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Jaden Hair, photo by Salvatore Brancifort

Featured Foodie: Jaden Hair

Jaden Hair is a cooking teacher, food writer, and the creator and author of the top-rated food blog, SteamyKitchen.com. She is a regular chef on the Daytime Television Show, which is syndicated in over 100 markets across the United States (www.daytimeonline.tv). She writes weekly for Discovery Channel's TLC website and Discovery Health on the subject of healthy living for the family, and has been featured in The Washington Post and Parents magazine.

Jaden Hair’s Steamy Kitchen blog receives more than 4 - 6 million page views monthly, and she has 120,000+ followers on Twitter. Her new book, The Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites, speaks to a new wave of healthy eating without the sacrifice. The majority of the recipes are naturally gluten-free or include ideas for easy substitutions. We were thrilled to chat with Jaden about her new book and hear her feedback about the creation of Steamy Kitchen.

Come to the Table: From whom did you learn to cook? Have you had any formal culinary training?

Jaden: I actually didn't learn how to cook until I went off to college. Growing up, my mother loved everything about cooking so much that whenever my brother or I wandered into the kitchen, we got stuck doing the crap jobs, like pinching tails off the bean sprouts or washing the lettuce! So, we learned to stay clear of the kitchen! When I moved out and into the dorms at college, my roommate and I bought a small rice cooker, a microwave and a portable camping stove. With that, we cooked some amazing meals, but we sure missed our mom’s Asian cooking! A year later in the apartments, I made a deal with my three roommates and friends. They would buy all groceries, set the table and clean up ... and I would cook. That's where I really developed my cooking skills and my passion for feeding people. I think I got the best end of the deal!

Come to the Table: What was your inspiration for starting your blog, Steamy Kitchen? Where did the name come from?

Jaden: Ten years ago, my husband, Scott, and I moved from San Francisco, one of the ultimate culinary epicenters of the world, to Bradenton, a small town in Florida. I didn't realize what a big culture shock it was until I was at a restaurant called Bangkok Tokyo, waiting for my to-go order. Next to me was this woman sitting at the sushi bar. She was on her cell phone and said, "Meet me for lunch! I'm having sushi at the Chinese restaurant!" Well, I got a little upset! Sushi isn't Chinese! That inspired me to start teaching Asian cooking classes at a local cooking school. The blog, SteamyKitchen.com started as a way for me to document the recipes that my mom would dictate to me over the phone, "Mom, how do you make that tofu and pork dish that we always love?" The name, Steamy Kitchen was an homage to my mom. She is always cooking something in the kitchen ... there's always a pot of homemade Chinese soup, like Daikon and Carrot Soup, simmering and steaming up the kitchen.

Come to the Table: What prompted you to write a “healthy” cookbook?

Jaden: I've heard too many times that Asian-American style restaurants are not healthy! Super-greasy Beef & Broccoli, deep-fried Lemon Chicken, and Chicken Teriyaki drowning in sticky too-sweet sauce isn't what real Asian cooking is all about. This book is really about showing people that there are so many healthy options in Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean cooking. My cooking style features authentic Asian cooking techniques married with everyday supermarket ingredients and modern flavors. The Chinese dumplings feature snappy shrimp and iron-rich spinach boiled in warm, gingery broth. Sweet and Sour Pork feature chunks of fresh pineapple and sweetened with just a touch of honey or agave. The Asian Slaw with Wasabi-Soy Dressing is light and crunchy.

Come to the Table: In your book, you discuss the four things to do to lighten up recipes. One of those is “learning cooking techniques that cut down on the use of fats, oils and sugars.” What are those cooking techniques?

Jaden: One of the best lessons that I teach is the proper way to stir fry. When you learn how to stir fry and cook the ingredients in the right order, very little oil is needed. For example, vegetables don't need to be cooked in oil the entire time. Broccoli is steamed in the wok with a little bit of water first, then removed from the wok and added back into the stir fry later near the end. Being patient and waiting until the wok is hot enough is key. Also spreading out thin slices of meat all over the surface of the wok, and not bunched up in the middle, ensures that the meat is seared quickly. Very little oil is needed. In fact, just a couple of teaspoons of cooking oil per stir-fry is sufficient. Another example is my recipe for Poached Chinese Fish. After the fish is gently poached in water, it is hit with a fiery mixture of fresh chilies, cilantro, and soy sauce.

Come to the Table: To what do you attribute the success of Steamy Kitchen? What type of posts generate the most comments?

Jaden: The first rule of food blogs that feature recipes is that the recipes must work, every recipe that we create takes at least 10 hours of work, from cooking, testing, refining, writing and editing. The recipes are written well and simple to follow. I always have in mind that people are feeding their loved ones and are spending their hard-earned money to make my recipes! I respect that. The posts that generate the most buzz are the authentic but intimidating to cook Asian recipes, like Vietnamese Pho that I break down in either a video or step-by-step photos. It takes the fear out of cooking the dish!

Come to the Table: Who is your current culinary inspiration? What has that person taught you?

Jaden: I actually dedicated the book to my late Gong Gong (grandfather on my mother's side) who took care of me every day when I was very little. He was the one who took me out to lunch every single day in Hong Kong. He taught me to eat well.

Come to the Table: What tips would you give for preparing weeknight healthy meals for your family?

Jaden: For families with kids and a busy schedule, I recommend making a list of 10 healthy recipes that are super-simple, take only 20 minutes to make, and that everyone loves. Keep the recipes and the grocery list on your phone. These "House Recipes" is my default list when I don't have a lot of time or when I don't know what to make for dinner. On our "Hair Family House Recipes" list is a giant salad with Sesame Soy dressing that I shake up in a mason jar. We add a big slices of broiled tofu, Portobello mushroom slices, or chicken breast. The kids love it and everyone is happy. Ten minutes hands-on, ten minutes in the broiler. Done.

Another piece of advice is to stock your freezer with thin slices of meat or seafood. For example: lay very thinly sliced flank steak flat in single layer in a freezer bag and freeze. This cuts defrosting to just minutes. Each bag will have enough for a stir-fry for 4 people.

We have multiple gardens in our house - one of them is a windowsill salad bar, with 10 different varieties of lettuce and salad herbs growing right in our breakfast nook. A healthy salad is just a pluck away. We keep our salads interesting with so many textures, crunch, and the flavors of the lettuces and herbs.

Something fun that we keep in the refrigerator is a couple of condiment trays that bartenders use. Each compartment contains a different salad ingredient, like garbanzo beans, sliced radishes, sunflower seeds, or cucumber chunks. We put that out on the table and everyone gets to make their own salad creation. It keeps it fun and fresh.

Come to the Table: In your book, you talk about impromptu gatherings with friends. What tips would you share to make entertaining with friends a healthy and delicious experience?

Jaden: My very favorite chapter in the book is called "Share." When we have friends over, instead of just me cooking for them, everyone cooks for themselves. A portable butane tabletop grill (about $30) is set up in the middle. Every single spot on the table is filled with little dishes of fresh vegetables, fragrant herbs, frilly lettuce cups, and several types of dipping sauces. Watching my friends and family grill their own sliced eggplant to make a lettuce cup or a marinated slices of tofu to wrap in a Vietnamese Spring Roll is the best! Everyone gets to take part in the fun.

To learn more about Jaden Hair’s blog, Steamy Kitchen and her new book, The Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites, visit http://steamykitchen.com/steamy-kitchen-cookbook

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