Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Serving Rice Cakes Represent a Wish for Many Happy New Years

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Serving Rice Cakes Represent a Wish for Many Happy New Years

Article excerpt

Food has been central to Seattle food writer Hsiao-Ching Chou's life almost since the day she was born, and it's not just because her parents ran a Chinese restaurant while she was growing up in Columbia, Mo.

Gathering around a table with family to savor a simple stir-fry or plate of chicken-stuffed wontons ( which she first learned to fold at age 8) was the glue that kept everybody together, she says, as well as a way to pass on important family traditions.

"It's just woven into our culture," she says.

As a newspaper food writer and editor and later a food blogger who's been featured on national radio and TV shows, she introduced many of the comforting recipes she ate as a child to an audience hungry for authentic Chinese food, and sometimes a little scared to tread into foreign waters.

Chinese food can be daunting for many home chefs, Ms. Chou says, because so many ingredients and cooking methods are unfamiliar to American sensibilities. This can be especially frustrating on Chinese New Year, which is on Feb. 16, which you might want to celebrate with one of the "lucky" foods served during the 15-day festival.

Yet as she writes in her new cookbook, "Chinese Soul Food" (Sasquatch Books; $24.95) that hit store shelves last month, any kitchen can be a Chinese kitchen. Because at its heart, Chinese home cooking is all about being resourceful and adaptable. Many dishes, in fact, start not with a recipe but a quick survey of what ingredients one has on hand and what flavors one wants to emphasize.

For beginners, that can prove vexing. Which is why when she set out to write her cookbook two years ago, she decided to walk her readers through each step of the process, from ingredients to equipment to techniques, in a super-friendly way. She takes the same approach in the cooking classes she offers at Hot Stove Society, an avocational school in Seattle.

On Chinese New Year, the focus is on foods with auspicious qualities: extra-long noodles and rice cakes for longevity, whole fish for family unity, dumplings for wealth, softball-sized pork meatballs braised with heads of Chinese cabbage to symbolize power, strength and family reunion. …

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