Spicy Thai Peanut Dip

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There was a large pile of unopened mail waiting for me at home upon my return from China a week ago. It took me a few days to sort them all out.  It’s quite a chore, but sometimes there are pleasant surprises within the pile.  A couple of days ago, I opened a package and found a bottle of Pic’s Really Good Crunchy Peanut Butter and a bottle of dry roasted peanuts from New Zealand.  Our whole family have been enjoying the peanut butter in the past couple of days. We love the pure and intense peanut flavor in this very simple and delicious peanut butter with only two ingredients – peanuts and sea salt. I have written in previous blogs about my love for peanuts, be it peanut chocolate fudge or peanut chocolate ice cream pie or noodles with Asian peanut sauce. There is definitely a peanut loving gene in my body.

I made a spicy Thai peanut dip for the okra that I found in the farmer’s market. I blanched the okra in boiling water for less than a minute. I then rinsed it in cold water and drained it. Within 10 minutes there was a simple, satisfying low carb meal on the table. You can use the dip for any number of vegetables of your choice: carrots, celery, turnip, cucumber… You can even use it as a sauce for noodles.  

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Spicy Thai Peanut Dip

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons peanut butter (I used Pic’s Really Good Crunchy Peanut Butter)

1 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon hoisin sauce

1 teaspoon xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon lime juice

1 to 2 teaspoons Sriracha (depending on how spicy you want the dip to be)

1/4 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)

1/4 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)

1 teaspoon pure sesame oil (optional)

Chopped green onion, crushed peanuts and chili peppers for garnish

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Preparation:

Using a big spoon or your fingers, mix all the ingredients together. Garnish with chopped green onion and chili flakers.

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Enjoy Tortilla Chips without Guilt!

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I received a package today from Que Pasa with three bags of chips made of organic whole grain yellow, blue and red corn, just in time to celebrate Cinco De Mayo.  There was also a bottle of yummy organic salsa that came with the chips.

I grew up in China and knew nothing about Cinco De Mayo when I was there.  As a matter of fact, I had not known about its meaning until I read about it on wikipedia today. According to wikipedia, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. It is a victory celebration!

These chips are quite delicious — fresh, crunchy and salty (but not too salty).  The only negative is my tendency of consuming too much of it in one sitting. So I decided to make a salad with the chips. This way you can at least eat a lot of fresh vegetables while you indulge on your chips.  The salad turned out beautifully with such vibrant Mexican colors, flavors and texture. It was so delicious that I had two plates of it. No guilt, though. I had to use a fork (for the vegetables), a spoon (for the salsa) and my hands ( for the chips and to scoop up the salad with the chips) all at once.

The salad was made of the vegetables that I would have used to make a guac plus a few more ingredients. It doesn’t need any dressing except for the lime juice that I used to coat the avocado, salt and pepper and a little salsa from Que Pasa.

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Some of the chips arrived crushed in the mail, but perfect for sprinkling on the salad

Cinco De Mayo Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup Que Pasa tortilla chips

1 to 1 1/2 large avocado, sliced and coated with lime juice

2 cups tri-color cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber, sliced

5 to 6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced red onion

fresh corn kernels from one ear of corn, cooked

1/4 cup queso fresco cheese or fresh feta cheese, crumbled (omit if vegan)

3 to 4 tablespoon Que Pasa salsa

1 stock green onion chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

1 lime, for juicing

cilantro for garnish

Preparation:

Mix all the vegetables. Lay them on tortilla chips in separate individual plates. Top with chopped green onion, minced red onion, cheese, salsa and garnish with cilantro.

Or

Mix all the vegetables. Top with chopped green onion, cheese, salsa. Sprinkle on crushed chips and garnish with chopped cilantro and salsa.

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Note:

It’s important to enjoy the salad as soon as it is mixed if you don’t like soggy chips.

Yuba Noodle Salad with Crunchy vegetables

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The few things that I never allow to run out in the fridge are Hodo Soy tofu and yuba, along with milk, Fage and eggs.  In a household with two growing vegetarian teenagers, we cook tofu 4 times a week.  Tofu is versatile, nutritious and relatively easy to prepare.

Today, Peter called me around noon to say that he had a little time and could come home to have lunch with me.  “I am wrapping up a case and should be home in 15 minutes,” he said.  There was plenty of leftover in the fridge of course, but I wanted to serve him something fresh and tasty.  Since his office is only a 5-minute drive from home, I want to encourage him to come back for lunch more often now that I am home.

I went for the yuba noodles in the fridge after I hung up the phone with him.  It took me about 10 minutes to slice the carrots, cucumber, cilantro and green onion.  Toss them with the yuba and viola! you have a beautiful and healthy lunch.  I even had time to put a little make-up on for him.  Peter was very impressed with this delicious dish that seemed to have magically appeared in a matter of minutes. 

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Yuba Noodle Salad

Ingredients:

1 pack HodoSoy spicy yuba

1 cup julienned carrots

1/2 English cucumber, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 cup sweet snap peas, thinly sliced

1/4 cilantro leaves

1 red jalepeno, thinly sliced (optional)

1/4 red onion, slivered

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

1/2 stock green onion, the white end, chopped

1/4 teaspoon finely ground Sichuan peppercorn (optional)

2 teaspoon rice vinegar

2 teaspoon fresh lime or lemon juice

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Preparation:

Prepare the vegetables.  Open the package and break up the yuba from the package.  Mix everything together in a salad bowl.  Top with chopped green onion and sesame seeds before serving.

Note:

You can sauté the whole Sichuan peppercorn with 2 teaspoon of and discard the peppers after they are brown and aromatic.  Save the oil for the salad.  Or you can simple finely grind the peppercorn and add to the salad. 

Add a little salt or soy sauce if you prefer your salad a little saltier.  I added no salt or soy sauce and the salad was perfect.

If you don’t have lime or lemon juice, just use more rice vinegar.

You can also use other crunchy vegetables of your choice such as radish and celery.

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You can also try my other 10-minute tofu salad by clicking on this link.

Budapest Indulgence

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Last day on Tamas Farm

Audrey and Joan

First day on Tamas Farm, sharing screen with the lovely Audrey

I was very happy when our van drove away from Tamas Farm for the last time on the narrow dirt road last night.  So many of our trucks and vans drove back and forth on the dirt road kicking up so much dust that it felt as if we were in a dust storm.  As I sat in the departing van cussing and choking on dust, I realized that one day I will look at the pictures of the idyllic gently rolling meadow and miss the place, the people and the time I shared with them.  It’s strange how I had a premonition of the imminent nostalgia as our van sped away leaving behind a plume of dust.

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Audrey with Marco Polo

Someone in the crew commented that I had not updated my blog lately and I said I had been on set everyday.  She joked, “Get your priorities straight, Joan, we are waiting for your recommendations for the weekend.”  This is how a hobby becomes stressful.

So what’s new?  I have apparently indulged in too much heavy Hungarian food because I noticed that my costume was becoming very tight.  I love to eat and have a voracious appetite.  It is truly difficult to eat healthy if I don’t cook for myself.  Last night I decided to order “the big raw mixed salad” from “Gluten Free And Carb Smart Options” for room service.  When the “carb smart” food arrived, it came with a basket of assorted breads and butter.  What is one to do?  

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For dinner today, Audrey and I went to a restaurant recommended to us by a Hungarian foodie from our camera crew.  He gave me a list of restaurants and one of them, Bock Bisztro, happens to be downstairs of the hotel that we are staying in.  The restaurant has won many awards and is Michelin Guide recommended.  Since we didn’t have a reservation we went very early before the dinner crowd.  Everything on the menu looked interesting to me.  I decided on Ox Cheek Retro while Audrey ordered Csango Vegetable Soup and Salad with Parmesan.

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I looked at the beef poster on the wall that explained the different cuts while waiting for my ox cheek.  I thought of my husband Peter, whose favorite part of a steamed fish is the cheek — that tiny pearl of flesh appreciated only by the most discerning fish eaters.  It has been many weeks since I last saw him and I grieve for all the meals that I can’t share with him — a food lover like myself.

The ox cheek came with chopped pig’s ear served in a bone and a huge buttery Hungarian dumpling.  The braised meat was melt-in-your-mouth soft and tender with the most delectable sauce. 

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Audrey’s vegetable soup was lemony and creamy with cauliflower, carrots, peas, onion and baby spinach.  She loved it, but was so full after eating her soup with bread that she couldn’t finish her salad. I had a few spoonful of her soup and regretted it right away.  Though it was delicious, it was like drinking cream.

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Bacon flavored lard for the bread.

Off to the pool now to try to undo some damage.

Mongolia in Budapest

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There was a lot of waiting on set for me today.  I got picked up at 7:20 in the morning from the hotel and didn’t begin my scene until 4:00 in the afternoon.  I had a lot of time looking at the camels who were also waiting.  Though not in our natural habitat, the camels and I seem to be quite content and at home here in our make-believe homeland.  It was a luxury really, sitting idly under the sun without any guilt — technically I was working.  I act for fun, but I get paid for waiting.  Why didn’t I bring a book?  A book would have been perfect.  I found myself not reading as much as I used to.  There is simply too much distraction from everywhere all the time. 

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When the camels got up to take a walk, so did I.  There were miles and miles of undulating sunflower fields around where we were filming and they were breathtaking.  I sometimes hate waiting on set, especially if the upcoming scene is emotional because too much waiting destroys one’s readiness.  You end up feeing drained before you can even begin. Today I decided to luxuriate in the peaceful surrounds of Tamas Farm — it’s not everyday that I come to a place like this and I will never be here again when these scenes are finished.

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Audrey and I found a lovely little restaurant a few blocks from our hotel called KonyvBar & Restaurant.  It is a book lovers’ haunt where the chef creates his weekly specials based on the theme of a book that he has read and wants to recommend.  This week’s book is Gerald Durrel’s My Family and other Animals, an account of an English family’s experience in Greece.  The specials are all Greek, including dishes like Mother’s first moussaka and  Watermelon granita. The atmosphere is Zen-like and gentle.  It is a place that if you had to eat by yourself, you’d feel pretty comfortable sitting there with a book.  Audrey’s steak was excellent — tender, juicy and flavorful, while my beef stew, though redolent with great spices, was a little tough.  But I will definitely go back there again, even if just to find out about the chef’s next book and his new weekly specials.

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Taking pictures of our food has become a pandemic worldwide

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I found this painted wall across from the restaurant quite charming

Budapest Sunday

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Almost all shops are closed on Sundays in Budapest, but there are some markets and bazaars that stay open, mostly for tourists.  And that’s us.  Audrey fell in love with a dress in a street market called Gozsdu Bzaar.  After looking at all the stalls in the bazaar, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch.  From where we sat, we happened to be peering at the back of a stand where an old man was selling whistles and dresses — an odd combination that was later explained.  Pointing at a cream dress with little blue flowers, Audrey told me, “This dress looks like the one from Urban Outfitters.  I will show you.”  She proceeded to show me the dress on her phone and said she would like to try the dress.  While I sat at the table waiting for the food to arrive, Audrey went to ask the old man if she could try the dress in the lady’s room in the cafe. She came back to the table with the dress and told me that all the dresses were made by the old man’s wife.  So, that was why the whistle stand also sold dresses. 

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I ordered the roasted goose leg with red cabbage, which seems to be a national dish that most restaurants manage to prepare well. This one was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Quite delicious. But you see why I must skip dinner.

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From where we sat, we saw the back side of the whistle stall that also sold dresses.

Unfortunately, the pretty dress was too small for Audrey.  I told her to ask the old man if his wife could sew a larger one and we will come back in a couple of weeks.  Audrey came back and said that the old man said no, but his english wasn’t good enough to describe the reason why not.  It was either because his wife was leaving him or she was dead.  I thought that was strange and went to talk to him again after lunch.  He told me again that his wife was leaving him. “Tomorrow,” he added, flapping his arms.  We finally understood that she was leaving for vacation tomorrow.

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The whistle stand. The dress behind the old man is the one Audrey wanted.

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This stand sold little candle shades that turn your wine goblets into candle holders. They are perfect for our wine glasses because we don’t drink.

Disappointment aside, Audrey found some lovely souvenirs and gifts to bring home. 

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After a heavy lunch, I made some more quick pickled radish.  This time I added onion, garlic, poblano pepper and paprika to the mix.  We snacked on the pickled radishes while watching Mrs. Doubtfire, which brought us back to the familiar streets of San Francisco.  The film was shot in and around a house only a few blocks from our home.

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I have to get up at 4am tomorrow for my first day shooting, and I must go to bed now.  I will share the recipe for pickled radishes tomorrow because they are really delicious.

The Best Sandwiches in the World Here in Budapest

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We might have found the world’s best sandwich joint on a narrow cobblestoned street in the old Jewish quarter of Budapest: Bors Gasztrobár.  We went there for the first time yesterday after our visit at the Hungarian National Museum.  Audrey doesn’t like museums in general.  The only one that she’s ever truly enjoyed was Musée Mécanique on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, where they exhibit clever mechanical gadgets and toys of a bygone era.  Visiting the Hungarian National Museum was not exactly something on her to do list here. 

Audrey was tired, hungry and in an irritable state after three hours in the stuffy museum.  It was a 15 minutes walk from the museum to Bors Gasztrobár, and when we arrived we saw a big crowd waiting in and around the tiny joint.  There was no place to stand, let alone sit.  I almost regretted going there. 

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Much to my relief, the line moved quite fast and the menu looked really interesting and enticing.  The atmosphere, too, was youthful and pleasant.  The two owners and their two staffers handled the orders with a light-hearted briskness, but nothing was rushed.  They acted as if they were the hosts of a party — just having a great time with their guests. 

Audrey ordered Ham Baguette, and I ordered French Lady.  We had wanted to take the sandwiches back to our hotel to eat, but they arrived piping hot in paper bags.  It would be a shame not to eat them right then and there. The Ham Baguette had in it veal ragout, hamburger sauce, home-made pickles and cheddar cheese, while French Lady had in it raspberry onion jam, roast chicken and Edamer cheese.

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Audrey’s eyes lit up when she took her first bite and devoured her 12 inch baguette sandwich in a matter of minutes.  Between bites she declared that this was the best sandwich she’d had in her entire life.  I couldn’t agree with her more.  Those sandwiches were peerless — perfectly crunchy on the outside, cheesy and saucy on the inside, and simply bursting with flavor.

Sandwiches are not something I usually get excited over, but the first thing Audrey and I uttered to each other this morning was how delicious those baguettes were.  I had a rehearsal today in the outskirts of Budapest and immediately after we came back, we went to Bors Gasztrobár.  It was 3:30 in the afternoon and the place was less crowded.  We ordered exactly the same sandwiches that we had eaten yesterday.  I suppose we will move on to other sandwiches eventually, but for today we just wanted to relived the experience of yesterday.  And amazingly we did.

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Let me not forget to mention the price.  It is just as unbelievably good as the food.  The most delicious sandwich in the world costs 780 forint, about US$2.80 each. 

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After all the heavy restaurant food that we have been eating, I had a craving for pickles.  Since I didn’t have a mason jar, I made a quick pickled radishes in the mugs.

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Pickled Radishes

Ingredients:

1 bunch fresh radishes, thinly sliced

1/2 small daikon, sliced

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

Radish leaves, tender parts only

1 cup or more rice vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon sugar

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Preparation:

Mix the vinegar, salt and sugar in a container.  Marinate the carrots and radishes for 30 minutes or longer.

We discarded the marinade and and squeezed a little lemon juice on the radishes.  Then we ate them with the tender radish leaves like a salad.  It was a much needed and refreshing change from the heavy Eastern European diet that we’ve been keeping.

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Saturday Brunch with Artisanal Silverware

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

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

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Smoked Salmon Scallion Omelet Ingredients:

1 Egg + 3 Egg White (beaten)

3 stalks Scallion (chopped)

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

2 tablespoon 2% Shredded Cheddar & Jack cheese

1/2 teaspoon Dill Weed

1/2 tablespoon Olive Oil

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Preparation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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