Articles by: Karen Christensen

A Publisher’s Dilemma

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Posted: 2014-11-13

Now that I’m going to be a food writer and publisher, I have to decide whether to go with the casual and imprecise mode of recipe writing – “add a dollop of crème fraise,” “bake until done” – that is most congenial to me, an inveterate adaptor of any recipe. Or will readers demand the chemistry-lab precision of Cooks Illustrated?

There’s a good argument for precision in the fact that most people do not learn to cook while growing up, and may never have seen much home cooking being done. They don’t know what changes a cake goes through as it bakes, or that fresh green vegetable become much darker green as they cook (only later, if cooked too long, do they become sludge green and dank). Simple instructions like “fold in two egg whites whipped until stiff” will confound a novice who has never hung out in a kitchen with a skilled home cook.

On the other hand, precise recipes with detailed measurements, methods, and ingredients are daunting. A compromise that I really dislike is cookery books that offer recipe “templates” with dozens of substitutes and alternatives, so no dish is coherent. It’s like turning culinary arts into a frozen yoghurt shop where you can pile your cup of strawberry yoghurt with gummy bears and peanuts and toffee bars. Yuck.

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Fun Facts: Potatoes

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Posted: 2014-09-11

The potato, native to Peru and associated with northern Europe, is well-known in China. In fact, China is the world’s largest consumer and producer of potatoes (81 million metric tons in 2013). Julienned potatoes fried with […]

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Chinese Summer Dishes

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Posted: 2014-09-05

2014 was a summer of blockbuster sunshine, breathtaking thunderstorms, and my first forays into Chinese cooking. This was much scarier than the storms because I’m in such unfamiliar territory and yet catering for an audience, my nearest and […]

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Yunnan Mint Salad

I had this at a Yunnanese restaurant in Beijing and was blown away by the idea of a whole bowlful of beautiful mint leaves as a side with spicy food. The leaves were lightly dressed […]

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Simple Tofu Salad

If you keep toasted sesame seeds around, as I do, this takes just seconds to rustle up. (I toast the seeds in a glass pie plate in the microwave, checking and stirring every two minutes […]

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Celery, Tofu, and Peanut Salad

This is my variation of one of the first recipes I tried from Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop. Easy, delicious, and surprising.  I have lovage in my garden, which has a strong celery-lemon flavor, and plan […]

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Chili or “Red” Oil (Hong You)

Chili or “Red” Oil (Hong You)

Spicy Chinese food came to the United States in the 1980s, when suddenly Hunan and Sichuan restaurants began offering American spicy dishes that hadn’t been known outside ethnic Chinese enclaves before. (Until then, American Chinese […]

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Sichuan Mouthwatering Chicken (Ma La Ji Pian)

Sichuan Mouthwatering Chicken (Ma La Ji Pian)

This excellent cold dish, served in China as an appetizer, can be treated as a super-charged chicken salad. There are many variations of the traditional Sichuan chicken in chili oil sauce. The Chinese name means […]

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Sichuan Mouthwatering Beef (Ma La Niu Rou)

Sichuan Mouthwatering Beef (Ma La Niu Rou)

This beef is best served cold either as an appetizer or in combination with other cold dishes.

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Cucumber with Garlic and Sesame Oil

Cucumber with Garlic and Sesame Oil

This is a simple, versatile side dish that people unfamiliar with Chinese cuisine enjoy immediately. The amount of garlic can be reduced, and the dark sesame oil and salt can be adjusted to taste.

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