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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Somewhere, Somehow, Sometime ...

The outstanding dish below this post - Ron’s Five-Spice Chinese Braised Duck - is the last of my favorite recipes. All things come to an end, and this is my final post. Just as I’m delighted to have been part of your life for more than three years, I’m also delighted to leave you with the recipe below. In my books, its gourmet - and very easy to make! 

Special thanks go to my husband, Ron Fisher, not only for his photographic contributions to this blog, but also for his excellent cooking. If its possible to do such a thing, I’d also like to thank my (non-existent) Anonymous Taste-Testing Panel, my sweet but dumb fish, Frankie, and his over-sexed (and also non-existent) friend, Sadie, all of which added a little fun to this recipe blog. I also owe a debt of thanks to my daughter, Erin Parton, who prompted me to share my favorite recipes.


Make every occasion festive!
Shortly after this blog began, I invited my pal Shelley to my place for lunch. Shelley and I have known one another nearly 40 years. I was very busy when I asked Shelley over, and didn’t have time to cook. So I set a beautiful table, served pre-packaged foods and only pre-packaged foods, and kept quiet about my little deception.

Shelley didn’t suspect a thing. She especially loved “my chocolate mousse. Using tiny gold spoons, we spooned it from white demitasse cups on saucers trimmed with gold. Everything tasted about as good as pre-packaged foods can taste, but the presentation made it more than it was. 

When Shelley said: “This must have taken you forever! I replied: “It was easy!” Which, of course, it was. 

The point of this story is that while you might dream over recipes, you may not have the time or the energy to prepare them. My advice to you: If you can’t make it, fake it! No one’s going to know - as long as you don’t tell. And everyone’s going to think you’re an incredible cook. 

I once knew a woman who put a pip into the lemon meringue pies she prepared from a mix so its finder would think she’d “missed it” in making her pies “from scratch. That home cook had the right idea. Don’t sweat the small stuff - or the big stuff, either.

Thank you for reading this blog, Dollinks! May we meet again - somewhere, somehow, sometime.  xox  Nicole

Ron’s Five-Spice Chinese Braised Duck

I’ve saved the best for last! The photos say it all ... You’ll most certainly want to make this recipe as soon as you finish reading it! Ron slightly modified this dish from one titled Oil-Braised Duck (The Encyclopedia of Asian Cooking, Octopus Books Limited, London, 1980). Although time-consuming, this delicious duck and its wonderful sauce are surprisingly easy to prepare.  

Ron’s Five-Spice Chinese Braised Duck:

One 4-to-4-1/2 lb. (1.75-to-2 kg) duckling, cleaned and plucked
1/4 c. orange juice
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 c. soy sauce
4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. dry sherry
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. five-spice powder
1 slice fresh ginger root, peeled, about 3 x 1/2 in.
2-1/2 c. chicken stock
A few tbsp. cornstarch, as required, to thicken cooking liquid
Approximately 5 c. peanut oil for deep-fat frying
1 large orange, unpeeled, halved and sliced, as garnish
Parsley bunches, as garnish (optional)

Read recipe carefully and have all ingredients assembled before you begin. In a large pot over high heat, plunge duckling into enough boiling water to cover. Boil 4 min. Drain. 


After boiling away fat, transfer duckling to clean pot.

Transfer duckling to clean pot, adding all remaining ingredients except cornstarch, oil, and garnishes. Bring just to a boil before lowering heat. 

Cover and simmer 45 min., turning duckling at least twice during cooking. Remove duckling from pot, draining and drying very thoroughly. Cooking liquid is the basis of the sauce for the duckling: Treat it with loving care. Over low heat, simmer liquid, uncovered, to reduce and thicken it. 


Simmer cooking liquid to reduce and thicken it.

Over medium-high stove setting, heat oil in wok to a depth of about 4 in. (see Note). Carefully and securely lower duckling into oil (Ron uses a meat fork to do this). 


Carefully and securely lower duckling into oil.

Oil will bubble around lower half of duckling and inside cavity. 


Oil will bubble inside and outside duckling.

Also carefully and securely, turn duckling over to brown on all sides. This will take about 5 min.


Turn duckling.

Turn again, until browned all over.

When duckling is crisp and golden, remove from hot oil. 


Remove from hot oil, draining well.

Transfer wok or deep-fat fryer to a safe, stable spot away from pets and children’s reach. Let oil cool for later safe disposal or straining and recycling. 

Return duckling to simmering sauce, turning several times to coat. 


Sauce will start to reduce and thicken. If sauce needs further
thickening, add a little cornstarch as per method below.

If sauce appears too thin, decant about 1/4 c. to small bowl, cooling before stirring in cornstarch, as needed. Return cooled liquid to simmering sauce, blending in well until sauce thickens as desired.

Remove coated duckling from sauce. Transfer to chopping block, sectioning into small pieces with cleaver or heavy knife


Ron sections duckling into small pieces.

Heap chopped duckling onto serving platter.

Onto the platter goes the duckling!

Pour hot sauce over duckling. 

Onto the duckling goes the sauce!

Garnish with orange slices and parsley. Serve at once. 


Garnished duckling.

This dish is extremely rich. Ron recommends you keep your servings small. Serves 8-to-10 as main course.   

Note: Home-use deep-fat fryers are safer than oil-filled woks, but produce less satisfactory results. The maximum temperature of the oil in a deep-fat fryer is often lower than the temperature of the oil in a wok on the stoves highest setting. The duckling may also not fit into a home-use deep-fat fryer. Use extreme caution when deep-fat frying. Allow enough room for the oil’s displacement as you lower the duckling into the wok or deep-fat fryer. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Curried Cod with Potato Stacks

The first time I made this outstanding recipe, everything slid onto the floor as I transferred the stacks of vegetables and fish from the skillet to the serving dishes. A lesson learned: If you want the great presentation this recipe deserves, buy a set of baking rings to hold everything together. 

I last used these rings for another excellent dish - my Sept. 1, 2011 post for Crab and Fennel Potato Towers, searchable in the date index. My baking rings are 3-½ in. wide and 1 in. high. They turn a good recipe like this into a great one! 

Because a relatively large proportion of this recipe uses vegetables, this is an economical dish to make. The chunk of cod I bought for slightly more than $2 serves four or five adult diners - a genuine bargain! With taste, economy, and speed of preparation in mind, this recipe is a keeper! Served with a first-course salad, its also a complete and fully satisfying meal.  

Curried Cod with Potato Stacks: 

1/4 c. butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
One 11 oz. (312 g) cod, basa, snapper, barramundi or similar white fish, cut into 4 or 5 fillets
1 large red-skinned potato, skin left on and sliced thin
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 carrot, scraped but not peeled, angle-sliced
2 tbsp. red bell pepper (capsicum”), diced
2 tbsp. yellow bell pepper (capsicum”), diced 
Dash salt and freshly ground pepper
1-1/2 c. chicken, fish, or vegetable stock
2 tbsp. frozen peas, thawed 

Combine butter, curry powder, and lemon juice in shallow plate or dish. Add fish, turning to coat both sides. Set aside in refrigerator. 


Turn to coat second side and refrigerate.

Place four or five baking rings in large skillet (see Note). Into each, stack potatoes, onions, carrots, bell peppers, and seasoning. Add stock. Over medium-high heat, bring just to the boil. Cover skillet, reducing heat to medium-low. Simmer 10 min., until potatoes are tender-firm but not cooked through. 


Stack vegetables in rings; add stock to skillet.


Simmer 10 min., until potato slices are tender-firm.

Top each stack with chunk of lightly curried fish, adding buttery marinade to stock. Re-cover skillet: Simmer a further 5 min., allowing fish to steam. 


Top potato stacks with fish; add marinade to stock in skillet.

Sprinkle peas inside baking rings, over and around fish. Re-cover skillet, heating peas through 1-to-2 min. Slip a wide spatula under baking rings, transferring potato-fish stacks to serving plates or bowls.  Remove baking rings.


Sprinkle with peas, re-covering skillet until peas heat through. 

Decant simmering stock from skillet to small jug. Pour hot stock over and around each potato-fish stack immediately before serving. 

Note: The inside diameter of your skillet determines how much stock to use. I used a large skillet with an inside diameter of 9-1/2 in. My skillet has sloping sides, so its outside diameter is about 2 in. greater. 


Pour lightly curried stock over and around fish. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dinner Party: An Elegant High Tea

While this isn’t a Dinner Partyper se, it falls under the indexed series of the same name that refers to home entertaining.

When I recently gave an English tea party for a dozen female friends, we began the afternoon with dry sherry, moved on to Cream Scones (recipe in the post below), enjoyed a selection of dainty sandwiches, and finished with freshly made pastries from the bakery across the street from my home.

Alas! Tea sandwiches become soggy if they’re made too soon, so I prepared them shortly before our guests arrived, and didnt have time to take even one photo before and during the party. Im sorry about that, so youll have to imagine the table, set in white and cream, with silver candlesticks. It was lovely - but more importantly, it was fun! 


Should you ever give a high tea (or another high tea, if you’ve already had one or more), I have some suggestions, below. As regular readers will know from the irreverent nature of this blog, fun is important to me. Whether in cooking or in life, spontaneous laughter makes us happy and keeps us feeling young. 


I once gave a Dinosaur Tea (as in T-Rex). My reasoning for this was that Only dinosaurs serve high tea! The invitations and other little touches (including tiny plastic dinosaurs that served as place cards) used a dinosaur theme. However, Ive also attended the stiff-upper-lip type of tea. Each was equally enjoyable.


I once had high tea at Claridge’s in London, only to learn that the Queen Mother had left five minutes before my arrival. Perhaps she couldn’t wait ...? 


High tea served at home has its limitations. With many last-minute things to do before the tea I hosted a few days ago, serving warm Cream Scones was too much for me, though no one seemed to mind that the scones were at room temperature. The recipe for those same scones appears in the post that follows. Theyre so good that you don’t need an excuse to make them! 
If you do give a fancy afternoon tea for a group, these at-home tips work for me:

• Write the name of each guest on a paper doily on the saucer immediately under his or her teacup. No more mix-ups and lost tea cups!

• Brew a large urn of black tea, making sure you remove the tea bags once the tea reaches its desired strength. Refilling a teapot from an urn is much faster than trying to brew tea pot-by-pot. Ensure you also have a kettle of boiling water ready to be decanted into a fancy teapot, so guests can brew their choice of herbal teas, as well. Although most guests want tea at a tea party, some prefer coffee. Prepare a small amount in your coffee maker. 


In summary, youll need one attractive coffee pot and two attractive teapots (one containing black tea; the other containing boiling water). I also offer the option of decaf coffee. Because decaf tends to be the last choice guests usually seek at a tea party, I don’t brew a pot of it, instead making it by the cup and by request in a single-serve coffee maker. 


• Use your computer to make several labels to help your guests find what they need. Have your local stationery store laminate and punch a hole in each label, so you can keep them from party-to-party, tied to your teapots and coffee pot with dainty little ribbons. Mine read Boiling Water, “Caffeinated Tea, “Caffeinated Coffee/Decaf Available on Request. These labels also work splendidly for buffets. 


• Leave a small dish for guests to drop their herbal tea bags. If you wet and leave a squeezed tea bag in the dish before the party begins, they’ll know what the dish is for. 


• Allow a total of 3 slices of bread per-person, with the slices cut into rounds, triangles, squares, or rolled and later filled. Using both brown and white bread is more interesting than using white bread alone. Be sure to buy long loaves of square-sided sandwich bread, rather than regular bread. Mandatory: Cut the crusts from your bread! Mine are in the freezer as we speak, ready to be turned into next Thanksgiving’s turkey stuffing. 

At my tea, I had separate plates of sandwiches and pastries labelled Gluten-Free. All of this will become second nature as you start to entertain more frequently. 


• What kind of tea sandwiches to serve? Tradition suggests that ladies should not be exposed to harsh flavors. Thus, no pickles, olives, smoked or spiced meats. No chutneys, mustard, horseradish, or whole nuts. Prepare your sandwich fillings one day ahead, covering and refrigerating them. So heres what I made: 


Egg Salad: I added the slightest bit of mustard to the mayonnaise I used to blend the hard-cooked, grated eggs. I also added a touch of fresh parsley, salt, and pepper.

Chopped Ham: I added the slightest bit of sweet relish to the mayo I blended into the ham. 
Chopped Chicken: With mayo as the binder, I added a whisper of flaked, toasted almonds. Dried, sweetened cranberries would have been another good choice.
Cucumber: The recipe for these appears in a separate post, below.
Asparagus: Flatten trimmed slices of bread with a rolling pin, spreading lightly with seasoned mayonnaise. Place pre-cooked, well-dried asparagus spears onto bread, and roll up, securing with a toothpick.
Shrimp: Blend baby shrimp with seasoned mayo for a definite treat. I made just a few because of the high cost of shrimp. 
Cherry Cream Cheese: Blending room-temperature cream cheese with maraschino cherry juice and slivered cherries makes a beautiful bite for tea.

Lay each batch of sandwiches you make onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (easier to stack crosswise than plates). Just before serving, transfer a varied and elegant assortment to sandwich trays or platters. Be sure to cover your pre-made sandwiches with a damp, clean tea towel until you
’re ready to do that. 

• Allow 2-1/2 pastries per-person. If you’re a masochist, a perfectionist, or a professional baker, make these pastries yourself - but I don’t. Pastry-making is an art. I prefer to buy them.


• Although I used fine china for this tea party, I threw everything into the dishwasher and recommend you do the same. How many times a year do you use this stuff? Exactly the point! Life is too short not to go easy on yourself. 

Cream Scones

Varieties of scones abound - several on this blog - but these are an especially lovely complement to afternoon tea. Because I neglected to take photos of the high tea I hosted, I snapped this solitary, leftover scone the day after my party.

Memories are made of this: Cream Scones!



Cream Scones:

1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. cold butter, cut into small chunks
2 large eggs, well beaten
1/4 c. heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 c. raspberry jam, for spooning onto scone
1/2 c. unsweetened whipped cream, for spooning onto scone 

Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt, combining well. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside. 


Mix as coarse crumbs
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs into cream, blending thoroughly. Using a fork, gradually add cream mixture to flour mixture, cleaning tines often. Stir in balance of cream using fingers (Do not rinse out cream bowl). 

Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface, kneading just until flour is incorporated and dough forms a smooth, shiny ball. Roll into a circle about 3/4-in. thick. Cut dough into eight rounds using a drinking glass or 2-1/2 in. biscuit cutter. 


Roll out and cut out.
Transfer scones to parchment-lined baking sheet, lightly dabbing tops with additional cream (or with remaining drops of egg and cream in bowl). Bake 12-to-14 min. or just until pale golden. Cool briefly on rack, serving warm. 

To serve, split scones open, spooning raspberry jam and a dollop of whipped cream onto each half. Yields eight 2-1/2-in. scones.

Note: Although I didn’t have time to make his recipe, jamieoliver.com suggests a gluten-free recipe for Cream Scones. See: http://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/simple-gluten-free-scones/

Cucumber Sandwiches

These are the perfect choice for afternoon tea! If you make just one party sandwich, let it be these!  

Cucumber Sandwiches:

1 part crisp parsley, chopped fine (see Note)
2 parts watercress, chopped fine
4 parts butter or margarine, softened
Bread slices as required, cut into 2-1/2-in. rounds
Seedless cucumbers, skin-on and thinly sliced, as required
Salt and pepper, as required

Thoroughly combine parsley, watercress, and butter or margarine. Spread this herbed butter over rounds of bread. Add a single cucumber slice, seasoning to taste. Top with second herb-buttered round of bread. Cover with dampened tea towel, refrigerating until needed. 

Note: Do not use flat-leaf (Italian) parsley or cilantro in these sandwiches.

Tomorrow: Curried Cod with Potato Stacks.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hazel Soon’s Flank Steak with Chinese Preserved Cucumbers

Shock and upset! Where had this recipe gone??? I looked everywhere; it wasnt in my files. It had been so long since I’d made it (the recipe, Dollinks, the recipe!) that I’d completely forgotten how (Now don’t you start snickering ...). All I remembered was that it was simple, enjoyable, and economical (Hmm ... I really should rewrite those two sentences!)
This excellent dish is very quick to prepare!

When I tried to find Hazel Soon (who some 40 years ago had taught me and an eager class of cooking students how to make this fantastic flank steak), I quickly learned that she and husband Jerry had moved from the neighborhood where I first met them. Luckily, a little old-fashioned sleuthing tracked them down

Hazel is now 80 and Jerry, 85, but each looks pretty much as they did the day we first met. The Soons are such great cooks that in 1974, the late actor Henry Fonda asked Hazel and Jerry to prepare a Chinese meal of their choosing for him, wife Shirlee, and his entourage. 

It all happened at the 1974 World’s Fair in Spokane, WA. Fonda was in Spokane doing his tour de force one-man show as underdog defence lawyer Clarence Darrow. In the day when Chinese cooking was considered exotic, the Soons offered cooking demos at the fair. Fonda happened by, one thing led to another, and he requested a private meal. 

With nothing fancy on which to serve it, the Soons laid an old door over two sawhorses, used their aprons as a tablecloth, and began to cook and serve.  

When I caught up with Hazel to get this recipe and the recipe for yesterday’s Egg Fu Yung, she recited both off the top of her head.

Although I’ve made this outstanding dish with Chinese preserved cucumbers in the past, they arent a grocery-store staple and are sometimes hard to find. So when I prepared this a few days ago, I very successfully substituted slivers of sweet, bottled ginger for the sweet preserved cucumbers. 

The quantities below are loose, allowing you to make as much or as little of this dish as you desire. With rice and a couple of vegetables on the side, you’ll have an interesting, unusual, and memorable dinner!  

Hazel Soon’s Flank Steak with Chinese Preserved Cucumbers:

Flank steak, frozen and partially thawed, as required
Canola oil, as required
Soy sauce, as required
Cornstarch, as required
Salt, as required (optional)
Chinese preserved cucumbers or preserved ginger in sugar syrup, as required
Green onions (spring onions; green part only), angle-sliced

To make this dish for Ron and me, I used a small chunk of partially frozen flank steak weighing approximately 6 oz. or 170 g (see Note). Angle-cut meat lengthwise into paper-thin slices approximately 2-1/2 in. wide. 


Working quickly, angle-slice partially frozen meat.

The perfect slice!

Heap thinly sliced meat onto a shallow plate; briefly set aside. Chinese marinades are normally measured in very small quantities. For this amount of meat, combine about 2 tsp. oil, 2 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. cornstarch, and a dash salt, mixed together well. Prepare just enough marinade to barely coat the meat, with no excess remaining. Marinade should resemble a medium-to-thin paste. Thoroughly combine marinade with flank steak. Spread meat strips evenly over plate and let rest 5 min. 

As meat rests, split each sweetened preserved cucumber (or sweetened preserved ginger) lengthwise in half, slicing thinly and scattering over beef. 


Dot with slivers of sweetened preserved cucumber or ginger.

Place a raised steaming rack in large lidded skillet or lidded wok, adding just enough water to reach bottom of rack. Over high heat, bring water to a boil. Slip plate onto rack. Cover skillet or wok, steaming meat about 5 min. If meat is heaped in more than one layer, rearrange with tongs until all meat is cooked through, cooking as quickly as possible to maintain tenderness. Garnish with slivered green onions, serving at once. Serves 2.


Tender, economical, and more than enough for two!

Note: You’ll be wasting your money if you use a more expensive cut of steak. Prepared this way, your flank steak will be wonderfully tender!

Tomorrow: Another in our Dinner Party series: An Elegant High Tea.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hazel Soon’s Egg Fu Yung

My friend Hazel Soon is a remarkable woman and a gifted cook. I first met Hazel nearly 40 years ago, when she taught an eager class of  students (myself, among them) how to prepare and cook Chinese food - a skill that seemed exotic all those years ago, but is now mainstream. This is one of my favorite recipes from this busy, active woman. It’s quite simple the best Egg Fu Yung I have ever tasted. 

Hazel Soon’s Egg Fu Yung:

¼ c. peanut or canola oil, divided (see Note)
1 small onion, quartered lengthwise, sliced thinly, with each piece separated
1-to-2 stalks celery, angle-sliced thinly
About 2 c. fresh bean sprouts, rinsed and blotted dry
Chinese barbecued pork, slivered, or fresh, cooked shrimp or prawns (see Further Note)
4 eggs, well beaten 
1-½ tbsp. milk
Dash salt
1 green onion, angle-sliced, as garnish

To Prepare the Egg Fu Yung:

Assemble, measure, and get ingredients ready for Fu Yung and Sauce before starting. Heat empty wok on stove-top at high setting. Add 1 tbsp. oil, heating briefly just to smoking point. Add onions, stir-frying 30 sec.; celery, stir-frying 30 sec. (see Further Note); bean sprouts, stir-frying 30 sec.; and pork or shrimp, stir-frying just until heated through. Remove from wok; set aside.

Also on high stove setting, add remaining 3 tbsp. oil to wok, heating just to smoking point. 

Working quickly, beat together eggs, milk and salt in medium bowl; set aside. Add cooked ingredients, blending well. Ladle half egg mixture into hot wok. Flatten in oil to form a patty. When edges of mixture bubble and brown slightly, flip one side of patty over vegetable mixture; flip second side over. Cook 30-to-60 sec., just until mixture firms. Remove with slotted spoon. Set aside.

Note: If using peanut oil, store in a cool place or refrigerate. 

Further Note: I used six large, uncooked prawns to serve 2 diners. If using frozen prawns or shrimp, thaw under running cold water before peeling and cooking. Because the prawns were raw, I stir-fried them for 30 sec. immediately after stir-frying the celery. By the time I’d finished stir-frying the sprouts, the prawns were almost ready, completing their cooking with the egg mixture.

To Prepare the Sauce:

1/3 c. chicken broth, chilled or at room temperature 
3-to-4 drops soy sauce, for color
3/4 tsp. cornstarch or tapioca starch

Drain excess oil from wok. Wipe wok with paper towel but do not wash. In small bowl, gradually add combined broth and soy to starch, mixing well. Over medium heat, pour mixture into wok, stirring constantly 15-to-20 sec. Immediately pour over Egg Fu Yung. This mixture yields 2 patties (2 servings).

Angle-slice celery and onion.

Thaw prawns under cold, running water.

Use fresh sprouts - canned sprouts are greatly inferior. 

Stir-fry quickly.

Add cooked, cool vegetables to egg mixture. Combine well.

Ladle half egg mixture into sizzling wok.

Garnish and serve immediately.

Tomorrow: Hazel Soon’s Flank Steak with Chinese Preserved Cucumbers.