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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2002
The China Moon Cookbook introduced me to high end cooking ten years ago and I've never looked back. Barbara Tropp manages to draw in complete novices with detailed step-by-step instructions of what to do and what not to do, dosed out with a good humored, you-can-do-it-too manner. This cookbook would be a worthwhile addition to anyone's set just for its instructions on how to buy and prepare fish or poultry, or for its instructions on making double chicken stock.
Barbara Tropp's recipes are Chinese influenced in the way of ingredients, so make sure you have a supply of good sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sichuan peppers, red chilis and ginger. In case you don't, the sidebars provide an introductory course in how to find, buy and store such ingredients, with brand recommendations. The main emphasis in each case is the notion of extracting a pure flavor in each dish. Rather than producing the kind of heavy, integrated sauces more typically associated with the Chinese kitchen, China Moon cranked out light, spicy, and brightly acidic dishes like my all time favorites, clear-steamed salmon with corriander pesto and gold coin salmon cakes.
The real strength of this book lies not in its excellent recipes, which can be adapted in numerous ways once you understand their principles. It's in the preparation of a pantry full of such goodies as ma-la oil ("ma" for the numbing spiciness of sichuan peppercorns, and "la" for the traditional burn of red pepper), and pickled ginger that takes 10 minutes to make and leaves you forever wondering why you hadn't done this sooner. There are recipes for stocks, sweet and sour dipping sauces, mustards, and other staples of the Chinese kitchen, that once created, allow the preparation of amazingly flavorful dishes in short order. Each dish has excellent instructions on what can be done in advance and held, and what needs to be done last minute.
Even if you just make the pickled ginger and hot chili oils on pages 8 and 10, you may share Barbara Tropp's sentiment, "The day I made my own hot chili oil, I swear I grew a foot as a cook!". Along with these recipes, you get the first two of her passionate sidebars, the first on selecting and peeling ginger, the last step of which she was shamed into by her Chinese-Vietnamese prep staff and grandmotherly Chinese-American pastry chef. As a historian by original training, her text is salted with quotes backing up her obsessions about 1/16 vs. 1/4 inch dice for stir-frying timing, and quotes "a character in an official history of first-century China: 'When my mother cuts the meat, the chunks are invariably in perfect squares, and when she chops the scallions, they are always in nuggests exactly 1 inch long.' What can I say? History centuries-old supports me in my obsessions!"
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 6, 2002
No contradictions, there. I read this book cover to cover in one sitting, and loved it. I also learned the techniques of modern Chinese cooking in detail, including how to shop.
The book's problem is that the recipes are designed for a restaurant kitchen, with staff on hand. I have made exactly one dish from it. It took me half a day, and contained endless steps that could easily be shortened or eliminated if you didn't happen to have, say, a staff of 5 on hand. The result was wonderful, and I've made an equally-good version of it many times since, but not before going through the recipe with a LARGE pair of pruning shears.
But buy it anyway. The advice in the side columns alone is worth the price of entry, and the pantry section...
The pantry section is where the fifth star comes from. The infused oils are amazing, the pickled ginger (right down to the brand names of the vinegars -- and don't even THINK about substituting!) is sublime...
The firmament of cooking lost a bright star when Barbara Tropp died.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2000
This is one of my top three cookbooks of all time. I have cooked dozens of recipes from it, and they are all raves. My copy is so stained, used, and worn out that I think I have to buy a new one.
Barbara Tropp does not cook "traditional" Chinese food, so if that's what you're looking for you will be disappointed. Also, her recipes are not for a cook in a hurry, or the faint of heart. LONG ingredient lists and exacting standards for everything from green onion rings to chopped ginger take a while to get used to. But, it is really worth the effort. In no time you will find yourself whipping up batches of flavored oils and making some truly fabulous food.
Some of my favorite recipes include the Cold Chicken Salad with Mustard and Pine Nuts (her method for "No-Poach Chicken" is now the only method I use when making chicken salads), Stir-Fried Curried Chicken Slivers with Onions, Tomatoes, and Eggplant (a really yummy Chinese style curry), Gold Coin Salmon Cakes (people beg me to make these for them), Stir-Fried Scallops with Summer Squashes and Thai Basil (a nice fusion dish that's perfect for summer entertaining), Steamed Buns with Chicken and Oyster Sauce Stuffing (native Chinese friends describe these as the best steamed buns they've ever had!), and the Light Style Peanut Lime Noodles. The desserts are also fabulous, especially her signature tarts and tiny bite-size cookies like Lemon Ginger Shorbread.
As you can tell from the above list Barbara Tropp is the Queen of Asian-California Fusion and with good reason. You will enjoy and learn a lot if you buy this book
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2001
If you have to limit yourself to one cookbook, this has to find it's way onto your shelves. The recipies are straight-forward and delicious. As a working mom, I'm always desperate for yummy dinners that aren't horribly boring, and don't take forever to put together - Barbara Tropp has been my saving grace. There's a lot of "chop, chop, chop" to her recipies, but you can do almost all of that on the weekend, and then use your stores of minced garlic, ginger and scallions for recipies throught the week. As long as I go light on the chili peppers, my 3 year old enthusiastically gulps down most everything I feed her out of this book.
I had the good fortune of dining at China Moon before it closed, and with the exception of a dinner at Charlie Trotters, it was the best resturant meal of my life. We went with a fairly large group and ordered the whole menu. I was delighted to find that her cookbook produced similiar results at home.
I've made almost everything in this cookbook, and taken heavy liberties with substitutions, all with happy results. And once again, with a little prep work, you can cook recipies out of China Moon all week in 30-45 minutes a day!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 1998
I don't know if this is traditional Chinese cooking but who cares since it's delicious. To prepare her recipes as written you have to do a lot of advance work (make oil infusions, homeade stock, spice blends) but she also gives you alternatives. I thought it was fun to make up some of the items (eg. Chili-Orange Oil, Roasted Szechuan-Pepper Salt) and they really instill complex flavors. The glossary is helpful and it even tells you which name brands are recommended (I was actually able to find almost all of them). The ingredient lists are lengthy but most of the preparation can be done the day before. My favorite recipes are Chicken with Coconut Soup, Chicken with Hot Bean Sauce, and all of the "noodle pillows". I can't wait to try Barbara's other cookbook, The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 1999
This is the best cookbook I have ever purchased. Not only are all the recipes tasty, but you can use the oils, pickled ginger, vinegars, etc. for your own experimentations!! I especially like the notes and suggestions in the margins.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2001
These recipes read deliciously; I've pored over them again and again to feed my imagination while I fed my stomach pedestrian Chinese take-out. But I've never cooked a single thing from this book and I can't believe that I ever will. The dishes are just way too elaborate and complicated for any but the most ambitious, well-heeled, and leisured home cooks. (Lucky bastards.)
Ever have trouble finding the time and bones to make your own stock? Try signing up for Tropp's oft-used infusion, which requires you to make stock *three* successive times! All I can say is that it had better taste like God's chicken soup to justify that level of effort.
I only make a point of criticizing this because unlike, say, one of Charlie Trotter's books - which are so flamboyant that they almost qualify as opium visions - this one would like to pass itself off, with its homey drawings and sidebar cheerleading from the author (sadly, recently deceased), as a usable guide to nouveau-Chinese home cooking. Don't be fooled.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2003
I have always had a love for Chinese food... real Chinese food... and when I finally got a good kitchen to cook in I started looking around for good Chinese cookbooks. What I found was that most recipes in most Chinese cookbooks are mediocre. In most of these books the authors have obviously "Americanized" the recipes, which invariably means making the recipes quick and easy and, invariably, inferior.
Then I happened to learn about the China Moon cookbook from online chat groups. I purchased the book and have been absolutely thrilled with it.
Now it's true that this is not a book of "15 minute recipes." But it is a book of great recipes, and preparation time will take from about 1/2 hour to a couple hours, on average. I don't think I have been disappointed with anything I made from this book.
It's also true that this is not exactly a book of authentic Chinese recipes. But who cares... the recipes are absolutely delicious, bursting with the essence of great Chinese food, the creation of a lady who obviously loves Chinese food too.
As one who likes to eat healthy, I also appreciate the author's emphasis on fresh foods and no MSG or other questionable ingredients.
Two great recipes I got from this book that just by themselves make it worthwhile: 1) the very best hot chili oil... way better than the stale stuff you buy pre-made... and 2) The best chicken stir-fry recipe. We make this basic recipe at least a couple times a month. It's so tasty it's hard to stop eating.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2005
This book was my introduction to Americanized Chinese cooking and is certainly up there with the favorite cookbooks in our pantry. One thing that is really great about this book is the method: in an afternoon, you can create a series of flavored oils and vinegars and the like, which you then combine very quickly in different ways with fresh ingredients. If done right, in spite of its common elements, each recipe has a unique taste and the variety of fresh ingredients gives it whatever flourish you require. That being said, this is a book specifically designed for the American pallette and is not authentically Chinese, which ranks as one of the most subtle and diverse in the world - this is not a snobby criticism as I love this Americanized style, just a statement of fact.

Warmly recommended. You will not be disappointed. Also a great gift book.
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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2003
The China Moon cookbook offers many wonderful and unique recipes for lovers of asian cuisine. However, this book is definitely NOT for the cooking novice or for people that desire dishes that involves simple preparation. Most of the China Moon recipes requires the use of several different types of aromatic oils and spices that you need to make YOURSELF - which consists of several different types of ingredients that A) may be difficult to find in your local grocery store or B) needs to be prepared in some fashion before using. After spending hours/days/weeks chopping and cooking spices just to prepare special oil(s) (that you'll use only a couple of tablespoons worth), you'll think to yourself: 'Is this really worth it?'. Not only that, but the book insists that you make your own chicken/vegetable stock! And yet again, this involves combining several hundred different oils, spices and ingredients to make X amount of stock that you will only use 1 cup worth in a single recipe. Sheesh! After being discouraged by how much preparation and labor it involved to make a single dish (the 'simplest' dish calls for 2 oils)-I've only used my China Moon cookbook twice in the past 6 years. The dishes are impressive and tasty, but I would only recommend this book for people that really LOVE to cook or have alot of free time.
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