Chinese White Porridge – Congee

When I saw this recipe in a New York Times article, I was editing my Chinese railroad worker novel. Congee, also known as báizhōu, or white porridge is a daily staple in China.

When railroad workers came to California, in the mid-1860s, they would have eaten it in their camps. In China, it was consumed in times of famine and is still served during festivals and religious ceremonies. It is also given to infants and to those who are ill.

For research and realistic writing, I had to try it!

At its essence, congee is a small amount of grain cooked low and slow with a lot of water.

Basic Recipe

1/2 cup rice – thoroughly rinsed

6 cups water

Cook low on a stovetop or in a crockpot for approximately 6 hours, stirring occasionally.

I started out skeptical. I could not imagine how a half cup of rice could thicken six cups of water! Every time I stirred it, I shook my head because it looked like nothing had changed. Then toward the end – voila!

What Happens During the Cooking Process

The grains burst, releasing starch. What results is a lovely soft textured, thickened mush or soup.

What You Add Determines the Flavor

Congee is like a blank art canvas waiting for colorful paint.

Common Chinese Additions; tripe, intestine, crab, fish, bamboo shoots, pickled tofu, hundred-year-old eggs, lettuce, and/or soy sauce.

Other grain options;  cornmeal, millet, barley, brown rice and sorghum
For additional variations, see Soothing Savory Porridge

You Might Also Try;

Sweet – raisins, nuts, and brown sugar
Savory – beef or chicken broth, meatballs, pork, shredded chicken, salmon patties, scrambled eggs, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, onions, chives,

 

Wikipedia Congee

Savory Porridge

This is a no shopping, no reading recipe. All it requires is rooting around on your shelves for items you already have – things that will thicken – and an approximation for the correct amount of water.

Examples of thickening grains; rice, quinoa, oats, bulger, and couscous

For the water to grain ratio, it’s about 2 to 1. Two cups of water for every cup of solids.

When I make this, I place the dry items in a pot, then eyeball the water to cover it.

Here’s what I included with this batch.

Quinoa blend. This thickening grain comprised the bulk of the mixture.

Since lentils are thicker than the quinoa, the cooking time was based on these.

If using a bouillon base, calculate the amount to coincide with the amount of water used.

Heat on medium, stirring occasionally.

Taste test for doneness.

*Tip: If the grains still need more cooking time as the water begins to evaportate – add more.

 

Nineteenth-Century Creole Snacks & Jennie Carter

The first public screening of a local historical short documentary was an occasion to serve Creole finger foods from a cookbook published in 1885.

Actress Katrina Thompson who portrays Jennie in the film read a book excerpt and spoke about the timeliness of the reappearance of Carters’work.

Jennie Carter was a free black woman who moved to Nevada County, California from New Orleans at the outbreak of the American Civil War.  Her essays, published in the book Jennie Carter: A Black Journalist of the Early West, edited by Eric Gardner, were the basis for a seventeen-minute video shown to Nevada County neighbors.

To add to the learning experience, recipes were chosen from a cookbook that originated in New Orleans, La Cuisine Creole. It was food Jennie Carter may have prepared or eaten. While some of the recipes (squirrel or pigeon pie, or suet pudding) were not ones we were willing to attempt, many sound delicious!

For this setting, we chose simple, finger fare and modified ingredients as necessary. (See notes below.)

pickled scallops

*Frozen scallops were substituted for oysters. Ground mace was used instead of ‘blades.’ Scallops were sliced thin and placed on slices of buttered baguette, topped with a very small amount of ground mace.

*To French’s mustard, salt, garlic granules, tarragon leaves, and white wine vinegar were added – to taste.

*A specialty squash from one of the neighborhood gardens was substituted for pumpkin. Stop cooking soon after a fork or knife is easily inserted. Let cool overnight. Eat at room temperature.

Resources:

Published in 1885. Click on the book cover for a PDF of the entire cookbook. Courtesy of Michigan State University | Feeding America: Historic American cookbook collection

Click here to watch the video and read related articles.

Additional Jennie Carter Articles

Jennie Carter’s Nevada County Setting 1860s, 2nd Marriage & Obituary
Jennie Carter’s Pre-Civil War, Civil War & Reconstruction-era 1846-1870
Jennie Carter Book Review
Jennie Carter – Filming Behind-the-Scenes & Creative Partners

Greek Style Shepherd’s Pie – Lactose & Wheat Free

Meat:

Ground meat – beef & pork
1 – 2 onions, chopped
Salt & pepper
Oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, garlic powder, dash of red wine vinegar, several dashes liquid aminos (soy sauce), and 2-3 tblsp. sugar.
1 can tomato sauce
1-2 cans tomato paste
Olive oil

Over medium heat, add several tablespoons of olive to a pan. Add onions & meat, saute until done. Add spices & tomato ingredients until flavored and thickened to your taste.

Veg:

Steam at least two bunches asparagus. Remove from heat as soon as it turns bright green.

*Better next time note: cut asparagus into 1 1/2 inch sections before beginning to layer your dish.

Boil 2  – 3 lbs. of potatoes till tender. (Peel before boiling, or squeeze skin off after they are cooked and cooled). Slice, lengthwise, 1/2 of the cooked potatoes.
For the other half, use 1/4 cup chicken broth and nutmilk to mash to the desired consistency.
Add salt, garlic powder and nutmeg to taste.

Zucchini:

Slice thin, lengthwise. No precooking required.
*Note: while baking the zucchini will create a liquid. This can be soaked up, like gravy, with the mashed potatoes while eating, OR potatoes can line the bottom of the pan in order to soak up the liquid.

Pan Layering:

Coat bottom of oven safe baking dish with olive oil. Add the juice of one fresh lemon and 2-3 drops of liquid smoke. Use a fork to mix and spread evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Add asparagus (or potatoes as noted above), then a layer of zucchini slices, meat mixture, another layer of potatoes, and zucchini slices. Top with mashed potatoes.

*Note: Dollop mashed potatoes across the surface, use moistened fingers to spread.

Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove covering for last 15 minutes.

 

Twirled Asparagus – Meat, Veg & Bread

 

Bacon lovers beware!

The bread strips on these twisty morsels soak up the fat making them filling and

2 bunches fresh asparagus, tough ends cut off

3 full packs of bacon (12 oz ea) – sliced lengthwise, cutting off the fatty side

1 pkg puff pastry (14 oz) – cut into 1/4 inch strips (use a floured pizza wheel)

 

 

 

 

 

Preparation:

Slice bacon.
Slice pastry.
Holding bacon & pastry strips together, twirl around asparagus.

Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Festive looking, these meat, veg & bread twirls are good warm or at room temperature.

They can be served as appetizers or as part of a meal.

 

Here’s another way to prepare and cook them.

Perfectly Peeled Hard Boiled Eggs – Every Time

Bring water to a full, rolling boil

Gently place eggs in water (lower them into water with a spoon)

Return to full boil

Boil for 12 – 15 minutes

Rinse and soak in cold water

Guest Post by Cassandra Merrick

One Step Tamale Pie – Casserole

Casserole comfort food.

1 pound ground meat (beef)|
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped

Saute in skillet until onions are clear and meat is thoroughly cooked.

2 – 8 oz cans seasoned tomato sauce
-12 oz can corn, drained skillet
1/2 cup pitted olives, sliced
Few dashes hot pepper sauce
2 – 2 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt

Add above to skillet.

1 cup chicken broth
2 eggs slightly beaten
3/4 cup cornmeal

Blend in a bowl until smooth then add to skillet & cook for a few minutes.

Cook in a baking dish in 350-degree oven for 45 minutes.

Add cheese, if desired, in the last ten minutes.

Lisa’s Adaptations:

Same way of prepping and cooking – slightly different ingredients

1 pound ground elk meat
1 chipotle pepper
1 – 12 bag frozen peas, corn & green beans, thawed
1 large onion, chopped
1 entire bulb of garlic, chopped
two pinches salt
6 shakes chili powder

Saute in skillet until onion and meat are cooked.

To pan, add

1 cup polenta
1 – 6 oz can green olives with juice ( I like them whole)
1 – 7 0z can Embasa Salsa Casera
1 – 6 oz can tomato paste
2 tblsp. oregano
1 tsp. Better than Boullion Chicken Base (water from olives adds more salt and dilutes chicken base)
3 eggs, slightly beaten

Mix thoroughly & cook for a few minutes.

Cook in a baking dish in 350-degree oven for 45 minutes.

Add 1 lb of shredded cheddar cheese, if desired, in the last ten minutes.

 

 

Triangle Baked Chinese Chicken

with-stir-fry

 

 

Preparation is the most challenging aspect of this recipe…chopping. Fresh ginger, cilantro, and the Hoisin Sauce give it its distinct flavor.

Instead of wrapping the chicken mixture in tiny 2″ square (folded into triangles), I opted to use large squares that measured the exact length of a 12″ roll of aluminum foil. While not as cute, the larger presentation doesn’t affect the taste. In many ways, I thought it similar to my Aunt Jeanette’s Teriyaki Chicken recipe.

The final product can be eaten alone, or crumbled into any combination of stir fried vegetables.

It’s a nice, ‘grab n go’ type of meal.
____

From a standard 12″ aluminum foil roll, make 7 squares. Fold them into triangles.

Chopped Ingredients:

6 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/4 to 1/8 inch squares

2″ long  x 1/2″ wide (roughly) fresh ginger root  – minced

4 lg. garlic cloves – minced

2 bunches fresh cilantro – finely chopped

Sauce:

1/2 cup cornstarch (* use less if you prefer a more runny sauce)

1/4 cup soy saucehoisin-sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup Hoisin Sauce

Combine all sauce ingredients (add a little water if needed), blend till smooth. Add chopped ingredients, mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

meat-mixture-not-cooked

With the foil square open, place approximately 1/4 cup of chicken / sauce mixture in the center of one side. Refold the foil into a triangle and roll and fold each open side, two times. Make sure that the foil ‘envelope’ is completely sealed.

Place all the ‘stuffed’ triangles onto a baking tray. Cook at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

envelopes-in-the-oven

cooked-meat

 

Pickle Soup

picke-soup-photoWeird but good.  When I first read this recipe, I thought, Pickles? That’s sounds yucky.

‘Kitchen therapy’ and weird were just what was needed one morning when I had emotional child-rearing issues weighing on my mind.

 

Items marked with a * are my additions to the original recipe.

 

5 dill pickles, grated

4 tsp. butter (1 tsp. for saute pan & the remainder for the soup pot)

4 cups water

1 large carrot, chopped (* 6 small carrots)

2 celery stalks (* 3 stalks)

1 parsley root (* 2 parsnips substituted ), chopped

1 leek, chopped (* skipped)

1 potato, peeled & chopped

*1 tblsp. salt

 

Topping

sour cream

fresh, chopped dill

 

Over low heat, saute grated dill pickles in 1 tblsp. butter for 20 minutes. (This removes some of the ‘bite’ from the pickle giving it more of a mild vinegar flavor that adds interest to the soup.)

In a soup pot, combine water, remaining butter and chopped vegetables. Over medium heat, simmer till tender.

Add grated dill pickles, bring to boil & remove from heat.

 

Polish Stuffed Cabbage

cabbage-roll-makingMeat Stuffing

1 1/2 – 2 cups Panko or Italian bread crumbs – soak in water then drain with a strainer (press firmly to remove as much water as possible).

1 lb. ground pork

1 lb. ground beef

1 lg. yellow onion chopped

1 egg

salt and pepper

Mix together like a meatloaf.

*Stop here if you prefer mild meat stuffing.

 

Since my tastes run more toward zippy, I also add;

juice from one lemon

1 tsp. Hungarian paprika

1 tsp. celery salt

1 tsp. dill

1 full pkg. of fatty bacon – cooked until drippings are obtainable

2 –  14.5 oz cans chicken broth

Cabbage Leaf Stuffing

1 large head cabbage with the core cut out.

Fill a large soup pot with water, add salt and boil.

Place the entire head of cabbage into the boiling water. Watch for the leaves to begin to separate.  Remove the leaves when they become soft or take the head out of the water, put it in a strainer, and peel the leaves.

The leaves are ready when they are translucent and soft. Continue boiling and leaf peeling until the entire cabbage is disassembled.

On a cutting board, spread a leaf out as flat as possible. Cut a “V” to remove the thickest parts.

Cut a small palm-sized portion of the leaf. Hold it in your hand and place 1 tablespoon of the meat stuffing on it. Turning it over onto the larger leaf, fold the leaf around the palm-sized portion. *The goal is to have no spaces where the meat squeezes out.

Secure with a toothpick.

Continue stuffing leaves until they’ve all been used.

Cook the Cabbage Rolls

In a large soup pot, bring 1 can of chicken broth + some water to a simmer.  Add 3 tblsp. of bacon fat.

Place stuffed cabbage rolls into the bottom of the pot in a single layer, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove cooked rolls, add another batch to the pot to cook for 30 minutes. Add more water / broth as needed.

*The brand of bacon that I had didn’t yield much fat, so I added three full strips of bacon to the chicken broth in the pot.

Gravy

Add 1 can of chicken broth to the remainder of the bacon grease. Heat till warm.

*I had more meat stuffing than the cabbage leaves would hold, so I fried it up and added it to the gravy.

Blend a couple of tablespoons of flower with water and slowly add to broth mixture, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.

Storage

Place cabbage rolls in a casserole dish and cover with gravy. Heat them at 350 degrees in the oven for 45-50 minutes if you have a large group to feed or place the dish in the refrigerator and eat them a couple at a time.

with-vinegar-and-creme-fresh2

 

Being a vinegar fan, I liberally douse my stuffed cabbage rolls with red wine vinegar. London Malt vinegar is good too as is rice vinegar – though milder. Top it off with Crème Fraîche, plain yogurt or sour cream.