General Tso’s Chicken + Cookbook Giveaway

I have been kind of obsessed with General Tso’s Chicken since last spring, when I sat in my dark living room and watched The Search for General Tso on Netflix, and on an empty stomach. I think General Tso’s is the kind of thing that is a phenomenon in the US; in Canada we have our own interpretation of “Chinese food” – did you know that Ginger Beef was invented in Calgary, Alberta? Anyway, it looked delicious and I needed to get into it right away. I wish I could see people doing yoga and react with the same sense of urgency.

General Tso’s Chicken is not served at dim sum, which is how we most often enjoy Chinese cuisine, and though it appears on the occasional take-out menu, it’s never in the combos (we’re a Dinner for 2 B family, with its chicken chow mein and red saucy sweet-and-sour pork). For too long, there was no opportune time to get to know the General. No time, that is, until this past Saturday.

Thanks to Food Bloggers of Canada and Clarkson Potter, I was offered the opportunity to review a copy of food writer Kian Lam Kho‘s cookbook, Phoenix Claws and Jade TreesIn order to fulfill my part of the deal, I was tasked with preparing a dinner with a few of the dishes from the book. To get a sense of the variety of recipes, I read the whole thing in a single evening, shouting excitedly at Nick about all the wonderful things we would get to have once he cleaned the kitchen and figured out how to get me eight pounds of nontoxic pottery clay (Beggar’s Chicken, page 314).

This book is beautiful. The writing is clear and well-paced; the photos are stunning and often demonstrate multiple steps in a single collage. Everything about it says “cooking Chinese cuisine unlike anything you’ve seen on a North American take-away menu is easy and fun and you should do it right now. Right now!” And while I can’t speak to the ease of obtaining the ingredients just anywhere, in Vancouver it was only as challenging as deciding which T&T to go to (Renfrew & 1st Avenue won out – free parking).

Within an hour, I had gathered all of the ingredients to prepare six recipes from the book for a Mid-Autumn Festival feast for three friends. The ingredients were very affordable. I think I spent $53 on the entire meal (including a very cheap and sort of embarrassing rosé), and we had leftovers for two days.

We had:

  • General Tso’s Chicken (page 174, recipe below)
  • Red Cooked Lion’s Head, a braised pork meatball with water chestnuts and greens (page 198)
  • Mapo Tofu,  a mix of beef and tofu with chili paste and fermented beans (page 211)
  • Black vinegar and garlic vinaigrette (page 327 served over steamed yu choy that I had chilled before serving)
  • Cucumber salad with garlic (page 336)
  • Spicy lotus root salad with Szechuan pepper, chilies and cilantro (page 338)

There were so many intriguing dishes in this book, and a good mix of challenging dishes to prepare when you’ve got the time and quick, straightforward recipes you could make on a weeknight or for company.

The best thing about this book, at least for me, is that most of the recipes are designed to make two servings: this way, I can make enough for Nick and I for a weekend lunch or weeknight dinner, or make a dinner party of multiple dishes without going overboard on quantity. I also love that so many of the dishes are so inexpensive to make; the Mapo Tofu, for example, called for a quarter-pound of ground beef and two dollars’ worth of tofu.

Once you build a pantry of some of the book’s more frequently used ingredients, you can make the recipes quickly and cheaply. I’ve already used the Szechuan chili paste from the Mapo Tofu twice more since Saturday. It brings boring old steamed broccoli or scrambled eggs to LIFE.

My dinner guests were split on their favourites – one liked the Red Cooked Lion’s Head: “I’ve never had this dish before,” she said, “but the flavour reminds me of something similar I might have eaten as a child.” Another was quite keen on the black vinegar and garlic dressing, which I’ll agree is incredible, especially for how simple it is.

I fell in love with the Mapo Tofu, a dish I have been fond of for my whole life in Vancouver – this version was so simple, but so perfectly spicy and salty and balanced. And General Tso’s Chicken? It’s not too sweet, with a lot of garlic and a little bit of vinegar and heat: in short, it’s everything I hoped it would be.

General Tso’s Chicken

Makes two servings.

Marinade

  • 2 tbsp. Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

Sauce

  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or water
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 2 tbsp. Chinkiang black vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp. tapioca starch
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 4 cups vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup tapioca starch
  • 3 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup dried red chilies
  • 1 tbsp. roasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 tbsp. thinly sliced scallion greens

In a medium bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients. Add the chicken cubes, and, using your hands, work the marinade into the meat so that all pieces are well-coated. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix sauce ingredients together in another bowl. Set this aside too.

Put the tapioca starch into a bowl.

In a wok or Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil to 375°F, or until it shimmers. Dredge the chicken pieces through the tapioca starch until well-coated. Working in batches, fry chicken pieces in the hot oil until golden brown, four to five minutes. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.

Pour off all but two tablespoons of the cooking oil, then return your wok or pot to the stove and add the garlic and ginger, cooking for about 30 seconds; do not let these burn. Add the chilies and cook for another 30 seconds. Give the sauce mixture a quick stir, then add this to the wok or pot and cook for about a minute, until the sauce has thickened. Return the chicken to the wok or pot and toss the pieces in the sauce. Add the sesame oil, then toss again.

Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions. Serve with rice and a cold salad.

The giveaway

To win a copy of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees from Clarkson Potter, leave a comment below describing your favourite Chinese dish. You can leave comments until 11:59 PST on October 2; on October 3, I’ll put all the names in a hat and draw a winner. The winner will be notified by email on October 3.

Please note that this giveaway is for Canadian readers only; watch redcook.net after September 14 for information on giveaways for American readers.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free. However, I really like the book and would buy it for myself if it wasn’t offered to me first. No one pays me money for my opinions, which is probably for the best.

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Launched!

It's happening!!

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This is just a quick little note to say THANK YOU! The book’s official debut came this weekend at the nicest bookstore in town, and though it only just had its official stepping out, the book going to its second printing already. Thank you for buying a copy, and for telling your friends about it!

@emvandee reading from her amazing cookbook #wellfedflatbroke about our porky date with an octogenarian in Paris.

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The launch, somehow both long-awaited and surprisingly quick to get here, was beautiful and wonderful and friends and family from all over the lower mainland and going back to my earliest years were there. There were meatballs and little pancakes and crudites and wine, and I had a dress on that I bought in a store that didn’t even have a clearance rack. It was a special day.

The launch was held at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, which is one of my favourite bookstores in the world and, if you’re in Vancouver, my top pick for books on cooking and food. Like Omnivore Books in San Francisco, but afterward you can pop into Patisserie Lebeau next door for an excellent chicken salad sandwich and a waffle.

The lead up to the launch was busy as well, and I feel like I’ve been talking about myself for weeks. Indeed, I have: you can hear my interview with Rick Cluff on CBC Radio here, and watch me give the wrong URL for my website on Breakfast Television here. There are more, and I will post those links as they appear.

#WellFedFlatBroke book launch–had to get mine signed! Congrats again, @emvandee ! #selfie #MomBloggerMafia

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We’ll be back to recipe posts soon (we’re eating a lot of take-out lately). In the meantime, I just wanted send e-hugs (the only hugs I’m really comfortable with) and my warmest thanks.

 

Booked!

I think this has been my weirdest week on record, weirder than the time I was 20 and dyed myself and my hair orange at the same time and didn’t realize it. My ears are burning, and it’s not a tanning bed this time.

(If you’re wondering how you can dye yourself with a tanning bed, you can’t really. But you can turn yourself orange with a combination of tanning beds and self tanner, and then you can’t hide your shame.)

Anyway.

It’s like real life is happening in parallel with this other life I like the idea of, this alternate reality where I get to tell people stories and convince them to love kimchi and tuna and maybe even Spam. Of course, regular life is unyielding, and so on top of the euphoria of everything I ever wanted coming to pass, I am still wiping butts and folding laundry and finding mistakes in press releases I wrote or trying to book meetings with researchers at work.

And I know I wrote the book, and I knew that it was being edited and then designed and I understood that it would be printed and then I even had copies in my hands, and it all still felt like I could, I don’t know, get out of it maybe? Like if I panicked, maybe I could, I don’t know, stop the presses? Somehow in my mind it was going to be a real book but also maybe no one would ever know about it and I could escape judgment.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that none of it felt really, really real until this week, when people who weren’t my immediate family started getting their copies.

And then started making the recipes.

And then, well: I saw it, for real, in a bookstore I go to probably twice per week.

Aaaaahhhh! There it is!!!

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So, here we go. Stuff’s happening now. I’ve had an interview with Megaphone, and with the Vancouver Sun. My schedule for April is filling up.

I’ll keep you up to date as more dates get booked and interviews or reviews come out. In the meantime, thank you for your support and enthusiasm and for buying copies and telling me how much you like the book! Hardly anyone tells me they like my press releases so this is a kind of gratification I’ve never known.

Holy crap, it happened.

Much has happened since we last spoke. Spring has sprung in Vancouver, and we have been playing outside without winter coats. We finally finished all the cheese I bought in early December. I am now raising a Ninja Turtle (Donatello, specifically), and bearing the brunt of his ninja attacks which are not stealthy but do sometimes hurt.

And that book I’ve been thinking about and talking about and fretting over for months went to the printer, and then emerged fully formed this past week! I have real, hard copies here in my apartment, which I can hold and look at and worry about making sticky. I filed my reference copy between books by Nigella Lawson and Fannie Farmer, in hope that some of their magic rubs off.

WFFB Bookshelf

These are fast-paced times.

And there is so much to talk about, recipe-wise, but we’ve hardly had a moment to catch our breath or chew thoughtfully or clean the weird smell out of the garbage disposal. I have a couple of things simmering away, so stay tuned.

The book will be in stores in early April, and if you’re in Vancouver, I hope you’ll join me at the book launch! Save the date and update your calendar – it’s April 19, at 2:00 p.m., at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks. I’ll update you with other dates in other places as those details are finalized.

Eek! It’s here. I can’t really even believe it.

BOOK.

A big, exciting thing.

In real life I work in communications and any time anyone wants to communicate anything I first have to write a communications plan, which, for the uninitiated, is an extremely boring document detailing your goals, key messages, tactics, deliverables, and how you’ll measure your success. I don’t really like writing them, because I am a BIG PICTURE (impatient) person and I just like to jump into things and see how they come together once I’m in them. Nevertheless, I follow protocols and write plans and pretend I am an adult professional who can do things properly.

And now, here I am, with communication of my own to communicate, and I know I should take a deep breath or ten and write a plan. Or, at least, figure out my key messages.

But sweaty and messy has always been more my style. Which is why I am nervously thrilled to announce that Well Fed, Flat Broke, the cookbook, will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press and on bookstore shelves in Spring 2015. I have so much work to do, but I am so excited. And I could not have done it without you. Without you, I’m just some pantsless cat lady with a gross kitchen and an abnormal enthusiasm for fibre. Actually, I pretty much am that, but you keep coming back. So this is all your fault, but in a really good way.

Thank you. Like, very much.

Well … I guess I’d better grab a beer and get to work.

Love,

Emily

 

 

Something to Read: Blood, Bones and Butter

30days

The best chef’s memoir I’ve ever read was Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter. She’s another writer-chef I heard about through Anthony Bourdain on Twitter, and when I looked Gabrielle Hamilton up, it turns out she’s a bad-ass chef with an MFA in Creative Writing (those are my dream credentials) – I pre-ordered the book (hard cover) and paid full price. It was worth it. So worth it.

Blood-Bones-And-Butter-Gabrielle-Hamilton

If you like Cheryl Strayed, I think you’ll like Gabrielle Hamilton. Both write beautifully and simply about lives both lush and hard-lived; Hamilton just also happens to be writing about food in addition to life and working and marriage and motherhood, so there’s another layer of sensory oomph.

I find her so relatable.

Even now, as I’m sitting here just trying to say something nice about a book I loved, I’m overwhelmed with my own tiredness. Re-reading passages again about Hamilton’s struggles with her 18-hour workdays and her two small kids at home and everything she has to do to keep everything afloat is cathartic, and just when I’m caught thinking maybe you can juggle everything if you just throw high enough, she reminds me, in writing more eloquent than I could muster, that the one who suffers most of all is the juggler.

Maybe this book resonated so much for me because I read it just after it had been published in 2011, when I was just adjusting to life with a small person and the million little changes that go along with that. Everything felt so much harder then; I’m not sure things are any easier now. While the book is just good writing, it appeals in particular to those of us who are struggling to do everything, to make sure that the work gets done well and the kid gets fed and talked to and most of the bills get paid and the partner doesn’t get throttled even though he has done ten things this week to deserve it (and it’s only Wednesday). It appeals to those of us who can do one thing great or two things shoddily.

Which is not to say that Hamilton is in any way shoddy; I’m projecting. Her writing is clean and sharp, with the flawless execution that comes from really knowing one’s craft. This book is not only not boring, but it is not like any other chef’s memoir I’ve read because it is written by someone who is as much a writer as a cook. Both are hard skills to learn, but Hamilton has mastered them, and I read her book in awe.

The Italians have a way of counting for these kinds of family dinners that I wish we had in English. If you ask how many we are expecting for dinner this evening, they’ll answer “un trentina” – a little thirty – or “una quarantina” – a little forty. It’s like saying “roughly twenty” so we know that we can expect anywhere from thirty-five to forty-five when someone answers “una quarantina.” I want this vague yet perfectly precise way of counting in so many contexts of my life. I always want to say everything was twenty years ago. Or you can cook it in twenty minutes. Or I’ve been a cook for twenty years. Or I haven’t spoken to my mother in twenty years. But exactly twenty? Not for an Italian minute. Exactly a “ventina.” (Page 243.)

This is the best book of all the books I’ve told you about, and if you buy any of them I hope it’s this one.

There are no recipes in the book, but here’s one of hers I’ve made and loved. I believe she’s working on a cookbook; I will buy it when it’s out. Preorder, hardcover.

Fennel baked in cream

  • 1 1⁄2 lbs. fennel (about 2 large bulbs), stalks removed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1⁄2″ wedges
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1⁄2 cups finely grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 tbsp. butter, cubed

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a bowl, combine fennel, cream, and one cup of the cheese, with a bit of salt and pepper, and mush everything together with your hands. Pour the mixture into a 9″x13″ baking dish. Place the cubes of butter over top, sporadically. Cover the dish with foil, and bake for about an hour.

Pull the dish out of the oven, remove the foil, and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the dish. Put the whole thing back into the oven and continue to cook for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the fennel is tender and the cheese is golden brown.

It’s very good with white fish, or chicken. Or, cold, out of the refrigerator when you’re up at 3:00 a.m., wondering what you should do with your life.

 

 

Something to Read: Fresh Off the Boat

30days

Fresh Off the Boat is a memoir about food, family, and not fitting in in America. It’s author, Eddie Huang, is a foul-mouthed, hip-hop loving raconteur and restaurateur, a Gen-Y immigrant kid from a Taiwanese family in Orlando. It was Anthony Bourdain who turned me on to him via Twitter, and though he is occasionally problematic and I don’t always agree with him, I’ve been a fan ever since. I knew kids like Eddie, and while I might be a little too “middle-class white girl from the suburbs” to really relate to many of his stories, I respect his hustle and the way he tells his story unfiltered. This is not a boring book.

fresh-off-the-boat

(If you are sensitive to colourful language, this may not be the book for you. If you would like to learn to swear more effectively and casually, this book will help. You could also come over any night I’m cooking something that splatters. The tops of my feet are freckled with burn scars.)

This is more over-arching memoir than straight food book, though food is a dominant theme.

Earlier in the day, Grandpa had asked me where I wanted to go for my sixth birthday. He figured I’d say Chuck E. Cheese or McDonald’s, but Momma didn’t raise no fool. Chuck E. Cheese was for mouth-breathers and kids with Velcro shoes. “I want to go where they have the best soup dumplings!” (Page 5)

After we ate, I was kinda pissed with the shitty soup dumplings. It was my birthday! Yi Ping Xiao Guan, you can’t come harder than this for the kid? Chuck E. Cheese can serve shitty food ’cause you get to smash moles and play Skee-Ball after lunch. But all you have are soup dumplings! How could you fuck this up? Yi Ping Xau Guan was like Adam Morrison: your job is to slap Kobe’s ass when the Lakers call time out. If you can’t do that, shoot yourself. As I sat there, pissed off, I saw a waiter pouring off-brand soy sauce into the Wanjashan Soy Sauce bottles. Corner-cutting, bootleg, off-brand-soy-pouring Chinamen! (Page 6)

Been there, in some form or another, too many times. What I like about this book is how much stuff matters to Huang. Soup dumplings, hip hop, fire red Air Jordan Vs – all of it is important, and defining. And Huang is defiant, opinionated, and not good with authority. He is an underdog throughout – at home, at school, in America – and he wears it well. Huang is an anti-hero with a felony on his record, a law degree, and a 2010 New York Times “Best of New York” credit to his restaurant’s name (Bauhaus).

He has a lot to say about race, class, food (history, origins, quality, sourcing – you name it), music, American and Taiwanese cultures, basketball, poverty, and family. It’s all complicated, and though it wraps up pretty nice in the end you never get the sense that there’s any promise of that. You never quite know what to expect. Eddie Huang fux with you.

No recipe today because I’m kind of dead tired, but if you’re looking for a good/witty/occasionally abrasive summer read (and if you grew up in the 90s … there are a lot of references to get), check out Fresh Off the Boat. I have two more posts to produce and three more recipes; stay tuned.