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Cooking in the movies

13 Nov

four seasons

We are on a weird nostalgic 1970s/80s California cooking and gourmet revolution kick. There’s a scene in Alan Alda’s The Four Seasons movie (1981) where the husbands in a group of married friends are cooking Chinese food for their wives at a cabin. They make a big show out of having packed proper woks, obsessively sourcing Asian eggplants and two pounds of fresh ginger root.

Bean thread noodles explode into a cloud and the men are nearly smoked out of the kitchen trying to get a char on the chilies for the hot garlic sauce.

“The oil’s not hot enough. You cannot cook Chinese food properly unless the oil is 480 degrees. It’s a scientific fact.”

“Who said that, Einstein?”

“Newton. Isaac Newton, inventor of mu shu pork.”


The scene takes up only a few minutes of the movie but it has stuck with us all these years. Thanks daytime television. The group’s excitement and pleasure over their exotic creation of Chinese chicken salad starter with shredded iceberg and rice stick noodles, szechuan eggplant, shrimp, and what looks like a red bell pepper and beef makes us appreciate the exploding gourmet food trends and exotic cooking craze of the 1970s and 80s. And bauhaus stoneware plates!

4 seasons chinese dinner


4 seasons table

It makes us imagine NYC’s szechuan craze, and the treasures to be found at Williams and Sonoma, New York’s Silver Palate, Berekely’s Chez Panisse, Gourmet magazine, but especially inside Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cafe:


The shrimp and the marinade:

1 tablespoon egg white
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or quality dry Sherry
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 pound medium (25 to 30) shrimp, shelled and deveined

The sauce:
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
1/8 cup Chinese rice wine or quality dry Sherry
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce (Koon Yick Wah Kee brand recommended)
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water

The noodles:
1/3 pound Chinese egg noodles (or any thin, fresh pasta)
1 1/2 tablespoons chili oil
The minced zest from half a lemon

The vegetables:
3 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 small yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rings
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
1 cup 1/4-inch-thick slices fennel bulb
4 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
4 teaspoons minced garlic
2 slim scallions, the green and the white part cut in very thin rounds
1/2 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
The julienned zest from half a lemon
2 teaspoons thinly sliced rings of hot fresh chili pepper, such as Fresno or Serrano (optional)
2 cups 1/2-inch-thick strips of Napa cabbage

The garnish: Fennel sprigs 2 scallions, the green and the white part cut in very thin rounds.

1. Mix together the ingredients for the marinade in a medium-sized bowl until thoroughly combined. Add the shrimp, toss so they are coated with the marinade, cover and refrigerate for 8 to 36 hours.

2. Whisk together all of the sauce ingredients, except the cornstarch and water, in a large bowl and reserve. Whisk together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and reserve.

3. Bring four cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan over high heat, then remove from the heat and add the shrimp. Leave them in the hot water just until they turn pink, about 20 seconds. Drain and reserve.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the noodles and stir to separate, then cook until al dente. Drain, run under cold water to cool them and drain well. Toss in a large bowl with the chili oil and the minced lemon zest. Reserve.

5. Heat one tablespoon of the peanut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat until nearly smoking. Stir-fry the onions just until they turn golden at the edges, about one-and-a-half minutes. Add the bell peppers and stir-fry until they become slightly limp, about two-and-a-half minutes. Add the fennel and stir until it begins to turn limp but is still crisp, about three-and-a-half minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a plate and return the skillet to the heat.

6. Add the additional oil to the skillet and, when the oil is nearly smoking, add the ginger, garlic, scallions and hot chili-pepper flakes and lower the heat to medium so they foam without browning. Cook just until they release their fragrance, about 30 seconds. Add the lemon zest and the hot pepper slices, stir, then add the Napa cabbage and stir-fry until it becomes glossy and is slightly cooked, about 30 seconds. Add the cooked noodles and stir-fry just until they are hot, about two minutes, then add the cooked vegetables and toss until all of the ingredients are mixed. Increase the heat to high and add the sauce mixture. Cover and bring to a boil, then add the shrimp and toss until they are incorporated into the mixture. When the mixture returns to a simmer, add the cornstarch mixture and stir, then cook just until the sauce becomes glossy and slightly thickened, about one minute. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl, garnish with the fennel sprigs and scallion rings and serve immediately.

Yield: Four servings as a main course.

Flaming Red Wontons

25 Nov

Happy to have finally tried Han’s Restaurant sichuan spicy wontons:


Despite the chili oil looking kind of pink, it’s really a hot red colour. Also topping these is a sweet soy. So good! Will try mixing black vinegar and soy sauce with sugar to dissolve, and garlic and sesame oil.

We aren’t anywhere near P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Triple Happiness happy hour. Sob! So we were excited to find a recipe for Flaming Red Wontons.

But after reading instructions to place a “pea-sized mound of meat” on each skin, we questioned how that size would measure up: If 3/4 of a pound of filling makes eight dumplings, surely the mounds will be bigger than a pea.

No matter. Can’t think of a better winter snack with a steaming cup of tea.

Also eager to try this version.

Makes 8 pork dumplings in a spicy garlic and sesame soy sauce finished with scallions and pickled chili peppers.

Won Ton Filling:
1/2 pound shrimp, washed, peeled, deveined and finely minced
1/4 pound pork, trimmed, finely minced
2 tablespoons carrot, finely minced
2 tablespoons green onion, finely minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

wonton skins

Green onions to garnish
Cilantro leaves to garnish
Black sesame seeds to garnish

1 cup soy sauce
1 ounce white vinegar
1/2 ounce chile oil
1/2 teaspoon chile paste
1 ounce granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
Sesame oil to taste
1 cup chicken stock

Combine shrimp and pork mixtures. Make sure the mixture is smooth and not lumpy. If you have a food processor, use it for the mix. With a small spoon, place a pea-sized (?@!) mound of meat mixture into the won ton skin.

Moisten the top and bottom corners. Fold over and seal.

Place on a plate, cover and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Combine sauce ingredients and mix very well. Prepare garnishes.

Have a soup pot filled with chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then lower to a slight boil. Heat the entire batch of sauce.

Cook won tons in boiling chicken stock for approximately 2 minutes or until won tons float to the surface. Cook until skins are soft. With a strainer, remove won tons into soup bowl.

Remember to mix sauce well before you ladle it over the won tons, then ladle 1 ounce of sauce over the won tons.

Top each wonton with a small blob of pickled chili sauce or Rooster sauce. Garnish with green onions, cilantro, sesame seeds and serve.

Servings: 4

Kung Pao

9 Oct

George likes his chicken spicy, and so do we.

With an easy velveting technique, this kung pao is a cinch to make.

You can easily enhance the sauce by adding mushroom soy or black vinegar.

The key here is to cut the chicken into same size pieces, and to chow the peanuts so they are fragrant.

This is a very adaptable recipe. Once in a rush, we forgot the velveting part and fried the dredged chicken pieces, removed them only to return them to the pan to finish cooking in the sauce after chowing the vegetables, aromatics and peanuts.

from Helen Chen
1 pound cubed chicken breast (about 2 cups’s worth, tho we recently used about nine chicken thighs and liked them better, even if it stretched the sauce.)
3 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce or regular
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons or more dry sherry
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons dark toasted sesame oil
2 to 4 dried red chilis, fresh chilis or red pepper flakes to taste
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns
3 cloves garlic
1 diced red bell pepper
up to a cup of jullienned carrots
1 green onion cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths, plus thinly sliced green part to top
2 coins of fresh ginger
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts

Add chicken to a bowl of 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and cornstarch and mix well. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce together along with the sherry, sugar, vinegar and sesame oil. Set aside.

Pour the cooking oil into a cold wok or stir-fry pan and add chilies. Heat pan over medium-high heat and stir the pepper until they turn dark brown. Add the peppercorn, garlic, green onion, and ginger root and stir for a few moments. Add chicken and stir quickly for about one minute. Add sauce, peanuts and the thinly sliced scallions.
Turn heat up to high and stir for about 45 seconds until well mixed.
Remove the chilies and ginger. Serve hot.

Longevity Noodles

24 Jan
Take out sesame noodles nyt
Take out sesame noodles nyt

“Shanghai Garden. May I help you?”
“I’d like to order some take-out.”
“Address, please.”
“331 West 78th Street. Apartment 4F. I’d like to order some chicken with broccoli in a brown…”
“Brown sauce with brown rice. Cold noodles. I know. Every night the same!”

Miranda Hobbes’s yen for brown sauce may elude us, but we are down with the cold noodles.

With Chinese New Year looming Feb. 3, we’re embarking on a countdown.

First, a NYT version and then, David Lebovitz. How can you go wrong?

Recipe from Sam Sifton, New York Times, adapted from Martin Yan, Marian Burros, and memory.
1 pound Chinese egg noodles (1/8,-inch-thick), frozen or (preferably) fresh, available in Asian markets

2 tablespoons sesame oil, plus a splash

3½ tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste

1 tablespoon smooth peanut butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated ginger

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons chili-garlic paste, or to taste

Half a cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/8,-by- 1/8,-by-2-inch sticks

¼ cup chopped roasted peanuts.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook until barely tender, about 5 minutes; they should retain a hint of chewiness. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again and toss with a splash of sesame oil.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons sesame oil, the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame paste, peanut butter, sugar, ginger, garlic and chili-garlic paste.

3. Pour the sauce over the noodles and toss. Transfer to a serving bowl, and garnish with cucumber and peanuts. Serves 4.


The “Chinese sesame paste,” above, is made of toasted sesame seeds; it is not the same as tahini, the Middle Eastern paste made of plain, untoasted sesame. But you could use tahini in a pinch. You need only add a little toasted sesame oil to compensate for flavor, and perhaps some peanut butter to keep the sauce emulsified.

By all means, add some Sichuan peppercorns if you like: toast a tablespoon’s worth in a dry pan, crush lightly and whisk the resulting mess into your sauce.


David Lebovitz
Peanut Sauce

Four servings

This recipe makes about 2 cups (500ml) of peanut sauce, which is more than you’ll need for four servings. But it’s pretty great on white rice as an afternoon snack or French fries.

The chicken needs to be hand-shredded since the uneven surface makes it easier for the peanut sauce to adhere to the meat. Toast the peanuts in a 350ºF (180ºC) oven on a baking sheet for about twelve minutes, stirring a few times during baking, until they’re well-toasted.

2 cups (300g) dark roasted unsalted peanuts
1/2 to 3/4 cup (125-180ml) hot black tea
1/2 cup (125ml) oil, preferably peanut (see Notes) or coconut milk
1 tablespoon (10g) peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 small chiles, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground Szechuan pepper (if available)
1/4 cup (60ml) fresh lime or lemon juice
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons chili paste or chili oil
1/3 cup (15g) packed cilantro sprigs or chives
1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 pound (450g) wide Chinese noodles, often called Shanghai noodles (see Notes)

2 chicken breasts, boneless or on the bone
1 large cucumber
sprigs of cilantro

1. Put the peanuts, 1/2 cup (125ml) of hot tea, and the oil or coconut milk in a blender.

2. Turn the machine on and let it run for a few minutes until the peanuts are almost smooth. Then add the remaining ingredients and let the machine run until the sauce is pureed.

3. Check the consistency. If it’s too thick for your liking, add up to another 1/4 cup (55ml) of tea.

4. Cook the noodles in a pot of boiling salted water according to the time on the package. (I usually cook them a little less, since I like them chewy.)

5. Once done, drain and immediately run cold water over the noodles in the colander, turning them with tongs to cool them as rapidly as possible. Toss the noodles in a drizzle of oil and set aside.

6. Put the chicken breasts in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water and add enough salt to estimate the saltiness of sea water. Cover and bring the water to a boil.

7. Once the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat and leave the chicken breasts in the water for twenty minutes, covered. After twenty minutes, remove the chicken breasts from the liquid and let sit until cool enough to handle.

8. Shred the chicken breasts by hand into bite-size strips.

9. Peel the cucumber. Cut it in half lengthwise then remove the seeds with a spoon. Slice the cucumber diagonally.

10. Divide the noodles between the four bowls, top with chicken and cucumbers, then add a few generous, heaping spoonfuls of peanut sauce. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and encourage guests to mix everything together in their own bowls.

Storage Tips: The peanut sauce can be made up to one week in advance and refrigerated, or frozen for up to two months. The chicken breasts and the noodles can be cooked and refrigerated up to one day ahead.

Cold Sesame Noodles
Adapted from Susanna Foo’s Chinese Cuisine (Chapters), this noodle salad is garnished at the last minute with crisp vegetables.

2    tablespoons (25 ml) corn or olive oil

1    pound (500 g) fresh Chinese noodles


2    tablespoons (25 ml) oil

2    cloves garlic, minced

1/2    cup (125 ml) sesame paste or natural peanut butter

1/3    cup (75 ml) soy sauce

1    tablespoon (15 ml) balsamic vinegar

1-2    teaspoons (5-10 ml) Tabasco sauce

1    tablespoon (15 ml) sugar

1/3    cup (75 ml) chicken stock

1/4    cup (50 ml) finely chopped unsalted peanuts


1/2    cup (125 ml) julienned Belgian endive or cabbage

1/2    cup (125 ml) peeled, julienned seeded cucumber

1/2    cup (125 ml) julienned red bell pepper

1/2    cup (125 ml) minced fresh cilantro leaves

1/4    cup (50 ml) toasted sesame seeds

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of oil and pasta and cook for 3-5 minutes, until tender but firm. Do not overcook. Drain and toss with remaining oil. Spread on a large baking sheet, cover with plastic and cool. Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate until cold, up to 1 day in advance.

For dressing, heat oil in a skillet and cook garlic until golden. Remove from heat and add sesame paste, soy sauce, vinegar, Tabasco and sugar. Stir to form a thick paste. Bring stock to a boil and slowly add to paste, mixing well. Stir in peanuts.

To assemble, toss the cold noodles with 1/2- 3/4 cup of dressing (the leftover dressing will keep, refrigerated, for a week or can be frozen).

Mound the noodles on individual plates and garnish with endive, cucumber, bell pepper, cilantro and sesame seeds. Serves 4 as a main course.

Szechuan habanero chicken

26 Jun

Shacky’s Szechuan Habanero Chicken Thighs
June 9th, 2010

chicken thighs (enough to fill a large fry pan)
basmati rice
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh minced ginger
1 very small dried habanero pepper (size of a nickel- use more if adventurous)
3 Tbsp mirin sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp Kikkoman soy
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
2-3 Tbsp red wine
1-2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
4-5 Szechuan peppercorns crushed
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1/4 to 1/2 cup of honey (taste it first before reaching, or exceeding 1/2 cup)
1-2 Tbsp cornstarch slurry
chopped green onions for garnish

First, heat the oil in the pan over medium heat and add trimmed thighs when hot.
Give the thighs some light salt ad pepper while cooking (make sure as to not get the pan to hot, as we are leaning towards steaming the dish).
Next, flip the chicken to the other side (when lightly browned) and add the vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, oyster sauce, and red wine. Once this has mixed, you can add the crushed habanero, Sichuan peppercorns, and chili flakes to the surrounding liquid.
Now sprinkle the oregano directly over the thighs; follow by pouring the honey directly over the chicken too. Cover and gently simmer 10 minutes until cooked thoroughly. Before serving, increase the heat and slowly add the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce- add more water directly to pan if needed to bring up the sauce volume.
Serve thighs and sauce over Basmati Rice. Garnish with chopped green onions.