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TOPICS INCLUDE: Claypot usage; A recipe error; Kudos; Tsao kuo; Chinese Gods; Sobering up; Horse's bread

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Summer Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(2) page(s): 6, 7, and 10

Thanks for attention to my many queries. I have an electric stove and I tried one of your claypot recipes. I did not eat it as it cracked and broke before I could enjoy its contents. What went wrong? And one more thing, are there many restaurants that serve this home-cooked type of food?
LU-ELLEN: Your query was one of several about claypot problems. All had to do with cracking and handling the pot. There are several reasons why the pots crack and some were addressed in Flavor and Fortune's Volume 7(3) on pages 7 and 8. Yours may have cracked because you put it on a heated element with too little or no liquid. If it was knocked or banged previously you may have created a strain that when next used is why it cracked. If you have an electric stove, you must use a heat-diffusing pad or trivet under the pot. Also, use medium and not high heat, and by all means never put food items in it that come directly from the refrigerator. We recommend you first put them in a plastic bag and zip it closed. Then immerse bag and contents in hot water for twenty minutes. Then place the contents into the claypot.

There is a new item of equipment that might solve your problem. See Irving Chang's article titled: Easy Cooking the Chinese Way, it is in this issue. He describes a new insulated cooking system and shares two wonderful recipes. As to restaurants, we can’t speak for Tacoma, but can advise that Wonderful Chef, a new restaurant in Flushing New York, serves many different claypot dishes and just recently another called Chinese Casserole Cuisine opened. The latter one serves sixty different claypot dishes along with twenty Shanghai-style appetizers. We recommend both of them and we invite you to visit our fair city to try them. Readers, if you know of others, do advise.

HARLAND in NEW YORK CITY advises and asks>:
The Index of recipes has a small error, the Spicy Ginger Beef in Volume 7 (3) should have been listed as on page 21, not page 28. It begins on the former page and ends on the latter. Also, those recipes about dried meats in Volume 8(1) on page 8 were very good; but do you have one for dry beef with lots of garlic and a little vinegar?
HARLAND: You and two others advised of our error and we thank you and do apologize. As to your request, try the recipe at the end of this column, it lend itself to adding other ingredients and probably can be varied even more.

Gentlemen, At last I have found you! I just bought 'Yan’s Chinese Cooking for Dummies' and he gave you a wonderful write-up. I have been cooking Cantonese at home for forty years and there is a lot I still don’t know. Please send me your subscription rates and a list of any back orders still available.
WILLIAM: We welcome you and all who have located us on the web or from Martin Yan’s newest book (see the review of this book called: Chinese in the book review listings. We thank you for calling attention to the latest of many kind things said about Flavor and Fortune, now in its eighth year of publication. As to back issues, there are very few copies of most issues of Volumes Two through Four. They are available on a first come, first serve basis. See the index on our website for their contents and rush $10.00 per copy, postpaid. We thank you and Martin Yan and the others who tout our magazine, and thank those who contribute to it helping keep this not-for-profit organization that sponsors the magazine. All donations are tax deductible, as allowed by law.

LEE writes:
Thanks for your advise about tsao kuo:
LEE: The thanks belong to Steve Facciola at Kampong Publications; 1870 Sunrise Drive in Vista CA 92084. Whenever there is a growing item we do not know enough about, we contact this expert. He wrote Cornucopia I and more recently Cornucopia II. In turn, he wrote thanking us for the sample of the item you speak of, now transliterated in Pinyun as cao guo. He said: "I only have info in Materia Medica. One source says A. tsaoko is a synonym for A. aromaticum, the Bengal cardamon." For those unfamiliar with his wonderful books, we recommend buying a copy post haste or asking your local library to do so. It lists a diversity of food plant genus and species world-wide and information about them; and it is of value to gardeners, farmers, researchers, and cooks.

In Chinatown this past Chinese New Year, I was aware of a variety of Chinese Gods, can you tell me about them; and which, if any, pertain to food? What about the smiling Buddha with the shining tummy that I see in ever so many Chinese restaurants? Does he have culinary significance?
LARRY: What we think you observed were Gods of Good Fortune. Usually there are three, and they are in many restaurants, temples, too. One of them represents prosperity, he holds the scroll of power. Another is the God of Longevity; he holds a peach in one hand, a staff in the other. Some say that his staff is called a dragon staff. The third is the God of Wealth; he holds a green scepter. You may have also seen the God of Money; he holds a gold ingot in his hand. Pictures and statues of them can be purchased at most Chinese gift shops. As to their relationship with food, clearly prosperity, longevity, and wealth allow greater enjoyment of fine food. As to the smiling one, he is an aristocratic young man, the Buddha (568 - 488 BCE) who left the luxury of life and went seeking enlightenment. Traditionally, people rub his belly, which is why it is shiny, wishing for happiness. They rub his earlobes for wisdom, and if he has something gold in his hand, they rub that and wish for prosperity or wealth.

Know of your reluctance to practice Chinese medicine, and of your discussion of sugar cane juice to offset too much wine. I heard about your talk at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. Are there other foods and beverages recommended for those who overindulge in alcoholic beverages; and most importantly, do they really work?
CARY: There are many Chinese herbal cures for having too much wine. Whether they work or not, we have no personal knowledge; nor are there guarantees in any of the literature we read. The earliest cure recommended is use of sugar cane juice, as you mentioned. Most Chinese materia medica or herbal books discuss headaches but not hangovers. The most common cures we have read about for headaches are mint leaves, sedge, buckthorn (berries only), cinnamon, orange peel, licorice, peony, and fresh ginger. Bob Flaws, in The Tao of Health Eating, published by Blue Poppy Press © 1998, speaks of coffee, olive, pomelo, and strawberry, as well.

Returning soon to Fujian, the province of my birth, I read your article about my homeland with delight. Can tell me where to get 'Horses Bread' and advise if it really is baked?
YVONNE: If you are going to Xiamen (which you wrote of using the Wade Giles transliteration, Hsia mên, women there enjoy this food, probably since the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE), and use it as tonic food saying it provides a lot of energy. Yes, it is available; try a soup bar there, including the one at 22 Zhongshan Road. They serve peanut soup, steamed vegetable and other buns, cooked noodle dishes, and what they call Horse’s Hoof Shortbread. Having never seen a recipe, please ask them how they make it. It could be baked because ovens were used in Ming Dynasty and in earlier times in China. One story goes that a man called Ma, meaning horse in Chinese, worked in or owned a fried food shop during that dynasty. He was supposed to sell cakes stuffed with malt sugar. Whether they were baked or fried, do not know, nor do we know if they were called horse’s hoof or shaped as one then. These cakes became popular in Beijing because a Mr. Zhuang Wei Yang took them to a contest in the capital and gave some of them to a local prince.

From MARY via e-mail:
I know that some of your readers will not eat organ meats and gelatinous foods so loved by the Chinese. Is this Asian population one of the few if not the only one that eats and adores them?
MARY: The Chinese do not stand alone as lovers of organ meats. The dietary patterns of our paleolithic ancestors had great interest in animal organs such as heart, tongue, liver, and kidneys. They enjoyed them more than meat. These ancient populations caught and ate non-grain-fed meats from animals who roamed freely and got plenty of exercise. The meat they ate, organ or muscle, was very different from the fattened cows or pigs and they ate less of them. As to the love of gelatinous foods, long-cooked foods were more common years ago. Long cooking makes many foods more gelatinous than the rare meats eaten today. Texture is a very important characteristic in the preparation and enjoyment of Chinese food, gelatinous and otherwise. If the Chinese do eat more gelatinous foods than others, we know not. Is there a reader out there who has studied this aspect of Chinese food?

From SID M. via e-mail:
Congratulations on the latest issue of F&F, which surpasses even the other very good ones I have been enjoying.
SID: How sweet it is to hear words of praise. To you and all, do keep on reading and sharing both positive and negative comments.

From SIRINA via e-mail:
In the article titled: Vegetables as Food and Medicine: Part Two, in the Spring 2001 issue, it says about lotus, that "the seeds are used fresh as is the sausage-shaped pod that houses them..." The lotus seed case is a different part of the plant that grows above water and is funnel-shaped; the seeds nestle in open holes in the pod's flat top. Actually, the rhizome is the sausage-shaped pod that grows underwater. It has closed empty holes in its flesh. There is a picture of both seed case and rhizome in The New Oxford Book of Food Plants.
SIRINA: Yours is an eagle eye. You are absolutely correct. We know better but goofed in the final editing. Thank you for seeing the error and advising us and our readers.

I have been searching news stands and bookstores for your magazine. I have not been able to find it anywhere! What gives? From what I understand Flavor and Fortune is the only English-language magazine published in the United States dedicated to Chinese Cuisine. I am sure there are many Chinese food enthusiasts who would love to get their hands on your wonderful publication. The information on herbs and the healing properties of foods alone would appeal to a wide readership. I think the public is missing out on a good thing. Any chance your magazine will appear in the corner kiosk or a neighborhood bookstore anytime soon?
HELEN: Thank you for your compliments and your inquiry. We are currently serviced by a small distributor. The larger ones who service news stands and book stores advise that Barnes and Noble and Borders, for example, have not requested our magazine. Customers need to proffer requests for Flavor and Fortune and other magazines if they want them at bookstores or news stands. They need to speak to the magazine purchasing agent in every location where they shop if they want that place to take action. The purchasing agent then needs to request this and other magazines from their distributors. Perhaps frequent prodding would move them to action.
Spicy Preserved Beef
6 to 8 allspice berries
2 inch piece of stick cinnamon
1/2 Tablespoon whole dried coriander
1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper (fagara)
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 Tablespoons mushroom soy sauce
1 cup crushed Chinese brown sugar slabs
3 Tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
Small amount of corn oil spray
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 pound flank or lean sirloin steak, sliced very thin
1. Put allspice, cinnamon, coriander and Sichuan pepper in a grinder reserved for spices and grind them coarsely.
2. Put the ground spices into a warm wok or fry pan and heat stirring all the time, until fragrant. Then add the pepper and stir another half minute. Remove and cool them. It is a good idea to grind them again into a fine powder.
3. Put all three soy sauces, sugar, and vinegar into a small pot on medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then remove from the heat and add the ground spices, garlic and ginger, and set aside to cool again. This can be done one day ahead, if desired, but do not refrigerate the spice mixture.
4. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. While it is heating, use heavy duty aluminum foil and line two jelly-roll or low-sided pans. Put a wire rack on each of them and spray it with corn or any other vegetable oil.
5. Add sesame oil to liquid seasoning mixture and brush both sides of each slice of meat and place meat on the racks, no piece touching any other, then bake for two hours. Turn oven off and allow to cool in the oven for another hour.
Note: This meat will keep refrigerated for two to three weeks if tightly wrapped.

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