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Damn you, Ming Tsai

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Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Jenise » Sat Jun 28, 2014 2:56 pm

Have to admit, I'm a fan of Ming Tsai's cooking. He's talented and inventive (did you know he graduated from Yale with an engineering degree?) and seems to be a genuinely nice guy, but he sure hired a loser to help him document his recipes for the Blue Ginger cookbook. My copy is absolutely bloody from crossing things out and writing corrections in the margins, yet I love his ideas so I keep going back to it. One recipe I'd never used before was his recipe for bun dough, and I needed to make a bun dough yesterday. So in spite of what I know about how unreliable the book is, I started putting together his recipe (page 42, if you have the book) in a robotic way, my mind speeding ahead to the fillings I was going to make and paying absolutely no attention, in the usual way, to whether or not the proportions made sense.

So into the Kitchen Aid went the 2.5 cups flour (how heavy should I go on the leeks, I'm thinking) and the 3/4 c warm water with proofed yeast and sugar (how wet should the beef filling be?), and then I got ready (la de da de da, this is fun) to add the "up to 5 cups of cold water slowly until a ball forms." I filled a 2 cup measuring cup with cold water, intending to go back for fillups as needed, and turned on the mixer as I started pouring and none too carefully as, after all, this was only 40% of the amount called for.

Surely you see the problem already. Only 2.5 cups of flour, which already has 3/4 c of water dumped on top of it--all it actually needed--and I'm about to add FIVE MORE CUPS? But my mind was elsewhwere and I didn't see it until I switched on the mixer and had dumpted about 1.5 cups of the excess in the bowl. Still 3.5 short of the reccomended goal, but already flour soup. He got me again! "If the dough is too sticky, add more flour." OF FUCKING COURSE I WILL, MING.

So I started scrambling. More yeast, more sugar, and then in went the flour, one cup after another, until the dough felt very pliable but no longer sticky.

I was planning to make 8-10 bao. I made 25 and a huge loaf of bread.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Frank Deis » Sat Jun 28, 2014 3:06 pm

I hate hate hate when a cook-book hasn't been properly vetted. I love Ming Tsai but I never bought any of his cookbooks. And now I won't.

The only cookbook I know that has done that to me is a low-circulation one by Roberto Donna, who at the time had a Piedmont cuisine place in DC. Evidently a few years later he kind of imploded, there was some scandal and the restaurants closed. I had the idea his great big ego made him think it was unnecessary to double check the recipes. Maybe Ming Tsai has similar issues?

Amazon suggested that I would like a cookbook called Balaboosta. But the reviews were full of complaints about wrong measurements in the recipes, so not buying that one either.
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Jenise » Sat Jun 28, 2014 3:35 pm

Frank Deis wrote:I hate hate hate when a cook-book hasn't been properly vetted. I love Ming Tsai but I never bought any of his cookbooks. And now I won't.

The only cookbook I know that has done that to me is a low-circulation one by Roberto Donna, who at the time had a Piedmont cuisine place in DC. Evidently a few years later he kind of imploded, there was some scandal and the restaurants closed. I had the idea his great big ego made him think it was unnecessary to double check the recipes. Maybe Ming Tsai has similar issues?

Amazon suggested that I would like a cookbook called Balaboosta. But the reviews were full of complaints about wrong measurements in the recipes, so not buying that one either.


You know what, though, not to defend Ming, his publisher or one Arthur Boehm who cowrote the book, but the reason this book is still here is that I get such great ideas from it. Though I did not use his recipe, the idea for the chicken mousseline suimai I made came from this book--he did a morel and foie gras suimai. And I was sitting here with a surplus 4 ounce hunk of a great chicken liver pate I bought at Whole Foods for the auction dinner, and I thought "why not?" But it's true you can't take any of his recipes to the bank, you (obviously) have to think on your feet even for something as simple as a bun dough.

And, and Roberto Donna? As a teacher you're familiar with continuing education for professionals, well the culinary world has such things too and I was one of 11 students of his in a week-long course at the CIA in Napa called "Italian grains and vegetables". No, I'm not a professional, but he accepted me as one and my skills were good enough to pass or so assured the chef friend who invited me to go with him. Anyway, this was 1997, before the DC restaurant closed and before Roberto's famous appearance on Iron Chef in which he became the first and only guest in Iron Chef history forced to a forfeit--he did not finish cooking. I spent five days with that man and what an egotistical SOB. But he's a damned good cook--too bad about the book.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Jo Ann Henderson » Sat Jun 28, 2014 4:25 pm

I feel your pain, Jenise. Long ago I forced myself to always read a recipe through (no matter how well I may know it) before embarking on the journey. There is usually something that I will second guess, even if its based on personal taste. But, it's maddening when you spend money on a cookbook from a trusted source. Unlike you, I am unlikely to go back and try another recipe, not trusting that any other recipe will fare much better. I agree that too often celebrity chefs lend their names to projects that get taken over by publishers and ghost writers who have little experience with the craft and you end up with the mess. I find that more often than not this can be a regular problem with recipes online. I ran into such a recipe online last week. I wanted to make pork rillettes and decided to look for something that might approximate the flavors of something I had eaten on a charcuterie platter a while ago. I found one on a Food and Wine website, but the few reviews were ALL negative. The one recurring negative was that the resulting product was way too salty. But, if you read over the recipe, and had any experience with cooking, instinctively you would have known that 1/4C salt was entirely too much for 4 lbs meat! I'm glad I took the leap though, and made a couple modifications. Turned out great. But, next time, I will keep much of the fat to make the rillettes a bit more sumptuous. Some things just calls for fat!!!
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Bob Henrick » Sat Jun 28, 2014 4:40 pm

Jenise, do you suppose there is a way to forward your post to Ming Tsai? He needs to read the critisim. Also, I would send a copy to his publisher. I know both would likely end up in the round file and it would be effort wasted, but I would feel better I know.
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Jenise » Sat Jun 28, 2014 6:17 pm

Jo Ann Henderson wrote:I feel your pain, Jenise. Long ago I forced myself to always read a recipe through (no matter how well I may know it) before embarking on the journey. There is usually something that I will second guess, even if its based on personal taste. But, it's maddening when you spend money on a cookbook from a trusted source. Unlike you, I am unlikely to go back and try another recipe, not trusting that any other recipe will fare much better. I agree that too often celebrity chefs lend their names to projects that get taken over by publishers and ghost writers who have little experience with the craft and you end up with the mess. I find that more often than not this can be a regular problem with recipes online. I ran into such a recipe online last week. I wanted to make pork rillettes and decided to look for something that might approximate the flavors of something I had eaten on a charcuterie platter a while ago. I found one on a Food and Wine website, but the few reviews were ALL negative. The one recurring negative was that the resulting product was way too salty. But, if you read over the recipe, and had any experience with cooking, instinctively you would have known that 1/4C salt was entirely too much for 4 lbs meat! I'm glad I took the leap though, and made a couple modifications. Turned out great. But, next time, I will keep much of the fat to make the rillettes a bit more sumptuous. Some things just calls for fat!!!


Jo Ann, you're so right about celebrity chefs and I'm pretty rigorous about that too--too, I know with this book that one has to be. Problem was the ingredients list passed muster--the five cups of water was not on that list, rather it was mentioned in the step-by-step instructions which I didn't go through because I've made bao dough in the past, albeit with a Chinese friend according to her mother's recipe, but I thought I knew what to do. I just didn't review that part before putting myself on autopilot.

Love online recipes with reviews when doing something unfamiliar just for the reason you mention. It's so helpful, even when reading comments by people who do not have the fortune of instincts as good as yours and mine (usually--you wouldn't know from what I did yesterday--although maybe you would, cuz at least I could save myself.)

Speaking of pork rillettes, I've been meaning to post my friend Vic's recipe--he made the best I've ever tasted a few weeks ago. The recipe came from Elias Cairo of Olympic Provisions in Portland (OR). Maybe it would be something to compare your recipe(s) to.

Today's lunch:
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Jenise » Sat Jun 28, 2014 6:20 pm

Bob Henrick wrote:Jenise, do you suppose there is a way to forward your post to Ming Tsai? He needs to read the critisim. Also, I would send a copy to his publisher. I know both would likely end up in the round file and it would be effort wasted, but I would feel better I know.


Bob, I'm not above doing that and in fact I get a certain satisfaction from complaining in the way you suggest, but this book was published so long ago that I'll bet they've heard all the complaints by now.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by GeoCWeyer » Sun Jun 29, 2014 3:49 pm

Many years ago I acquired a copy of the Frugal Gourmet's cookbook of recipes of various immigrant groups. I also immediately discovered that perhaps his attentions were elsewhere ;-P. The quantities were often wrong. Since I don't bake and usually cook from a list of ingredients I still found the cookbook helpful. I used all the recipes as suggested lists and then used what knowledge I had to make the dish.

If a recipe had been something concerning flour and baking I would have been lost and would have felt your pain over and over again.
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Dale Williams » Sun Jun 29, 2014 6:59 pm

Ow, sorry.
I've never remembered Betsy complaining about the Blue Ginger cookbook, but I also don't remember her making anything that had any kind of dough. I think the only things I've made from there are the udon/lemongrass/clam soup and tofu/ginger napoleans, but she has made some great stuff : curried noodles with shrimp. short ribs, etc are some of our favorite recipes. Only complaint I remember is that some recipes make restaurant portions of sauces (the star anise sauce for the scallops). I'll warn her is she does anything with dough.
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Jenise » Sun Jun 29, 2014 7:29 pm

This is the only dough thing I've made, and it's probably the only dough recipe in the book. I only used that part of the recipe. Other problem recipes off the top of my head besides the lobster thing I mentioned above: a carrot reduction that doesn't work out, and a smoked turkey shui mai recipe. The broth recipe makes 2X what's needed for the dumplings and should be halved, and the filling needs a few ounces of butter (my notes on it indicate that when he made them on his TV show he added several ounces of butter that do not appear in the book, understandable since the fatless ground turkey would texturally need some fat, but after making them I also noted "add more vegetables, it's way too rubbery as it is". Those are the kinds of problems I've encountered. On the other hand I have indeed loved several things from the book--probably the recipe I go back to over and over is the braised cabbage 'lasagna'. It's terrific, if Betsy hasn't tried it.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by David M. Bueker » Mon Jun 30, 2014 9:05 am

I'm not sure I have ever found a cookbook that did not have egregious errors.
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Dale Williams » Tue Jul 01, 2014 12:15 pm

Jenise wrote: Other problem recipes off the top of my head besides the lobster thing I mentioned above

wait, just read thread thrice and can't find this-what was issue?

On the other hand I have indeed loved several things from the book--probably the recipe I go back to over and over is the braised cabbage 'lasagna'. It's terrific, if Betsy hasn't tried it.

I looked last night and don't see this- was it an accompaniment?

We have liked enough BG recipes we bought a second book of his, but didn't use as much. Based on making a sauce and then using for several different recipes. I can see for others, but one green curry dish (which I like) fulfills my green curry needs for a month.
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Re: Damn you, Ming Tsai

by Jenise » Tue Jul 01, 2014 12:38 pm

Dale Williams wrote:
Jenise wrote: Other problem recipes off the top of my head besides the lobster thing I mentioned above

wait, just read thread thrice and can't find this-what was issue?


Hmmm, was sure that I mentioned reading a recipe for a lobster filling in a Chinese bun that called for chopped lobster to be mixed with TWO eggs, a quantity that didn't pass the eyeball test with me. One is sufficient to bind a pound of ground meat, and lobster would be no different. Point is, it's yet another recipe in the book that I would not trust/make as written.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov

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