Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Taste of China in Newport News (and a Review)

My family loves Chinese food, and they are spoiled. Takeout is not good enough for them. They are used to homemade eggrolls, dumplings made from scratch, twice-fried beans, shrimp egg foo yung and a myriad of stir-fries. Some of the most dog-eared cookbooks in my collection are the ones that focus on Chinese food, so of course I was not surprised when they said they wanted to add China to our parade of nations. Luckily, I put all those cookbooks to work in trying to find dishes I could make that did not rely on sweet sauces or piles of white or jasmine rice so we could stay on our diet.

Coincidentally, I had been sent a kit for Kung Pao chicken by Wangchai Ferry to try and review, and so I decided to incorporate that into our meal planning as well. So this is what our menu looked like:

Twice Fried Beans (aka hot beans,I have posted this recipe before)
Tofu dumplings
Wanchai Ferry Kung Pao chicken
Stir fry shrimp and vegetables
Bridget's Hot and Sour Soup (actually, her recipe came from Cook's Illustrated)

Sound good? It really was. We set our coffee table and sat on the floor with pillows and ate with chopsticks for a really fun experience. "Hot Beans" have been raved about on this blog before, and Bridget's Hot and Sour soup a la Cook's was outstanding- if you have never tried making this at home, give this recipe a try (I actually subscribed to CI online initially to get this recipe!), so I will focus on the new dishes we tried.

First of all, the tofu dumplings. We usually make dumplings, but since the wrappers are made with flour, I wanted to find some way to enjoy that flavor without the carbs, and I found the inspiration in Jeff Smith's Ancient Cuisines cookbook. Using extra-firm tofu that was drained and cut into large cubes, I prepared my usual shu mei filling, and cutting a slit into each cube, I filled the tofu with shu mei filling and steamed these tofu dumplings for about 30 minutes in a bamboo steamer. They turned out great!

The shrimp stir fry included a sweet red pepper, onions, broccoli, and turned out to be a light and delicious dish with a good blend of flavors.

The big surprise was the Kung Pao chicken kit from Wangchai Ferry. Since I cook Chinese from scratch I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but was impressed when I opened the box to find whole dried peppers (we call these the devil's toenails) along with jasmine rice in the kit. I followed the directions, substituting boneless chicken thighs for the breasts called for. I have to admit that I did remove the seeds from the peppers because I thought it might be too spicy. The dish came together easily and everyone in our family really liked it-it was at least as good as the Kung Pao I had gotten as takeout. This is a great alternative to take-out when you don't have the time to cook from scratch, and I will definitely try the other kits for Spicy Garlic Chicken, and Sweet and Sour Chicken, or Cashew Chicken. If you want to give the Wangchai Ferry Chinese Dinner kits a try in your own kitchen try this e-coupon to get $1.00 off the retail price of $4.79.

If you are inspired to take a side trip to China, here are the recipes for my own dishes. Don't be intimidated by a long list of ingredients or prep time (I usually make Chinese on the weekend when I have more time), making good Chinese is as easy as falling off the balance beam!!

Tofu Dumplings

1 block extra firm tofu drained and cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 lb lean sausage
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sherry
A quarter-sized slice of ginger chopped fine
3 scallions in fine slices
1/2 of a small beaten egg

1 tbsp of soy sauce for brushing

Mix all the ingredients except the tofu cubes together in a Ziploc bag. Close the bag and massage the ingredients together. Cut a slit in each cube, being careful not to cut all the way through, and fill with a small spoonful of filling. Place in a bamboo steamer in a single layer, brush with soy sauce and steam for about 20-30 minutes (I sometimes steam my dumplings on top of the pot I am cooking my rice in). Serve with a sauce made of 1/4 cup soy sauce with Chili-garlic sauce added to taste.

Stir Fry "Drunken" Shrimp
1 lb shrimp peeled and deveined
1 red pepper cut into chunks
1 onion cut into chunks
2 cups fresh broccoli florets
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger

1/2 cup rice wine or sherry
1/4 cup soy sauce
dry red pepper flakes to taste
1 tsp sugar or Splenda

peanut oil for stir-frying

Marinate the shrimp in the rice wine or sherry while you chop vegetables. Put oil in pan and heat till just smoking. Add garlic and ginger and stir quickly, then add the rest of the vegetables. Stir for a moment or two until the sides of the veggies just start to caramelize, then add drained shrimp. when shrimp start to turn pink add soy sauce, sugar or sweetener, and dry pepper flakes. Stir until shrimp are just cooked. If you are not on a diet you could serve this with rice or noodles.


veron said...

I'm getting hungry just reding about this. I'm chinese but don't cook a lot of chinese...but I do love eating it. I really should try my hand in making egg rolls and dumplings.

Deborah Dowd said...

Veron- You really should! They are no more difficult to make than the things you make everyday! The downside is you will not be able to settle for the takeout variety again.