Cauliflower Steak with Garlicky, Nutty, Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower

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I traveled by car and plane for more than 24 hours — to spend only a few days at home before I leave again for Asia.  On Tuesday, I finished filming on a beautiful location near Zilina, Slovakia and departed for Vienna, Austria around 6:30pm.  When I reached the airport hotel at 9:30, I debated if I should put the luggage down and have a quick visit to Old Town — I had never been to Vienna before.  It was fortuitous that I decided to check my emails before heading out.  What I saw was a disastrous email from Lufthansa to tell me simply that my Wednesday morning flight from Vienna to Frankfurt was canceled.  For the next half an hour, I frantically tried to rebook myself online, but there was no available flights from any airline to take me to Frankfurt in time to catch my flight back to San Francisco.

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Make-up touch up under the red umbrella amongst the chaos on the set.

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Resting on the grass in between shots

It turned out that there was a strike at Lufthansa and no flights from the airline could take off or land on the day I was to travel.  Panic stricken for a moment, I dashed out of my room. There is an ancient Chinese proverb that describes the heart that wants to return home as a flying arrow 归心似箭 — I suppose that was the fastest thing imaginable in the olden times. I thought of the proverb as I shot myself like an arrow across the street to the airport.  After running around like a madwoman all over the airport, I secured a ticket from Austrian Airlines to fly me to San Francisco via Washington DC.  The flight took much longer than my original itinerary, but it managed to get me home on Wednesday night.  The silver lining is that unexpected challenges like that teach us to never take anything for granted. 

For dinner, I made cauliflower “steaks” with mashed cauliflower for the girls, and beef steaks with mashed cauliflower for Peter and me.  The girls loved their vegetarian steaks.  I tasted some from their plates and they were absolutely scrumptious — if I may say so myself.  The mashed cauliflower is so creamy and satisfying that no one could believe it’s just cauliflower.

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Cauliflower Steak with Garlicky, Nutty, Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower

Ingredients for Cauliflower Steaks:

2 cauliflowers (use only the center 2 inches of each as the “steaks” and leave the rest for mashing)

Extra virgin olive oil spray

Salt to taste

A few generous dashes of ground turmeric, cumin, smoked paprika, coriander, oregano, cayenne pepper

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Ingredients for Mashed Cauliflower:

The rest of the cauliflower (florets)

4 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed (2 cloves for each batch)

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (separated)

2/3 cup freshly shaved parmesan cheese

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

2 cups milk (1 cup for each batch)

Salt to taste

Dashes of red pepper flakes

1 clove of sliced garlic and some more pine nuts for garnish

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Preparation:

Preheat oven at 425 F.

Cut off the leaves and the stem of the cauliflowers. Slice a 2 inch thick steak from the center of each cauliflower to make the steaks.

Spray the foil lined baking dish with olive oil. Spray the “steaks” with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and a generous amount of the spices.

Roast the “steaks” for 25 to 28 minutes, until browned and tender in the middle.

As the cauliflower steaks are roasting, cook the rest of the cauliflower in 2 batches.

For each batch, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a pan or wok on medium high, and sauté garlic until aromatic, add cauliflower florets and stir for a minute, add salt and 1 cup of milk. Turn stove to medium low and close the lid.  Cook for about 5 minutes or until the florets are soft but not mushy.

Blend each batch of cauliflower with 1/2 of the pine nuts and parmesan in a large blender.  I did it in my Vitamix. 

For garnish, heat the last 2 teaspoon oil in a small saucepan, sauté the sliced garlic until brown and crispy, add a fistful of pine nuts.  stir for 1/2 minute and turn off stove.

Alternatively, you can also roast the cauliflower florets instead of “steaks” and serve with mashed cauliflower.

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Mango Sorbet

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It was a glorious April day and the temperature was in the 70s — warmer than many of our summer days.  How could anyone be inside and working on a day like this?  I called Peter at 5pm and asked, “ Can you play a little hooky and take a walk with me?” — meaning “I miss you,” not expecting him to actually do it. 

Ten minutes later, I heard the garage door open and there he was.  “Let’s go take a walk,” he said casually as if this was an everyday occurrence.  I was so surprised I couldn’t speak. 

Peter changed into shorts while I quickly made a mango sorbet for him.  It took me less than five minutes, but he said it really hit the spot.

We walked on Union Street holding hands.  This almost felt illicit — strolling with him in the afternoon sun on a weekday.  It was as if he was not my husband, but someone else’s husband that I had stolen just for today.  It was wonderful, better than a real vacation.

We walked by a few restaurants where people were dining al fresco style on the sunny sidewalk and we decided to do the same.  We sat down at an outside table in a restaurant call Capannina.  After we ordered, I heard the lady sitting at the next table telling her young daughter about me as if I was a painting on the wall.  She said, “Remember you said you wanted to be a Chinese princess?  This lady played a princess in a film.  She is a movie star.”  The young daughter looked at me — practically an old woman — and was dubious.  The lady probably sensed that I was a bit uncomfortable and embarrassed by her admiration and apologized.

Peter and I had a delicious three course meal, and when we asked for the bill we were told that the dinner was paid for by the lady at the next table. We thanked her and walked into the setting sun.

Our impromptu date turned out perfectly.  Everyone should play a little hooky once in a while.

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Mango Sorbet

Ingredients:

2 cups frozen mango cubes

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

2 tbsp fresh sweet orange juice

Blend everything in a powerful blender or food processor.  I used my Vitamix.

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“Chifa” Beef with Baked French Fries

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I had longed to visit Peru ever since I read Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa.  I became a devoted fan of the author and visited him in London when I was filming Judge Dredd in 1994.  I was trying to adapt Llosa’s humorous and erotic book In Praise of the Stepmother into film and enjoyed many wonderful afternoons chatting with the author in his Knightsbridge apartment. Llosa flew from London to attend the premiere of my directorial debut Xiu Xiu, The Sent-down Girl in Berlin in 1998.

In the spring of 2012, I booked a trip for the family to visit Peru during the girls’ spring break.  I bought non-refundable tickets on LAN Airlines, and pre-paid all the hotel rooms and some dinner packages. This was an unique experience for me as I rarely ever plan trips since they are always arranged for me by the production company or film festivals.

We had never taken LAN before the trip and was happily surprised by what we saw.  There was an old world glamour in the LAN Premium Business cabin, which was better than many United First Class cabins at that time.  The four of us were sitting on the plane waiting for take off when Peter decided to fill out  in advance the arrival cards for Peru.  Suddenly, he discovered that Angela’s passport was missing and presumed lost somewhere between the security check and the plane.  We frantically searched through all the carry-on bags and the overhead bins.  We retraced our steps from the plane to the airline lounge and to the security check point, but no one had seen or turned in her passport.  It simply disappeared and it meant that Angela could not enter Peru. 

Peter decided that he would deplane with Angela, and Audrey and I would go to Peru by ourselves.  A few years ago, I took Angela on a Mommy-Angela trip to Rome and Capri, and Audrey had been wanting to take a Mommy-Audrey trip for quite some time.  Now unwittingly this journey to Peru became her Mommy-Audrey trip. 

When Peter deplaned, he took most of the cash with him and left me with four people’s luggage. We lugged two large suitcases around to four different cities and towns in eight days, and everywhere we went we had either huge hotel suites or two rooms.  In many places we also feasted on food enough for four people.  The hotels felt sorry for us that we couldn’t refund the rooms or the dinners so they offered us lunch boxes and massages.

In Lima, we saw many Chinese restaurants that had the signs that said Chifa; I suppose it came from the sound of “chi fan” which means literally eat rice in Chinese.  Audrey and I tried one and we quite loved the interesting combination of Peruvian and Chinese flavors.

I thought of Peru today because of my failed trip to Boston.  My flight to Boston, which had been canceled yesterday and rebooked for today got canceled again due to the blizzard.  I will now miss my speaking engagement for which I spent a whole week preparing. 

I decided to roll with the punches and make the best of this unexpected free Sunday.  The memory of Peru made me crave for some Chifa food. This Chifa beef dish was so delicious that Audrey decided to have a free Sunday from her vegetarianism. 

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Lomo Saltado (Peruvian Beef Stir Fry)

Ingredients:

For the Baked Fries:

canola cooking spray

1 medium (5.3 oz) potato, russet or yukon gold, washed and dried

1 tsp olive oil

1/4 tsp garlic powder

kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

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For the Beef:

1/2 lb lean sirloin, cut into small, thin strips

kosher salt, to taste

1/4 tsp cumin

black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 medium red onion, sliced into thick strips

2 mini yellow bell peppers or 1 large

1 large jalapeno, ribbed and seeded, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium tomato, sliced into wedges

1 1/2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (use tamari for gluten free)

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

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Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Cut the potato lengthwise into 1/3-inch thick slices; cut each slice into 1/3-inch fries. Place on the baking sheet and toss with oil to evenly coat. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place on a single layer onto the greased baking sheet. Bake uncovered on the lower third of the oven for about 25 minutes or until tender crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, season meat with salt, pepper and cumin.

Heat a large wok over high heat. When hot add the oil and the steak, cook about 2 minutes, until browned on both sides. Add the onions, bell pepper, jalapeno and garlic and cook 2 minutes.

Add the tomato, soy sauce and vinegar and cook 1 more minute. Season with more salt as needed, remove from heat and finish with cilantro. Serve immediately with french fries and divide evenly between 2 plates.

If you double the recipe, you should stir fry it in two separate batches.  The French fries can easily be doubled in the same baking pan.

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Recipe adapted from http://www.skinnytaste.com

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Black Bean Salad with Corn Avocado Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

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A friend is visiting me from Los Angeles.  It’s her birthday, and we decided to celebrate by taking the cruise to Alcatraz Island.  I tend to take this amazing city for granted until a friend or relative shows up and I take them sightseeing.

It was a glorious day.  The sun was shining, and the flowers were blooming, and there was a provocative art installation in some of the old prison buildings.  I found that these dilapidated buildings with broken windows and peeling paint were perfect settings for an art exhibition. 

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The last time I went to Alcatraz there was a bad storm.  We couldn’t have picked a worse day.  My parents came to visit us from Shanghai, and it was their last day in San Francisco.  Against Peter’s advice, I took them and the girls to Alcatraz.  Everyone got dreadfully wet and cold, and we shivered all the way home after only staying on the island for one hour. It was quite miserable. That was almost ten years ago.  When I visited my parents in Shanghai last month, they talked to me so fondly of the time they spent visiting us.  Even the Alcatraz trip became a wonderful adventure. 

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“Blossom”

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Looking at the eroded buildings around me today, I thought of my parents, my children; I thought of time — its relentless and indifferent march.  And yet in my subjective world, once seized, time is also malleable.  It becomes our memory and stretches to fill our imagination.

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Black Bean Salad with Corn Avocado Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup frozen corn kernels, cooked

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons minced red onion

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Colavita

1 teaspoon lime zest (be sure to zest limes before juicing them)

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

2 Hass avocados, chopped

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Instructions:

Combine all ingredients except for avocados in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and chill for a few hours or overnight. Right before serving, add avocados and mix gently, being careful not to mash avocados. Garnish with a more chopped cilantro if desired. Serve at room temperature.

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 Recipe adapted from : http://www.onceuponachef.com

Sandwiches and the Art of Sauntering

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“Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure — as if we lived on the marrow of koodoos devoured raw.” by Henry David Thoreau

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When I pointed to the sky and told Angela that the bright stars meant we would have a sunny day tomorrow, Angela sighed, “More of your old wives’ tales…”  So I was extra happy to see the glorious blue sky this morning.  I was proven right in the eyes of my 16-year-old daughter who often thinks that I am stupid.

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We took our extended family on one of our favorite hikes in San Francisco — Land’s End, the closest wilderness that we could experience without taking a long drive. The best things in life are free and this hike is one of them.

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When Audrey was little, she couldn’t understand why anyone would take a walk.  She thought one walked to get somewhere, and she’d always be asking “are we there yet?” when we strolled.  That, of course, was a long time ago.  Now she is quite a master at taking walks, or as Thoreau put it – sauntering.

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Thoreau wrote in his book Walking: “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land.”

So, we didn’t just walk.  We practiced the art of sauntering.

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Roast pork shoulder sandwich with fresh basil pesto and mushroom onion gravy

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Roast turkey breast avocado tomato sandwich with mustard and mayo

We walked up a ravenous appetite and had the most satisfying sandwiches and soup made from leftovers.  For lunches, I like to forage in my own fridge for leftovers and reinvent them into something new and delicious.  I never throw any food away.

Ingredients for Turkey Vegetable Soup:

1 Roast turkey carcass

3 cups sliced celery

1 onion

2 cups of chopped carrots

2 cups of mushrooms

2 zucchinis

3 cups of chopped kale

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste.

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Boil the turkey carcass with bay leaves, onion, celery and carrots for about hour and half.  Use a spoon to skim the fat off the top.  Take out carcass, remove meat, chopped it up and set aside.  Discard the bone.  Add the remaining vegetables with the turkey meat and cook for 20 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

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The roasted pork shoulder from the night before was made with a similar recipe as the pork tenderloin, except that I brined it for three hours and roasted it at 325F for 3 hours.  I added two 2 onions at the 4 corners of the baking dish to give it a little steam.  Then I added the roasted onion to the porcini gravy. The leftovers made the most delicious sandwiches.

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Peter’s brother roasted the Turkey a couple of days ago, and today we made sandwiches and soup of the leftovers.

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Classic mustard and mayonnaise turkey sandwich

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Home Sweet Home

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I got home this morning, just in time for Thanksgiving.  There was unopened mail piled up on the dining table, dishes piled up in the sink.  There was hair all over the bathroom floor.  And the piano was dusty…  But the girls and Peter were all happy and healthy.  That was all it mattered.  I can’t believe I actually was able to cook today.  What a joy!  It was a simple dish, but it’s Angela’s favorite: ratatouille.  

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Always Mommy’s little helper

Ingredients:

2 large eggplants (cubed)

2 large tomatoes (diced)

2 medium onions (chopped)

1 red sweet pepper (diced)

1 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt (optional)

1 teaspoon sugar

4 cloves garlic (minced)

1/3 cup Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

a dash of each ground cumin, paprika, coriander, oregano

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Put the cubed eggplant in a microwave-safe container and cover with a lid.  Microwave it for 12 minutes or until soft throughout.

Sauté onion and garlic on high with half of the olive oil for about 6 minutes, add sweet pepper and tomato and stir for another 6 minutes.  (I used a wok for this.) Set aside.

Use the other half of the oil and sauté the eggplant on medium for 4 to 5 minutes before mixing in the onion, pepper and tomato.  Pour in the Marinara sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices, and cook at low for 20 minutes.

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As we have been doing for the past fifteen years, we went to David People’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.  The five cakes and pies were made of full fat cream, real sugar and butter and white flour.  Happy holidays, right?

Guest Post: Lynn Chen

What an honor to be guest posting for Joan!  I’ve often said that Joan’s performance in “The Last Emperor” was my inspiration for becoming a film actor; I’d like to think that my sites “The Actor’s Diet” and “Thick Dumpling Skin” influenced her starting Hungry Empress…

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…it’s been almost a decade since Joan and I worked together on Saving Face.  Even though we only had a few scenes together, we became a family on set – and that often meant sneaking away to the crafts services table together.  Weight gain was inevitable; our director Alice has joked that she had the snacks moved further and further away from set so her cast wouldn’t mindlessly munch between takes and cause costume issues.

These days it’s important to me to be very conscious of the power food has over my mind, and my body.  In the last 10 years, I’ve overcome eating disorder struggles, and make a daily effort to be kind when I talk about not only about how I look, but how others do, as well.  It can be a challenge to acknowledge that what we eat can change how we feel – mentally and physically – but also learn how to enjoy/celebrate without indulging in guilt/obsessive control.  To learn not to equate fat = bad, skinny = good.  Health is a lot more than a number on a scale (which, by the way, I’ve thrown out since 2006).  The most important thing I’ve learned – after 5 years straight of writing about food daily – is that nobody has it all figured out.  Not chefs, not nutritionists, not food scientists, not even doctors.  So the best diet for you, is literally trusting your own gut.

Lynn Chen
lynnchen.com

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Tabouleh Duty

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I was in London filming Judge Dredd when I first tasted the refreshing lemony flavor of tabbouleh.  I took the part of the villain in Judge Dredd because it was a paying job and because it filmed in London.  What’s great about making films is that something wonderful always happens even when the film is not worthy.

Before I went to London, I was on a flight from Singapore to Shanghai.  For some reason, I got to talk to the passenger next to me, which was something I almost never did or do.  Samuel was his name and he worked for Pfizer in Asia.  I remember talking to him about my mother’s interest in flax seed that grew in the Northwestern part of China and if Samuel thought Pfizer would be interested in collaborating with my mother on making the gel capsules.  Samuel was not interested in flax seed, but he chatted with me for the rest of the trip.  He told me that he had a girlfriend in London.  I said that I would be going to London in a couple of weeks and he insisted on giving me his girlfriend’s contact in London.  Her name was Hanan Kattan.

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Hanan and her family

I thought to myself, I’d be crazy to call someone whose contact was given to me by a total stranger sitting next to me on the plane.

Two weeks after the encounter with Samuel, I arrived in London.  It was late autumn and rainy.  I spent a couple of wet days in the the hotel room, with occasional sessions of physical training and costume fitting.  Perhaps I was lonely or perhaps I felt adventurous.  I took out Hanan’s number and called her.  I’ve always been socially awkward and fearful of meeting new people. But I met Hanan on a wet and cold autumn day and we ate tabbouleh and a dozen other dishes in a Lebanese restaurant, and the next day I moved into her family’s swanky apartment in Mayfair London.  This whole thing was entirely and utterly out of character for me.  I don’t even know why I kept Samuel’s card with Hanan’s number on it.  Fate is mysterious.  We have been friends for 20 years.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup fine bulgur

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cup boiling-hot water

1 cups finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint

2 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1/2 seedless cucumber*, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Boil water with salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pot.  Add bulgur when water is boiling and turn off the fire and let the bulgur sit for 15 minutes.  Discard water and let the bulgur cool.

Mix the cut vegetables, lemon juice and olive oil with bulgur and leave in the refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.  If you are pressed for time, you can serve the dish right away, but it gets better after sitting in the fridge for an hour.

PS: The saga of the Pumpkin Man, I’m afraid, is never ending.  Day 4.  I have by now completely perfected my creamy pumpkin soup.  I ate the soup with a dash of cinnamon today.  I can’t believe it, but so far I still enjoy it.

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