Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food from the Winner of MasterChef Season 3 on FOX(TM)

In her kitchen, Christine Ha possesses a rare ingredient that most professionally-trained chefs never learn to use: the ability to cook by sense. After tragically losing her sight in her twenties, this remarkable home cook, who specializes in the mouthwatering, wildly popular Vietnamese comfort foods of her childhood, as well as beloved American standards that she came to love growing up in Texas, re-learned how to cook. Using her heightened senses, she turns out dishes that are remarkably delicious, accessible, luscious, and crave-worthy.

Millions of viewers tuned in to watch Christine sweep the thrilling Season 3 finale, and here they can find more of her deftly crafted recipes. They’ll discover food that speaks to the best of both the Vietnamese diaspora and American classics, personable tips on how to re-create delicious professional recipes in a home kitchen, and an inspirational personal narrative bolstered by Ha’s background as a gifted writer. Recipes from My Home Kitchen will braid together Christine’s story with her food for a result that is one of the most compelling culinary tales of her generation.

Amazon Q&A for Recipes from My Home Kitchen. Graham Elliot, MasterChef judge, chef and restauranteur interviews Christine Ha, author of Recipes from My Home Kitchen.

Graham Elliot

Graham Elliot: When you first auditioned for MasterChef did you ever imagine you we’d be talking about your very own cookbook a year later?

Christine Ha: Definitely not. I mean, it was my dream, yes. Out of the trophy/title, monetary winnings, and the cookbook deal, the cookbook was the prize I wanted the most. It only made sense–I am a writer, and by nature, writers want to share themselves with the world through their stories. What better way to marry the two loves of my life–food and word–than with my very own cookbook? But to compete against more than 30,000 home cooks across America? I don’t like to get my hopes up, so I tried not to give it much thought. Well, I realize now that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it and play it smart.

GE: Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and I were always blown away by your ability to present beautiful, edible creations. How are you able to produce such visually stunning dishes without your sense of sight?

CH: Ah, that seems to be the million dollar question. Well, I’ve always had an elephant’s memory, and this was only perpetuated with my vision loss. Now that I can’t depend on my eyes to see what’s laid out on the counter, I have to memorize where I put the basil, the knife, the sauté pan full of hot oil. This memory of how foods look–shape, their color, their texture–is what aids me when I plate a dish. I think having to feel your food forces you to become more connected with it; that’s the belief of those cultures that eat their meals with their hands–touching your food with your fingers increases awareness. I also believe the fact that I can’t see the small imperfections on a plate–say, the microgreens not being set exactly 2.5 inches apart–makes for a more organic and, in my opinion, aesthetically more pleasing plate.

GE: Which aspects of your cooking style do you think will be most popular with the average American home cook?

CH: Oh, Graham, I’m smart, but I’m not psychic! Is there really such a thing as an “average American home cook”? Americans are hardly average at all. Like I said, our country is just so diverse. Plus home cooks are becoming quite sophisticated these days–just look at the range of talent you see on each season of “MasterChef.” I will say, however, that with demographics moving more and more towards dual income households, and even in the case of stay-at-home parents who are busy taking care of the kids and the house, people have less time and energy to cook dinner every night. For these reasons, I think many home cooks would appreciate recipes that are flavorful but not fussy. Actually, those are the exact parameters I have in my own kitchen when I cook a weeknight dinner. And for the weekends when there’s a little more time for leisure projects, I enjoy more elaborate experiments like pulled pork sandwiches or my mama’s eggrolls. Both types of recipes, from the easy to the intricate, can be found right here in this very cookbook.

GE: How has your approach to cooking changed over the years? How has it evolved since you won MasterChef?

CH: Like many who first start out cooking, I was very methodical. I learned by following recipes to the T–I used to think the world would end if I accidentally added one teaspoon of salt when the recipe called for three-fourths. But after cooking a dozen meals or so, I started understanding basic cooking methods and techniques. Then after another dozen meals, I began grasping flavor profiles. As with any art, once you know and understand the rules, you can break them and get away with it. Once I got to that point, I ventured off and came up with my own recipes.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned during my time on “MasterChef” is to trust my gut. Food can be very subjective. I can’t stand dill or cooked salmon. But hey, if your favorite dish in the world is your grandma’s baked salmon with dill weed, I can’t argue that. I do think, however, that one should be able to back up their penchant for dill and baked salmon. “I love baked salmon and dill weed because it’s good,” to me, is not a valid argument. “I love baked salmon and dill weed because I think they complement each other in XYZ ways” is an argument I can respect even if I don’t agree. Having said this, however, I wouldn’t want everyone in the world to dislike dill and cooked salmon, because then where would their places be in our lives? I had a creamy dill sauce over a crêpe recently, and I thought it was incredibly delicious. And salmon sashimi is on my short list of favorite foods. I trust chefs who are confident in their opinions and can back them up. Diversity is what makes this world great; we should celebrate our differences.

GE: With the veritable treasure trove of recipes you now possess, which one do you feel best represents you and your life’s journey?

CH: I’d have to go with the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. It starts out an inedible mass, but after you put some heat under it, it becomes delectably sweet–that’s been my journey in life. It’s by no means fancy, but it will always put a smile on your face–that’s me. Sinfully scrumptious.

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Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen Bamboo Steamer, 6-Inch

Next to stir-frying, steaming is an important and widely used cooking technique in the Asian kitchen. Most kitchens in Asia do not have ovens, therefore baking or roasting are not commonly used cooking techniques. Instead, dumplings, breads, cakes, and other desserts are steamed. There are also wonderful soups and meat dishes, and of course, superb fish and seafood specialties that are cooked to perfection in the gentle, moist heat of a steamer. Steaming is also a perfect way to refresh stale bread and reheat leftovers that would otherwise dry out or overcook on the stove, in the oven, or in the microwave. Steaming has gained popularity in the Western kitchen for its convenience, simplicity, health benefits and energy savings. Steaming envelopes the food in a hot, moist environment so it won’t dry out. And unlike boiling, natural juices, minerals and vitamins as well as color in foods are retained and not drained out in the sink. Steaming is also a very low fat way to cook because you need very little or no oils. Although you can’t burn food in a steamer, you can over -cook it so timing is important. Food should not be placed directly in the bamboo steamer without a plate (if the food is marinated, such as fish and meat) or parchment liner (if food is dry, such as buns and dumplings) and allow at least 1- inch space between the sides of the plate and the sides of the steamer. And be sure there’s adequate head space under the lid so that the steam can freely circulate around the food. The traditional Chinese steamer is made of natural bamboo, a sustainable grass that is strong, grows quickly and is plentiful. Bamboo steamers can range in size from a tiny 4-inch diameter for dim sum to large commercial-sized steamers that can steam several platters of whole fish at once. At Helen’s Asian Kitchen, we have beautiful handmade bamboo steamers for home use in four practical sizes: 4”, 6”, 10” and 12” diameters. These steamers are strong, durable and constructed completely of natural bamboo with bamboo pegs and bamboo lacing for strength, durability and beauty. There are no metal staples, wires or plastic which can rust or loosen with use. The beauty of bamboo steamers extends from their aesthetics to their practicality. The bamboo lid is double woven so that steam is trapped inside the steamer to cook quickly and efficiently with little heat loss. The lid also absorbs any condensation from steaming so water droplets won’t fall on the food you are steaming. We have all experienced heavy condensation on the inside of cookware lids that drip water onto food when the lid is lifted. Controlling condensation is especially important when steaming breads, dumplings and cakes which can be ruined from excess moisture. The steamer is so attractive; it can be brought right to the table for serving. It will also help to keep foods hot during the meal. Helen Chen is a leading Asian culinary expert, cookbook author, cooking instructor and developer of Helen’s Asian Kitchen cookware and cooking accessories. Helen’s focus is making Asian cooking quick and easy, healthy, and more accessible to the home cook. Here recipes are updated to incorporate heart-healthy oils and readily available supermarket ingredients while still maintaining the authentic flavors and variety of traditional Asian cuisine. Her inspiration for new recipes and products comes from her frequent trips to Asia for business and family visits.

Product Features

  • Bamboo steamer for cooking vegetables, meats and fish or reheating foods, like dim sum; 6-inch
  • Handcrafted from 100-percent tightly woven bamboo slats secured with bamboo pegs; contains no metal, wires or plastic
  • Tight-fitting lid traps steam for quick and efficient cooking while sealing in food’s nutrients
  • No Steaming Ring available for this size bamboo steamer
  • Hand wash only