End of Summer Peking Duck

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I feel like there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the preparation of Peking duck.

At most good Chinese restaurants you have to order it at least a day ahead if there’s any hope of getting it on your table. This has to do with the fact that there is a very narrow bridge of time in which the duck can be enjoyed as intended–that is, with supremely crispy skin and liquid fat.

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So Chinese restaurants aren’t trying to annoy you when they ask exactly what time you will be enjoying your duck, they’re trying to protect your eating experience, which I think is great. No self-respecting Chinese cook would ever leave Peking duck just sitting around. In fact my mother had this spasm of annoyance with me when I interrupted her process to take these pictures. So if the photographs are not up to their usual standard, blame the perfectionism of an exquisite cook. Continue reading

Salmon, Leek, Canellini Bean

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Let’s talk about writing recipes for a minute.

It’s easier than you might think. More than anything, it’s about knowing what tastes good to you, and what doesn’t. My favorite way to come up with recipes is to re-invent dishes I don’t like very much. For example, ever since I was little, I never really liked salmon. Cooked salmon, I mean. The raw stuff is, has always been, heavenly. It was something about the way the fatty bits would form strings of white film on the surface of the broiled meat, like membranous seafoam or toothpaste. It turned me off.

So when I ordered a salmon dish at an Italian restaurant in Evanston, I was a little out of my comfort zone. Pan-seared salmon with canellini beans, pancetta, and sundried tomatoes. I figured pan-fried was better than baked, and I would at least escape that white stringy stuff that grosses me out so much. The meal was good. Not great, but good. I thought I could do it better. Continue reading

Curry Yellow Pea Soup

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I’m one quarter Swedish, but it might be more accurate to say that I’m three-quarters not-Swedish.

Though one set of great-grandparents came directly from the motherland knowing only the language and culture of Sweden, most of what I know about Sweden comes not from family history but – like all good things – from Ikea.

When “The Spinning Plate” decided to do a short series of posts on Scandinavian cuisine, my thoughts first drifted towards lutfisk and ostkaka, two foods that have remained in my family’s lexicon if not in our cookbooks. But both lye soaked fish and milk curd cake seemed too… daunting. So instead, I settled on another Scandinavian standard: ärtsoppa (i.e. pea soup).

Continue reading

Superbowl Chili Throwdown

When my father told me he was putting a turkey chili up against our chicken one, I became concerned about the legitimacy of our competition.

Some would argue that a recipe without beef can scarcely be labeled as chili. This debate is immaterial to me, but I do have some advice for the poultry-chili-is-chili camp: give it up.

Why would a delicious chicken, turkey, or bean stew want to call itself chili? Chili is the most bastardized stew there is. It is routinely reduced to a mere condiment—spooned in all its greasy ignominy atop fries, hotdogs, nachos, and even pasta. Its near relatives include the sloppy joe and beef macaroni. More often than not, home cooks season it from a pouch.

Don’t get me wrong, beef chili done right is delicious. But sometimes the specter of chili’s various permutations makes even the best bowl hard to handle.

Our chicken concoction is flavorful, healthy and satisfying. It won’t go well with fries or hot dogs, but pair it with a baking soda biscuit and you’ll be sitting pretty.

-Catherine M.

Holy Mole Chicken Chili

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
– 2 lbs. chicken breast
– 2 cans great northern beans, drained (not rinsed)
– 1 can black beans, drained (not rinsed)
– 1 can diced tomatoes
– 14 oz. mild or medium salsa
– 1 bottle beer
– 1 onion
– 2 poblano peppers
– 1 tbsp. minced garlic (4-8 cloves)
– 1 tbsp. tomato paste
– 2 tbsp. dried oregano
– 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
– 1 tbsp. ground cumin
– 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
– 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
– Salt and pepper
– Extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
Poach chicken breasts for 15-20 minutes in salted water. Shred chicken into bite-size pieces, set aside. Sauté onions and peppers in extra virgin olive oil until tender. Stir in tomato paste until combined. Add chicken, garlic, oregano, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, cocoa powder, and ground cinnamon. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until flavors are well combined. Add 3 cans beans, diced tomatoes, salsa, and beer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until chili thickens. Salt and pepper to taste.

Hot Pondering

It’s time for the favorite food discussion. You know the one. If I had to eat only one thing for the rest of my life, it would be…

That one. My answer varies occasionally based on mood or time of day or the prevailing climatic conditions. But there are regulars that show up time and again. They are those foods of which I can say, “I really wouldn’t mind eating that and only that for the rest of my life.” There are maybe only two or three dishes I can think of in the world that might qualify. And one, only one, that really fits the bill.

And that food is hot pot. Huo guo. Shabu shabu. It’s known by many names, but here are the essentials: Vegetables, meat, seafood and noodles submerged in a pot of boiling hot liquid, and family and friends gathered around it, fondue-style. It’s a fend-for-yourself, don’t-be-squeamish, germ-sharing, and as my friend Alan observed, “democratic” way of eating.

It’s not my favorite because it is gourmet or particularly graceful. It may never get a Food & Wine cover. It’s my favorite because when I eat it, it reminds me of the way food should be eaten, and that is with great joy and with the people we love.

I have a Chinese mother and an American father. Sometimes this can be weird and treacherous and uncomfortable. Navigating a safe course between the two cultures has been one of the great efforts of my life. But in my experience, if anything can bring a family together around the table, it is this meal.

Let me be clear. Hot pot is wonderful and delicious. But for me it has always been about the people I enjoy it with.

I was very grateful to share a hot pot dinner with my friends while I was away in college this Chinese New Year. This is the third year in a row that I have spent this major holiday away from home. Finally I have been able to make a piece of home for myself, here. I hope you will try this very special meal and find that it makes you as happy as it makes me.

Xin nian quai le! A very happy New Year to you all.

– Angela M.

Chinese New Year Hot Pot

You can throw just about anything in hot pot. Here’s a list of common ingredients:

– Thinly sliced pork, mutton, beef, or chicken
– Fresh raw shrimp or prawns
– Mussels
– Clams
– White-fleshed fish
– Nappa cabbage
– Any variety of mushroom
– Tomatoes
– Spinach
– Tong hao
– Medium or Firm tofu
– Fried tofu
– Imitation krab
– Fish balls
– Handmade noodles

You can find these items at any Asian market. You’ll also need an electric pot. Fondue pots work just fine.