Dan Dan Noodles

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I have written in a prior blog about my Sichuan ancestry and the spicy food that was a part of my upbringing. Dan Dan Noodles is a Sichuan street food that became well known all over China. Traditionally it is made with ground pork, but today I made it with 99% fat free ground turkey in an effort to curb our red meat consumption. It turned out to be absolutely delicious. I made it for lunch, but Peter asked me to make it again for dinner. I was watching a beautiful film called Five Days in Maine at the SF Film Festival when I received a text from Peter, “ These noodles are so fantastic that I can’t stop eating them.” 

This is a dish best made with fresh ramen, which gives it the extra chewiness and elasticity. I bought mine at a Chinese supermarket on Clement Street. It comes in a package of 2.2 pounds divided in 4 bundles.  Each bundle is about 2 servings. You can replace it with other noodles or pasta such as fettuccine if fresh ramen is not available.  

I usually make Dan Dan Noodles with a spicy pickled mustard called 榨菜 Zha Cai, but today I used a crunchy pickled lettuce that comes in a jar from the Chinese supermarket.  It adds flavor and crunch to the minced meat.

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Pickled Wo Sun, a Chinese lettuce stem

Dan Dan Noodles

Ingredients:

4 oz 99% fat free ground turkey or ground pork, beef, or chicken

1/3 cup Chinese pickled lettuce, chopped (Chinese market, see photo)

1 teaspoon pickle juice from the same jar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons chopped green onion

1 teaspoon, grated or finely minced ginger

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoon Shao Xing cooking wine

1/2 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch

8 to 9 oz fresh ramen noodles (Asian super market)

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons ground peanuts

1 cucumber, thinly sliced

sliced red chilies, sesame seeds & chopped green onion for garnish

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Sichuan peppercorn & chili

Ingredients for Chili Oil:

3 tablespoons oil

2 cloves crushed garlic

4 to 5 dried red chili, chopped or 2 teaspoons chili flakes (more if you like it very spicy)

1 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn 

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 heaping tablespoon tahini sauce

2 teaspoons dark sweet rice vinegar (Chinese market)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 coves garlic, peeled and very finely minced

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Preparation:

Mix the first 9 ingredients in a bowl, cover with saran wrap and set aside in the fridge.

Heap up the oil in a small pot on high. When the oil is piping hot, add the chili, Sichuan peppercorn and crushed garlic. Close the lid and turn off the stove. Let the oil sit on the stove for 5 minutes before filtering out the chili, peppercorn and garlic and keep only the oil in a bowl.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce with the chili oil. Set aside.

Boil a large pot of water to cook the noodle to el dente. Rinse in cold water and drain completely. (Fresh ramen cooks fast. Make sure you check the doneness often.)

Heap up 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Stir fry the minced meat mixture until done.

Mix the noodles, the chili oil sauce, the cooked minced meat together. Top with chopped green onion, chili flakes, sesame seeds. and serve with cucumber slices.  Mix about 3 tablespoons chili oil sauce with the noodles first and taste it before using the rest of the sauce just in case it’s too strong for you.

You can also mix the noodles with the chili oil sauce first. Separate into two serving bowls. Then top them with the cooked minced meat and the rest of the other goodies.

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Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

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Bulgogi is traditionally made with beef, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be a delicious and nutritious vegetarian dish. I cooked mine very mildly spicy because the girls and Peter don’t like their food too hot.  Add chili flakes if you like more heat in the dish as I do.

This is a simple dish to make but very satisfying to eat. I used firm tofu, but extra firm will work well too. I used light soy sauce, but if you want the color of your tofu to be darker to resemble the real bulgogi, use 2 tablespoons light soy sauce and 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce. Go Chu Jang is a very sweet chili sauce. If you don’t like your dish too sweet, you can replace with other mild chili sauce. 

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Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

Ingredients:

1 box 14 oz firm tofu, water drained and finely diced

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 to 1 1/2  teaspoon grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg + more if serving with sunny side up (Skip if vegan)

1 1/2 teaspoon tapioca, or corn starch

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons pure dark sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons Korean sweet & spicy sauce called Go Chu Jang (replace with other mild chili sauce and add a little more sugar if you don’t have Go Chu Jang)

1 to 2 teaspoons xylitol or brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil

1/2 carrot, thinly sliced or julienned

1 teaspoon sesame seeds for garnish

Sliced cucumber and/or Kimchi for serving

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Preparation:

Open the tofu package. If the tofu is soaked in water, drain all the water and let it sit on a plate with another plate on top to press more water out.

In a large bowl, mix together tofu, 5 tablespoons chopped green onion, grated ginger, minced garlic, egg, soy sauce, Go Chu Jang, tapioca or corn starch, sesame oil and sugar with your hand. Let marinate for about 10 minutes.

Heat cooking oil in a wok or pan on medium high heat, stir fry the tofu mixture for 3 to 4 minutes until aromatic. Add thinly sliced carrots and stir to mix.

Serve on top of cooked rice, garnish with green onion and more Go Chu Jang if desired. Top with a sunny side up egg to make it a more fulfilling meal.

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Asian Flavored Pork Chops with Sautéd Vegetables

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Lately, I have been trying to feed Peter less meat. I either use small portions of sliced meat in vegetable stir-fries to enhance the flavor or I serve him the same vegetarian meals the girls have. I know he misses meat when he tells me to relax and not worry about cooking dinner. “I’ll order from Green Island tonight,” he’d say. Green Island is his favorite take-out place, where you can get three dishes of tasty Chinese food for $27. Peter usually orders the stir fried beef with vegetables, curry beef brisket and rock cod in garlic black bean sauce.  That’s how he gets his weekly fix of greasy, salty Cantonese provision. When I got a midday call from Peter asking if there would be meat for dinner tonight. I knew that it was time for me to cook a serious meat dish.

I had opened a bottle of good brandy some time ago to make desserts and there was still 1/3 of a bottle left.  I decided to use it in the marinade, but if you don’t have brandy handy, Shao Xing cooking wine will probably work fine, too.  The key is to marinate the meat for at least two hours, ideally 4 to 8 hours. The pork chops that I bought today were about 1/2 to 2/3 inch thick. If your chops are 1 inch thick, you will need to use 1 1/2 portion of the marinade. The pork chops will absorb and lock in every last drop of the marinade and turn out tender, juicy and absolutely delicious.

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Asian Flavored Pork Chops with Sautéd Vegetables

Ingredients:

4 pork chops

1 green bell pepper, sliced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 red jalapeno pepper, seed and sliced

1 small yellow onion, sliced

2 to 3 slices of ginger, thinly slivered

3 tablespoons cooking oil, separated

2 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon dark rice vinegar or rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Marinade:

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon molasses or honey

2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

6 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon tapioca flour, or corn starch

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Preparation:

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Pound the pork chops and poke holes on the meat with ice pick or the tip of the knife. Use your hand to mix the chops with the marinade and transfer to a large ziplock bag. Leave in the fridge for 2 hours to overnight. All the liquid will be absorbed into the chops as they marinate.

Cut a slit on the pork chop at the opposite side of the bone to prevent curling during cooking.

Heat 1/2 of the oil in a large cast iron skillet on medium. Pan fried the pork chops about 4 to 5 minuets on either side or until cooked through. You will need to cook longer with the lid on if your chops are thicker. The chops brown easily because of the sugar in the marinade. Lower the heat a little if necessary.

When the chops are done. Take them out of the skillet and set aside.

Heat the rest of the oil in the same skillet on medium high and sauté the vegetables. Stir for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Give it a few swirls with the spatula and turn off the stove. Cook the vegetables in two batches if your skillet is small.

Separate the sautéd vegetables into four plates and top with the pork chop. 

Or slice the chops before serving with rice and saluted vegetables.

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Braised Duck & Vegetarian Lettuce Cups

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Braised wild game bird

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Vegetarian Lettuce Wrap

One of Peter’s patients gave him two wild game birds as a present.  I couldn’t tell what type of birds they were.  They were a little smaller than a chicken, but from the slightly iridescent feathers that were deliberately left on the wings they looked more like ducks than chickens.  So I prepared them the way my grandfather always did on Chinese New Year’s eve during my childhood. He was the first original foodie that I knew. I wrote about him in a previous blog when I cooked Kung Pao chicken, a dish from my grandfather’s home province of Sichuan.

This duck dish is called 酱鸭 —  “saucy duck,” a traditional Shanghaines braised duck with soy sauce, rock sugar, wine and a myriad of spices.  My grandfather would always save the sauce from the braised duck and use it to braise eggs and extra firm tofu in the following days. They were the most delicious eggs and tofu I have ever tasted. Meat and poultry were so scarce that we wanted the taste of them to last for as long as we could.

The wild game birds were extremely lean, but not at all tough. Though this recipe is for ducks, these wild birds turned out absolutely delicious. I saved the sauce as my grandfather did and will use it to braise eggs and tofu in the next couple of days.

Happy Year of the Monkey!

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Braised Wild Game Birds

Ingredients:

2 small wild ducks (or 1 duck)

3 tablespoons oil

4 cloves garlic, crushed

8 thin slices ginger, separated

2 stocks scallion, chopped

4 star anises,

1 teaspoon Chinese peppercorn, separated

6 pieces dried orange peel

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup Shao Xing cooking wine

1/4 cup light Soy sauce

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

3 – 4 cups water or chicken broth

2 teaspoon honey + 2 teaspoon hot water

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Preparation:

Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a dutch oven with 3 slices ginger, 1/4 teaspoon Chinese peppercorn. Brown the ducks on both sides.

When the ducks are browned, discard the ginger and peppercorn, save the oil. Set the ducks aside in a plate.

Add the last tablespoon oil and sauté the garlic, ginger, star anises, peppercorn, orange peel and sugar until aromatic.

Add soy sauce, wine, vinegar and water and bring to boil.  Return the ducks to the pot.  Turn the heat to low and simmer for one to one and half hour, turning the birds at half way time.

If you braise a whole duck instead of wild game birds, this recipe is for one duck.

You can cook ahead and let the cooked duck sit overnight in the fridge.  Let it drain completely before cutting.

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Vegetarian Lettuce Cups

Ingredients:

1 cup cubed baked tofu or smoked tofu (You can find them in most super markets. I used braised tofu from Chinatown)

1 cup diced jicama

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup frozen peas

1 red jalapeño, seeded and diced

3 – 4 shiitake, fresh or dried, diced

3 slices ginger

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon Hoisin sauce

1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil

1 head butter lettuce

Preparation:

Wash and dry lettuce leaves.  Set aside on a plate.

Heat oil in a wok on medium high. Add ginger slices and stir until aromatic.  Add tofu, jicama, pepper, frozen peas and shiitake. Sauté for 3 minutes.  Add minced garlic, Hoisin sauce, Sriracha and salt and stir for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Do not over cook because you want the jicama cubes to be crispy.

Serve with a little Hoisin sauce, topped with chopped roasted peanuts and wrapped in lettuce leaves.

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Braised Pork with Arrowheads & Shiitake

Braised pork is also a very traditional Shanghainese dish for Chinese New Year.  Last Chinese New Year, I made it with winter bamboo and tofu skin.  This year I cooked it with arrowheads and shiitake.

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Pot Stickers

Pot Stickers are another Chinese New Year staple.  The shape resembles that of a Chinese gold bullion. You can either make them with store purchased wraps or make your own wraps. We made our own wraps this year with chopped Napa cabbage and braised tofu inside.

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Yuba noodle salad

Yuba noodle salad is a simple, easy and delicious dish I make with regularity. Everyone in the family loves it.

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Mocha Roca Fro-Yo

Lastly, the dessert. There is nothing Chinese about this one, but it’s one of our family’s favorites.  I posted the recipe in a previous blog.  The only change I made today was to replace the almond roca with mocha roca.

Lotus Root Salad with Soy Sesame ginger Dressing

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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

Ingredients:

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

P1090199Preparation:

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

Lotus Root Salad

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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. 

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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

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Preparation:

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.

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Note:

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.

Vegetable Stir-fry with Tempeh

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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. 

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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)

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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)

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Preparation:

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.

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Note:

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.

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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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Mango Avocado Prawn Salad & No-Bake Healthy Mango Cheesecake

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My mangos and avocados finally ripened to perfection.   I made a mango, avocado shrimp salad and a no-bake mango cheesecake with them.  The zesty salad was simple to make, and it was very refreshing and delicious. The cheesecake was yummy and healthy — well, much lower in calorie than your ordinary cheesecake and more nutritious.

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Mango Avocado Prawn Salad with Chili Lime Dressing

Ingredients:

1 avocado, cubed

1 ripe sweet mango, cubed

6 large fresh prawns, cut in halves and poached

1 small Thai red onion or shallot, minced

1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced

1 small green chili pepper, seeded and minced

1 to 2 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce

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Preparation:

Make the dressing by mixing together lime juice, fish sauce, shallot, chili peppers and cilantro. Save some sliced shallot, cilantro and chili pepper as garnish.

Toss the mango, avocado, Poached prawns with the dressing and garnish with thinly sliced, Thai red onion or shallot and cilantro.

Since avocado contains a lot fat, I didn’t need to use any oil for the dressing.  My mango is very sweet, so I didn’t need to add any sugar to the fish sauce.

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Note for poaching 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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Healthy No-bake Mango Cheesecake

Ingredients For the Crust:

3/4 cup maple granola cereal

1/4 cup heaping chopped walnuts

1/2 cup soft Medjool dates

2 tablespoon 100% cocoa powde

1 tablespoon coconut oil

A pinch of salt

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I enjoy cooking with the challenge of limited tools and ingredients. It’s amazing what we can make do while producing delicious results.

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Ingredients for the Filling:

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

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

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

45g sugar

2 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 tablespoon agar agar flakes

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

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Preparation:

Knead all ingredients for the crust as you would a dough.

Press the crust “dough” tight in a prepared 8 or 9 inch tart dish. (I used a cooking pot lined with saran wrap.)

Leave the crust in the freezer as you prepare the filling.

Blend all ingredients for filling, except for the 1/2 cup of milk.

On low heat, boil the 1/2 cup milk with the agar agar flakes until melt. Transfer to the blender and blend with the mango cheese mixture until smooth.

Pour filling mixture into the prepared crust.

Refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze for 40 minutes for the cheesecake to set before serving.

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Note:

A friend told me that she made this cake with my recipe and it turned out a little too tart because her mangos were tart.  Taste your mango first, adjust the amount of mango, lemon, and sugar when blending the filling.