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    • By Lisa Shock
      The basic formula for these cakes was developed by the wife of a mayonnaise salesman in an effort to help him out. I did a bit of research, and have found many variations. Early variants generally involve using less cocoa, which I cannot recommend. Later variants involve using cold water instead of boiling, adding salt, and additional leaveners. I personally do not feel that any additional salt is needed, as mayonnaise and that famous, tangy brand of salad dressing (sometimes the label just says 'Dressing') both contain a fair amount of salt. If you are using homemade mayonnaise or a low sodium product, an eighth teaspoon of salt may boost the flavor a bit. And, of course, somewhere along the way fans who prefer a certain salad dressing over mayonnaise started using it to make this cake. Nowadays, the Hellman's website has a different formula -one with added eggs and baking powder. I have not tried this newer formulation.
       
      Some versions of this recipe specify sifted cake flour. This will result in a very light cake with virtually no structural integrity, due to the paucity of eggs in this recipe compared to a regular cake. Cupcakes made this way give beautifully light results. However, every time I try to make a traditional 8" double layer cake with cake flour, I experience collapse. I recommend AP flour or at least a mix of cake and pastry flour.
       
      I have never made this with a gluten-free flour replacer. This recipe does not have very much structural integrity and as such does not make a good candidate for a gluten-free cake.
       
      I have made this cake many times, the type of sandwich spread you choose will affect the outcome. Made with mayonnaise, the cake has a good chocolate flavor and moistness. Made with that famous, tangy, off-white salad dressing that gets used as a sandwich spread, the cake has a subtle bit of extra brightness to the flavor. If one chooses to use a vegan mayonnaise, the result is tasty but lacking a little in structure; I would bake this in a square pan and frost and serve from the pan.
       
      The cocoa you use will also affect the flavor.  For a classic, homey flavor use a supermarket brand of cocoa. To add a little sophistication, use better, artisan type cocoa and use chocolate extract instead of the vanilla extract.
       
      Supposedly, the traditional frosting for this cake should have a caramel flavor. Look for one where you actually caramelize some sugar first. Modern recipes for the icing seem like weak imitations to me; using brown sugar as the main flavor instead of true caramel.
       
      Chocolate Mayonnaise or Salad Dressing Cake
      makes enough for two 8" round pans, or a 9" square (about 7 cups of batter)
       
      2 ounces/56g unsweetened, non-alkalized cocoa
      1 cup/236g boiling water
      1 teaspoon/4g regular strength vanilla extract
      3/4 cup/162g mayonnaise, vegan mayonnaise, or salad dressing (the tangy, off-white, sandwich spread type dressing)
      10.5ounces/300g all-purpose flour
      7 ounces/200g sugar
      0.35ounce/10g baking soda
       
      Preheat your oven to 350°.
      Grease or spray two 8" round pans or an equivalent volume square or rectangle.
      Place the cocoa in a medium (4-5 cup) bowl. Add the hot water and stir with a fork to break up any clumps. Allow to cool down a little,  then add the vanilla extract and the mayonnaise or salad dressing spread. Beat well to eliminate lumps. In the bowl of an electric mixer or larger regular bowl if making by hand, sift in the flour and add the sugar and baking soda. Mix the dry ingredients to distribute evenly. Slowly beat in the cocoa mixture. Mix until the batter has an even color. Pour immediately into the pans. If making two 8" rounds, weigh them to ensure they contain equal amounts.
      Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the center of the top springs back when touched lightly. (The toothpick test does NOT work well on this moist cake!) Allow the cake to cool a little and shrink from the sides of the pan before removing. Removal is easier while still a little warm.
      Good with or without frosting.
      Good beginner cake for kids to make.
       
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      I have just returned home to China from an almost two week trip to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. To get there I first travelled by train to the provincial capital, Nanning. The local airport only does domestic flights, whereas there are direct flights from Nanning. The flight time required that I stay overnight at the Aviation Hotel in Nanning, from which there is a regular direct bus to the airport.
       
      The trip to Nanning is about an hour and a half and passes through some nice karst scenery.
       
       
      After booking into the hotel, I set off for my favourite Nanning eating destination. Zhongshan Night market is a well known spot and very popular with the locals. I had forgotten that it was a local holiday - the place is always busy, but that night it was exceptionally so.
       

       

       
      It consists of one long street with hundreds of stalls and is basically a seafood market, although there are a few stalls selling alternatives.
       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       
      Filled myself with seafood (and some of that blood sausage above), slept soundly and, next morning, flew to Ho Chi Minh City.
       

       

       
      The rest of my trip can be seen here:
       
       
    • By Lisa Shock
      Years ago, when I visited Tokyo, I ate in a small but fascinating restaurant called 'It's Vegetable' which is now, unfortunately, closed. The chef was from Taiwan, and he made Buddhist vegetarian and vegan dishes that resembled meat. During my visit, several monks wearing robes stopped in to eat dinner. The dishes were pretty amazing. I understood some of them, like using seitan to mimic chicken in stir fry dishes, others used tofu products like yuba, but, others were complex and obviously difficult. One very notable dish we enjoyed was a large 'fish' fillet designed to serve several people. It had a 'skin' made of carefully layered 'scales' cut from nori and attached to the surface. Inside, the white 'flesh' flaked and tasted much like a mild fish. Anyway, apparently Buddhist fake meat meals are very popular in Taiwan and many places, cheap through to fine dining serve them. Yes, if I worked on it for a while, I could probably refine one or two dishes on my own, but, I am wondering if there's a Modernist Cuisine type cookbook for skillfully making these mock meats from scratch? (I have heard that some items are commercially made and available frozen there, much like soy-based burgers are in the US.) I am willing to try almost any offering, even if it's entirely in Chinese. And, I know how to use remailers to purchase regional items from the various local retailers worldwide who do not ship to the US.
    • By liuzhou
      Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.
       
      The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and lead us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".
       
      We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.
       
      The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.
       
      By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.
       

       

       
      This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!
       
      Then into lunch:
       

       

      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known  for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      Today is 元宵 yuán xiāo, the Lantern Festival marking the 15th day of the first lunar month and the last day of the Spring Festival (春节 chūn jié) which begins with the Chinese New Year on the 1st of the lunar month.
       
      Today is the day for eating 汤圆 tāng yuán, sweet glutinous rice balls.
       
      I was invited to take part in a celebration ceremony this morning in what is considered to be the city's most beautiful park. I half agree. It lies in the south of the city, surrounded by karst hill formations, but for me, the park itself is over-manicured. I like a bit of wild. That said, there are said to be around 700 species of wildlife, but most of that is on the inaccessible hills. There are pony rides for the kids and some of the locals are a bit on the wild side.
       

      Park Entrance
       

      Karst Hill
       
      Although the park has beautiful flower displays and great trees, what I love most is the bamboo. Such a beautiful plant and so useful.
       

       
      They had also hung the traditional red lanterns on some of the trees.
       


      The main reason for us to be there was to be entertained by, at first, these three young men who bizarrely welcomed us with  a rendition of Auld Lang Syne played on their bamboo wind instruments - I forget what they are called. They are wearing the traditional dress of the local Zhuang ethnic minority.
       

       
      Then some local school kids sang for us and did a short play in English. Clap, clap, clap.
       
      Then on to the main event. We were asked to form groups around one of four tables looking like this.
       

       
      Appetising, huh? What we have here at top is a dough made from glutinous rice flour. Then below black sesame paste and ground peanut paste. We are about to learn to make Tangyuan, glutinous rice balls. Basically you take a lump of dough, roll it into a ball, then flatten it, then form a cup shape. add some of each or either of the two pastes and reform the ball to enclose the filling. Simple! Maybe not.
       

       
      Some of us were more successful than others
       

       
      These are supposed to be white, but you can see the filling - not good; its like having egg showing all over the outside of your scotch eggs.
       
      Modesty Shame prevents me telling you which were mine.
       

       
      At least one person seemed to think bigger is better! No! They are meant to be about an inch in diameter. Sometimes size does matter!
       
      Finally the balls we had made were taken away to be boiled in the park's on-site restaurant. What we were served were identically sized balls with no filling showing. They are served in this sweet ginger soup. The local pigs probably had ours for lunch.
       
       

       


      The orange-ish and purplish looking ones are made in the same way, but using red and black glutinous rice instead.
       
      Fun was had, which was the whole point.
       
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