Last week I turned 45, and one thing that happened was my friend Aaron came to visit me all the way from New York where he lives. I picked him up at the Nanaimo airport first thing on the morning of my birthday and we got a coffee and then went to Man Lee (the Asian grocery) before coming back to Gabriola.
Since moving here, Brian and I have felt the absence of good Asian cuisine. We are lucky that there are a couple of good restaurants on our island, but it’s just not possible to get good Chinese food here or anywhere close by. In Vancouver – good noodles are served in almost every mall kiosk and you can choose restaurants by very specific region – so that’s been a bit of an adjustment (ie: we were spoiled by delicious and inexpensive food from around the world).
As I’ve posted elsewhere (and perhaps here) – this has forced us to really up our cooking game, and I’ve been seeking out good cookbooks to aid us in not only learning to make specific dishes, but learning about different cuisines as a whole. One of the books which has been instrumental so far is Fuschia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. So far, I have cooked about half the recipes in that book – and I plan to make the other half over the next few months – because every single one is a winner, and I’ve learned so much about cooking techniques by following them.
So, for my birthday I decided that the best way Aaron and I could spend our afternoon was in preparing a feast of recipes I’ve never made before. This included Sichuanese Wontons in Chilli Oil Sauce, Bok Choi with assorted dried fungus (her recipe calls for fresh shiitake, but I wanted a dish with snow and black fungus so I improvised), and Steamed Chicken with Chinese Sausage and Shiitake Mushrooms (wrapped in lotus leaves).
I have to admit that I’ve always been a bit daunted by dumplings – the making of them that is. But with a friend to help, we figured it out and ended up with so many perfect bites! This meal was also my first time steaming food in lotus leaves – which I did using the Instant pot.
I would say that this was the best meal I’ve made from Dunlop’s book – but I’m really not sure – as I’ve made so many great combinations of dishes in the last few months. One thing I know for sure, is that these are restaurant-grade meals – as good as anything I’ve eaten in Vancouver over the years – aided by ingredients that are local and fresh from the island where I live.