葱油拌面 (Cong You Ban Mian) is a classic, Shanghai comfort food. The signature taste comes from frying scallions until they are unrecognizable brown bits and pouring it over drained noodles. I gave it a twist: instead of frying it in vegetable oil, I fried it in duck fat, used ramen noodles, and topped it with medium-rare duck breast with crispy skin. That’s my kind of meal
Duck fat makes everything better. It just does. Similarly to how bacon grease makes everything taste better. However, duck is a special meat for me. It’s the fancy meat that I will enjoy, anywhere. I’ve gone to get whole duck meals when I spent a summer in Shanghai, probably once a week. They cook the duck for you and you eat it in mushu pancakes, then they serve a wonderful broth made from the duck bones afterwards. I salivate while I anticipate my father-in-law making his famous Nan Jing Salt Water Duck (yes, I WILL be doing a post on this later). I drag my parents to my favorite restaurant in the bay area for their roasted half-duck buns. I make an effort to reserve, a month prior, the famed whole rotisserie duck at Momofuku Ssam (which is amazing). I of course ate duck as my main entree during my first night in Paris. When it’s restaurant week, I always look for the restaurant that serves duck as part of that menu. I’ve had duck blood soup (which sounds horrible and disgusting, but is actually quite delicious). Do I have to go on?
Are you a noodle person? Because I am. And because I am, I’m going to share some AWESOME noodle recipes:
I’m not great at cake decorating, so I have to rely on things like a rough frosting, glazing to give it an impressive cap, and shaping candied orange peels into roses in lieu of fancy frosted roses. It’s my goal to learn how to properly frost, with piping and using different tips to create flowers… but for now, I will DIY my way to a pretty cake. Not bad, right? I did the whole vertical cake thing again. I did say in my previous post that I had a whole series of vertical cakes planned for you. So here’s one more. It’s a twist on the classic Japanese shortcake, which is made up of light sponge cake, whipped cream, and fresh strawberries. It’s the tail end of winter, so strawberries aren’t exactly in season here on the East coast. There were strawberries available, but I decided to go with something in season. Oranges. I love the brightness and positive energy citruses bring to a cold and dreary winter. Not only is it loaded with vitamin C, the taste is unbeatable! I made a plain sponge cake, spread copious amounts of orange zest whipped cream, and rolled it all up.
If you follow me on Instagram and on Facebook, you’ll know that it was my husband’s birthday yesterday! One of his favorite cakes is the Japanese shortcake, and he loved my twist on it. We had a wonderful weekend dining at Myers and Chang, visiting friends with puppies, and cooking steak/salmon (steak for him, salmon for me). I don’t talk about him in every post, but his presence is usually here in some way. Ever wonder how I take photos of myself without clutching a remote? Alex lets me drag him away from his studies to get a shot with my hands in action, or with me presenting a food. I’m too lazy to set up the tripod, the trigger, or put it on timer, and focus to the exact spot… so Alex is the magician behind almost all the shots with me in it. He has been instrumental in helping me shape my blog, not just with photography. He’s the one encouraging me to put myself out there, to trust my writing, and to have confidence in my work. I love him dearly and I definitely would like to celebrate the day he entered this world.
This dish is a legend in the Liu family. It’s one of those dishes that you know is probably unhealthy and bad for you (just look at that fatty layer!), but you still have to eat because that part is unfortunately what makes this dish so good. You could probably substitute pork butt or pork shoulder, but I’m going to be honest with you – you’re not going to get the signature texture of the dish.
I’ve served this at dinner parties with great success. I always find that this is a great dish to introduce Chinese cuisine (more specifically, home-style Shanghai) to those who’ve only eaten Chinese takeout. This recipe actually has a cute little story. One of our friends was going over to his female friend’s place so they could cook together on Valentine’s day. I gave him this recipe. He trekked through a blizzard to locate pork belly and star anise. Two single people, bonding over great cooking skills (her desserts are killer). And now they’re a couple!!! He dropped a note to me about how this is one dish he’ll never forget. Isn’t that so sweet?!!! I’m not really sure if their getting together actually had anything to do with this dish – let’s be honest, probably not – but let me romanticize this okay?
Happy Monday, friends! How was your weekend? I had a lovely one – with the weather “warming up” (and by warming, I mean that the temperature rose to above freezing. In Boston, that’s pretty amazing), Alex and I actually were able to photograph two engagement sessions! Both were outdoor, winter-wonderland-esque shoots, and I had a lot of fun fighting my way through hip-deep snow to get some shots. We had munchkins, hot chocolate, blankets, and a positive attitude. Sometimes, that’s all you need to make a session special. It felt a little surreal to walk quietly in the woods, unused to hearing only the subtle creaking of branches, straining under the weight of the snow. There were no chirping birds, no rustling of leaves – just the muffle sounds of footsteps in the snow of fellow hikers.
I was also surprised and honored to be one of Food52’s 8 Food Blog Link Love! I’m there with some really great company, so I definitely recommend you check each one of those blogs out.
I’ve been struggling with the feeling of cabin fever, especially when we’ve had basically a snow storm every single week. I dislike nothing more than the feeling of being idle, with plans canceled because of the snow. I become a woman possessed, whirling around the apartment to clean, organize, scrub the stove, clear out the pantry, cook for the next few days, brainstorm, sketch, whatever. This is when Alex usually takes his studying downstairs… oops :). I made a cake. Earl grey tea cake with lavender icing, to be precise. It turned out to be the perfect moist cake for a snowy day. In addition, the light on snowy days is gorgeous. The snow basically acts like a natural reflector – all that soft, diffused light streaming in is actually perfect for food photography! Continue reading →
Happy Chinese New Year / Lunar New Year!! Technically, it’s tomorrow (2/19). It’s one of my favorite times of the year, because everywhere I turn, I see my favorite things – noodles, dumplings, rice cakes, red bean that, matcha this. The blogosphere just bursts with Asian-inspired treats. There was a time I used to hate fusion, because I was up on my high horse of authentic Chinese food, but I toppled down a long time ago. Fusion is awesome, and I REVEL in it. I think the root of my fusion hatred was when I sat down in PF Changs many moons ago and ordered dan dan mian, or some other noodle dish. It was not. It was just, not. To me, fusion then represented fake-asian or asian imposters – but I came to realize that’s not what fusion is about. It’s the ultimate creative exercise to incorporate asian flavors in nontraditional ways. It’s what I find most stimulating right now (red bean hand pies, anyone?)
Let’s have some link love, because nothing makes me happier than seeing all these lunar new year posts:
Have I convinced you that Lunar New Year is a wonderful time of the year? If not, well, you should know there’s another tradition involved: hong bap 红包！！There’s a saying kids used to parrot as a joke – 恭喜发财红包拿来, which translates to “best wishes and fortunes, hand over the red envelopes”! Little red envelopes stuffed with money, usually given by family members. As a kid, I looked forward to this so that I could tuck it away for my savings! It’s like another Christmas.
It’s Valentine’s Day. This cake has hearts on it. But it’s not meant for Valentine’s day. I made this cake and I’m posting on this particular day, because it’s my mom’s birthday!!!! Happy birthday, Mom!!! I love you so much and I want to dedicate this cake to you.
I honestly thought I’d start out with a anecdote or a mini biography about my mom, but I can’t put those into words. Instead, a list of little moments comes through. Like when she waited with me outside a big hall before I took my piano exams. When she first taught me how to cook and and basically just threw in seasonings with no measurements and told me to cook until it just looks right. When she stayed outside in the car reading a book, waiting for me and my sister to finish our harp lessons. When I came home crying because I got a traffic ticket, and she just smiled and said it’s OK, but didn’t you see the sign that said no turn on red? When she dropped me off in St Louis for college for the first time, leaving me with packs of homemade goods. When I get a short, punctuated text back because she’s not used to texting. When she and my dad decided to buy a larger tote bag for my aunt in China, because “it’s better to fit bread”. When she patiently taught me how to wrap shaomai. And zhongzi. And jiu cai he zi, and so many more precious things. When she laughed at me in Shanghai because I was obviously targeted as the foreigner… because I didn’t speak Shanghainese and she had to intervene.
These little moments don’t seem to be significant, but I hoard them like a miser now that I’m geographically miles away. My mom is my inspiration (her food is one of the reasons I even decided to start this blog). She’s the person I go to for advice, my bulwark of steadiness. She’s my comfort, my rock. My mom is who I want to be when I grow up.
Red bean is the stuff of my childhood. I’ve eaten it as a paste stuffed in sesame balls, daifuku, japanese treats, mochi balls; I’ve had it flavored in popsicles, ice cream, even sweet zhong zi (although I much prefer savory ones); I’ve had it in a thick sweet soup, dotted with glutinous rice balls. If you’ve visited China at some point, you probably have encountered this ubiquitous flavor. It’s made from sweet red beans, which is purchasable from any asian grocery store. The paste can be bought pre-made as well, but I find that making it myself is much more preferable, as I can control its consistency and sweetness.