Saturday Brunch with Artisanal Silverware

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There is something wonderful and exciting about receiving and opening packages in the mail, especially when you are not sure what exactly the boxes contain.  I was away on film locations in remote regions of China when I was only fourteen.  My mother used to send me bi-weekly care packages from Shanghai — often times my favorite snacks such as dried plums or a can of spam, which was a luxury item back then.  I can still recall those moments of excitement and anticipation when I opened up the care packages.

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On Christmas Eve, we received in the mail a beautiful set of artisanal silverware from For Such a Time Designs!  We first saw Aly Nickerson’s lovely hand-stamped spoons on SkinnyTaste.com and coveted them for months before they finally arrived, a generous gift from Aly. Each piece of the silver plated flatware is vintage and stamped with antique metal stamps. It is absolutely gorgeous and makes eating even more fun than it already is. “Serve With Love,” “Eat Clean,” my thoughts exactly!

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Smoked Salmon Scallion Omelet Ingredients:

1 Egg + 3 Egg White (beaten)

3 stalks Scallion (chopped)

3 oz. Wild Smoked Salmon (pulled or cut to small chunks)

2 tablespoon 2% Shredded Cheddar & Jack cheese

1/2 teaspoon Dill Weed

1/2 tablespoon Olive Oil

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Preparation:

Heat a flat non-stick pan on medium, add oil, then add most of the chopped scallion. 

After the scallion softens, about 40 seconds, pour in the beaten eggs.

Add salmon, the rest of the scallion and the cheese. 

Sprinkle the Dill Weed.  Roll the Omelet.  Sprinkle with fresh pepper.

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Everyone in the house loved Yam Casserole so much that I made it for the second time this week. It is a delicious and healthy dish that is relatively easy to make.

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Recipe in December 25th post “Empty Chimney Once Upon A Time”

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The Most Delicious & Guiltless Ice Cream

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When I was growing up in China, we didn’t celebrate Christmas; I never even heard of Christmas.  But we did celebrate Dec. 26th — Chairman Mao’s birthday.  We would cook longevity noodles in the kitchen that we shared with our neighbors.  We would bow in front of a Mao portrait and wish him ten thousand years of life.  I realize now that my parents probably only did the celebration for the sake of the kids and the neighbors.  They would not want the neighbors to report them for not loving Chairman Mao enough to wish him a long life.  And they certainly didn’t want to destroy the illusion for their children, who were brought up to worship Mao.  They believed that worshipping Mao as the saint and savior would make their children safer and happier.  Not worshipping Mao would be dangerous to their wellbeing.

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The Mao badge collection was my most valued possession during childhood. This photo was taken in the 80s in LA by my friend, Anchee Min.

Strange how I still wake up on December 26th every year and involuntarily think, “It’s Mao’s birthday.” 

Today, the thought of Mao brought me back to those years of food scarcity and what I was willing to do for a bowl of ice cream. 

I heard from other girls that you would be rewarded with a bowl of ice cream if you were lucky enough to have your tonsils removed. It was a minor surgical procedure performed without anesthesia. I convinced my mother to let me have the operation, but when I was given a bowl of ice cream to soothe my throat, swallowing hurt so badly that I gave my reward to my brother.

Nowadays ice cream is everywhere, and I have had decades to recover from my tonsillectomy so ice cream is once again a great love of mine. However, we all know how overindulgence in ice cream isn’t exactly healthy…

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Guilt Free Ice Cream

I improved on my old guilt free ice cream recipe by using the evaporated milk and adding more dark chocolate.  The result is a much richer and more delicious ice cream. 

Ingredients for Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream:

1 12oz can 2% Evaporated Milk

2 cup non fat Greek Yogurt (I used Fage)

7 tablespoon Xylitol or other sweetener

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1/4 teaspoon Xanthan Gum

3 tablespoon 100% Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

3 tablespoon 100% Unsweetened Chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients in a blender.  Add to ice cream maker.  Let it churn until ice cream congeals and hardens, about 25 to 30 minutes. 

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Audrey made the gingerbread cookies to go with the ice cream.  And she typed the following recipe form me.

Healthier Gingerbread Cookies Ingredients:

1/2 cup apple sauce

3/4 cup brown sugar or xylitol

3 tbs. coconut oil

1 egg

1/3 cup maple flavored syrup

3 cups 100% whole wheat flour

2 tsp powdered ginger

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

Preparation:

Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients. Mix wet and dry ingredients together and wrap in plastic wrap.  Leave the mixture in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight.

Roll out and cut.  Preheat oven at 350F and bake about 12 minutes or until light brown.

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Remembering My Grandfather

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My grandparents in front of our house. Grandmother was holding me and Grandfather was holding my cousin.

My maternal grandfather, who has been posthumously recognized as one of the most important scientists in the 20th Century in China, took his own life 47 years ago today during the Cultural Revolution.  He was wrongly persecuted as a foreign spy and a “reactionary `bourgeois scholar”  because he studied in the US and in England. 

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Grandfather in the Suzhou Hospital where he had apprenticed since the age of 14. When I filmed the Chinese version of Who Do You Think You Are last year, I went on the same balcony where this photo was taken. The building was to be torn down soon.

In the months before he died, my grandfather was summoned daily into a windowless office in Shanghai Medical University to confess his crime.  The only person sent by the Party to interrogate him in that office was Yang, the deputy head of the Pharmacology Department, a “red” scientist.  My grandfather was the head of the department and was well loved and respected.  According to my mother, who also worked in the same department, Yang was an insecure and despicable person.  He was not only jealous of my grandfather’s accomplishments, he was also intimidated by his incorruptible character and integrity.  No one knew exactly what was said in that windowless room. I can only imagine the darkness that enveloped my grandfather’s mind in those final moments of his life.  After he died, Yang declared that my grandfather killed himself because he knew he was guilty.  The Cultural Revolution was an extreme time in China when people’s worst nature surfaced and flourished.  In the early years of the Cultural Revolution, countless innocent people committed suicide.

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I was too young to remember much about him.  My parents and grandmother didn’t talk to me about my grandfather during my childhood for fear that the memory of his “guilty” suicide could hinder my revolutionary future — the only kind of future that mattered then. But subconsciously, I must have been haunted by his sudden and premature death all those years.

When I left China for the US, my mother told me to only pack what was necessary and essential.  Along with soap, toothpaste and a couple of other “essentials” were all the photographs of my grandfather that were in the house and my Chairman Mao badge collection. It was curious why I felt the pictures of my grandfather and the badges of Mao were essential to my new life in the US.  Yet looking back, I see that those irreconcilable objects, in a strange way, represented the make up of my contradictory character. 

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My friend Anchee Min took this photo of me with my Mao badge collection in the late 1980s.

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Grandfather in Suzhou before he left for London in 1937

In 2006, there was a commemorative event in Shanghai to celebrate my grandfather’s 100th birthday.  Many of his former students and colleagues gathered to remember him — a talented, passionate and incorruptible person who loved and lived for science.  Many of them wanted to help my mother get closure and demanded that Yang tell where he had kept my grandfather’s diary, and what was said during those months of interrogation.  Unfortunately it never happened as Yang was already well into his 80s and suffered from senile dementia.

I will never know what finally pushed my grandfather off the cliff on that cold night of 1967.  It no longer matters.  At the event in 2006, I suddenly remembered the song Vincent — how I was gripped by it when I first heard it. I felt the song was sung for him, too.

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Grandfather in England

Now I understand

What you tried to say to me

And how you suffered for your sanity

And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how

Perhaps they’ll listen now

For they could not love you

But still your love was true

And when no hope was left in sight

On that starry, starry night

You took your life, as lovers often do

But I could’ve told you Vincent

This world was never meant for

One as beautiful as you

Very Nutty Apple Crisp & A Smile

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On our recent after dinner strolls, Audrey has been asking to walk to the same spot to see a homeless old man.  She gives him some of her spending money and whatever coins she could find around the house.  Peter has the habit of leaving coins on his nightstand because he doesn’t want them in his pockets.  Nowadays, Audrey cleans up Peter’s nightstand everyday.

Last night Audrey was wearing a jacket that had a broken pocket, so she hid the coins in one of her boots as we went out in the light drizzle for our usual walk.  When she found the old homeless man, she leaned against the wall next to him and took off her boot to get the money for him.  What made the old man truly happy was not only the money that Audrey gave him, but that she smiled and chatted with with him as she took off her boot.  As short as the moment was, it was a shared humanity that enriched them both.

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Big dimpled smiles through out the years

In his book Letter to a Hostage, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry recounted how a smile saved his life when he was a journalist covering the Civil War in Spain.  He concluded the book with a reflection on the universality and life-giving force of that one simple gesture, the human smile: “Care granted to the sick, welcome offered to the banished, forgiveness itself are worth nothing without a smile enlightening the deed. We communicate in a smile beyond languages, classes, and parties. We are faithful members of the same church, you with your customs, I with mine.”

I am very proud that she has turned out to be a kind and compassionate person.  And she always has a warm and sincere smile for everyone.

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I adapted the Very Nutty Apple Crisp recipe from:

http://www.chow.com/recipes/11416-apple-crisp-with-oatmeal-streusel

I replaced all sugars with xylitol and flour with almond flour.  I replaced the butter with coconut oil and cut the added fat by half.  I also added walnuts and pecan and shaved coconut to make the streusel extra crispy and aromatic.  Though I didn’t take the best pictures today, the apple crisp was truly delicious.  I consider this a keeper.

Very Healthy and Very Nutty Apple Crisp Ingredients:

6 Granny Smith apples (peeled and cored)

2 to 3 tablespoons Xylitol or sugar (for the apples)

1/2 cup xylitol or brown sugar (for the crisp)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup almond flour (original recipe uses flour)

1/3 cup walnuts (chopped)

1/3 cup pecans (chopped)

1/3 cup shaved coconut (unsweetened)

2 tablespoon coconut oil (original recipe uses 4 tablespoon butter)

Preparation:

Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Lightly coat an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with butter. 

Combine the apples, xylitol or sugar, cinnamon, and half of the salt in a large bowl and toss to coat. Place the apple mixture in the prepared baking dish and set aside.

Using the same bowl as for mixing the apples, mix together the xylitol or brown sugar, oats, almond flour, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt until evenly combined. With your fingertips, blend in the coconut oil until small clumps form and the oil is well incorporated, about 2 minutes.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the apples and bake until the streusel is crispy and the apples are tender, about 50 minutes. Let cool on a rack at least 30 minutes before serving.

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Smoked Salmon Pasta with Garlic Crisps

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Between errands today, I managed to make myself a simple but satisfying lunch.  I whipped up the meal with whatever I had in the fridge.  But isn’t that how most people eat?  I did a little surfing and answered my emails as I ate my lunch.  Nowadays, we never truly eat alone anymore.  We are always connected.  Is this good or bad?  

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Garlic Oil Pasta with Smoked Salmon Ingredients:

4 oz. whole wheat Spaghetti

2 tablespoon olive oil

4 cloves garlic, sliced

2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 oz. honey smoked salmon

1 bell pepper, thinly sliced

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

Juice from 1/2 lemon

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Cook spaghetti according to package instruction.  Set aside.

In a frying pan, heat olive oil and fry the garlic to crispy.  Scoop out the garlic and add oregano and sage, stir until aromatic.  Add onion and bell pepper and stir until soft.  Pour cooked spaghetti into the pan and stir for 1 minute.  Add Worcestershire sauce and stir for another minute.  Turn off fire and mix in smoked salmon, lemon juice and garlic crisps.

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Guiltless Caesar Salad Ingredients:

1/3 cup low-fat or nonfat Greek-style yogurt

1 garlic clove, minced

2 anchovies (omitted because I don’t like anchovy)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 head of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

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Egghead Benedict

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One thing I love about staying in a fine hotel is the room service.  My daughters love it too.  Whenever we travel, they ask to have room service, especially when they are jet lagged.  My favorite room service meal is breakfast.  I would always fill out the breakfast door tag at night and use the room service as my wake up call.  This is the part of traveling I luxuriate the most.

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I ordered Egg Benedict this morning at the L’ermitage Beverly Hills not only because it’s a treat that I wouldn’t make at home but also it’s very name reminds me of Benedict Wong — the great Kublai Khan in Marco Polo.  His head was completely shaved when we were filming and I called him Egghead Benedict.  Here is to you, Benny!

I have been on the road for much of November and December, but I am finally home now for a good stretch.  And I look forward to cooking more, eating healthier, and providing everyone with more consistent and higher quality blog posts. Bon appetit!

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I beat the storm warning tonight and came home just in time to wash dishes.

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The housewife faking as a star

Baked Oatmeal and Nabokov

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My husband Peter is a creature of habit and he likes his oatmeal for breakfast everyday.  Occasionally on weekends I will make omelet or French toasts, but by far oatmeal is his favorite.  So I decided to make him a Sunday morning treat before his golf game — baked oatmeal.  He said that I made him a happy man when he left the house, so I guess the baked oatmeal was a success.

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This recipe of Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Bananas is adapted from Skinnytaste.  I made mine with 1 1/2 of the recipe because my baking dish is bigger.  And I omitted the honey because my oatmeal was already sweetened with monk fruit and there were dried mango bits in it.

Ingredients:

2 medium ripe bananas, (the riper the better) sliced into 1/2″ pieces

1 1/2 cup blueberries

1/4 cup honey (or agave)

1 cup uncooked quick oats

1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

1 cup fat free milk (or any milk you desire)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

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Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Lightly spray a 8 x 8″ or 9 x 9″ ceramic baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

Arrange the banana slices in a single layer on the bottom of the ceramic dish. Sprinkle half of the blueberries over the bananas, 1/4 tsp of the cinnamon, 1 tbsp of the honey and cover with foil. Bake 15 minutes, until the bananas get soft.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the oats, half of nuts, baking powder, remaining cinnamon, and salt; stir together.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining honey, milk, egg, and vanilla extract.

Remove the bananas from the oven, then pour the oat mixture over the bananas and blueberries.

Pour the milk mixture over the oats, making sure to distribute the mixture as evenly as possible over the oats.  Sprinkle the remaining blueberries and walnuts over the the top.

Bake the oatmeal for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the oatmeal has set. Serve warm from the oven.

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When the oatmeal was baking, I found out that by Nabokov’s definition I am not only a good reader, a major reader, but also an active and creative reader. 

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In his collected Lectures on Literature he says:

“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do not have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development. The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting. However, let us not confuse the physical eye, that monstrous masterpiece of evolution, with the mind, an even more monstrous achievement. A book, no matter what it is—a work of fiction or a work of science (the boundary line between the two is not as clear as is generally believed)—a book of fiction appeals first of all to the mind. The mind, the brain, the top of the tingling spine, is, or should be, the only instrument used upon a book.”

I had never consciously realized why I would re-read some books many times.  For a certain period of my life I would carry a particular book with me wherever I traveled.  I remember re-reading again and again the books by Milan Kundera in my youth, especially The Joke.  In my 30s I re-read most frequently Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and Somerset Maugham’s books, particularly Moon and Sixpence.  In the past few years, I have been carrying around Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead everywhere like a talisman.  And during my recent trips, I have been re-reading Steinbeck: A life in Letter.  And The Great Gatsby, perhaps once every year.  I was affirmed today that re-reading is the only way to read a worthy book.

Mongolian Beef

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To celebrate the great Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, I made Mongolian Beef today.  Don’t think that I am ignorant of the fact that the dish is not from Mongolia.  I just wanted an excuse to put Benedict Wong’s Kublai poster on my blog, together with my food.  Benny and I shared a passion for eating yummy food in great quantities when we were in Malaysia.  He is an extremely talented, hardworking and generous actor.  His Kublai in Marco Polo is breathtaking.  And he is the sweetest person in the world. 

Okay, back to my relationship with Mongolian Beef.  It was not a dish that I had ever eaten growing up in China.  Back when I was growing up, beef was rationed for registered Muslims only.  I guess Mongolian Beef is a Chinese American invention, much like the fortune cookies and my two daughters.

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The first time I had Mongolian Beef, I was working as a receptionist in a Chinese restaurant in the San Fernando Valley to support myself through college.  A take-out order of Mongolian Beef was never picked up and the manager let a few of his favorites eat it while we were standing in the back of the kitchen.  I found it delicious and wished I could eat it at my leisure sitting down.

The restaurant was near a beer company, and sometimes the beer executives would entertain their business associates in the restaurant.  The manager would say to his VIP diners “taking you to your seats is the number one movie star from China”, as if I wasn’t present.  And the beer executives would smile and say really, she is pretty all right.  They thought the manager was attempting at a joke that wasn’t funny.  Though I had been without money all my life, I never felt poor.  As a girl raised from generations of old world intellectuals, I believed that the pursuit of knowledge was much nobler than the pursuit of money.  But I remember feeling shabby and impoverished under their condescending stare.  And I hated that feeling. 

A classmate of mine at the time was a stuntwoman in Hollywood and when she learned that I was a professional actress in China she encouraged me to find an agent in Hollywood.  She said the pay would be 10 times more than what I earned in the restaurant.  Though there weren’t any interesting parts for me to play in the beginning, I was just really happy that I never had to set foot in that Chinese restaurant again.

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My agent at the time asked me to take some sexy pictures as part of my headshot for casting directors. No wonder I was offered to play a corpse of a murdered whore as my first job. I turned it down because I didn’t want to be filmed nude.

I have ordered and made Mongolian Beef dozens of times since that first bite, and I try to perfect the dish every time I make it.  Peter told me that this was the best Mongolian Beef he’d ever had, but of course he would say that; he is my husband and he blindly adores everything I do

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Mongolian Beef

Adapted from rasamalaysia

Ingredients:

8 oz beef tenderloin (thinly sliced) 半斤牛肉

2 tablespoons cooking oil 两勺油

2 stalks leeks/scallion 两棵大葱

1 inch ginger (finely chopped) 一寸生姜

3 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)三粒大蒜

1/4 cup beef stock or water 1/4 杯水

Chili pepper flakes to taste 少许红辣椒

Marinade: 腌肉的汁

1 teaspoon corn starch 一小勺淀粉

1 teaspoon soy sauce 少许酱油

2 teaspoon Chinese cooking wine (rice wine or Shaoxing wine) 少许酒

1/4 teaspoon of baking soda (to tenderize the meat)少许小苏打

Sauce:酱

2 teaspoons oyster sauce蚝油

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce生抽酱油

1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce一点点老抽酱油

3 dashes white pepper powder白胡椒

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil麻油

1 teaspoon sugar or to taste少许糖

Method:

Marinate the beef slices with the seasonings for 30 minutes. Heat up a wok with 1 tablespoon of oil and stir-fry the marinated beef until they are half-done. Dish out and set aside.

Heat up another 1 tablespoon of oil and sauté the garlic and ginger until aromatic. Add leeks and beef stock/water, cover the lid to cook the leek until soft.  Add the beef back into the wok and then the sauce. Continue to stir-fry until the beef slices are done. Scoop out and serve hot.

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