Noodle Salad with Roast Chicken & Chili-Scallion Oil

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Peter and I were in the car heading out for a lunch date when Angela called. “Can we go to the Farmers Market?” She asked in a sleepy voice.  Peter began to tell her that we were on our way to lunch when I interrupted him, “Sure, Angela, we are coming back right now. Let’s go to the farmers market.”

I almost felt flattered that Angela wanted to spend time with us.  She is usually too preoccupied with her friends, school work or daydreaming to spend much time with us.  We turned the car around and dropped whatever lunch plans we had to answer her last minute invitation.

We are at this stage of parenthood.

For dinner, I reached back to my Sichuan roots and made this flavorful spicy chicken noodle salad. For the vegetarians in the house, I used baked tofu instead of roast chicken.  If you like spicy food, you must give this a try.  It is simple and delicious.

When I was setting the table, the girls were giggling and running back and forth between their rooms and the dining room.  When they finally settled down to eat, they were both wearing big sweaters, sitting hunchbacked and covering their chests with their hair. They couldn’t stop giggling.  Then I saw that they were both wearing earbuds, covered by their long hair.  It turned out that they were trying to circumvent the rule of no TV and no cell phone at the dinner table.  Are we really so tedious to talk to?

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The vegetables in the salad were from the farmers market. After reading “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I am more keen on eating locally grown organic food. The industrial food chain, though unavoidable at times, is simply unsustainable.

Soba Noodle Salad With Roast Chicken
And Chile-Scallion Oil

Ingredients for Chile-Scallion Oil:

3 scallions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 to 2 star anise pods (optional)

3 dried red chili peppers, crushed into flakes (you can adjust the amount of peppers according to how spicy you want the dish to be. Mine is relatively mild because Peter doesn’t like it too hot.)

1 tablespoon graded fresh ginger

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (optional, but really add a distinct Sichuan flavor to the dish if you can find them.)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

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Noodles And Assembly:

6 oz. Japanese soba noodles or ramen, or udon (I used soba with buckwheat and yam)

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 cups shredded roast chicken breast (I used Costco roast chicken)

2 scallions, thinly sliced

2/3 large English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced

4 – 5 radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced

1 cup or more cilantro leaves or any sprout

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Preparation:

Chile-Scallion Oil

Cook all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally, until scallions and garlic are just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Let cool; transfer oil to a jar.

Noodles And Assembly

Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions; drain. Rinse noodles under cold water, then shake off as much water as possible.

Whisk soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and oil in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Add noodles, chicken, and scallions; toss to coat.

Toss with cucumber, radishes, and cilantro and drizzle with chile oil just before serving.

For a non-spicy vegetarian noodle salad with scallion oil, try my Shanghainese version.

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Adapted from bon appetit.

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.”

Grandmother

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

A Simple and Yummy Spring Stir Fry

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Whenever I am pressed for time, I turn to stir fry.  Not only is it something that I have been doing since childhood and therefore second nature, but also it is a way of cooking that is, in my opinion, good for almost any food.  A quick stir fry enhances the flavor without compromising the nutritional value of the vegetables, and it never over cooks the meats.

A friend who seldom cooks texted me today to let me know that she was making the Chinese shredded pork that I posted yesterday.  It brought a smile to my face to know that the blog inspired a friend to try cooking. All the fancy culinary performance shows can sometimes be intimidating and  make cooking a spectators’ game. In reality it is just an activity that human kind has been doing since the use of controlled fire over a million years ago.  You don’t need to be a professional to cook.

So, let’s cook!

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Spring Stir Fry with Sugar Snap Peas and Chicken

Ingredients:

For the Marinade:

2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine

A pinch of salt

2 slices of ginger

For the sauce:

1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp xylitol or brown sugar

1/2 tsp pure sesame oil (optional)

1 tsp cornstarch

For the Stir Fry:

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced

1/2 tsp corn starch

1 tbsp or more canola oil

2 tsp fresh garlic, minced

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1 heaping cup sugar snap peas

1/2 red or orange bell pepper, sliced

scallions for garnish

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Preparation:

Combine soy sauce, lime juice, water and cornstarch in a small bowl, mix together and set aside.

Marinate the chicken for 30 minutes to an hour.  Drain the chicken and discard the marinade. Add 1/2 tsp corn starch and mix.

Marinating meat in wine enhances the flavor, if you don’t have the time, you can skip the step.  Just salt the chicken and add 1/2 teaspoon corn starch.

Heat a large wok over high heat. When the wok is very hot, add half of the oil, then add the chicken. Stir fry, stirring occasionally until the chicken is cooked through and browned, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and set aside. Reduce heat to medium.

Add the remaining oil to the wok; add the garlic and ginger, stir for 20 seconds. Add the sugar snap peas and bell pepper, stirring over medium high heat until tender crisp, about 3 minutes.

Return the chicken to the wok, add the soy sauce-lime mixture, mix well and cook another 30 seconds to one minute. Serve immediately and top with fresh scallions.

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Recipe adapted from: skinnytaste.com

The Many Lives of Tofu — Sweet & Savory

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When Angela first emailed me this chocolate fudge pie recipe, I was very dubious.  I had been eating tofu my entire life and had believed that I knew every which way to eat it.  I associated it mostly with soy sauce, scallion, sesame oil, spicy chili oil.  I had also had sweet soft tofu in light syrup.  But chocolate fudge? Come on, you must be kidding me!

Today I came back from Costco with a whole case of Nuri-Nu Tofu, and decided to give the chocolate fudge pie a try.  It was actually the simplest thing in the world to make.  With a blender, you can make this pie in less than 15 minutes.  However, you do need to keep it in the fridge for a couple of hours before it reaches its ideal consistency. 

The pie turned out to be an absolute winner: rich, creamy and chocolaty, without even a hint of tofu in the taste.  If you serve the pie at a party and tell people afterwards that it is made of tofu and that it is healthy, they will definitely say that you are pulling their leg.  In fact Peter still thinks that I was joking when I told him it was made from tofu.   

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No Bake Chocolate Fudge Pie

Ingredients for the Filling:

12.3 oz silken or firm tofu (I highly recommend Mori-Nu silken-firm for no aftertaste)

1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk of choice

scant 1/8 tsp salt

5 oz unsweetened 100% dark baking chocolate

5 to 6 tbsp xylitol (or sweetener of choice)

optional: extracts, flavorings, or liqueurs

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Ingredients for the crust:

You can either use stored bought ready pie crust, or graham cracker crust, or no-bake crust of nuts and dates. 

I used 1 cup of walnut and 1/2 cup very soft and gooey dates.  Blend the dates and walnuts in a blender, but do not over blend into a paste.

Preparation:

Carefully melt the chocolate (I steamed mine in a steamer.), then throw everything into a food processor and blend until super-smooth.

Line a 9 inch tart pan or a pie pan with plastic wrap for easy removing of the pie when it is ready.  Press the date walnut mixture evenly at the bottom

Pour the chocolate mixture into a pan on top if the date walnut “crust.” Fridge until chilled. This gets firmer and firmer, the longer it sits. It’s also firmer if you use firm tofu and more like mousse pie if you use silken.

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Recipe adapted from:

chocolatecoveredkatie.com

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Braised Shiitake with Snap Pea (Still in season!)

Ingredients:

1/2 teaspoon dark rice vinegar

4 teaspoons canola or peanut oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tsp brown sugar

5 large dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced

2 cup snap peas

1/2 red pepper, sliced

1/3 cup sliced scallions, divided

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Preparation:

Soak the dry shiitake mushroom in a bowl in 2 cup warm water for 1 hour.  Save 1/3 cup of the water but discard the sediment at the bottom of the bowl.

In a sauce pan heat 2 teaspoons cooking oil on medium high, sauté half of the ginger until aromatic, add the sliced shiitake mushrooms and stir for about 45 seconds.  Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and 1/3 cup reserved mushroom water.  Bring it to boil and lower the heat to let simmer for about 30 minutes.  The mushrooms are done when sauce is reduced and thickened but not burned.

In the meantime, in a wok or frying pan heat up 2 teaspoons oil on medium high and sauté the remaining ginger until aromatic.  Add snap peas and red pepper and stir for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Pour shiitake mushroom sauce and 1/3 cup of scallion in the pan and stir for 1/2 minutes.

Serve with warm brown rice and Miso Tofu.

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Ingredients for Miso Tofu:

12 oz. firm tofu, sliced

1 tablespoon miso paste

1/4 tsp red chili flakes (optional)

2 tsp canola or peanut oil

Preparation:

Spread miso paste on the tofu using fingers.  Heat the oil in a nonstick pan and pan sear the tofu on medium high for about 3 minutes on either side or until tofu slices are slightly browned.

Serve Hot.

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Hoisin Orange Pork Chops with Vegetables

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Mondays are usually busy with all kinds of errands, but I managed to read a few more chapters of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up.  I learned today that I’m never supposed to ball up my socks.  It cracked me up when the author asked “This should be a time for them to rest.  Do you really think they can get any rest like that?”  My socks are supposed to be on holiday in my drawer.  Being balled up means that they are in a state of tension.  I wondered where she was gong with this until she showed me how to fold it and store it “the right way.”  It actually made sense.  I can’t wait to un-ball all my socks tomorrow and create a sock resort for them.  I will show you a photo of my relaxed socks if it all goes well.  

I’ve never been good at the lotus position meditation, but I can imagine the methodical smoothing out and folding of the socks to be a meditative process as cooking oftentimes is for me.

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Hoisin Orange Pork Chops with Vegetables

Ingredients:

For the Marinade:

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce

2 tbsp Asian cooking wine

Other Ingredients:

2 (6 oz total) 2-inch thick broccoli stems, spiralized

cooking spray

(2) 5 to 6 ounce boneless pork chop, 1” thick

2 cups broccoli florets

1 teaspoon 100% pure sesame oil

1/4 red onion, julienned

1 carrot, spiralized

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

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Preparation:

Combine the hoisin, orange juice soy sauce and wine with a whisk and reserve. Add pork chops to marinade and refrigerate for 2 hours.

While chops are marinating, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the broccoli in a wire basket and cook for about 3 minutes at a slow boil to blanch. Remove from pot and place in ice water to stop the cooking process. Let sit in ice bath for a couple minutes until chilled.

Remove chops from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for about 5 minutes before cooking. Remove from marinade, reserving the marinade for later. 

Heat a medium nonstick sauté pan on high heat, spray with oil when hot then place the steaks and cook 3 minutes on each side. Lower the stove to medium and cook another 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until the thermometer inserted to the center reads 140.  Transfer to a cutting board and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Add the reserved marinade to the skillet, reduce heat to medium-low, bring to a boil and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.

Place the sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet, add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook on high 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broccoli and carrot noodles, season with salt and cook 3 minutes. Add the blanched broccoli and cook until hot.

Divide the vegetables unto 2 separate plates. Place the chops on a cutting board and cut into thin strips. Lay chops on top of the vegetables, top with sauce and serve.

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Recipe adapted from:  skinnytaste.com

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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Happy Year of the Ram!

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Peter’s mother gave me two porcelain New Year dolls as part of their wedding gift to us. I thought that they looked silly when I first saw them and have grown to love them over the years.

It is rare that the whole family is free for Chinese New Year celebration.  The girls are off from school for President’s Week, and Peter took time off because originally the whole family was traveling to the East Coast this week.  Peter went to play golf and Angela went out with friends (see her account of her little adventure at the end of the post) when Audrey and I stayed at home and cooked our New Year feast.

The first must-eat food for Lunar New Year is dumplings.  Audrey and I had fun making our own 100% whole wheat dumpling wrap today.  This way we don’t feel as guilty pigging out.

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Handmade Dumpling Wraps Ingredients:

4 cups of 100% whole wheat flour

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

water

Preparation:

Pour 3 1/3 cups of flour and eggs in a large mixing bowl and leave it in the sink.  Turn on tap to have a steady drip while using your hand to mix – swirl in one direction – until the dough is firm but can be kneaded.  Turn off tap.  Knead the dough for 5 minutes.  Let it sit for 15 minutes.

In batches, roll the dough into cylinders and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Use the remaining dry flour to prevent pieces from sticking together.  Make little dough balls and then use a rolling pin to make the wraps.  The key is to turn the dough with one hand and roll as you turn.

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If this sounds all too labor intensive, there are always the store-bought wraps!

Check out “Chinese New Year Potstickers” for the rest of the dumpling recipe.

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The second must-eat food for Lunar New Year is fish.  Fish sounds the same with the word “abundance” in Chinese.  Usually people buy a live rock cod to steam with ginger and scallion, but I suppose every Chinese family wanted one today and they were all sold out.  I bought a beautiful piece of Chilean Sea Bass and used my favorite marinade.

I also made braised pork for nostalgic reasons.  This was a dish that I looked forward to having at every New Year’s Eve when I was growing up in Shanghai.

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Braised Pork with Fresh Bamboo Shoots and Shiitake

Ingredients:

1/2 cup cooking wine

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup dark soy sauce (or you can use all light soy sauce)

3/4 – 1 cup water (you may not use all of it)

1 1/2 to 2 pounds pork shank

4 boiled eggs

5 large dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked soft, drained and quartered)

2 winter bamboo shoots (peeled and tough part removed)

1 pack stringed tofu (from Chinese market, see photo)

1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

8 cloves garlic, crushed

2 inch cube peeled ginger, crushed or sliced

2 star anise

1 tbsp. brown sugar or molasses

1 tbsp. canola oil

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Preparation:

Heat the oil in a wok on high.

Put in peppercorns, garlic, ginger, star anise, sauté until aromatic.

Add cut pork shank to be seared at all sides.

Add bamboo, shiitake and boiled eggs.

Pour in soy sauce, wine, water and sugar and turn the fire to low.

Cover and stew for 2 hours.

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For the two vegetarians in the house, I made a seared tofu with brown rice medley.

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Seared Tofu with Brown Rice Medley

Brown Rice Medley Ingredients:

1 cup brown rice

1 teaspoon sesame oil

A pinch of salt

2 1/2 water

1/2 teaspoon dark rice vinegar

4 teaspoons canola or peanut oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tsp brown sugar

4 large dried shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced

1 cup snap peas

1/2 red pepper (thinly sliced)

1/3 cup sliced scallions, divided

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Preparation:

Soak the dry shiitake mushroom in a bowl in warm water for 1 hour.  Save 1/4 cup of the water but discard the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. 

Cook the brown rice with 2 1/2 cups water, a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil.

In a sauce pan heat 2 teaspoons cooking oil on medium high, sauté half of the ginger until aromatic, add the sliced shiitake mushrooms and give it a few good stir.  Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and 1/4 cup reserved mushroom water.  Bring it to boil and lower the heat to let simmer.  The mushrooms are done when sauce is reduced and thickened but not burned.

In the meantime, in a wok or frying pan heat up 2 teaspoons oil on medium high and sauté the remaining ginger until aromatic.  Add snap peas and red pepper and stir for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Pour shiitake mushroom sauce and 1/3 cup of scallion in the pan and stir for 1/2 minutes. 

Mix in the cooked brown rice and turn off the stove.

Miso Tofu Ingredients:

12 oz. firm tofu, sliced

1 tablespoon miso paste

1/4 tsp red chili flakes (optional)

2 tsp canola or peanut oil

Tofu Preparation:

Spread miso paste on the tofu using fingers.  Heat the oil in a nonstick pan and pan sear the tofu on medium high for about 3 minutes on either side or until tofu slices are slightly browned.

Serve tofu on a bed of rice medley.

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Here is Angela’s little adventure:

To celebrate the eve of the Lunar New Year, my friends and I went out for lunch. We normally spend our free time in the Marina. Some may complain about all the yuppies in the area but I see nothing wrong with their presence, especially since I love the restaurants and stores that are targeted toward yuppies. They may be strange and overpriced, but they’re fun for window shopping.

Today we decided to go to the Castro and the Mission, where I normally do not venture. We went to a restaurant called Starbelly and then spent a few hours at Dolores Park, where I witnessed several people ingesting illegal substances and one woman emptying her bladder at the top of a hill. I have lived a rather sheltered childhood, so I was mildly disturbed by what I saw. I suppose it’s always important to be exposed to a diverse range of experiences. I am a very rule-abiding person so it was difficult to watch people violate open container laws and vandalize public transport vehicles without reporting them. At least Starbelly was good. I had a dried pea and quinoa patty and a gingered butternut squash soup with pepitas.

After returning from my little adventure, I came home to find a nice Lunar New Year dinner and some shipments of clothes that I’ll be reviewing in the next few days. Gung hay fat choy!

我今天跟同学们庆祝春节,我们去了卡斯特罗区吃饭。食品很好吃,但是我看到很多人在触犯法律,不好!新年快乐,恭喜发财,年年有余。我朋友姓余。去年,我得考中文AP考试,所以我得背春节传统,比方说喝腊八粥和吃橘子。对不起,我的中文不好。如果你有孩子,你应该让他考中文AP因为连我都考得好,而且AP很好玩儿,有写故事的部分,那是我最喜欢的部分。我为汤姆和玛丽亚写了很多悲惨的背景故事。

“Chifa” Beef with Baked French Fries

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I had longed to visit Peru ever since I read Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa.  I became a devoted fan of the author and visited him in London when I was filming Judge Dredd in 1994.  I was trying to adapt Llosa’s humorous and erotic book In Praise of the Stepmother into film and enjoyed many wonderful afternoons chatting with the author in his Knightsbridge apartment. Llosa flew from London to attend the premiere of my directorial debut Xiu Xiu, The Sent-down Girl in Berlin in 1998.

In the spring of 2012, I booked a trip for the family to visit Peru during the girls’ spring break.  I bought non-refundable tickets on LAN Airlines, and pre-paid all the hotel rooms and some dinner packages. This was an unique experience for me as I rarely ever plan trips since they are always arranged for me by the production company or film festivals.

We had never taken LAN before the trip and was happily surprised by what we saw.  There was an old world glamour in the LAN Premium Business cabin, which was better than many United First Class cabins at that time.  The four of us were sitting on the plane waiting for take off when Peter decided to fill out  in advance the arrival cards for Peru.  Suddenly, he discovered that Angela’s passport was missing and presumed lost somewhere between the security check and the plane.  We frantically searched through all the carry-on bags and the overhead bins.  We retraced our steps from the plane to the airline lounge and to the security check point, but no one had seen or turned in her passport.  It simply disappeared and it meant that Angela could not enter Peru. 

Peter decided that he would deplane with Angela, and Audrey and I would go to Peru by ourselves.  A few years ago, I took Angela on a Mommy-Angela trip to Rome and Capri, and Audrey had been wanting to take a Mommy-Audrey trip for quite some time.  Now unwittingly this journey to Peru became her Mommy-Audrey trip. 

When Peter deplaned, he took most of the cash with him and left me with four people’s luggage. We lugged two large suitcases around to four different cities and towns in eight days, and everywhere we went we had either huge hotel suites or two rooms.  In many places we also feasted on food enough for four people.  The hotels felt sorry for us that we couldn’t refund the rooms or the dinners so they offered us lunch boxes and massages.

In Lima, we saw many Chinese restaurants that had the signs that said Chifa; I suppose it came from the sound of “chi fan” which means literally eat rice in Chinese.  Audrey and I tried one and we quite loved the interesting combination of Peruvian and Chinese flavors.

I thought of Peru today because of my failed trip to Boston.  My flight to Boston, which had been canceled yesterday and rebooked for today got canceled again due to the blizzard.  I will now miss my speaking engagement for which I spent a whole week preparing. 

I decided to roll with the punches and make the best of this unexpected free Sunday.  The memory of Peru made me crave for some Chifa food. This Chifa beef dish was so delicious that Audrey decided to have a free Sunday from her vegetarianism. 

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Lomo Saltado (Peruvian Beef Stir Fry)

Ingredients:

For the Baked Fries:

canola cooking spray

1 medium (5.3 oz) potato, russet or yukon gold, washed and dried

1 tsp olive oil

1/4 tsp garlic powder

kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Best-Baked-Seasoned-Fries

For the Beef:

1/2 lb lean sirloin, cut into small, thin strips

kosher salt, to taste

1/4 tsp cumin

black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 medium red onion, sliced into thick strips

2 mini yellow bell peppers or 1 large

1 large jalapeno, ribbed and seeded, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium tomato, sliced into wedges

1 1/2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (use tamari for gluten free)

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

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Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Cut the potato lengthwise into 1/3-inch thick slices; cut each slice into 1/3-inch fries. Place on the baking sheet and toss with oil to evenly coat. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place on a single layer onto the greased baking sheet. Bake uncovered on the lower third of the oven for about 25 minutes or until tender crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, season meat with salt, pepper and cumin.

Heat a large wok over high heat. When hot add the oil and the steak, cook about 2 minutes, until browned on both sides. Add the onions, bell pepper, jalapeno and garlic and cook 2 minutes.

Add the tomato, soy sauce and vinegar and cook 1 more minute. Season with more salt as needed, remove from heat and finish with cilantro. Serve immediately with french fries and divide evenly between 2 plates.

If you double the recipe, you should stir fry it in two separate batches.  The French fries can easily be doubled in the same baking pan.

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Recipe adapted from http://www.skinnytaste.com

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Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

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 I got a call today from a friend whom I haven’t heard from in a long time.  She is very much into astrology, and some years ago she had my astrological chart read by some very renowned astrologist in Shanghai unbeknownst to me.  She shared the findings with me afterwards and I remember one of the things was that I should never wear the color brown.  She meant well, but I told her I didn’t believe in astrology.  Through out the years though, what she said would pop up in my mind whenever I shopped for clothes.  And subconsciously I avoided buying anything that was brown.

Today’s call was about some dissonance between my astrological sign in the Year of Ram.  My friend had my sign read again and was calling to warn me to be extra careful.  Now what do you do with a call like this? 

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Well, the Chinese remedy everything by eating the right kind of food.  One of the lucky foods that we eat during Luna New Year is Kumquat.  As a matter of fact, any citrus fruit is considered lucky because the word “citrus” sounds like the word “auspicious.” Kumquat is the most auspicious because it sounds like “golden auspicious.”  

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Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cup 100% whole wheat flour

1/4 cup canola oil

1 cup Kumquat jam (see note)

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup pecan nuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup nonfat lemon Greek yogurt

1/4 cup xylitol or sugar

The recipe makes about 16 – 18 muffins.

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Preparation:

Mix all dry ingredients together.  Add all wet ingredients in the mixed dry ingredients.  Mix well, but don’t over mix.  Leave a little lumpiness in.

Preheat oven at 375, line or grease muffin pan.  Add muffin mix to the cups and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. 

Serve with Greek yogurt and kumquat jam.

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Note:

I made the kumquat jam the day before with about 1 pound kumquats, 1 cup xylitol (or sugar), 1 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract.  Cut and seed the kumquats and cook with all ingredients for 30 to 40 minutes. 

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Spicy Chicken with Cashew Nuts

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I have had the good fortune of tasting the most amazing food while traveling for work in countries like Turkey, Spain, Italy, Malaysia, United Emirates and Morocco.  But inevitably by the 2nd week, I’d be missing Chinese food.  I remember frantically looking for a pack of instant noodles on the streets of St. Petersburg.  When the craving hits, it feels as if it were life and death.  Aiya, you can’t take the China out of the girl la. 

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In St. Petersburg

I was about to eat leftovers for lunch today when I suddenly craved for Chinese food.  To satisfy the urge, I made a quick stir-fry.  It was a simple dish, but very delicious.  It really hit the spot for me.

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Everyone should own a wok and try stir-fry.  It’s one of the fastest and simplest ways to prepare any food.

Spicy Chicken with Cashew Nuts

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 small onion, cut into halves

6 finger-length dried red chilies, seeded

1/2 cup roasted cashew nuts, rinsed and drained

15 oz skinless chicken thigh or breast, cut into bite size

3 scallion, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-in lengths

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Sauce:

3 tablespoon soy sauce (or Maggi seasoning sauce / Golden Mountain sauce)

2 tablespoon Chinese Cooking Wine +  1 tablespoon for marinating

1 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

2 teaspoon xylitol or sugar, or to taste

Preparation:

Marinate the chicken pieces with 1 tablespoon of wine for 10 to 20 minutes.  Drain and pat dry with paper towel.  Mix the cornstarch into the meat.  (You can omit this step if you want to save time, but it does make the chicken taste better.)

Heat up a wok and add the oil. When the oil is heated, add the garlic, onion, dried red chilies and stir-fry until fragrant or when you smell the spicy aroma of the chilies. Add the cashew nuts and follow with the chicken. Stir-fry the chicken until the surface turns opaque. Add all the ingredients for the Sauce into the wok and continue to stir-fry until the chicken is cooked. Stir-in the scallion, dish out and serve immediately with steamed rice.

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Recipe inspired by rasamalaysia