Chinese dishes and regional cuisines to enjoy.

10989209_1544562592478973_2500696092370550640_nI first cooked my own Chinese food in college from an encyclopedic Chinese cookbook that I picked up at the half-price bookstore. Since then, I’ve read and cooked from a bunch of Chinese cookbooks and stir fries and take out classics like broccoli beef and fried rice have been go-to favorites for weeknight dinners. In recent years, some of my favorite resources have been Barbara Tropp’s classic The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking and China Moon Cookbook, which Kate introduced me to, and Jaden Hair’s delightful Steamy Kitchen Cookbook and website. My newest culinary love affair, though, is with Fuchsia Dunlop via her fantastic new book Every Grain of Rice. Don’t worry, Kate, I still love you, too. Every Grain of Rice

Every Grain of Rice is the first cookbook in a long time that I have literally been unable to put down. From the minute I got it home from the library, I’ve been reading it cover to cover. Fuchsia Dunlop draws on her years of travel and study in China and employs her clear and engaging writing style to explain what Chinese people actually eat at home. While most of the recipes are simple enough to make, the layers of flavor in the dishes that we have cooked so far have been stunning. Some of the recipes we’ve made, General Tso’s Chicken, for example, which Fuchsia learned to cook in the Taipei kitchen of Peng Chang-Kuei, the Hunanese exile chef who created it, have been so memorable that we’re unlikely to order them in a restaurant again. I simply can’t recommend this book highly enough.

10959368_1544562549145644_5641378934035202710_nWith this influence permeating our house, what else could Kate and I choose to do for a romantic Valentine’s Day but to cook an amazing Chinese dinner together? To make sure that all five of the dishes we were cooking came together without undue craziness, I made a chart of all the ingredients that needed to be chopped, soaked, sliced and marinated for each of the dishes and Kate organized all of the prepared ingredients by dish so that they would all come together without a hitch. And, with our signature teamwork, they did.

We started with Radishes in Chilli Oil Sauce, a simple but delicious cold dish of radishes IMG_0558dressed with soy, chilli oil and sesame oil and which has quickly become a regular in our go-to appetizer collection. We followed up with Bok Choy with Fresh Shiitakes, Chinese Broccoli with Sizzling Oil, Twice-Cooked Pork and Gong Bao Chicken accompanied by Tsingtao beer. Every single dish was treat, and, at the risk of being immodest, the Gong Bao IMG_0556Chicken (often written as Kung Pao) was the best that either of us has ever had.

The recipe that we’re going to share is for the Radishes in Chilli Oil Sauce, which, if you like them as much as we do, you’ll make over and over.

 

 

 

 

Radishes in Chilli Oil Sauce (Qiang Luo Bo)
(From Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches small red radishes10959744_1544543512480881_5774613897607201305_n
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp chilli oil with sediment
  • ½ tsp sesame oil

Instructions:

  1. Wash and trim the radishes and smack them lightly with the side of a cleaver or chef’s knife to crack them open.
  2. Salt the radishes and set them aside for approximately 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a small serving bowl.
  4. After 30 minutes, or so, drain the liquid from the radishes, pat them dry with a paper towel and add them to the bowl of sauce. Mix well and serve.