I have recently become a big fan of Jaden Hair, of the food blog Steamy Kitchen, and author of two cookbooks: The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook, published by Tuttle in 2009, and Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites, which just came out (2013) with the more main stream publisher, Ten Speed Press. I was not even aware of Jaden Hair, her blog, and her cookbooks until Barnes and Noble began prominently displaying the second cookbook. I flipped through it, but was trying to control my cookbook purchases, and so put it down again. It took a couple of weeks for my resistance to break down, but I eventually bought it, and shortly thereafter acquired the earlier cookbook.
Before I even cooked anything from either of these books, I was determined to like what I cooked just because the Jaden we get to know from her books is so enchanting. There are lots of pictures in the books of Jaden, her family, friends, and chickens. In every picture she has the most amazing smile. Sometimes when cookbook authors stuff their books with pictures of themselves it seems a bit narcissistic, and when they stuff their books with pictures of their adorable children, especially curly haired girls gazing winsomely at the camera, it can start to seem a bit Sally Mann-ish. Not here. Instead of a queasy feeling of exploitation, it makes me happy that Jaden is sharing her food life with her readers. Regarding her prose, it’s lots of fun, and in some ways inspiring, to read Jaden’s story: how she started cooking, teaching, blogging, and becoming an expert in food photography. Concerning the photography (an area in which I, for one, have lots of room for improvement), Jaden assures us that food photography is easy, and and chronicles her progress with her camera.
After finally cooking from these cookbooks, I was happy (and not surprised) to learn that Jaden’s food really is excellent. Her food niche is pan-Asian, excluding the subcontinent: the Chinese food of her parents, as well as Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian food, even food from the Philippines. Jaden’s recipes have a very high taste to trouble ratio, and most do not call for exotic ingredients. The cookbooks are not perfect: the desserts and drinks do not particularly entice me, and secondly, but more importantly, like Johnny Rocco, I want more: each cookbook has only about 100 recipes, which, although not unstandard, still strikes me as rather skimpy.
The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook is less glitzy and more charming than its successor. Unfortunately, at least from my point of view, it is more meat oriented, but I still found some excellent vegetarian choices. Not quite vegetarian are the “Asian Style Brussels Sprouts” (page 123). I am engaged in a constant search for a way to make Brussels sprouts palatable. I had tried a recipe from Momofuku for Brussels sprouts, which worked by completely overpowering the taste of the Brussels sprouts with an Asian style sauce having fish sauce as primary ingredient. The recipe in The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook is more subtle.The Brussels sprouts are sliced, then cooked briefly with fish sauce, garlic, onion, and lime juice. The first taste sensation is the sauce, but then the Brussels sprout taste comes through. It wasn’t bad (a very positive statement from me with regard to Brussels sprouts).
The two other recipes I tried I can endorse more enthusiastically. Both recipes are simple but brilliant ideas: “Mashed Potatoes with Miso” (page 121) and “Korean Kimchi Fried Rice” (page 132). For the potatoes, just add a generous scoop of miso to your favorite mashed potatoes! The result tastes very rich and decadent, not unlike mashed potatoes and gravy.
As for the fried rice, the simple version of the recipe is: add kimchi to your favorite fried rice. Jaden makes her fried rice with a red bell pepper, scallions, and garlic. Instead of scrambling the egg with the fried rice, she tops servings with a fried egg. This is probably better than the scrambled eggs, but since I like to make food ahead of time, I reverted back to scrambled eggs. All ingredient amounts in a recipe for food like this are approximate. I probably use more vegetables than Jaden calls for in the recipe, but you should use the amounts and types of fried rice add-ins that you like.
Jaden’s second cookbook, Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites, is more vegetarian friendly, which must be what “healthy” in the title of this book means, since in all other respects, the recipes are quite similar to those in the first cookbook. And that is good! The “Asian Slaw with Wasabi-Soy Dressing” (page 53) is delicious. It consists of jicama, red bell pepper, cucumber, and red cabbage, with (no surprise) a dressing made with wasabi and soy sauce. I used more cabbage than the recipe specifies, and, as I always do with cabbage for slaw, salted it, let it sit, then rinsed and drained the cabbage. My slaw would have been a lot better, though, if I had followed the recipe and julienned the other vegetables, instead of grating and chopping with the food processor. The slaw would then have had a better texture.
“Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Bowl” (page 173) was colorful and tasty, although it was significantly more flavorful when it was first made. It’s not clear to me why it should have lost flavor. This is just a mix of rice noodles with a fish sauce dressing and vegetables: cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, with mint and basil and peanuts. I used abut half the amount of noodles called for in the recipe.
Back in the days when I cooked with meat, I always particularly enjoyed stir fried chicken dishes, so I decided to try one of Jaden’s chicken dishes. Fake chicken can have good texture, but usually not a lot of taste. Since the boneless skinless factory farmed chicken breasts that some people buy at the grocery also have little taste, it seemed not unreasonable to give fake chicken a try; thus, “Fake Lemon Chicken” below. I used potato starch instead of cornstarch because that was what I happened to have in my cupboard. The leftovers of Fake Lemon Chicken disappeared quickly, so the dish was obviously a success.
Kimchi Fried Rice
Adapted from Jaden Hair, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch of scallions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4-5 cups cooked rice
1 cup kimchi, chopped if in large pieces
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. When hot, add the pepper, scallions, and garlic. Cook for a minute or two, then add the rice. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally. You would like the rice to get crusty in spots. Add the kimchi and the soy sauce, and heat through. Beat the eggs together, then add the eggs to the rice. Cook for a few more minutes, then taste and add salt if you think it needs it. Serve hot!
Fake Lemon Chicken
Adapted from Jaden Hair, Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
½ teaspoon potato starch
12 ounces fake (i.e., vegetarian) chicken, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, minced
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 lemon, zest (grated) and juice
1 tablespoon honey
Mix together the soy sauce, sesame oil, and potato starch, then toss with the fake chicken. Heat the peanut oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the garlic and ginger; cook and stir for a minute. Add the peppers, then cook and stir until the peppers begin to go limp. Add the fake chicken and its sauce. When the fake chicken is thoroughly hot, add the lemon, zest and juice, and the honey. Stir to combine and heat through, then serve with rice (or by itself if you are on some sort of low carb kick).