Thursday, December 08, 2016

Chinese Cookbook Reviews

I have a confession to make. I don't always test recipes from cookbooks I review or even recommend. Why? Because I don't generally follow recipes. I use cookbooks for inspiration, learning techniques or great flavor combinations. I don't get hung up on instructions because there are so many variables I can't control (stove, oven and cookware for example). 

Of course when it comes to baking or cooking a cuisine I am less familiar with, I do follow the directions as closely as I can. Which brings me to three new cookbooks covering Chinese cuisine.  Many Chinese cookbooks in English focus on recipes from Chinese food as it is cooked outside of China. But three new cookbooks take a deeper dive into the regional cuisine of China. Two of the books look at all of China while the third concentrates on the cuisine of the Jiangnan region. Each book provides varying degree of context about the regions.

Dong Po Pork, left to right: All Under Heaven, Land of Rice & Fish, China

I chose a single recipe, Dong Po Pork and cooked it from each book. First up the biggest book, China The Cookbook from Phaidon. Phaidon is known for publishing monumental all-encompassing books and this one has a staggering 650 recipes. None of the recipes in the book have headnotes, though there are some photos. The book does have introductions to the regions but they vary greatly in length and provide some useful information but don’t really give a great sense of place. The Dong Po Pork recipe called for red yeast rice which supposedly has medicinal properties. In cooking it is relied on primarily for color and not for flavor. The resulting dish while nicely colored, was bland and a bit disappointing. To try next? The Lamb Kebabs and Rice with Chicken and Sausage in a Casserole (clay pot) both appeal to me.

The second book is Fuschia Dunlop’s Land of Fish and Rice. The introductory sections of the book cover the history of the cuisine, flavors, ingredients and more, but doesn’t break out the individual cities or regions, so you have to read the whole thing even if you just wanted to learn about Shaoxing for example. It has some beautiful photos and the headnotes for the recipes in this book are well-written and share details about the dish beyond just simple preparation tips. And for the recipe? It was much better looking and tasting than the Dong Po Pork from the Phaidon book, but the technique of cutting up the pork made the pieces turn out to be smaller portions. The flavor was rich, but somewhat one dimensional. Perfectly good but not mind blowing. There are other recipes that look very appealing to me that I hope to try soon including the Hangzhou Breakfast Tofu and Sweet & Sour Radishes.

The third book is Carolyn Phillip’s poetically titled All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 cuisines of China. In additon to detailed introductions to each of the regions, the recipes also have very good headnotes. Something else that sets this book apart are the illustrations which are charming and instructive. This recipe for Dong Po Pork used less soy sauce but significantly more wine and aromatics that the other recipes didn’t include—star anise and cinnamon. The recipe instructions were clear but said the sauce should thicken after several hours of cooking. I’m not sure how it could, given that the pot was supposed to be covered. I removed the lid at the end of cooking and reduced the sauce. Maybe the lid should have only partially covered the pot? In any case, the pork itself was the most attractive and tender and had by far the most complex and delicious flavor. No question, this was the best recipe for Dong Po Pork and the cookbook I'd be most likely to go to first. I've bookmarked Spicy and Numbing Cold Noodles and Tibetan Meatballs in a Yogurt Sauce to try next.

Disclaimer: I received copies of the books for review and this post includes affiliate links. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Grape Olive Pig book review

Author Matt Goulding is in love with Spain, and it shows. It’s where he has a home with his Spanish wife and where he has the perfect “insider/outsider” status to dig deep. A James Beard award winning food and travel writer, it’s easy to get seduced by his prose, as he covers a mix of food, people and places. He’s genuinely enthusiastic which almost always makes for a good subject and a great book. 

In Grape Olive Pig, Goulding takes readers all over Spain. But it’s anything but a typical trip. In addition to stories, he uses graphics and lists to take his experience and turn it into tips for the would be traveler. In each location he tells the stories of the locals—from chefs to shepherds and a few family members too. In Salamanca it’s about processing pigs, in Valencia it’s the story of rice, in Cadiz it’s about tuna. Each story is personal, told with history and details that pull you in. It’s a new kind of travel guide packed with both plenty of practical information and yet, a focus on the people and places in a way that is so much more than a simple itinerary. In a way, I’m glad that most of the places he writes about are ones I haven’t yet to experience. He provides the perfect introduction. 

If you want to drink like a local, and eat like a local, this is your book. It covers traditional artisanal foods like conservas, and the most modern traditions like drinking the Spanish "gin tonic." You may not be friends with Jose Andres, but Goulding is. Not surprisingly this is part of the Anthony Bourdain curated imprint at Harper Collins. The book has the same gutsiness that Bourdain is known for, but it’s a much deeper experience than you find in a television travel show. And still the result is the same, you will want to go to Spain and experience it in all its glory. On the flip side, Goulding is such a good writer, the book is transporting, so that even though you may not have a trip to Spain planned, you can feel as if you are there. 

Disclaimer: I received an uncorrected proof of this book for review purposes. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post. This post does include an affiliate link.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

All About Preserved Lemons

Earlier this year I received a lovely batch of lemons from Limoniera Ranch. They were so perfect I knew I wanted to preserve them. Preserved lemons are a wonderful ingredient to use in traditional Moroccan cuisine, but if you don’t cook Moroccan food very often, have no fear! They are more versatile than you might think.

Making preserved lemons is more about technique than recipe. I use the general instructions from Paula Wolfert. The biggest difference is that I slice the lemons into quarters, I find them easier to squish into a Mason jar. Wolfert leaves them attached at the bottom. But beyond that, her recipe for packing them in a jar with salt and some lemon juice to cover them is pretty much perfect. But do use nice lemons, without blemishes and on the small side if possible. You can add black peppercorns or bay leaves, but I go simple just using lemons, lemon juice and kosher salt.

Now when it comes to using them of course you can add to tagines, the most classic way to use them, but as I mentioned, they are very versatile. Think of ways you’d use fresh lemons—in sauces, in salads, in baked goods, with roasted meats or vegetables— preserved lemons have a different flavor and texture, but can be used in all the same kinds of recipes. Once you start using them you will find even more ideas than I have listed.

Preserved Lemons


Organic lemons, well scrubbed
Kosher salt
Lemon juice


The amount of the ingredients really depends upon the size jar you use. Do sterilize the jar by putting it in a pot of boiling water before adding the washed lemons which you have cut into 4 wedges. Pack the lemons into the jar and add about a tablespoon of salt per lemon. Really press the lemons into the jar so it’s jam packed. You’ll want to squeeze a few lemons and add enough juice to cover the lemons in the jar.

Allow the lemons to rest in a warm place for at least 30 days, turning the jar upside down every few days to distribute the salt and juice. If necessary, open the jar and add more lemon juice to keep the lemons covered. Store in the refrigerator. Rinse the lemons thoroughly before using in recipes.

Note: Traditional recipes use only the rind, but I find the flesh and juice can also be useful in non-traditional recipes.

Ways to use preserved lemons:

* Add the juice to salad dressings instead of vinegar and salt

* Dice and add to savory baked goods like biscuits or scones

* Use them to flavor grains like quinoa, rice or bulgur

* Add them to ceviche

* Swap them for fresh lemons in gremolata

* Make a bed of slices and roast fish on top

* Use the juice in mayonnaise or aioli

* Add them to vegetable salads or Greek salads

* Include them in tuna salads

* Place thin slices on top of flatbreads or pizza

* Puree them with roasted beets and tahini to make a dip

* Add them to marinated olives or peppers

* Chop and stuff them inside a chicken before roasting

* Finely diced in salsas

Disclaimer: My thanks to Limoniera for providing the lemons, I was not monetarily compensated for this or any other post. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dungeness Crab Season & Giveaway!

I’ll admit it. I’m feeling a little bit crabby. Fortunately after a closure last year, this year, crab season has already opened and I can be as crabby as I like! I spoke with Chris Lam the president and CEO of Pucci Foods, a leading seafood distributor, about the season. 

How’s the Dungeness crab season looking? 
Crab season started out on time, looking promising, Fish and Wildlife have done the testing, and so we are quite excited, especially since it’s traditional for the holidays in the Bay Area. We have a lot of crabs. This year we’ve been getting heavy crabs full of meat. 

How is the supply, are they sustainable?
We have the supply because of sustainable programs. You are only allowed to fish for the males and a minimum size, allowing the females and juveniles to reproduce. 

How long will the season last? 
Into the first quarter of next year. As areas open up, in Oregon and Washington we will see even more availability after December 1. 

How's the pricing?
This year we anticipate it to be much better, probably 15-20% below last year. But it depends on the retailers. It might range from $5.99-8.99 maybe some even more aggressive. It pays to shop around.

Why purchase crab online?
We created a direct-to-consumer option through Daily Fresh Fish where we can send it anywhere. We are global food safety certified which guarantees the quality of the product. In Northern California the technology allows us to get the product to you 3 days fresher than if you bought it at the store. Instead of going through a distributor and retailer it goes directly to you. You have to keep it below 40 degrees. Eat it as soon as possible, but you will get 2-3 more days than if you bought it from another retailer. 


Daily Fresh Fish is offering two cooked, cracked and cleaned crabs to one lucky reader anywhere in continental US. Leave me a comment about your favorite way to eat fresh cracked Dungeness crab and I will choose the winner at random on Monday November 28, 2016. You must leave your email address in the comment form so I can contact you. Do not leave it in the body of the comment. 

Here's a phenomenal deal for those of you wanting crab!  First time orders get $10 off AND free shipping to California and Nevada on orders of $30 or more with code Freeship10

Outside of California and Nevada, use code CookingWithAmy10 for $10 off for first-time customers anywhere in the continental US, expires 12/31/16

Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this or any other post. I have received product from Daily Fresh Fish.