Massaged Raw Kale Salad with Apple, Avocado & Feta

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This morning, I went on one of my favorite hiking trails — Land’s End — with two old friends.  No matter how many times I walk there, I’m blown away every time by its amazingly rugged beauty.  The three of us — all mothers who have families to cook for —  talked about food while we walked, which is much healthier than the other way around — talking about walking while pigging out.  My friend Jane told me about a kale salad that she loves.  It sounded so easy and delicious that I decided to give it a try as soon as I got home. 

Jane uses feta cheese, dried cranberries and honey roasted almond slivers.  I changed the recipe using what I have in the fridge and the pantry: avocado, apple and chopped almonds.  It turned out to be very delicious.  The sweet Fuji apple complemented the hint of bitterness in raw kale beautifully.  Avocado gave it creaminess while chopped almonds gave it crunchiness.  And I found the combination of lemon and feta so simple and special that it is magical.

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Massaged Raw Kale Salad

Ingredients:

2 bunches lacinato kale, ribs removed and discarded (12 oz total without ribs)

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste

2 tbsp freshly squeeze lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)

1/2 cup reduced fat feta cheese (crumbled)

1 medium Fuji apple (cored and diced)

1 avocado (diced)

1/4 cup chopped dry roasted almonds

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Preparation:

Slice the kale into 1/4-inch thin ribbons. In a large bowl combine the kale with oil and salt. Using your hands, massage the kale for 3 minutes until the kale softens.

Coat diced apple and avocado with lemon juice to prevent yellowing.

Toss kale with the lemon juice, then add apple, avocado and feta cheese.  Sprinkle chopped almonds before serving.  The recipe makes 4 meal size servings.

I made the salad minus the chopped almonds in the afternoon and let it sit in the fridge cover for a two hours. By dinner time, it actually tasted better.  Kale is such a hearty vegetable that the salad doesn’t get soggy.  I have always liked kale, but today was the first time I tried it raw.  It was a great variation in preparing this super food.

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When the children were little, they were fascinated by the stories of the ship wrecks that happened in the treacherous waters between Land’s End and the Marin Headlands.  As they looked into the depth of the water they conjured up images of underwater treasures along with skeletons. Many of our walks together was ship wreck themed.  One of the ships that sank was called SS City of Rio de Janeiro that had sailed from Hong Kong to San Francisco. The story was that launching of the lifeboats was difficult because the officers were English speaking Americans, while the seamen were non-English-speaking Chinese. Most of the people on the ship perished.

“They died because they were not bilingual,” I told the girls, trying to stress the importance for them to learn Chinese.  But it didn’t work.  With their brows raised, the girls asked, “So — not being bilingual equals death in a ship wreck — is that what you are trying to say?  Do you even hear how ridiculous you sound?”  I was a typical Chinese mother trying to teach her American children.

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Naked Salmon Burger with Sriracha Mayo + Perfect As U Are

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Peter has been a fish lover for as long I have known him.  A few years ago, he had to stop eating fish for a while because his blood mercury level was too high from eating too much sushi at office lunches.  It goes to show that moderation is the key to good health.  Nowadays, we cook fish a few times a month and it always makes him very happy. 

Naked Salmon Burger with Sriracha Mayo

Ingredients:

For the Spicy Sriracha Mayo:

3 tbsp light mayonnaise (I used non-fat Fage)

1 tbsp sriracha

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For the salmon patties:

1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup yellow bell pepper, diced

6 tbsp panko

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pound wild salmon fillet (mine weighed 1.1 pound)

1 large egg

1tbsp minced red onion

2 tbsp minced scallion

1/2 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

cooking spray

4 cups baby arugula

4 oz avocado, sliced

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Preparation:

Combine mayonnaise and sriracha, set aside.

Remove the skin from the salmon, and cut about a 4 oz piece off. Place in a food processor or chopper to finely chop. This will help hold the burgers together.  With a knife finely chop the remaining salmon.

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients for salmon patties and mix together. Form mixture into 4 to 5 patties and refrigerate at least one hour, this will help the burgers become firm and hold together during cooking.

Lightly coat a pan or skillet with cooking spray. Place over medium-high heat until hot. Cook the patties 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until cooked through.

Place arugula on each plate, top each with salmon burger, 1 tbsp of mayo and avocado slices – enjoy!

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Recipe inspired by skinnytaste.com

Angela has asked me to post the following photos of Audrey in an outfit from Perfect As U Are, a philanthropic clothing company that Angela likes and supports.

Perfect As U Are is dedicated to promoting positive self-image. For each product purchased, one dollar is donated to eating disorder awareness charities such as NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association.
Not only do these clothes support a good cause, but they are also very nice looking and carry optimistic messages.
Thank you Perfect As U Are for sending us these products! #SockItToED? Yes please.

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Turkey Meatball Sandwich and Baked French Fries

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Yesterday, Peter and I had a meeting with the high school college counselor for Angela.  And today we had a parent-teacher conference with Audrey’s teacher and advisor.  I remember that when the girls were little, we loved those meetings where the teachers would tell us funny little stories about what our kids did in school.  Every cute little thing they did was an achievement.  Nowadays, these meetings have become somewhat stressful.   Any flaw uncorrected may now “affect their future.” 

I forgot to schedule the parent-teacher conference for Audrey.  I could conjure up all kinds of excuses, but the fact was that I simply forgot.  I “pulled a Chen.”  I apologized to the teacher when I walked in the office and he commented that perhaps Audrey inherited my disorganization.  Imagine my guilt.  I am not only disorganized, I have also possibly passed the terrible trait on to Audrey.

These meetings usually happen at lunch hour because that is the only time Peter is free.  Today I brought Peter meatball sandwiches and baked fries to eat while we sat in the car and talked about the unknown future for our children.

Peter told me that he liked the leftover meatballs in the sandwich even more than the original freshly made ones we had eaten for dinner the night before. 

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Italian Turkey Meatball Sandwich

Ingredients for Italian Turkey Meatballs:

10 oz 99% fat-free ground turkey

1/4 tsp dried Italian Herb Seasoning

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs

2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

2tbsp finely chopped scallion

1 large egg

1 clove garlic, minced

1/8 tsp kosher salt

Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 425F.

In a mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients.  Use a tablespoon to make the meatballs. 

Spray baking pan with oil.  Line the meatballs in the pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Ingredients for the Sandwich:

6 inch French baguette, sliced in half

4 meatballs sliced in half

1 tbsp marinara sauce

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Arugula and grape tomatoes

Preparation:

Drizzle olive oil on the inside of the sliced bread.  Toast it on high until slightly browned.  Mix meatballs in marinara sauce.  Line the meatballs and the rest of the ingredients on the bread.

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For Baked French Fries recipe, please check out: “Chifa Beef with Baked French Fries”

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Quinoa Chickpea and Avocado Salad

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The weather has been so warm and sunny here in San Francisco lately that I could completely pretend it is summer.  So I decided to make this cheery, summery, delicious dish.  Try this salad!  It will transport you to June for a day.  

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Quinoa Chickpea and Avocado Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup quartered grape tomatoes

15 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup cooked quinoa (You can cook it with chicken broth or vegetable broth to give it more flavor.)

2 tbsp red onion, minced

1 tbsp green onion, minced

1 1/2 limes, juice of

kosher salt and fresh pepper, to taste

1 cup diced cucumber

4 oz diced avocado (1 medium hass)

Preparation:

Combine all the ingredients except for avocado and cucumber, season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Just before serving, add cucumber and avocado.

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Recipe adapted from skinnytaste.com

Chinese Fajitas & A Tale of Intrigue

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One great thing about living in California, especially in San Francisco, is that we have a wide variety of cuisine choices.  From Afghan to Zambian, you name it.  There are also many different cross cultural influences that define brand new taste. Who doesn’t love a little Asian fusion? Today, I decided to give my good old Chinese stir fry a little Mexican twist.

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Speaking of Chinese Mexican cultural mash, I remembered an anecdote from a few years ago.  I was filming a fancy dinner scene in Beijing and there was a group of expat extras at the table.  I got to talk to the young man sitting next to me and found out that he was from Mexico.  I met quite a lot of expats in Beijing and Shanghai, but that was a first time I encountered a Mexican national.  I asked if he was a student, he said no.  Businessman?  No.  Diplomat?  No.  I became curious, but he seemed reluctant to tell me what he did. 

Finally, after sitting next to me for hours, doing take after take, angle and angle of the same scene, he began to volunteer his story, probably out of boredom.

He said he was kind of hiding out in China.  “Who are you hiding from?” I asked.  “The cartel,” he said.  “My father worked for the government and he was kidnapped once before.  We paid three hundred thousand dollars to get him back.”

I thought his father was some government official who had cracked down on the cartel, and now the cartel was after him.  But he said no.  His father was a lawyer who sometimes worked for the cartel.  I said, “but you just told me that he worked for the government.”  He said that sometimes it was the same thing.  It turned out that his father negotiated payoffs between the corrupt officials and the cartel.  Something must have gone wrong and now his son was in hiding in Beijing. 

As the day went on, he told me that all the male children of the family were all in hiding in different countries.  I thought it interesting that the female children didn’t matter as much.  For someone who was in hiding, he seemed completely carefree.

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This was the scene outside of the dining room.

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With my co-stars Yao Chen and Lou Ye, and the director Alexi Tan

As I ate my Chinese fajitas, I told Peter the story and wondered if my Mexican “dining partner” was still alive.  He might never have imagined that I would remember him over dinner in San Francisco.

Chinese Stir Fry Beef Fajitas

Ingredients for the Marinade:

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

1 tbsp corn starch

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

Other Main Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz beef top sirloin, sliced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

1/3 onion, sliced

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

2 tbsp canola oil or peanut oil

A dash of Mexican chili powder

Salt and white pepper powder to taste

4 wholewheat tortillas

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Preparation:

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl.  Add beef to the marinade and mix well with tongs.  Let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat a wok on high until hot.  Add 1 tbsp of oil and swirl to coat the sides.  Add minced ginger and garlic and stir for about 20 to 30 seconds.  Add beef and save the excessive marinade for later.  Stir the beef for about 2 minutes.  Remove beef from the wok.

Add the remaining 1 tbsp oil and sauté the onion and pepper with a dash of Mexican chili powder for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Add the beef back in.  Add the remaining beef marinade if there is any.  Stir for another 1/2 minutes.

Separate into 4 servings on 4 tortillas.

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Penne Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion

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People do many different things to support a cause, some run marathons, I eat.  At various charity events, I have auctioned myself out to have lunches and dinners with generous donors who support those causes that I advocate.  I really enjoy meeting the interesting people from all walks of life over a delicious meal at a beautiful restaurant.  Is there a better excuse to pig out — for a cause that you believe in?  Today, our donors Charles and Lilian Huang contributed over $ 10,000 for a 1990 Institute project called Youth Voice on China Video Contest, in which students from US middle schools, high schools and colleges made short films expressing their views and feelings about China.  It is my hope that this project will help promote understanding and friendship between the peoples of America and China.

The lunch was very enjoyable — sumptuous food, beautiful ambiance and lively conversation — all for a worthy cause.

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I prepared a simple vegetarian meal today, and we ate it while watching the Oscars.

Penne Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion

Ingredients for Roast Butternut Squash:

1 butternut squash – peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

A few generous dashes of paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Roast Onion:

1 red onion, chopped

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Other ingredients:

8 oz. uncooked 100 wholewheat penne pasta

2 tbsp or more shaved parmesan cheese

Chopped basil and sliced green onion for garnish (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat oven at 400F.  Spray a baking pan with olive oil.  Coat butternut squash with oil and spread it evenly in the baking pan.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and spices.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Spray a separate baking pan with oil.  Coat the chopped onion with lemon juice.  sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 25 minutes or until soft.

When the butternut squash and onion are baking, cook the pasta according to package direction until al dente. 

Drain and mix the pasta with the roast butternut squash and onion.  Separate pasta into four plates and top with parmesan and sprinkle with basil and green onion.  Salt and pepper or a dash of cayenne to taste.

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Chinese Turkey Meatballs

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Lion’s head — large braised meatballs made of pork —  is a famous Shanghainese dish.  When I was a child, meat was scarce and lion’s head meatballs were only made for special occasions.  Sometimes, we craved for lion’s head meatballs, but only had enough meat to make one for the entire family.  We would cut the lion’s head into four pieces when we ate it, as the size of the lion’s head itself could not be compromised no matter what.  

Today, I made lion’s head meatballs with 99% fat free ground turkey meat, and steamed them.  Peter and I ate them in chicken broth with rice noodles.  Peter the cardiologist couldn’t praise it enough. He said that this is one meat dish he could encourage his patients to eat.  You can also try the lean turkey meat in a lettuce cup.

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Chinese Turkey Meatballs

Ingredients:

1-1/4 lbs 99% lean ground turkey

1 large egg

1 tbsp ginger, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 scallions, chopped

1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp Shao Xing Cooking wine, or other Asian cooking wine

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup chopped water chestnut, fresh or canned

Preparation:

In a large bowl combine the corn starch, ground turkey, water chestnut, egg, salt, scallions, ginger, cilantro, 1 tbsp of the soy sauce and 1 tbsp sesame oil. Gently mix with your hands until combined well. Shape meatballs 1/4 cup in size and transfer to a steamer. 

Boil water.  When the water is boiling, put in the steamer with the meatballs.  Steam on high for 10 to 12 minutes.

I also pan fried some smaller meatballs as finger food.  Audrey, the weekend meat eater, loved them.  I think they can make a perfect appetizer for the Oscar night.

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Recipe inspired by skinnytaste

Lobsters and Love Junkee

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Costco is one my favorite stores in the world.  It has everything.  A friend once said to me, “If Costco doesn’t carry it, we don’t need it.”  I probably wouldn’t go so far, but I could certainly live quite happily with what Costco offers.  Not only I buy daily staples like milk, eggs and bread, I also buy my fancy food items there.  Today, I bought 6 huge fresh lobster tails for about 40 dollars.  They are so fresh and sweet that they could be enjoyed plain.  I think I have managed to find the perfect foil to the perfect food through this salad.

Citrus Lobster Salad with Avocado and Arugula

Ingredients:

4 fresh lobster tails

4 teaspoons finely chopped shallot

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon table salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 mandarin oranges (or other citrusy fruits such as orange and pink grapefruit) 

1 1/2 firm-ripe California avocado

2 oz baby arugula

Coarse sea salt to taste (optional)

Preparation:

Boil water in a large steamer.  When the water is boiling, put in the lobster tails.  Steam for 10 minutes.

When lobster is cool enough to handle, peel the shells and remove the veins on the back of the lobster.  Cut the meat into 1/2-inch-thick slices and chill lobster in covered container. 

While lobster chills, stir together shallot, lemon juice, and table salt in a small bowl and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Add oil in a stream, whisking.

Peel mandarin oranges. Halve avocado lengthwise, discarding pit and peel.  (Save 1 half, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for another use.)

Divide avocado and all of lobster meat between 4 salad plates and arrange mandarin orange slices around them. Top with arugula and drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt (if using) and serve immediately.

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After taking the pictures of my lobster salad, I turned my camera toward Audrey, who was staring at the computer screen in her newly acquired torn jeans and statement tees.  I was surprised by how mature she grew over night, on the cusp of adolescence.  We are lucky we live in the digital era when we can easily preserve in frames the fleeting moments of our children’s lives.

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Audrey’s new clothes were generously provided by Love Junkee, which was described by Angela’s friends as being “like Brandy Melville, but cooler and not overpriced.”

Recipe inspired by Epicurious

Happy Year of the Ram!

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Peter’s mother gave me two porcelain New Year dolls as part of their wedding gift to us. I thought that they looked silly when I first saw them and have grown to love them over the years.

It is rare that the whole family is free for Chinese New Year celebration.  The girls are off from school for President’s Week, and Peter took time off because originally the whole family was traveling to the East Coast this week.  Peter went to play golf and Angela went out with friends (see her account of her little adventure at the end of the post) when Audrey and I stayed at home and cooked our New Year feast.

The first must-eat food for Lunar New Year is dumplings.  Audrey and I had fun making our own 100% whole wheat dumpling wrap today.  This way we don’t feel as guilty pigging out.

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Handmade Dumpling Wraps Ingredients:

4 cups of 100% whole wheat flour

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

water

Preparation:

Pour 3 1/3 cups of flour and eggs in a large mixing bowl and leave it in the sink.  Turn on tap to have a steady drip while using your hand to mix – swirl in one direction – until the dough is firm but can be kneaded.  Turn off tap.  Knead the dough for 5 minutes.  Let it sit for 15 minutes.

In batches, roll the dough into cylinders and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Use the remaining dry flour to prevent pieces from sticking together.  Make little dough balls and then use a rolling pin to make the wraps.  The key is to turn the dough with one hand and roll as you turn.

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If this sounds all too labor intensive, there are always the store-bought wraps!

Check out “Chinese New Year Potstickers” for the rest of the dumpling recipe.

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The second must-eat food for Lunar New Year is fish.  Fish sounds the same with the word “abundance” in Chinese.  Usually people buy a live rock cod to steam with ginger and scallion, but I suppose every Chinese family wanted one today and they were all sold out.  I bought a beautiful piece of Chilean Sea Bass and used my favorite marinade.

I also made braised pork for nostalgic reasons.  This was a dish that I looked forward to having at every New Year’s Eve when I was growing up in Shanghai.

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Braised Pork with Fresh Bamboo Shoots and Shiitake

Ingredients:

1/2 cup cooking wine

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup dark soy sauce (or you can use all light soy sauce)

3/4 – 1 cup water (you may not use all of it)

1 1/2 to 2 pounds pork shank

4 boiled eggs

5 large dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked soft, drained and quartered)

2 winter bamboo shoots (peeled and tough part removed)

1 pack stringed tofu (from Chinese market, see photo)

1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

8 cloves garlic, crushed

2 inch cube peeled ginger, crushed or sliced

2 star anise

1 tbsp. brown sugar or molasses

1 tbsp. canola oil

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Preparation:

Heat the oil in a wok on high.

Put in peppercorns, garlic, ginger, star anise, sauté until aromatic.

Add cut pork shank to be seared at all sides.

Add bamboo, shiitake and boiled eggs.

Pour in soy sauce, wine, water and sugar and turn the fire to low.

Cover and stew for 2 hours.

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For the two vegetarians in the house, I made a seared tofu with brown rice medley.

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Seared Tofu with Brown Rice Medley

Brown Rice Medley Ingredients:

1 cup brown rice

1 teaspoon sesame oil

A pinch of salt

2 1/2 water

1/2 teaspoon dark rice vinegar

4 teaspoons canola or peanut oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tsp brown sugar

4 large dried shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced

1 cup snap peas

1/2 red pepper (thinly sliced)

1/3 cup sliced scallions, divided

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Preparation:

Soak the dry shiitake mushroom in a bowl in warm water for 1 hour.  Save 1/4 cup of the water but discard the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. 

Cook the brown rice with 2 1/2 cups water, a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil.

In a sauce pan heat 2 teaspoons cooking oil on medium high, sauté half of the ginger until aromatic, add the sliced shiitake mushrooms and give it a few good stir.  Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and 1/4 cup reserved mushroom water.  Bring it to boil and lower the heat to let simmer.  The mushrooms are done when sauce is reduced and thickened but not burned.

In the meantime, in a wok or frying pan heat up 2 teaspoons oil on medium high and sauté the remaining ginger until aromatic.  Add snap peas and red pepper and stir for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Pour shiitake mushroom sauce and 1/3 cup of scallion in the pan and stir for 1/2 minutes. 

Mix in the cooked brown rice and turn off the stove.

Miso Tofu Ingredients:

12 oz. firm tofu, sliced

1 tablespoon miso paste

1/4 tsp red chili flakes (optional)

2 tsp canola or peanut oil

Tofu Preparation:

Spread miso paste on the tofu using fingers.  Heat the oil in a nonstick pan and pan sear the tofu on medium high for about 3 minutes on either side or until tofu slices are slightly browned.

Serve tofu on a bed of rice medley.

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Here is Angela’s little adventure:

To celebrate the eve of the Lunar New Year, my friends and I went out for lunch. We normally spend our free time in the Marina. Some may complain about all the yuppies in the area but I see nothing wrong with their presence, especially since I love the restaurants and stores that are targeted toward yuppies. They may be strange and overpriced, but they’re fun for window shopping.

Today we decided to go to the Castro and the Mission, where I normally do not venture. We went to a restaurant called Starbelly and then spent a few hours at Dolores Park, where I witnessed several people ingesting illegal substances and one woman emptying her bladder at the top of a hill. I have lived a rather sheltered childhood, so I was mildly disturbed by what I saw. I suppose it’s always important to be exposed to a diverse range of experiences. I am a very rule-abiding person so it was difficult to watch people violate open container laws and vandalize public transport vehicles without reporting them. At least Starbelly was good. I had a dried pea and quinoa patty and a gingered butternut squash soup with pepitas.

After returning from my little adventure, I came home to find a nice Lunar New Year dinner and some shipments of clothes that I’ll be reviewing in the next few days. Gung hay fat choy!

我今天跟同学们庆祝春节,我们去了卡斯特罗区吃饭。食品很好吃,但是我看到很多人在触犯法律,不好!新年快乐,恭喜发财,年年有余。我朋友姓余。去年,我得考中文AP考试,所以我得背春节传统,比方说喝腊八粥和吃橘子。对不起,我的中文不好。如果你有孩子,你应该让他考中文AP因为连我都考得好,而且AP很好玩儿,有写故事的部分,那是我最喜欢的部分。我为汤姆和玛丽亚写了很多悲惨的背景故事。

Steak & Caramelized Onions with Arugula and Penne + The Secret of Longevity

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Angela and I were supposed to be visiting Columbia University today, but we canceled our east coast trip when our Boston leg was canceled by the airlines twice.  We were to pick up my 98-year-old grand auntie, Vivian, from Queens and go with her to Columbia University where she and her late husband David worked for the better part of their lives.  David had taught Economics and Vivian had worked as an accountant.

About 18 years ago, I got a call from Vivian that she was coming to San Francisco and she had something important to talk to me about, in person.  I only met her a few times when I first arrived in New York from China and we didn’t really know each other very well.  I was curious as to what it was that she wanted to talk to me about.  I wondered if she was in need of any help from me.  I asked if she needed to stay with me, but she said she would stay with her godson.

We met in a little coffee shop on Clement St. and ate Chinese pastry with sweet soy milk.  She asked about my married life in San Francisco, and said wistfully, “You will find that your husband is the only person you can really talk to.”  My grand uncle had passed not long before our meeting and she missed him.  We sat quietly for a while.

Then suddenly vivian’s face lit up and she said, “I want to show you something.”  She took out from her purse a photo book and showed me some pictures of stone benches.  As I was wondering what they were, she pointed out that the benches bore the names David Hsiung and Vivian Hsiung.  She said, “I would go and sit on the bench for a while when I miss your grand uncle.”  It turned out that this was the important thing that she came to tell me.  She had donated most of her savings — over a hundred thousand dollars — to Columbia University, an institution that both she and David loved.  Vivian beamed now as she told me that the benches were near where graduation ceremony was held each year.  “I’m such a lucky person,” she concluded.

Today, we had a long talk over the phone.  She told me that her brother was dying and she couldn’t stand seeing him suffer.  She broke down for a minute but quickly plucked up her spirit and said, “The Hsiung family (my paternal grandmother’s family) ancestors sent your voice to me at this difficult time; I’m such a lucky person.”  She told me that her godson is turning 70 next year and is planning to take her on a cruise trip to celebrate together. “I’m such a lucky person,” she repeated.

I’ve always been struck by her sincere sense of gratitude at most things in her life. From what I knew she didn’t have an easy life — uprooted first from a war torn China to Brazil, and then from Brazil to America.  I guess life is as good as you perceive it to be. 

I was supposed to be eating airline food today if the blizzard didn’t disrupt my travel plan, but instead I’m eating this amazing steak at home with my family.  If this isn’t good, what is?

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Steak & Caramelized Onions with Arugula and Penne

Ingredients:

1 lb top sirloin

kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

4 oz penne pasta 

3 oz baby arugula

4 teaspoons olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp golden balsamic

1/2 oz shaved Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

For the Caramelized onions:

1/2 medium red onion

1 large white onion

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp kosher coarse salt

1 tbsp golden balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

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Preparation:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Season steak with salt and pepper to taste.

For the caramelized onions: cut onions in half and thinly slice short end.  Add 1 tbsp olive oil to a nonstick skillet and add the onions. Add salt, paprika, and balsamic vinegar and cook on medium-low to low heat until onions are tender, transparent, and slightly brown, about 30 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside in a large work bowl and let cool.

While the pasta is cooling, heat a grill pan over high heat and spray with cooking spray or preheat the broiler to high. Cook the steaks about 3 to 4 minutes on each side for medium rare, or longer to your desired likeness (until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 145°F for medium rare, 160°F for medium, or 165°F for well done.) Let stand for 10 minutes, then slice into thin strips.

Add the arugula, 4 teaspoons olive oil, 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic, salt and pepper to the bowl with the pasta and toss. Add the caramelized onions, toss well and divide between four plates, about 1 1/2 cups each. Top each with 3 oz steak and shaved Parmesan. Eat right away.

P1030405

Recipe from: http://www.skinnytaste.com