Sweet Sour Spareribs & A Happy Surprise

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It’s not my birthday, not Christmas, not Chinese New Year.  It is almost Halloween, but not quite yet.  On this most ordinary day of the year, I received a surprise package from Pikky Lim, one of our ADs.  Her mother brought them over from their hometown of Sabah on the island of Borneo.  Pikky (which my computer keeps auto-correcting into Pinky) must have told her mother my love for cooking and snacking.  The package contains the best quality dried fish maw, dried anchovies and dried shrimp for cooking, and nuts and chips for snacking.  There was also a box of tea from Sabah.  I never told anyone about my nonstop snacking addiction; I guess my frequent trips to the office fridge and snack shelves speak for themselves.  My hands are really busy right now, frantically taking turns to type and to shell peanuts before putting them in my mouth. These tiny red skinned Kudat peanuts are extremely yummy.

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The package reminded me of my own mother sending me packages of snacks from Shanghai to the remote locations when I was 15 years old and homesick. I worked under the old Communist studio system where a film would take 6 to 8 months to shoot.  There would be many rehearsals, both dramatic and technical, before each scene was shot.  Film raw stock was considered more expensive than people and their time.  Unlike my daughters, I never rebelled as a teen.  I missed and wanted my parents.  At the end of each shoot, I would haul fruits, nuts, cured meats or sometimes even a live chicken from the location back to Shanghai on a bus or truck or whatever vehicle the production put me on.  My brother would bring a couple of friends to meet me at the Shanghai Film Studio, where they would balance all the things on their bikes, including me, and ride home.  That was happiness for me.

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My brother Chase (middle) and two of his friends in front of his paintings

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Home where my mother grew up and where I was born and raised

Receiving food and bringing food to others has been my favorite kind of social exchange and communication in life.  I have never been one to have much chitchat — somehow deficient in this most natural and wonderful ability.  Feeding people and being fed by people is my way of making small talk.

I hope Pikky won’t mind, but I want to bring some of the dried foods back to my parents in Shanghai when I visit them next week.  I will go home from the location like I used to as an adolescent, bringing them treats from another land.

Speaking of my parents, I missed Shanghainese food and made some traditional sweet and sour spareribs to quell the longing.  It’s a dish served in all Shanghainese restaurants, mostly cold as an appetizer, but sometimes warm as a main course.

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Sweet and Sour Spareribs

Ingredients:

20 oz. Baby back spareribs, cut to small chunks

3/4 cup Shao Xing cooking wine

2 tablespoon Soy sauce

2 tablespoon Dark rice vinegar (also known as Zhen Jiang vinegar)

2 tablespoon Brown sugar or broken up rock sugar

5 – 6 Ginger slices

4 Crushed garlic

1/ 2 teaspoon Chinese peppercorn

Cooking oil for browning the spareribs

Corn starch to coat the spareribs before browning

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Preparation:

Optional first step:

Boil a pot of water with a few generous slices of ginger and 1/4 cup of the Shao Xing cooking wine.  When the water boils, add the spareribs into the boiling water.  When the water boils again drain the water and rinse the spareribs.  Let it air dry or pat dry with paper towel.  This step removes the residual blood from the ribs and along with it any gaminess.

Many people skip the above step and go directly to the next step.

Marinade the ribs in soy sauce and the remaining cooking wine for 20 to 30 minutes.

Drain and keep the marinade. Dredge rib pieces in corn starch.

Heat a non-stick pan on medium high with the oil and add the ginger slices and garlic.  Brown the rib pieces.  When they are lightly browned, pour the marinade in the pan and cover the lid, let it cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Open the lid and add sugar and stir some more.  When the liquid is reduced to thick sticky sauce, add vinegar and continue to reduce the liquid to a sticky paste.  Let cool before serving.

Note:

If you need more liquid to submerge the ribs before you close the lid, don’t add water, add a little more cooking wine.

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Vermicelli Salad with Minced Pork and Prawns

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There is a simple but well known Shanghainese dish called Ants Climbing a Tree (蚂蚁上树,) which is a vermicelli stir-fry with minced pork. I have made this dish countless times since adolescence because it is easy and delicious.  Since I don’t have the special bean paste (豆瓣酱) that is traditionally a required ingredient in the dish, I gave it a Southeast Asian twist today.

I served the salad to chef Duyen for dinner, and she really enjoyed it.  At work, she has always taken such good care of me.  I am happy that on my day off I could make something for her. 

For dessert, I served us my now pretty famous healthy chocolate fudge. This time, I used 1/3 cup ground coconut meat instead 1/4 cup. And it tasted even more delicious.

Speaking of Chef Duyen, at the end of the blog I will share some pictures of my work lunch from yesterday.  They were Mango Papaya Salad with Duck and Seafood Stew.  I loved the fancy water that she made me. For 30 minutes during lunch break, I was transported to a resort somewhere by the fragrant water.  However, I paid for the indulgence soon after.  The delicious lunch sent me into such a food coma that I couldn’t remember the simple lines that I had performed perfectly time and again before the break in other angles.  That was truly embarrassing.

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I ate the chocolate fudge fresh out of the blender on a piece of coconut meat today instead of leaving it in the fridge to harden.

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Warm Vermicelli Salad with Minced Pork and Prawns

Ingredients for salad:

100 g dry Mung bean noodle (also known as vermicelli)

2 red bird’s eye chili peppers, seeded and sliced (leave the seeds in if you like it very hot)

2 green chili peppers, seeded and sliced

3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed

5 small Thai red onions or shallots, thinly sliced and separated

3 tablespoon cilantro or coriander leaves

1/2 or more carrot, thinly sliced

3/4 scant cup minced pork

10 to 12 prawns (deveined and poached)

1 tablespoon or more cooking oil

1/4  to 1/3 cup water or stock

Chopped spring onion and cilantro for garnish

Butter lettuce leaves for serving, optional

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Ingredients for minced pork marinade:

1 tablespoon cooking wine (I used Shao Xing cooking wine)

2 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon corn starch

Ingredients for dressing:

2 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce

2 1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 1/2  teaspoon sugar

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Preparation:

Soak Mung bean noodle in warm water for about 10 minutes.  Drain when soft and set aside.

Marinate the minced pork, mixing everything with your hand. Set in the fridge for 20 minutes or so when you prepare the vegetables.

Heat oil in a wok or pan on medium high heat. Stir fry chili peppers, garlic and half of the sliced Thai red onion until aromatic, about a 1minute or 2. 

Add minced meat and stir for another minute or 2. Make sure you break the minced meat as you cook so it’s in small lumps, not large lumps. 

When the pork has turned color, add the noodle and stir for a minute. Pour in 1/4 cup water and let cook for another minute.  The water should be absorbed very quickly, and when it does turn off stove.

Add cooked prawns and the dressing.  Toss to coat.  Add the 2nd half of the sliced Thai red onion or shallots, the cilantro leaves and the sliced carrot, toss some more to mix.

Serve warm or cold in plates, bowls or lettuce cups.  This dish can be a main course or an appetizer. 

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Note for blanching the prawns:

I always prepare the prawns by squeeze them for a minute or two with a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of Shao Xing cooking wine.  I let them sit in the salt and wine while boiling a pot of water with a few generous slices of ginger.  When the water is boiling, I add the prawns with the marinade into the water.  The water boils again and the prawns turn pink, drain the water and let the prawn cool. 

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Live Hairy Crabs from Shanghai

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It is curious how the Singaporean customs would confiscate packs of chewing gum at the border, but live hairy crabs enter the country with impunity. Chef Duyen flew back from Shanghai with live hairy crabs on Sunday.  I missed the crab feast with our chefs last night, but she saved me three.  I steamed two for myself, and kept one for Zhu Zhu, a fellow Marco Polo actress who is also a hairy crab fanatic.  The golden roe of the female crabs and the gelatinous soft roe from the male ones are what make these crabs completely irresistible and addictive.  They burst with such a rich taste that anything you eat afterwards will appear to be flavorless.  There is absolutely nothing I could compare it to.  Perhaps imagine your favorite French cheese, except it’s not that at all.  If you eat a hairy crab for the first time, it will be an entirely new taste to you.

They are easy to prepare.  Simply put them in the steamer when the water is boiling and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes.  That’s it.

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The two key ingredients is the dark rice vinegar and the minced ginger.  No one eats hairy crabs without them — not only because they complement the taste perfectly, but also because according to Chinese tradition, the warming effect of ginger and sweet dark vinegar balances the cooling effect of hairy crabs.  You eat each bite of the crab with a generous amount of the vinegar mixture.

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I would usually tear away the legs and the claws, and go directly for the roe, sometimes saving the legs for the next day, but most times giving them to my mother, who claims that she hates the taste of the roe.  I’ve always secretly believed that she just wants to save the roe for me.  I missed her very much today as I put away the leftover legs and claws in the fridge.

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The hairy mittens on the claws are what give them their name

Below are some pictures of my lunch from our kitchen today.  The lily flower in the tray made me feel extra pampered.  At home, I am usually the caretaker — pampering everyone around me. I would get special attention from the kids and the hubby on my birthdays or Mother’s Days. I have to admit that I’m really liking this treatment I’m getting from our kitchen.

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Mung bean noodle in bone broth with vegetables, tofu and chicken

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Indonesian tempeh salad with sweet spicy peanut sauce

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Sunday Eggs

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Most of the actors in Marco Polo eat a lot of eggs and chicken breasts — a high protein, low fat diet that helps them grow big muscles and look ripped, I was told.  That made me think of the Disney cartoon character Gaston in Beauty and Beast.  The kitchen is so used to actors eating lots of eggs that when I order my 5-minute boiled eggs in the morning, they come in fours unless I specifically ask for only one or two.  Claudia Kim, who plays Khutulun in the show, would eat six eggs in one go. She has been training to transform her slender willowy physique into one that is taut and muscular.  Unfortunate for me, I never get to train with them, because my character doesn’t move much at all.  I remember getting excited over a long tracking shot of me walking briskly as I talked — the biggest action I had in the entire season.  Needless to say, I don’t need to eat eggs the way they do.

But I love eggs.  The first few times the kitchen delivered 4 boiled eggs for breakfast, I actually ate them.  After a while, I stopped eating so many because I didn’t want to have clogged arteries and die of a heart attack.  Since I began taking Pilate lessons last week, I felt that I deserved some eggs for Sunday morning.  I made a Malaysian omelette for breakfast.  And when I saw a leftover boiled egg and some leftover black rice in the fridge, I made an egg prawn rice stack for lunch. It was fun to make the leftover into something new.

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Malaysian Omelette

Ingredients:

3 medium eggs

2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon coconut milk (full fat) or milk of choice

2 small Thai onion or shallots, thinly sliced

2 stocks spring onion or green onion

2 to 4 chili peppers or red and green jalapeño peppers, seeded and sliced

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 tablespoon or more cooking oil

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Preparation:

Beat eggs with salt and coconut milk

Heat oil in a non-stick pan on medium high heat. Stir fry the Thai onion, spring onion, peppers until aromatic. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and turn the stove to medium. Let it cook for a minute or two.  When the omelette is set at the bottom, but still a little runny on top, fold it in three and turn off stove.

Serve with shrimp sambal sauce. 

Note:

Sambal is a Malaysian spicy sauce that can go with almost any food.  You can substitute with other spicy sauce of your choice if you can’t find it near you.

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Egg Prawn Stack

Ingredients for each stack:

1 hard boiled egg

1 tablespoon seeded and cubed English or Japanese cucumber

4 prawns, poached

2 to 3 tablespoon cooked black rice or other rice of choice

A dash or two of rice vinegar

Garnish with chives, sliced chili and sesame seeds

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Ingredients for sauce:

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon 100% pure dark sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 bird’s eye chili pepper, chopped

1/2 teaspoon chopped chives or spring onion

Mix more sauce if you are making more stacks

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Preparation:

Chop the cook prawns and set aside.

Chop boil egg(s) and mix with a dash of white pepper powder, a pinch of salt and a dash of rice vinegar.  You can also add 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise to each egg, and serve the stack with a mayo based sauce. But I decided against mayonnaise for obvious reasons.

Rinse the cup that you will use as a mold and do not dry it. Add cubed cucumber, then chopped egg mixture, then the prawns and finally the rice.  Press the rice down to pack the stack firm but not too tight.

Cover the plate with a small plate and flip it.  If the food sticks to the cup, use a knife to run around the edge to loosen it a bit.

Garnish with chopped spring onion, chili and sesame seeds.

Serve the stack with the sauce.

Easy Meal for One & the Versatile Oyster Sauce

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I did a very emotional scene yesterday and felt drained from the intensity and the commotion.  I needed some peaceful alone time, some stillness and silence to rejuvenate myself. Slowly making a meal for one was my form of meditation.  The act of washing, slicing and stirring food kept me present and engaged with the here and now, yet it was also simple and familiar enough to allow daydreaming.  There was no hurry, no need for precise measuring, no complicated steps to follow and no pleasing anyone else but myself. Like a stroll with no particular destination, being and doing became one for me in cooking. 

One ingredient that I love to use for Chinese cooking is oyster sauce.  Often times, it alone is enough flavor for many different kinds of food both vegetables and meat.

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Silken Tofu Medallions in Oyster Sauce

Ingredients:

250 g silken firm tofu

1/2 carrot, sliced

10 sweet snap peas

1 red chili pepper, seeded and sliced

1 tablespoon cooking oil

Chive and sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Ingredients for sauce:

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1/2 teaspoon corn starch

2 teaspoon water

Preparation:

Mix all ingredients for sauce in a small bowl.

Slightly brown the tofu in a non-stick pan with the 1 tablespoon of oil on medium high heat. Set aside.

Use the left over oil in the pan to stir fry the snap peas, carrot and the chili pepper for about 2 to 3 minutes or until snap peas turn bright green.

Lower the heat to and return tofu to the pan. Pour sauce into the pan and stir gently to coat for 30 to 45 seconds.  Turn off stove.

Garnish with chopped chive and sesame seeds.

Note: You can use frozen peas if snap peas are not available. The tofu that I bought in the market here came in a tube and I sliced it into medallions.  If your tofu comes in a rectangular box, you can slice them in half length wise and then slice them sideways into quarter inch pieces.

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Garlic New Zealand Spinach in Oyster Sauce

Ingredients:

New Zealand spinach (I estimate about 3 1/2 cups in the bag I bought)

2 cloves garlic

1 bird eye chili pepper (optional)

2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon cooking oil

2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon oyster sauce

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Preparation:

Throw away the tough stems of the New Zealand.  Wash and air dry or spin dry the spinach.

Heat the oil in a wok on high and add garlic and pepper.  Stir until aromatic and add spinach.  Toss until wilted and bright green. 

Serve with the oyster sauce.

Note: Adjust the amount of cooking oil and oyster sauce with the amount of vegetable you cook.  Baby Chinese Broccoli can be cooked the same way.  You can also blanch the vegetable instead of stir frying it.  Add a little sesame oil on top if you blanch instead of stir frying.

Here are some photos of yesterday’s lunch on set.  I couldn’t help sharing these pictures because the dishes tasted and looked wonderful.

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How I love that the chef lined the tray with a beautiful banana leaf for me.

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Black rice coconut pudding with mango slices

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Steamed Asian eggplant topped with prawns.

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Sweet Spicy Braised chicken

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Fried rice

Tropical Black Rice Salad with Mangos and Prawns

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My friend Russel brought me to visit the amazing Malaysian artist Ahmad Zakii Anwar and his family.  We drank tea and chatted in his tranquil front yard surrounded by tropical plants and next to a goldfish pond. I felt close to him right away because I grew up with a painter brother, whose love and skill for figurative painting Zakii seemed to share.  Zakii’s are mostly charcoal and acrylic, while my brother Chase’s are mostly oil.

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We toured his gallery and his studio, and then we moved to his movie room where the screen is a perfectly white canvas that reminds one of infinite possibilities.  I thought it was a brilliant idea for an artist to show movies on a large blank canvas where images from his favorite films stimulated his painterly imagination.  We sat under the screen and talked about his art, his inspiration and life in general.  A gentle and mellow family man, Zakii appeared to have dispensed with all his tension in his art.  There is something very absolute and pure in his paintings that I appreciate very much. We went on talking until it was dinner time and he took all of us to eat at a wonderful Peranakan restaurant called EPL near his house.  This was one of the most special evenings I have spent in Johor.

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For lunch today, I made a myself a black rice salad with mango, prawn and macadamia nuts. And I mixed a sweet, tangy and spicy soy dressing that was absolutely yummy.

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Tropical Black Rice Salad with Mangos and Prawns

Ingredients for the salad:

1 cup of black rice (raw, cooked with 1 1/2 cup of water and a pinch of salt)

1 Japanese cucumber or 1/2 of a long English cucumber, seeded and cubed

1 large mango, (1 1/2 cup diced)

12 large prawns (peeled, deveined, poached)

1 large red chili pepper, sliced

1 or 2 stock spring onion

1/2 cup macadamia nuts (I chopped half of them and left the rest whole)

Ingredients for the dressing:

4 small limes, juice of (about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 teaspoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon 100% pure dark sesame oil

1 small Thai red onion or 1 small shallot, minced

1 bird eye red chili pepper, minced

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Preparation:

Cook black rice according to package direction.  Cool to room temperature.

Mix all ingredients for dressing.

Toss together all ingredients for salad.

Pour first 1/2 of the dressing and try the salad.  Add more to suit your own taste.

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Cow Painting

My brother Chase Chen’s painting. For quite a while he was obsessed with Californian cows.

The Royal Lunch Break

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Monday lunch with Laksa, Japanese tofu, Thai lemongrass chicken, broccoli and rice

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Why am I so compelled to take photos of my food? I don’t know. It is like the prelude to eating — an appetizer to all my meals.

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I love my work as an actor on Marco Polo, especially when I am doing a scene that I can sink my teeth into or when the lighting is particularly flattering to my face.  But truth be told, the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most since my arrival on location in Malaysia is lunch break.  What could be better than getting out of the muggy heat, stepping into the cool dressing room to see a tray of delicious food waiting for me on my table?  I would fling off layers of costume in a matter of seconds and run to the food with my camera.  I would pretend that I am having room service in my bathrobe in a five-star hotel.  During the short respite from that organized chaos called a movie set, I feel relaxed and peaceful.

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The off duty royals riding a buggy to lunch

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Today’s pan-Asian flavored lunch

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Northern Indian Chicken kema

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Pomelo pomegranate salad with Vietnamese dressing

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Prawns with salted duck egg yolk

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Tofu with gingko nuts and shiitake mushrooms

With more than 700 people working on the show, the set is a crowded place and for me, lunch hour is a perfect time to have solitude.  Sometimes, I read a little.  Sometimes, I just stare out the window.  Other times, I FaceTime my family in California while I eat. 

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Of course I don’t get the “royal treatment” all the time, but even a sandwich on a park bench can turn into a beautiful and meaningful moment in life if we decide to make it so.  I remind myself that life is short and we live only once.  Enjoy your lunch breaks wherever you are!

Healthy Chocolate Coconut Peanut Butter Fudge

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Pomegranates are in season and they are so very sweet.

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It’s late and I have to prepare for tomorrow’s work.  But I will quickly share the healthy chocolate fudge that I made.  It is vegan, gluten-free, sweetened mostly by bananas, and it is truly delicious.  You won’t believe that it is also so easy to make and so healthy.

Healthy Chocolate Coconut Peanut Butter Fudge

Ingredients:

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup ground fresh coconut meat or store bought coconut butter

1/4 cup cocoa powder (10g)

1 1/2 very ripe large banana

Pinch of salt

Sugar to taste if the bananas are not sweet enough

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Preparation:

Blend all ingredients in a powerful blender.  Let it chill in the fridge or the freezer until firm enough to form the fudge to desired shape. 

I rolled the fudge balls in crushed granola bar and in pomegranate seeds to made it easier to pick up with your fingers.

Just drop the fudge ball one at a time into a large container (I used a small cooking pot with a long handle) with the granola bits and shake the container in a consistent and gentle round motion to coat the ball. I experimented with different shapes, but found the balls easiest for people to share.

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No-bake Mango Cheesecake & Milk

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My older daughter Angela and I were invited to a tasting party at Namu Gaji organized by the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB), creator of the iconic got milk? campaign. The current theme is Food loves Milk, which promotes the pairing of milk with different kinds of food.  I was instantly interested not only because of the novel and intriguing pairing of Korean fusion food with milk, but also because I have always tried hard, and often times without success, to make my vegetarian daughters drink more milk.  Since I’m filming in Malaysia, Angela went to the event with a friend. 

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Don’t know why she sent me a photo with her face covered and her friend’s face half cut off.

Angela hasn’t been communicating with me much lately.  Sometimes when I FaceTime my husband Peter, she would say hi and bye in passing.  So I was really happy to see more than 20 messages with many pictures from her yesterday about the got milk? dinner that she attended.  Apparently she had enjoyed the experience very much. From the menu and the pictures she sent me, Chef Dennis Lee’s food looked amazing.

“You’d be glad because I drank a lot of milk,” she texted me.  Angela doesn’t like milk.  “The Korean food they served was spicy,” she explained.  I laughed, thinking that it was a successful pairing because it got Angela to drink milk with her meal.

Growing up in Communist China in the late 60s, milk was a luxury food.  Each family in Shanghai was rationed to have one small bottle of milk a day.  And during milk shortages, we would not get any milk for days on end. In those years, the first thing I did after I got up was to run to the door and see if there was a bottle of milk waiting for me. I love milk.  My husband, who was also born in China, drinks a glass of milk with his dinner every evening like a growing teenager.  Neither of us drink wine.  I suppose we have been doing the food milk pairing a long time before this campaign. 

It’s mango season here in Malaysia. I made a No-bake Mango Cheese Cake yesterday and had a slice of leftover with a glass of milk for breakfast today.  Delicious.

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No-bake Mango Cheese Cake with Chocolate Granola Crust

Ingredients or the crust:

3 packs Nature Valley crunchy granola bars (crushed into tiny pieces)

2 tablespoon 100% cocoa power

1 tablespoon Molasses Sugar or brown sugar

3 – 4 tablespoon coconut oil (melted)

You can also make this cake with the raw and grain free crust from my earlier post.

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Ingredients for filling:

1 large ripe mango (about 1 1/2 cup diced)

1 tub 60% less fat Philadelphia cream cheese (250g)

2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

45g sugar

2 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoon coconut oil (melted)

1 teaspoon gelatin

1/4 cup milk of choice for the gelatin (I used 2% milk)

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Preparation:

Mix all ingredients for crust and press into an oiled tart dish.  You can break up the granola bars by hand or in a blender.  I blended half and hand crushed the other half to give a varied texture.  Leave the crust in the freezer as you prepare the filling.

Dissolve the gelatin in 1/2 tablespoon of water in a small bowl for 5 minutes.

Blend all ingredients for filling, except for the 1/4 cup of milk.

Heat the 1/4 cup of milk in the microwave 40 to 45 seconds, and mix in with the gelatin until dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the blender and blend until smooth.

Pour filling mixture into the prepared crust.

Refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze for 40 minutes before serving.

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Spicy Sweet and Sour Asian Eggplant & An Amazing Dinner to Remember

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Hairy Crabs from Shanghai

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Chef Deyen brought back 20 live hairy crabs from my hometown Shanghai, and knowing that I’m from there she invited me to enjoy the crabs with her.  I thought we were just going to get a few friends together in one of our apartments and eat the steamed crabs with minced ginger and vinegar.  That’s often what I do when I go back to Shanghai during crab season.  It’s always casual — everyone digging in with their hands, smacking their lips and licking their fingers as they eat.  I told her that I would bring a dish or two just in case someone didn’t like hairy crabs.  A much coveted delicacy for people like me, hairy crab is not everyone’s cup of tea. 

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Me, running around with my little camera

When I arrived at the appointed apartment, I was surprised to see that the dinner table had been exquisitely laid out with white table cloth, purple orchids and placemats made of leaves.  Our head chef Collin and Deyen were busy cooking an elaborate dinner.  My first reaction was that I should just hide the eggplant and fried rice dishes I cooked. No one needed to know I brought them.  But in the end, our chefs convinced me to serve the eggplant, and kindly complemented my cooking.

This was by far the most sumptuous and memorable dinner that I have had since we began filming Marco Polo.  The food was absolutely delicious, and the company was the best kind — people who truly love food and eat with great joy, gusto and bravado.  In my opinion our first time hairy crab eaters could out eat any Shanghainese men who have grown up on hairy crabs.  We pigged out like there was no tomorrow. 

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Our producer and host for the evening, Tim Coddington, owns a very successful winery in New Zealand.

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At work today, one of the ADs came to take lunch orders from the actors as she usually does.  When she saw me, she simply said, “Deyen suggested the avocado quinoa salad for you.”  I almost laughed.  Deyen knew what I ate last night. 

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My healthy redemptive lunch

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Now, about the eggplant that I cooked.  It’s a dish rooted in my Shanghainese (sweet) upbringing and Szechuanese (spicy) ancestry.  I have cooked it quite often in the past.  At home, I usually steam the eggplant or microwave it in a sealed container to soften it.  Then I stir fry the garlic, chili, ginger, red onion and tomatoes until aromatic. Then the cooked eggplant is added into the wok and mixed with the other ingredients.  But this time, I fried the eggplant.  It is more flavorful and the dish looks prettier.

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Spicy Sweet and Sour Asian Eggplant

Ingredients:

3 long Asian eggplants

5 cloves garlic, pressed

2 green chili peppers

4 red Thai chili peppers

4 slices peeled ginger

3 small Thai red onions or 1/2 small red onion

6 – 8 cherry tomatoes

Oil for frying

Ingredients for sauce:

2 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 teaspoon brown sugar

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Preparation:

Cut eggplant into 2 inch sections and then quarter them into wedges.

You can either leave the chilis whole or cut them in half lengthwise.  I halved 1 red chili and 1 green chili and discarded the seeds, and I left the rest chili peppers whole. 

In the pan or wok, fry eggplant wedges in batches on medium heat.  I did it in 3 batches.  Let fried eggplant dry on 2 layers of paper towel in a plate.

Use the oil left over from the frying to stir fry the garlic, chili peppers, ginger, onion and cherry tomatoes until aromatic and soft.  If you have too much oil left in the pan, discard all but 1 tablespoon for the stir fry.

Pour the sauce into the wok, and add the fried eggplant back.  Toss to coat and let cook for about 2 minutes.  Serve hot.

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