Caprese Salad

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Caprese Salad

Audrey and I spent 5 weeks in China where we worked on a Chinese comedy about the art of traditional Chinese cooking. I played a character by the name of Tom, which in Chinese sounds like Mother of Soup汤母, and Audrey played the young version of my character in the flashback.  We stayed in a hot spring resort in the boondocks of Xing Yang by the Yellow River.  Everyday, the production brought us two three-tiered lunch boxes with staples such as stir fried tomato with eggs, bell pepper with shredded pork, braised eggplant or mutton radish soup. After two weeks, Audrey groaned whenever those shiny tin boxes were delivered to us and she craved for caprese salad and pizza. When I had a day off, we drove for an hour to the nearest large city of Zheng Zhou in search of them.  We found pizza in a shopping mall, but no one there had heard of caprese salad.

Naturally that was the first thing we ate when we came home. And we have been enjoying it almost every other day. A little deprivation does wonders to renew your appreciation of something you took for granted. I have been jet lagged and there is so much to catch up around the house after a long absence. This caprese salad is not only delicious, it is also the easiest meal to make.  The trick is to buy the best quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with the best quality balsamic cream or glaze and olive oil.

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Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes (halved)

Fresh baby mozzarella balls (halved)

Fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic Glaze or balsamic cream

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Half the cherry tomatoes and the mozzarella balls. sprinkle with fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and extra virgin olive oil.

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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…”

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.

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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.

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Chicken with Apricot Chili Soy Glazing

Ingredients:

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

Preparation:

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.

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Cashew Cardamom Chia Pudding & Chocolate Chia Pudding

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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. 

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Cashew Cardamom Chia Pudding

Ingredients:

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

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Preparation:

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.

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Chocolate Chia Pudding

Ingredients:

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

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Preparation:

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.

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Fish Maw Soup for the Octogenarians

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Father helping Mother

I don’t know exactly when and how it started, but my parents and their old medical school classmates have been holding a monthly reunion in Shanghai.  It’s something they all look forward to and talk about for most of the month.  Some of them would come from other cities, or even other countries.  They take turns hosting, and this month was my parents’ turn.

My mother was reluctant to host, fearful that people might notice her dementia more if she was the center of attention.  What if she suddenly forgot someone’s name — someone she had known all her life?  My father pledged his help and reassured her that everything would turn out fine. He wrote each guest’s name on a little sticker and asked my mother to stick them onto the cups they would be using. 

I was thrilled to have a few days off from the Marco Polo production and flew to Shanghai for the party.  My mother was relieved that her movie star daughter would not only take some of the attention away from her but also cook for her guests. The invitation was for 11:30am, but the guests began to trickle in as early as 10:30.  It was a good thing that we began preparing and cooking the night before.

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It touched me to see some of the faces that I used to know from my childhood — now worn but richer and somehow more characteristic of themselves. Perhaps that’s how people age — shedding layers of pretense or shield, becoming closer to their true and naked selves. Most of them had been doctors all their lives.  Physicians in their days received a meager salary from the government just like workers in any other profession in China.  Many of them could not afford taxis and came to the reunion by bus. It took some people more than an hour to reach my parents’ place, but they wouldn’t miss the gathering for anything.

These octogenarians amazed me with their robust appetite and booming voices.  They seemed to burst into peals of laughter with every other sentence.  For a while I was slightly concerned that someone might choke on their food laughing and swallowing all at once.

While they laughed and ate, I snapped pictures of them and burned each one a disc.  They were very pleased that someone documented and captured their happy times together.

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Watching the slide show I made of their boisterous reunion

One of the dishes I made was fish maw in bone and ham broth with the fish maw I brought back from Malaysia.

My father (middle) and my mother with their old friend at the reunion.

My father (middle) and my mother with their old friend, Little Shandong, at the reunion.  Little Shandong is still called Little Shandong at the age of 84.

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Fish Maw Soup

Ingredients for the broth:

2 to 3 kilos of pork leg bones

1 ham bone

8 slices of ginger

1 cup of Shao Xing cooking wine

1 large pot of water.

Ingredients for the soup:

2 cups wood’s ears (soaked and drained)

2 cups fish maw (soaked, washed and wrung dry)

3 long young turnips (don’t buy the ones that are thick, which tend to be hollow)

1/4 kilo baby bok choi hearts

White pepper powder

Ham slices for garnish (optional)

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Preparation:

Wash the bones and boiled a large pot of water with a few slices of ginger in it.  When the water is boiling, add the pork bones to it.  When it boils again, drain the water and rinse the bones one more time. 

Boil the bones and ham bone in a new pot of water with the cooking wine and ginger for 4 hours or longer.  Skim off the top any congealed blood every once in a while if there is any.

When the broth is fragrant, take out the bones and add the rest of the soup ingredients except for the bok choi hearts and let it simmer for another 30 minutes. 

Turn up the stove to high and add bok choi hearts.  Let cook for about 30 seconds and serve the soup hot with a lot of white pepper powder.  

Note:

If you like gnawing on bones, leave some in the soup as I did.  You can also add fish balls to the soup if you like fish balls.

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Braised Fish Maw & Some Other Musings

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Many of you might never have heard of it, but fish maw is considered a delicacy in China — one of the four treasures of the sea. It has also been documented, since the Han Dynasty, as a tonic for strengthening one’s tendons and bones.  In today’s China, women believe it to be a beauty food because of it’s high collagen content.  I have eaten it in the past, but have not cooked it myself until today.

Pikky’s mother, who had brought me the fish maw the other day, gave me a recipe, but I didn’t have many of the ingredients she listed, and decided to improvise with what I had on my shelf.  I suppose I gave it a Shanghainese twist.  A few adventurous eaters from our Marco Polo production ate it and claimed that they absolutely loved it, which surprised me, and pleased me to no end.  As a friend of mine commented that those were the loyal hungry subjects of the Hungry Empress.

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I leave for Shanghai tomorrow and will bring some fish maw back to cook it for my parents.  They are both getting frail with age and I want to spend as much time with them as I can.

My father is hard of hearing and my mother has early stage of dementia. They have been helping each other in the recent years — one hears and the other remembers. Together, they have lived as one whole person.

Mother was a brilliant researcher in the field of neuropharmacology.  As she began to lose her short term memory, her critical thinking and analytical ability were still intact and she was clear-eyed about her poor prognosis.  She told me that there is no cure yet for damaged brain cells.

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Mother

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My father with me in front of our house in Shanghai

When I called her two days ago about my trip to Shanghai, I was not sure if she would remember it later. I thought of calling her again today to remind her.  Sometimes, I would call her everyday about the same thing until she got it. For instance, I told her that I was filming in Malaysia at least five times until she finally committed it to memory. Now she knows where I am, most of the time.  When I turned on the computer to Skype her, I was happy to see an email from her, clearly remembering our conversation and asking for my arrival time.  Her very selective short term memory can still retain what’s truly meaningful and important to her. 

For as long as I could remember, I have admired my mother for her beauty, intelligence and talent. When I was a child, all my school friends admired her and wanted to grow up to be like her. 

After her retirement, my mother took up piano full time and won First Place in a city wide competition in Shanghai for her age group 10 years ago. When her arthritis became more severe, she changed her style from classical to what she called Jazz — freer, more expressive but less demanding on her fingers’ precision. Now she plays the piano as part of her daily routine to stall the progression of dementia.

Sometimes, I panic a little when I see how old age has ravaged them, but when I hear my mother play the piano, I calm down with the knowledge that there is still much vitality and joy left in her.  As I write, I have the picture in my mind: Mother is playing the piano with her arthritic fingers while Father sits next to her focusing on the computer screen, polishing the radiology textbook that he, at age 84, will publish this year, completely deaf to and unperturbed by Mother’s banging on the piano.  They remind me to seize every moment and to capture every drop of joy in life.

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Braised Fish Maw

Ingredients:

3 cups Fish Maw (after soaking, squeezing out the water and slicing)

1 cup Shao Xing cooking wine

1 1/2 cup water (separated)

3 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoon oyster sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon Chinese peppercorn

8 slices ginger

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1 green chili pepper

1 red chili pepper

4 small Thai red onion or small shallots

1 carrot, sliced diagonally

6 oz. snow peas

Cilantro leaves and chopped green onion for garnish, optional

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Preparation:

Soak the processed fish maw.  They come deep fried into crispy chips, much like the pork skin crackling chips.  When they become soft, wash them and squeeze out the water 4 to 5 rounds.  Cut them into 2 inch or smaller pieces.

Mix cornstarch, 1/2 cup water, sugar. Set aside.

In a wok, heat 2 teaspoon oil and sauté on medium high ginger, garlic, pepper, peppercorn until aromatic and add sliced fish maw.  Give it a few good stir and add the wine and soy sauce and water and cover the lid.  Lower heat to medium and let cook for 5 to 8 minutes. 

In the meantime, in a separate pan, sauté the shallot, carrot and snow peas until tender crispy.

When the liquid in the wok with fish maw is reduced to almost nothing, add the sautéd vegetables and the cornstarch mixture.  Toss to mix and coat.

Garnish and serve hot with rice.

I added a few pieces of tofu to braise together with the fish maw, thinking that if someone did not like fish maw, he could eat the tofu, but everyone who tried loved the fish maw.

Serve hot with rice or noodle.

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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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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.