Baked Coconut Yam Fries

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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.

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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. 

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Pickled Green Turnip, A Taste From My Childhood

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Shanghai has changed so much in the recent years that most of the places from my childhood memory no longer exist, but the familiar foods are still everywhere from my parents’ house to street vendors.  And they fill me with nostalgia.
Yesterday I made a jar of pickled green turnip and it’s ready to eat today! They make the crunchiest and most refreshing appetizer or a side dish or a savory snack. I used to have pickled or dried turnip with porridge at breakfast every morning. I never thought they were particularly delicious in anyway.  They were just a part of a very meager diet.  Back then, no one had refrigerators and we often pickled or dried our food to preserve them.  But this once mundane everyday staple became completely new and special after decades of living in America.
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Basic Pickled Turnip Ingredients:
2 turnips
30 to 40 grams salt or to taste
4 to 6 chili peppers
1/4 teaspoon peppercorn or Chinese 花椒
1 pack Equal or other sweetener that is not sticky
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Preparation:
Wash and scrub and peel the turnips.  Slice them into two inch long wedges.  Mix all the ingredients in a mixing bowl or any large container before transferring them to a jar.  Let it stay for at least an hour and up to two days, either in the fridge or in room temperature.  Pour out all the juice that came out of the turnip.  Press a serving spoon on the turnip and squeeze out as much water as you can.
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Marco Pol(l)o

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Marco Polo just got renewed for a 2nd season!  Yay!  Reunion with my Mongolian Beef and hordes of international eye candy.  And of course playing the wonderful Empress Chabi. This is exciting news for everyone involved, myself included.

But what about my family?  Though my girls act as if I annoy them all the time, they are at an age when they most need a mother’s guidance and influence.  In my younger days, I used to love this caravan life of a circus person — traveling the world while doing something I loved to do.  Having children has changed everything. While I believe many can do my job as an actress or filmmaker, only I can be the mother for my children.  There are times I become paralyzed by the prospect of a great opportunity, knowing fulfilling my desire and realizing my dreams professionally also mean abandoning the people I love.   P1020077

Work is a double edged sward for me.  Perhaps it is so with most working mothers.  I realize that I am lucky to be in this dilemma.  Many people don’t have the choices that I’m facing.  The ingredients of fulfillment is difficult to balance, but I have a secret ingredient in life — my husband Peter, the best husband and father anyone could ask for.  He is my lobster.  He is my salt.

And he does dishes.

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To celebrate Marco Polo’s 2nd season, I made a delicious Chinese dish called Three-Cup Chicken (三杯鸡).   Historically, it was made of 1 chicken with 1 cup each of soy sauce, cooking wine and sugar.  The dish has evolved through time to its contemporary version.  Mine was adapted from the recipe from rasamalaysia.com.

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Ingredients:

1 lb. chicken drumsticks (I used 1 lb. of skinless thighs)

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil or toasted sesame oil

2-inch piece old ginger, peeled and cut into thin pieces

2 to 3 dried red chili pepper, without the seeds (optional)

7 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 shallot, sliced

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine + 2 tablespoon to marinate the chicken

A big bunch Thai basil leaves

(I added 2 small boiled red skin potatoes, halved and peeled.  This dish ordinarily does not use potatoes, but I improvised this time because I had two boiled potatoes lying around. I added the boiled potato after I poured in the sauce and before I cover the lid.  They tasted yummy with the chicken.)

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Preparation:

Cut the chicken into pieces and marinate in 2 tablespoon of cooking wine for 10 to 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry.  Add 1 tablespoon of corn starch to the chicken and mix well.

Heat up a wok or clay pot on high heat and add the dark sesame oil. Add the ginger, garlic, shallot, chili pepper and stir-fry until aromatic.

Add in the chicken and do a few quick stirs. Add the soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, xylitol or sugar and continue to stir-fry the chicken. Cover the chicken and lower the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the basil leaves and stir well with the chicken, dish out and serve immediately with steamed rice.

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The Best Flour-less Chocolate Brownies!

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Spring cleaning!  After months of procrastination, I finally cleaned out my study.  It was tedious work, but I reveled in the feeling of being neat and organized.  Why didn’t I do this sooner?  I had looked at the mess now and then and thought about cleaning it, but every time  I just closed the door and walked away.  All I could say was that I was not born with the neat gene.  Whenever I visit my parents, I would lose all hope of ever get organized.  My parents’ rooms were always strewn with gift bags, newspapers and other knickknacks.  My mother, whom I most resemble, has a desk with layers of books, newspaper clippings, bottles of pills and what-have-you. 

So, it was no small feat that everything was filed into its rightful place.  And the recycling bin was full.  High time to bake some brownies for afternoon tea.  These flour-less brownies are unbelievably moist and delicious without any added fat.  They felt decadent and sinful to eat, but they are actually healthy and nutritious.  In all of my efforts in grain-free baking, this is the best recipe.  A definite keeper!

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This recipe is from Skinnytaste.com.  I added 1/2 cup of walnuts to the original.

PB2 Flourless Chocolate Brownies Ingredients:

1 large egg

1 large egg white

1 cup PB2 (see photo and note)

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp water

1/2 cup raw honey

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup semi sweet dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup walnuts

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Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray a nonstick 9 x 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Beat the egg and egg white in a small bowl with a whisk.

In a large bowl combine the PB2, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and mix well with a spatula. Add the egg and egg whites and stir. Add water, honey, vanilla and stir with a spatula until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then cut into 12 bars cutting 3 rows x 4 rows.

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Note on PB2:

PB2 is a reduced fat peanut powder that you can order from Amazon.com.  It is an ideal product to have if you like peanut or peanut butter but don’t want to ingest too much fat.

http://www.amazon.com/Plantation-PB2-Powdered-Peanut-Butter/dp/B00H8YGOMO/ref=sr_1_1?s=grocery&ie=UTF8&qid=1420601470&sr=1-1&keywords=pb2

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Nietzsche and a Vegetable Sauté

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Now that the holiday vacation is over and the house is quiet, I could take time to reflect upon the important events of last year and give thanks to all the good that has come from the bad.  There was a period of time last year when both Peter and I were stressed out and in crisis mode because our children were going through difficulties in their young lives.  We worried about and feared for them. Peter’s hair turned grey seemingly overnight.

I feel fortunate that we have endured and life is thriving again.  I’m sure our children will face many more challenges in life, but I hope having overcome severe obstacles has made them more tenacious. 

When I was going through a very difficult time in my late 20s, a friend gave me Nietzsche’s The Will To Power as a source of strength and comfort.  I took it off the shelf today and opened it to a passage that my friend had underlined and bookmarked for me a long time ago, “To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.”

I’m a mother and I could never wish any suffering upon my children, but I understand the value of all the “bad stuff” that happen to us in life.

I don’t have a New Year resolution, but I do have a New Year Prayer.  I pray for the wellbeing of my loved ones and I pray for courage and strength to endure and triumph in the face of adversity.

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Vegetable Sauté Ingredients:

8 to 10 oz. green bean

1/2 red bell pepper (sliced)

1/2 yellow bell pepper (sliced)

1 pack of Wildwood Savory Tofu (2 pieces)

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 to 2 tablespoon canola oil

4 thin slices of ginger

Preparation:

Poach the green beans in boiling water for about 3 to 4 minutes or until tender but not too soft and discard the boiling water. Rinse cold water over the green beans to stop them cooking.  Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok on high, add the ginger slices and let sizzle.  When the ginger slices are a little browned, add the bell pepper and stir for about 4 minutes.  Add the poached green beans and the tofu and stir for a minute.  Mix in the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar.

Serve immediately with rice.

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As I write, I could almost hear Nietzsche stir in his grave as he is being quoted next to a vegetable stir-fry.  As a matter of fact, the very act of blogging one’s life would be conceived as “the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity.”  But then again, maybe not.  His New Year resolution for 1882 was to be a yea-sayer and a beautifier of life: “For the New Year—I still live, I still think; I must still live, for I must still think. Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. To-day everyone takes the liberty of expressing his wish and his favorite thought: well, I also mean to tell what I have wished for myself today, and what thought first crossed my mind this year,—a thought which ought to be the basis, the pledge and the sweetening of all my future life! I want more and more to perceive the necessary characters in things as the beautiful:—I shall thus be one of those who beautify things. Amor fati: let that henceforth be my love! I do not want to wage war with the ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers.Looking aside, let that be my sole negation! And all in all, to sum up: I wish to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer!”

End of Splurge – Back to Broccoli and Kale

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We have been eating incessantly over the holidays.  There were boxes of Belgium chocolate and Panettone from Peter’s patients.  There were the dinner parties with extended family and friends.  And this morning, Peter’s mother served us leftover chocolate mousse cake for breakfast.  I must say it felt wonderfully decadent with a cup of coffee in the Southern Californian morning sun.  But the splurge ends today.  It must or else.

In Alexander Dumas’ Dictionary Of Cuisine, he named three sorts of appetites:

1. Appetite that comes from hunger. It makes no fuss over the food that satisfies it. If it is great enough, a piece of raw meat will appease it as easily as a roasted pheasant or woodcock.

2. Appetite aroused, hunger or no hunger, by a succulent dish appearing at the right moment, illustrating the proverb that hunger comes with eating.

3. The third type of appetite is that roused at the end of a meal when, after normal hunger has been satisfied by the main courses, and the guest is truly ready to rise without regret, a delicious dish holds him to the table with a final tempting of his sensuality.

The third type was all we indulged in during the past 10 days.  I declared it over by making the Broccoli Kale White Bean Soup for dinner tonight.  Eating the soup felt like a cleansing ritual after the holiday transgression. 

I used the roasted garlic from a few days ago and made some garlic Parmesan toast with Ciabatta bread.  They made a satisfying meal together with the soup.

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Ingredients:

1 large Onion (chopped)

4 cloves garlic (chopped)

4 heads of Broccoli (florets chopped; stems peeled and chopped)

7 cups Vegetable Stock

1 bunch Kale ( stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch ribbons)

2 15 .5-ounce Canneloni Beans (drained and rinsed)

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Preparation:

Place a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then toss in the garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until just translucent. Add the broccoli and again season with salt and pepper.

Pour the vegetable stock over the broccoli and bring up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is fork tender.

Let cool slightly and then transfer, working in batches, to a blender. Cover the blender with a towel to ensure it doesn’t splatter, and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Place another heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the kale. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the beans and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour the broccoli soup in kale and stir to combine. Let cook for one to two more minutes to let the flavors meld. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve while hot.

I Like Chinese Food!

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I was forced to cook at the age of 11 or 12. At that time, my parents were sent down to the countryside as a part of their cultural revolution reeducation.  My brother and I were left to be in charge of our own survival.  Five families of workers and peasants had moved into our house when I was seven or eight.  It was a way for the government to redistribute housing from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat.  In the beginning, I didn’t like these people who invaded our home and occupied our best rooms.  But after a few years I became friends with the children of the invading families.  When my parents were away, they kept an eye out for my brother and me.  I don’t remember ever feeling cooking was a chore.  I wanted to cook.  The more the better.  Cooking meant there was food to eat.  There were times when I would only cook a pot of rice, and we would eat with the crispy pork lard residue.  It really sounds worse than it was.  When the pork we got from the market was too fatty, we would cut the fat into tiny cubes and make lard.  The crispy residue was truly delicious over rice.

My mother sent my brother and me letters everyday.  And in every letter she would bid me to be extra careful about hot oil splatter that could blind me or ruin my face.  That was such a deep fear in her that she continued to write about the danger of hot oil spatter to me even when I was well into my 20s.  I was thousands of miles away from her and had problems much worse than she could ever imagine, but her worst nightmare was still the hot oil splatter blinding her young daughter. 

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However, my mother’s fear was not entirely groundless.  The key to stir frying is a red hot wok and smoking hot oil.  For dinner today, I went back to my roots and cooked four Chinese dishes.  Since I have cooked Chinese food all my life, I usually do it by feel and improvise with what I have at hand. 

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Chinese Mountain Yam with Braised Tofu and Celery:

1 6 inch long Chinese Mountain Yam (山药or怀山)

1 celery heart

1/2 carrot

1 braised firm tofu or baked firm tofu

8 ounces cashew nuts or macadamia nuts

3 slices of peeled ginger

1 teaspoon of corn starch

3 tablespoon of water or chicken broth

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 teaspoon or less of salt

1 to 2 tablespoon canola oil depending on how healthy you want to be

Instruction:

Slice all vegetables into desired similar sized pieces. 

Mix the corn starch, water and oyster sauce in a small bowl. 

Heat the wok on high heat, drop in the ginger, when ginger is dry pour in the oil. 

When the ginger is sizzling in the oil, put in the vegetables and stir for about 3 minutes or to desired tenderness. 

Pour in the oyster sauce mixture and stir for a few second until the corn starch is translucent.  Turn off fire and put in the nuts.

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Baby Bok Choi with grape tomatoes:

18 to 20 baby Bok Choi, washed and patted dry

4 slices of peeled ginger

4 to 5 cherry or grape tomato

1/2 cup of chicken broth or water

1 teaspoon of salt

Instruction:

Heat the wok, put in ginger, then the oil. 

When the ginger is sizzling put in tomatoes for 30 seconds. 

Take out the tomatoes and set aside before putting in the Bok Choi.

Stir for about 3 to 4 minutes. 

Pour in the water or chicken broth and close the lid for about 1 to 2 minutes.

When the broth is dry the Bok Choi is ready.

Stir in the tomatoes to make it pretty. 

Or you can skip tomatoes all together.

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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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Baked Pumpkin and Maple Syrup:

1 small pumpkin

1/2 cup of Joseph’s sugar-free maple-flavored syrup

Olive oil spray

Instruction:

Peel and cube the pumpkin into desired shape.

Spray olive oil and bake for 1 hour or until tender in a baking pan at 375 degree

Pour in the maple syrup and toss until pumpkin is coated with syrup.

This pumpkin dish is not authentically Chinese.  The Chinese way to cook the dish is to steam the pumpkin with Gouji Berries and some brown sugar.  My children prefer the baked version and their wishes are my command.

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