Category Archives: food stores

Dan Dan Noodles

My British-born foodie friend, Bethia Woolf, sent me a link to an article by noted British Chinese-food writer Fuchsia Dunlop on Classic Dan Dan Noodles. As a Sichuan dish, Dan Dan Noodles is not something I grew up with, but have enjoyed a few times in restaurants. I’ve made versions at home using sauce from jars, so when I saw the recipe, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did!

Photograph: Jean Cazals from The Guardian articleThe recipe provided looked simple enough. I had most of the items in my pantry or freezer. The two of concern, though, were Chinese Alkali Noodles and Sweet Fermented Sauce. I did a little research and headed out to one of my local Asian supermarkets where I managed to find just one example of each.

I scanned the store’s noodle shelves for yellow colored noodles and found one with sodium carbonate – an alkali – as an ingredient. Okay, that was easy.

Then I searched for the sauce. I had cruised the Internet and found it’s called Tian Mian Jiang, also called Sweet Bean Sauce, and is used for Peking Duck (not Hoisin Sauce, as I’ve always believed). It’s made from fermented flour and soybeans. I found this jar with flour and soybeans listed as the only ingredients (hard to read and impossible to photograph, since it’s black type on a clear label against the black sauce).

Missing ingredients in hand, I converted Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe to American measures, made a few other adjustments, and tried it. The alkali noodles really do make a difference: They keep their nice chewy texture. It was delicious – and simple! No more need for the sauce from a jar! I’m adding it to my standard repertoire.

Classic Dan Dan Noodles – adapted from a recipe by Fuchsia Dunlop
Serves 2

3 T cooking oil
4 oz minced pork
1 T Shaoxing wine
1 t sweet bean sauce
1 t light soy sauce
7 oz Chinese alkali wheat flour noodles

For the sauce:
1 c
 chicken stock (or noodle cooking water)
2 t light soy sauce
¼ t salt
1 t Chinkiang vinegar
2 T chili oil with pepper flakes, or more to taste
4 T scallion greens, sliced across the stalk into small rings
5 T Tianjin preserved vegetables, diced

Stir fry the pork in oil in a skillet or pot until it loses its red color, pressing the meat against the pan with a cooking spatula or spoon to separate out into small, but still juicy pieces. Add the wine, stir a few times, then add the sweet bean sauce and stir-fry until you can smell it. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Pour cooked pork into a plate to hold.

Boil water in a pot to cook the noodles. In a separate pot, heat the stock. Boil the noodles according to suggested time on the package (mine said 3-4 minutes). While they are cooking, place all the sauce ingredients except for the stock in a serving bowl.

When the noodles are ready, drain them in a colander (reserving some of the cooking water if you are not using stock). Add the stock or noodle cooking water to the sauce in the serving bowl. Place the noodles in the bowl, top with the pork and serve. Before eating, give the noodles a good stir until the sauce and meat are evenly distributed.

Hellwig Farm Market

I found a farm market run by a wonderful person just 10 minutes from my home in New Albany, OH: Hellwig Farm. As a member of Slow Food Columbus, I’m learning how to connect more directly to the food and farms that feeds us. This visit helped feed my mind and soul as well as my body.

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I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Bell Bowen at this year’s Fête en Blanc Columbus. She took a terrific photo of me at the event and I drove out to get a digital copy of that photo from her. I was surprised to find that her farm is as close to my home as my local Wal-Mart.

Jennifer is from a farming family and she is as charming and friendly as she is beautiful. A recent article in Edible Columbus provides a nice write-up on Jennifer and her work to provide free food for needy families in the area, so I won’t repeat that story here, but it’s heartwarming to know that there are people like Jennifer who care so much about her neighbors to help meet their needs with dignity. It’s wonderful that the proceeds from this year’s Fête help support these efforts.

We chatted while I copied Jennifer’s photos and she boxed up some produce. Then I started selecting various items for myself to take home, piling them on her counter. She gave me a  price for the lot. I don’t recall what the total was, but it was very little. Jennifer explained that she wasn’t looking to make a lot of money on her produce and that she doesn’t participate in the local farmers markets because she doesn’t want to undercut the prices of others there.

Only after I got home did I realize how much I had bought for so little money! And it was so healthy and delicious! Fresh sweet corn; young kale leaves (so tender that I just quickly stir-fried them like spinach); local honey made in New Albany (that should help ward off my hay fever allergy); raspberries (for only $2 for the pint!); mildly hot peppers; and heirloom tomatoes (so beautiful and delicious!). This load kept me eating fresh food for a week!

Two weeks later, I went back for more. I made a note of what I got this time: 6 ears of corn; 2 3/4 pounds of heirloom tomatoes; 1 1/2 pounds of beets; a 2 pound butternut squash; a 4 3/4 pound cabbage; 10 oz of fresh garlic. The cost: less than what I would have paid for the tomatoes alone at my local farmers market!

I’m a big supporter of the New Albany Farmers Market – it’s one of the best in central Ohio, with a wide variety of local offerings and friendly vendors. But while the season lasts, I’ll be heading out to Hellwig Farm first to see what Jennifer has to offer. And I’ll be eating very healthy for about the same price as supermarket food.

Hellwig Farm is open Wednesday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm until August 31st. “Friend” Hellwig Farm on Facebook to be informed of her limited opening hours after that.

Columbus Food Adventures: Meat Lover’s Tour – 2. Thurn’s Specialty Meats

I’ve swooned over their Double Smoked Bacon, but had never shopped at Thurn’s Specialty Meats. So when I saw a visit to Thurn’s was on the Columbus Food Adventures Meat Lover’s Tour, I signed up immediately. And what a visit it was!

On entering Thurn’s we were greeted by a long row of glass-faced meat cases displaying a tantalizing array of meats and cheeses as well as an alluring smell of smoke.

Behind the cases, Albert Thurn – a 4th generation of the family operating the store since its founding in 1886 – greeted us. Albert told us about the history of the business and their products. (The Columbus Food Adventures blog on Thurn’s recaps this story nicely, so I won’t repeat it here.)

Albert then took us on a behind-the-counter tour of his business. First, the curing room – a cool, but not cold room where various cuts of meats and sausages were hanging and marinating to cure before and after smoking.

Behind that, we were shown the room where meats were prepared. Albert showed us an array of locally-sourced meat cuts and different casings (intestines) from which sausages were made. Around the large room were big meat choppers and grinders, mixers, double-bowl heated kettles, ovens, and other food preparation equipment – some that have been in use for over 80 years.

Sausage casings of various sizesHe showed us various types and sizes of casings used to make different sausages, with extruders that can shoot 30 foot lengths of sausage down the long prep table.

At the far side of the room. Albert opened the doors of one of the two walk-in size smokers.

Out poured a cloud of sweet smelling smoke, enveloping us. We had been warned that we would leave smelling a little smoky; many of us wanted to find a cologne that would let us smell like that regularly!

Through the smoke, we could see racks of meats and sausages that were being smoked. Some of the meats take more than a day to smoke. Albert was, of course, a fount of knowledge about the business he had been raised in and clearly loved.

We came back out into the retail shop with a great appreciation of the love and care that goes behind a week’s work to prepare the offerings that Thurn’s sells only from Thursday until early Saturday afternoon, by which time they’ve usually run out of what they had produced that week.

As we were touring in the back, Albert’s colleague had been preparing canapés and platters for us to taste!

It was a beautiful array of Thurn’s smoked meats and cheeses, along with assorted canapés they had prepared for our group. And they tasted even better than they looked! As I tasted, I recalled the nice selection of meats and sausages I had bought in my years living in NYC’s Yorkville section of Manhattan, with the German sausage shops like Schaller & Weber.

As we tasted, we made note of what items we wanted to take home with us. Bethea and Andy had a cooler in their van which would keep our purchases cold until the end of our tour.

Cash registerI took home a bag of cold cuts, smoked chicken wings, and smoked trout. controlling myself knowing I could be back next week for a new purchase. Albert said he sells as little as one slice, so I had quite an assortment for small fraction of the price I’ve paid in NYC.

Old fashioned passion about the food they carefully prepare and offer to their customers: That’s part of what’s so wonderful about living in a place where people have such pride in the food they prepare. Thank you, Albert and Thurn’s, for being such shining gems of the Columbus food scene! I’ve added you as a regular stop on my shopping route!