November 30, 2012

baby food—delicious steamed sweet potatoes

Thinly sliced sweet potatoes ready to be steamed

This past week began what I hailed as the most important journey for me as a homecook: cooking first solid foods for my baby! My son, Nuree, is six months old. I felt as if I have graduated from some sort of elementary school for parenting! And for my son, eating solids start out as a fun and playful event without him knowing the nourishment food provides. He's certainly embarking on a lifelong pursuit of gastromonic pleasures.

He tasted his first food—colostrum, or first milk, a form of milk that boosts a newborn's immune system and is packed with nutrients—from my breasts just shy of an hour leaving my womb. Six months have past and I'm now excited to prepare his first real solid food.

Cooking for baby presents a new set of challenge: what to introduce first for baby's vulnerable and tiny body? How best to cook it to preserve nutrients? What shapes and textures work best for my baby's not yet developed chewing skills? How to work the process into the preparation of our routine family meals?

So last week after much research, I came up with sweet potatoes for its similarity to breastmilk's sweetness. I boiled the sweet potato first and then pureed it in the blender, while imagining the happy smiley face on my little one when I feed the sweet potatoes into his mouth. Yet what happened was he not only gagged, but spit up the whole thing after I fed him a good tablespoon of food.

A week after, I tried again, with a new method—steaming. Not only did he like it this time, he opened his mouth automatically spoonful after spoonful in anticipation of the awesomeness of solid foods. And the beauty of steaming is that it preserves nutrients best and takes only 10 minutes. It's so easy that a recipe may sound redundant but I'll try my best to lay it out here.

Very delicious steamed sweet potato for baby

Time: 15 minutes, includes 10 minutes of cooking
Serving: 10-12 ice tray cubes

1 small to medium sweet potato, peeled

Bring the water to a roaring boil in the steamer or a wok steaming set-up. Slice the sweet potato very thinly and put them on a shallow plate. Place the plate on the steaming rack, cover, and steam for 10 minutes or until soft to the fork/spoon, whichever untensil you're using to mash the sweet potatoes to appropriate baby food texture. For your own entertainment, feed the baby with a blue spoon ;)

May 21, 2012

Snow peas with Swai

Snow peas fish 5-18-12

One of my early childhood kitchen memories involves helping my mom sanpping the ends of snow peas to remove the strings. To this date, I still don't know why the strings need to be removed. (Perhaps for a smoother mouthfeel?) I have literally internalized this practice as a ritual. With the imminent roaring summer, I crave for snow peas. Saying "snow peas" out loud has a magical cooling effect on me, let alone seeing the bright green color and eating the crisp and snappy pods that sing of springs and summers.

Swai, or Pangasius hypophthalmus, is a sweet tasting, fleshy, and flaky fish from the catfish family for cost-conscious home cooks like me. The mild flavor complements vegetables that bear distinct tastes perfectly.

Snow peas fish b 5-18-12
Snow peas with Swai

Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 2-3 servings

1 Swai fillet, about 9 oz, sliced diagonally into nuggets
1 tablespoon soy sauce
a pinch of sugar
a pinch of white pepper
1 teaspoon rice wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon oil
2 tablespoons oil
2 slices ginger
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 oz snow peas, about 1 cup or 20 pieces, strings removed
¼ cup wood ears, soaked and cut into strips

Marinate Swai nuggets with soy sauce, sugar, white pepper, rice wine, cornstarch, and oil.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. (When pan-frying fish, I like using nonstick skillet.) Add ginger and stir-fry until fragrant. One by one, put Swai nuggets into the skillet. Pan-fry each side until slightly browned, about 3 minutes on each. Remove from skillet and set aside.

With the remaining oil, add garlic into the skillet and stir-fry until fragrant. Add snow peas and wood ears and stir-fry until soft, about 1 minute. Return Swai nuggets into the skillet and stir-fry, about 30 seconds. Cover and let steam, about 1 minute. (If there is excess water and the dish looks loose, mix 1 teaspoon cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water as slurry to thicken the dish.) Remove from heat and serve.

May 17, 2012

Steamed eggs with shiitake mushrooms

Steamed egg e 5-13-12

A healthful Asian home-cooking blog isn't proper if such a simple yet nourishing dish as steamed eggs isn't covered. Everytime when I return home, I would behave like a spoiled kid and have my parents and my grandma cooked steamed eggs for me, as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Theirs are always the best.

Steam two eggs mixed with water that doubles the amount. Seems easy enough? But it can be the most puzzling dish to a home cook. The Chinese call it steamed "watery" egg, stressing the fludity that melts in your mouth, as opposed to the unyielding flavor and texture of an overcooked egg. So how to achieve an impeccable "watery" sensation?

It came to me as a big revelation one day when I prepared lunch with my grandma. I always knew her as a meticulous person. As one of the few women to receive education in a rural Chinese town back in the 30s, she went on to become the first female teachers in her village. But never did I know that a dish as seemingly easy as steamed eggs would trigger her "teacher" spirit in front of her granddaughter.

"You must use boiled water," she said seriously and as an 80-year-old, ran as swiftly as she could to stop me from using tap water.

"Don't you see there are still air bubbles on the surface?" which implied more work from my end when I was about to put the dish into the wok for steaming.

Deep down I thought those were merely gestures used by cookbook authors or food show hosts to establish their authority. But now these instructions came from my grandma, which meant I had to listen. The end result? It's steamed eggs in its best form I've ever achieved.

It was such a liberating moment to finally find out the keys (laid out below) to making this classic dish and that, these tips came not from cookbooks but from my very own family.

Steamed egg d 5-13-12

Steamed egg

Here, I'm sharing with you three steps to impeccably silky steamed eggs: (1) use previously boiled water at room temperature; (2) scoop away air bubbles after eggs are beaten with water; and (3) leave a 1/4 to 1/2 inch gap between the lid and the wok or whatever pots you're using when steaming to let out steam, thus preventing bubbles formed on the surface of the finished dish.

Steamed eggs can also be a great canvas for your imagination, such as Japanese chawanmushi, Korean gyeran jjim, with filling like minced pork, or toppings like cavier. Or you can mix the eggs with clear noodles (pre-soak it with hot water before mixing with the egg) and dried shrimps, which puntuate the egg dish in a pungent flavor and chewy texture. It's the Hong Kong classic style: 蝦米粉絲蒸蛋。

Time: 20 minutes (cooking time depends on the type of steaming set-up and the size of the serving dish)
Yield: 2 servings

2 eggs, egg shells reserved for measuring water
8 half-egg-shells boiled water at room temperature. If you don't have boiled water, boil some real quick and freeze it immediately for roughly 15 minutes or until chilled.

pinch of salt
water for steaming
1 mushroom, soaked (or microwave with water for 1 minute to reconsitute quickly) and sliced to as thin as possible
2 tbsp oil

2 tbsp green onions, julienned
2 tbsp soy sauce
  1. Bring a pot/wok of water to a roaring boil on high. (See my steaming set-up).
  2. In a shallow and wide bowl/serving dish (mine was a 2.5" x 7"), beat two eggs. Reserve the egg shells for measuring water. 
  3. Choose a half-egg-shell as your measuring cup. Measure previously boiled water up to twice the amount of eggs. For every one egg used, add four half-egg-shells of water. In this case, eight half-egg-shells. Add a pinch of salt. Beat well. Scoop away air bubbles on the surface.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium. Place the egg dish on a steaming rack. Cover with a lid but leave a ¼- to ½-inch gap. Steam for about 10 minutes.
  5. Open the lid and check for doneness with a fork. The eggs should have achieved a stable consistency. Add mushroom slices on top and steam for 3 more minutes.
  6. In another pan, heat 2 tablespoon oil to the point of just before getting smoked.
  7. Open the lid and check for doneness again. If the egg is not set, steam for another minute. Otherwise, pour away the water settled on top of the dish and garnish the dish with julienned green onions.
  8. Pour the heated oil over the dish and dress with soy sauce. Serve with plain rice.

May 14, 2012

Braised pork feet with tofu and seaweed

Pork feet 5-6-12

Let me show you what I'd be eating these few months at the end of my pregnancy and during my postpartum period: Lots and lots of pork feet.

The beauty of pork feet for home cooks is their modesty. No frills. No fanfare. Pork feet are plentiful. They are a magic blend of mouth-boggling textures that only leave you wanting for more: silky tendon, chewy cartilage, gelatinous skin, and fall-off-the-bone tender meat. When braised with star anise, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, soy sauces, and rock cane sugar, the color of spices and the shades of flavors turn this nondescript cut of meat into a sublime taste, perfect with plain rice or noodles.

Described as a new superfood with its abundance in collagen and protein, braised pork feet is a nutritious and hearty dish for less budget and with little effort. For moms-to-be, as if making you look younger is not enticing enough to make this dish, believe it or not, pork feet promotes lactation. It's a natural galactagogue that is tasty and inviting.

Braised feet with tofu and seaweed

I call this my family recipe, developed as I picked up new skills and tastes during my past 10 years as a home cook. Hope you'd enjoy this! In case you may wonder, rock sugar is a type of unrefined cane sugar popular in making Chinese dessert soups or savory braises and stews. Unlike regular soy sauce, dark soy sauce is viscous and is prized for its color. Dried orange peel lends a unique citrus flavor to the broth but the pith needs to be remove for its bitterness. Last but not least, this dish makes a great left-over! (Some left-over pork feet are made into fixings for noodles in the picture below.) Store it overnight and you'll find the gelatin on the surface; don't throw them away! Reheat the dish and they'll be melted. Reserve the liquid as a sauce for your next stir-fried noodles or dishes.

Pork feet rice vermicelli c 5-10-12

Time: 2 hour
Yield: 3 - 4 servings

1 ½ - 2 pound pork feet, cut and split (good news: they're usually sold pre-cut/split!)
2 tablespoons oil
2 pieces 1" ginger
1 dried orange peel, soaked and pith removed
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoons chopped green onion or shallot
¼ cup star anise
½ cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon of combined spices (best to be wrapped in a tea bag/coffee filter): fennel, coriander seeds, cloves 
2 tablespoons rice wine
1 ½ cup water (or broth)
¼ cup rock sugar
1 used teabag (optional)
1 piece seaweed, soaked, cut lengthwise into 2" x 5" and tied into knots
½ pack tofu, chopped into wedges
2 eggs
  1. Soak pork feet in cold water for one minutes. Use knife to scrap away hair.
  2. Pork feet b 5-6-12
  3. Bring to a boil a pot of water. Blanch pork feet for two minutes. Drain and run against cold running water. {Update: Cut tendons slightly away from bones for better texture.}
  4. Heat a medium saucepan or a wide pan over medium high heat. Add two tablespoons oil. Add the soaked orange peel, garlic, and green onions and stir-fry until aromatic. 
  5. Add star anise and pork feet and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Pour in ½ cup soy sauce and  ¼ cup dark soy sauce and stir-fry until sauce is slightly boiled and pork feet is evenly coated, about 1 minute. Add spices and 2 tablespoons rice wine and keep stirring, about 30 seconds.
  6. Add 1 ½ cups water (best to be hot water) into the mixture. Add 1/4 cup rock sugar and keep stirring, about 30 seconds. Bring to a boil.
  7. If you use a saucepan, you can close the lid now and turn the heat to medium low. If you use a wide pan, you can transfer the mixture into a medium saucepan now. (Make sure all pork feet are covered in the liquid, if not, replenish  with some water, but not too much.) Simmer for about 1 ½ hours, until pork feet arrive at a texture to your liking. (I love them to be just done, not too tender to retain the chewing mouthfeel.)
  8. About one hour into the the simmer, add a used teabag (optional), tofu wedges (be careful, they're soft!), two eggs (cracked slightly for juice absorption), and seaweed knots. 

May 13, 2012

{Garden} My mom-in-law's rooftop vegetable garden

My mom grew up farming—even when she was pregnant with me—before she moved to Hong Kong from China. The idea of keeping a vegetable garden at home didn't interest her very much. On the other hand, my mom-in-law grew up in an urban city in China where farming wasn't necessarily her daily chore. Now, she keeps a wonderful rooftop garden with lots of vegetables. Last summer, I was in Hong Kong for three months and was excited by the fact that most of our food on the dining table came from "upstairs."

The ultimate definition of upcycle: used washing machine part as a planter.

Dragon fruit

Beautiful peppers

Growing corn in the city. What a sight!

Planting starts!

My favorite vegetable, water spinach, from farm to table.

May 08, 2012

Mango tapioca

Mango Tapioca 5-4-12

This is better than frozen yogurt. Biting into these chewy pearl-like darlings, which are nicely immersed in fresh ripe mango juices, gives you a fulfilling sensation of cooling off on a hot and humid summer day. Last year, I wrote about my love for mangoes with a recipe of mango pudding. Here is an even easier treat with lots of room for your improvisation. (Hint: adding ice-cream, yum!)

Mango Tapioca 5-4-12 tapioca

Cooking tapioca requires the same patience and care as cooking risotto. Keep stirring and in about 30 minutes, you should witness the magical moment of every single white speck disappearing into translucent pearls. Tapioca is a starch extracted from cassava. Little did I know that the word tapioca comes from not any Asian languages, but Portuguese or originally, the Tupi language from Brazil as typióca, with ty = juice + pyá = heart + oca = to remove. What a distance tapioca has traveled!

Mango Tapioca 5-4-12 pearls

Mango Tapioca

Choose ripe kidney-shaped yellow mangoes, such as Ataulfo, for this recipe instead of their green/red counterparts, which are more fibrous and tart.

Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Mango puree: (makes about 3 cups puree)
2 mangoes, about 1.5 pounds, peeled, chopped
1 - 1 ½ cup water

½ cup tapioca
2 cups water, replenish with more water if necessary

Sugar Syrup: (Optional)
¼ cup sugar
½ cup water

Evaporated milk, to serve
  1. In a medium saucepan, BRING to a boil 2 cups water.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, BRING to a boil ¼ cup sugar and ½ cup water. Let chill in the fridge.
  3. CHOP mangoes into small pieces.
  4. COMBINE chopped mangoes and 1 - 1 ½ cup water in a blender; process until smooth.
  5. STIR in tapioca into the boiling water. Simmer in medium low heat and keep stirring until all white specks have disappeared, about 30-40 minutes.
  6. REMOVE from heat. Pour the tapioca through a colander or a fine sieve. RINSE translucent tapioca against cold running water until chilled and less sticky. Set aside.
  7. POUR mango puree into serving cups (I used ramekin cups). If the mango puree doesn't taste sweet enough, add in some sugar syrup. Stir in rinsed tapioca (adjust the amounts to your liking). Dress with evaporated milk.

May 04, 2012

Tomato and egg stir-fry

Tomato egg 2
Home-cooking is about being authentic. Not the kind that dictates what sauce goes with what dish or what cheese goes with what wine; it's about creating a taste that's true to yourself and a scene where formality meets freedom in the comfort of food, be it soy sauce spaghetti or chow mein.

Tomato and egg stir-fry is my ultimate comfort food. Velvety scrambled eggs drenched in the plump and luscious red of tomatoes. What a fiesta! It's ridiculously simple and rustic; from my parents farm in rural China to the fast-paced restless Hong Kong, this duo provides the same comfort one gets from their grandmother cooking for them in childhood.

This effortless tomato and egg stir-fry also appears on Mark Bittman's list of"101 simple meals ready in 10 minutes or less." Although my recipe differs from his (quoted below), it truly takes less than 10 minutes:
"Chinese tomato and eggs: Cook minced garlic in peanut oil until blond; add chopped tomatoes then, a minute later, beaten eggs, along with salt and pepper. Scramble with a little soy sauce."
If I were to dress it up with more formality, I would skin the tomatoes, julienne some gingers and woodears or jazz it up with some pickled flavors—back home in my family's Hakka kitchen, a dish of tomato and egg would not be complete without pickled mustard greens. Or if I'm feeling lazy, I'll add more water, turn the dish into a broth, add in spam (yes, spam!) and serve with rice vermicelli. That makes me happy.

Tomato egg mise en place  

Tomato and egg Stir-fry
I have two tricks for making this dish shine: to achieve fluffy eggs, beat egg whites and egg yolks separately; for reducing tomato mess on your chopping board, cut tomatoes using roll cutting technique, so that seeds stay intact instead of flowing out and the tomato pieces stay uniform in size.

Time: 15 minutes 
Yield: 2 servings 
3 roma tomatoes, about ½ pound, cut to 1" cubes or chunks
2 stalks of green onions, chopped, about 2 tablespoons

2 eggs
1 teaspoon oil
a pinch of salt 
2 tablespoons oil (for cooking)
2 tablespoons water, or broth

Slurry (optional):
½ teaspoon cornstarch 
1 teaspoon water  
  1. Cut tomatoes into 1" chunks and chop up green onions.
  2. Beat egg whites first, then add 1 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt. Beat in egg yolks. Set aside.
    Tomato egg step 1
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, pour in eggs. Keep scrambling the eggs, pushing cooked parts towards one end of the pan, leaving uncooked parts flowing along the edges. When it's about 80% done, remove from pan and set it on the serving plate.

    Tomato egg step 2
  4. Add 1 tablespoon green onions to the remaining oil (if there's not enough oil, feel free to add a little bit). Add tomato chunks and stir-fry for 1 minute.
  5. Stir in some water, or better yet, flavored broth like chicken broth or veggie broth, about 2 tablespoons. Keep stir-frying. Add a pinch of salt and the remaining green onions.
  6. Cover to steam until tomatoes are tender and the mixture turns thick, about 30 seconds. POUR the slurry into the stir-fry and quickly stir to thicken. (If the slurry is not thick enough, feel free to add some more; otherwise, add more water if it's too thick.) Cover again.

    Tomato egg step 3
  7. Remove from heat and pour the tomatoes onto the eggs. Stir the mixture (so as to heat the eggs to complete doneness.) Serve with rice!

May 02, 2012

{Dining Out} Dim Sum at Red Ginger, Shoreview, Minnesota

I have a soft spot for dim sum. Even though dim sum served here in Minnesota cannot compare to those served in Hong Kong, I'd still go for dim sum once in a while to cure my habitual weekend craving. Flavors are often lost in translation; once food is served out of their regular locales with integrity, good enough becomes good.

At Red Ginger, there are dozens of selections served on carts. I was delighted when I could simply use my mother tongue, Cantonese, to order. But you don't need to; simply watch the carts come and go and then point and pick. To help you get started, order Po Lei tea (just because it’s brewed with tea leaves, not tea bags). Among the must-haves: congee with pork and thousand-year-old egg, chicken feet steamed in black bean suace; shrimp dumplings, chicken sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, barbecued pork buns, pineapple buns or lau sha bao, steamed bun with a glorious runny duck egg yolk, which both my friends and I agree that it's done better than a lot of restaurants in Hong Kong!

Last but not least, dim sum is a communal dining experience. Have a craving? Call you friends.

April 30, 2012

Asparagus and Beef in Shacha Sauce

The fragrance, the sizzle, the chop, and the heat, they are what make chow, or stir-frying, a beautiful action. Unlike stir-fries in most American Chinese restaurants—mostly vegetable and meat concoction dressed in heavy gravy—or as prepackaged frozen meals in supermarkets, I like my stir-fry to be minimalist, clean with only a few but distinct ingredients. Pair and cut two ingredients diverse in colors and textures into various shapes—big or small, long or short, plump or slender—and in a matter of minutes, you'd be singing about the joy of turning raw ingredients into aromatic bites of contrasting yet complementing textures, as in this dish, crunchy asparagus and velvety beef, held together by shacha sauce, a pungent, savory and slightly spicy sauce popular in southern China and Taiwan.

From left to right: Shacha sauce, marinated beef, asparagus, aromatics (ginger and garlic)

Before you read on, here are my tips to basic stir-fry:
  1. Size matters: cut ingredients into uniform size to ensure even cooking.
  2. Marinade: This is not optional. It's a stir-fry, which means quick cooking; a marinade not only tenderizes the meat but also brings out the flavor in little time.
  3. Heat: Start your wok/pan in medium or high heat. Make sure oil is hot before adding ingredients.
  4. Aromatics: Everything get a lift in flavor; the wok/pan, the oil and of course, the ultimate dish.
  5. Keep the rhythm: Be patient with quick cooking by adding ingredients one by one. Listen to the sizzle.  Don't crowd the wok/pan. 
  6. Finishing touches: Cover to steam. A slurry helps seal in the juices and thicken the dish to a nice body.
Here's a quick stir-frying 101 introduction by Grace Young, James Beard award-winning author of the book, Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge.

Asparagus Beef Stir-fry in Sacha Sauce
Time: 20 minutes 
Yield: 1-2 servings 
4-6 oz beef, sliced, cut against the grain (click on the link to see a guideline for cutting and choosing the right cut for beef for stir-fry)
1 cup asparagus, cut to 1” inch length diagonally
1 clove garlic, 
slices of ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon of cooking oil
1 tablespoon of shacha sauce 
Marinade for beef:
1 tablespoon water

½ teaspoon soy sauce 

½ teaspoon cooking rice wine 
a pinch of sugar and salt
½ tablespoon cornstarch
½ tablespoon oil

Slurry (optional):
½ teaspoon cornstarch 
1 teaspoon water  
  1. CUT the beef into thin slices against the grain. The meat is easier to cut half-frozen.
  2. By hand, MIX the beef with 1 tablespoon water until all water is absorbed. STIR in the remaining marinade and mix well.
  3. CUT the asparagus into 1-inch length diagonally. MINCE 1 clove of garlic and cut ginger into thin slices.
  4. HEAT 1 tablespoon oil in a pan over medium heat.
  5. BROWN the beef slices until 70% done, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan.
  6. ADD garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce to the remaining oil and stir-fry until aroma is released, about 30 seconds.
  7. STIR in asparagus and stir-fry for 1 minute.
  8. STIR in beef. Add a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.
  9. COVER to steam until beef is done and asparagus is tender, approximately 1 minute. (While waiting, you can prepare the slurry, which is optional. POUR the slurry into the pan and quickly stir to thicken. Cover again.)
  10. REMOVE from heat and let sit for 30 seconds. Serve with rice!

April 25, 2012

{Event} Pizza-tossing with author/chef Zoë François

How often do you bake with a cookbook author? It turns out as a food blogger in Minnesota, you're in a culinary bliss surrounded by a community of food-caring and - loving individuals, collectively known as MNFoodBloogers, a group led by Stephanie Meyer. I spent my Monday evening with these like-minded food lovers enjoying pizza demonstration and even tossing pizzas! We learned how quick and easy (thus, no excuse!) it is to make home-made pizza from the charming and intelligent chef Zoë François, who has impressed the world with Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day with co-author Jeff Hertzberg. In the event, Zoë once again impressed us with demonstrations from her latest book, "Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day," which we were generously given a copy. The book even covers Chinese scallion cakes!

Here are the highlights of the night (don't miss the video at the end):
Zoë has a knack for deconstructing complex ideas with lucidity. She has such a lovable style that makes you feel you can do it least to me, who has never made a pizza before!

Homemade pizza = infinite toppings. Mine has anchovies (ooh, my love), sausages, roasted peppers, olives, and what's more fun, quail eggs!

Kitchen in the Market is where the fun took place! It's a commercial kitchen for caterers, producers, manufacturers, mobile food trucks, and anyone who needs licensed space for food preparation.

Now, get ready for some pizza-tossing fun!

April 22, 2012

{Links} Ideas for meal planning

It is Sunday and I'm working on my meal plan. Yesterday I had dinner with my knowledgeable food-loving ex-coworkers from Byerly's at Hoban Restaurant in Eagan. We tried out signature Korean dishes such as jeon (pancake), dolsot bibimbap, bulgogi, soondubu jjigae, and a type of Korean rice wine called makgeolli.

A day has passed and yet the taste still lingers in my mind. As a home cook, nothing can be more satisfying than remaking the dishes you crave for. Most ingredients are standard Asian pantry items, such as woodear, cellophane noodles (or sweet potato noodles), sesame seeds, scallions, or even dried anchovies and seaweed for the broth in Tofu soup. I'm more than ready for these new adventures!

Chinese Scallion Pancakes – A Photo-by-Photo Recipe
This is not the cake-y Korean version we tried, but somehow they reminded me of this thin and crispy Chinese version that is always on my to-cook list.

Soondubu Jjigae (Tofu Stew) 
Korean Glass Noodles – Jap Chae / Chap Chae
Glass noodles - what a beautiful way to describe the transparent noodles made from starch, which means they are gluten-free.
Bibimbap (Korean Rice Bowl with Vegetables and Beef)

April 20, 2012

{Market Stroll} The curious case of frog

Wrinkled and short with eyes protruded, the frog is, perhaps to most eyes, utterly ugly (or at least, that's the basis on which I judge the magnitude of the kiss from reading "The frog prince!") But to the innocent eyes of kids, frogs bring wonders.

Two months ago, my friend invited me to talk about my culture in her son's second grade geography class. Casually I posted this picture I took in a market in Hong Kong, thinking the presence of the little boy may resonate with the kids. Clearly it worked. They were much more enthusiastic about this picture than anything I had covered.

April 18, 2012

Simply delicious tofu and bean sprouts

Tofu and bean sprouts are two versatile ingredients that generally delight any vegetarian or less-meatatarian meals, a term coined by food writer Mark Bittman. After eating out the night before, I was looking for something lighter in palate yet doesn't fade in terms of flavor. Soy-glazed tofu and stir-fried bean sprouts called to mind. They are quick and easy to make too.

Bean sprouts
Cut up bean sprouts into 1" length, mince up some pork, and chop up some soaked and reconstituted shiitake mushrooms. Then, stir-fry the bean sprouts without oil in a pan (to let excess liquid evaporate) and set aside; add oil, and pour in the minced pork, shiitake mushrooms, and bean sprouts. That's as easy as it sounds!
Squeeze off moisture from Tofu (firm tofu) by heating it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. Cut them up to your desired size. Julienne some green peppers, red peppers and chop up some spring onions. Add oil into pan and pan-fry the tofu until both sides are crisp and brown. Remove from pan. Add shredded peppers and spring onions. Stir-fry until aromatic. Add back tofu and pour soy sauce from the edge. Cover and let steam. Thicken the sauce by using a mixture of cornstarch and water (about 1 tbsp).

April 17, 2012

Four weeks of meal planning

Can you be addicted to meal planning?

29 weeks into my pregnancy, I started to take on this project that I deemed unnecessary in the past. Now it has become my Sunday ritual. My primary purpose is simple. Setting aside reduced grocery bills and my heightened nutritional concern, I want to have fun and expand my repertoire before the baby's birth. After a day's work, a meal plan also increases your motivation to get ready in the kitchen, making cooking a top priority.

Yet, a meal plan should allow for flexibility. It's a tool to help you eat and cook better. Deviating from a plan shouldn't compromise the fun.

To keep this new habit going, I have my three "takes":
  1. Take inventory of your fridge - what's turning bad? Is there any leftover? 
  2. Take caution - what's your need for nutrition? My priorities are fish, veggies, and soups.
  3. Take notes - what's in season? what are the latest cookbooks/food blog entries you read (I even watch YouTube cooking videos)?any coupons or deals lately?
The fun part comes in #3 where I look for chances to improve my cooking. Yes, in just four weeks, meal planning has nurtured me to be more creative, at least, for preparing spare ribs with multiple seasoning, from black bean sauces, orange peels, to hawthorn.

Last but not least, what's the best thing about making meal plans? They become your food diary!

To help you get started, this guideline from Unclutterer is a wonderful read.

April 15, 2012

{Market Stroll} Sometimes local languages in Hong Kong mean

Traditional Chinese, English, Tagalog, and Indonesian, as seen on this quadro-lingual meal planning guide, called "Chef's daily recommendation," in a market run by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department of Hong Kong.