Friday, April 23, 2010

Northern China cooking in Colorado

In 2008, I studied/worked in Beijing for four months. What an endlessly enthralling city. I could spend hours wandering around old areas of the city, watching the people, eating the food, and marvelling at a culture that places so much importance on family and food. If you take someone out to eat and no food is left sitting on the table, you are a very bad person. For more about my China experience, see my travel blog.

And oh, the food! I loved getting hot bing (flat bread with tasty addition) from the streets and markets. Fried omlettes with spicy sauces and fried things, sichuan hot pot so flavorful you could cry, bao with vegetables or barbequed pork or eggs, simple vegetable dishes. And no frickin' rice if you didn't want it. My favorite was always beef noodle soup. I first had it while visiting a high school friend who was teaching English in Western China. We went to a little shop called 牛面大王. Beef noodle big king. (big wang = big king). I later found out that there were many variants of this name on unrelated noodle shops throughout the city. The cooks would take a chunk of dough and pull it long. Then fold it over and pull it again. And again. And again and again before throwing it into a pot of boiling water. These guys give a new meaning to fresh noodles. Add in some delicious spicy beefy broth, some beef chunks, veggies, and cilantro, and you have a winning combo. Some key ingredients to the flavor: star anise and sichuan peppercorns. Don't eat them from the soup, or you'll be sad.

I ate this at every chance I could (not hard considering the university cafeterias served it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), but have been unable to find it or successfully reproduce it since returning to the States. Last month, Bon Appetit posted a recipe for beef noodle soup, and I decided it was a sign.

Despite the difficulty of not finding star anise of sichuan peppercorns (not really like peppercorns at all) at the supermarket, I prevailed and served it to friends last night. It met expectations. When buying noodles, we get the eggless #5 noodles from the red box in Chinese grocery stores. Spaghetti is not the same.

Big King Beef Noodle Soup
adapted from Bon Appetit

makes about 8 servings
  • 3 pounds boneless beef short ribs
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • 3 large cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp black bean garlic sauce (from asian food stores)
  • 2 Tbsp spicy sichuan hot pot seasoning (or other spicy item)
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 6 whole or broken star anise
  • 1 1/2 tsp Sichian peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 pound Chinese wheat noodles
  • 2 baby bok choy. sliced lengthwise
  • fresh chopped cilantro
  • chopped green onions
  1. Bring large pot of water to boil. Add beef and boil until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove beef and cut into 1 inch cubes. Drain and wipe out pot.
  2. Heat oil in pan over medium-high. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 10 cups water, beef, soy sauce, flavorings, spices, salt, and sugar and simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Make sure the soup doesn't boil so the beef doesn't get tough.
  3. Add tomatoes to pot. Simmer for 50 minutes. Add bok choy and cook another 10 minutes
  4. Cook noodles and drain
  5. Divide noodles into bowls and top with broth and soup goodies. Garnish with cilantro and green onions.

Next time you're in China, get yourself some.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Quantum Quiche

Amanda's been having so many posts lately, I need to keep up! Throwback to last post: the cherry blossoms in DC were just started to bloom when we were there. Stunning.

I was pretty swamped this week with two tests and a paper to start writing, so Matt volunteered to handle dinners for the week. After eating an obscene amount of delicious food on vacation last week, we were feeling pretty vegetably. Out came the Moosewood cookbook. Matt settled on a big tasty salad, stuffed eggplant, and swiss-mushroom quiche.

Ok, I know quiche isn't exactly health food (look at that buttery crust. . .) but it sounded so good. We had a lot of vegetables in the fridge and decided to augment the original plan with spinach, tomato, and red onion. The results were exquisite. Buttery crust, just-cooked custard, and fresh vegetables. I'd say we could do this again sometime.

Veggie Quiche

You can really make this with whatever veggies/filling you want. Here's what we did.

  • pre-baked 9" pie crust (your favorite or here)
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1/2 bunch spinach, rinsed, and roughly chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  1. Bake your pie crust beforehand. It should be pretty browned or else the eggs will goop it and make it mushy.
  2. Saute onions over medium heat until soft, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and spinach and cook until spinach wilts. Set aside.
  3. Brown mushroom bits in 2T butter over medium-high heat.
  4. Combine all veggies together and wait for them to cool.
  5. Whisk together eggs, milk, yog, cheese (we used swiss), salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add veggies when cool, and pour mixture into pre-baked crust.
  6. Bake for 35 minutes at 375F. The filling should be set but a little wiggy (like Jell-O). Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
just before going into the oven

Shoulder Bracelets: Next Big Thing?

I was browsing jewelry sites recently and was particularly awed by the selection over at Litter. They have an enormous collection, including shoulder pieces that I don't fully understand. Why don't they fall off?!
Anyway, I've seen boot chains and harnesses before, but this is a whole new level of accessorizing. Take a look!

Gold linked shoulder piece

Brace chain garter

Feather ear cuff
I love this last one, and it's probably more wearable than a lot of their other pieces. Still, I'd be willing to give any of them a go if I had a spare $100 lying around. Obviously I don't, but if you happen to, I would highly recommend that you buy some eclectic jewelry.