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Another easy recipe

February 27th, 2007 at 01:37 pm

I saw a recipe the other day for a popular Chinese dish, spicy stir fry tofu (mapo dofu). The nice thing about this dish is that you could easily make this vegetarian by substituting mushrooms instead of ground pork. Also, this is as a vegetarian dish this one packs a lot of protein! You can also adjust the hotness to your tastes; me, I like it sinus-clearing hot, especially for times like today when my nose is a wee bit stuffy. Anyway, here it is (with relative quantities):

-Heat a skillet of oil, then stir fry a handful of peppercorns until fragrant. Remove, leaving behind the fragrant oil.

-Toss in a handful of chopped ginger and garlic; stirfry until fragrant, then add in the ground pork or mushrooms.

-Add in a block of firm tofu, cut into squares. Gently stir them in with the other ingredients.

-Tilt the pan so you have a cleared area, then add in about two spoonfuls of soy sauce (dark) and stir fry this until fragrant.

-Add in chili garlic sauce (I prefer either the Chinese brand called "Ha ha sauce"- yes, that is the name- or the Vietnamese Siracha sauce with the rooster on the plastic bottle) and stir fry that a bit, then lay the skillet flat and mix all ingredients together.

-Add in cornstarch dissolved in water to thicken the sauce.


Some Recipes

February 11th, 2007 at 03:06 pm

My parents came to visit for a few days. My tiny apartment was bursting at the seams trying to accomodate three people, but we're all family so it was ok stepping on each others' toes for a couple of days.

As I like to joke, whenever they come visit, my dad requests I cook for them, not because I'm some world-renowned Chef, but I think he just wants to taste a change in cooking styles. I do like cooking, but I also like finding shortcuts to reduce the prep time. So my recipes do tend to change at spur of the moment, depending on whatever materials are on hand. Here are some easy Chinese and Taiwanese dishes that you can try:

Pork and Daikon Soup
So simple to make in large quantities. Take a quantity of pork chop, cut up in small pieces. Throw in boiling water for a minute or two, then turn off the heat. Skim off the junk that floats on top of the water, then return to full boil. Reduce heat, add in daikon (white carrot) that is cut up in chunks. Cook until daikon is clear. Add salt to taste. The flavor comes from the meat and the bone.

San bei ji (3-cup chicken)
The traditional method is to cook the chicken in an earthenware pot but I made do in a regular skillet. You really have to cook the chicken for 1-2hrs over low heat to achieve the perfect tenderness. The name of the dish derives from the 3 main flavourings which are 1 cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine, but let me tell you, my poor stomach gurgles at the thought of that much oil going into the dish so I admit that I sometimes use less oil and more rice wine. Or use more soy sauce if you like the saltiness. Or just add more water. You need enough liquid to cover the chicken. Anyway, first you braise the chicken a bit, then you pour in the liquids. Now as to the rest of the flavors, I like to add basil, ginger and hot peppers. Bring to boil, cover the pot, let cook on low heat until chicken is of desired tenderness or you are too hungry to wait.

Si zi tou (Lion's head meatballs)
I used to call this Chinese meatloaf, much to my mom's chagrin. She only uses pork and a little chopped scallion but I am more, errrr, creative in my choice of filling. Ground pork is the staple of the filling, but then I chop up dried shrimps, bok choy, and once I added tofu (the result: meatballs were more tender, chewy, because the tofu added more water content). I loved making this dish because you got to play with your hands- plus shaping the meatballs by hand really speeds up the process! Braise the meatballs in a skillet using a little oil, then add some more water to cover the bottom of the skillet. Then here comes my mom's favorite part (she's a veggie fanatic) she puts in lots of leaves of bok choy or any sort of lettuce. Cover the skillet and let cook for 5-10 minutes.

"Ketchup" Fish
Well, actually, I read somewhere that ketchup is a Chinese invention. Really! The original sauce, which was not tomato-based, used in Asia contained rather fishy ingredients and fish/shellfish brine. The tomato got added at some later time. Anyway, for this dish you do use the tomatoey Heinz ketchup, mixed with soy sauce. As my mom likes to call it, "a little sweet, a little salty." I just think it results in a cool color. Marinade fish fillets in combination ketchup, soy sauce, ginger, scallion, and cornstarch. Stir fry, preferably with some bright green bell peppers to make a beautiful contrasting dish.

An Alternative Thanksgiving Meal

November 22nd, 2006 at 02:55 pm

Two words: Hot pot!

My family never really held on to the turkey tradition. Most years, my aunt would bravely roast the turkey, but she is a decidely bad cook (both Chinese and American dishes) and the turkey always came out dry and tasteless (though we all love her for hosting dinners for the past 10+ years). Then somehow I took over the turkey tradition, and thanks to many cookbook consultations, my turkeys have always come out fine (whew) though it stressed me out having to rush back from school and buy all the groceries (usually one day in advance-yikes).

Unfortunately, there was never enough people to partake in the feast. These past few years, it has been just my parents and myself, sometimes my grandma (who is another horror story in and of herself). So about two years ago, my mom suggested we ditch the turkey and just make other foods. One year we made dumplings. This year will be hot pot.

Very simply, we heat up a broth (diluted chicken broth with some Chinese cooking wine), let it simmer, than throw in thinly sliced meats (they'll cook faster), shrimp, veggies, sometimes fish balls or assorted seafoods. The typical "dipping" sauce is called "sa cha" which is sort of like Asian BBQ with black bean and other spices. We crack a raw egg and mix it with the sauce.

I love hot pot because there's always the hot broth/soup to sip in between bites. Plus at the end, we throw in bean thread vermicelli (mei fun), let that soak in the soup, and then slurp it up! Yum!

I hope everyone has a safe, wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! Eat well!

About Cooking

October 31st, 2006 at 02:02 pm

I sometimes get brain farts and can't think of what else to write. So I'll write about cooking and some tips I've discovered:

-Use garlic. In everything. Even when cooking veggies.
-The microwave can be used to steam fish. My mom taught me to rub fish down with some salt, cover it with scallions, ginger, and gaaaaaaaarlic, cover with saran wrap and then nuke it. Yummy! (and healthy)
-The rice cooker doubles as a steamer; sometimes there will be an insert pan that sits on top, Other times, just improvise by putting a plate on top of an overturned bowl
-That big pile of veggies you cut up, esp. spinach or cabbage, will end up shriveling up and reducing in size by about half once you cook it. So don't be afraid to "over estimate" veggies
-A quick sauce for veggies that my family used for veggie dishes was simply some cornstarch dissolved in water with salt. It forms that viscous, clear sauce that you see in some Chinese dishes

Coffee Ice

October 25th, 2006 at 12:50 pm

This is one of the best tips I've ever heard: Pour leftover coffee into ice cube trays and freeze. Use them in iced coffee (when they melt, they won't dilute the flavour)!

I Want Candy

October 17th, 2006 at 03:13 am

Halloween is coming and there are all sorts of "sales" for candy, though we all know (or should know) that the day after Halloween, that's when candy gets marked down 50%.

Funny, while shopping at Target the other day, I saw a bunch of York Peppermint Patties (my favorites!) and select Hershey's kisses on sale, primarily because their packaging looked suspiciously like Valentine's Day (pink and red wrappers). I bought a couple of bags figuring I could always freeze them and melt them later for baking or for decorating, but couldn't resist a taste test. And they all tasted fine =)

Conclusion: As with clothing, try to buy candy that's "off season." Your candy may not be "dressed" for the correct holidays, but it all tastes the same in the end.

Got Rice?

October 8th, 2006 at 11:05 pm

After going out to Thai food with coworkers Friday, I noticed that, while everyone bagged up their leftover food, none of them wanted the rice. Those beautiful mounds of untouched rice, still hot and sweating inside the takeout can anyone resist? I asked them for it and got it. Then coworkers fired questions at me: "What are you going to do with it?" "How are you going to eat all that?"

Two words- fried rice.

Fried rice has long been the "black sheep" of Asian Cuisine- or so people may think! In fact, at any lunch shop in Taiwan at least, there are dozens of varieties of fried rice to choose from. Fried rice is certainly not laughed at by Asians. It is a most versatile dish- nearly anything goes in it. Add shrimp, add egg, add leftover cut up steak, add frozen (or fresh) vegetables. Even add hot dog or bacon for some nice saltiness.

And my personal recommendation is actually to use leftover restaurant rice, since they use short grain "Uncle Ben"-type of rice that is drier than typical Asian longgrain rice.

So next time you order Chinese or some sort of Asian take out, don't be afraid to rice?

Have you eaten yet?

September 15th, 2006 at 06:48 pm

Translated into Pinyin (that's Anglosized Mandarin): Ni chi fan le mei yo?

In my not-so-fluent Cantonese, too: Nay sik jo fan mei ah?

I don't know why the question of eating is so prevalant in the Asian culture. Growing up and spending summers in Taiwan, it seemed that everyone was always asking the other person if they'd eaten already. And why not? Eating/sharing drinks is both nurturing and a way to bring groups of friends together to socialize.

Thus, it seems this is an appropriate "first entry" opening discussion- how to answer the eating question when you're on a budget. In Taiwan, you can get a ginormous bowl of delicious noodle soup for about 50 yuan (or less!) which is less than $3. That's the price of a cup of coffee in the good ole US of A.

Interestingly, answers that may seem "okay" or acceptable in the US would be considered rude in Asia. For example, consider the following:

(older person) "Have you eaten yet?"
(you) "No thanks, I'm on a diet."
(older person thinks: What a snob, and what a conversation-killer)

Another scenario:
(friend) "have you eaten yet?"
(you) "No thanks, I just ate."
(friend thinks: she ate without me? or she doesn't want to spend time with me? oh how rejected I feel....)

So what is a good, yet financially sound, solution that will please everyone in every country? Consider the following:

"Not yet, it's only 3PM; why don't we go somewhere first to talk/shop/study?"

"Not yet, why don't you come over and I'll cook for both of us?"

"Not yet; there's a new (re: cheap) place I've been meaning to try, let's go there."

"Not yet; why don't we call up the gang and let's all go out to eat." (the strategy here being, more people to split the cost and/or share dishes)

A little diplomacy goes a long way...for your wallet, too.