From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tongue Thai'ed

After raving about the new Thai restaurant (Tong’s Thai) that I lunched at last week, I was able to convince Kim and the girls to go there for dinner on Friday. (The whole, pre-made lasagna thing was just not going to work for us.)

I think that the reason I was able to convince everyone to go there was because they offer the standard Chinese menu as well as sushi, so for those unwilling to try something new, there were no worries.

Kim ordered the California roll (of course) and another roll that had fried fish in it. With that came an order of spring rolls and chicken Sa-Tay. Eleyna had a California roll minus the avocado, because she and I are both allergic to them, and Madison had her standard bowl of Egg Drop Soup. I was surprised just how much Kim enjoyed the sushi, calling her California Roll the best she had ever tasted. The chicken Sa-Tay, served on skewers, were marinated in coconut milk, curry and other spices, and they were served with a cucumber sauce and a light peanut sauce.

I ordered an item that was not on the menu; Duck Krapao. It was a spicy dish, with chopped duck meat served on a bed of zucchini, bell peppers, onions, green onions and fresh Thai basil. Unfortunately, because I was so full, after having enjoyed the Spring Rolls and the Chicken Sa-Tay, and the sushi, I was not able to fully enjoy the Duck Krapao. Thankfully, it made for good planned-overs.
It was amusing watching Eleyna and Kim pick at the water chestnuts that were sprinkled into my Krapao, because it was SPICY and it bit right back. Watching the stunned reaction from the two of them, after the peppers kicked in, was hilarious, because I had already had a chance to taste the dish. Both sets of eyes widened to the size of saucers, and what remaining water and tea were left was quickly downed.

For dessert? Another Bubble Drink, at the pleasure of our server. I advised him to pick one for me, but pick wisely. He brought one that was sort of greenish in color, and it tasted good. There was no dominant flavor, and as my tongue started tingling, I ended up having to ask what the main ingredient was. It was avocado. Uh oh… needless to say, Madi ended up finishing it for me.

Thai food has a reputation for being spicy, and such spice adds to its lore as well as its healthy reputation.

To really enjoy Thai food as it's meant to be eaten you’re going to have to get your mouth in shape and build that chili tolerance.

Spicy Thai food tastes better, but even beyond taste - there are a number of health reasons to feel the burn and start adding a few more chili's to home cooked meals.

Health benefits of capsaicin (the spicy heat molecule in chili peppers)

Chili peppers cool you down on hot days. One of the reasons why people from hot countries embrace the fire is because it influences natural temperature regulating mechanisms in the body and makes a sweltering day a bit more bearable. Capsaicin makes us feel hotter than we are, which fools the body into building a sweat and boosting blood circulation to the skin. The net effect of all this is a lowering in body temperature.

Capsaicin also helps to moderate caloric intake. Spicy food is more satiating than bland food, meaning you need to eat less of it to feel full. The heat of the chili actually stimulates brain chemicals that signal fullness!

Additionally, spicy food boosts the metabolism. Not only does mouth fire satiate, it also fires the body into overdrive!

Capsaicin does not cause stomach ulcers (as was once thought) and early research shows that it may play a role in the body's fight against certain cancers, it may act as a natural anti embolism substance and it is a natural analgesic.

Hot enough for ya…?

You can build a tolerance to the subjective effects of capsaicin – that is, you can learn to love spicier food. Start off by adding smallish quantities of less potent chilis, and work your way up from there.

If you're feeling timid as you do work on that tolerance, you can reduce the spice of a chili by removing the seeds and membrane from the interior before use.

If you cook with chili in advance, remember too that the pungency and heat of a dish will increase with time, as more of the active capsaicin leaches from the chili and into the surrounding food.

The Heat Rankings…

Chilis are ranked according to their pungency (heat) on a scale called the Scoville Scale.

Some examples of heat scores are:

Red bell peppers 0-600

Jalapeno peppers 2500 – 10 000

Serrano peppers 10 000 – 25 000

Habanero peppers 80 000 - 150 000

Dealing with a mouth fire…

If you do bite off more than you can chew…(haha) cool that fire with cold sweet liquid. Ice water, cold beer and margaritas work nicely (You can sort of "freeze" the capsaicin receptors into inaction with coldness - but carbonation increases the subjective sensation of heat) or by eating starchy foods such as rice, breads or tortillas.

To start, go easy and don’t overdo the heat. Food can be ruined by diners adding too much heat to the dish, to the point of not being able to taste the food. Little by little, add more, until you are at a point to where you worry you might be uncomfortable eating any more, and that is the limit to your level of heat. Always start a recipe without any heat, and allow your fellow diners to add their own. Otherwise, caveat eater, or biter beware.

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

Spicy Thai Slow Cooker Chicken


• • 2 tsp powdered sugar

• ½ tsp paprika

• ½ tsp dry mustard

• salt to taste

• 1/2-c. currant jelly, melted

• 1/4-c. fresh lemon juice

• 1-c. walnut oil

• 1Tbsp cider vinegar, I used rice vinegar

• 1 tablespoon Thai chili paste, or more to taste

• 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste

• 2 tablespoons peanut butter

• 6 pieces skinless boneless chicken (such as breast halves and thighs)


1. Stir together the all ingredients in a bowl until the mixture is well combined. Dip chicken pieces in the mixture, and place into a slow cooker. Pour the remaining sauce over the chicken. Set the cooker to Low, and cook 4 to 6 hours, until the chicken is very tender.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Un-Thai Me!!

I have been lucky in the last week to have been able to visit 2 new Asian restaurants. The first was East Island China Bistro and Sushi, off of Pat Booker Road in Universal City. While the entrees that they have on the menu are not designed for highlight reels, their sushi is pretty good. They offer fresh sushi as well, at an affordable price. The atmosphere seems like it would be good for a family, although when we were there, we were the only diners in the place.

Here is a chance for an instant replay in my mind… typical eyes being bigger than my stomach, because sushi always looks good. I ordered the edamame, rainbow roll and their spicy tuna roll. Unfortunately, I like my spicy tuna to be just that… Tuna with a shoe. If the shoe does not give it a kick, it does not meet my expectations. The girls’ meals were about average, with Eleyna ordering the lemon chicken, sauce on the side, and Madi had Egg Drop soup. Again.

The second was a restaurant called Tong’s Thai, a fusion of Chinese and Thai cuisine located on Austin Highway in San Antonio. They serve acceptable versions of Chinese food and have a very tasty offering on the sushi side. Tong’s Thai was the first restaurant here in San Antonio to offer Bubble Tea, the one of a kind drink that has gained a popular following. They have many different flavors to offer, and I am going to have to make a point to visit and try more of them. The staff also greets you with a bowl of miso soup, which is one of my favorite ways to start a meal. For my first meal there, I had the Tong’s Thai bowl and a spicy tuna roll. The Tong’s Thai bowl was a tasty treat, a bowl full of rice vermicelli served with carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, bean sprouts and topped with grilled chicken. The chicken was tasty, but it had a slightly carmelized after taste, suggesting that it may have been just burnt. The spicy tuna roll, however, was excellent. The tuna was spicy enough to not need me to add any additional wasabe or hot sauce. THAT was what I was looking for. This restaurant is definitely one that I could see myself visiting over and over again, as their menu offers many different types of dishes for the Asian soul. I will have to try them, one at a time.

(I have been told by their sushi chef that they offer some specials that are off the menu, including duck dishes. Yum.)

I told my server to surprise me with any flavor of Bubble Tea, and the one I was served was tasty. I was a little surprised to find peanuts in it, but apparently, their “Thai Grr” Bubble Drink has mango, coconut milk, and papaya to accompany it. I may not have them pick my next bubble drink, but I am willing to bet that if I tell them to pick my entrée, I won’t be disappointed.

Sadly, there are very few Thai restaurants here in San Antonio, and most restaurants that offer Thai food are Chinese restaurants with only one or two dishes or they are a fusion of many different Asian cuisines. Of the ones that are here, I have yet to try most of them. I worry that, like most Chinese restaurants here, the food will be unremarkable. Only the actual dining experience will prove otherwise. Such prejudice is unfortunate, given that there are many Michelin Star rated Thai chefs who can hold their own in the cooking world.

There are so many wonderful elements of the Thai cuisine that can be explored. Many of the recipes that are staples of the cuisine offer benefits including good energy distribution, relatively low amounts of fat and saturated fats, low amounts of cholesterol, and good sources of dietary fibers and iron. However, if cooked poorly, all those benefits would potentially go out the window.

The central part of Thailand is the plain and low land where many rivers pass by, thus the productivities are fertile all through the year both vegetables and fruits. Hence, food in the central part is diverse and the taste is moderate with the combination of salty, spicy, sour and sweet according to the recipes. However, there are also the mixing of the seasonings both odor and taste, for instance, spices and the coconut milk. Moreover, the central part food is usually composed of supplement, for instance chilli paste with sweet pork and sweet, salty paste with margosa. The main characteristic of the food in this region is the refinement of the vegetables and fruits carving that represent the identity of the arts and culture of the Thai food.

The southern part of Thailand is the peninsula, thus, almost of the population earn their living by fishery. Hence, the main food ingredients are the seafood. Spices are also the favorite ingredients which make the taste spicy, salty and sour, for instance, Kaeng tai pla, Kaeng som and Kaeng luang, etc. The southern food is delicious to supplement with vegetables in order to decrease the spicy taste, ‘pak nhoa’, for instance, ma-kheua pro, yard-long beans, wing bean, parkia, etc.

The northern part of Thailand is the ancient land where the tradition and culture are different from other parts. The eating pattern in the north, instead of sitting at the table, the northern people usually put all the dishes in the big bowl called ‘kan tok’ and sit altogether on the floor around the bowl. Basically, sticky rice is the main food. Almost of the cooking are well done and fried with oil.

The northeast part of Thailand is hardly dry, therefore the main ingredients for food are actually varieties of insects which are the main protein sources for people in this area.  The main food is also the sticky rice. Vegetables and meats are almost local products.  Fermented fish is the main mixture to seasoning almost every dish but not for fried cooking and usually supplement with fresh vegetables.

So the exploration must continue, one restaurant at a time.

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

Spicy Chicken with Thai Basil

• 24 oz. thinly Sliced Chicken

• 6 oz. fresh chopped Thai Basil leaves

• 9 oz. fish sauce

• 9 oz. sliced white onions

• 9 oz. sliced bell peppers

• 4.5 oz. Chili Sauce


Heat and season your wok. Add the Beef first. Cook for 30 Seconds. Next, add the Vegetables along with the Thai Basil, cook for another 45 seconds. Season with the Chili Sauce and Fish Sauce. De-glaze the wok with 3 oz. of stock and serve.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

State of Our Food

A couple of days ago, when I got home from work, Madison, my younger daughter, greeted me at the door with a picture that she had drawn. This picture, while done from memory, evoked a grave sense of concern in my mind. How such a young mind could so readily illustrate an item that represents our current state of food affairs brings to light the problems that face our youth, and the diets that we must manage for them.

Indeed, it makes clear the reasons behind recent revelations that the portion size of Jesus’ last meal has grown in more recent illustrations. It makes clear the constant reminder that there is a growing obesity problem (no pun intended) among our children. It also makes clear the continued need to embark on an all-out assault on our ignorance of food. I am not suggesting that I become the next Jamie Oliver and get on the nearest bandwagon that is destined to demonstrate to the kids the gross elements of food in their cafeterias, or in their lunchables, or even in the fast food meal that they consume on a daily basis.

(And our President, who just pushed through a costly health reform bill, smokes.) Does anyone else see the irony/hypocrisy there?

For sure, healthy eating starts at home, but creating 3 meals a day, for a family of 4, takes more time to plan than it will take to read this post. That, combined with the time spent on prepping, cooking and cleaning, can often equate to nearly 24 hours per week. With the economy in its current state, and the lack of time that has befallen us all as a result of both parents needing to work to earn incomes to support a family, most people choose the easiest path, a path that takes us through someone else’s drive-through pad.

Hence the ability of my 5 year old to recreate the image that has become such an iconic representation of food in America.

Hence the growing trend of families purchasing ready-to-eat meals in their nearest supermarket.

Hence the growing unfamiliarity with staple ingredients in regular food recipes, such as corn starch, and seasonings such as basil, oregano, rosemary and cooking techniques such as sautéing, braising, deglazing and roasting. Investing in this knowledge will pay off in forms that you would never imagine, as some of these techniques capture the flavor and nutrients of food without extra fat or salt.

Hence the creation of a show called “The Worst Cooks in America.” Against Kim’s advice, I applied for a shot to make the next casting call, just to see if my appeal for more time to cook would be heard. While I certainly would not like to be considered one of the worst, I do know that there are elements in even my cooking that would make Gordon Ramsay shudder.

I continue to be frustrated by scenes of ineptitude that constantly replay themselves on television. Whether it is a cook on “Hell’s Kitchen” lighting a towel on fire, then burning the scallops, or someone on the aforementioned “Worst Cooks in America” undercooking chicken, such scenes gnaw at me, just because of the simple, common sense steps that are not followed, and they are the beginnings of great things possible in the kitchen.

I often wonder if I would be able to create the same on-screen personality and presence that Martin Yan made popular. It concerns me to no end that, while there are dozens of shows dedicated to teaching new methods, new recipes, and new flavor profiles, none of them seem really focused on describing and exemplifying what might be healthiest. Chinese food can be fun to make, and great to eat. Perhaps with the right kind of exposure, it will be possible for my kids to make a tasty Chinese meal for the family. First, we have to instill the passion for cooking, and Madison loves to help, so I let her get up to her elbows in it if I can. (As long as there is no potential for injury, I step back and let her have at it in the kitchen with me.) Do I want to be the next Guy Fieri, with his over-the top television persona? No. Do I want to be the next Chinese version of Giada DiLaurentis, with her bubbly Italian smile? Not so much, again.

I want to be able to be me, having fun while in the kitchen, and, while doing so, expound on the benefits of healthy Asian cuisine.

Is that so much to ask?

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…


Beggar's Chicken (Qi Gai Ji)


4 cups self-rising flour

1-1/2 cup milk

3 tablespoons canola oil

6 medium-sized boneless and skinless chicken breasts

1/2 pound ground pork

1 green onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1/4 cup bamboo shoots, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce (specialty shop or local grocery store)

Extra flour for kneading**


Place flour in a large bowl. Combine the milk and 1 tablespoon canola oil. Pour into the flour, mixing well into a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until it is smooth.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, place in a clean bowl, and cover with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Wash the chicken with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken on a platter, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat a wok on medium-high for 30 seconds. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil and heat for a few more seconds.

Add the ground pork. Cook for 5 minutes or until the meat gets brown slightly. Use a spatula to remove the pork to a clean bowl (you can use a frying pan, if you do not have a wok).

Reheat the wok and the remaining 1 tablespoon of canola oil. Add the green onion, celery, and bamboo shoots. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.

Return the pork to the wok and add the salt and hoisin sauce. Cook for 2 minutes. This is the stuffing. Let this mixture cool completely in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Unwrap the dough and cut it into 3 pieces. Then cut each piece in half. Take 1 piece of dough and cover the rest with a clean cloth.

Lightly cover work surface with flour. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough to make a circle about 6 inches in diameter.

Lay 1 chicken breast in the center of the dough and top with 1-1/2 tablespoons of stuffing. Gently fold the dough up over the chicken and stuffing and press together at the edges to seal. Place this in a well-greased baking pan.

Repeat the above step with the other pieces of dough, chicken, and stuffing.

Bake for 50 minutes, basting the chicken with the juices in the bottom of the pan at least twice during the baking time.

Serve hot.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

A Taste of Taiwan

Taiwan, which is abbreviated ROC for 'The Republic of China,' was once called 'Formosa.' That name means ‘beautiful’ and was given to that land by the Portuguese. Sitting about a hundred miles southeast of China, many think it one island or two, but that is far from the truth because there are many more. Closest to the Fujian province, all of them are sometimes called the 'Pacific Coast Islands.' Eons ago, the largest one was once called 'Tainan Island' by the aborigines who lived there. The name Tainan stuck until 1573, during the Ming Dynasty, when it officially became known as Taiwan. Besides that island, there are other large islands such as 'Kinmen,' formerly known as 'Quemoy,' 'Matsu,' 'Orchid,' and 'Green Island.' And, there are smaller ones.

Location, politics, visitors, and conquerors have influenced this land that was, more than a thousand years ago, home to ten or so groups of indigenous peoples, themselves from elsewhere in the region. Some may have come from Indonesia, elsewhere on the Malay peninsula, and other places in the Pacific. These original peoples included the Taiyal and Vonum aboriginal groups. Some say these two population groups actually came from China as early as the Shang Dynasty circa 1600 BCE.

Today, home to more than twenty-three million people, about fifteen percent of them are Hakka. The others are from every region in China. And there are smaller numbers of others from many other countries including Holland, Portugal, Japan, the Philippines, and Spain. Thousands upon thousands of additional Chinese came in the 1940's. Before and since, many were from Guangzhou, Fujian, Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, and from the island of Hainan. Additional Japanese influence was recent. Some of Taiwan’s islands were ceded to them after the Treaty of Shinoneseki in 1895. The Japanese surrendered these islands back to General Chiang Kaishek, in 1945. It is important to note that with the influx of thousands of people and artifacts from across the Straits of Formosa, interest in all aspects of the Chinese culture heightened, including interest and expertise in Chinese cuisine.

With this bit of history, it is obvious that the culture and cuisine have had many external and internal influences. The deepest culinary roots are, however, in Fujian, with which there are many similarities. In addition to its well-developed culinary and Min heritage, Taiwan serves as a showcase for the cuisines of all the provinces of China.

Many who now visit Taiwan can learn to understand its heritage and festivals and its lifestyle, language, and cuisine, by visiting central Taiwan’s Folk Village. At this almost ten-year-old facility, it is easy to see that the people adore and eat lots of good food, show off extensive and delicate knife work, consume lots of salads and bardo, or open-air cooking, and drink a lot of soup, tea or coffee, beer or scotch.

One does not need to go there to see how many places exist for the tea and latte crowd; there are lots of tea and cake shops. They are not new, but what is a recent addition to them is lots of bubble tea called boba nai cha. For the alcoholic beverage crowd, they get their drinks in restaurants, mostly at banquet tables where Johnny Walker and other bottles stand side to side with Coke and Sprite. This is because Taiwanese meals are times for toasting. They are also times to consume many soups, as do their compatriots in Fujian. A meal and a banquet will have a few different types, such as those that are clear, congee-type, or even thicker. In Taiwan, soups can be a meal, at every meal, and at snacks. They and special dishes, many very special indeed, are part of many meals and snacks. The Taiwanese love to eat, and they do it very well!

In 1998, at a 'Taipei Food Festival' at the Sheraton LaGuardia Hotel in Flushing New York, this gala showcase was a feast for every eye. Unfortunately, most could not be tasted, but just looking at the fantastic and unusual array made every guest want to rush out and book travel to Taiwan. It was clear when looking at the gorgeous items on display, they were not only delicate but also divine.

On the streets of the capital city, Taipei, and in other cities the streets are full of vendors touting snack foods. When we were there, they were many and marvelous. It was summer, and Taiwan’s jelly-fig was in season. It was prepared refreshingly cool and called Iced Fig Jelly.

This is a special fig that grows in the mountains in and around the Chiaya Province. It is the seeds that are capable of turning water to jelly in this Ficus awkeotsang varietal. You may have seen it in pictures as its aerial roots climb up tree trunks and over rocks. Since then, it has been discovered that one wild jelly-fig plant on one large tree can produce three thousand jelly-figs with, we know not how many seeds that gelatinize water and watery foods so well. Not sure we want to get close to count because it is the fig wasp that hangs around fertilizing each flower so that they turn into fruits. The fruits have seeds, and the seeds have achenes that do the job.

Because most vendors sell but one item, and that was true with all the fig-jelly makers we saw, they pride themselves in making theirs the freshest and the best. Superb taste, simplicity, and freshness are probably their hallmarks, and standing on any corner it is a delight to watch patrons line up, purchase, smile as they take a bite, and quickly be replaced by another on their ever growing lines, until all of their wares are gone. Clearly, the food is fresh, the turnover high, and the best stuff goes quickly.

From my visit nearly 30 years ago, visions of dragon whisker candy is still on my mind. Even the taste and the texture linger in the brain as does how it was made. Once only a valuable offering to the Imperial family, this special treat is made by pulling white sugar-rice noodles. What a great way to enjoy noodles that melt in the mouth. Eating them is a regal experience; one order intended for two can be devoured by one. Once I did just that, then shared a second one with my sister, and you know who ate the larger half of that one. Me!

Barbecued items are everywhere, their aroma is so enticing that they, too, are hard to limit to one. Grilled squid brushed with sesame oil and hoisin sauce and dusted with cayenne pepper is addictive. So is barbecued pork wrapped around a scallion and similarly sauced. Fragrant minced beef stuffed into some wonderful you tiao crullers and grilled just a moment to warm them vie with a similar taste recalled of squab wrapped in lettuce and some type of grilled skin, an item I never could identify.

Fresh dumplings are everywhere on the streets, in small shops, and on the menus of large and small restaurants. The varieties available grows with each street traversed and each eatery entered. A breakfast of entrails and congealed blood sandwiches can be eaten more frequently than a Big Mac. Ears of corn, grilled sausage, and soup noodles can be commonplace lunches or before bedtime bites. Sharks fin wrapped in lotus leaf, shrimp cakes, spring rolls, and deep-fried salted duck are never too far away.

Shops that specialize in one or many types of barbecue, dumplings, and other items begging to be bitten are everywhere. And finding a place to yum cha (or take tea) is a snap. Selecting from the wheeled carts that ply these small and huge dim sum places at one in the morning is a new experience for non-Taiwanese. Not so for their regulars. In Taipei eating is a twenty-four hour opportunity indulged in by a large percentage of the population.

So is shopping. On the food side, there are shops selling only preserved fruits, others only offering sharks fins. There are huge supermarkets and minuscule mini-marts. Prices can seem exorbitant or unrealistically inexpensive. You do need to know what you want and what things are worth. The Taiwanese seem to know quality, and they are willing to pay for it.

Taipei, Kaoshang, and the many other large cities in Taiwan offer an entire range of exquisite foods from every corner of China, from almost every place in the rest of the Asian world, and beyond. Use of ancient or modern recipes and food items produce tastes and treats that can be found at the many night markets. There, and during the day, anyone can have everything from stinky tofu to terrific chicken feet.

There is a Snake Street in the capital where you can, if male, be treated to its bile to build self esteem. Merchants are serious about things herbal and rare is the one who will serve snake bile to a female, beauty or no. Everyone is serious about the betel nut. Unprocessed, they smear it with something they call lime but it tastes like limestone mixed with several spices, then they wrap it in some grass leaves and call it qing zai. This particular snack, purchasable even at newspaper stands, has origins in their indigenous roots.

As islands, fish and seafood are serious business. The island harvests hundreds of thousands of tons of salt and fresh-water fish and other sea creatures. The people consider crustaceans, mollusks, and eels as delicacies, and oysters and clams as regular parts of the diet. At restaurants, waiters bring you live fish spattering and jumping for your inspection and selection. Freshness is very serious business at meals. So is having a typical Taiwanese dish of congee with sweet potatoes for morning snack. Several times a week, sucking up clams soaked in soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar and hot pepper, is too. Some folks order oyster omelets at least every other day.

Poultry and pork are commonplace, goose, then duck and chicken make up about three-quarters of all foods consumed that are not of the sea. Health and tonic foods such as Ginseng Chicken or Dongquei Duck are popular. So is Lopokao, a health food made from rice, radish, and steamed shrimp.

Holiday foods are eaten all year, though more of them are consumed on their own festival day. On Dragon Boat Festival one can celebrate with dozens of varieties of glutinous rice dumplings stuffed in bamboo leaves. On Moon Festival, plan on trying many Moon Cakes and Rice Dumplings, lots of them filled with herbs. For the New Year ring it in mostly with sweet dumplings filled with black sesame seeds and sugar. For Double Nines there are Double Nine Cakes to enjoy made with flour, sugar, chestnuts, and pine nuts; there are other kinds, too. The locals eat Grave Cakes on Tomb Sweeping Day or any day, you can too, be they stuffed with red bean paste and red-dyed rice or any other vendor-selected interior.

Other typical dishes any and every day include Fried Oysters with fermented Soybeans, Braised Pork in Brown Sauce, Scrambled Eggs with Turnips, Crab Shells Stuffed with Egg Whites, Tea-flavored Prawns, Deep-fried Chicken with Fruit Sauce, Jellyfish and Smoked Goose, White Fungus with Rock Sugar, and Sweet Treasures made with mashed foods, be they four different taros or soybeans, rice, taro, and sweet potatoes.

A typical Taiwanese banquet can include a plate of five or fifteen cold appetizers sitting around Glutinous Rice Dumplings. Enjoying one, you might have Steamed Scallop Balls with Braised Meats, Baby Squid Soup, Shrimp-stuffed Loquats, Deep-fried Cuttle Fish Balls, Salted Small Herrings with Peanuts, Buddha Jumps the Wall Shark’s Fin Soup made with shark’s fins, beef tendons, monkey head mushrooms, abalone, chestnuts, taro, yam, and medlar, Green Tea Baked Fish, and more. An Ice Carving of Fresh Fruits served with Sweet Tremella Soup can bring to a close a creatively served meal.

The Taiwanese take great pride in their food and have from early times when its islands were only populated by Malay-Polynesian aborigines or others. They take great pride in their own history and that of China. Go see many artifacts at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Going there means putting great emphasis on and filling the stomach with ancient Chinese culinary traditions. With spring all year-'round in this ‘beautiful’ country, rich produce, unrivaled sea foods, and fantastic fruits are all prepared to perfection be they made Chinese style or in the style of any of these islands many outside influences.

In spite of all of this, staple foods are paid lots of attention to. They are rice mixed and a healthy dose of sweet potatoes. Foods in Taiwan have less oil than in most other places in China and they are a bit more sweet than where they originally hail form. The only food they do not eat much of is beef. I wonder if this may be because the temperature was often too hot for that.

I would be remiss if I did not advise about a few of the many special Taiwanese dishes. Eating in a Taiwanese restaurant there or wherever, try Stewed Shark’s Fins, Frogs and Shredded Ginger, Braised Eel, Abalone and Pork Maw, Stewed Turtle, Pineapple Jelly, Green Bean Congee, Sweet Egg Cake, Fried Spring Rols, and Salty Congee, Noodles with Shrimp and Meatballs, Phoenix-eye Cake, Sweet Potatoes Steeped in Syrup, Hsinchu Rice Noodles, and Meatballs and Meat Pies.

For those who do not live near a Taiwanese restaurant, try this following recipe. It will bring tasting Taiwan to reality. You will not care if the people in these restaurants are Taiwanese, speak Hakka, Hokkiennese, or Taiwanhua which is what those in China call their language in Mandarin. You will not care what their political allegiance is, be it to China or to their local government. You will just be delighted that they have a sense of identity and a cuisine you can enjoy. One way or another, do just that!

Pork Chop on Rice


4 pork chops, trimmed with one-inch tiny cuts all around to prevent curling

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon rice wine

1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder

1 Tablespoon corn oil

1/2 cup sweet potato flour mixed with two tablespoons cornstarch

2 cups cooked rice, kept hot until needed


1. Put pork chops on flat place. Mix garlic, rice wine, and five-spice powder and spread on both sides of each chop. Set aside for fifteen minutes. 2. Heat oil slowly and dip each pork chop into the flour mixture and fry until crisp.

3. Put half cup of rice on each of four dinner plates and put one pork chop on each, and serve with or without a dipping sauce of your choice.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chinese Cousins

“This could get expensive…”

And that only began to describe the weekend I had. I was thinking about a trip to the nearest tapas bar. (For those of you who don’t know, a tapas bar is an entire Spanish neal made up of many small dishes, kind of like an entire meal of appetizers. Turns out, everyone else wanted the Chinese cousin.) Thankfully, the cost that Kim was referring to was in reference to our (what has become) weekly trek to Golden Wok. We almost didn’t end up there, because neither of the girls, at the time we were contemplating a lunch destination, were not hungry.

Eleyna: “But I just ate some cereal!”

Daddy: “Okay, so you won’t want to go to Golden Wok then?”

Eleyna: “Well, I am always hungry for Golden Wok!! That is like having 5 dollars then being told that since I have 5 dollars, I won’t want 5 more!!”

Ah, the perspective of the young. So, to Golden Wok we went, on a Sunday of all days… and the hub-bub that accompanied us into the restaurant was as reassuring as a warm comforter on a cold night. You KNOW that it is what you want to be surrounded by.

So, Dim Sum delights abound, and I only ordered 1 really weird thing (as Kim put it.) Unfortunately, because we lunched later in the day, they were starting to run out of product, and they were ending the trolley service. (Much to the girls’ relief, they were out of the chicken feet, jellyfish and tripe… both very good if you are into the exotic fare or chewing on rubber bands, as eating jellyfish seems to be like.) The dim sum fun is lost without the traditional trolley service.

The traditional way of doing it includes being seated at a table, and a card with various options with prices is placed on the table. The staff will walk by with carts containing steamers of delicious choices, and if one piques your interest, you simply have to ask for it and it is given to you. The server will then mark your card accordingly. You repeat the steps until full.

For me, it is amusing how we, despite our constant desire to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet, end up craving copious amounts of carbs and fatty proteins. With the glut of options available to us here in South Texas, (bacon and eggs, bean and cheese tacos, to name a few) we end up going in search of something different, like pork or shrimp balls, chicken or sweet beans surrounded by a skin of sweet, doughy goodness.

Dim sum, friends, dim sum…

As far as I am concerned, there is only one good place here in San Antonio, and I mention them ad nauseaum.

Obviously, any large city with a Chinatown offers the most options to fill this need, but the Bay Area has to have the best establishments with enough choices to keep EVERYONE happy.

One of my favorite San Francisco treats comes from a little place called the Wing Lee Bakery. It is a tiny little place where you order at the counter, after waiting in a long line, and your choices are placed on a little plastic tray, then you have to search for a place in the back to sit. This little place, with its limited seating, makes ordering your food to-go a smart idea, and go early, as they tend to run out of product by noon on the weekends. My most recent visit (which, sadly, was years ago,) was a pleasant experience, and their prices are very reasonable.

Right down the street is another restaurant called Good Luck Dim Sum. Their set up is similar to Wing Lee, in that you wait in line to order at a counter. The difference here, is that you get to check your selection on a slip of paper, somewhat like a sushi restaurant. If you order your food to go, it will be presented to you in a pink cake box. The prices are comparable, and the food does taste good.

Overall, when both restaurants have the full menu available, it is well worth the wait.

Call it a salute to gluttony.

Until next week, Good Eating, Friends…

Good Luck Dim Sum

736 Clement St

San Francisco, CA 94118

(415) 386-3388

Wing Lee Bakery

503 Clement St

San Francisco, CA 94118

(415) 668-9481

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Less IS More

Last night, the family got together to celebrate Grandma Josephine’s birthday. We got together at a somewhat central location (okay, it was closest to her house) at a Mexican restaurant called Don Pedro’s. I didn’t realize that even when in a large party room, 19 people can sure make a racket.

In the midst of all the frivolity and bonhomie came the reality check. My overly critical analysis of my food resulted in David asking, “So are you going to write about this one?”

My reply was a quick shake of the head, as I told him that I had decided to dedicate my blog to only elements of Chinese food, to which he replied. “How many times can you write about chow mein?” It was a thought provoking question, and I ended up doing a little research on the whole world of Chinese food blogs, and food blogs in general. On one blog site,, their food home page features 318 different food bloggers, of which there are plenty of those who write about Chinese food. (Look for me there soon…)

So the question in my mind then became, “What are they writing about that makes people want to read their articles, and where do I have to go from here, to get there?”

One thing I did notice was that of the blogs that I opened up from alltop, not a single writer published daily. I had to concede, during my conversation with David, that writing about Chinese food every day is hard and I will admit that there are times that even I have to dig deep into the treasure trove of memories to find something to write about, and often times I feel that what I have written is pedantic and uninteresting. Think about it. 75 posts, in the course of 3 months. Such prolific writing does not come easily, and I constantly worry about repeating myself. It has nearly become a second, full-time job, and that is just the writing part of it. Successful bloggers spend hours networking, working on adsense, and monetizing it.

Many of the food blogs had no pictures at all, while others had as many as 14-18 pictures. Where is the happy medium? Some of the blog entries were little more than a recipe. Really? And people read them just for the recipe? Others were meandering tales of who-knows-what and had little substance for the readers to truly gain any insight from.

That single element of writing prowess piqued my curiosity, then, as I pondered that idea, it started making a lot of sense. After all, I am a huge fan of GulfGal’s writings, and I eagerly await her weekly dose of humor and insight. Perhaps my daily musings have started to dilute the overall pool of postings. Could it be true? I can only wonder, but I think, for a while, I will go to a twice-a-week format, to see if the interest (for my publisher’s peace of mind) and response is out there.

A couple of years ago, The New York Times published an article by Kim Severson about “Recipe Deal Breakers.” In it she asked if there is an ingredient or a technique whose omission or inclusion would stop you from using a recipe. The article was humorous and light-hearted, which I enjoyed immensely. However, that didn’t stop a firestorm of reactions from spreading all over the culinary blogosphere. Michael Ruhlman joined in the fray with his blog post the next day. Kate Hopkins at Accidental Hedonist continued the discussion with a poll. Now it’s my turn to ask a similar question. What is a deal breaker for creating authentic Chinese food in an American Kitchen?

While many Chinese and Asian ingredients are becoming more available in the American markets, most are still not quite adequate for reproducing truly authentic dishes from Asia. For some of you living in large cities, such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, you are fortunate to have access to well stock Chinatown markets. Would difficulty in obtaining proper ingredients in other parts of the country be a deal breaker?

How about substituting specific ingredients? Certain ingredients in Chinese cooking can be substituted. But is this an acceptable alternative? I personally like to create recipes that can stay true to the original culinary culture. How about knowing what the real ingredient is supposed to be? Adherence to that particular form is a challenge here in San Antonio, though. Substituting less authentic ingredients is (almost) a deal breaker for me. What about you?

Authentic Chinese cooking techniques can be unfamiliar and intimidating. Deep-frying and high-heat stir-frying, for example, potentially involves hot splattering oil. Would these techniques with their inherent dangers discourage you from taking on a recipe?
Of course having children who are very picky eaters creates a challenge as well, and I am sometimes forced to mask a true ingredient with “a less-gross” alternative. I can always take time to find rare ingredients and master special techniques whenever necessary. For me there seem to be few deal breakers. Are concerns with your family’s well-being and what they will eat a deal breaker for many recipes?

Many of my recipes are geared toward fast, fresh, healthy and simple Chinese cooking, but a large number require difficult to obtain ingredients and special techniques. Still, these recipes are written for you. So feel free to write a comment and let me know about your deal breakers.

Until next week, Good Eating, Friends…


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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Onward Foodie Soldiers

Last night we made a pick-your-own stir fry for dinner. Yum. The protein was chicken, and only chicken, and there were quite a few vegetables to pick from. I ended up making the prep work a family affair, as everyone wanted in on the action. It ended up working out well, with Madi, our 5 year old, trimming and breaking the green beans and broccoli, Eleyna made the marinade, and Kim cut the mushrooms into quarters and peeled the carrots while I cut the chicken and onions and peeled the snow peas.

I had each person grab a bowl and fill it as high as they wanted with vegetables, and then I stir fried it with a mild honey-soy blend and garlic. (The only thing I forgot to prep was ginger, and its absence was noticed.) With each dish cooked to order, we still managed to eat and finish the dishes before the latest episode of 24 came on.

After having enjoyed such a delicious meal on Saturday and yesterday, and after having scoured the nearby restaurants for a decent Chinese restaurant that did not require me driving halfway across town for lunch today, I realized that my biggest complaint about the business continues to rear its nasty head: The American public does not have a good understanding of what authentic Chinese food is. The information that they do get to disseminate comes from American writers who are not familiar enough with Chinese ingredients and techniques to write about them. As a result, the end result is Chinese cooking with a fusion twist. Where does fusion cooking come into play when one does not truly know the basics?

There is a sudden interest in Chinese food that has brought this issue to the forefront. The most important factor in opening our eyes about the issues is the opening of China itself, making it more possible to import ingredients and cooking knowledge. Thankfully the end of the Olympics did not bring with it an end to the exposure and openness about the Chinese society, and with it the experiences of the Chinese chefs and home cooks who revived the long revered culinary traditions from the many different regions.

In the early 20th century, travel and import of goods across the Pacific was a long and arduous journey, so even though the Chinese rail workers introduced Americans to the early cuisine, the costs and time associated with attaining ingredients was nearly impossible. The result was Chinese food made with substituted local ingredients, as well as rudimentary cooking techniques practiced with tools that were not designed for the trade.

Further exacerbating the problem was the closing of the Chinese borders during the 3 decades after World War II. While other Asian cuisines enjoyed widespread adoptions and exposure, Chinese cooking was limited to those who could travel to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

It wasn’t until the reforms of the 1980’s that Sino-American commerce began again to supply local Chinese markets with more of the authentic ingredients. Unfortunately for a poor soul like myself, those such markets are usually hidden in areas of high Chinese populations or in Chinatowns of the large metropolitan areas.

The local markets here and even the supermarkets are trapped in the endless cycle of serving ingredients for chop suey and cow mein. These grocers must be made aware of our need and demand for some basic authentic ingredients. At a very minimum, the ingredients that I listed on the basic necessities post should be easily obtainable.

It has become apparent to me that in order to improve the quality of the food, as well as the true identity behind the education, more visas need to be issued to qualified chefs who establish an application for that field. Advancement of the authentic Chinese cooking form will not happen without the proper cooking knowledge, and where better to get it from than the source. (There are those, however, who will scoff at my idea of ‘importing’ chefs from China, and they may have a good argument: Seek out the great Chinese food that is already here in the States, then promote the heck out of it, and be willing to pay a little more for the exquisitely prepared, authentic Chinese food, as we are wont to do with Italian, or French cuisines.)

Regional Chinese cooking has been enthusiastically revived in recent years in China. Many chefs in restaurants, as well as home cooks, are going back to their family roots, traditions and recipes. This is a very exciting moment for Americans to learn about these regional cooking. Contrary to many debates, there are indeed eight widely accepted major regional Chinese cuisines (中華八大菜系): Lu (魯 Northeast China), Hui (徽 Anhui), Su (蘇 Jiangsu), Zhe (浙 Zhejiang), Yue (粵 Guangdong or Canton), Min (閩 Fujian), Chuan (川 Sichuan) and Xiang (湘 Hunan). Sadly ethnic divides also tinge this list because it does not include many of the minority people living in the Western, Southwestern and Inner Mongolia areas of China. This is the list of the Han (漢) people, who dominates China demographically and politically.( Though one could argue that those minority regions should probably not be part of China. But that’s a separate political issue.)

During the last few months I have noticed (and read) an increasing number of Chinese food blogs that actively discuss regional cooking. I believe that those who truly understand and are able to translate Chinese should share their knowledge in this type of forum. I will continue to try to do my part, and I call on all Chinese cooks, professional or amateur to help spread the knowledge.

(I can only shudder at the idea of someone taking a trip abroad, visiting China, then coming back with the opinion that “the food wasn’t great. It just wasn’t like the Chinese food I have eaten here…”

Onward, Chinese Food Soldiers…

.Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Dim Sum Desires

Over the weekend, against Kim’s recommendation, I watched the movie Dim Sum Funeral.  I knew that it was going to be about estranged siblings having to come together due to the death of their mother, but I fully believed that there would be more references to food, to lighten the mood, than heart-wrenching moments and bitter recriminations that were constantly exposed.  Having watched many other movies (and read other books) in the past that have done well to shed light on the Chinese culture (i.e. Joy Luck Club,) I thought that this movie would do the same.  Sure, I learned much about the traditional seven-day Chinese funeral, but the movie was overly melodramatic, with the main characters shedding light on the lives that they have lived since fleeing their mother’s controlling grasp. 

The movie caused the heartache that I struggle with, having just lost my mother, to resurface, as it was difficult, in my empathic way, to watch others struggle with the loss of their mother, no matter her character.  The movie came to a climax in a rather demented yet gutsy way, as it did its best to stay interesting.  (“How DARE you get me interested in this movie!!!” was the complaint that I was told midway through.)

Dim sum in Cantonese and Dien sing in Mandarin means: Pointing to your heart's desires. That being said, it can be agreed that the movie’s funeral ceremony and gathering fully adhered to the premise of your heart’s desires, for no one truly wishes to have questions left unanswered, or animosities unresolved.

Thankfully, we did have a pleasant dim sum experience this weekend, as we made a return trip to Golden Wok.  Weekends at Golden Wok are a fun experience, as the restaurant produces over 60 different types of dim sum and they roll the carts around the restaurant, hoping that someone will pick a dish off of their cart.  Absent, however, was the traditional sing-song chant that the attendants use in Chinatown, when describing their offerings.   We were welcomed by the dull roar of happy diners, and we were quickly seated by a large Chinese family that was eating away and picking off of those same carts.  (There is nothing more reassuring to me than to walk into a Chinese restaurant and see it filled with, you guessed it, Chinese people.)

When we first arrived, I was contemplating creating my own stir fry, as Golden Wok offers a build-it-yourself option to their standardized menu.  I had picked out (in my head) the veggies that I was going to build my bowl with and was well on my way to selecting the sauce, but the sights and smells of the dim sum rolling past me were more than enough to make me change my mind.

Kim ordered her standard chicken pot stickers and egg rolls, Eleyna ordered the Lemon Chicken, and Madi ordered a bowl of egg drop soup.  I “officially crossed over to the weird side” as Kim put it, when I ordered sticky rice with chicken and pork, rice-wrapped shrimp, and a shrimp and corn cake.

The beauty of the meal is that what I ordered was a mere sampling of what Golden Wok had to offer.

Their Dim Sum dishes could best be divided this way:

1. Salty Dim Sum (ham dim sum)This is the largest group including Shrimp Dumplings (har gao), Pork Dumplings (shu mai), Beef Rolls with Oyster Sauce (sing jok guan), Fried Taro with Shrimp (yu har), Turnip Cake (lo bak gow), Spring Rolls or Egg Rolls (chuen guan), Barbecued Beef Sticks (satay), Stuffed Green Peppers (yong la chu), and a dumping stuffed with pork, mushrooms, and water chestnuts (fun goh); also one can have Shrimp Toast.
2. Sweet Dim Sum (tiem dim)
This is a relatively small group and includes Bean Curd Jelly (hang yen do fo fa), Coconut Cream Squares (yea tsup go), Egg Custard Cup (dan ta), and Water Chestnut Squares (ma ti go).
3. Steamed Buns (tsen bao)These buns are stuffed with roast pork (cha shu bao), chicken (gai bao), Chinese sausage (la chong guan), lotus seed paste (lien yung bao), or they can be filled with red or black bean paste (do sa bao).
4. Special Dim Sum (dot dim)Steamed Sweet Rice--made with chicken and black mushrooms--in Lotus Leaf (o mai gai), Phoenix Feet (fung tso), Duck Tongues (op lea), and Beef Tripe (ngo tsop).
5. Panfried Noodles (chow mein)
Noodles with Shrimp--or chicken (har chow mein or gai chow mein), Noodles with Pork--or beef (ju yok chow mein or ngo yuk chow mein), and E fu Noodles with Crab Meat (hai wong e fu mein).
6. Sauteed Broad Noodles (chow ho fun)
Sauteed Beef with Broad Noodles--with no gravy (gon chow ho fun) and Sauteed Beef with Vegetables--with gravy (sup chow ho fun). Broad noodles can also be combined with pork, chicken, or shrimp, however, those made with beef are best known.
7. Sauteed Rice Noodles (cho mai fun)
Singapore Sauteed Rice Noodles are curry flavored (Singapore chow mei fun) while Amoy Sauteed Rice Noodles are not curry flavored (fu gian chow mai fun).
8. Noodles in Soup (tong mein)Shrimp with Noodles (har tong mein), Ham and Vegetables with Noodles (fo twei tong mein), Chicken, Pork, or Beef with Noodles (ju yok or ngo yok tong mein), and Pork with Preserved Vegetables and Rice Noodles (ju yok or ngo yok tong mein).
9. Fried Rice (chow fan)Yangzhou Fried Rice, Fried Rice with Shrimp, Roast Pork (cha shu), and Salted Fish Fried Rice with Chicken (ham yu gai lop chow fan).
10. Congee with Fried Puff (jok yu tieo)
Congee, also known as rice porridge, is served with preserved egg and an item called fried puff. There is no equivalent to fried puff in Western cuisine. The puff is a wheat stick, that on frying expands and blisters. It can be dunked in thin Congee as one dunks a donut in coffee.
11. Single servings entrees over white riceDiced Pork Ribs--made with fermented black beans and white rice, Squid with Preserved Mustard Greens, also served with white rice, as is Beef with Broccoli.

Should you wonder what goes well with dim sum, be advised that tea is the beverage of choice because of its delicate scent and flavor; it does not overwhelm the taste and delicious aroma of these snack/appetizer foods.

A few popular teas that go well with this type of meal are Jasmine (hiong pieni), Dragon Well (lung jing), Smoked Black Dragon, and/or poo nay from Yunnan. The latter can be served alone or mixed with dried chrysanthemum flowers that give the poo nay extra dimension in fragrance and aroma. This latter variety is regarded as a powerful tonic. Chinese people believe that all hot teas get the stomach juices flowing helping digestion of a hearty meal.

We finished up with dessert, a rarity for us in any restaurant, but a pleasant one for us.  The girls had fruit custard, and I enjoyed tapioca as my dessert.  Now, understand that by tapioca, I did not say “tapioca pudding.” The dessert I got was the delicious equivalent of tapioca soup.  Tasty and fun, with the pearls of tapioca settling as orange balls on the bottom of a milky soup.

I will be reverting to the “Make Something Tasty On-the-fly” dinners this week, and I guess we will see how it goes.

I would not call the movie a good one, but it sure has some interesting subplots.  I just wish the food element could have been more pronounced.  Ah well…

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

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