Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

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There was a skinny fig tree in front of my childhood home — the original home, the only one that appears in my dreams, that I have hopelessly yearned for since the day I left for America.

Throughout my childhood, I remember tasting a sweet ripe fig only once. I grew up in the years of extreme food scarcity and no child could wait until the figs were ripe to harvest them. My brother and I began picking them earlier each year because we wanted to get them before the other children in the neighborhood could steal them. We tried to leave the raw figs in the rice sack or in the sun for them to ripen, but the figs stayed hard no matter how long we waited. 

One day, I was idling by the 2nd floor window daydreaming, which was something children often did in that era. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves of the fig tree and a pinkish purplish bulb caught my eye. A ripe fig! I had never before seen a fig like this, rufescent and drooped from the slightly wilted stem. I nearly killed myself trying to pluck it with the help of a clothe hanger. I quickly stuffed it in my mouth before anyone could see me. There are no words that can describe the intense and shocking burst of pleasure as my teeth sunk into the flesh of that fig.

As I prepared these roasted figs today, I felt a nostalgic tug in my heart — a nameless longing. Was I twelve or thirteen? What was I daydreaming about? The neighbor boy with a “bad reputation” to play badminton with? The faraway lands I secretly read about in forbidden hand copied books? Or was it food? I was always a little hungry in those days and food was never far from my thoughts.

Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined roasting dozens of ripe figs in an oven — a wonderful contraption I didn’t know existed until I came to the US.

As I used to daydream by the window, I now do by the oven. These roasted figs are sumptuous. They are great as appetizer, dessert or a snack. I used Buche de Chevre which was absolutely exquisite, but goat cheese will also taste great with it. The balsamic glaze is an important ingredient that is not optional in my mind. It is a perfect finishing touch to complete the dish.

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Roasted Figs with Buche de Chevre & Balsamic Glaze

Figs

Brown sugar

Buche de Chevre

Balsamic Glaze

Pinch of salt

Pine nuts

Mint leaves

Olive oil spray

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Rinse the figs and pat them dry, then cut off the stems and, without cutting through the base, halve them from top to bottom.

Spray a baking pan with good olive oil. Dip the cut side of the fig in a dish of brown sugar. Line the figs cut side up in the baking pan.

Bake until the sugar is bubbling and the figs is heated through, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle broken cheese on top. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Top with pine nuts and mint leaves. Serve warm.

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Open Sandwich with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Pesto and Pickled Onion

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I made a quick run to Costco to buy bulk food for a friend, who is hosting a large party tomorrow in Tahoe. Angela is in up there in Tahoe at a writers’ workshop and I will be driving there first thing in the morning to attend some of the panels. Instead of succumbing to the temptations of buying oily chips and the sugary drinks for the road trip, I prepared the most delicious sandwiches using the multigrain bread with seeds that was freshly out of the oven from Costco. I used home made fresh pesto simply because it is the easiest thing to do and it tastes so much better than what you can buy from a store.  For lunch today, I made an open faced version of the sandwich that reminded me of the ones I had in Budapest last summer when I was filming Marco Polo. But the resemblance stops when it comes to flavor and texture. My smoked salmon pesto sandwich is so delicious and healthy that you should definitely try it. Or if you are a vegetarian, try my favorite vegetarian open sandwiches by clicking here

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Open Sandwich with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Pesto and Pickled Onion

Ingredients:

Fresh multigrain bread from Costco or any other bread of choice

Wild Alaskan smoked salmon

Cucumber slices

Fresh pesto, click here for recipe

Pickled onion, click here for recipe

Pine nuts

Olive oil spray

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Preparation:

Spray the sliced bread with a little olive oil and toast it until crust is crunchy. Spread the bread with pesto, layer with cucumber slices and then salmon. Top with smoked salmon and sprinkle with pine nuts.

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Enjoy Tortilla Chips without Guilt!

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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.

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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.

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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

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Bulgogi is traditionally made with beef, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be a delicious and nutritious vegetarian dish. I cooked mine very mildly spicy because the girls and Peter don’t like their food too hot.  Add chili flakes if you like more heat in the dish as I do.

This is a simple dish to make but very satisfying to eat. I used firm tofu, but extra firm will work well too. I used light soy sauce, but if you want the color of your tofu to be darker to resemble the real bulgogi, use 2 tablespoons light soy sauce and 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce. Go Chu Jang is a very sweet chili sauce. If you don’t like your dish too sweet, you can replace with other mild chili sauce. 

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Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

Ingredients:

1 box 14 oz firm tofu, water drained and finely diced

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 to 1 1/2  teaspoon grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg + more if serving with sunny side up (Skip if vegan)

1 1/2 teaspoon tapioca, or corn starch

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons pure dark sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons Korean sweet & spicy sauce called Go Chu Jang (replace with other mild chili sauce and add a little more sugar if you don’t have Go Chu Jang)

1 to 2 teaspoons xylitol or brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil

1/2 carrot, thinly sliced or julienned

1 teaspoon sesame seeds for garnish

Sliced cucumber and/or Kimchi for serving

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Preparation:

Open the tofu package. If the tofu is soaked in water, drain all the water and let it sit on a plate with another plate on top to press more water out.

In a large bowl, mix together tofu, 5 tablespoons chopped green onion, grated ginger, minced garlic, egg, soy sauce, Go Chu Jang, tapioca or corn starch, sesame oil and sugar with your hand. Let marinate for about 10 minutes.

Heat cooking oil in a wok or pan on medium high heat, stir fry the tofu mixture for 3 to 4 minutes until aromatic. Add thinly sliced carrots and stir to mix.

Serve on top of cooked rice, garnish with green onion and more Go Chu Jang if desired. Top with a sunny side up egg to make it a more fulfilling meal.

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Yummy Ketchup Sriracha Prawns with Broccolini

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Audrey left today for a debate conference and I really miss her, especially at dinner time.  She is representing China in the negotiation of the South China Sea dispute.  I was reading up with her on the history of the region and the involved countries.  It is amazing how biased most of the Western publication is against China.  So much of the original Chinese history and geography books and the maps that prove China’s sovereignty rights in the area have been completely ignored by the Western media, which is only interested in portraying China as an aggressor.

Audrey spent almost her entire spring break doing research on the topic.  As she read more and more about the issues, she began to worry, “Philippines and Vietnam are going to gang up on me, mommy. And Malaysia is not exactly on my side either.” Then she found out about the Gulf of Tonkin Agreement between China and Vietnam and got really excited.  She said, “We have both been benefitting a great deal from this bilateral collaboration. We can do it again!”  (Lately I have often been surprised by her casually uttering terms such as “bilateral collaboration.” I guess the debate lessons are paying off.) Audrey quickly dashed an email to Vietnam, expressing her wish to repeat the same success. As she found out more about the interdependence of the the nations involved, she wrote a few more emails to Malaysia and to South Korea.

The first text I received from her after she landed in her seaside destination was: “Landed safely. Lobbying went well on the flight.”  I had to laugh.  The Chinese diplomats should be envious of my 13-year-old girl, who seems to possess a natural sense of fairness and talent for negotiation and peacemaking.

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Audrey doing research with the help of a little home-made ice cream

Angela is working tonight at the take-out restaurant and will not have dinner at home.  I made this absolutely delicious prawn dish for the empty nesters. 

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Ketchup Sriracha Prawns with Garlic Broccolini

Ingredients:

1.4 pound large prawns, shelled and deveined

2 to 3 tablespoons cooking oil

3 tablespoon ketchup

1 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon xylitol or sugar

2 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon packed minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced or graded ginger

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

Ingredients for Broccolini:

2 bunches broccolini

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt to taste.

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Preparation for Broccolini:

Remove rough parts of broccolini.

Heat oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Add minced garlic and stir until aromatic.  Add broccolini and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender. Add salt and stir for a few more seconds. Set aside.

Preparation for Prawns:

Peel and devein the prawns.

Add 1 teaspoon salt to the raw prawn and squeeze and stir with your hand for a minute.

Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes and rinse the prawn in cold water.

Add the Shao Xing wine and let marinate in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the Ketchup, Sriracha, soy sauce and xylitol or sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Pat dry the prawns with paper towel and add mix with tapioca or corn starch.

Heat 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon oil in a non-stick pan on medium high. Pan fry the prawn to about 85% done on both sides. Scoop out and set aside.

Add another 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and sauté the minced garlic, green onion and ginger until aromatic, about 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the prawns back in and pour in the Ketchup Sriracha mixture.  Stir for 30 seconds to a minute and serve hot with garlic broccolini and rice.

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Freekeh Tabbouleh: Or, Shout Your Rejection

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When Angela was in third grade, she started going with her classmates to Stanford football games. Although she didn’t understand football, she loved the veggie burgers and tailgate parties, and she quickly became a Stanford fan. When she learned that Stanford was considered by many to be the best university in the world, she decided – at age eight – that she wanted to be a Cardinal someday. She wore Stanford sweatshirts and Stanford sweatpants and we sent her to programs at Stanford over the summer. My friend whose daughter went to Stanford met Angela, recognized her intensity and tenacity, and declared that Angela would go to Stanford someday.

On December 11, 2015, Angela’s world came to an end. She learned that she had been rejected by Stanford despite her 2380 SAT, 5s on all 5 AP exams, stellar GPA, and long list of extracurriculars and community service hours. She was heartbroken, and in the days and nights after she was rejected, she couldn’t stop crying. “Why would they do that to me?” she asked. “What did I do wrong?”

Come March, the next two college decisions she received were both waitlists. Zero for three. We were all in full panic mode. Most of her friends have already committed to their early decision colleges, and she was the only one in her friend group left hanging.

But the world did not end. That was the lesson. Life must go on and you persevere: there were classes to attend, assignments to complete, friendships to be enjoyed, and laughter to be shared. 

On the last day of March, Angela was accepted to Harvard; maybe she can’t be a Cardinal, but she will wear Crimson. To me, it doesn’t matter where she goes to school. I thought about the possibility of her being rejected by all the elite colleges. She’d still be my precious Angela with her intelligence, her perseverance, her achievements, regardless of whether they will shine through the capricious haze of the college admissions process.

We feel extremely grateful for how things have turned out for Angela. We realize that there will be many more new challenges and new setbacks in her life. We hope that she will always bravely carry on no matter what happens. Ultimately, life obliges us only one thing: to carry on.

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Anyway, you’re probably tired of my humble-bragging about Angela so here’s some food. This is a really simple, but very delicious and satisfying vegan recipe. Well, it can be vegan, but I cheated today. I cooked the freekeh with chicken broth. No one in the household is religiously vegetarian. Angela cannot stand the taste and smell of meat or seafood.  Audrey became vegetarian after she saw the film Food Inc.. Peter loves all meats and seafood, but is cutting back because I make him. I used to be a shameless pork lover, but find myself eating less and less meat as I age.

I have shared a Mediterranean Freekeh Salad and a Freekeh Pilaf with Beets in previous blogs and talked about what a great grain it is in terms of both nutrition and taste. An ancient grain from a distant land, it was food fit for the Pharaohs. If you haven’t yet tried it, you are in for a treat. 

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Tabbouleh with Freekeh and Walnuts

Ingredients:

1 1/2 heaping cup cooked fresh (I cooked mine in the rice cooker)

1 1/2 heaping cup chopped parsley

1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes

1 cup seeded diced cucumber

1/4 cup thinly sliced radishes

20 black olives, chopped

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup toasted walnuts

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Preparation:

Cook freekeh according to package direction. It is about 1 cup freekeh to 2 cups liquid.

Prepare the vegetables while the freekeh cooks.

Mix the cooked and cooled freekeh with the vegetables, olives, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Mix in the walnuts right before serving.

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Happy New Year!

P1090498Both Angela and Audrey had their first sip of champagne last night, toasting the arrival of 2016.  As I raised my glass, I was somewhat in shock that another year had passed in what seemed like a blink of an eye.  Much was accomplished, but with sacrifices; and much too, was lost, but redeemed by love. Along with families the world over, we have fortunately endured the hardships and thrived in our unity.

Angela will be going away to college this fall, and Audrey will be attending high school.  They are transforming themselves into young women right in front of my eyes.  Transformation, no matter how natural and beautiful, is nevertheless a loss — I miss the cookie and milk scent on their skin and in their hair.  But of course I can’t help but feel hopeful — as they become taller, stronger, more independent and so full of anticipation of what they will become.

I rose early to prepare our first meal of the year.  I wanted it to be delicious, healthy, colorful, uplifting and abundant — it is not only a meal to start our day, but also a meal to start our year.  I am not a superstitious person in general, but I wanted our new year breakfast to be auspicious — the word orange sounds like luck in Chinese and the color red brings fortune in my culture.  The blueberry pancakes, well, they have no other meaning than being the yummiest thing I could think of this morning. I always made them with buttermilk, but there was no buttermilk in the fridge, and I instead used 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of plain Kefir.  They turned out perfectly.

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P1090502Buttermilk Pancake Ingredients:

2 cups 100% whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups low-fat buttermilk

2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus more for pan

1 cup fresh blueberries

Preparation:

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, and 2 tablespoon melted coconut oil; whisk to combine.

Pour 1/3 cup of batter for each pancake in a greased pan on medium heat. Sprinkle blueberries on the pancake before flipping.

Serve warm.

Happy New Year!

Avocado and Mango Salsa

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I’m beginning to pack for my trip to Budapest to start Marco Polo season 2.  Though I will be away from my kitchen, I will be exploring eastern European cuisine when I am in Hungary and Slovakia, and collecting recipes to try on weekends.  I will continue to share my travel and work experiences with you, with an emphasis on food, of course.

I found this delicious salsa recipe on one of my favorite cooking website skinnytaste.com and decided to try it since I had all the required ingredients at home.  I also had some tortillas that were getting a little stale in the fridge, so I cut them into wedges and toasted them in the toaster oven into chips to go with the salsa.  I didn’t add any oil or salt or flavor to the chips.  Those simple chips turned out to be perfect for the richly flavored salsa. 

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Avocado and Mango Salsa

Ingredients:

1 1/2 mango, peeled and diced

1 large avocado, peeled and diced

4 big grape tomatoes, diced

1 jalepeño, seeded and diced

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1 tbsp olive oil

A few shakes of garlic powder

salt and fresh pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Combine all the ingredients and let it marinate in the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.

Adapted from: skinnytaste.com

Red Cabbage Slaw with an Asian Twist

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I read an article on today’s New York Times about a 78-year-old Iowa man, who has been arrested and is now on trial for having sex with his demented wife in the nursing home.  Apparently, he visited his wife almost daily, sometimes twice a day, praying rosary by her bedside and taking her to church on Sundays, and occasionally he made love to her.  According to social workers in the nursing home, the wife was always happy to see her husband and they would hold hands and talk.  Sweet old man is all I can say. 

I asked Peter if he would visit me twice a day when I am institutionalized for dementia.  He just said, “All I want to know is what vitamins he was on?”  Well, whatever vitamins he was on have brought him big trouble now.  The problem was that she was so demented that she was not deemed fit to give consent to sex.  And without consent, sex is rape.  The demented wife who was not deemed fit to consent to sex had to go through an examination with a “rape kit.”  It that even legal?  Anyway, Peter just reminded me to add in my “Advanced Healthcare Directive” that he has my consent to do you know what.

Peter, who usually doesn’t like coleslaw, loved this red cabbage slaw with an Asian twist.  He seems to believe that it contains aphrodisiac properties, and is also a cure for headaches.  So, yeah…

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Ingredients for the Salad:

1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced

1/4 mint leaves, chopped or cilantro, chopped

2 tbsp minced green onion or chives

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1/2 cup chopped candied walnuts or candied cashews (I used cashews)

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Ingredients for the Dressing:

1 tbsp minced ginger

1 tsp minced garlic

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 tsp lime zest

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp 100% pure sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce

2 tsp brown sugar + 2 tsp xylitol (you can use 4 tsp brown sugar if you prefer)

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Preparation:

Thinly slice the cabbage and put in salad bowl.  Mix all ingredients for the dressing in a bowl.  Pour the dress over cabbage and mix well.  Let sit for an hour in the fridge. 

Before serving, add everything else to the salad bowl and give it a few good toss.

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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