From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ponderings of Youthful Gastronomic Bliss

So after having a very traditional, non-Asian inspired meal of Beef Stroganoff* (my recipe is below), we sat down to watch the season finale of Top Chef.  In the course of the competition, the chef-testants were tasked with creating a dish that best brought back their childhood.  I had to seriously stop and think about that one, and the memories that thoughts of food as a child evoked came flooding back.

Golden Dragon, the Chinese Restaurant with a colorful history on 822 Washington Street, in San Francisco, was one of my favorite destinations, as it served some of the freshest Dim Sum I have ever tasted.  Going to this restaurant became a culinary tradition that served to broaden my horizons (even though nothing scared me back then).  In those days, the servers would come around with their carts piled high with steamers, and announce in their sing-song voice "har-gau" or "Sui Mai" or, one of my favorites, "char sui bau." All we had to do was keep our eyes peeled for a dish that appealed to our taste, flag down the server, and in moments, it was on our table.  Best practice? Choose items throughout the course of your meal, instead of having it all served and in front of you at once.

The actual translation for Dim Sum is ‘to touch the heart’ and touch the heart it did.  While Dim sum is more of a culinary tradition, where portions are bite-sized, and served in small quantities, usually three or four to a plate, our family was able to feast on multiple servings of whatever the heart desired.   We, to this day, enjoy an immense variety of foods in an informal setting, and we can make a meal of it or eat very little depending on our appetite.

Most Dim Sum restaurants even offer sweet treats interspersed with the savory dishes.

Popular dim sums for me, then and now, include steamed shrimp dumplings (har gau), steamed pork and shrimp dumplings (siu mai), deep-fried spring rolls, steamed barbecued pork buns (cha siu bau), deep-fried egg rolls and taro-root dumplings and green peppers with shrimp filling. Desserts like steamed sweet rice cakes, sesame balls, custard are often found on our table.

The amazing variety available is proof yet again of the Cantonese culinary artistry and ingenuity, for which I (and hopefully my family) is forever greatful.

But back to memories - One of my favorite dishes that brings back amusing memories is that of the Taro Root Cake. It is made with taro root, pork, dry shrimp and rice flour steamed and then grilled.  Mom had somehow perfected the recipe, and was able to make it, almost to order.  One night, I remember my Mom making it as I was waiting in eager anticipation in the kitchen.  She would then serve it to us, a serving at a time, and while we (my sister and I) were eating it, she would go back to practicing her etudes or concerto on the harp.  When we were ready for more, all we had to do was bring out the empty plate to show her that, ahem, mom, we are ready for more.  I remember one time I had literally wolfed down my serving before she could even pluck one string on the harp... and of course, she readily made me more.

The best place here in San Antonio where I have found this Taro Root cake and the Dim Sum that we have come to love is at Golden Wok, 8822 Wurzbach San Antonio, Texas 210-615-8282.  They are the only restaurant that I know of that consistently serves excellent Dim Sum 7 days a week.  Their taste profile is spot on, and if anyone has EVER had authentic Dim Sum, you will know that Golden Wok is the place to go find it again.

Happy Memories, and Good Eating, Friends... 

Colin's Beef Stroganoff

*Two hours before service, pat dry then cut a tender piece of raw beef into small cubes and sprinkle with salt and pepper, garlic powder and onion salt.. Take 1 pound of raw egg noodles, toss in boiling water, bring back  to a boil, and strain. While egg noodles are cooking, saute chopped onions and sliced mushrooms in  butter until onions become transparent and mushrooms just soften up.  Use a splash of red wine to deglaze the pan, then toss in marinated beef.  After the meat is browned evenly, toss in cooked egg noodles and let sit for 5 minutes.  Add 2 tablespoons very fresh sour cream before serving.  (For an extra kick, 1 tablespoon of Dijon Mustard can be added, as it gives a new dimension to the flavor.)


2 lbs tender beef

Garlic Powder

Onion Powder
1/4 lb butter


2 spoons flour

2 tablespoons sour cream

*The origin and history of Beef Stroganoff is an excellent lesson in food lore. While food historians generally agree the dish takes its name from Count Stroganoff, a 19th century Russian noble, there are conflicting theories regarding the genesis of this "classic" dish. Certainly, there is evidence confirming the recipe predate the good Count and his esteemed chef.

"Despite the allusion of the name "stroganoff" to Count Paul Stroganoff, a 19th century Russian diplomat, the origins of the dish have never been confirmed. Larousse Gastronomique notes that similar dishes were known since the 18th century but insists the dish by this specific name was the creation of chef Charles Briere who was working in St. Petersburg when he submitted the recipe to L 'Art Culinaire in 1891, but the dish seems much older. It did not appear in English cookbooks until 1932, and it was not until the 1940s that beef stroganoff became popular for elegant dinner parties in America."

---Restaurant Hospitality, John Mariani, January 1999 (p. 76).

"Unlike the French, who name dishes after the chefs who devised them, the Russians have usually attached the names of famous households to their cuisine--the cooks were usually serfs. For example, we have Beef Stroganoff, Veal Orlov, and Bagration Soup. One of the few exceptions is a cutlet of poultry of real named after Pozharskii, a famous tavern keeper...The last prominent scion of the dynasty, Count Pavel Stroganoff, was a celebrity in turn-of-the-century St. Petersburg, a dignitary at the court of Alexander III, a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts, and a gourmet. It is doubtful that Beef Stroganoff was his or his chef's invention since the recipe was included in the 1871 edition of the Molokhovets cookbook...which predates his fame as a gourmet. Not a new recipe, by the way, but a refined version of an even older Russian recipe, it had probably been in the family for some years and became well known through Pavel Stroganoff's love of entertaining."

---The Art of Russian Cuisine, Anne Volokh with Mavis Manus [Macmillan:New York] 1983 (p. 266)

"Beef stroganoff is a dish consisting of strips of lean beef sauteed and served in a sour-cream sauce with onions and mushrooms. The recipe, which is of Russian origin, has been known since the eighteenth century, but its name appears to come from County Paul Stroganoff, a nineteeth-century Russian diplomat. Legend has it that when he was stationed in deepest Siberia, his chef discovered that the beef was frozen so solid that it could only be coped with by cutting it into very thin strips. The first English cookery book to include it seems to have been Ambrose Heath's Good Food (1932)."

---An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 326-7)

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