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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**

it still matters to me

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Not sure who all celebrates your birthday anymore, but I know I do. Flowers for you on what would have been your 48th birthday. Noodles for me and Mom and Dad, because it is tradition. I miss you every day. I love you every day.


happy birthday, kris


because i like lists

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

I know all of the planners out there pretty much know what they are serving for Thanksgiving by now. We have no idea what we’re doing for Thanksgiving dinner, but that’s by choice (because, skiing…). So no wah wah trombones here! And besides, we are spending the weekend eating fabulous food with family. Because it isn’t the day so much as what you’re eating, what wine(s) you’re pairing with what you’re eating, and with whom you are dining.


for kaweah it’s all about what she would like to eat



In case you are looking for recipes, ideas, or inspiration, I’ve compiled a selection from my archives that are as Thanksgiving as I get. As you well know, I am not a traditionalist. Just remember: variety is the spice of life!

appetizers



Artichoke dip: This is a classic hot and cheesy dip to serve with crackers, crostini, sliced baguette, or even tortilla chips. Total winner.

Bacon-wrapped Boursin-stuffed dates: If you have some oven time and space, these may be some of the lowest effort to wow-factor ratio appetizers on the planet. I mean, we’re talking BACON. Don’t have Boursin cheese? No problem – stuff a little stick of Parmesan in there. Or a sliver of almond. Or don’t stuff the date at all and just wrap it in bacon and bake. If you don’t pit the dates, I do suggest letting your guests know, to perhaps save them some dental work.

Marinated mushrooms: These are best made ahead of time to ensure the mushrooms soak up all of the good flavors. Also super easy.

Sweet onion dip: I first had this dip at a little dinner party that Todd and Diane threw for me. I asked for the recipe right away and have been serving it to guests ever since. It’s called crack dip for a reason.


bready things



Angel biscuits: These are the closest biscuits I could find to the coveted silver dollar biscuits in southern Virginia. They go particularly well with Virginia ham (yes, that salty salty wonderful ham), but are fantastic with honey ham, in place of rolls, as well as straight up into your mouth.

Herbed-garlic knots: From Todd and Diane’s book Bountiful, these nuggets of bread are irresistibly buttery, garlicky, and bright.


salads



Beet, chèvre, hazelnut salad with blood oranges: It seems the only salad mentioned at most Thanksgiving tables is a jello salad, and that makes me sad… and little ill. This is an especially bright and satisfying salad to add some color to the meal. All of the components can be prepped ahead of time.

Roasted cauliflower salad with olives and oranges: My girlfriend Denise served this at a gathering last year and I think I ate half of it (and there were 10 of us). Another great make-ahead dish that has elements of briny, sweet, tangy, and that earthy, almost buttery flavor of roasted cauliflower.

Shredded Brussels sprouts salad: The oft-maligned Brussels sprout is the star of this salad. Crunchy and fresh, it is paired with citrus, cheese, and nuts for a great combination of flavors and textures.

Shredded kale salad: I eat a lot of kale and I like it, but this is perhaps my absolute favorite kale salad and it is crazy simple. I like the version I cobbled together, but the original recipe from Oak is the one I always make. It’s fabulous.


soups



Asparagus soup: Yes, soup! I don’t see it on most Thanksgiving menus, but it can also be tough to serve to large groups of people. Even so, if you have a hankering for soup, a simple asparagus soup purée tastes great and adds some nice green to the meal.

Cream of mushroom soup: There really isn’t anything more heavenly than a creamy mushroom soup and this one is chock full of a variety of mushrooms.

Potato leek soup: Maybe you aren’t a fan of mashed potatoes, but want a potato dish? Or maybe you ARE a fan of everything potato! This soup is easy to make and wholly satisfying without being too heavy.

Pumpkin soup: Everything pumpkin at Thanksgiving… but this sneaks in some additional vegetables, apples, and bacon. BACON.

Roasted butternut squash soup: In keeping with orange soups, here’s another squash turned into soup. It’s easily converted to vegetarian or vegan and includes apples.

Roasted carrot and ginger soup: A recent post and new favorite soup in our house. What makes this one so delightful is the warming ginger along with the sweet roasted carrots. Simple to make and a great recipe to make ahead.


vegetables and sides



Basic cranberry sauce: Sure, you could buy it in a can, but cranberry sauce from scratch is so ridiculously straightforward (and in my opinion, better tasting) that it deserves a little stove top real estate.

Corn pudding with green chiles: A New Mexican twist on corn pudding adds a little zing to your taste buds with chopped green chiles.

Mirin sweet potatoes: So maybe you don’t want sweet potato mash with marshmallow and brown sugar topping, but you still want sweet potatoes. Here’s a sweet Asian fusiony sweet potato recipe that calls for Mirin, honey, and butter.

Parmesan gremolata smasher potatoes: Crisp potatoey outside and fluffy potatoey inside, all mixed with lemon zest, parsley, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Crowd-pleaser.

Potatoes au gratin: Creamy, cheesy, buttery, utterly indulgent classic. Oh, and potatoes.

Roasted Brussels sprouts: I’m not giving up on pushing the Brussels sprouts. They say anything roasted with bacon is fabulous, but Brussels sprouts roasted with bacon (and shallots) is doubly fabulous. This dish has converted a lot of people.

Roasted butternut squash with Moroccan spices: I love this roasted butternut squash from my friend Kalyn. The Moroccan spices really bring out the sweetness of the squash and I find myself snacking on them straight out of the oven.


birds and non-bird critters



Dry-brined roast turkey: I’m not a turkey person, but if I’m going to serve turkey I think brining is the way to go. I prefer dry brines because they involve less mess and are relatively easy. The best part of this recipe is the defatting technique from Fine Cooking.

Miso-butter roast chicken: Let’s say a whole bird isn’t in your plans, but you want some kind of bird. The miso-butter in this recipe is so unbelievably good that you’ll want to save some for bread, or vegetables, or anything else you can think of. The magic is in the miso, butter, AND a head of roasted garlic. This phenomenal recipe comes from my good friend, Kathya.

Roast chicken: Not enough people to justify a turkey? Maybe you’re not a fan of leftovers (for shame!). Think of a roast chicken as a smaller, faster version of the turkey. And you can still get gravy from it.

Crusted roast beef: We all know someone in our lives who is a caveman and who barely tolerates Thanksgiving turkey. I’m always one for bucking tradition. If you have a red meat-lovin’ table, this beautiful crusted roast is sure to please.

Pan-seared scallops: Now that is what I’m talking about. You might be surprised to learn that my fish monger is crazy busy the week of Thanksgiving. This dish literally takes minutes (like, less than 10) to cook and it impresses EVERYONE. More often than not, Jeremy and I enjoy seafood for Thanksgiving.

Rack of lamb: Another non-turkey option that plates beautifully and takes a lot less time to cook than a whole turkey.


cakes and cheesecake



Carrot cake: This one is a low effort cake for a crowd if you want to bake it in a 9×13-inch pan and spread frosting on top. But you get more cream cheese frosting bang per slice if you make it into a layer cake – it just requires a lot more manhandling of the cake and frosting.

Chocolate bourbon cake: Chocolatey and boozy. Plus it looks gorgeous coming right out of the bundt pan. Easy to make.

Chocolate cloud cake: Flourless chocolate cake with a big hint of orange. It is rich with a sort of meringue top when baked. The crater that forms in the middle is the perfect vehicle for a giant pile of whipped cream (the cloud).

Chocolate pistachio cake: This is an awesome dessert that makes everyone say “wow” when you bring it out. Not a simple process, but certainly a delightful end product.

Lime cheesecake with blackberry sauce: Because your Thanksgiving dinner just wasn’t rich enough, you need some cheesecake in your life. This one is deceptively light on the tongue – maybe because of the refreshing lime flavor? People usually go back for seconds.

Pear upside down gingerbread cake: What better way to pair an autumn fruit with a holiday favorite? This one requires oven time, so it’s best to make it ahead to avoid competition with other oveny things.

Pumpkin cake with chocolate ganache and salt caramel cream cheese frosting: There’s that pumpkin again, but it’s the lightweight of the trio of flavors: pumpkin, chocolate, and salt caramel. Baking and cake-making skills are a plus.

White Russian cake: Inspired by The Big Lebowski, I turned the famed White Russian cocktail into a cake. Boozy and amazeballs. Definitely use the stabilized whipped cream (with gelatin) or bad things could happen.


pies and tarts and things baked in pans


Apple cranberry crisp: It’s hard to mess this one up. Prep ahead of time and pop it into the oven while everyone dines on the turkey (just set a timer for yourself, but you knew that). Wonderful when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate bread pudding with hazelnut liqueur crème anglais: A decadent bread pudding made from buttery challah or brioche, soaked in chocolate goodness. Don’t skip the Frangelico crème anglais!

Chocolate espresso pecan pie: Because sometimes you just really need pie in your life, but you don’t want the same old pie. Pecan pie with chocolate and espresso. No dozing at this dinner table.

Cranberry nut dessert: Super simple. Mix everything in a bowl, bake it in a pie dish. This recipe comes from my MIL and we love it. Almond flavors the cake which is dotted with tart cranberries and chunks of nuts (take your pick, but I make it with walnuts).

French silk pie: Silky smooth melt-in-your-mouth deliciously decadent pie. This one should be made the day before, but top with whipped cream just before serving.

Pear frangipane tart: If you love frangipane, this is for you. I’d suggest making this ahead of time (either the day before or the morning of). Dust with powdered sugar right before serving.

Pumpkin bread pudding: Another bread pudding, but this one is pumpkin to keep in step with the seasonal and holiday themes. And just like with the chocolate bread pudding, don’t skip the accompanying crème anglais. This one is bourbon crème anglais, because you can never have enough booze in your desserts.


other sweets



Butterscotch milk chocolate puddings: An alternative to the cakes and pies, this double decker pudding is a treat and a half. Topped with freshly whipped cream and a shave of chocolate, and you have the perfect ending to your Thanksgiving meal.

Chocolate espresso crème brûlée: Crème brûlées ought to be made a day ahead so they have plenty of time to cool and chill in the refrigerator. The fun part is when you bring the torch out to caramelize the sugar. The chocolate espresso crème brûlée is dark, so watch carefully to ensure that you caramelize the sugar without burning it beyond recognition.

Cranberry pâte de fruits: I just posted this recipe, but these wonderful little fruit jellies are a nice sweet and tart bite to finish your meal. Great palate cleanser.

Pumpkin crème brûlée: Pumpkin flavor in crème brûlée form. If you are expecting a super smooth crème brûlée, then make the chocolate espresso version (or the classic). This one incorporates real pumpkin purée and has a bit of a texture to it – but it’s a propos of the season.

Good luck, good cooking and baking, and good eating! May the odds be ever in your favor.