Chocolate Oatmeal Mug Cake

P1090250We had our wrap party last night, and everyone feels that we are almost at the finish line.  People are buying suitcases and clearing out their shelves and fridges.  Knowing that I cook, some have come to me with their leftover or never-opened sauces, noodles, oatmeal and eggs, etc., hoping that I will somehow be able to use them.

I made a couple of simple and yummy mug cakes for breakfast with some of the ingredients that I received.  If you are bored with oatmeal, try this chocolate oatmeal mug cake for a change.  It actually takes less time to cook than your usual oatmeal.  All you need is a blender and a microwave. Nothing beats a little dark chocolate to set you in the right mood for the day. And you can save the leftover as a snack or dessert later. 


1 Minute Chocolate Oatmeal Mug Cakes


1/4 cup rolled oats, ground to flour

3 tablespoon +1 teaspoon milk of choice

1 egg

2 scant tablespoons 100% dark cocoa powder

2 teaspoon brown sugar or xylitol

1/4 heaping teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon coconut oil or olive oil


Blend the rolled oats first before adding the rest ingredients in the blender, and then pour the mixture into two greased tea cups or ramekins.  Microwave for about 1 minute each. 

If you mix by hands, mix all dry ingredients together, and then all wet ingredients together before pouring the wet into the dry and mix thoroughly until smooth.

The length of microwave time depends on the power of your machine.  You might need to try one to figure out exactly how long it will take to make the cake in your microwave.  Start at a low time, 45 to 50 seconds and if it’s not done give it another 10 to 15 seconds.

You can also bake them in your toaster oven for 15 minutes.


You can eat it right out of the cup or flip it onto a plate


Try my other easy mug cake recipes:

Gluten-free Almond Apple Mug Cake

Chocolate Mug Cake with Banana

Easy Minute Almond Muffins

Lotus Root Salad with Soy Sesame ginger Dressing


After pigging out for the past two days, I decided to eat light today.  Light, but very satisfying.  Our chef Duyen gave me a bag of fresh water chestnuts and a few packs of fresh baby corn so I could prepare the lotus root salad exactly the way she made it for me at lunch the other day — lotus root with snap sweet peas, baby corn and water chestnuts.  These four crunchy, refreshing and slightly sweet vegetables make a perfect combination.  If you have never tried these vegetables before, this dish will be a great way to introduce something new and exciting into your diet.

Lotus Root Salad with Soy Sesame Ginger Dressing


2 cups thinly sliced and lightly blanched lotus root

1 cup baby corn, light blanched and diagonally sliced

1 cup lightly blanched, peeled and sliced water chestnuts

1 1/2 cup light blanched sweet snap peas

Green onion, chill flakes and sesame seeds for garnish

Ingredients for Dressing:

1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (optional)

1 1/2 tablespoon lime juice or rice vinegar

1 to 2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon finely minced or grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon chopped green onion

1 tablespoon 100 % pure black sesame oil


Prepare the dressing by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl.  Set aside.

Boil a pot of water and when the water is boiling add washed water chestnuts.  When the water boils again.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Set aside to cool.  Peel the water chestnuts when they are no longer hot.

Boil another pot of water and when it is boiling, add baby corn.  When the is boils again, use a slotted ladle to take them out.  Rinse with cold water and set aside.  Add the sweet snap peas into the same boiling water.  When the water boils again, drain and rinse the peas with cold water.  Set aside.  Slice the baby corn when it’s no longer hot.

Boil the last pot of water and when it’s boil, add thinly sliced lotus root.  Drain when the water boils again.  Rinse with cold water and set aside.

Let the vegetables cool completely before serving.

Alternatively, if you want to prepare the salad ahead of time, you can mix the salad dressing without the sesame oil and set aside.  Mix the sesame oil with blanched and drained vegetables and leave it in a closed container in the fridge for up to 2 days.  Add the rest of the dressing before serving.P1090198

Gypsy Style Thanksgiving

P1090232Before he died of cancer,  the acclaimed author and neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote a set of lyrical essays for the New York Times.  I was deeply moved by his passion for life and his courage in facing death.  Every Sunday from spring to summer this year, I looked for his writing until one day, two weeks after his moving final essay Sabbath was published, I read that he had passed away.

On this Thanksgiving day, I will share a passage from one of his essays as a way to give thanks to everything I have in my life: “My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

Thousands of miles away from home, I shared a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with the members of my extended Marco Polo family in the catering tent.  Yes, we eat in a large tent like boy scouts on a camping trip, except we make a TV series instead of hiking, and the outing lasts much longer and takes place across the ocean. Once when I was feeling homesick, I lamented about the traveling circus lifestyle that we lead as film people. Our producer John Fusco shared with me a Van Morrison song called Caravan, which lifted my spirit.  As I snapped the pictures of our international crew streaming into the catering tent on Thanksgiving night, the song Caravan played in my mind: “And the caravan has all my friends. It will stay with me until the end…”

Coconut Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie

24up-healthyholidays-jumboI was in front of my computer trying to catch up on news when my attention was drawn to this photo on the New York Times website.  I was caught in a wave of nostalgia as I gawked at the picture and remembered the yearly Thanksgiving dinner at my friends Dave and Jan People’s house.  We have been going to their house for our now favorite holiday since Angela was three years old. 

When she was two, Angela read a picture book about Thanksgiving in pre-school. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, the school principal asked her about her holiday.  Angela told the principal that Mommy did not roast a turkey, that we went to a Chinese restaurant for the celebration.  When I picked her up, the school principal gently reminded me that perhaps Angela should have the opportunity to experience this wonderful American tradition. 

The following Thanksgiving, we celebrated with David and Jan along with their extended family. Angela had her first taste of the proverbial roast turkey. A few years later she would become a vegetarian and would no longer eat the turkey. But the annual ritual of dinner at the Peoples’ has become the highlight that marks the passage of another year for our family.  It is always the morning after Thanksgiving, when we finally wake up from the turkey induced slumber, that Peter and I will go and get our Christmas tree.

This year, I will miss the feast at Dave and Jan’s house, but as I sit in my bed typing, I can see in my mind’s eye the golden roast turkey, which Peter is usually responsible for slicing because of his presumed surgical skills. I can also see Jan’s mushroom gravy, buttered carrots, pear salad, her daughter Risa’s mac and cheese, Dave’s mashed potatoes, our friend Nashama’s braised cabbage and my roasted bell pepper, eggplants and fennel in olive oil and balsamic glaze.  At the end of the sumptuous meal, there are always at least five different desserts, all of which I dutifully try one by one.  The desserts change from year to year, but there is always a cheesecake.


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I made a coconut cheesecake ice cream pie with whatever that’s left on my shelves and in my fridge.  There is no oven in this apartment, but there is a blender and a freezer.  That’s all you need to make this simple and delicious dessert.  If your oven is occupied by the turkey and you want to make a dessert, you can try this easy no-bake pie.

Usually, I would use dates and walnuts and shredded coconut for the crust, but I used prunes and almonds instead because that’s what I had in the kitchen.  I chopped the almonds instead of grinding them and I loved the crunchiness they added to the crust.


Coconut Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie

Ingredients for the Crust:

3/4 cup chopped toasted almonds

1 pack Nature Valley crunchy granola bar

1/2 cup Sunsweet Prunes, chopped

2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter

2 tablespoons molasses sugar or brown sugar

Ingredients for the filling:

8 oz Philadelphia 1/3 less fat cream cheese (you can also choose to use full fat cream cheese)

1 cup Greek yogurt

1 cup full fat coconut milk

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon honey

1/4 cup ground coconut meat (optional)

2 teaspoon vanilla paste, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 to 3 cardamom pods, skin removed and seeds pounded (optional)

Pinch of salt



Mix all ingredients for the crust in a mixing bowl, kneading it with your hands as you would a piece of dough.  Press it to a saran wrap lined tart dish and leave it in the freezer when you prepare the filling.

Blend all ingredients for the filling in a large blender until completely smooth.  Pour into the prepared crust and leave in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours or overnight.  If you freeze it overnight, you will need to thaw it for 15 minutes or so before serving.


If you have space in your oven, I would recommend my Yam Casserole to go with the turkey.  It is relatively easy to prepare and truly yummy.

Potato Egg Avocado Salad with Greek Yogurt Dressing


This is one of the simplest and most satisfying salads I have ever made.  I have a friend visiting me from Beijing and he is a passionate potato lover.  He can eat potatoes everyday and never get tired of it.  I asked him how he wanted his potatoes cooked today and he said, “Oh it doesn’t matter.  I can just boil it in water and eat it with a little salt.”  So I boiled them for him, but added a few other ingredients than salt.  The result was absolutely sumptuous.

When I was making the Greek yogurt dressing, I wished I had some lemon and coarsely ground Dijon mustard.  However, the salad turned out very tasty without them.  The Greek yogurt was tart enough without the lemon, and the garlic-chili-green onion combination was perfect for this salad. The pickled Thai red onion added a refreshing and piquant finishing touch.  A yummy Sunday brunch!


Potato Egg Avocado salad with Greek Yogurt Dressing


3 medium round potatoes, a scant 2 cups cooked and cut

3 boiled eggs

2 avocados

1/2 English cucumber, cubed

3 to 4 tablespoons pickled Thai red onion or red onion (see bellow for recipe)

Green onion for garnish

Ingredients for pickled onion:

1/2 red onion, or 8 Thai red pearl onion 

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt


Greek Yogurt Dressing Ingredients:

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped green onion

3 cloves garlic

3 Thai red chilis, seeded and minced (omit or adjust for the level of spiciness that you want)

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste



Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside.

To make pickled onion, bring vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add onion, bring to boil again and then remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes; drain. Let pickled onion cool.

Boil the eggs for 5 minutes and rinse with cold water.  Do not over boil the egg. The yolks will get flaky if you overcook them.  Peel and cut into quarters.

Cook the potatoes in a pot of water to al dente.  Peel and cut into bite size.

Cube avocados and cucumbers.

Toss all salad ingredients with the dressing.  Garnish with chopped green onion and serve at room temperature.P1090179

Noodle Salad with Tahini Dressing

P1090172Tahini in most US super markets is of Middle Eastern origin, but it is an ideal substitute for Chinese sesame paste, which is usually only sold in Chinese markets.  Noodle salad with sesame paste is a very traditional and basic Chinese dish and it is usually made with thinly sliced cucumber and carrots.  Since I swiped a few packs of fresh baby corn from our Marco Polo kitchen, I made mine today with blanched fresh baby corn, bean sprouts and sweet snap peas.  I also added shredded  chicken breast into the noodle to make it a more substantial meal, though the dish is perfectly delicious without the meat as a vegetarian dish.


Noodle Salad with Tahini Soy Dressing


200 g soba noodle (I used soba noodle because it is slightly healthier compared to Chinese noodle)

5 to 6 fresh baby corn

3/4 cup sweet snap peas

3/4 cup bean sprouts

1 to 2 red chili peppers

1 poached chicken breast

Green onion and toasted sesame seeds for garnish

1 teaspoon sesame oil


Ingredients for Dressing:

3 tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon Chinese peppercorn

6 to 8 thin slices ginger

2 stocks green onion, cut into 2 inch sections

1 chili pepper, chopped

2 tablespoon cooking oil

1 to 2 tablespoon water for thinning if desired



To make the dressing, heat the oil in a wok or sauce pan on medium heat. Add the ginger, chili pepper, green onion and Chinese pepper corn.  Stir until aromatic and browned but not burned.  Discard the the ginger, chili, green onion and pepper corn. Save the fragrant oil.

Blend the oil with tahini, rice vinegar, honey, garlic and water in a blender until smooth. 

Cook the noodle according to package direction to al dente.  Rinse the noodle and drain thoroughly.  Mix with sesame oil to prevent from sticking and clumping.

Blanch the vegetables in a pot of boiling water.  You only need to leave the vegetable in the boiling water for about 30 seconds.  Rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly.

Boil a pot of water with a few slices of ginger.  When the water is boiling, add the chicken breast with half cup Shao Xing cooking wine. Let boil for a minute or two with the lid closed.  Turn off the stove and let it sit in the hot water for another 10 minutes.  Let cool and shred by hand.

Mix everything together with the dressing and garnish with chopped green onion and sesame seeds.  Serve at room temperature.


If you are pressed for time, you can also make a simpler dressing by mixing together the tahini, soy sauce, rice vinegar and garlic with 1 tablespoon of water in the blender without making the fragrant oil, but the fragrant oil does give it an extra special flavor. Add a teaspoon or two of Sriracha sauce if you want a little heat to the dressing.

You can also try the original Chinese sesame paste noodle with thinly sliced cucumber and carrots to the noodle.


Lotus Root Salad


A couple of days ago, Chef Duyen from our Marco Polo kitchen made me a crunchy and refreshing lotus root salad for lunch.   It was so delicious that I had to try and make my own version of it. Hers had sweet snap peas, fresh water chestnut and fresh baby corn, and it was absolutely perfect.  Since I’m trying to finish what I have in the fridge before my departure, mine had sweet snap peas and bell peppers.  I also added some pickled red onion to give the otherwise subtle tasting salad a little piquancy. 


Lotus Root Salad  with Soy Sesame Dressing

Ingredients for Salad:

1 cup lotus root, very thinly sliced

3/4 cup sweet snap peas

3/4 cup sliced red and yellow bell peppers

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 to 2 red chili peppers, seeded and minced

2 packed tablespoons pickled onion (see recipe bellow)

Sesame seeds and minced chive for garnish (optional)

Ingredients for pickled onion:

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/ 2 cup Thai red onion, sliced

Ingredients for Dressing:

2 tablespoon lime juice

2 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 to 2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon 100% pure black sesame oil



Bring vinegar, sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add onion, bring to boil again and then remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes; drain. Let pickled onion cool.

Mix the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and set aside.

Boil a pot of water to blanch the sweet snap peas.  When the water is boiling, add the sweet snap peas into the pot and when it boils again, drain the water and rinse the cooked peas in cold water for a minute or two.  Drain and set aside.

Blanch the thinly sliced the lotus root the same way.  

Toss together all the vegetables with the minced chili and garlic.  Add dressing and garnish before serving.



You can prepare the salad ahead of time.  Pour the sesame oil into the salad without the rest of the dressing ingredients and leave it in the fridge.  Add the rest of the dressing before serving.

Apricot Chili Soy Glazed Chicken

P1090086I was on my way to the Pilate class when I heard the driver cracking his knuckles.  I instantly thought of Audrey, who pops her joints loudly all the time — not only her knuckles, but also her neck the way a burly man does before a fist fight.  Looking out the car window, I recalled how I used to nag her about it — telling her that no good men would want to marry a girl who cracked her knuckles; how I tried to bribe her with sleepovers and pocket money to stop doing that.  Suddenly I was washed over by a craving for her so strong that I felt my guts being tugged.  Missing someone you love deeply seems to come in waves. In the calm sea of my daily routine today, I was hit by a tidal wave without any warning.  The tides of my heart are entirely dictated by a gravitational force from far away — the waxing and waning of the moon that is my loved ones.


Audrey on the set of Marco Polo in Budapest

Three more weeks to go — the countdown begins.  In the olden days, a trip between here and the US would take at least three weeks on the ocean liner.  I will pretend that I have already embarked for San Francisco, getting closer to home with every sunrise.

Looking into my fridge, I saw a bottle of apricot jam sitting in the door pocket that was a part of the welcome package from the production when I first arrived in Malaysia. I decided to use the jam as an ingredient to cook the chicken. 

Since I am on a ship in the middle of the ocean, there will be no more trips to the grocery market. I will cook with only what’s on board for the next three weeks.


Chicken with Apricot Chili Soy Glazing


4 small chicken thighs

1/4 cup cooking wine

2 tablespoon soy sauce

4 slices of ginger

1 tablespoon cooking oil

Ingredients for the glazing:

1/4 cup apricot jam

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoon lime juice or rice vinegar

2 teaspoon sriracha sauce

2 Thai red chili, seeded and minced (leave the seeds in if you want extra heat)

2 cloves garlic, minced


Mix the ingredients for the glazing and set aside.

Wash the meat and marinate in the wine, soy sauce and ginger slices for 30 minutes or longer, turning them now and then to marinate evenly.

Discard the marinade and pat dry the thighs with paper towel.  Heat the oil and brown the meat in a nonstick pan on medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes on each side. 

When the chicken thighs are browned and cooked thoroughly, pour the glaze into the pan and let cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the glaze is thickened and sticky, but not burned.

Garnish with spring onion and sesame seeds and serve on a bed of sautéd vegetables. Click on the link for the recipe for sautéd vegetables.


Cashew Cardamom Chia Pudding & Chocolate Chia Pudding





Raining season is here in Malaysia. Dark and gloomy days call for sweet treats to lift up the spirits.  These chia puddings are the perfect thing to make for a day as grey as today — effortless to prepare and guiltless to eat.  You can make one before you go to bed and have it for breakfast.  Or you can make one before you leave the house for work and have it for dessert.  Basically it’s just a little workout for your arms — shaking the glass jar as vigorously as you can for a minute or two and voila!  My favorite chia pudding is coconut mango, especially when I can get my hands on the sweet and buttery Ipoh mangos here.  I also love mixed berry chia puddings. 

Today, I whipped up a cashew cardamom chia pudding and a chocolate chia pudding. These happened to be the ingredients that I had in my kitchenette.  They turned out quite delicious.  It has been fun for me to prepare food with limited resources and tools here in my service apartment.  I don’t have a car and can’t just dash to the market to get a missing ingredient, but I find this challenge interesting.  I’ve learned to make do with whatever I have and still cook healthy and delicious food.  I was never a part of the raw food movement — firmly believing that our ancestors’ discovery of fire was a crucial step for us to evolve into humans.  However, I have made quite a number of raw or nearly raw desserts since my arrival here.  There is simply no oven in my kitchenette. 

I think that there is an inherent opportunity whenever we are limited by our circumstances.  We experiment and become more inventive. 


Cashew Cardamom Chia Pudding


3 tablespoon chia seeds

1/2 cup raw cashew nuts

1 1/2 cup water

2 tablespoon raw honey

5 cardamom pods

A pinch of salt

Fruits and more cashews for garnish



Soak the cashews in the water for 8 hours or overnight if you don’t have a powerful blender such as a Vitamix.  Blend the soaked cashew with the water, honey and the cardamom into cashew milk.

Pour the cashew mixture into a glass jar with a water tight lid, add chia seeds and shake vigorously for a minute.  Leave it in the fridge for 20 minutes or so.  Take out the jar and give it another vigorous shake. Put it back to the fridge for 6 hours or longer. The shaking is to prevent the chia seeds from clumping. If you don’t have time, you don’t have to shake it a second time.  If you prefer your pudding less solid, add a little more water.

Garnish with fruits and cashew nuts before serving.  Dried fruits and seeds will go well with this too.



Chocolate Chia Pudding


2 tablespoon chia seeds

1 cup milk of choice

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons unsweetened 100% cocoa powder

1 tablespoon brown sugar or xylitol or sweetener of choice

A pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1/4 vanilla extract

Fruits, seeds and shaved dark chocolate to garnish




Mix the cup of milk with the cocoa powder, sugar, salt and vanilla paste into a chocolate milk and pour into a jar with a water tight lid.  Add chia and shake vigorously for a minute.  Leave it in the fridge for 20 minutes or so and shake it vigorously one more time.  Let sit in the fridge for 6 hours or longer.

Garnish with fruits and seeds before serving.

These puddings will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.


Vegetable Stir-fry with Tempeh


Since both Angela and Audrey are vegetarians, I am always seeking out good sources of vegetable protein, and tempeh is one of the most nutritious choices I have discovered.  Unlike tofu, tempeh is a whole soybean product, and the retention of the whole bean gives it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins than tofu.  The fermentation process also makes tempeh much easier for the stomach to digest than soy beans. 

Since I began shopping in grocery markets here in Johor, I have found that tempeh, which can cost as much as beef or more in the US, is the least expensive source of protein in this part of the world.

In Java where tempeh originated, it’s most often deep fried and then glazed in a sweet spicy sauce.  That was how my friend’s Indonesian housekeeper prepared it when I ate at his house.  But I browned my tempeh in a non-stick pan instead of deep frying it and glazed it with honey soy sriracha sauce. 



tempeh in banana leaves

Vegetable Stir-fry with Tempeh

Ingredients for the stir fry:

6 heaping cups sliced vegetables

(You can choose your favorite crispy vegetables and slice them into similar size.  Select the vegetables that require about the same cooking time. I used carrots, bell peppers, lotus root, runner beans and wood’s ears.)

1/2 cup Thai red onion or shallots

4 cloves garlic, minsed

1 1/2 teaspoon minsed ginger

2 to 4 red chili peppers, depending on how spicy you like the dish, seeded and sliced (omit if you don’t want the dish spicy or don’t seed the peppers if you want extra heat)

2 tablespoons cooking oil

salt to taste

sesame seeds for garnish (optional)


Ingredients for the tempeh:

8 oz tempeh, sliced into 1/5 inch x 1 1/2 inch

1 or more tablespoon cooking oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

2 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce (optional)

Ingredients for the sauce:

1 tablespoon oyster sauce, or soy sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar or xylitol

1 teaspoon water

2 teaspoon lime juice or rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon corn starch

1 teaspoon 100 pure sesame oil (optional)



Mix all ingredients for the sauce and set aside.

Heat oil in a non-stick pan on medium high and brown the tempeh.  When they are browned, turn stove to low and add soy sauce, honey and sriracha if using.  Stir for a minute or two.  Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a wok on medium high. When the oil is very hot, add garlic, ginger, chili pepper and onion and stir until aromatic.  Add the rest of vegetable and stir for about 4 to 5 minutes or until tender crispy.  Add a splash of water now and then as you stir, but don’t let it get watery. 

When the vegetable is cooked to the desired doneness, turn stove to medium low and add the sauce and stir to coat.  Add cooked tempeh and stir to mix.  Serve hot.



You can also use other aromatic vegetables such as scallion, cilantro or coriander leaves to give the dish flavor and fragrance.

If your stove fire is not strong and your wok is small, stir fry the vegetables in two batches.  Stir fry is always tastier in smaller batches.