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Mutton Pao Mo (羊泡馍)

12 Oct

When I left Columbus in late August, it was hot and a touch muggy. But it was no match for the humidity that greeted me when I landed in Shanghai: we’re talking so incredibly humid that air-conditioned buildings regularly “sweat” (condensation from the air builds on walls and windows) much like how a cold beverage “sweats” on a hot summer day. A welcomed respite from Shanghai’s weather came in the form of a three day trip to Beijing. It was cooler, drier, and I couldn’t have asked for better weather. It hasn’t been that long since I’ve been in Beijing (a little less than two years) but since my bro hasn’t been since he was young, we crammed in several obligatory tourist sites. We spent a half day in the Olympic Park (Water Cube: 水立方; Bird’s Nest: 鸟巢), a couple hours on the grounds of the Summer Palace (颐和园), many hours wandering the hutongs (胡同) in Beihai (北海公园), a couple hours inside the Forbidden City (故宫), and my favorite, sunset at the Temple of Heaven (天坛).

The single number one item on my list of foods to eat in Beijing is pao mo (泡馍). It is a regional specialty from Shan Xi (陝西) province whose largest city is home to the Terracotta Warriors (兵马俑), in Xi’An (西安). Traditionally, travelers would pack a couple of these unleavened flour discs because they kept well. These things are about as round and hard as a hockey puck. Since we had a late breakfast and my brother hadn’t had pao mo before, we decided to share one puck. We saw some folks put down two and three of these pucks in one bowl!

Once arriving at their hosts’, travelers would break apart these pucks into pieces about the size of a chocolate chip. We spent about five minutes breaking apart this puck. It’s kind of a pain in the nards, but if you have bigger pieces, it’s so dry and hard that it’s impossible to eat.

Once that’s done, the host pours steaming stock or soup over the bread pieces. In our case, the restaurant (we went to 西安饭庄, there’s a painted portrait of Mao Zedong’s visit on the wall!) took our bowl back to the kitchen and added a rich mutton soup with chunks of tender mutton, a couple pieces of leafy greens, and just a touch of rice vermicelli for textural interest. Unlike Western/European stocks, Chinese stock is almost a pure meat and bone broth (no aromatics or mirepoix). The bread pieces soak up the broth and end up with a surprising al dente texture, moist and with a little chewiness. In general, Chinese folk feel the same way about lamb and cheese: either you grow up on it (halal restaurants are common in Northern and Western regions) or like my aunt, wrinkles her nose, covers her mouth to hold down the nausea, and runs the other way as fast as she can. For the non-mutton eaters, there’s also beef broth. My brother and I both love lamb/mutton/game so this was a hit and we almost wish we would have ordered a portion for each of us.

As accompaniments, we had a plate of pickled cabbage and carrots (泡菜), sugar fermented whole cloves of garlic (糖蒜), fresh cucumbers, and hot sauce and cilantro to garnish the bowl of soup.  Warm, meaty, gamey, chewy, soupy, this is my type of comfort food. I really hope I don’t have to wait another two years to have this meal again…


Chia Seeds!!

28 Sep

After coming back from China, land of meaty snacks and multi-course meals, I’ve really made a concerted effort to eat more plant based products and to be more creative with my protein sources. I started experimenting with chia seeds right before I left for my trip and it was one of the few things I was looking forward to coming home and eating (salad greens and raw veggies were another). On my first few tries, I bloomed chia seeds in too much water which resulted in a bland, vaguely nutty, terribly soupy, “pudding” of sorts. I tried again with chocolate soymilk and that ended up far too sweet for my liking (though it went wonderfully with fresh strawberries). This time, I hit the jackpot: one part chia seeds (by volume), three (up to four) parts cashew milk. Now, I don’t own a Blentec or a Vitamix, just a twenty year old Hamilton Beach home blender. Needless to say, my neighbors hate me, especially when I’m running the damn thing for five minutes at a time on a Sunday morning.

I find chia seeds to be really weird. I’m not a fan of strawberry seeds (in general) but the texture of this “pudding” is a little like tapioca’d strawberry seeds. I like pairing chia pudding with fruit that mirrors the seed’s texture so figs, kiwis, and strawberries have worked well for me.

Cashew Milk
soak 1 cup (one part, by volume) cashew pieces overnight (at least 6 hours).
rinse and drain.
combine in blender with 2 cups (two parts, by volume) water.
blend at high until smooth (in a conventional blender, at least two minutes).
add 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, 1 tablespoon sugar).
blend again to incorporate.

Chia Pudding
combine 1 cup (one part, by volume) chia seeds with above cashew milk (three parts, by volume).
stir well to prevent clumps.
wait 30 minutes to enjoy, or refrigerate for breakfast the next morning.
yields 32 ounces chia pudding.

Cardamom Catawba Peaches

19 Aug

I’ve been fairly vocal about how expensive the local peaches are here in Columbus. At the farmers’ markets around town, I’ve seen quart baskets for a whole five dollars. O_o Luckily, B is from peach stock. Actually, he’s from Catawba Island (perhaps most well known for a ferry line to Put-In Bay) which is home to golf courses and peach orchards. Last time we were up there, B’s mom had a half peck waiting for us. In one sitting, we went through a good three quarters of the peck. So sweet! So juicy! So summery! Of course we brought almost a whole peck back to Columbus with us.

Cardamon Catawba Peaches
Six ripe peaches
One lime
Quarter teaspoon vanilla extract
Quarter teaspoon ground cardamom
One tablespoon granulated sugar

Cut peaches in half, along the crack, remove stone, and cut into one inch pieces. When all the peaches are cut, mix in the remaining ingredients. Let sit overnight in the fridge to let flavors develop. We put this over yogurt and topped with granola for a tasty breakfast. I imagine it will also be very good over a quality vanilla ice cream.

Sweet and Savoury

18 Aug

B and I have been trying (with mixed results) to eat better. I’m trying to eat less refined carbs (ohhhh, baked goods, cheesy pasta, how I love thee!) and he’s trying to drink less. A couple months ago, we bought some spelt berries at The Greener Grocer with the intention of replacing my pasta hankering. I never made the dish, but I’ve had great successes using it as a side grain for a veggie based meal and as an ingredient in a Mediterranean inspired salad (with cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta). I’ve also been experimenting with wheat and spelt berries as a morning grain. Bob prefers sweet morning grains, and I prefer savoury; hence, the dual breakfast.

I cooked the spelt berries as normal, in water, without salt, so both of us could use it. For B, I added a dollop of Fage Total 0%, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkling of cinnamon. For myself, I topped my berries with some leftover Maque Choux and since the heat from the Sriracha and fresh chili pepper crept up, a dollop of Fage Total 0% to cool it down. B ended up preferring my savoury version more than his sweet version. Since we got a big bag of wheat berries at Jungle Jim’s on our Cincinnati trip, I think I’m going to cook up a big batch and keep it in the fridge for quick breakfasts and snacking.