Caprese Salad

P1050643

Caprese Salad

Audrey and I spent 5 weeks in China where we worked on a Chinese comedy about the art of traditional Chinese cooking. I played a character by the name of Tom, which in Chinese sounds like Mother of Soup汤母, and Audrey played the young version of my character in the flashback.  We stayed in a hot spring resort in the boondocks of Xing Yang by the Yellow River.  Everyday, the production brought us two three-tiered lunch boxes with staples such as stir fried tomato with eggs, bell pepper with shredded pork, braised eggplant or mutton radish soup. After two weeks, Audrey groaned whenever those shiny tin boxes were delivered to us and she craved for caprese salad and pizza. When I had a day off, we drove for an hour to the nearest large city of Zheng Zhou in search of them.  We found pizza in a shopping mall, but no one there had heard of caprese salad.

Naturally that was the first thing we ate when we came home. And we have been enjoying it almost every other day. A little deprivation does wonders to renew your appreciation of something you took for granted. I have been jet lagged and there is so much to catch up around the house after a long absence. This caprese salad is not only delicious, it is also the easiest meal to make.  The trick is to buy the best quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with the best quality balsamic cream or glaze and olive oil.

P1050648

Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes (halved)

Fresh baby mozzarella balls (halved)

Fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic Glaze or balsamic cream

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Half the cherry tomatoes and the mozzarella balls. sprinkle with fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and extra virgin olive oil.

P1050641

P1050644

Dan Dan Noodles

P1050391

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.

P1050388

P1050366

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

P1050367

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

P1050389

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.

P1050381

Enjoy Tortilla Chips without Guilt!

P1050347

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

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

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

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

P1050356

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

Cinco De Mayo Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup Que Pasa tortilla chips

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

2 cups tri-color cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber, sliced

5 to 6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced red onion

fresh corn kernels from one ear of corn, cooked

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

3 to 4 tablespoon Que Pasa salsa

1 stock green onion chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

1 lime, for juicing

cilantro for garnish

Preparation:

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

Or

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

P1050351

Note:

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

Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

P1050327

P1050340

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. 

P1050335

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

P1050337

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.

P1050338

P1050330

“Easy Minute” Almond Muffins

P1030778

I always get up early on Sunday mornings to read a little or to find an interesting breakfast recipe to make for Peter and the girls.  This morning, I brewed myself a tea and continued with my reading of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Yesterday I read only 18% of the book, and I was inspired to discard 8 trash bags of stuff.  I had a major shift of paradigm today when I read that it is not about deciding what to discard; it is about choosing what to keep. Keep only what “spark joy,” the author advised.  She also asks the reader to envision her ideal home and ideal lifestyle before beginning the process of this life-changing tidying up. 

I remember fantasizing about a clutter-free life whenever I check into an elegant hotel suite with my carefully packed suitcase.  Sometimes, I would stay for a few months with only what I had in that suitcase — each item meticulously considered — without missing anything.  Now I will contemplate all my possessions as if I were packing for a trip, except the hotel suite will be my home.

Peter got up when I was at 38% of the book, and I shared with him my vision for our house.  He looked a little dubious, but said, “Sounds great.”  He is the easiest person to live with.

In the mood to streamline, I made microwaved almond muffins for breakfast.  It is so simple and quick to make — literally just press the “easy minute” button.  They were fluffy, moist and yummy.

P1030783   P1030757

Ingredients for microwaved Muffins:

1 1/3 cup almond flour

3 tbsp black molasses 

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract

2 tbsp coconut oil (melted)

1/8 tsp salt

3 large eggs

1/4 cup almond milk or milk of choice

1/4 tsp xanthan gum (optional)

P1030779  P1030789

Preparation:

Add all wet ingredients into the blender, and then add all the dry ingredients on top.  Blend until smooth.  Pour batter into rinsed ramekin 3/4 full and microwave for 1 minute.  Instead of greasing the ramekins, I just rinsed them and left them wet.  The muffins came out from the ramekins very easily after microwaving.  You may need to test your microwave and decide on the time needed to make a perfect “mug pancake.” I simply pressed “easy minute” on mine.  If you use a real mug to make these, you will probably need 90 seconds.

  P1030771  P1030781

Corn Chowder with Queso Fresco & Chive

P1030084

Audrey loved the Fisherman’s Wharf when she was little.  We would go there a couple of times a month, first stopping at the Musée Mécanique for an hour and then to eat her favorite clam chowder in a bread bowl at the Boudin Bakery, and finally at Candy Baron for some saltwater taffy. 

We haven’t been back to the Boudin since Audrey became a vegetarian.  After school today Audrey suddenly said, “Oh, I wish I could have a bowl of chowder.”

IMG_1786

Audrey and a friend at her favorite haunt Fisherman’s Wharf

I used the frozen corn from the freezer and made her a healthy and nutritious corn chowder. And according to everyone in the house it was much tastier than the clam chowder at Boudin.  Not to mention much healthier.

Audrey just wished it was in a bowl of sourdough bread.

Corn Chowder with Queso Fresco and Chive

Ingredients:

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1/3 cup chopped scallions

1 garlic clove, chopped

3 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels

1 (6 oz) russet potato, peeled and diced

5 cups 1% milk

1 chicken bouillon cube (or Vegetable Better than Bouillon)

1/4 onion, chopped

1/4 cup fat free Fage

salt and fresh pepper, to taste

3 oz (6 tbsp) crumbled queso fresco or reduced fat feta

Preparation:

Heat a medium heavy pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add oil and sauté scallions and garlic and onion for 1 minute. Add the corn, potatoes, milk, bouillon, and cilantro in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until the corn is tender, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and reserve 6 tablespoons of the corn kernels for topping. Add yogurt to the soup and purée in the blender in two batches, careful not to burn yourself; return to the pot.

Adjust salt and pepper, to taste and heat over low heat 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour into 6 bowls and garnish each bowl with 1 tablespoon each of corn kernels and cheese. Top with fresh chive.

P1030085

Recipe inspired by skinnytaste

Nutty Citrusy Kumquat Muffins

   P1030017

 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? 

1369025_121928978000_2

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.”  

   P1030025

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.

   P1030014

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.

 P1030027

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. 

P1030019

Baked Coconut Yam Fries

P1020723

I caught Audrey listening to Taylor Swift while practicing piano a couple of times.  I also caught her practicing with one hand while snacking with the other a couple of times.  Finally I decided that her playing piano was a futile effort for everyone involved.  Peter and I sat her down a couple of weeks ago and told her that we were letting her off the hook, that it was okay with us if she didn’t play the piano any more.  Unexpectedly, she said she didn’t want to stop.  She insisted on continuing to take lessons.  We told her that it would be her choice to either practice much more conscientiously or to stop entirely.  We told her to think it overnight and let us know her decision the next day.  The next day Audrey solemnly declared that she would practice everyday and with focus, that she wanted to continue piano. 

It’s been about two weeks since her own decision to continue playing the piano and I am hearing a marked improvement in her playing.  Life is full of surprises.

P1020708

P1020728

Baked Coconut Yam Fries

Ingredients:

1 yam (spiralized or sliced)

2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil (melted)

1/4 cup unsweetened shaved coconut

1/2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Coat the spiralized or sliced yam with coconut oil and shaved coconut in a baking pan.  Spread a thin layer of yam in the baking dish. You may need two baking pans for this.  The fries will not be crispy if the layer is too thick.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes and then flip over. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until browned. 

P1020724

Lemon Dill Baked Cod

P1020659

It’s approaching midnight and I’m still trying to finish reading the scripts that I received from China.  The film market is booming in China and there are many opportunities for me to direct my next film, but I’m yet to find a story that’s exciting to me as well as suitable to the censorship standard.  I will keep looking.  And in the meantime, I will cook.

Who am I?  If we are what we do everyday, which I think is the closest answer to this impossible question, then I am a cook.  At least for now.  As I busied myself in the kitchen with my pink batik apron, I actually thought, “I should buy myself a pretty apron.”  I used to think about buying sexy and glamorous dresses.  The ever evolving I.

Dill & Lemon Baked Rock Cod

Ingredients:

3  large cod fillets

1 lemon

1/2 cup white wine

1 teaspoon dill

1/2 sleeve of Ritz Cracker, crushed

3 tablespoon olive oil

Preparation:

Marinate the cod in the white wine in a large ziplock bag or a plate for 30 minutes.  Pat dry.

Coat the fish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 of the dill.

Crush the crackers and mix in the 2 tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining dill with fingers.

Preheat oven at 400F.

Bake the fish in a baking dish for 8 minutes and take the dish out of the oven, but leave the oven on.  Carefully discard the juice from the fish.  Squeeze half of the lemon juice on the fish and sprinkle the cracker mixture on top.

Return to oven and back for another 12 minutes.

P1020656

Carrot Noodles with Lean Turkey Sausage & Mushroom in Cashew Cream Sauce

P1020740

Today, our family attended an event hosted by the 1990 Institute, an organization I am on the board of.  There was a lively discussion with the upcoming ABC series Fresh Off the Boat star, Hudson Yang and his father Jeff on the portrayal of Asian Americans in the national media.  Fresh Off the Boat is a story of a Chinese American family based on chef Eddie Huang’s book Fresh Off the Boat, a Memoir.  I’m sure there will be lots of cooking in it — one more reason for me to check it out!

Today

Hudson Yang is the 11-year-old boy between me and his father Jeff Yang.

When I got the female lead Mei Mei in Taipan in 1985, I was fresh of the boat myself.  I began acting to support myself through college and never thought that I would still be acting 30 years later.  Back then, there were no meaningful parts for someone like me in American cinema or television.  I used the Taipan contract from Dino De Laurentiis to get a loan for a little house in North Hollywood, where I was going to open a home for seniors.  I heard that the US government would pay me to cook and care for old people.  That was one thing I was confident I could do as a FOB.

SCAN0064

Photo from Taipan, my and Kyra Sedgwick’s first film

From Taipan to today, we have come a long way in getting our faces shown and our stories told on the large and small screens in America.  I am proud of and happy for Hudson and all his co-stars on the show and I’m so looking forward to watching it!

P1020736

Ingredients:

  • For the pasta:
  • 2 large carrots, sliced with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups sliced baby portobello mushrooms
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 1/2 lean turkey sausage links, skin removed
  • 1/4 sweet onion, thinly sliced

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 diced sweet onion
  • ½ cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours and then drained
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons of low-sodium vegetable broth + more for thinning as needed
  • salt and pepper, to taste

P1020734

Preparation:

Place a medium saucepan filled halfway with water and a pinch of salt over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add in the carrot noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes or until al dente. Once cooked, drain into a colander and set aside.

While the carrots are cooking, place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and add in the olive oil. Once oil heats, add in the onions and cook until onions softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate and set aside, keeping the skillet over medium heat.

In the skillet, add in the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cover and cook for 5-7 minutes or until wilted. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and set aside. In the same skillet, add in the sausage and cook 5-7 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Transfer to the plate with the mushrooms and set aside. Wipe down the skillet and keep off heat on the stovetop, for later use.

Place the cooked onions into a high-speed blender along with the cashews, garlic cloves, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, broth and season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust to your preference or thin out with more broth, if too thick.

Place the same large skillet back over medium heat and add in the mushrooms and sausage, carrot noodles and toss. Pour in the cashew cream sauce. Toss to combine thoroughly until the cashew sauce is heated through.

P1020732

 

Recipe adapted from Inspiralized.com