• 03May

    R and M invited the family over to their new house for a spring roll out. Everyone had a great time rolling up their own tasty bite.

    Here’s a Blue Print for

    Fresh Spring Rolls

    Rice Paper Wrappers (preferably a brand that has tapioca flour in it)

    Suggested fillings – use to your taste:

    Protein: tofu cut into strips, cooked shrimp split in half, strips of pork

    Noodles: rice vermicelli or mung bean noodles

    Vegetables: mung bean sprouts, lettuce cut into strips or baby lettuce mix, julienne or grated carrot, cucumber, red pepper strips

    For fun: apple, pear, jicama or mango

    Herbs: basil, thai basil, mint, cilantro

    The How To:
    Prepare proteins. Cook noodles to package instructions Prepare Vegetables & Herbs. You can keep these separate on a large tray or mix together in a big bowl.

    To make rolls: Fill a bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper at a time into the water for a few seconds to soften. Lay the wrapper on a clean dry chopping board or dinner plate. The rice paper should become pliable within a few seconds.

    In a row across the middle, put slices of tofu or 3 prawns if using, some noodles, veggies and a few leaves of herbs. Leave about 1-1 1/2 inches on each side.

    Fold the sides inward, then start to roll tightly and firmly from the end that is near to you into a cylinder, enclosing the filling completely.

    Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately with dipping sauce(s).

    Dipping Sauces

    Nuoc Cham

    2 clove of garlic, crushed
    2 tbsp sugar
    2 tbsp lime juice
    3 tbsp fish sauce
    3 tbsp rice vinegar
    1 tsp red chili paste (Sambal)
    some chopped cilantro (optional)

    Mix all the ingredients and stir well until the sugar dissolves. Then, stir in cilantro.

    Quick Peanut Sauce

    1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
    2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
    2 tsp tamari
    1 tsp red chile paste (Sambal)
    1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
    1/2 cup water

    In a small bowl, stir together peanut butter, tamari, hoisin sauce, chile paste and garlic until well mixed. Gradually whisk in water until smooth and creamy.

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  • 22Feb

    Many of us have or suspect we have food sensitivites. Many of the symptoms we experience do not seem to be related to ingestion of a particular food. For instance, a rash or eczema, joint pain, headaches, foggy brain… And then the symptoms that we may associate with something we have eaten: nausea, intestinal distress. In my case, I suspect egg protein is causing a small patch of eczema. I’ll eliminate egg from my diet for a month or so and see if the patch clears.

    Wanting a little sweet – I decided to make a gluten free and egg free cookie and here is what I came up with (I made the almond version):

    Peanut Butter or Almond Cookies
    48 cookies

    1/2 cup butter, unsalted
    8 ounces peanut butter — or almond butter
    2/3 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup flax seed — ground
    2 tablespoons milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla — or almond extract if making almond cookies
    1 cup brown rice flour
    1/3 cup glutinous rice flour
    1/4 cup almond meal
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    1/3 cup sesame seeds — to roll; optional

    Cream butter and sugar. Add milk, extract and flax seed. Mix together rest of ingredients and add to butter mixture. Form into 1″ diameter balls. Roll in sesame seeds. Bake 375 for 8-10 minutes

    Per Cookie: 84 Calories; 5g Fat (56.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 89mg Sodium.

    If you want to make these dairy free you can substitute the butter with coconut oil and the milk with water.


  • 20Nov

    Some folks don’t like turkey…so how about the traditional

    Chinese Style Roast Duck

    Duck Prep:
    The night before the hot bath, season the duck with salt and pepper inside and out. Refrigerate until ready to proceed with the next steps.

    Make Glaze:
    0.5 c cider vinegar
    3 c water
    0.5 tub maltose (rice malt syrup, found in Chinese grocers)
    zest from 1 orange (use vegetable peeler to get wide strips)
    2 – 3” cinnamon sticks
    3 star anise
    2 in” fresh ginger, slice into thin slices
    1 t whole cloves

    Simmer all together.
    Thicken with 1 T water chestnut flour/starch (found in Chinese grocers) dissolved in 2 T cold water. With the glaze simmering and while stirring the glaze, pour in the chestnut flour slurry.
    Bring back to a simmer, strain & cool
    This can be done many days ahead of time. You can use this glaze for many ducks.

    Hot Bath:
    2 gal water
    1T baking powder

    Bring water to boil and scald duck for 2-3 minutes. The fat skin should feel soften and loosened from the body. If the fat does not feel loose you can dunk for a few more minutes. You can use this bath for many ducks.

    Preparing & Drying Duck:

    Dip duck in glaze. Salt & pepper inside of duck. Hang in a cool dry place with a fan blowing for at least 6 hours*. Put a tray under to catch any drippings. Roast in a preheated 350 oven on a rack for 1 hour. Turn over once to brown evenly.

    Hanging – I used a wire coat hanger, hanging the duck under it’s wings. You can use some butcher’s twine to secure it if needed.

    *Note and disclaimer: this method of hanging a scalded raw duck at room temperature goes against all food safety rules

    The temperature danger zone is the temperature at which bacteria multiply rapidly. The temperature is from 40 degree Fahrenheit to 140 degree Fahrenheit. Foods should not be allowed to stay in this temperature zone for more than 2 hours (1 hour on a very hot day).

    In other words, hanging the duck at room temperature for 6 hours can cause food poisoning so prepare using this recipe at your discretion!

  • 16Dec

    Chongqing, formerly in Sichuan province, exhibited dishes that were quite generously spiced – though not always searingly hot as Sichuan cuisine is reputed to be. The food was excellent though had quite the dosing of MSG. So much so, one evening a few days into the trip I came down with a fever and sweated profusely through the night – I’m sure if we had tested my sweat it would have been 90% MSG! I was fine the next morning though without really thinking about it I instinctively began to avoid dishes that had too much MSG as if I had a built in MSG detector.

    Aside from the Chongqing chef’s MSG worship…

    One thing I loved was the variety and quality of vegetables – even in the winter. We enjoyed lots of different varieties of bok choys, mushrooms, bitter melon, napa cabbage, daikon radish, winter squashes, spinach, and a very delicious celery dish (slow poached in chicken stock and no doubt an ample handful of MSG

    One curiosity that we got a good chuckle from were the ‘Longevity Nuts’ we found on many a fruit platter. Turns out they were plum cherry tomatoes.

    Soups were also a mainstay and as we’ve seen in so called ‘traditional’ diets, enjoyed at least during one meal of the day. One particular soup I enjoyed was a simple broth made from black skinned chicken and abalone.

    My 6 favorite dishes: p>

    A bowl of noodles from a street stand – well really a top of the stairwell stand. Seemed many of the locals were walking around or stooped on the sidewalk with a hot steaming bowl of this vendor’s noodles so we decided to go for it. Up the stairs Sis and I went. We hold up 2 fingers. A woman hands the guy 2 bowls full of yam noodles in a brownish-reddish broth. The guy is ready to toss on the condiments: seasoned ground meat, peanuts…then ever so vigilant we wave our hands ‘no’ at the raw scallions, raw cilantro and hot paste not noticing the large white bowl of crystals…dope! In went at least a half a tablespoon of MSG…oh well, when in Rome…Ever so gently as to not stir in the MSG, I dig in…Oh my, what an incredible flavorful bowl of rich spicy hot goodness. I savored every bite – the broth had a generous splash of black vinegar with a nice spice to it – chile, sichuan peppercorns and some cumin – every now and then you’d get a bite with some roasted peanut…yum! I hoped to remember the flavors so I could try to recreate it at home.

    Next up, flatbread from a street stand. Looked to be a local chain as we had seen one of these stands in the pedestrian under pass by the Conifer Hotel. This time we couldn’t pass it up. It was a beautiful golden brown oval disc with bits of spicy pork sausage on it…and and just oozing with pork fat! It was piping hot just out of the oven. Again the now familiar spice combo of chile, sichuan peppercorns and some cumin. Delicious!

    Crispy Chicken – actually a Guangdong specialty but wow – these Chongqing chefs knew how to crisp up a chicken too! The flavor was so fragrant and aromatic with the famous five spice. The amber skin was crispy like glass.

    Twice Cooked Pork, a famous Sichuan dish. A beautifully braised piece of pork belly presented on half a roasted butternut squash. Yummy, the combo was stellar.

    And the all time favorite – diced up dry fried leg of lamb garnished with a mountain of deep fried red chiles. The flavor of the lamb! Again the chile, sichuan peppercorns and cumin spice combo. Each nugget was ever so tender and the chiles – crispy delightful and sweet not hot (they knew the gingros were coming!) I couldn’t get enough.

    And who could visit Sichuan and not have Mo Po Tofu. This rendition from it’s birth place was totally delish.

    Since coming back I’ve researched the prevalent spice combo of chile, sichuan peppercorns and cumin and discovered it’s influence is from the western most province of Xinjiang. Here, the Uygur people are muslim so we have the cumin. Typically this spice mixture is rubbed on thin pieces of lamb and threaded onto skewers then grilled. I’ve been experimenting with it as a rub for lamb chops, chicken medallions and flavoring for soup. Next I plan to make some sausage – probably a version with pork and another with lamb.

    As for the bread – in Xinjiang there are breads similar to Indian naan breads. I have a few naan recipes so will tinker. Alas, time is always a factor so this will have to wait til later.

    Anyway, here is a recipe for a rub that is pretty close to what I tasted in Chongqing:

    Xinjiang Dry Rub

    Based on a Recipe by Jeff Powell

    Amount Measure Ingredient — Preparation Method
    ——– ———— ——————————–
    1 Tablespoon sichuan pepper
    1/4 cup cumin seed
    2 tablespoons chili flakes — no seeds
    2 tablespoons black peppercorns
    1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
    1 tablespoon ginger — grnd
    1 tablespoon garlic — powder
    1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

    Toast sichuan peppercorns til fragrant. Pick out any black seeds as these can be bitter.
    Grind sichuan peppercorns, cumin seed chili flakes and black pepper in a spice grinder.
    Stir in remaining ingredients.

    Dry rub away!

  • 28Nov

    Well, it was a nice rest after being up for so many hours. Our room is ok but the place has a odd odor that I am not partial to. Everything is kind of dreary cuz of the weather (no sun) and I think everything is covered in a coat of gray dirt – probably soot Plus the city smells oddly smokey outside in the ‘fresh’ air.    China so far has been interesting. I think it’s easier on Vince since it is obvious that he probably doesn’t speak Chinese. Patty and I are always spoken to in mandarin and haven’t a clue! Folks seem a bit frustrated with us. Chongqing is a very big city with 7 million in the city proper and 31 million altogether if you count the immediate surrounding area. That is a lot of people! There are lots of very dense hoods – very tall apartment buildings very close and then open space interspersed with shopping areas. We’ll get the city tour on Tuesday with other site seeing activities planned for Wednesday and Thursday.    Today is the big day…Gotcha Day! 10am Patty and Vince meet with the group coordinator and the other families to fill out some paper work, go to the bank to pay the fees and then leave at 2p for a 2:30 appt at the government building to finally meet Ruby!   For lunch we dash across the street…no actually we go underground in to the pedestrian underpass to the Chinese fast food chain “CKC” – Country Kitchen Cooking. It’s all noodles, all spicy…well, they did have rice plates as well with some pretty delicious looking morsels on them…mmm, twice cooked pork… We decide to have noodles though. I have a bowl of noodles with pork and chilis. It was very tasty though a tad hot.   

    Finally we gather in the lobby to board the bus for the government office to finally meet Ruby. Patty and Vince are excited as are the other eight families in our group. After a 20 minute ride we arrive at a very nondescript building – pretty run down by our standards. The entrance had a few shops along one side, we excitedly walk toward the dark interior where two very small and ancient elevators will take the families up to meet their new daughters and sons.   

    Patty and Vince go up on the first ride while we wait for the next. Unbeknownst to us Patty and Vince got their first glimpse of Ruby crying while being held by the director of the social welfare institute where she has been spending the first 10 months of her life. By the time Mom and I get up to the fourth floor, Ruby is clenched to Patty. Wow, there she was – finally. All cheeks and a head of hair you’d never believe. Patty immediately took on the role of Mom and Vince – there he was beaming. Ruby took glances at both as if she knew these two people were her destined parents. What a journey all three have taken to finally come to meet today. They looked like they belonged to each other.

  • 27Nov

    We finally settle into the hotel around 2pm. We’re all bonkers tired from traveling the past 30 hours but figured we needed to try and stay up so we could adjust to China time which is 16 hours ahead of PST.   The area around the Conifer hotel is definitely not touristy – it’s very much a local ‘hood. Below the hotel is a ’super market’ so we head there to stock up on bottled water. Right away Mom and ‘Sis start shopping for ’stuff’ (which is to be expected as they have both elevated shopping into an Olympic sport.)   The market was unusual to say the least…it was a subterreanean maze of ‘departments’ wholy unrelated to one another, all patch worked into one store. Each aisle it seemed was manned by a very attentive uniformed worker ready to spring to your aid in case you might have a question about the tube of toothpaste you just casually glanced at. The worker would immediately and loudly banter on and on…what I guessed was a sales pitch to the merits of that particular tube – I really didn’t know since I couldn’t understand a word of Mandarin. All I could do was smile shaking my head and back away. After that, I was careful not to touch or look at anything I didn’t have any intent on buying. And if there was something I wanted, I just figured I’d better grab and run. I didn’t get to tour the entire market – probably for the best as I was a bit spacey. I figure I’ll have time tomorrow to really check out the food sections.  

    We head back to the hotel and wander around til dinner. I check out the business center in search of internet connectivity. I luck out and find they have 2 computers complete with IE though in chinese. The connection is pretty slow but not bad for Y20 per hour ($2.50).   We decide to have dinner at the hotel since we had no idea what the ‘hood had to offer. The Chinese restaurant on the 4th floor was closed for a wedding so we head to the ‘Village Coffee Shop’ to check out their buffet dinner for Y68 – with all the warm beer you can drink! The staff descend on us and hover over us like mama birds for the rest of our meal. We were tired and hungry so tried not to let the fact that there was only one other table bother us. The spread was in fact quite impressive – razor clams with garlic noodles, crab coated in some hot looking red stuff, chicken & abalone soup, 2 kinds of prawns, sichuan style fish, chicken and lamb, duck, rabbit, a dozen or more vegetables prepared various ways, lots of fresh fruit, a whole table of desserts and even pizza. Once we filled our plates we finally notice the place is decorated in a quite homey, Amish kind of way complete with pictures of the Pennsylvania countryside. Wow, look at those amber waves…We almost didn’t feel like we were in China.  

    Finally, we all grab our glasses of warm beer and toast to Patty and Vince’s last dinner where they can eat simultaneously. Tomorrow they will be parents to a 10 month old!

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  • 27Nov

    It took us 30 hours but we finally make it to Chongqing. The first leg of the trip we flew to LA where I discovered how easy it is to get back on board a plane after you’ve disembarked. As we walked toward the exit for the terminal I noticed how drafty it was – oh gosh my jacket! Luckily we hadn’t passed through the security check yet. After everyone had offloaded I was easily let back on to the plane with no questions asked! Though thankful…Hello TSA…?  

    Next a 15 hour flight to Guangzhou. Even though we were in business class it was a long uncomfortable flight. Sleeping in a plane is not the easiest thing to do. Walking up and down the aisles doesn’t seem to help pass the time. I must say that the service by the China Southern crew was fab – very professional and attentive. Finally we land in China! We were met by a local guide, Crystal, who navigated us through the Guangzhou airport to catch our next flight to Chongqing. What service! The Guanzhou airport is brand new and spectacular. Bright, airy and clean. I noticed that they are very much into energy conservation here. The escalators sit still until someone steps onto it! We grab a bite at the airport dim sum restaurant then sit around for a few hours taking in the smokey air as we wait for our flight. So many people smoke in China!  

    From Guangzhou we take a short 1 1/2 hour flight to Chongqing. Security in China is much more stringent – the checker didn’t know what the bottle of Aquafina in my bag was so told me to open and take a swig. Glad it was just water! And something I noticed right away – the chinese people waste no time dilly dallying while boarding or unloading a plane. You just have this mass of people push on and push off. The seats were cramped though as they must have confirgured the plane for maximum seating capacity. The plane was a modern jet, a Boeing xyz – unlike my first trip 20 years ago when inter China travel meant boarding a Russian made prop plane – can we say Indiana Jones? We were served a quick lunch of fried rice and assorted pickles. After the meal I closed my eyes for a moment only to be awoken by Patty exclaiming “Arghhh!” I turn to see a cockaroach running down the wall. We both look at each other and put ours bags that we had on the floor onto our laps. No more snoozing for me. Besides our six legged seat mate – not bad for our first inter China flight.

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  • 25Nov

    Today it is off to China with my sister Patty, her husband Vince and my Mom. My mom and I are tagging along to witness the culmination of a year+ long process Patty and Vince has undergone to adopt a a little girl. And what a process – piles of paperwork, legalese, home studies, background checks, medical exams, trips to the notary, translations of all of this into chinese not to mention the waiting and anticipation.  

    Getting to the airport was no small feat. The day after Thanksgiving meant everyone decided to drive on the freeway. Simultaneously Patty and Vince on 101 North and I on the Bay Bridge were stuck in traffic! We all start off the trip on a major adrenaline rush. The gods were kind though and we make it to the airport with plenty of time. So we start our “Amazing Race” to get to Chongqing China.

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