Monday, February 8, 2016

The Dim Sum Field Guide is now officially ready to go!

Happy Year of the Monkey! The happiest day on the Chinese calendar is finally here. Lots of my friends are monkeys – meaning that they were born in the year of, not that they are actual simians – and so I always think of this year as promising good things.

Today is not a day for cooking. In fact, if you have gotten your act together better than me, you should be living off the stuff you already socked away for these two weeks of celebration. So, instead of telling you what to make, I’m going to let you in on a preview of one of my two books. I think you’ll like it.

THE DIM SUM FIELD GUIDE: A TAXONOMY OF DUMPLINGS, BUNS, MEATS, SWEETS, AND OTHER SPECIALTIES OF THE CHINESE TEAHOUSE is coming out from Ten Speed Press in late August. I’ve been doing the final proofreading this last week, and I am so excited with how it has turned out.

First of all, this will be a smallish book – about the size of an iPad – so you can stash it in your bag or backpack whenever you head out for a dim sum meal. Arranged like a real field guide, all of those amazing dishes are divided into a sort of family tree, with genus and species. (Yeah, I know. But still. You have to take an idea and run with it.)

You will be able to identify 76 different types of dim sum through all of my hand-drawn illustrations. Both the Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations are in there for every singe dish, along with their traditional Chinese characters, so you can either proudly proclaim what it is you would like to order or point it out to your server.

In here you will get an idea of how each one of these dishes is made, its background, its flavors and textures, and the appropriate way to enjoy it. And, under each entry, you will see some of the other dim sum items to which it is related. For example, under Custard Tarts you can find shorter entries on Portuguese Custard Tarts and Milk Tarts, while Roast Duck will include mini discussions on Pipa Duck, Chaozhou-Style Braised Duck, and Roast Goose.

This book started out as a feature in the Lucky Peach “Chinatown” issue a couple of years ago. It has since morphed into this new and improved guidebook with over 200 dishes. Divided into savory and sweet dim sum, THE DIM SUM FIELD GUIDE is easy to use and full of fun facts.

You will learn in here, too, what types of tea to order with your meal, how to go about designing a dim sum brunch, and the proper etiquette. (Hint: it’s not all that hard.) 

Little symbols accompany each entry so that you know at a glance what is in that dish and how to eat it – Is it vegan? Does it include peanuts? Can I pick it up with my hands? – in order to quickly demystify this incredibly delicious way of leisurely enjoying a wide variety of flavors and textures during the course of your meal.

I’m happy to say now that it will be out in only seven months! Thank you, Chris Ying, for being this book’s godfather and providing a fabulous quote for the cover, Lucky Peach for nurturing this seedling of an idea, and Ten Speed Press for allowing it to grow into a genuine book. And last but certainly not least, thank you all for reading my work and encouraging me. I am grateful beyond belief.

What a dream come true.

All illustrations copyright (c) 2016 by Carolyn Phillips. Do not reproduce without written permission.

Ten Speed Press, forthcoming in August 2016
176 pages, 80 illustrations
ISBN: 978-60774-956-1

Monday, February 1, 2016

Variations on a Suzhou theme

So, last Friday we had the basic recipe for Suzhou-style year cakes. Here are four absolutely stunning variations on that basic theme. 

Also, please be sure to check out that other post I did the same day with lots of menu suggestions for Chinese New Year, which starts on February 8 and continues for two weeks. Fourteen days are a whole lot of reasons for dining well, so take advantage of this well-deserved reprieve from whatever diet you're on. 

A Daiso gift bag
I have to tell you, we just delivered some of these traditional Suzhou sweets to Chinese friends, and they flipped out. The reasons are simple: you can't find them anywhere unless they're homemade, and they are just plain delicious. 

If you're are going to divvy up your bounty (and the tightness of my jeans pretty much demands that this be done in my house), wrap up each slab in plastic wrap and then stick them in a fancy bag. 

I get the ones at Daiso (the Japanese dime store) that have fractured English on them, like the one on the right. I love that place to pieces. And how can you argue with the logic of "with the delicious cake which I made heartily, have happy time"? It says it all.

A fabulous alternative to the simple cornstarch coating I suggested in the previous recipe is an egg batter. Here's the easy recipe for that, as well as those variations I promised:

Egg batter for year cakes
4 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour, or as needed
Oil for frying
White sugar for sprinkling, optional

1. Slice the rice cake into thick strips, and then cut each strip widthwise into ½-inch pieces. Mix together the eggs and as much flour as needed to make a thin batter.

2. Heat about ¼ inch of oil in a flat skillet over medium high heat until a bit of the batter dropped into pan immediately sizzles. Dip each slice of rice cake into the batter so that it is lightly coated. Arrange as many of the slices in the pan as will fit without touching, and fry on both sides until golden. Repeat with the rest. Serve immediately as is, or with a sprinkle of sugar.

Black sesame year cakes
Hēimá niángāo 黑麻年糕

1. Add 1¼ cups ground toasted black sesame seeds to Step 1 and proceed with the rest of the recipe. You’ll end up with a deliciously ebony sweet that has the toasty nuttiness of sesame.

2. If you want to toast and grind your own sesame seeds, see Step 3 in this recipe. Pulverize small amounts of the cooled seeds in a spice grinder or blender so that they don’t turn into sesame paste.

Year cakes with red bean filling
Dòushā niángāo 豆沙年糕

1. First prepare the filling: Pour 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil into a wok or frying pan set over medium heat before adding about a generous 1 cup red bean paste (about a 15 oz/430g can) and ¼ teaspoon sea salt if you want less of a sweet edge to the filling. Use a silicone spatula to stir the paste around, scraping the bottom often, until it absorbs all of the oil. Remove the bean paste to a bowl and let it cool down completely so that it keeps its shape easily.

2. Next, wrap this bean paste in the dough: In Step 4 of the basic recipe, use a lightly oiled rolling pin to roll the dough out on an oiled surface into a large rectangle about 5 inches wide and 18 inches long. Place the red bean paste evenly down the center of the dough and pinch the edges of the dough closed around the bean paste. Pat the filled paste into an even rectangle as directed above. This makes a much larger cake than the other variations, so trim off about 3 inches from each end for yourself, and then cut the pretty middle section crosswise into 4 even pieces for giving away as gifts or serving to guests. A handful of chopped toasted walnuts or pine nuts, or even chopped cooked chestnuts, can be added to the filling, if you like.
Unexpectedly sensuous

3. As for the red bean paste, the Japanese brand Ogura-an is quite good and has a nice, chunky texture, but use what you like, and of course homemade is always wonderful. Whatever you use, the bean paste will fry up deliciously crispy and serve as a textural counterpoint to the soft and chewy rice paste.

Brown sugar and walnut year cakes
Hēitaáng hétáo niángāo 黑糖核桃年糕

Use dark brown sugar instead of white sugar in the basic recipe. Reserve 4 pretty halves from 1 cup walnut halves and pieces as decorations, and then lightly crush the rest of the nuts. Pulse these lightly into the dough in Step 3 so that you end up with walnut pieces no larger than ½ inch across. Proceed with the rest of the recipe and decorate the top of each finished cake by pressing a toasted walnut half into its center. 
Better than candy

Walnut and rose year cakes
Hétáo méiguí niángāo 核桃玫瑰年糕

1. Toast 1 cup walnut halves and pieces. Reserve 4 pretty halves as decorations, and then pulse the rest of the nuts, 1 tablespoon rose water (or to taste), and optional 2 drops red food coloring lightly into the dough in Step 3 so that you end up with walnut pieces no larger than ½ inch across. 

2. Proceed with the rest of the recipe and decorate the top of each finished cake by pressing a toasted walnut half into its center. Be sure and use white sugar for this recipe if you add the optional red food coloring.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Your very own Chinese New Year recipe guide

Photo courtesy of Food52
Chinese New Year is on the immediate horizon, so as a friendly service reminder, I thought I’d provide you with this handy dandy guide. All of these (in my humble opinion) are fantastic recipes that will help make your celebrations complete. Most are from this blog, but you’ll also find links in there to recipes published in such places as Food52, Zester Daily, Swallow Daily, and The Huffington Post. And, come August, just about every one will be included in my upcoming All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China (McSweeney's + Ten Speed, 2016).

And, to get you in the mood, here's an article that just went up on Food52 called “How to Eat with the 24 Chinese Seasons.” 

Yunnan's mushrooms


Smoked amberjack collar

Veggie jiaozi and homemade wrappers
New Year jiaozi
Shunde fish puffs

Sides and starches:

Laughing doughnut holes
Sweet rice dishes:

Cakes and pastries:


During your kitchen breaks, relax with some fun stuff. Here for your entertainment are some things I’ve posted over the years...

My short story “Monkey Eve” was published in Alimentum and then was included in Best Food Writing 2015.

"Monkey Eve"

Ever heard of dragon whisker candy? You'll find that this a very fun video on a truly amazing sweet.

Dragon whisker candy

Finally – and I admit this has zero to do with food – we have here   a video I made a couple of years ago of a murmuration of starlings up in California’s Wine Country.
Nature can seriously blow your mind at times

Best wishes for the New Year!

Except for the top photo by Food52, all other photos and illustrations are copyright (c) 2016 by Carolyn Phillips