Soy Braised Pork Knuckle

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I went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco the other day to see the Emperors’ Treasures exhibition.  One of the treasures was called “Meat Shaped Stone.” The director of the museum Jay Xu is from Shanghai as I am and we chatted about how growing up we all loved the braised pork belly that looked exactly like the stone on display. I felt inspired to make a Shanghainese braised pork knuckle after I left the museum.

When Angela and I started this blog nearly two years ago, we had set out to make very healthy food with lots of vegetables and very low fat. Angela has been a vegetarian since she was five or six years old and Audrey became a vegetarian after watching the film Food Inc two summers ago.  Angela, the food police of our family, lost interest in our joint venture a few months after we began as she started writing for her own blogs about topics that interested her more. Without Angela’s scrutiny, I slowly began to use more oil when I stir fried, full fat yogurt instead of fat free yogurt in my desserts and real wheat flour instead of almond flour or coconut flour when I baked.

Now that Angela has left for college and Audrey is taking a break from her vegetarianism, we have pork back in our lives again. I used to eat pork knuckle a couple of times a month in my twenties and thirties, but I hardly cooked any pork since Angela became a vegetarian. 

A Beatles Song Norwegian Wood came to my mind as I cooked this pork knuckle. Yes, this bird has flown. Angela is no longer here to say, oh that smell is disgusting mommy.

How I miss her!

Soy Braised Pork Knuckle

Ingredients:

2 cups Shao Xing Wine

4 cups water

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon dark sauce

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn

1 clove anise

1 1/2 inch ginger, sliced

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon rock sugar or brown sugar

1 stick cinnamon

3 dried red chili pepper

1 pork knuckle

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Preparation:

Heat the oil in a medium pot on medium high. When the oil is hot, add ginger, garlic, anise, peppercorn, dried chili and cinnamon stick. Stir until aromatic.

Add the pork knuckle and brown it on all sides.

Turn stove to low and add soy sauce. Turn the pork knuckle a few times in the soy sauce mixture.

Add Shao Xing Wine and water. Turn stove to high and bring the pot to boil. Turn the stove to low and let simmer for 2 hours. 

Turn the stove to high and reduce the liquid to half. Serve on a bed of blanched or stir fried vegetables.

Note: The Shao Xing wine that one buys in the US is salty for tariff reasons. If your Shao Xing wine is not salty you can add more soy sauce. 

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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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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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.

Spicy Chen Pi Beef

 

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In Chinese culture, nothing edible is ever thrown away — pig’s ear, innards, fish head, chicken feet, orange peel… you name it.  During the years of scarcity when I was growing up, every part of an animal or a plant could be made into a delicious dish. 

Ever since I brought back the oranges from my mother-in-law’s garden in Los Angeles, I have been saving the rind to turn into Chen Pi. Not only are her oranges extremely sweet and juicy, the peel is also thin and fragrant, which is perfect for making dried orange peel. In the olden days, it would take a long time to produce Chen Pi.  You must first leave the rind in the sun to dry, and when it’s dry, you’d steam it.  Then you’d dry it again in the sun. The process of drying and steaming would be repeated 9 times before the peel would acquire a piquant fragrance and become Chen Pi.  People cook with it, or drink it in their tea.  They also make snacks of it.  You can find the snack version of Chen Pi in most Chinese super markets.

I dried mine in the oven and I only repeated the drying and steaming process 3 times, but the Chen Pi was very aromatic when it came out of the oven the final time and the house was redolent with the sweet scent.

When I saw the beautiful filet mignon tails at the neighborhood butcher’s, I decided that they would be perfect for a spicy Chen Pi beef stir fry. And it was absolutely delicious! 

You don’t have to make your own orange peel. It’s available at most Chinese herbalists or dry goods stores.

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Spicy Chen Pi Beef

Ingredients:

4 pieces, about 1.2 pounds filet mignon tails, cut into 1 inch cubes

3 tablespoon to 1/4 cup cooking oil

8 slices peeled fresh ginger

3 clove garlic, sliced

4 dried red chilies (I left them whole because I only wanted the dish to be mildly spicy, but you can cut them if you want to turn up the heat.)

1/2 small red bell peppers, seeded and diced

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced

4 stalks green onion, sliced diagonally and separate the white from the green part

2 heaping tablespoons dried orange peel (available in most Chinese herb stores)

1 teaspoon orange zest and more for garnish

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn or Sichuan peppercorn powder 

Cilantro leaves and crispy garlic for garnish

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Marinade:

2 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons Shao Xing cooking wine

Sauce:

1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon sugar or xylitol

1/4 teaspoon white pepper powder

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Preparation:

Marinate the cubed filet mignon pieces for 20 to 30 minutes.

Mix all the Sauce ingredients in a small bowl, stir to combine well. Set aside.

Soak the dried orange peel in 2 tablespoons water until soft.  Save the water.

On medium high heat up a wok with the oil, stir fry the red chili and Sichuan peppercorn (if using) until aromatic. If you are using whole Sichuan peppercorn, you may want to spoon out and discard the peppercorn as they are very strong in flavor especially if you bite into a whole one.  (I love biting into a Sichuan peppercorn for a burst of flavor that numbs my tongue, but Peter only wants a hint of the peppercorn flavor in the dish.) 

Turn heat to high and add the sliced ginger, rehydrated dried orange peel, white part of the green onion and chili into the oil and stir for 30 seconds.  Then add red bell peppers, jalapeño and stir for about 30 seconds.  Add the beef and stir fry until 50% done. (Alternately, you can sear the beef cubes in a separate pan and then add to the mixture in the wok.)

Add in the sauce and the saved orange peel water. When the sauce thickens, add the green part of the green onion and orange zest and stir for another 30 seconds.

Serve hot with rice.

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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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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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