• 24Dec

    I am at this moment enjoying one of my Christmas gifts… dear sweet P had asked me what I wanted for Christmas a few weeks ago. I thought for a moment and realized in my contentment that I really am not wanting for anything… at least not that I knew of…

    P is a thoughful one, always filing away tidbits of things I do and say, came up with the perfect gift (as usual).What did P present to me but my first taste of the very famous Blue Bottle Coffee.  

    The folks there are fanatical about coffee and it shows! I have never tasted a more complex brew from the ‘3 Africas’ blend in all my coffee drinking days. Honestly, I had a hard time believing all the hype… I mean it’s just coffee! People spoke of Blue Bottle as if they were cult members. I thought it was rather scary… come on, we know how addictive coffee is too! But today, December 24th, 2005, I and my taste buds have been humbly educated!  

  • 16Dec

    Chongqing, formerly in Sichuan province, exhibited dishes that were quite generously spiced – though not always searingly hot as Sichuan cuisine is reputed to be. The food was excellent though had quite the dosing of MSG. So much so, one evening a few days into the trip I came down with a fever and sweated profusely through the night – I’m sure if we had tested my sweat it would have been 90% MSG! I was fine the next morning though without really thinking about it I instinctively began to avoid dishes that had too much MSG as if I had a built in MSG detector.

    Aside from the Chongqing chef’s MSG worship…

    One thing I loved was the variety and quality of vegetables – even in the winter. We enjoyed lots of different varieties of bok choys, mushrooms, bitter melon, napa cabbage, daikon radish, winter squashes, spinach, and a very delicious celery dish (slow poached in chicken stock and no doubt an ample handful of MSG

    One curiosity that we got a good chuckle from were the ‘Longevity Nuts’ we found on many a fruit platter. Turns out they were plum cherry tomatoes.

    Soups were also a mainstay and as we’ve seen in so called ‘traditional’ diets, enjoyed at least during one meal of the day. One particular soup I enjoyed was a simple broth made from black skinned chicken and abalone.

    My 6 favorite dishes: p>

    A bowl of noodles from a street stand – well really a top of the stairwell stand. Seemed many of the locals were walking around or stooped on the sidewalk with a hot steaming bowl of this vendor’s noodles so we decided to go for it. Up the stairs Sis and I went. We hold up 2 fingers. A woman hands the guy 2 bowls full of yam noodles in a brownish-reddish broth. The guy is ready to toss on the condiments: seasoned ground meat, peanuts…then ever so vigilant we wave our hands ‘no’ at the raw scallions, raw cilantro and hot paste not noticing the large white bowl of crystals…dope! In went at least a half a tablespoon of MSG…oh well, when in Rome…Ever so gently as to not stir in the MSG, I dig in…Oh my, what an incredible flavorful bowl of rich spicy hot goodness. I savored every bite – the broth had a generous splash of black vinegar with a nice spice to it – chile, sichuan peppercorns and some cumin – every now and then you’d get a bite with some roasted peanut…yum! I hoped to remember the flavors so I could try to recreate it at home.

    Next up, flatbread from a street stand. Looked to be a local chain as we had seen one of these stands in the pedestrian under pass by the Conifer Hotel. This time we couldn’t pass it up. It was a beautiful golden brown oval disc with bits of spicy pork sausage on it…and and just oozing with pork fat! It was piping hot just out of the oven. Again the now familiar spice combo of chile, sichuan peppercorns and some cumin. Delicious!

    Crispy Chicken – actually a Guangdong specialty but wow – these Chongqing chefs knew how to crisp up a chicken too! The flavor was so fragrant and aromatic with the famous five spice. The amber skin was crispy like glass.

    Twice Cooked Pork, a famous Sichuan dish. A beautifully braised piece of pork belly presented on half a roasted butternut squash. Yummy, the combo was stellar.

    And the all time favorite – diced up dry fried leg of lamb garnished with a mountain of deep fried red chiles. The flavor of the lamb! Again the chile, sichuan peppercorns and cumin spice combo. Each nugget was ever so tender and the chiles – crispy delightful and sweet not hot (they knew the gingros were coming!) I couldn’t get enough.

    And who could visit Sichuan and not have Mo Po Tofu. This rendition from it’s birth place was totally delish.

    Since coming back I’ve researched the prevalent spice combo of chile, sichuan peppercorns and cumin and discovered it’s influence is from the western most province of Xinjiang. Here, the Uygur people are muslim so we have the cumin. Typically this spice mixture is rubbed on thin pieces of lamb and threaded onto skewers then grilled. I’ve been experimenting with it as a rub for lamb chops, chicken medallions and flavoring for soup. Next I plan to make some sausage – probably a version with pork and another with lamb.

    As for the bread – in Xinjiang there are breads similar to Indian naan breads. I have a few naan recipes so will tinker. Alas, time is always a factor so this will have to wait til later.

    Anyway, here is a recipe for a rub that is pretty close to what I tasted in Chongqing:

    Xinjiang Dry Rub

    Based on a Recipe by Jeff Powell

    Amount Measure Ingredient — Preparation Method
    ——– ———— ——————————–
    1 Tablespoon sichuan pepper
    1/4 cup cumin seed
    2 tablespoons chili flakes — no seeds
    2 tablespoons black peppercorns
    1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
    1 tablespoon ginger — grnd
    1 tablespoon garlic — powder
    1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

    Toast sichuan peppercorns til fragrant. Pick out any black seeds as these can be bitter.
    Grind sichuan peppercorns, cumin seed chili flakes and black pepper in a spice grinder.
    Stir in remaining ingredients.

    Dry rub away!