Easy Cha Siu in a Rice Cooker

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I had never followed any cooking shows before taking on the role of being one of the judges for a cooking related award. The past two weeks, I watched dozens of food documentaries and cooking specials.  I enjoyed all the documentaries.  Whether or not they are well made, they brought me interesting characters and engaging stories. Cooking specials, on the other hand, were often boring or disturbing for me to watch.  I now better understand why they are called food porn. Our hedonistic hunger is supposed to be satisfied by the cooking shows the same way our prurient thirst is quenched by porn films. We get off vicariously by watching dishes being cooked with so much butter, cream, salt and sugar by the most upbeat and cheery people, who exclaim nonstop how delicious everything smelled or tasted.

It seems that our natural relationship with food has somehow been ruined by the diet industry, its nutrition experts with their ever changing theories of what we can or cannot eat. Food has become less about enjoyment and contentment, and more associated with guilt. Hence we have food porn.

Answering the question of what we should eat, Michael Pollan, a renowned food author, said simply, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” By food, he meant that something your great-grand mother would recognize as food — a piece of chicken, a bunch of greens, a bowl of oatmeal or a slice of pound cake.  Energy bars with dozens of unpronounceable ingredients or Chicken McNuggets don’t count as food by his standard, I think.

I am not much of a food porn guzzler because I am quite content with what I eat. I don’t have restrictions or prohibitions. I cook what I want to eat. And cooking is a part of the enjoyment; it is the anticipation, the foreplay.

Today, I felt like eating a simple Chinese comfort food: cha siu, a sweet and savory roasted pork, on a bed of brown rice with stir fried bok choy. I discovered a great way to make cha siu — in the rice cooker for 12 minutes. It turned out tender, juicy and slightly charred at the bottom. It was delicious. (Am I not making my own version of food porn here? Am I not a nudist exhibitionist flaunting my food instead of my body?)

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P1050174Ingredients for Cha Siu:

2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into long strips about 2 inches in diameter

Ingredients for the marinade:

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 1/2 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon Lee Kum Kee Cha Siu sauce (Chinese Barbecue Sauce)

5 to 6 slices of ginger

Preparation:

Marinate the meat for 4 to 8 hours. Lay meat in a single layer in the rice cooker  and push“quick rice” button, or for about 12 minutes if you don’t have a “quick rice” button. 

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Audrey and her friends making S’mores by the fire. I have never seen an inkling of guilt in her when it comes to eating. I love watching her enjoy food.

Easy Meal for One & the Versatile Oyster Sauce

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I did a very emotional scene yesterday and felt drained from the intensity and the commotion.  I needed some peaceful alone time, some stillness and silence to rejuvenate myself. Slowly making a meal for one was my form of meditation.  The act of washing, slicing and stirring food kept me present and engaged with the here and now, yet it was also simple and familiar enough to allow daydreaming.  There was no hurry, no need for precise measuring, no complicated steps to follow and no pleasing anyone else but myself. Like a stroll with no particular destination, being and doing became one for me in cooking. 

One ingredient that I love to use for Chinese cooking is oyster sauce.  Often times, it alone is enough flavor for many different kinds of food both vegetables and meat.

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Silken Tofu Medallions in Oyster Sauce

Ingredients:

250 g silken firm tofu

1/2 carrot, sliced

10 sweet snap peas

1 red chili pepper, seeded and sliced

1 tablespoon cooking oil

Chive and sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Ingredients for sauce:

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1/2 teaspoon corn starch

2 teaspoon water

Preparation:

Mix all ingredients for sauce in a small bowl.

Slightly brown the tofu in a non-stick pan with the 1 tablespoon of oil on medium high heat. Set aside.

Use the left over oil in the pan to stir fry the snap peas, carrot and the chili pepper for about 2 to 3 minutes or until snap peas turn bright green.

Lower the heat to and return tofu to the pan. Pour sauce into the pan and stir gently to coat for 30 to 45 seconds.  Turn off stove.

Garnish with chopped chive and sesame seeds.

Note: You can use frozen peas if snap peas are not available. The tofu that I bought in the market here came in a tube and I sliced it into medallions.  If your tofu comes in a rectangular box, you can slice them in half length wise and then slice them sideways into quarter inch pieces.

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Garlic New Zealand Spinach in Oyster Sauce

Ingredients:

New Zealand spinach (I estimate about 3 1/2 cups in the bag I bought)

2 cloves garlic

1 bird eye chili pepper (optional)

2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon cooking oil

2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon oyster sauce

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Preparation:

Throw away the tough stems of the New Zealand.  Wash and air dry or spin dry the spinach.

Heat the oil in a wok on high and add garlic and pepper.  Stir until aromatic and add spinach.  Toss until wilted and bright green. 

Serve with the oyster sauce.

Note: Adjust the amount of cooking oil and oyster sauce with the amount of vegetable you cook.  Baby Chinese Broccoli can be cooked the same way.  You can also blanch the vegetable instead of stir frying it.  Add a little sesame oil on top if you blanch instead of stir frying.

Here are some photos of yesterday’s lunch on set.  I couldn’t help sharing these pictures because the dishes tasted and looked wonderful.

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How I love that the chef lined the tray with a beautiful banana leaf for me.

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Black rice coconut pudding with mango slices

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Steamed Asian eggplant topped with prawns.

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Sweet Spicy Braised chicken

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Fried rice

Lime Avocado Chicken Soup

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I talk to my mother in Shanghai almost every Saturday.  Sometimes a couple of times every week.  Lately I have noticed that instead of telling me about the novels that she was reading or rereading, she talked about the events and stories that she had read online.  She told me that her sister, my aunt, often forwarded her the links of interesting stories, and from there she would surf and find more stories by herself.  Once an avid reader of books, my mother, at age 81, has finally been sucked into the irresistible world of the internet. Old age has made her forgetful.  I imagine her — sitting under the ceiling fan, cradling her iPad wandering from one link to the next, lost and enthralled all at once.  I suppose if one’s mind begins to wander, the internet is a pretty entertaining place to get lost in.  

When we call each other, we often talk about what we have eaten.  As a matter of fact, instead of “how are you” the Chinese ask “have you eaten” when greeting people.  I told her now that she roams the internet, she can find out what I have eaten even on the days when we don’t talk on the phone. 

For food today, I transformed the leftover roast chicken into this piquant soup.  It reminds a bit of the Chinese hot and sour soup which I enjoy, but only better.

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Lime Avocado Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

1 roasted chicken breast (I used Costco roast chicken)

1 carton organic chicken stock (32 FL OZ)

3 or 4 limes, juice of

1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

1 large white onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 to 2 red jalapeño, seeded and minced

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1 Haas avocado, pitted, peeled and diced

Salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Heat the oil in a pot or wok on medium high.  Sauté onion, garlic and jalapeño until aromatic.  Add torn chicken breast and stock.  Bring to boil.  Turn stove to low and simmer for 2 minutes.  Turn off stove and add avocado and lime juice.  First use juice from 3 limes.  Taste the soup to decide if it needs extra lime juice.

Ladle soup into bowls.  Add cilantro before serving.

Happy to be Jet Lagged

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I woke up at the crack of dawn because of jet lag, while everyone else in the family slumbered on.  Quietly and methodically, I cleaned up.  Mindless physical labor was a good therapy after two weeks of intensive movie watching and movie debating. 

The Golden Horse Award, for which I served as the jury president, stirred up all sorts of scandal and controversy because a well loved film star from China did not win the Best Actress award.  I was involved in this imbroglio because the media insinuated that I sabotaged her because of professional jealousy. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gong-li-cries-foul-judging-752683 I usually don’t respond to the media but the backlash went viral and I had to make a statement on Weibo that I actually voted for her and the deliberation and voting process was fair and transparent.  I am so glad the whole thing is now over and I’m home scrubbing the kitchen sink and toilet bowls. I’m not being sarcastic.  Making things clean can be a cathartic exercise.

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I cooked a simple Asian flavored pasta for lunch before heading out to buy outfits for the press junket and the premiere of Marco Polo in New York.  Audrey insisted on going with me to make sure I didn’t buy anything that was “either too young or too revealing” as I always tended to do when I needed to be in front of the camera.  As I picked out clothes to try, Audrey would say I disapprove or I approve or strongly approve.  Audrey has good taste and I followed her directive with conviction.  She was a good little helper zipping and unzipping me as I went through dozens of dresses.  You will probably see some of them next week when I appear in front of the press.

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Before I left for Taiwan, I planted some scallion ends in a flower pot and today I was finally able to use some in the pasta.

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Ingredients:

2 cups Whole grain Kamut Spirals (or any other pasta of your choice)

1/2 onion 

2/3 yellow bell pepper

4 cloves garlic (minced)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoon Ponzu sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon chopped scallion

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste

Cook the pasta according to instruction and drain. Sauté minced garlic, onion, bell pepper on high until slightly caramelized.  Turn the fire to low and pour in Ponzu, soy sauce and sugar.  Give it a few good stir and mix in the pasta.  Sprinkle scallion and red pepper flakes before serving.