Sichuan Orange Beef

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Many of my friends and relatives enjoyed reading about my grandmother.  So I am going to share another story about her today.  In a society that valued collectivism, my grandmother was quite an unique individual.  She could get away with it because she often laugh at herself.  Having lived through so much trial and tribulation, she took herself lightly, but she never went with the crowd.

During the mid to late 80s in China, when people had relatives from America, it was customary to bring television sets, refrigerators or other electrical appliances when they visit.  These American brand appliances were important status symbol to any person or family.  After I began acting in films and television, I had enough money to bring her the TV set or the refrigerator, but she didn’t want them.  She said there was not much on TV that she cared to watch.  And she already had a small Chinese made refrigerator.  “I am making money now,” I said. “I must bring you something.”  “Bring me some cheese then,” she brightened, “I haven’t had cheese for so long.  Blue cheese, the stronger the flavor the better.  And I heard that they made bras that fasten in the front.  It would be nice to have some bras that fasten in the front.”  I told her that I would get these, but I insisted that these were not enough.  “If you insist,” she added a little sheepishly, “bring me a black wig, with a little wave in it.  I’m getting too grey and too bald.”

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Grandmother before the wig

She was almost 80 years old at the time.  Most women her age during that era in China didn’t pay much attention to their appearance.  I was quite surprised by her vanity.

It was priceless to see my grandmother wearing a wavy black wig while savoring the most pungent blue cheese. 

For many years, she would wear her present and wait for me by the window whenever I visited her in Shanghai.

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Grandmother with the wig on, sitting between my father and me.

Sichuan Orange Beef

Ingredients:

8 oz. beef sirloin, cut into thin strips

2 tbsp peanut oil

1 tbsp Season with Spice’s Sichuan Peppercorns, crushed

1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (optional)

1 small red bell pepper, sliced

1 jalapeno pepper, sliced

2-3 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

For the marinade:

Juice from one orange (about 1/3 cup*)

Zest from one orange (about 1 tablespoon)

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp fresh ginger – minced

2 teaspoons cornstarch

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Preparation:

In a bowl, whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Add in the beef and coat well. Leave to marinate for 15 to 30 minutes in the fridge.

Heat a wok on high fire. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil, and swirl to coat. Toss in the crushed Sichuan peppercorns and do a few quick stirs until fragrant. Add in the beef, but keep the leftover marinade to the side. Pour in Shaoxing wine if using. Let sear for 1-2 minutes until slightly charred, then do a few quick stirs.  Set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the wok, add in bell pepper, jalapeno and the white parts of the scallions, stir until tender.

Add the beef back in the wok.

Keep the heat on high, add in the leftover marinade, and toss to coat all the ingredients. When the sauce starts to simmer, stir in the scallion greens and toasted sesame oil. Dish out and serve immediately with rice.

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Adapted from Rasamalaysia

Spring Cleaning & Ramen in Beef Broth

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I read about the phenomenal Japanese cleaning guru Marie Kondo on the Wall Street Journal and immediately bought her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I have been in dire need to declutter and am very fed up with my inability to organize. I’m not the kind to read self-help books, but my desperate situation calls for desperate measures. 

A few days ago, I talked to my brother about the troubles of an overabundant life.  We used to have two sets of clothes at any given time, and we changed clothes only because they needed washing. I remember that the first time I set foot in an American supermarket, I was both delighted and paralyzed by the dazzling variety of choices of shampoo.  It took me a long time to read about every product and finally decide on buying the cheapest brand.  My brother and I reminisced nostalgically about our frugal lifestyle with few possessions. 

For a Japanese book about tidying up and decluttering to become a international best seller, and for the author’s name to become a verb, the world must be full of clutter indeed. This is an age of clutter, both tangible and intangible.  Her theory is that once the tangible clutter is gone, the intangible ones will be taken care of as well.

After I read only 18% of the book, I felt somehow enlightened and emboldened to take a crack at organizing.  Kondo method begins with discarding — what a liberating thing to do.  After putting away eight trash bags of once loved or never used things, I felt lighter, happier and hopeful that finally I maybe able to learn to organize.

It was time to make some good old comfort food: ramen in beef stew and broth.  We cooked a pot of beef stew a couple of days ago. The leftovers were perfect for ramen in broth.

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Beef Shank & Beef tendon Stew with Carrots:

1 pound of beef shank, 2 tendons, or you can use just the beef and no tendon

1 brown onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 cup of spinach(optional)

1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes (optional)

1 cup of cooking wine

1/2 cup of soy sauce

1/2 cup of dark soy sauce

3 cups of water or beef broth

5 star anise

5 slices of ginger

1/4 teaspoon Chinese peppercorn (花椒)

1 tablespoons of oil

Preparation:

Cut the beef shank and tendon to 1and1/2 cubes.

Heat the oil in a wok on high, put in peppercorn and ginger.

Stir and let sizzle for about 30 seconds, add onion and stir until soft.

Mix in the beef shank and the tendon, stir for 3 minutes.

Add wine, soy sauce and water/broth.

Close lid and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours before adding the carrots.

Cook another 30 minutes.  Before serving, add spinach and cherry tomatoes.

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For the Ramen:

200g fresh ramen from Asian market

8 to 10 pieces of beef shank and beef tendon

Broth from the beef stew + beef broth if the stew does not have enough broth

2 teaspoon chopped green onion

Preparation:

Cook the ramen in a large pot of water according to package instruction.  In a separate pot heat up the beef and broth.  When the noodle is cooked to al dente, rinse it in cold water and separate into two serving in two bowls.  Pour the beef and broth over noodle.  Sprinkle chopped green onion and serve hot.

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Chinese Fajitas & A Tale of Intrigue

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One great thing about living in California, especially in San Francisco, is that we have a wide variety of cuisine choices.  From Afghan to Zambian, you name it.  There are also many different cross cultural influences that define brand new taste. Who doesn’t love a little Asian fusion? Today, I decided to give my good old Chinese stir fry a little Mexican twist.

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Speaking of Chinese Mexican cultural mash, I remembered an anecdote from a few years ago.  I was filming a fancy dinner scene in Beijing and there was a group of expat extras at the table.  I got to talk to the young man sitting next to me and found out that he was from Mexico.  I met quite a lot of expats in Beijing and Shanghai, but that was a first time I encountered a Mexican national.  I asked if he was a student, he said no.  Businessman?  No.  Diplomat?  No.  I became curious, but he seemed reluctant to tell me what he did. 

Finally, after sitting next to me for hours, doing take after take, angle and angle of the same scene, he began to volunteer his story, probably out of boredom.

He said he was kind of hiding out in China.  “Who are you hiding from?” I asked.  “The cartel,” he said.  “My father worked for the government and he was kidnapped once before.  We paid three hundred thousand dollars to get him back.”

I thought his father was some government official who had cracked down on the cartel, and now the cartel was after him.  But he said no.  His father was a lawyer who sometimes worked for the cartel.  I said, “but you just told me that he worked for the government.”  He said that sometimes it was the same thing.  It turned out that his father negotiated payoffs between the corrupt officials and the cartel.  Something must have gone wrong and now his son was in hiding in Beijing. 

As the day went on, he told me that all the male children of the family were all in hiding in different countries.  I thought it interesting that the female children didn’t matter as much.  For someone who was in hiding, he seemed completely carefree.

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This was the scene outside of the dining room.

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With my co-stars Yao Chen and Lou Ye, and the director Alexi Tan

As I ate my Chinese fajitas, I told Peter the story and wondered if my Mexican “dining partner” was still alive.  He might never have imagined that I would remember him over dinner in San Francisco.

Chinese Stir Fry Beef Fajitas

Ingredients for the Marinade:

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

1 tbsp corn starch

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

Other Main Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz beef top sirloin, sliced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

1/3 onion, sliced

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

2 tbsp canola oil or peanut oil

A dash of Mexican chili powder

Salt and white pepper powder to taste

4 wholewheat tortillas

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Preparation:

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl.  Add beef to the marinade and mix well with tongs.  Let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat a wok on high until hot.  Add 1 tbsp of oil and swirl to coat the sides.  Add minced ginger and garlic and stir for about 20 to 30 seconds.  Add beef and save the excessive marinade for later.  Stir the beef for about 2 minutes.  Remove beef from the wok.

Add the remaining 1 tbsp oil and sauté the onion and pepper with a dash of Mexican chili powder for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Add the beef back in.  Add the remaining beef marinade if there is any.  Stir for another 1/2 minutes.

Separate into 4 servings on 4 tortillas.

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Mongolian Beef

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To celebrate the great Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, I made Mongolian Beef today.  Don’t think that I am ignorant of the fact that the dish is not from Mongolia.  I just wanted an excuse to put Benedict Wong’s Kublai poster on my blog, together with my food.  Benny and I shared a passion for eating yummy food in great quantities when we were in Malaysia.  He is an extremely talented, hardworking and generous actor.  His Kublai in Marco Polo is breathtaking.  And he is the sweetest person in the world. 

Okay, back to my relationship with Mongolian Beef.  It was not a dish that I had ever eaten growing up in China.  Back when I was growing up, beef was rationed for registered Muslims only.  I guess Mongolian Beef is a Chinese American invention, much like the fortune cookies and my two daughters.

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The first time I had Mongolian Beef, I was working as a receptionist in a Chinese restaurant in the San Fernando Valley to support myself through college.  A take-out order of Mongolian Beef was never picked up and the manager let a few of his favorites eat it while we were standing in the back of the kitchen.  I found it delicious and wished I could eat it at my leisure sitting down.

The restaurant was near a beer company, and sometimes the beer executives would entertain their business associates in the restaurant.  The manager would say to his VIP diners “taking you to your seats is the number one movie star from China”, as if I wasn’t present.  And the beer executives would smile and say really, she is pretty all right.  They thought the manager was attempting at a joke that wasn’t funny.  Though I had been without money all my life, I never felt poor.  As a girl raised from generations of old world intellectuals, I believed that the pursuit of knowledge was much nobler than the pursuit of money.  But I remember feeling shabby and impoverished under their condescending stare.  And I hated that feeling. 

A classmate of mine at the time was a stuntwoman in Hollywood and when she learned that I was a professional actress in China she encouraged me to find an agent in Hollywood.  She said the pay would be 10 times more than what I earned in the restaurant.  Though there weren’t any interesting parts for me to play in the beginning, I was just really happy that I never had to set foot in that Chinese restaurant again.

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My agent at the time asked me to take some sexy pictures as part of my headshot for casting directors. No wonder I was offered to play a corpse of a murdered whore as my first job. I turned it down because I didn’t want to be filmed nude.

I have ordered and made Mongolian Beef dozens of times since that first bite, and I try to perfect the dish every time I make it.  Peter told me that this was the best Mongolian Beef he’d ever had, but of course he would say that; he is my husband and he blindly adores everything I do

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Mongolian Beef

Adapted from rasamalaysia

Ingredients:

8 oz beef tenderloin (thinly sliced) 半斤牛肉

2 tablespoons cooking oil 两勺油

2 stalks leeks/scallion 两棵大葱

1 inch ginger (finely chopped) 一寸生姜

3 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)三粒大蒜

1/4 cup beef stock or water 1/4 杯水

Chili pepper flakes to taste 少许红辣椒

Marinade: 腌肉的汁

1 teaspoon corn starch 一小勺淀粉

1 teaspoon soy sauce 少许酱油

2 teaspoon Chinese cooking wine (rice wine or Shaoxing wine) 少许酒

1/4 teaspoon of baking soda (to tenderize the meat)少许小苏打

Sauce:酱

2 teaspoons oyster sauce蚝油

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce生抽酱油

1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce一点点老抽酱油

3 dashes white pepper powder白胡椒

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil麻油

1 teaspoon sugar or to taste少许糖

Method:

Marinate the beef slices with the seasonings for 30 minutes. Heat up a wok with 1 tablespoon of oil and stir-fry the marinated beef until they are half-done. Dish out and set aside.

Heat up another 1 tablespoon of oil and sauté the garlic and ginger until aromatic. Add leeks and beef stock/water, cover the lid to cook the leek until soft.  Add the beef back into the wok and then the sauce. Continue to stir-fry until the beef slices are done. Scoop out and serve hot.

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