Category Archives: Recipe

Okinawa High

My second weekend in Okinawa finally provided me with time to do a little exploring.  I decided to take a scenic drive up to Cape Hedo, the northernmost point of the island.  I felt like it would be a good way to get a better feel of the island.  It was beautiful.  I can’t begin to describe how many times the scenery took my breath away.  The few photos I’m posting don’t begin to do it justice.

My original plan for the day also included stops at the Aquarium and the Nago Pineapple Park.  However, that turned out to be a little too ambitious so I only managed a stop at the Pinapple Park.  I had planned to grab lunch at a little Peruvian restaurant that is way up north, mostly so I could brag to Chino about how I ate at the only Peruvian restaurant in Okinawa.  And then it was closed.  My best laid plans are often foiled by fate.  So frustrating.

Along the way north:




Pineapple at the Nago Pineapple Park:


Cape Hedo:



A couple of observations from my second week in Okinawa:
— Minis are not mini in Japan.  They have a special class of mini car here which are easily identified by their yellow license plates.  Minis don’t make the cut.
— The U.S. Air Force, or at least the folks who run their pool on base, have not discovered the benefits of mandatory kiddie diapers in public pools.  Based on a few observations over an hour long visit, including a forced evacuation of the pool, seems like that rule might be in order.
— I found a quilt store while out exploring, but it was closed.  I’ve been back again since then and it was still closed.  I fear the proprietor is on vacation.
— I found a baby cockroach on my bed’s headboard before going to sleep one night.  Needless to say, I now have a rather complicated pre-bed ritual.
— The last time I took the trash out through the back door a snail fell on my head.  As a result, I now go out the front door and walk around to the back.  (Are you seeing a pattern of extreme wimpyness when it comes to me and bugs?)

Two weeks of eating out made me crave a good home cooked meal so Sunday night I spent some time in the kitchen and baked up an easy, delicious pasta sauce.

Baked Tomato Sauce (adapted from the Wednesday Chef)
Tomatoes here are on the pricey side so I did half a pound and used an 8×8 baking dish.  I thought the sauce was still good, but would definitely be better if you had more tomatoes.

1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. very ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 c. plain dry breadcrumbs
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmigiano
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. penne
1/4 c. loosely packed fresh basil lives, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease a 9×13 baking dish with some of the olive oil.  Place the tomatoes cut side up in the dish.

In a small bow, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmigiano, and garlic.  Cover the tomatoes with the breadcrumb mixture, making sure that each tomato is well covered. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake until the tomatoes are cooked through and starting to brown on top, 20-25 minutes.

Going into the oven:


Coming out of the oven:


Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until al dente.  Try to time the pasta so it finishes at about the same time as the tomatoes.

When the tomatoes are done, add the basil and stir vigorously to mix everything into a sauce.  Drain the pasta and add to the dish of sauce.  Add the remaining olive oil and mix well.  Serve immediately.

Trying This Again…

Third time’s the charm right?  Well, this is officially the third time I’m giving blogging a go, so hopefully I’ll be somewhat more successful this time around.  I have all kinds of excuses for why it didn’t work out the last time.  I was living in Baghdad.  My computer with the Adobe design programs died (sniff sniff).  I didn’t like the “look” of the blog.

That last one was the real sticking point.  When I moved the blog from Chi Bao Le over to here, it was because I wanted more control over the blog design.  Having taken, oh, 8 graphic design classes through the University of Utah continuing education program in the fall of 2008 I thought I had plenty of skills to rock the design world.  Um, yeah, not so much.

After months of procrastination and fumbling about, I can honestly say I finally have the blog looking the way I envisioned way back in January 2009 when I created this site.  Such humble aspirations, I know.  The downside of finally getting the look just right is that I have no more excuses to avoid actually blogging.

I’ve had this post in mind for months.  Earlier this year, there was a period of time where I had three different friends come to me for help with yeast baking.  They were running into various difficulties and asked for some help/advice.  It got me thinking that maybe I should do a yeast baking tutorial on the blog.  There are probably plenty of these tutorials on the web, but sometimes I find it’s easier to follow when it comes from a friend.

I started baking with yeast when I was 11 years old.  I took a one day baking class from a lady at church and she taught me how to make a recipe for dinner rolls.  It was a bit of a tricky recipe.  Depending on the local climate, you had to vary the amount of flour.  When it was time for the dough to rise, you had to set the bowl in a sink filled with warm water and then, every 15 minutes for 2-3 hours you had to punch the dough down.  It made a sticky dough, which in turn made it difficult to shape into rolls.  I’m not sure why, but I was determined to master this recipe.  And I did.  For a period of time, I made them almost every week for Sunday dinner.  I even made them when we lived in the Marshall Islands.

That right there is why its worthwhile to master, or at least feel confident with, yeast baking.  Once you understand the process, you can bake anything anywhere in the world.  Which is good, because believe me, plenty of places in the world lack good American style yeast-raised bread.  In Baghdad, I made bagels, bread, cinnamon rolls… whatever baked good I craved, I could make, and that made the experience of living there far more bearable.

Couple things to remember when working with yeast:

  • Yeast is a living thing.  Which means you can kill it.  Which means it won’t work.  Yeast is happiest in a cozy, warm environment.  Just like Goldilocks and the porridge, not too hot, not too cold.  The best temperature for yeast (or at least the guide I go by) is wrist temperature.  Test whatever liquid you are using on your wrist, like you would a baby bottle.
  • Proofing your yeast will lead to a higher chance of baking success.  What is proofing?  Its the step in baking recipes when you add the yeast and a little bit of sugar to your warm liquid, usually water.  You let it sit for maybe 5-10 minutes to let the yeast get activated.  This is a good step for baking novices because it lets you see that your yeast is working.  The liquid will get all bubbly on the top.  If that doesn’t happen, then your yeast is probably dead and you don’t want to waste hours of your life finishing the recipe only to end up with a hard brick at the end.
  • If a recipe doesn’t ask you to proof the yeast, you can still do it.  Like I said, its a good step for beginning bakers.  Just add the yeast to the liquid, add a couple pinches of sugar, and let it go for 10 minutes.  Then add the yeast mixture to the rest of your ingredients.
  • Kneading is fun.  These days, most people have machines that do the kneading for them.  This is a good thing as kneading can also be hard work.  However, its a good way to work out a small amount of aggression and I personally think its always a good idea to have a tactile connection with your dough.  You want to feel your dough because it will give you a better sense of when the dough has been kneaded long enough, when you have the  right amount of softness or smoothness.  This is probably sounding all very new agey.  Just go with it.  I let the machine do the hard work, but when its just about “there”, I put the dough on the counter and give it a couple good kneads.
  • How do you knead?  Good question.  Fold the back half of the dough towards you, then using the heels of your hands, push down and away from you on the fold.  Give the dough a quarter turn, repeat the fold/push.  Then repeat the whole process again and again until the dough feels smooth and elastic.
  • Dough likes a warm, moist place to rise.  I have never had any problems finding a warmish spot in my apartment to let dough rise.  I take a kitchen towel and soak it under hot water.  I wring it out, then place it over the top of the bowl with the dough.  I put the bowl in a warm place and let it do its thing.  You can also warm your oven up a tad (just a tad… not too hot… then turn OFF the oven), place a bowl of boiling hot water in the oven and then put your bowl with the dough in there to rise.  You can do the same thing with the bowl of boiling water in the microwave.  Unless your place is really cold, I would just find a warmish spot and use the hot kitchen towel.  Its just easier, less fussy that way.  Plus, it has always worked for me.
  • Once your dough is shaped and ready for the final rise, cover it again with a hot towel and return it to the same warm spot to rise.

Sarah’s Bread

I think this is a very good recipe to learn on because it is an easy dough to work with.  I got this recipe last June when I met Sarah down in Georgia.  She made this bread for dinner and it was so good I asked for the recipe, which she kindly shared. (You never know if people are going to be possessive with their recipes.  Thankfully, Sarah is not one of those people.)

Part of the reason this is a good beginner recipe is because it is not a whole wheat bread.  Instead, it is a mix of white and wheat flour.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of whole wheat bread.  I find most whole wheat breads are dry and lack flavor.    Also, for anyone starting out in yeast baking, its significantly harder to learn with whole wheat recipes.  Whole wheat flour is heavier than white flour, which means the yeast has to work a lot harder to get the bread to rise.  Therefore, you have to be that much more careful about how you treat the yeast.  You have to knead the dough longer, and give it a longer rising time, etc etc.  I recommend learning on a recipe like this one, which is easier and more forgiving.  Once you feel comfortable working with yeast, branch out and try a whole wheat bread recipe or two.

2 pkgs yeast (4½ t) – Sarah uses rapid rise

⅔ c. sugar

1-2 T. molasses (depends on how much molasses taste you want, I always use the higher amount)

2 c. warm water (i.e. wrist temperature)

1 T. fine sea salt

¼ c. vegetable oil

1½ c. 100% whole wheat flour

4½ c. unbleached white bread flour

In a large mixing bowl add yeast, sugar, molasses, and warm water. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Starting to proof. Just a few bubbles on top.

After 10 minutes, lots of bubbles.

Add salt and vegetable oil. Mix well.

Then add both flours. Mix well, then knead for 5-7 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. You can do this by hand or by machine, although it will be much easier by machine.

At the start of kneading. Clearly, the dough is a bit of a mess. It will take a good 5-10 minutes to get it smooth and elastic.

At the end of kneading. As usual, I finished it off by hand. You can see how the dough is nice and smooth at this point.

Place dough in a large, oiled bowl, cover with a hot, damp cloth and place in a warm spot to rise. Let rise until doubled, about an hour to an hour and a half.

I like to let my dough raise in this nifty bucket I picked up from King Arthur Flour. It makes it very easy to see when the dough has doubled. Also, you can see the damp kitchen towel I've draped over the top to help add moisture to the raising environment.

And here we are an hour or so later. I love how the bucket makes it so easy to see how much the dough has risen

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide in half, smooth the dough and shape into loaves (roll out the dough into a rectangle, roll it up lengthwise, tuck the ends under and place in the loaf pan). Cover again with a hot, damp towel and set in a warm place to rise. Let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Dough in the bread pans, ready for a second rise. Again, I'm going to cover these with the damp kitchen towel.

End of the second rise. You can again see how much the dough has expanded in about an hour's time.

Bake at 350°F for about 29-35 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then remove the bread from the pans and let cool on wire racks.

Voila! Beautiful homemade bread.

This bread freezes beautifully, as does most bread.  I usually cut the loaves in half and freeze all but one half.  Then, as I am about to finish one, I take one out of the freezer to defrost.

If you have comments, suggestions, questions, please comment below.  I love getting tips from other bakers, and if you run into problems when trying this or any of my other recipes, I’m happy to help troubleshoot.

These Are My Confessions…

I am, understandably (or so I tell myself) picky about my Chinese food.

Having lived in Taiwan and China for a combined total of 2 years, I feel like I have a pretty good sense for authentic Chinese food. As most Americans are no doubt aware, Chinese food in America is, for the most part, a completely different animal than its long lost relative back in the Middle Kingdom (aka 中国, aka China).

The kitchen at Li Qun Roast Duck in Beijing.


One of my greatest complaints with American Chinese food is that it is, generally speaking, extremely greasy and therefore quite heavy. In China, I don’t feel like the stir-fried dishes I eat are drenched in oil. In fact, for the most part, what I love about authentic Chinese food is that I rarely feel weighed down after a meal.

Now, it is possible to find good, authentic Chinese restaurants here in the good ole U.S. of A. But it can be a little bit complicated. It helps to have a friend or two in the know. I’ve been introduced to most of my favorite Chinese restaurants by Chinese friends.

However, I do indeed have a confession to share with you today. My favorite Chinese restaurant here in the States is none other than P.F. Changs. Scandalous! I know. Its slightly embarrassing to admit this in a public forum. My Chinese food credibility is, like, out the window.

Ducks roasting at Li Qun Roast Duck in Beijing.


This is how I explain my infatuation with P.F. Changs: while their style of preparing Chinese dishes is generally not authentic, the flavors, in my opinion, are. As an added bonus, their food is not overwhelmingly greasy. So while the final dish may not look much like what I would order in China, the flavors inevitably take me back to meals I’ve had there.

One of my close friends in Virginia introduced me to one of my favorite dishes at PF Changs: Ground Chicken with Eggplant. Then, in a somewhat serendipitous turn of events, last year around Chinese New Year I stumbled on an Australian cooking magazine at Barnes and Noble which has quickly become a favored source for new Chinese cooking ideas. To my great excitement the magazine had a recipe for eggplant with minced pork in a spicy Szechuan sauce. I couldn’t help but have an “aha!” moment, thinking that this might be my opportunity to recreate the PF Changs’ dish at home. Unfortunately, as often happens, I never got around to trying the recipe.

Then 2 weeks ago, before life took an expected, but still decidedly sad turn (we can discuss that in a blog post to come), I had my friend Krista over for a belated birthday dinner and I finally made the eggplant dish. I should not have waited a year. It’s fantastic. Not quite the same as the one at PF Changs, but who cares when it tastes this good.


Eggplant with Minced Chicken in Szechuan Sauce
Adapted from delicious. (volume 5 issue 2)

2 t. corn starch
1 lb. ground chicken (if you can’t find ground chicken, substitute ground turkey)
2 lg. eggplants, peeled
Salt
1 1/2 T. peanut oil
1″ chunk ginger, grated
1 T. finely chopped green onion
1/2 T. chili paste (I used Sambal Oelek)

Sauce:
1 1/4 c. chicken stock
1 T. light soy sauce
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. Chinese rice wine (shaohsing)
1 t. salt
Mix all sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.


Cut the eggplant into strips about 2″ long by 1/2″ thick. Place the eggplant in a colander and set the colander inside a bowl. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt, toss gently, and let sit for 1 hour. Pour off any water that has accumulated in the bowl.

Meanwhile, mix 1 t. corn starch in a bowl with 1/4 t. salt and 2 1/2 T. water. Mix in the chicken. Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok or pan over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and onion and stir for 15 seconds or until starting to color. Add the chili paste and toss for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the chicken and stir-fry until almost cooked, about a minute or two. Add the eggplant and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add sauce, cover and cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes, tossing 2-3 times, until the eggplant is cooked and almost all liquid has been absorbed.

Stir remaining 1 t. corn starch with 1 T. water. Stir into the eggplant mixture, and then allow to bubble for 1-2 minutes until thickened. Serve with rice.

I Am Not A Pretty Girl… But I Am A Domestic Goddess

I was all ready for 2009. Couldn’t wait for the new year to begin. I was feeling the usual anticipation/optimism. I was ready to set some goals, make some plans to improve myself (and the blog). I couldn’t wait to see what the new year would bring.

And then it began, and somehow, it began all wrong. I found myself in an awful mood on New Years Day. Suddenly the year stretched ahead of me and it seemed like there was nothing to look forward to. No positive news or developments anywhere on the horizon. It was most assuredly a horrible, no good, very bad day. An Ani DiFranco, angry girl music kind of day*.

So I found myself on New Years Day, mostly dwelling on all the things currently upsetting the delicate balance between feeling relatively happy/well adjusted and feeling completely out of control. In the midst of these, admittedly, depressing thoughts, I remembered that I needed to come up with a couple of appetizers for my family’s Sugar Bowl party on Friday night (yay Utes!). And just like that, with that one thought, the clouds parted, the fog lifted, and a small ray of light came shining through.

That, apparently, is the power of food in my life. Seems like, more than anything else, particularly now, food has the power to provide whatever I need most at any given moment in time. Distraction: check. Calming influence: check. Nourishment: check. Joy: check.

So I imagine that in the coming months I’ll be spending lots of time in the kitchen. I can’t wait. I already spend a lot of time there. You don’t always see the fruits of my labors here because most of what I make does not fit into the narrow parameters I currently have set for this blog (although that’s likely to change in the near future). The kitchen is just about my favorite place to pass the time right now. If I’m able to show my love for friends and family at the same time by sharing my culinary creations with them, so much the better.

Domestic Goddess in the making… yeah, that’s right, I fish too.

My close friends will likely know how hard it is for me to even jokingly claim the title of “Domestic Goddess”. My word, there are so many things I can’t and don’t do. So many people more qualified for the title than I. However, if there is one area in my life that I feel an abundance of confidence, it’s in the kitchen. Not everything I make is perfect, and yes, if you ever find yourself at my table, you’re likely to be subjected to a litany of disclaimers before you are allowed to dig in to your repast. However, regardless of how the final product looks, I’m likely secure in the knowledge that it will be delicious and hopeful that any time spent sharing food and drink that I’ve prepared will be nourishing to both the body and the heart.

Today, I have a recipe, that yes, doesn’t look quite as pretty as I wanted it to. And maybe could still use a tweak or two. But it was good. Actually, it was exactly what I hoped it would be. An egg custard tart with a smooth, creamy filling and a nice flaky crust. This is one of my favorite things to pick up during visits to Chinatown. As I don’t have a Chinatown here in Salt Lake, I’m happy to now be able to make my own egg custard tarts whenever the craving strikes.

Happy New Year. May the year ahead bring much joy and wonder to your life. And maybe an egg custard tart or two.


(Egg Custard Tarts)

As noted above, this recipe could still use a tweak or two. Mostly, this is in the area of the amount of custard filling because the crust recipe makes more tart shells than the filling can fill. My solution would be to do one of the following: either double the filling recipe, or freeze one tray of unbaked tart shells. If you choose to freeze the shells, they’ll be ready the next time you want to make the filling. I’ve already tested this out for you because I did in fact have to put my recipe-making on hold, so I put a muffin tray of tart shells in the fridge and a tray in the freezer. When I was finally able to get around to finishing the filling, I pulled both trays out, filled the tarts, and popped them in the oven together. I let them both cook for the same amount of time, and both trays came out just fine.

Crust:
3/4 c. confectioners sugar
2 3/4 c. cake flour
3/4 c. butter
1 egg, beaten
1-3 T. cold water

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and flour. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is about the same size as small peas. Stir in the egg. Add the water slowly, adding just enough for the dough to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until the dough is smooth. Roll the dough out to about 1/4″ inch. Using a standard biscuit cutter, cut out rounds of dough. Give each round another quick time or two with the roller to stretch it out just a bit further. Then push the dough round into a muffin tin. You want the dough to come just to the rim, or slightly below that. Repeat until you have filled two muffin trays. Prick the base of each tart with a fork. (As noted above, at this point either freeze one tray or double the filling recipe.)

Custard Filling:
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. + 1 T. sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 c. evaporated milk
1/4 t. vanilla

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil until the sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Once the sugar syrup is cool, add eggs and egg yolks to a mixing bowl and beat well. Then add the sugar syrup, milk, and vanilla. Mix well. Fill tart shells about 90% full. Bake for 25-20 minutes. Put trays on cooling racks and let the tarts cool for 10 minutes, before removing from muffin tins. Then let the tarts cool completely on cooling racks.

* For the record, I love me some Ani DiFranco. She is one of my favorite artists, and for the benefit of the uninitiated I feel compelled to say that not all of her music is angry girl music. However, that being said, “I Am Not A Pretty Girl” is one of my all time favorite songs. I often feel like it describes me to a T.

Bring On 2009

Every year, when the holidays roll around, I inevitably hear people talk about how the holidays are too crazy. Too much going on. People taking too much on themselves. That with all the hustle and bustle we lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday season.

I’m here to admit that I am one of those people who overloads their schedule with projects and parties and people. But I LOVE it. To me, thats what makes the holidays so fantastic… for one whole month I lose myself thinking about other people, thinking about how I can show my love for friends and family and co-workers. By the end of the month I’m completely exhausted and ready for the new year to roll on in. But by the time the next December rolls around, I get excited all over again, thinking about all the fun stuff I’m going to make and do for the people in my life.

This year, December felt even more chaotic than usual, and it has been a true relief to spend the weekend putting all of my Christmas stuff away, cleaning my closet (and kitchen and bathroom and quilt room), catching up on the many neglected emails in my inbox, etc. etc.

I’ve decided to use today’s post to provide all and sundry with a quick recap of my life this past month… Maybe it will inspire you to forgive my sporadic posting.

With my siblings at Thanksgiving. I cooked a turkey, corn bread stuffing (made the corn bread from scratch, yeah baby), roasted sweet potato cheesecake, and cranberry sauce. Yum!


The Saturday after Thanksgiving my sisters and I decided to do a Top Chef cook-off. I ended up making dessert. This is my attempt at Richard’s Banana Scallops (season 4). For the record, this is a winner. So good. But I decided not to make the banana guacamole that went with it. That was a little too strange, even for me.


The first week of December, Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake has a huge fundraiser called the Festival of Trees. Individuals and companies donate decorated trees (or wreaths or gingerbread houses) to the festival. Before the festival officially opens to the public, people can purchase a ticket for the bidding night. I went with my sisters and my aunt that night because this year my mom’s close college friends decorated and dedicated a tree to her. I had planned to bid on her tree, but with a starting bid of $675 it was a little out of my price range. I bid on a wreath instead and won! Very exciting.


This shot is also from Festival of Trees. I took this for JB. A gingerbread airplane and hangar! Awesome! If they had only had a NASCAR gingerbread house the night would have been complete.


I was in San Diego from the 12-14th for a friend’s wedding. Highlights include an amazing Italian meal at a great restaurant in La Jolla, the wedding (of course), driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to San Clemente, Trader Joes, Balboa Park, and best of all, a long, leisurely walk on the beach. Sometimes I really do miss southern California.


This is me, looking a little windblown, on Torrey Pines State Beach.


Balboa Park

Every year at Christmas I make homemade granola for my co-workers. I made the above batch with dried cherries and blueberries I picked up at Trader Joes.


Then I make little gift bags out of fabric for the granola. Above is the finished product. Cute, eh! It gives me such a thrill to make this every year. It’s really easy, and everyone loves it.


This is my cute mom on the train on our way to see Neil Diamond on the 19th. I would have taken a picture at the concert but I ended up having to sneak my camera in, and as we were in the handicapped section, there were lots of ushers around and well, I didn’t want to get in trouble. If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to see Neil Diamond in concert, I highly recommend it. He sang all my favorite songs. During Sweet Caroline I closed my eyes for a moment and pretended I was back at Fenway Park. If only….


This photo is from 2 nights ago. My sisters and I were playing Sorry (obviously). Notice all the little green men, sitting in the Start bubble. Yeah, those are my guys. Then observe how my opponents have all of their little guys on the board. We had already gone through the cards 1 1/2 times, and I hadn’t moved any guys out of start. None. It was thoroughly depressing.


Fast forward to another time and a half through the cards. Triumph was mine! Ahhh, winning is sweet.


Earlier today, trying out my pizzelle maker for the first time. I’ve wanted one of these for years, and then one of my good friends surprised me with it for Christmas. She is probably the only person on the planet I have ever confessed wanting this to, so it was a total and complete surprise. I was giddy the day she gave it to me. After making my first batch this afternoon, I OD’ed on pizzelles. They are so addictive. Can’t wait to share them with the folks at work tomorrow, although come to think of it, most of our staff will still be out on vacation.


And finally, the recipe you’ve been waiting for… OK, you probably haven’t been waiting for this, but this is the recipe that has caused me months of torment. I tried it again on Saturday and I now have both sisters’ stamp of approval, so even though I think it could still be perfected, I figure its good enough to post.


烧饼 (Shao Bing)

These little babies are called shao bing. They’re a Chinese flat bread. My favorite way to eat these is to grind peanuts and sugar together and then stuff that into the shao bing right when they come out of the oven. The hot bread melts the peanut/sugar mixture just a bit and it is so tasty. If that’s not your thing, you can also whip up a basic stir-fry and stuff the stir fry into the bread instead of eating it over rice. Hopefully soon I’ll have a stir-fry recipe on the blog specifically for shao bing. In the meantime, try the peanuts. I think you’ll love it as much as I, and my sisters, do.

Roux:
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2/3 c. All-Purpose Flour

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the flour is nut-brown and very fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool while you make the shao bing dough.

Dough:
4 1/2 c. self-rising flour
1 1/2 t. salt
3 T. sugar
3/4 c. very hot tap water
1 c. very cold tap water

Also:
Sesame Seeds
Spray bottle with tap water (or you can use a pastry brush and a bowl of water)

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the mixer running on low speed, add the hot water and the cold water in quick succession. Knead in the machine until smooth and elastic, approximately 4 minutes. Place dough on a lightly floured surface, knead briefly, form into a ball, and let rest under a kitchen towel for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 20 pieces. Let rest for 5 minutes on a floured surface under a kitchen towel.

This is where it gets a little tricky….
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Take a piece of dough and roll it into a 6-by-3 inch rectangle. With a pastry brush, brush a generous amount of the roux over the dough. Fold the dough into thirds, rotate the dough packet by 90 degrees, and roll it out a second time to make a 6-by-3 rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds again and roll it out briefly to make it about 2-by-4 inches. Spritz or brush the top of the dough with water. Fill a bowl with sesame seeds. Press the top-side (the side with the water) of the dough into the sesame seeds then place sesame seed side down on a baking sheet. Repeat with all the remaining pieces of dough.

Bake for 12 minutes, then take out the tray and flip the breads over. Bake for another 12 minutes.

Peanuts and Sugar Mixture:

2/3 c. roasted, unsalted peanuts (I buy mine at Trader Joes)
1/4 c. sugar

Place in a mini food processor/chopper. Mix until finely ground. Store in an airtight container.


Hallelujah!

Hey kids. I’m back baby, back! I know, I know – you thought you had seen the last of me. You thought, That’s it. She gave up on the blog. She got bored, distracted, busy. No more Chinese food a la Shannon.

And then you stopped by the blog today and got yourself a little holiday surprise: me. Here. Blogging. It’s a Christmas miracle, almost too good to believe. But hey, it’s the holiday season and I wanted to do what I could to spread a little cheer.


I can’t take full credit for this post however. I have to give a quick shout out to Erin and Amri for gently (at least in Erin’s case) nudging me back in the direction of the blog. Many many thanks ladies for the extra, and highly needed, dose of motivation.


I feel like I can’t let my two month absence pass without an explanation of some kind. This is what happened – I got a bad case of extreme stubbornness. This happens to me sometimes, but this year has been worse then most. Earlier this year, I avoided my quilt room for 6 months because I didn’t want to work on this one nightmare quilt I had started, but I refused to start another quilt until I had finished that one.

In the blog’s case, I had one specific recipe in mind for my next post. It’s one of my favorite things and I was so excited about sharing it with all of you. Unfortunately however, the recipe is, well, complicated. And a tad tricky. I made it twice (this was months ago) but felt the recipe still needed a bit of work before it would be blog worthy. I posted instead about my trip to China and shared another recipe I had ready to go. Then I was done, and I needed to figure out the recipe I was now dreading. I couldn’t face the thought of going through the whole process again, making a few changes, and then (perish the thought) having to possibly make it again! So rather than do the rational thing, and just make something else, I stalled. And stalled. And stalled some more.

This past week, due to an unexpected case of the flu, I hit upon another recipe I wanted to try: egg drop soup. Growing up, whenever I got the flu, my mom would feed me the following easy to digest items: soft-boiled eggs, white rice, chicken broth. As I was laying in bed feeling miserable on Wednesday night, I got to thinking about how none of the above sounded appetizing. However, if I combined two of them as an egg drop soup, I might have something. The perfect sick girl’s food; something with enough flavor to actually be appealing, but still easy enough on the system to not cause alarm. If you, like me, manage to catch a case of the flu this winter, give this baby a try. I’m quite pleased with it. So much so that I’m almost looking forward to my next bout of the flu so I can test its efficacy as healing food.


Egg Drop Soup
Adapted from this recipe.

3 cups low-sodium chicken stock, plus 2 tablespoons
1″ chunk grated fresh ginger
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. corn starch
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 green onions, chopped
7 oz. soft tofu, diced (optional)
Salt and white pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, make a slurry by combining the cornstarch and 2 T. of the chicken stock. Stir until dissolved.

Combine the remaining chicken stock, grated ginger, and soy sauce in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly pour in the cornstarch mixture while stirring the stock. Stir until thickened. Reduce heat to a simmer. Pour in the eggs slowly while stirring the soup in the same direction. The egg will spread and feather. Turn off the heat and add the green onions. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

A Lasting Influence

I’ve moved a lot in the adult-portion of my life.

View of the Puli valley.

In the 14 1/2 years since I graduated from high school, I’ve lived in the following places:

  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Valencia, California
  • Farmington, Maine
  • Taiwan: Puli, Caotun, Taichung
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Shanghai, China
  • Washington, DC area: Vienna and Arlington, Virginia

The list itself really isn’t too long. But it becomes significantly longer if you add in the number of times I’ve moved between those place… Currently the count stands at 15 moves in those 14 1/2 years. Because of all those moves, I’ve come to know, quite well, the many different challenges inherent in settling into a new place.

Regardless of how many times I go through that process it never gets any easier. The only advantage I have found is that at least now I know better what to expect. It takes time to find your niche in a new place – to feel like you have found the people and the space where you fit. It is often hard and emotionally draining to work your way through that process with enough patience to avoid becoming depressed and frustrated on a regular basis.

With Pele, my missionary trainer and one of my all-time favorite people.

One of the lessons I’ve learned repeatedly, as I’ve weathered this process so many times over the years, is that people play an instrumental role in easing your way down the road. Never was this more true than on my mission. Any move is going to have its own unique difficulties, but few, in my experience, compare to the challenge of moving to a foreign country, with a foreign language and foreign customs. Add to that, a complete and total loss of independence and you are in for a sometimes difficult transitionary period.

With my fellow missionaries, on the roof of our apartment building, celebrating my birthday.

When I look back on my first few months in Taiwan, there are a few people who come to mind as playing a major role in helping me to adjust and acclimate to my new life there. Within that group, my thoughts always return with particular fondness to Huang Laoshi (Teacher Huang).

Pele and Huang Laoshi

During my first few months in Taiwan, Huang Laoshi’s home felt like a refuge to me. Huang Laoshi had an illness that made it difficult for her to leave her home. For that reason, she could no longer work or attend church meetings. My companion and I tried to visit her about once every week or two in order to make sure that she was doing OK and to provide some companionship. Two things made Huang Laoshi’s home such a haven for me: she spoke very good English, and she was a very nurturing individual. Also, she expressed her love, care and concern for others the same way I tend to – with food.

Huang Laoshi was an amazing cook and she loved having the missionaries over for dinner. She was the first person I met on my mission who invited me into her kitchen and taught me to make a dish or two. My notes on how to make soy milk came from her. She also taught me how to make passion fruit juice, sweet and sour pork, as well as my favorite Taiwanese dish: stir-fired chicken with soybeans and carrots. I’ve been making this dish since I returned from Taiwan. I love it. It is so simple, healthy and tasty. Every time I make it I remember visiting Huang Laoshi: making sweet and sour sauce, flipping pieces of fried pork out of the oil onto a waiting plate, sitting and talking in her cozy living room, slicing carrots, and maybe best of all, drinking tall, refreshing glasses of her homemake passion fruit juice. I haven’t seen her since I left Puli in December of 1998, but I still miss her.

With Huang Laoshi

Stir-Fried Chicken with Soy Beans and Carrots

1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 large carrots
3 c. frozen, shelled edamame
4 green onions

1.5 T. corn or potato starch
4 T. sesame oil
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
2 T. soy sauce

Cut the green onion into 1″ long sections. Then cut the sections into quarters so you have long slivers of green onion.

Cut the carrots into chunks about 1″ long. Cut these chunks in half. Then very thinly slice the chunks so that you are left with large, thin slices of carrots (see final photo below for a visual). Put the carrots into a Ziploc bag, sprinkle in a little bit of water, seal, and then microwave for 2 minutes.

Cut the chicken breast into small cubes. Mix with corn starch, sesame oil, salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Let sit for approximately 15 minutes.

Heat a splash of sesame oil in a wok or saute pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add chicken and stir-fry until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a bowl, and then return pan to heat. Add the edamame and carrots and stir-fry until cooked to your taste (for me this is about 5 minutes, but check the carrots to make sure they are cooked the way you like). Add the chicken back to the pan along with the green onions. Stir-fry briefly, approximately 1-2 minutes. Serve.

For Picky Eaters

My 25th birthday cake, Shanghai, China (notice how many n’s they used in my name…)

Months ago, when I first launched this blog, HK, a good friend of my family who has also been like a second father to me, asked if I would write something for him. He wanted me to write a short piece about food/dining etiquette for the missionaries he works with outside Reno, Nevada.

I promised to do so but then months passed and I never got around to actually writing the article. I’ve spent quite a bit of time however thinking about it because it’s actually an issue that is near and dear to my heart.


Matt trying snake scales at a restaurant in Shanghai.

From a culinary perspective at least, Reno might be at the top of my list of non-scary food locales in the world. However, regardless of the fact that the missionaries there aren’t likely to be served anything truly frightening, they will still refuse to eat food that they don’t like/enjoy. This frustrates HK because he feels like this kind of attitude reflects poorly on the missionaries, and by extension, our church. For these reasons, he was hoping I could whip up a little literary something to help explain why it’s important to be a more open-minded eater when you are in someone else’s home.

BBQ squid at a night market in Taiwan.

I just want to make clear at the outset that I don’t have any issues with specific, overarching dietary choices people make. I recognize and respect that people limit/control their diets due to many personal beliefs, convictions, and health concerns. I myself make choices about what I eat/drink based on my own religious beliefs. I do however lose patience quickly with people who don’t have any defined dietary limitations but will refuse to eat something prepared specifically for them merely because they don’t like it. The below article, which I sent to HK this week and have decided to also share with you, is directed at those individuals.

Here’s hoping my thoughts on this topic don’t deeply offend any of my readers. However, if you disagree, please feel free to comment and we can get a mini discussion going.

The Limits of Personal Preference

Americans are spoiled. We hear this a lot, and sometimes it’s justified and sometimes it’s not. In one particular area however, I have found this statement to be almost universally true. We are overwhelmingly spoiled when it comes to food. We are raised in a society where its OK to not like certain foods, and where, for the most part, our likes and dislikes are indulged rather than eradicated.

Pigeon head in Shanghai.

It seems to me however, that at a certain point in one’s life, some of our pickiness can and should fall away in certain situations. In particular, when you are a guest in someone else’s home the simple fact that you don’t like something isn’t really a good enough reason to refuse to eat it.

As a missionary in Taiwan, I didn’t have the luxury of refusing to eat something that didn’t appeal to me. From a cultural perspective, it would have been extremely rude to tell the host or hostess that I wouldn’t eat something they prepared simply because I didn’t like it. I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t sometimes try to avoid certain dishes on the table, but it was never overt and I was rarely successful. Taiwanese people have a habit of putting food in your rice bowl, and once it is there you really have no choice but to eat it. Because I wasn’t always able to avoid food I didn’t want to try, I’ve tried such lovely dishes as Stinky Tofu, Rice in Pigs Blood, and Cow’s Stomach.

Kenny’s birthday BBQ in Taiwan.

Unfortunately, in America we don’t seem to have this sense of propriety when it comes to eating in other people’s homes. Even as adults, we feel like we can simply explain that it’s a food we don’t like. With friends and family that is usually fine. But as a guest in the home of someone you have only recently met, it should not be OK.

When people open their homes and their kitchens to you, it’s important to graciously accept whatever food they have prepared on your behalf. Although this may not be widely acknowledged in our culture, I still feel that a host or hostess will be much more impressed/favorably disposed to a guest who tries all the food that has been prepared. Every dish requires time, effort, and money on the part of the cook. To be told that something will go to waste simple because the guest doesn’t like it is probably the quickest way to find yourself in your host’s bad graces.

Hot pot in Shanghai.

Thanks to my time in both Taiwan and China, I have fallen in love with many foods that I hated as a child. I have a wise friend who pointed out that as a child there were many foods she didn’t like but when she gave them a chance as an adult, she found that she really liked them. Our palates change both as we grow and as we encounter more of the world. If we stick to the limits we impose on ourselves as children, we close ourselves off from many of the great things the world has to offer. While food may only be one small aspect of our life experience, it’s probably the way in which our lives are the most often and most immediately impacted. (The End)

In honor of off-putting foods, I’m pairing today’s musings with a recipe for mussels. I thought this recipe would have more of a Chinese flavor to it, but although I was mildly disappointed on that score, I was, on the whole, thrilled with the end result. Delightful. Mussels are one of those foods I came to love while living in Asia, but if you haven’t yet been converted, give this recipe a try one night (preferably with someone who already does love mussels so if you still find yourself unconvinced they won’t go to waste).


Black Bean Mussels
Adapted from this recipe in Gourmet magazine

2 lb mussels, scrubbed and beards removed – I bought my mussels at Salt Lake’s most respected fish market but as it turned out, they no longer sell fresh mussels. The fishmonger explained that they had too many problems with bad mussels when they were buying them fresh so now they sell a brand of pre-cooked, frozen mussels. I was a little skeptical, but they turned out great so you should be fine with either fresh or pre-cooked/frozen in this recipe.

1/4 c. diced red bell pepper
1/4 c. diced yellow pepper
1/4 c. finely chopped red onion
1/4 c. finely chopped scallions
1 T. minced garlic
1 T. minced fresh ginger (I used my Microplane for this, so it was grated, not minced)
1 T. Chinese fermented black beans, rinsed in cold water (available at Chinese grocers)
1 c. heavy cream
2 T. rice wine
1 1/2 t. soy sauce
1 1/2 t. oyster sauce
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy pot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then tightly cover and cook over moderate heat until all the mussels open wide, about 3-6 minutes. Discard any mussels that remain closed after 6 minutes.

My Beverage of Choice

When I got my mission call to Taiwan, aside from being generally ignorant of what waited for me there and overwhelmingly confused by the fact that I was going to Asia and not France (as I not so secretly hoped), at least one element of life in Taiwan had me seriously excited: soy milk. Random, I know.

My first taste of soy milk at the MTC.

I don’t remember now why soy milk had me so excited. It might have had something to do with the high calcium content in soy beans. At a relatively young age I watched my grandmother suffer the often excruciating pain of osteoporosis, so the importance of incorporating calcium into my diet made a lasting impression on me.


Or it might have had something to do with the fact that a number of my friends in high school were vegetarian, and for that reason I was excited about making soy milk part of my diet.

Regardless of the reason, I was determined to not just like, but LOVE, this beverage. That determination may have made me more open-minded than some of my fellow missionaries. Whereas most of the Americans I served with eventually came to like soy milk, I was a die-hard soy milk convert from day one.


The thing about soy milk in Taiwan is that every little breakfast place/stand makes it fresh daily, so it’s a much different beverage from the stuff you buy here in the States. You go down to your favorite place for a 汉堡 (hamburger), 蛋饼 (dan bing), or 油条 (you tiao) and you grab a cup of fresh soy milk to go with it. In Taiwan its always sweetened and generally you have the choice of buying it hot or cold. Taiwanese breakfasts are one of my favorite food things on this planet and soy milk is a major reason for that.


However, despite my love of freshly-made soy milk, up until recently I had never tried to make it myself. As it turns out, that was silly because it’s ridiculously easy. In the past month I have made it 3 times. When I told a couple of friends I was working on this for the blog they were shocked that you could make soy milk at home. You can, and in my humble opinion, should. Although the entire process takes about a day, the actual hands-on time required is minimal, and that minimal amount of effort is well-worth the end result.


豆浆 (Soy Milk)
– This really is an easy recipe (Look! Only 3 ingredients!). You may look at my lengthy instructions and get freaked out, but don’t. I just wanted to be really clear about each of the steps, but it is a simple process.

2 c. dried soy beans – You can buy these at Asian grocers. I assume you can also buy them at places like Whole Foods.
7 c. water
Approximately 1/2 c. sugar, although you should sweeten it to your taste
Supplies: Cheesecloth

Soak soy beans in a large bowl of water for approximately 12 hours (or overnight). Discard any beans that immediately rise to the top. I like to put the soy beans in a big bowl in the morning and let them soak all day. Then before I go to bed I do the next step…

Drain/rinse soy beans. Add the rinsed beans to a blender and add the 7 cups of water. Puree until the beans are broken down into very small pieces. I do this in 2 batches. After each batch dump the blender contents into a large pot and cook over medium high heat for about 20-30 minutes. You’ll want to keep a close eye on the pot and stir it often. The soy beans will settle on the bottom of the pot and can burn easily, which as I learned in Taiwan, yields a very unpleasant beverage. I’ll be honest though, I don’t keep a very close eye on my pot. I tend to stir it every 5 minutes or so, but I’m careful not to stir the contents on the bottom so that if they do burn, I don’t infuse the whole pot with that flavor. So far that has worked just fine.

After you’ve cooked the soy milk mix you want to strain it through a couple layers of cheesecloth. I like to let the pot sit on the stove overnight so that the milk cools down. Then in the morning I line a colander with a little linen bag that a woman in Taiwan gave me. As most of you will not have one of those, just use a couple layers of cheesecloth. Put the colander over a pot and then pour the soy milk mixture into the colander. Once you have poured it all in, grab the ends of the cheesecloth and squeeze out as much of the milk as you can. Obviously, if you try to do this right after you have finished boiling the soy milk, its somewhat painful, which is why I let it sit for a little bit. Discard the soy solids and put the pot back on the stove. Add sugar to taste, and heat briefly over medium-high heat. You just want to get the sugar dissolved and the milk warmed up again because warm soy milk, especially in the morning, is one tasty treat. If you decide you’re not a fan of hot soy milk, by all means, skip this step. Just add the sugar and you are good to go. The milk will keep for a couple of days in the fridge.

If you try this and find you like it, the recipe scales up very easily. You can’t really go wrong with the amounts. Just add a good amount of water when you blend the beans because then you will have a larger batch. I usually figure 3 c. of water for 2 c. of soaked soy beans.

Homecoming

Its been almost 7 years since I left China in December of 2001. I never dreamed it would take me this long to make my way back again, and yet, life has a way of taking us down unexpected paths. While we go about living our day to day lives, doing what needs to be done, years pass and some of our dreams and aspirations are sacrificed as the vision we have of life changes.


For a long time I assumed that I would live most of my life in Asia. I thought that after I graduated from college I would return to either China or Taiwan and spend, basically, the rest of my life there. But when I finally graduated I decided to move back to Boston instead, and from there life, as it is wont to do, took me down another path.


My trip to China next month has been many years in the making, but now that it is almost upon me, I can’t help but feel fully the truth of the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

I decided to go to Beijing for the Olympics in the summer of 2001. I can pinpoint the exact moment in fact. It was a Friday night in Shanghai and I had just enjoyed dinner at Pizza Hut with a couple of friends. After dinner we walked down to Nanjing Rd.(南京 路)to watch and wait with a gathered crowd as the International Olympic Committee announced which city would host the 2008 Olympic Games. As Beijing was announced the crowd went wild and I vowed that I would make it to those games.


This week, as I held my Olympic tickets in my hand, my trip next month suddenly felt real for the first time.


Many things had to align to make this trip happen and yet somehow, they all have. I have tickets to 7 Olympic events, a plane ticket that, miraculously, did not completely break the bank, hotel reservations in the 3 cities we’ll be visiting, and best of all, 3 fantastic friends to travel with. Now that the trip actually feels real (and I’ve confirmed that Air China has given me back my seat on the plane) I can hardly wait to go. I’m giddy with excitement and thrilled to have an opportunity to share a place I love so much with a few of my closest friends.



Before leaving you today, I wanted to share a dish I first tried in Shanghai. This dish is actually pretty common in American Chinese restaurants so there is a good chance many of you have tried it before. Making it at home was a bit of a revelation for me. Its so easy, but honestly, so tasty. When I made it for the first time I decided on the spot that this would be my new go-to recipe when I want to impress people with my Chinese cooking skills. If you give it a try, let me know what you think.


Spicy Green Beans with Hoisin Sauce and Garlic
Adapted from Kylie Kwong’s Simple Chinese Cooking

Note on peppers: You can use any pepper in this recipe, but I call for red ones below because they look pretty. Pick a pepper that complements your desired spiciness, and remember that you can remove the seeds if you want to lessen the heat. If you pick a spicy pepper be sure to wear gloves when cutting/working with the pepper.

2 lbs. green beans, stem ends trimmed
4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t. salt
Freshly ground black pepper

2 red chilies, sliced into thin rings
3 T. hoisin sauce
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. vegetable oil
Optional (but highly recommended): Maldon Sea Salt, flakes

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 475 degrees. Line 2 heavy-duty rimmed backing sheets with aluminum foil. In a medium bowl toss the green beans with olive oil, salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Spread the green beans out on your baking sheets and roast until tender, slightly shriveled, and slightly browned, approximately 15 minutes.

While the beans are cooking, combine the chilies, hoisin sauce, garlic, salt, and vegetable oil in a large saute pan. Cook sauce briefly over medium-high heat, approximately 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Once beans have finished roasting add the beans to the sauce and cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes until the beans are thoroughly coated and the sauce feels a bit sticky. Serve immediately.

If you have Maldon sea salt, sprinkle the salt over the beans after you’ve put the beans on a serving platter. I can’t tell you how much I love the taste of the salt with these beans. The salt melts just a bit and provides a wonderful flavor. To be honest, Maldon sea salt is good on everything. I love it. If you haven’t tried it before I recommend picking some up. Or just come over to my place one night and try some of mine.