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Cooking a western meal for Chinese grandmother


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A Chinese household kitchen is probabaly the most "undeveloped" room in the house. Rudimentary at best, a table, a chopping block, a burner for the wok and and another for other pots, a table for work space, a sink. Forget about furniture grade cabinets, tiled or marble countertops, electic gizmos up the yazoo, etc. There would hardly be enough room to change your mind in it

I am only talking about the working class high-rise "flats" here, but I have seen some "western " style abodes with ultra modern "western" style kitchens that would feel right at home in any upper middle class home in Canada or the US.

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A Chinese household kitchen is probabaly the most "undeveloped" room in the house. Rudimentary at best, a table, a chopping block, a burner for the wok and and another for other pots, a table for work space, a sink. Forget about furniture grade cabinets, tiled or marble countertops, electic gizmos up the yazoo, etc. There would hardly be enough room to change your mind in it

I recall the kithen being pretty underdeveloped but not too cramped. Of course, most of my memories of Grandma's flat are from when I was six years old so everything seemed a lot bigger then.

Yes, I promise to take plenty of photos. I'm currently busy trying to finalize the menu and practicing. I made the crab cakes again last night and am very pleased. I'll work on the bread pudding today. Time is running out so I think from now until I get on the plane the only food I'll have room for are my practice dishes. Hopefully I can pawn some off onto the neighbors too.

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Ludja: By stuffed eggs do you mean like deviled eggs? I think it's a great idea. I'd like to garnish with salmon roe, caviar or any other fish roe that I can find them.

For the second entree I think I will make a steamed whole fish with a miso glaze. The sweetness of the glaze should not be unfamiliar with the Shanghai palate.

I made the bread pudding for the first time last night. It was a great success and I managed to do it on the stove with a water bath inside a wok, covered. The pudding also seems solid enough to place candles on.

I'll practice the wild mushroom risotto tomorrow night on my parents now that I'm back in Houston temporarily.

I might scratch the salad.

When I get a chance I promise to write up recipes and take some photos.

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[...]

For the second entree I think I will make a steamed whole fish with a miso glaze. The sweetness of the glaze should not be unfamiliar with the Shanghai palate.

[...]

Just something to think about...

You probably won't find big fish in Shanghai.

You have 15 guests. This would be more like steamed 2 to 3 whole fish to have enough to go around...

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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You probably won't find big fish in Shanghai.

You have 15 guests.  This would be more like steamed 2 to 3 whole fish to have enough to go around...

Good point, this dish will not scale well and serving multiple fish would be ... odd.

I'd really like to make a pasta dish but can't really think of any that I'm sure would go over well. Creamy sauces and tomato-based sauces are out, so that leaves... pesto? No that's out too.

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Ludja: By stuffed eggs do you mean like deviled eggs? I think it's a great idea. I'd like to garnish with salmon roe, caviar or any other fish roe that I can find them.

Yup!

For the pasta dish, I was wondering if a puttanesca type sauce would work. The flavors are strong, but somehow they might be reminiscent of some Chinese flavors such pickeled and fermented ones. It would be relatively easy to bring in capers, anchovies and olives... chiles you would have there. I guess there is the issue of olive oil though--availability and diner's unfamiliarity with it. Also I'm not sure if olives would be too strange a taste for people not very familiar with them.

If not puttanesca, maybe some other anchovy- or chinese ham-accented dish. Think of chinese ham as a sub for pancetta. The chinese ham might be nice with sauteed onions and garlic and cauliflower or eggplant over pasta.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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My grandfather loves spaghetti carbonara, hold the cream, if you're going the italian approach.

I'm pretty sure a lot of Chinese people will happily eat BBQ, so if you can do something remotely BBQuey, that would be a pretty good idea.

Edited by stephenc (log)
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When I lived in Hong Kong, I noticed that Texas-style chili was very popular. Served over rice, of course.

But still...since you've been living in Texas...

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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One caution about BBQ is that: yes Chinese like BBQ... but the Chinese style of BBQ.

From my experience, the US Southern style BBQ (Texan, Louisiannan, etc.) such as pulled pork is overly sour for Chinese' taste.

Just something to think about. (It's not easy is it?)

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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[...]I'd really like to make a pasta dish but can't really think of any that I'm sure would go over well. Creamy sauces and tomato-based sauces are out, so that leaves... pesto? No that's out too.

Clam sauce? How about fra diavolo, even though it's got tomato sauce in it? Wouldn't the spicy seafood base be appealing? No? If all else fails, you could make a lobster or shrimp sauce with an olio ed aglio base. Add some greens if you like. Or you could make a mushroom sauce with basil or some other kind of locally-available aromatic green. I'm sure you'll think of something.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I made the mushroom risotto and miso glazed flounder for my parents.

For the risotto I used a Northwest (US) dried mushroom mix with morels, porcini and lobster mushrooms. This is the first time I've used dried mushrooms for risotto and found the flavor to be disappointing compared to the fresh porcini risottos I've made in the past. I also used Chinese rice instead of arborio. Shalmanese, I agree the difference is significant but I want to pack as few things as possible and am not certain the difference is big enough to justify the hassle. I haven't decided yet, depends on how much space I have left in my luggage. Anyway, even with the compromises of using dried mushrooms and Chinese rice the dish turned out well and I am confident my guests will enjoy it.

Steamed flounder with miso glaze did not turn out as well as I had hoped. I've never tried making this dish at all before so I just mixed together the miso glaze and cooked on low heat for five minutes, steamed the fish and poured the glaze over it. The glaze (I guess it's not really a glaze unless I baked the fish) just did not incorporate well with the fish, like it was an afterthought tossed onto the fish. I think it would've been much better to have marinated the fish in the glaze and then steamed it. At this point, I think this is a very weak dish and might remove it from the menu.

Pasta with mushroom sauce does sound pretty good.

I spoke to my mom and she confirmed that Grandma and other family members rather like salad.

Current menu:

Miso soup

Deviled eggs

Crabcakes

Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp

Salad with black fig vinaigrette

Wild mushroom risotto

Steamed fish with miso glaze

Fettucine with mushroom sauce

Bread pudding

Eight main dishes (plus one dessert) is a good auspicious number. I might also replace or add a few dishes depending on what I can find at the seafood markets.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Update: I'm currently traveling around other parts of China. I'm due to cook the meal towards the end of the month.

Here's what I'm working with:

128956574_f3f1aa5f0c.jpg

Stove with two (weak) burners, no oven.

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Microwave, electric steamer, rice cooker.

One thing I desperately need: pre-picked crab meat. I'm not keen on doing all that work myself. Please let me know where I can find this in Shanghai.

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Go to a "western" style supermarket or a Japanese type emporium for picked crab meat. Or just ask around.

It seems that my prediction up thread about the size and simplicity of the Chinese kitchen was right.

Good luck.

Edited by Ben Hong (log)
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One thing I desperately need: pre-picked crab meat. I'm not keen on doing all that work myself. Please let me know where I can find this in Shanghai.

Too bad you didn't take note of my advice to take canned ones from stateside with you. :sad:

I've got a 16 oz can of crab claw meat in my fridge right now. It's Chicken of the Sea brand, a product of the Philippines - wild caught. maybe you can find something similar in big dept. stores.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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How do you plan to orchestrate an eight course dinner with no counter space? Are you going to serve all dishes at once, Chinese style, or are you going to try to plate things?

I'm really looking forward to hearing about how this goes. Please keep us posted!

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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How do you plan to orchestrate an eight course dinner with no counter space? Are you going to serve all dishes at once, Chinese style, or are you going to try to plate things?

I'm really looking forward to hearing about how this goes. Please keep us posted!

And for 15 guests! :unsure:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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This Shanghai kitchen sure looks a lot bigger than a typical Hong Kong kitchen. That is nice. I agree that there seems to be lacking some counter space to do prep works. Unless the counter space is behind the camera.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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How do you plan to orchestrate an eight course dinner with no counter space? Are you going to serve all dishes at once, Chinese style, or are you going to try to plate things?

I'm really looking forward to hearing about how this goes. Please keep us posted!

Chinese, communal style. Not necessarily all at once but like five and then stagger in some of the hot dishes and the bread pudding at the very end.

There is a small 8 sq ft table that I can work with. I can probably drag is some more tables, but it will definitely be a sub-optimal environment. I think like a third of the dishes I can make the previous day and refrigerate. Another third I can cook or par-cook a few hours before. Only one or two dishes will I make right before service. The way I have this planned so far is that I can even pull off the entire dinner by myself with no help since I can stagger the prep for most of the dishes -- though of course I won't do it solo as there is just too much tedious prep to do.

Plans are still rough; I'm currently sightseeing in Yunan. I'll get back in Shanghai in a few days, start helping my aunt (who is the chef in my Grandma's household) cook Chinese dishes to get back in the swing of cooking and start finalizing recipes and prep plans.

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How do you plan to orchestrate an eight course dinner with no counter space? Are you going to serve all dishes at once, Chinese style, or are you going to try to plate things?

I'm really looking forward to hearing about how this goes. Please keep us posted!

Chinese, communal style. Not necessarily all at once but like five and then stagger in some of the hot dishes and the bread pudding at the very end.

Plans are still rough; I'm currently sightseeing in Yunan. I'll get back in Shanghai in a few days, start helping my aunt (who is the chef in my Grandma's household) cook Chinese dishes to get back in the swing of cooking and start finalizing recipes and prep plans.

Very much looking froward to this. I hope you will take lots of pictures, or have someone chronicle the whole process with pictures and your comments added. I have never seen a kitchen in China, so I am realy interested to see how it all works. :smile:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Enjoy your travels, Kent. Hope you document some of your food adventures in Yunan and in Shanghai as well for other threads... :smile:

Good luck with your dinner; I know you can do it!

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Lori, I was thinking the same thing this morning when I logged on!

I think we're all anxiously awaiting the results.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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Sorry for the delay. This is a long post so it took me a while to write it.

The dinner was moved to lunch on May 1, May Day, the International Workers' Day. Nearly the entire extended family was going to be in town for my cousin's wedding on the 3rd so I ended up cooking for fifteen people.

My menu is the same as what I had decided on a few weeks prior:

Deviled eggs

Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp

Crabcakes

Salad with black fig vinaigrette

Steamed fish in miso marinade

Northwest mushroom risotto

Penne with mushroom sauce

Miso soup

Bread pudding

I'll provide recipes towards the end with the photos of the dishes.

The ingredients I brought with me from America:

dried Northwest mushroom medley: morel, lobster, porcini

black fig vinegar by Cuisine Perel

wakame seaweed

miso paste, both red and white miso

mirin (sweet rice wine)

Old Bay seasoning

On April 29, I went to Carrefour, a French-owned supermarket chain, to pick up some of the other western ingredients. There were a few surprises that I encountered: no cooked, picked crab meat but they did have raw claw meat -- score!; no liquid vanilla, only vanilla sugar packets; De Cecco products straight from Italy with the boxes written in Italian -- score again! -- I picked up their penne and vacuum-sealed arborio rice.

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After I got home I made a test batch of the bread pudding in the electric steamer. To my surprise it worked fine, just the top crust was a little unattractive.

On April 30, I went to the local regular Chinese supermarket to buy a hen and then went to the farmers market for vegetables. As soon as I got back I started up a chicken stock.

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According to my aunt, the hens are ideal for stock as they have more flavor though their meat is tough and stringy.

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This was to be a traditional French stock, chicken and mirepoix, but I had some Chinese ham on hand so I tossed it in.

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Started soaking the mushrooms. The Northwest mushrooms for the risotto, the shitakes for the crabcakes.

That night I made the rest of the bread pudding and mixed the crabcake and deviled egg batters. One dish finished and two prepped for.

The next morning I started cooking around nine o'clock. First the miso soup, salad and deviled eggs as they keep well. At this point I had to recruit help with the repetitive, labor-intensive tasks such as scooping out the filling for each of the deviled eggs. My mom and her older sister helped the most and my cousin and uncle pitched in a bit, too. I stayed busy all the way until service at 12:30 while my helpers put in approximately six man-hours combined, which was a huge load off.

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Stirring roux (left) to be added to the mushroom sauce (right) for the penne.

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My mom and my aunt wrapping shrimp in prosciutto.

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All wrapped up and ready for frying. Between peeling, deveining, wrapping, sticking in toothpicks, frying and removing the toothpicks this was to be by far the most labor intensive dish.

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Pan-frying crabcakes.

And now, for the dishes.

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Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp. Just a small portion of the dozens I made.

Recipe: just prosciutto and shrimp, no salt is needed as the prosciutto is salty enough. The toothpicks are a huge help.

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Crabcakes. This was a Japanese-style crabcake that I invented a few months ago, though I had to make some changes this time to accomodate the ingredients available. I'm proud to say it's one of my most original dishes.

Recipe: crab meat, bread, flour, reconstituted dried shitakes, reconstituted wakame seaweed, Old Bay seasoning, Kewpie-brand sweet mayonnaise, dipped in breadcrumbs before frying. See aforementioned thread for my ideal recipe.

140227281_9b2ad07808.jpg

Steamed freshwater flatfish in miso marinade. The marinade is the same as a miso glaze, though I don't think it's technically a glaze unless it's used for roasting.

Recipe: marinade: white miso paste, mirin, sesame oil.

140227424_2ee7577178.jpg

Penne with mushroom sauce. The sauce had a very nice rich, smoky flavor from the sauteed ham and carmelized onions.

Recipe: sautee Chinese ham in butter until brown, add onions and sautee until carmelized, add stock and white button mushrooms, after mushrooms are cooked add roux to thicken, mix with penne. Of course you'll have to work out the timing for the roux, the sauce and the boiled penne so that they all finish around the same time.

140227597_a07e37cd04.jpg

Northwest mushroom risotto. The dark color is from the mushrooms and the water used for soaking them.

Recipe: EVOO, arborio rice, a small amount of diced onions, lots of stock, mushrooms (morel, porcini, lobster), no cheese.

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Miso soup.

Recipe: red miso paste, wakame, tofu, fresh shitakes, stock, diced scallions added immediately before serving.

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The spread. Not previously depicted:

Salad with black fig vinaigrette. Everybody in my family at least is used to salads and had no misgivings about raw vegetables.

Recipe: pre-mixed greens, yellow cherry tomatoes, almond slices, vinaigrette: black fig vinegar, diced onions (no shallots available), EVOO, egg white as emulsifier.

Deviled eggs.

Recipe: filling: cooked egg yolk, a bit of cooked egg white, Kewpie-brand sweet mayonnaise, scallions; sprinkled with Old Bay as garnish and a bit of flavor.

Bread pudding. I neglected to take a photo of it but this was a huge hit. My aunts even asked for the recipe. I'm making it again tonight so I'll have a photo in a few days. It's nothing to look at though; once you've seen one pudding you've seen them all.

Recipe: coconut milk bread, 4 medium eggs, 1 3/4 cup milk, 1 cup cream, 3/4 cup sugar, 5 vanilla sugar packets, 1/4 cup butter. This makes enough for fifteen so you may want to scale it down.

It's always hard to get honest advice from relatives but I think the overall response was positive, every last bite was devoured. I think the bread pudding was the crowd favorite, followed by the crabcakes and prosciutto-wrapped shrimp. The risotto was not as well-liked as I had expected because I cooked the rice to Italian standards which Grandma found to be on the undercooked side. But if I had cooked it more the arborio would've started breaking apart and getting really mushy. I think a smaller grain rice would've worked better. My personal favorite was the penne as I've never made the mushroom sauce before and the usage of the ham was a last-minute addition that proved to be crucial in taking the flavor complexity of the sauce to another level.

Everyone was surprised at the labor-intensiveness of the dishes considering that most Chinese home cooking consists of fairly simple stir-fried and steamed dishes. A lot of them were just expecting me to make something simple like macaroni and cheese. A lot of them didn't even know that I would be cooking all the dishes for a fifteen-person meal.

I was surprised at how smoothly everything came together. I was expecting to not be able to find some key ingredients and having to cut a few dishes. All the prep and cooking went like clockwork, thanks to good planning and a lot of help from my assistants. I wrote up a battle plan -- start prep for this while that is cooking -- which was essential being limited to just two burners. All the pre-meal discussion on this thread was vital to figuring out what dishes to make. Thanks everyone for your help!

This was a major challenge for me as I've never cooked such a large and elaborate meal before, with the restrictions on ingredients and having to consider what would fit the Chinese palate adding to the challenge. I'm very happy that the meal was a success and that I was able to show my family my cooking skills.

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