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: The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook

30days

Williams-Sonoma is ridiculous and I love it.

Our last apartment was about half a block off Granville Street, and three blocks away from Vancouver’s only Williams-Sonoma. It was a weird place to live, because the rent was very affordable and many of the apartment buildings were very old, but all the stores were for the fancy rich people who lived up the hill in Shaughnessy. There was a Restoration Hardware, an Anthropologie, and a lot of expensive art galleries. Occasionally I would see an outfit I liked in a shop window and wander inside to look, discreetly search for a price tag, and then high-tail it out of there because who can afford $800 jeans?! Also most of the restaurants in the neighbourhood sold only bland food because rich people don’t like to taste flavours.

But I’d go into Williams-Sonoma a lot, mostly to fondle the expensive enameled cast-iron and copper pots. I rarely bought anything, though occasionally some of their cookbooks would be on sale, and once I bought this great vinaigrette mixer-spritzer that I later broke because I am not gentle with things.

When we were first married, I didn’t have the impressive cookbook collection I now fill an obtrusive shelf in our dining room with, and I wanted to have a few reliable books I could refer to. I happened to be in Williams-Sonoma, and was delighted to discover that The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook (you can buy it for less here) was actually very reasonably priced for a big, fat, hardcover cookbook. The cover price was $40, but it was (miraculously) on sale for only $20. The recipes are easy to follow, even for a beginner cook, and they don’t call for unusual or expensive ingredients. I later acquired a copy of Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of French Cooking (I think when my aunt was thinning out her cookbook collection), which has also turned out to be pretty good.

wscookbook

It’s been well used, and certainly worth more than what I paid. One recipe in particular has proven itself invaluable, as it turned out to be Nick’s favourite dessert. Nick doesn’t eat much dessert, and didn’t eat much dessert even pre-diabetes (I do not understand this). But this one pleased him so much that he insisted I bring it to his parents’ for his birthday one year, and his family loved it and now it’s in the family cookbook and we have it almost anytime there’s an occasion that calls for dessert.

Panna Cotta

  • Butter (for greasing six ramekins)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 packages, or four teaspoons, unflavoured powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean (you can use 1 tsp. vanilla extract if that’s what you have in your pantry)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)

Lightly grease six ramekins with butter. Set the cups on a small baking sheet.

Pour one third, or 1/2 cup of the milk into a small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin over top, and let sit for about three minutes.

Add the rest of the milk and the sugar and heat it until the sugar and gelatin is dissolved, then take the pot off the stove and stir in the cream and vanilla bean. Whisk everything together, then pour the mixture into ramekins. Cover ramekins with plastic wrap, then place in the fridge to set, which should take four to six hours.

To serve, remove the panna cotta from the ramekins by sliding a knife gently around the circumference. It should come out easily, but you can serve it in the ramekins too if you want. It saves dirtying more dishes, which counts for a lot around here.

Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream. In the winter, I warm frozen blueberries with a bit of maple syrup, then let the compote cool to just about room temperature before spooning over the panna cotta.