Finally Monday! I could not wait to catch up with my buds at school after being away for a week – I had missed them so much.
Unfortunately, the only chance I got was a whispered hello and pat on the shoulder from Valencia, as I was almost late! I had stopped at the bank on my way and it had just taken longer than expected…anyways, I walked in at 10:30 am sharp, to greet a short Chinese lady, standing behind the counter. Hellos would have to happen later.
Chef Helen Chen, cookbook author and owner of Helen’s Asian Kitchen, was here to share on Chinese cuisine, everything of which she had learned from her mother.
I immediately thought of Jonathan, my younger brother, who had just landed in Beijing earlier this morning on his travels. I wonder what foods he will be tasting this week…
Chef Helen was quite comical and quite different from the restaurant chefs that we had visit us in the past; the environment she created made me feel like I was at home in a Chinese kitchen, listening to…a mother!
“The Chinese kitchen is simple. One knife, one pan. Everything is cut in the same shape. Cook always eats last.”
Chef passed around samples of 100-year-old eggs. She cut it with a thread because the inside was so delicate. I am still not sure what kind of egg it is and I gave mine off to Anthony. It just did not look like something I could stomach at the moment.
Some interesting notes from Chef Helen:
About the rice. Asians take rice seriously.
- “We get the shivers if we don’t have rice at least once a day.”
- “99% of Asians use rice cookers. The only time they aren’t used is if there is no electricity.”
- White rice has a rice:water ratio of 1:1, while brown rice is 1:1.5 in a rice cooker.
- NEVER take a metal spoon to rice. – always use a more gentle tool.
- Kids are first taught to make rice.
On ginger…Buy it plump and hard. Not shriveled or moist. Use the edge of a spoon to peel it.
On tofu…Chinese pronounce it THO-FU. THO-FU, or soy bean curd, is extremely versatile. Chef Helen recommended trying the tofu dish that is served on dim-sum carts in wooden baskets – a delightful dessert of tofu pudding with ginger sauce. It is her favorite.
On Stir fry…“Stir fry from your shoulder, not your wrist.” Stir fry must be served in a flat plate and served to guests immediately.
I noticed that Chef did not add any spices, besides some red chili flakes, nor did she add any salt. Most of the flavor came from the soy-based sauces, such as soy and hoisin sauce, and fermented vegetables. Interesting.
After a stir-fry lunch and finally some hugs all around, we prepared for the kitchen. I think we were all excited to be back by the flame, because we were dressed and ready a good 20 minutes in advance.
The rest of the afternoon, we spent with Chef Douglass, catching up on our spring break travels as well as reviewing some key skills: boning a chicken, reducing chicken stock, poaching an egg, crafting a french omelet, whipping up risotto, and pan roasting a statler breast.
While many times, I did furiously flip back to previous pages in my handy notebook, I must say that being comfortable in the kitchen made a huge difference.
I boned my little chicken in less than ten minutes. No fear. No feelings. Just doing the task at hand.
Egg poaching was a breeze – I now make poached eggs for lunch every Friday, on my day off.
Even my French omelet came out rather lovely on the first try, which was a pleasant surprise. I had tried making one for my dad last week in Mexico and I had not met with the same success. (I think the secret is…lots more butter.)
Whew. Good day. Quite tired today, thanks to the missing hour.
But I am not complaining. I am all about the saving of daylight.