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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chinese Finger Foods

This past Saturday, Kim, Aunt Maryann and I attended a red carpet premiere event of Friday Night Lights, as a benefit for Gridiron Heroes, who also hosted the event. The event included a cocktail reception, a benefit auction (where I saw an autographed Jerry Rice jersey) meet and greet with the stars, and the opportunity to watch the premiere of the first 2 episodes of season 4 which are scheduled to hit the TV’s on May 7th.

I was intrigued by the finger foods offered, as they ran the gamut of flavors and textures. There were many different cheeses and crackers available to enjoy, with dips that complemented the crackers quite well. My personal favorite was the Roasted Garlic and Feta Cheese dip. There were also dried fruits, sunflower seeds and antipasti of prosciutto, salami, and olives. These were just a sampling of the flavors available, and there were waiters wandering around the floor with platters of potato cakes, mini-tacos stuffed with pork and barbecue brisket sliders.

It was amusing to see the line of people practically scrambling and climbing over each other to try to get these “gourmet” items. (If they only knew…)

Chinese gatherings are rarely planned with the option of finger-food appetizers. Instead, it is normally a gathering where, as soon as pleasantries have been exchanged, everyone is sitting around a table loaded with tasty treats. There may be red table cloths, with chopsticks set with the flatware, and you may even see Chinese fans on each place setting.

More contemporary serving styles will have someone with a huge pot of soup serve it to each individual place setting, but the more traditional way of doing it, which I prefer, is to have the huge bowl of soup in the center of the table, and all the guests get to help themselves. Often times this soup will be a won ton soup, or an egg drop soup, or a variation of hot and sour soup.

The second course would include a Cold Sesame Noodle dish, Mu Shu Pork, or even a Mongolia Hot Pot, with the entrees to be the third.

Most popular entrees include a spicy dish of some sort, including Kung Pao Chicken, and a seafood dish, or vegetable dish to add balance to the menu.

Overall, the option of “finger foods” is not one that really exists in the world of Chinese Food. You may find someone who serves fried potstickers, as they are easy to eat with your fingers, and can be accompanied with many different dipping sauces.  They are, however, a bit cumbersome and messy, if you attempt to eat them without chopsticks or a plate, which makes them less than favorable as a "finger food."

I have been known to offer a  popular appetizer choice for finger foods in the form of spring rolls. These are a favorite during New Years celebrations, as they symbolize wealth for the coming year, but they do not have to be limited to that time. Most spring rolls have ingredients similar to potstickers, but generally have more vegetables. Spring rolls pair well with a soy sauce or vinegar dipping sauce.  My favorite are the kinds that have the thin, flaky crust, but these require very special handling while in the raw wrapper form so to not have a broken roll as the end result.

For the kids, prawn crackers are a favorite finger and snack food. Prawn crackers are deep fried crackers made of flour and flavored with prawns. They are usually white, pale pink or light brown in color. Despite the high ratio of shrimp to the remaining ingredients used to make the prawn crackers, the shrimp taste is usually quite subtle. Prawn crackers can be found in any Chinese/Asian supermarket, and are prepared simply by deep frying in oil for a few seconds. The transformation from thumb sized semi-transparent chips to a fluffy white cracker is what creates the most excitement with the kids. Prawn crackers can be dipped into a sweet chili sauce, or eaten plain.

Fried tofu chips are also a popular finger food. These are simply blocks of firm tofu that have been fried in hot oil for a couple of minutes. The frying creates a rind that is especially crisp, and can be served with a soy sauce, sweet sauce, or a hot sauce. (Personally, I like them with just a dash of salt right out of the fryer.)  The most important thing to remember is to pat the blocks of tofu dry, just before slicing into small pieces.  Otherwise, when dropped in the hot oil, the water will cause the oil to pop and splatter.  Tofu is an acquired taste, so one cannot get too offended if it is not well accepted with the initial offering.  These chips do serve as a quick and easy snack, high in protein.

Clearly, there are many different options when it comes to the potential offerings for appetizers during a Chinese gathering. It simply becomes a matter of what style of service you choose to offer. While the traditional style of gathering around a table seems to be the overwhelming favorite among most close-knit Chinese families, the day and age of double income families, with less social time has resulted in the need to come up with a more efficient way to serve large gatherings, when we have them.

There is no right (or wrong) way to serve a large gathering. The best thing to remember is that the food needs to taste good. If you are able to guarantee that 1 most important element, usually, with good company, the rest will fall into place.  Give it a try.  You may be surprised at the result.

Until then,  Good Eating, Friends...

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Best Part Was...

Whew… Back in the saddle after a week of vacation, living it up on the Carnival Conquest. What a ride, and what an experience. If you have yet to go on a cruise, try to do so while it is still (relatively) inexpensive.

The best part for me? The food. All of it. And boy-howdee, there was a lot of it. More than I can remember meal for meal. My favorite? The duck breast. The crème brulee. The prime rib. The sushi. The filet mignon. The lobster tail. The grilled shrimp. The tiramisu. And the list goes on, and on, and on… amazing…

The beauty of the dining experience was that there was no limit to what I could have indulged myself on, so, multiple appetizers, multiple entrees, multiple desserts? No problem. Sign me up. All that hard work I did to lose all that weight before the cruise? This was why. Mwah ha haaaa…..

I was disappointed with the fact that I forgot to bring my camera with me to dinner, because the presentation was amazing, as well as the taste. (Plus, a post enjoyment picture lacks the impact of the pre-eaten view…)

But the best part of ALL the meals: getting David to eat (AND ENJOY) a Tom Kha Gai. It was served as an appetizer (which I paired with some sushi) and it was so good, I ended up asking for a second bowl. Our server was more than happy to oblige, and he brought two bowls out, one for me, and one for David. I could see that he was a bit (okay, VERY) skeptical about the soup, as he had the notion in his head that because it was made with coconut milk, that it was going to be sweet. Well, let me tell you, there was nothing sweet about the soup. The Tom Kha Gai that we enjoyed was a delicious combination of coconut milk, chicken, lemongrass and mushroom with a dash of chili oil for heat on the top. And HE LIKED IT!!! Wow… I am still surprised… but happy for him. David did a lot of eating outside of his comfort zone last week, and I was happy to see that, as a general rule, he enjoyed most of the food.

In Jamaica, we had real jerk chicken, and jerk pork, and Red Stripe beer, with lots of Appleton Rum.

In Cozumel, real Mexican food, with fish tacos, chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce, and rice.

I was a bit saddened to return to dry land, as, by the end of the cruise, I had still not had a chance to try the sushi bar, or the chocolate buffet, but I guess that those experiences will have to wait for the next cruise. Alaska anyone?

I am going to have to cook up a batch of my Tom Kha Gai and see if the family likes it. If not, oh well, more for me. The key to making a successful Tom Kha Gai is to be sure to not overwhelm the flavor and texture with heat. A balance between the spices is very important. This soup brings with it a large following, and it is very popular with both Thais and people visiting the country of Thailand. Some of the primary spices that are added include onions, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime, lime juice, fish sauce, chilies and soy sauce. A mortar and pestle is the best tool to mix the seasonings together.

The addition of coconut milk, as well as coconut juice will allow the soup to thicken, as well as become creamier and a bit sweeter. For additional variation, an addition of shrimp to the mix, but only 1/5 the amount of chicken can be used to supplement the dish.

So now, back on the wagon. Back to the stove.

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

Thai Chicken Soup in Coconut Milk (Tom Kha Gai)

Ingredients for Tom Kha (for four people):

 400g Chicken Breast (skinned)

 4 Pieces of Ginger (sliced thinly)

 1 Stick of Lemongrass (cut diagonally and crushed)

 1 Bunch of Thai Coriander

 5 Kaffir Lime Leaves (shredded)

 5 Red Thai Chilies

 5 Thai shallots (crushed)

 1 Cup of Coconut Cream

 1 Can of Coconut Milk

 3 Teaspoons of fresh Lime Juice

 2 Teaspoons of Fish Sauce

 1 Can of Straw Mushrooms

Cooking Time: 15 to 20 minutes.


1. Remove any fat from the chicken and slice it thinly.

2. Empty the coconut milk into the pan and bring it to the boil. Then add the lemongrass, shallots, coriander root, galangal and shredded kaffir leaves. Add the sliced chicken and simmer over a low-medium heat. Season to taste.

3. Once the chicken is cooked, add the coconut cream and stir into the soup. Once it returns to the boil, turn off the heat.

4. Finally add the red Thai chillies, coriander, fresh lime juice and fish sauce.

5. Serve hot as a starter or a tasty accompaniment to the main meal.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Unwrapped - Rice Noodles

So… I decided to treat myself to lunch today, and I went to the first place I could think of that was close. I’ll give you a hint. I was craving a Pad Thai. Yum.. Rice noodles with chicken, shrimp and fried tofu, served hot with a tangy tamarind sauce and garnished with bean sprouts and chopped peanuts. Tong’s Thai, here I come again. It was tasty, and satisfying. Two very difficult elements of a finished product to achieve in my eyes.

When I got back into the office, I was telling one of my residents, also a reader of this fine blog, about my excursion. She told me that she too enjoys a spicy Pad Thai, but when she tries to make it at home, her rice noodles always seem to come out with a sour taste.

Quick lesson in rice noodle cooking.

Rice noodles are a staple for many Thai and other Asian menus. They are versatile in their use in everyday cooking as well. Learning to cook rice noodles may necessitate a bit of trial and error, but once you have hit the high end of the learning curve, gone will be the days of burnt noodles, or sour noodles, or tasteless noodles. From that point on, you should be able to add them to many of your favorite dishes. Pay special attention to the preparation of the rice noodles and you will have a fail safe recipe for noodles.

Rice noodles need simple preparation before beginning to cook them. The simple reason is because they come packaged in a hard, dried form and need to be softened before you can add them to boiling water. Place the dried noodles in a bowl of COLD water (enough water to cover them) and allow them to soak for at least 30 minutes. This soaking in cold water will soften them up and release some of the starchiness, a starchiness that results in sticky noodles. Soaking rice noodles in hot water will result in your noodles having a sour taste, as the rice starts to cook and ferment. This step alone will ensure the highest quality product. Also, make sure that the noodles are kept moist or they will harden again. If you are not going to be using them immediately, cover them with plastic warp or a damp cloth. Rice noodles can be stored safely, in water, in the refrigerator, for up t o2 days.

Cooking rice noodles is fairly easy, but if you don't do it right, you could end up with sticky or mushy noodles. Some noodle packages may say you only need to submerge them in water and don't say anything about boiling them, but boiling them will give you the soft, glossy rice noodles that you want. Bring a pot of water to boil and then turn the heat off; use a strainer to submerge serving-size portions of rice noodles into the boiled water. Hold them in there for around 30 seconds before pulling out, rinsing briefly with cold water. Place the cooked noodles on a serving plate, stir them up and then submerge another serving size into the boiled water until you have enough for everyone.

You can use rice noodles in a variety of dishes. Pad Thai is probably the most popular way to serve rice noodles, with a peanut and chili pepper sauce. However, you may fry them with vegetables or use them as a noodle in a spicy soup.
Rice noodles can be found in many recipes that I like to make. It is simply a matter of getting to make the recipes for the family to enjoy…
Until then, Good Eating, Friends…


1 pkg. (7 oz.) Stir-Fry Rice Noodles

1/8 cup Kung Pao Sauce*

1/8 cup Soy Sauce Blend**

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 Tbsp garlic, minced

6 shrimp, shelled and deveined (optional)

2 oz. tofu, cubed

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup bean sprouts

1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, crushed

Optional garnishes: sprigs of fresh cilantro and lime wedges

4 cups broccoli florets

1 red pepper thinly sliced

Heat oil in a wok, add garlic. Saute for 30 seconds until garlic is fragrant. Add shrimp, tofu and egg. Stir-fry for 1 minute, until egg is scrambled. Add vegetables, rice noodles and tamarind juice mixture. Stir-fry all ingredients until well cooked and combined.

Serve with bean sprouts on the side, peanuts sprinkled over the top, with fresh cilantro and lime wedge garnishes.

Serves 4.

*Click HERE for Kung Pao Sauce Recipe

**Click HERE for Soy Sauce Blend

Tong's Thai on Urbanspoon

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Friday, April 2, 2010

Going Green, in Chinese

I sense some overindulgence coming on, this weekend, and excessively so the following week…
After having to balance out my Lenten sacrifice with my need to eat, I can say that the time to end the sacrificing will be met with the ritual gorging for Easter. Yet, amusingly, there are still going to be plenty of opportunities to make the right choices. It is simply a matter of whether or not I choose to exercise that choice.

I probably won’t get a real Chinese feast for Easter, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to enjoy my meal. I will just have to make sure that, whatever the main course, I include a fair portion of vegetables, to go with the ham, turkey, or whatever other protein will be served.

While Western nutritionists and doctors, and more recently, the First Lady of the United States have been expounding on the need to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, the Chinese have been doing that for thousands of years. Medical professionals never had to remind them of that.

The simple reason? When cooked the right “Chinese” way, vegetables cooked rapidly preserve their natural flavor and are just too tasty to resist. From the basic bean sprout to the crunchy cabbage, or the mild mushroom to the odorous onion, there are millions of ways and reasons and recipes to incorporate vegetables into the diet.

Typical restaurants offer a big juicy steak with a measly scoop of mashed potatoes and a handful of over-steamed broccoli. Higher class joints make you pick the side of asparagus or cauliflower, then charge you $11.00 for the side, served on its own plate. Such practice discourages most diners from selecting a green side.

A typical Chinese meal, however, features the variety of crisp, fresh vegetables, from brightly colored peppers, to exotic mushrooms and fungi that may look strange, but taste wonderful. Meats, when included, play a supporting role in the dish, usually to provide a basis for the sauce.

Thankfully, the vegetable influence is starting to show itself in Western supermarkets. While a few years ago, finding such vegetables as bean sprouts and bok choy, and even ginger root were almost unheard of, the emphasis on healthy dining has brought with it a higher demand for (and an increased availability of) Chinese vegetables.

(I remember the days at the restaurant in San Carlos, when I was just a kid, my Dad would order a vegetable plate, and while I was ALWAYS initially disappointed that there was no meat in the dish, I enjoyed eating the entrée, with its crunchy water chestnuts, crisp sugar snap peas, and tiny baby corn. The flavor was always a more subtle one, which allowed me to taste the freshness of the vegetables.)

One of the really cool things about being able to cook for the family is that everyone is generally willing to try almost any food once, and even if they don’t like it the first time, they will try it a few more times just to be sure. As I have gotten to know their tastes better, it has become easier to cook for the girls, as one of their most favorite kinds of foods is Chinese food, which thankfully I have some success at cooking.

In recent years, my family has become familiar with the joys of Chinese American restaurants like P.F. Chang and Pei Wei, with their wide variety of flavors. We have, however, found an exceptional restaurant in Golden Wok that adheres to the true authenticity of Cantonese and Mandarin cuisine.  However, exposure to restaurants that cook an Americanized version of the food pales in comparison to actually being able to cook it. Experimenting with a book is the best way to start, and generally, most cook books will teach new techniques like blanching vegetables and incorporating them in corn starch thickened sauces to avoid blandness. One great lesson that I learned was how to season oil with scallions or a fresh garlic clove. Through these lessons, we can all learn just how healthful and delicious Chinese vegetarian dishes can be as well. Of course, there will be some failures. (I can’t help but think of my first broccoli beef, with broccoli so over cooked that it was practilly brown, and the beef so overcooked that the gelatinous mess of a sauce almost started to grow on its own.)

However, after working through the recipes, and dredging through Mom’s cooking experiences, I mastered each recipe, then I had another regular favorite for Chinese meals at home. (I only wish I had captured some of those moments on film…)

To continue the journey through culinary delights, I will simply continue deconstructing the wonderful dishes that I encounter, and spread the wealth of information with everyone else. Some secrets, after all, should not remain secrets.

Until then, Good Eating, Friends…

A tasty dessert offering…

Strawberries and Melon in Plum Wine


2 pints ripe strawberries, rinsed and hulled

2 Tablespoons sugar, or to taste (optional)

3 cups ripe honeydew or cantaloupe melon cut into balls or one-inch diamonds

1 cup plum wine


1. If strawberries are large, cut them in half lengthwise. If they are not very sweet, add the sugar tossing them lightly to coat them and then allow them to macerate an hour at room temperature.

2. Place the strawberries in a serving bowl, add the melon and the plum wine. Mix gently, then cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

3.Spoon the fruit and sauce into bowls and serve.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nancy's World:Thoughts Along The Gulf: Invasion!

Nancy's World:Thoughts Along The Gulf: Invasion!

My dear friend, and fellow writer, Nancy, is temporarily out of commission due to some back pain.
No doubt in part to the constant rigors of
digging up some choice pearls of wisdom, or even some dry wit to share with us.
So let's try to put her out of her misery, shall we?
Back pain, by no means, is any fun.
However, when taken in context, can provide some sort of window into the sufferer's life.
If spelled incorrectly, it can be a rear view window.
Back Pane
If we were to talk just about the pain in France, we would be describing bread.
Le Pain
But could she have really been referring to a French version of a metaphoric pain in the ...?
No, it's not pronounced like Chair, although I know that the right kind of those will relieve back pain...
...nomically speaking, one with plenty of lumbar support is the best kind to purchase.
But don't be surprised if the cost or weigh a bit more,
 because of all that lumber needed to support all that lumbar...
But wait... (weight?)
Nancy is nowhere near overweight.
In fact, she calls my favorite meal of the day
Sinner, instead of Dinner...
hurry up and feel better, Nancy...
I am not as good at this as you are...

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner