Creamy Conchiglie Pasta – Healthified!

I think we’ve established that pasta is boss. So it’s no surprise that today we made even more pasta.

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Every time we go grocery shopping, we always pass the pasta aisle and Audrey begs for the big pasta shells that are on display. They do look very enticing.  We never end up getting them because they’re made out of white flour and Audrey gets more than her fair share of refined carbs from all the candy she eats. Today we decided to buy some whole wheat conchiglie to satisfy her craving.

It was pretty hard to find conchiglie that’s whole wheat; we had to search through some pretty hippie-ish Gen Y grocery stores, which thankfully are abundant in San Francisco. If you don’t have one of those stores near you, you can substitute with another type of 100% whole wheat pasta or just use regular conchiglie. Anything in moderation, right?

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Ingredients

1 pound conchiglie or other pasta, preferably 100% whole wheat*
1 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (14-16 oz.) bag frozen green peas, thawed
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 teaspoon pepper flakes
1 pinch smoked paprika
2 cups basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn
8 ounces feta cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

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Preparation

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the garlic and 1 tablespoon of basil until aromatic, add 2/3 cup of peas and give it a few stirs. Pour the cooked peas and the yogurt in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on medium heat in a small skillet and fry the pepper flakes, paprika and pine nuts until aromatic or the nuts slightly brown. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to direction on package. As soon as the pasta is al dente, add the remaining peas to the same pot, then immediately transfer peas and pasta to colander. Drain and shake the colander to release excess water.

Mix pasta, peas and the yogurt-pea sauce. Sprinkle with pine nuts, basil leaves and feta cheese. Serve warm.

The recipe makes six servings.

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Adapted from “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi
The Wall Street Journal Saturday/Sunday Eating and Drinking

*Pedantic foodie rant: A lot of the pasta at grocery stores that calls itself “whole wheat” is actually made with 51% whole wheat flour and 49% refined flour (cough cough Barilla cough), if that. Food packaging is, as the kids say, hella deceptive. Take Cheerios, for example. The packaging says “Made with 100% whole grain oats,” which is true. However, Cheerios themselves aren’t technically 100% whole grain because they contain small amounts of corn starch and wheat starch.

So if you’re trying to cut refined carbs out of your diet, make sure not to be fooled by deceptive packaging! My mother always buys “made with whole grain” products that are mostly just white flour. Yes, unbleached enriched flour is regular refined white flour. Moral of the story: if you’re trying to improve your diet, check the ingredient list before you buy anything! Sure, a little white flour here and there won’t kill you, but consuming unhealthy food should be a conscious decision. Unwholesome ingredients shouldn’t be snuck into your stomach by food labels that are obviously intended to fool you. Just my two cents.

Carrot Ginger Soup and High Heels

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2014 has been a special year for Angela.  She turned sixteen and discovered high heels.  Today Angela walked for four hours in four-inch heels without killing herself. She’s short like me so she likes having the height. I can definitely understand that. Podiatrists may say that heels are bad for you, but sometimes the height is worth the pain. Occasionally we look at pictures of really gnarly bunions and hammer toes to try to get ourselves to kick the high heel habit but in the end we succumb to the need not to look like a little teapot, short and stout.

I look taller than Angela only because I hadn't yet begun enabling her high heel addiction.

I look taller than Angela only because I hadn’t yet begun enabling her high heel addiction.

It’s hard to give up our vices. Heels, web surfing, eating while already full… why must the things that destroy our physical, emotional, and intellectual wellbeing always be so hard to quit? 2015 is coming, and with it the annual “new year, new you!” rubbish. In truth the New Year is mostly an opportunity for gyms and pyramid schemers (cough cough, Herbalife, cough cough) to make some extra coin.

First of all, why wait until the new year to change? Second, why try to make such huge and impossible changes? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to make gradual changes to minimize misery?

Subsist on nonfat cottage cheese and romaine lettuce? Exercise vigorously for two hours a day? More like an exercise in futility. I’m not going to resign myself to sneakers and flats or abandon my bags of salted nuts and my daily dose of staring out the window. No, I’m going to eat lots of veggies…

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I should follow in Angela’s lead. It was always a struggle to make her eat meat, but not veggies!

…and here and there, a few slices of good old-fashioned high-glycemic-index bread as well.

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Trying to be healthy shouldn’t be torture. As the kids say, “you feel?”

So in the spirit of being healthy without having to suffer, let’s drink some veggie soup. I love soup. It’s warm and hearty and delicious, and even though San Francisco winters aren’t exactly cold, soup just gets me in the winter holiday mood. And most importantly (let’s be honest), it’s easy to make. You don’t have to spend forty-five minutes stirring or spend hours mincing.

Today’s carrot ginger soup was absolutely delicious. But don’t take my word for it! Try it yourself!

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Carrot Ginger Soup Ingredients:

7 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 inch ginger root, peeled and sliced
1 small potato, sliced (optional, I omitted)
2 tablespoons olive oil (can use less or omit if desired, I used the full amount)
6 cups organic chicken broth or vegetable broth
A dash of ground cumin, paprika, coriander and oregano

Preparation:

Use a soup pot, heat olive oil on high and sauté garlic, ginger and onion until aromatic, about 3 to 4 minutes. If desired, you can omit the olive oil and use cooking spray or a splash of liquid instead.
Add carrots and stir for another 3 minutes. Add spices and stir for another minute.
Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes. Let the soup cool for a few minutes before pureeing it in batches in a blender. I used my Vitamix.

 

Sweet and Savory Burrata Crostini

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The whole extended family got together. As a fun sort of game, we decided to all go online and find our Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personalities. 

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We read the descriptions of our personality types and it was eerie to see how accurate they were! It felt kind of like looking at astrological charts, except far more accurate.

One of the weaknesses listed under my type is as follows: “Absent-minded – When INTPs’ interest is captured, their absence goes beyond social matters to include the rest of the physical world. INTPs become forgetful, missing even the obvious if it’s unrelated to their current infatuation, and they can even forget their own health, skipping meals and sleep as they muse.”  That explains all the “Chens” that I have pulled through out the years.  The only part that is completely inaccurate is the “skipping meals” description.

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Apparently, Angela has the same personality type as Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling, and Walter White. I can kind of see that. She’s smart but creepy. Peter has the same personality type as Lyndon B Johnson, Andrew Jackson, and “Dubya.” I guess he has that presidential charisma. And sometimes when he’s tired he mispronounces words. But don’t “misunderestimate” him! 😉 Angela has always been Daddy’s little girl, which I guess makes sense because INTJs and ESTJs are supposedly compatible.

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I was shocked to find that I have the same personality type as a bunch of geniuses: Descartes; Pascal; Newton; Einstein; Socrates… that’s where I think the computerized test must have malfunctioned.  Audrey has the same type indicator as Marilyn Monroe and Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m not surprised!

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Though the test questions were too simplistic for creatures as complex as humans, I was happy that we took the test.  If nothing else it was fun. And it’s always good to take a little time for introspection and reflection.  It takes 5-10 minutes unless you’re indecisive like me. I guess that’s an INTP thing.

What is it about my personality that makes me run to Costo all the time?  I couldn’t find the trait listed under either Strength or Weaknesses of my type.

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Costco’s Whole Grain Loaf is better than what you’d expect from a bakery! It was so fresh it was still warm when I bought it.

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Basil Pesto Tomato Burrata Crostini Ingredients:

Balsamic glaze or balsamic cream to drizzle

Basil leaves

4 slices freshly baked whole grain loaf

2 tablespoons basil pesto

2 ball Burrata, drained

1 large tomato (sliced)

Toast the bread slices until slightly golden.  Spread fresh basil pesto on the bread, followed by basil leaves and Burrata.  Add the tomato slice and sprinkle a little salt.  Drizzle with balsamic glaze.

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Pear Lemon Zest Burrata Crostini Ingredients:

Balsamic glaze or balsamic cream to drizzle

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Zest of 1/2 lemon

Basil leaves,

4 slices freshly baked whole grain loaf

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 ball Burrata, drained

1 ripe bartlett pear

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Combine sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl and mix together.

Toast the bread slices until slightly golden.

Gently slice Burrata ball in half, then slice into wedges and place on baguette toasts. Nestle pear wedges on top of Burrata. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and sprinkle with lemon sugar.

Piggy Sunday

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Sunday morning.  Glorious blue sky.  Everyone in the family still slumbered while I drank my tea and looked out the window at the humming birds flitting about my little lemon tree.  I must have been a peasant in my last life.  I always wake at the first light of dawn, which is something I quite enjoy.

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These muffins are low sugar and low calorie but you will absolutely love them

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Breakfast muffins inspired by the recipe from minimalistbaker.com

2 eggs

2 medium ripe bananas

3 Tbsp maple syrup

3 Tbsp unsweetened vanilla or plain almond milk

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup almond meal (ground from raw almonds)

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp oat flour (ground from GF oats)

I added 1 cup blueberries

Having put the muffins in the oven and the oatmeal on the stove I flipped the page of New York Diaries to Oct. 11th.  “At home all day — writing private letters.” —President George Washington was having another relaxing day 215 years ago today.  It amazes me that our founding father, who arguably has achieved more for America than any other presidents in history seemed to have a life.  Yesterday 215 years ago he was strolling in a Mr. Prince’s fruit garden in Flushing, which he described “The shrubs were trifling, and the flowers not numerous. “ Later on that day he had dinner with Mrs Washington, Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Smith at a tavern.

The world was smaller then, I suppose.  Unlike today’s presidents, he had no global wars to launch, no international media damage to control.  The word China connoted mostly dinnerware and the term Middle East wasn’t invented yet.     

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This is absolutely the most delicious bread I have ever had

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Almond flour zucchini bread recipe at the end of blog

As I was reading Washington’s diary, a whimsical idea came to me: why not try something the early settlers of America ate? I couldn’t find much that sound healthy or palatable, but there was an original recipe for Pumpkin from plimoth.org I found quite entertaining.  It was written by John Josselyn,  the author of Two Voyages to New England. 

John Josselyn called this recipe a “standing dish” suggesting that this sort of pumpkin dish was eaten everyday or even at every meal.

“The Ancient New England standing dish.

But the Housewives manner is to slice them when ripe, and cut them into dice, and so fill a pot with them of two or three Gallons, and stew them upon a gentle fire a whole day, and as they sink, they fill again with fresh Pompions, not putting any liquor to them; and when it is stew’d enough, it will look like bak’d Apples; this they Dish, putting Butter to it, and a little Vinegar, (with some Spice, as Ginger, &c.) which makes it tart like an Apple, and so serve it up to be eaten with Fish or Flesh: It provokes Urine extremely and is very windy.”

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Just for fun, I decided to give it a try, regardless of the warning that “It provokes Urine extremely and is very windy”.  Pumpkins are in season and they make everything golden.  So why not?

Modern version of it, of course, doesn’t take all day:

Trader Joe’s washed, peeled, cut sweet pumpkin, microwave on high with two tablespoon of water for 10 minutes.

Mash with coconut oil, a pinch of salt, 2 1/2 tablespoon xylitol, a little ground ginger and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar.

The result was interesting, and quite pleasant — tangy, sweet.  Almost a dessert.

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For the meat eaters in the family, I made carnitas with the recipe below.  Thank God for slow-cooker.  We were so stuck in the Blue Angel traffic that we didn’t get home until dinner time.  And the carnitas was just cooking itself for me.  The aroma of the pork was so enticing that Audrey, who had been vegetarian for over a month, decided that she would allow herself to eat meat on Sundays.

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http://allrecipes.com/recipe/slow-cooker-carnitas/

Angela baked miso tofu for herself.  It’s a simple dish that she has made many times. 

Spread the miso paste on the tofu and baked it at 375 F. 

Sprinkle green onion, sesame seeds and crushed chili on top.

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Isn’t she cute?

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Hydration makes you cuter, I think

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Thank you EcoJarz for sending us your jar lids! Audrey loves ’em 🙂

Almond Flour Zucchini Bread Ingredients:

2 zucchini (grated and drained)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup almond flour

1/2 cup oat bran

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon guar gum

3 large eggs

1 purple shallot

1sprig rosemary

2 sprigs thyme – fresh stems removed and leaves minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preparation:

Pre-heat oven at 350

Grate the zucchinis and leave in a bowl.  Mix in 1/8 teaspoon of salt and let sit for 10 minutes.  Squeeze the water out of the shredded zucchini.

Saute sliced shallot, chopped rosemary and thyme with olive oil 

Mix dry ingredients, and then in a separate bowl mix all wet ingredients before mixing the dry and wet ingredients.  If the dough feels too dry, add a tablespoon of milk.

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes.

2 Spaghetti Squash Dishes That Are So Delicious You’ll Forget They’re Healthy

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We all have heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child.  Jing, our nanny of almost ten years has been an integral part of the village that raises my daughters, especially when I go away on location.  Any working mom knows how valuable a good nanny is.  A couple of years ago, I helped her when she and her husband decided to purchase a house in the Sunset District in San Francisco.  Nowadays, she often brings me things that she has grown from her garden and today, it was a spaghetti squash.  She told me that she had just picked up some seeds from our kitchen and planted them in the soil.  Simple as that.  Mother Nature did all the rest. 

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The nanny grown spaghetti squash was a different color than normal store-bought spaghetti squash, and the strands, though tasty, were short and not very much at all like spaghetti. I guess this goes to show that the produce we buy is selectively bred (and perhaps genetically modified) to make it look and taste a certain way.

Sunny autumn days are perfect for spaghetti squash dishes. I made a refreshing salad and crispy-on-the-outside-tender-in-the-inside patties with the vine ripe squash. They were so delicious that no one would expect them to be so healthy as well.

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I based my recipes on Martha Stewart Living and made a few small changes. 

Ingredients for the salad沙拉原料:

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil) 15 mL橄榄油

2 shallots, diced small 少许小洋葱

2 garlic cloves, minced 两瓣大蒜

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves 一小勺百里香

3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves 迷迭香

6 cups Roasted Spaghetti Squash (I microwaved it) 半只鱼翅瓜

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 1/4杯意大利香菜

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Coarse salt and ground pepper

I added 1/2 cubanelle pepper that is not in the original recipe

DIRECTIONS

Instruction:

In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium. Add shallots and garlic and cook until softened, 7 minutes. Stir in thyme and rosemary and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add squash and toss to combine. Cook until warmed through. Stir in parsley and Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. 把所有的香料在橄榄油里炒过之后跟瓜拌在一起。如果没有鱼翅瓜,可以用南瓜切丝在开水里烫熟后凉拌。

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Ingredients for the patties鱼翅瓜煎饼:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 橄榄油

3 shallots, minced 小紫洋葱

2 small jalapenos, seeded and minced小青辣椒

3 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger姜

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin孜然

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander香菜

Coarse salt and ground pepper胡椒

3 cups Roasted Spaghetti Squash, patted dry

2 large eggs, lightly beaten鸡蛋

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used oat bran)面粉

Nonstick cooking spray

I added 1/2 cup fat free mozzarella and 1/2 of sunflower seeds which are not in the original recipe

我在煎饼里加了奶酪和葵瓜子,这样我的两个食素的公主可以有足够蛋白质。

DIRECTIONS

Instruction:

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add shallots, jalapenos, and ginger and cook, stirring, until softened, 7 minutes. Stir in cumin and coriander and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool slightly, 5 minutes.

Transfer to a large bowl and stir in squash, eggs, and flour. Wipe out skillet, then lightly coat skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium. In batches, add batter in 1/4 cupfuls to skillet and cook until pancakes are golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes, flipping halfway through. Transfer pancakes to oven to keep warm; repeat with remaining batter.

How I Quit Twin Peaks to Eat Coconut

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Twin Peaks is back after 25 years, but I highly doubt that I will be back as Josie.  I was the exotic beauty in an incestuous town, a poisonous fish out of water.  And we all know I that haven’t been these things for quite a while now.  However, a glimmer of hope still exists, for Josie was last seen trapped in a wooden doorknob.  Perhaps I can come back in one of the episodes as a doorknob witch? 

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I have made countless stupid mistakes in life and wanting to be written out of Twin Peaks was among the stupidest.  With the ignorance of my youth, and the influence of the PC factions in the Asian community, I naively rebelled against being an exotic flower.  I believed that I should want to be something more meaningful. When I asked to be written out of Twin Peaks, I didn’t realize how impossibly precious the opportunity of being a beautiful Ming vase was.  Unlike a real Ming vase, the value of which increases by the day, the human version, like a blossoming cereus, is only valuable for a few short hours.  Couldn’t I have searched for meaning after my once in a lifetime bloom?

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‘The Night-Blowing Cereus’ by Robert John Thornton, 1799

The project for which I quit Twin Peaks was called Turtle Beach, a disaster of a film that no one ever saw.  The only good thing was that it was filmed in Thailand, where the world’s best coconuts were grown.  I came to LOVE coconut during the 10 weeks of filming Turtle Beach on the balmy beach of Phuket. 

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Coconut love on “Turtle Beach”

People still walk up to me to tell me they loved me in Twin Peaks.  I would be walking on the street or shopping for groceries with a dirty face, and a stranger would begin to gush about Twin Peaks with me.  I have always been quite shocked and totally embarrassed at how people could make the connection between this slob and Josie Packard. 

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For desert tonight I served my family almond flour coconut chocolate cookies and coconut mango raspberry ice cream as I told them the story of how I ended up in a wooden doorknob so many years ago.  And how I came to love coconut.

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Sprouted Kitchen cookie recipe slightly revised:

1 ¼ cups almond meal (I added 1/4 cup of coconut flour)

¼ cup cacao nibs (I used Ghirardelli 100% unsweetened dark chocolate)

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup  muscovado sugar (I used sugar free maple syrup)

1 egg

3 tablespoons melted extra virgin coconut oil (I replaced it with non fat Fage)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)

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8 ounces mango
4 ounces raspberries
1/4 cup sugar free maple syrup
2 tablespoons raspberry or strawberry jam
1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup non-fat Fage
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup shredded toasted coconut, plus additional for serving
This recipe was improvised based on a few online references.

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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