Book Review: The Dim Sum Field Guide

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Dim sum is the Chinese version of small plates and offer a large variety of food types. The Dim Sum Field Guide: a taxonomy of dumplings, buns, meats, sweets, and other specialties of the Chinese teahouse by Carolyn Phillips covers about 150 different types of foods that may be found on the trolleys in a dim sum restaurant. Each entry has is two pages – one with a black and white illustration, also done by author Phillips, and the second page a playful description following the field guide style with “genus” (name of the dish in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese), “identification”, “sauce or dip” that is usually paired with the dish, “nesting habits” (how you are likely going to see the food arranged), “origins”, and “species” (similar dishes). Phillips, who has written a recipe book on Chinese food called All Under Heaven, lived in Taiwan for eight years and worked as a Mandarin interpreter back in the states before retiring to work on her food writing. (Explore her writing here.)

The illustrations are charming, though color would probably be helpful for a few of the dishes with complicated linework, and include a cross-section view of the food to give an idea of dimensions and proportions. They also indicate what type of meats are associated with each dish as well as which dishes are vegetarian and vegan, which is very helpful. The book is broadly categorized into savory versus sweet with a few subcategories.

Overall, the book is a lot of fun to flip through and informative, and I would recommend looking over it before going to dim sum to feel more familiar or after if you wanted to learn more about particular dishes. I would only take it to the restaurant with a patient group of friends. Dim sum is a pretty fast-paced environment, and I can’t imagine a waiter being particularly patient if you stop the trolley to flip through the book for each dish before ordering.

While reading the book, I found myself not thinking so much about dumplings and taro root but about the complicated relationship between exposure vs ownership of cultural foods. Something in Phillips’s writing makes me a little hesitant, uncomfortable, and un-trusting (when she writes of “the Chinese people,” I cannot help reading your people). She has a post listing the twelve points she believes Chinese restaurants must follow “in hopes of an epicurean Reformation” that is silly bordering absurd. I understand it must be difficult to devote oneself to another culture’s cuisine (is there a right way to do it?). Beyond the language barrier and geographical barriers, there will be those calling you a fraud from both sides. To publish anything, really, is to open yourself to scrutiny. All in all, I do believe that Phillips’s love for Chinese food is honest and without ulterior motive.

So to address my personal discomforts, I hope to continue having conversations with patient friends and people more thoughtful than myself about what it means that a white woman is publishing only Chinese cookbooks, why are there so many white people writing about Asian food (and conversely why shouldn’t there be?), what does it mean for food to be authentic anyway, why do Asian foods seem so vulnerable to becoming trends recently (from pho to matcha to poke bowls), and what is the right? best? appropriate? way to appreciate food with particularly strong cultural ties.

Related:

Why Hunting Down ‘Authentic Ethnic Food’ Is A Loaded Proposition

How it feels when white people shame your culture’s food — then make it trendy

An Eater’s Manifesto For Chinese Restaurants

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

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Review: Martha Stewart’s Vegetables

Sorry for the radio silence over here, friends. I was feeling pretty uninspired all of October, I don’t think I even finished a single book. And then this past week has been a doozy, hasn’t it? I am emotionally and spiritually exhausted. I have been pottering around the kitchen and taking a lot of naps. I thought I’d focus some of my energy away from politics and the news by adding what I hope becomes a regular column about Learning to Cook. Here, we will be doing our usual cookbook reviews, but also (hopefully) sharing other recipes and stories with you as well. What better way to start a culinary adventure than with Martha Stewart?


Martha Stewart, domestic and culinary goddess, recently released a new cookbook on Vegetables. I have been searching for ways to bring more veggies into my life. While I love salads and stews, sometimes you just want something different. Do not be fooled by the title, this is not a book for vegetarians. I was a little disappointed by this, because while veggies are in every recipe, they are not necessarily the star of each meal. I don’t need Martha to tell me I can add onions to a stir fry, do you?

The book is organized by types of vegetables – flowers, tubers, legumes, etc. While I can understand this categorization, I think I would have preferred the book to be organized by season. (I know, I know, you could also argue that different types of vegetables are also a form of eating seasonally.) There are photographs of each recipe, which I really loved. The food is all beautifully plated and presented – the photographs alone are worth flipping through the book to look at.

The first recipe I tried was her Roasted Pork Chops with Sweet Potatoes and Apples, because I was feeling the autumn crisp in the air and excited for fall produce. I’ve shared the recipe below, along with some of my notes:

Ingredients:

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, each about 1 inch thick (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1/3 cup apple-cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 apples, preferably Honeycrisp, thinly sliced, seeds removed

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat; swirl in oil. Cook chops until golden brown, turning once, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Remove all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet.

  2. Reduce heat to medium. Add potatoes and onion; season with salt. Cook until golden in spots, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and cider. Cover and simmer, stirring a few times, until potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with caraway seeds. Return pork and juices to skillet; tuck apple slices between chops. Roast until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of chops (without touching bone) registers 138 degrees, about 10 minutes. Serve pork, vegetables, and apples with pan juices.

Jessica’s Notes:
I am not especially a fan of sweeter dishes. I generally prefer savory, spicy, & salty things. That being said, this recipe made some very juicy and tender pork chops. I think the combination of sweet potato, apples, and apple-cider vinegar was a little too much for me. I think next time, I would replace the sweet potato with normal potatoes and throw in some jalapenos or star anise for an extra kick. The recipe suggests you could use apple juice instead of apple cider vinegar, but I think the acidity of the vinegar is really necessary. As I’ve been cooking more and more, I have become feeling more confident about modifying recipes. I might try tweaking and writing my own recipes in the future.

The recipes in Martha’s book range from very simple salads to slightly more complex meals. I think it’s a pretty safe choice for beginner cooks like me, because you could slowly build a repertoire that you feel confident about. There are a wide range of recipes, so there will be something for any palate. I like that there are a manageable number of recipes, so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed the way you might when you’re browsing online.

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I would recommend this book to people who love beautiful cookbooks and who are looking for ways to incorporate more veggies into their lives. However, like most recipes, a lot of these are available on Martha’s website.

  • I’d like to thank Blogging for Books for sending me this book in return for an honest review.

Book Review: A Super Upsetting Cookbook about Sandwiches

Tyler Kord is the chef of the No. 7 Sub restaurants in New York and author of A Super Upsetting Cookbook about Sandwiches.

The New York Times said I might be “the Willy Wonka of submarine sandwiches,” but I prefer “Sandwich Batman”.

Kord comes off as an irreverent sort of guy, but the sandwiches look delicious. The text in the cookbook includes quips, sarcasm, and notes from the editor left in for humor. The writing is a bit sophomoric, but the real content are the recipes, right? (How much value do you place in non-ingredient bits of a cookbook?)

The sandwiches are definitely more creative than what you can get at Subway, and so are their names (“The Battle on Pork Chop Hill”, “Lazaro’s Revenge”). They’re divided by what the main component is — you are probably thinking this means what meat but one section is dedicated to broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and another to muchim, a Korean brining/seasoning mix.

Included are directions for how to make a great but simple main component (how to make your own chorizo sausage, roast a chicken, and anything else needed) as well as recipes for sauces and sides that you might want with your sandwich — chips, salads, coleslaw, etc.

Overall, I think these sandwiches are very inspiring and require a bit more work than your usual ham and cheese. The book is also pleasantly well-organized, and I appreciated the extra recipes at the end. I would recommend this book to adventurous sandwich-lovers. Below is the recipe I am most looking forward to trying (though there are many close seconds).

This is a Chicken Sandwich
Makes 4 of the best sandwiches you ever had

  • 1/2 cup Special Sauce
  • 4 kaiser rolls, split in half
  • 2 cups shredded Roasted Chicken
  • 4 large slices Fried Eggplant
  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into 4 thick slices
  • 2 loosely packed cups of arugula

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

1Q84 – a list of meals

The plain descriptions Murakami uses to show the fairly mundane details about the characters’ lives are very comforting to me. He tells us their routines, the inventory of their closets, the ingredients in their meals. The meals are often described as simple; many strike me as quite lonely. Some meals are both, and very few are neither. At any rate, I have attempted to catalog what I think is a pretty complete list of meals across all three books and rank them in order of simplicity.

“the most famous French restaurant in the city”

“Have you decided?” she asked.
“Pretty much,” Ayumi said.
“So what are you going to order?”
“I’ll have the mussels, the three-onion salad, and the Bordeaux-braised Iwate veal stew. How about you?”
“I’d like the lentil soup, the warm spring green salad, and the parchment-baked monkfish with polenta. Not much of a match for a red wine, but it’s free, so I can’t complain.”
“Mind sharing a little?”
“Not at all,” Aomame saiad. “And if you don’t mind, let’s share the deep-fried shrimp to start.”

the dowager and I differ on what is simple

“A simple meal is all I can offer you, if that’s all right,” the dowager said.

The dinner consisted of boiled white asparagus, salad Nicoise, a crabmeat omelet, and rolls and butter, nothing more.

“Sorry, but these simple things are all I can make,” says Tengo, who uses the word simple lightly

Tengo washed the rice, put it in the cooker, and turned on the switch. He used the time until the rice was ready to make miso soup with wakame seaweed and green onions, grill a sun-dried mackerel, take some tofu out of the refrigerator and flavor it with ginger, grate a chunk of daikon radish, and reheat some leftover boiled vegetables. To go with the rice, he set out some pickled turnip slices and a few pickled plums.

if you think this is a repetitve meal, you should know what I eat for breakfast every day

Breakfast was exactly the same every day – dried horse mackerel and fried eggs, a quartered tomato, seasoned dries seaweed, miso soup with shijimi clams, and rice – but for some reason it tasted wonderful every morning.

Tengo makes “nothing special”

Grilling a dried mackerel and grating a daikon radish. Making a miso soup with littlenecks and green onions to eat with tofu. Dousing cucumber slices and wakame seaweed with vinegar. Ending up with rice and nappa pickles.

I decided to look up wakame at this point

Listening to tracks like “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Lady Jane,” he made rice pilaf using ham and mushrooms and brown rice, and miso soup with tofu and wakame. He boiled cauliflower and favored it with curry sauce he prepared. He made a green bean and onion salad.

this sounds less nice when you know it is hospital food

Tengo had a salad, cooked vegetables, and miso soup with asari clams and scallions, washed down with hot hojicha tea.

Tengo is good with knives

Tengo chopped a lot of ginger to a fine consistency. Then he sliced some celery and mushrooms into nice-sized pieces. The Chinese parsley, too, he chopped up finely. He peeled the shrimp and washed them at the sink. … When the edamame were finished boiling, he drained them in a colander and left them to cool. Next he warmed a large frying pan and dribbled in some sesame oil and spread it over the bottom. He slowly fried the chopped ginger over a low flame.

that’s all

The waiter came for their orders. Fuka-Eri still had her coat on. She ordered a salad and bread. “That’s all,” she said, returning the menu to the waiter.

[Tengo] ordered seafood linguine and decided to join Fuka-Eri in a glass of white wine.

curry and pie

Once the film had been processed and printed, he went to a nearby chain restaurant and looked through them in chronological order while eating a meal of chicken curry. … He called the waitress over and asked her about the day’s dessert. Peach pie, she replied. Ushikawa ordered a piece and a refill of coffee.

Ushikawa buys noodles

Then he went to a soba noodle shop and ordered a bowl of soba noodles with tempura. It had been a while since he had a hot meal. He savored the tempura noodles and drank down the last drop of broth.

beer and barbecue

The three nurses ate and drank a lot, and Tengo couldn’t keep up. As they got livelier, he sat beside them, quietly eating a moderate amount of grilled meat and sipping his draft beer so he didn’t get drunk.

breakfast foods for dinner

He drank some tomato juice from the fridge, boiled water, ground coffee beans and made coffee, toasted a slice of bread. He set the timer and cooked a soft-boiled egg.

Tengo gets more on my level

Tengo was hungry, so he fried some eggs and ate them with the cauliflower. He made some toast and drank two mugs of coffee.

I think the portable stove makes it sadder

He heated a can of chicken soup over a portable stove and carefully sipped it with a spoon. He ate two cold rolls, then polished off an apple, peel and all.

definitely the saddest meal

He opened a tin of corned beef, spread some on a roll, and ate it, standing up in the kitchen. He drank a container of lukewarm canned coffee. Nothing had any taste.

Tamaru’s “simple dishes”

They were simple cucumber and cheese sandwiches on brown bread, but were subtly flavored.

more wakame but a pretty lame dinner 

At five thirty he made a simple dinner. … He made a tomato and wakame salad and ate a slice of toast.

snacks that I too can make

Feeling a little hungry, she took out some Camembert, cut a wedge, and ate it with crackers. When the cheese was half gone, she washed a stalk of celery, spread it with mayonnaise, and munched it whole.

a sad description of breakfast but at least he enjoys his lunch

The next morning, after a breakfast of cheese and crackers washed down by instant coffee. … Before noon he went to the discount store near the station and bought a small electric space heater. He then went to the same noodle place he had been to before, opened his newspaper, and ate an order of hot tempura soba.

like… airplane food?

He brought my meals on a tray and then took them away when I was finished. They used paper plates and flimsy plastic knives, forks, and spoons. The food they brought was ordinary prepared food in silver foil packages – not very good, but not so bad you wouldn’t eat it.

a spartan lunch

Lunch was usually a green salad and fruit.

sometimes sandwiches

Occasionally he would have a light sandwich, but usually he ate nothing.

a hot breakfast

As he ate his hot breakfast and drank tea, Tengo went over the events of the previous night.

a plain breakfast

She made herself a pot of coffee, toasted some bread, and boiled an egg.

a simple breakfast

She got up every day at six thirty and had a simple breakfast.

 

In conclusion, I have learned that all characters (perhaps except Tamaru) have much higher standards for their food than I do.

The Bloody Mary Club: Bespoke Kitchen

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The Bloody Mary Club hit up Bespoke Kitchen a while ago, because we had to see the famous Mary’s Walk of Shame with our own eyes. Richa spotted a picture of it on Instagram and we just *knew* we had to check it out for ourselves.

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Mary’s Walk of Shame is a whopper of a cocktail and it was the absolute highlight of our meal. It’s a bloody mary topped with grilled cheese, maple bacon, pastrami, sausage, pork belly & pickles. The glass has a spicy salt rim.

The restaurant itself is very modern but in a charming way, not a clinical way. We made reservations but the place wasn’t very crowded, so I’m not sure if it was necessary. We ordered the biscuit bites (with fried chicken and gravy, naturally), shrimp & grits, short rib benedict, and Angie’s croast (which is a croissant french toast hybrid). Bespoke Kitchen is all about locally sourced ingredients and “New York style” food. Our food was okay, but the Bloody Mary was the highlight of the meal. Afterall, if I really wanted to eat a good shrimp and grits or biscuits and gravy, I’d be looking for an actual soul food restaurant, not a hip West Village “New York style” restaurant.

But honestly, the Mary’s Walk of Shame is worth a trip to Bespoke Kitchen on its own. It was practically a meal in itself. We were so full from the process of drinking the first one that we didn’t have room for a second drink – that’s almost blasphemous as far as Saturday brunches are concerned! We all agreed that next time we would hit up Bespoke Kitchen for a cocktail before going somewhere else for brunch.

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Cheat Sheet:

Bloody Mary:
Liquor Base: Vodka
Viscosity/Texture: Perfectly slurp-able
Spice: Not too salty – the toppings add all the salt you could want
Fixin’s: Grilled cheese, maple bacon, pastrami, sausage, pork belly, pickles & a salted spice rim
Overall Rating:  4.8 out of 5

Bespoke Kitchen is located at615 1/2 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014. http://www.thebespokekitchen.com/

Book Review: Food with Friends

Food with Friends: the art of simple gatherings is a recipe book by Leela Cyd, who is a self-proclaimed “food, lifestyle and travel photographer and storyteller.” As can be imagined, the photos are beautiful. In the introduction, Leela states that she emphasizes “food that looks and tastes good.” It shows in the photos. I would argue she is bigger on style than substance. (How many flower petals do you really need to eat?)

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The book has a touch of whimsy throughout from the ingredients to the garnishes to the table settings. The love she has for her life shows through in the writing. The collection of recipes are nicely eclectic (South Indian Kesari Bhath, Socca Cakes, Matcha Egg Cream, Challah Bread) as a result of her travels and include a lot of dishes and ingredients that I’ve never experienced. The dishes are unique, beautifully presented, and will probably delight any dinner guests.

The general flaws of the book are few; it leans heavily to sweets (not such a bad thing) and the chapters are arbitrary, why put Hazelnut Tea Cake with Plums under “potlucks & picnics” instead of “teatime”or “desserts”?

This book is as much about lifestyles as it is about food. I think I would have liked the book much better if I didn’t read any of the non-recipe texts. The very distinctive feeling I get from this book is that it is not actually food for friends so much as for people who are active on social media in whom you delight in evoking jealousy by presenting some over-garnished side dish. You say loudly how simple it was to throw together while everyone else tries to find the best light for their Instagram photos.

Bottom line: If you’re a good friend, I make you bacon and various potato dishes and burritos over-stuffed with good things. If you’re a frenemy, I’ll give you the Warm Olives and Spa Water.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review

Book Review: The Basque Book

The Basque Book: a love letter in recipes from the kitchen of Txikito is a beautiful cookbook and guide to Basque food. When I chose the book, I had no idea what Basque food looked like, and I had a fun time finding out. book

The book is by Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero, the chefs of the restaurant Txikito based in NYC. The love Alexandra, who writes the introduction, and Eder have for really sharing the roots of their food come through in the book. They take time to explain what ‘the basics’ look like in Basque cuisine (how to cook an egg four ways, how to make your own mayonnaise, and many other stock items), how to put together a coherent meal using recipes they provide, and plenty of other information and anecdotes that go beyond the recipe.

The photos are really beautiful, the writing is meaningful, and the recipes range from pretty easy three-ingredient (albeit maybe more exotic ingredients than you can find at your chain grocery store) recipes to half-day endeavors within each division. While I am still not sure I could explain Basque cuisine to a friend, I do think I learned enough to know it doesn’t really suit my tastes (I’m not really into olives or anchovies or seafood in general…) but it was a wonderful journey regardless.

The book is available from the publishers here. Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review