Every week, we spotlight a different food blogger who’s shaking up the blogosphere with tempting recipes and knockout photography. Today, we chat with Betty Liu, whose Chinese background and American upbringing resulted in a wonderfully quirky cooking sensibility. Swing back all week for a new recipe from Liu every day.
Photos courtesy of Betty Liu
When Betty Liu left her Bay Area hometown of Fremont, Calif., to attend college on the leafy campus of Washington University in St. Louis, she had no inkling of the culture shock she was in for. Her childhood home was always heady with the scents of traditional Chinese cookery — red-braised pork, cold mung bean soup, and a never-ending stream of garlic-laden dumplings and wontons — but in St. Louis? Only a handful of dingy takeout spots serving Americanized standards like orange chicken and crab Rangoon.
“My mom would always pack my favorite treats for me whenever I went to school,” Liu said, recalling suitcases brimming with double-bagged frozen shumai and sticky rice. “Whenever I craved a little bit of home, I could take them out and microwave them.”
By her senior year, microwaved dumplings weren’t cutting it anymore. Using YouTube tutorials as guides, Liu began cooking for herself, at first sticking to Western dishes like spaghetti pomodoro and fettuccine Alfredo. It bolstered her confidence in the kitchen, and after graduating in 2013, Liu resolved to learn the ins and outs of traditional Chinese cooking.
Liu’s Shanghai shumai.
“That summer was a big eye-opener for me,” Liu said. She watched her parents closely in the kitchen — both are impressive cooks in their own rights — and learned basic Chinese cooking techniques including stir frying, steaming, braising, pan frying, and roasting. “Once you get the basics down, you can start experimenting,” she said.
Liu’s first dish? A simple tomato and egg stir fry. “My dad calls it the gateway to Chinese cooking,” she remarked. Later, Liu tackled more complicated dishes, like her mother’s red-braised pork belly.
“There are many different ways to make it, but in the end, you get a square of pork belly that’s sweet but also salty, and red from this thick, glistening sauce that covers it,” Liu said. Incredibly tender with a wonderful melt-in-your-mouth quality, Liu knew it was a dish she wanted to master. “It took me several tries to learn, because when my parents taught me, it was never with measurements,” she said. “They were like, ‘Put some of this in, some of this in. Do it until it looks right.’”
At the summer’s end, Liu knew she wanted to document everything she’d learned. Thus began Liu’s blog — now simply known was BettysLiu.com — which features traditional Chinese fare plus a wide array of fusion dishes that reflect her varied culinary preferences. Black sesame pesto over beet fusilli appears alongside steamed scallion “flower” buns, while hand pies stuffed with kimchi and pork belly get equal billing with baked apple cider doughnuts and chocolate pistachio orange biscotti.
“What I make is highly influenced by my Chinese heritage, but I grew up in the States and I went to school in the Midwest and I love eating out,” Liu says of her quirky cooking style.
Complementing the dreamy dishes is equally dreamy photography, honed from her experience as a now Boston-based wedding photographer. Food photography, though, is a much different beast.
“I love shooting weddings — there’s something really special about being able to document two people in love the day they’re going to be brought together with friends and family,” Liu said. “But you go with the flow. You can use flashes and set up things to a certain extent, but almost all of it is working with [the lighting and the backdrops that] you have. Food on the other hand, you can control everything.”
For now, BettysLiu.com is just a side project. But Liu says that she has dreams of further mastering Chinese cuisine, learning more about tofu and dumplings. “I just want to learn and write more about food in general,” she said. “That’s really how I see my blog.”
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