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Monday, February 16th, 2015

Recipe: sichuan pork wontons

When the weekend started, I wasn’t sure how things were going to pan out. We always have a plan in place – usually a form of weather-dependent exercise, lofty goals to clean some part of the house, and work. Because it has been so disturbingly warm, my usual ski tour with Erin turned into a snirt (snow/dirt) hike. Making our way up the ice-slicked trail, we agreed that despite the suckage of the snow conditions, it was nice to get outside. Banjo agreed. Before we set off in the morning, he spun about in dizzying white fluffy circles on the mudroom floor, filled with giddy anticipation of the adventure to come. Happy dogs can’t lie.


my weekly date with erin and banjo

such a good boy



The dearth of snowfall this season didn’t deter me and Jeremy from nabbing some new fat skis on super sale recently. We took them into town for binding mounts and new ski prep. Picking the skis up from the mountaineering store, I signed the credit card receipt and smiled at the cashier, “Do your snow dance!” and stepped outside into 65°F and bright sun. The forecast was sunshine and warmth until Sunday, when we would get some snow. We weren’t sure how much. It could go either way.

my new (very fun) skis

the start of something beautiful

15 inches of fresh powder monday morning



But before the snow would come, we took a day – Valentine’s Day – to drive two and a half hours south onto the flats. You know it has to be something important to make us leave the mountains on a weekend. This was very important. We spent 30 minutes meeting several very sweet dogs. If all goes well, we’ll be filling that dog-shaped hole in our hearts with a puppy in early May.

On the return drive home, we passed through Denver where I stopped by the big Asian grocery store (HMart) to get ingredients for our traditional Chinese New Year feast. I try to stick to my grocery list, but as I walked the aisles packed to the hilt with all manner of sauces, vegetables, frozen foods, and pickled things, I started cobbling together our weekly menu as well. We hadn’t had wontons in a while, and there was a Sichuan wonton recipe waiting in the wings. The first step is to make the Sichuan red chile oil.


chiles de árbol, canola oil, soy sauce, salt, sichuan peppercorns, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, black cardamom, cloves, bay leaf, ginger

smashing things: cinnamon, garlic, ginger

combine the oil, garlic, ginger, bay leaf, cloves, anise, cardamom, and cinnamon

heat until the garlic is golden (mine was a little more than golden)



**Jump for more butter**

no need to fear

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Recipe: chinese fermented sweet rice (jiu niang)

We are two weeks away from the Lunar New Year, which I’ve always known as Chinese New Year. If you are wondering what to make for a party or for your own celebratory dinner, I refer you to my Chinese New Year recipe round up from last year to help give you a few ideas.

I consider myself a very lucky girl. I’ve always been pretty happy (except in graduate school – sheesh) and a little silly and very much loved by my family. It’s that love which anchored me from an early age. Wherever I went and whatever I did as a kid, I had a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. I know now that much of that warm fuzzy was because of Grandma, who was always there for me. We had our routine: a daily walk around the neighborhood, making her bed together every morning (good habits!), putting my hair into cute little pigtails, emptying the sand from my saddle shoes when I got home from school, folding laundry together while watching cartoons. This kind and gentle matriarch would create special Chinese treats from scratch in our 1970s southern Virginia kitchen while I sat on the counter next to her, pretending to be the neighbor’s dog. These memories are so vivid in my mind. I told my friend over the weekend that Grandma has been gone for almost four years and yet I still feel her presence in my heart. She is just that much a part of me.

Last November, when my parents were in Boulder, Mom told me she was going to make jiu niang or Chinese fermented sweet rice. This was one of Grandma’s specialties that I used to sneak spoonfuls of from the refrigerator – that sweet rice porridge floating in rice wine with the slight fizzy tang of fermentation. She would turn it into a hot sweet soup for celebrations or to help kick a cold, flu, or tummy ache. I loved it so much. You can buy it pre-made in Asian grocery stores, but it’s expensive for a pretty small quantity. “Come down and learn how to make it,” Mom commanded. She had been trying for a few years to reproduce Grandma’s recipe, but with mixed results. Now, Mom had finally mastered it with consistency and it meant a lot to her because she too loved, cherished, and missed her mother. It wasn’t something I could put off. Mom and Dad were flying back to Virginia in a few days and as I get older I know not to take time for granted. “Okay, Mom. How about Saturday?”


start with good quality sweet rice

and chinese rice wine yeast



It’s just two ingredients, but you need to get the right two ingredients. You can’t use sushi rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, wild rice, long grain rice, medium grain rice, black rice, whatever rice that isn’t sweet rice – you must use sweet rice. Sweet rice is also known as glutinous rice, which contains no gluten, it’s just really sticky. I’ve shopped around for sweet rice and have seen some bagged varieties with grains that look longish, almost like medium grains. My advice is to get the good stuff. Premium sweet rice resembles short, fat, pearly, oblong grains. As for the Chinese rice wine yeast – it’s jiu qu (see Wikipedia) – a fermentation starter. This one can be tough to find even if you know what you are looking for. It always seems to be tucked away in some random little bin or corner of Asian grocery stores. Luckily for me, Mom had already found them at Pacific Ocean Market in Broomfield, so she told me where to look (by the refrigerated canned drinks at the front near the cashiers). If you can’t find it or if the employees in the store act like your Chinese is just THAT BAD, you can order it from Amazon – but you have to order a dozen and they’re four times as much as what I paid (I paid $.79 for two balls).

2.5 pounds of sweet rice (uncooked) and a ball of chinese rice wine yeast

crush the yeast ball with a mortar and pestle

turn it into a powder



**Jump for more butter**

yo ho, blow the (wo)man down

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Recipe: chinese lemon chicken

Welcome to 2015! What’s new? Most of you already know that little changes for me with the new year (although I keep writing 2014 instead of 2015 on checks, waiver forms, and consent forms). But, it just so happens that I got a new hat. That might not be a big deal to you, but it is for me. When I find something that works for me, I use it until it is dead, threadbare, broken, kaput. The part I loathe is shopping around for a replacement. My trusty Patagonia fleece hat has kept my noggin warm and itch-free (because I’m allergic to wool) for 19 years. I’ve sewn it up over 11 times. I’ll continue to bring it with me into the backcountry, but the new hat will take over noggin-duty in town.


my sauce headware tulip hat



I found the brand in Crested Butte when I was in search of a good thin breathable toque for skate skiing in cold weather (I heat up very easily, even in single digit temperatures). There was a bigger selection online at Sauce Headwear and then of course, I went looking at other styles and fell in love with the tulip hat. My favorite feature of my toque is the ponytail hole (optional) – because I have a ponytail and most winter sports hats are made for dudes. So if you’re active outside in winter and you need a functional, yet fun hat, you might want to check these out. Sauce doesn’t know I’m telling you about their hats, I just really dig how well they work for me. I test drove the toque on a backcountry ski tour Sunday morning in 50 mph winds and it was great (the hat, not the winds). I also got to spend some quality time with my pals, Erin and Banjo, despite ground snow rudely blowing into my ears and mouth as well as winds literally knocking us over. What’s up with that, Front Range?!?!

banjo kisses

the best selfie we could manage

banjo leads us out



It was so nice to get some puppy time. I’ve been in withdrawal ever since Kaweah left us. It’s gotten to the point where I pet each and every dog I encounter on trails, sidewalks, in yards, stores… I was like this for years before we got Kaweah. Back then, it was just an obsession of mine to have a dog, but now I actually know what is missing from my life. Kaweah left a big hole in my heart and I’m trying to fill it by loving on fifty different dogs in passing, which is like eating a bag of Skittles in place of dinner.

Jeremy’s out of town at a meeting and he texted me after his talk to let me know he was heading to dinner with a colleague. I texted back: I want a puppy.

We are not impulsive people, so I know it will take time and a lot of deliberate thought before we bring a dog into our home – before we bring our dog into our lives. Jeremy isn’t ready yet, but he’s getting there. Eventually, we’ll find our Colorado mountain dog, and you’ll meet her too.

In the meantime, it’s back to business as usual. We kept our holiday meal planning simple in Crested Butte because we didn’t want to spend our time in the kitchen if we could be out skiing. It was a good break. And now I’m regarding recipes with anticipation rather than dread, like this lemon chicken.


flour, cornstarch (3 times), sugar, salt, sesame seeds, water, soy sauce, shoaxing cooking wine, lemons, chicken thighs

cut the chicken into pieces and juice the lemons



**Jump for more butter**