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

Friday, February 25, 2011

Five Minute Meal II

Using the exact same ingredients a last night, presenting a black pepper baked tilapia.

It was a great meal, again... until I had a sauce bottle malfunction. Sriracha bottle. It did an "explode all over the food" thing on me.

So the moral of the story is that less than $10 worth can make 2 separate, very tasty meals.

Next up, hot dogs. (Just kidding...)

Until then, Good Eating, Friends...
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

5 Minute Meal

Steamed rice, mushrooms, bell peppers, eggs, tilapia filet, vegetable oil, salt & soy sauce. Super easy. Yumm...
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jeri Ryan's Healthy Birthday Wish!!

Jeri Ryan’s birthday was yesterday. Jeri vaulted to fame with her role as the popular Seven of Nine on the Star Trek series Voyager. I rarely celebrate celebrity birthdays, but given my high level of respect for her acting and parenting abilities, this was a date I gave some importance to. Jeri, like our family, has 2 kids. She has a teenaged son and a younger daughter who is about to graduate from the toddler stages. The age gap between the two children is very much like ours, and it makes for an interesting meal event, as balancing the nutritional needs of 2 kids who may have very different tastes presents an every day challenge. Jeri has a considerable advantage when it comes to eating and feeding her kids a wholesome, healthy meal; she is married to Christoph Eme, head chef at Ortolan, a wonderful restaurant in Los Angeles which has since, sadly, closed. A typical meal for her might include crepes for breakfast, and lunch of lamb with kale.

Celebrity moms, and celebrity parenting in general have been generating a lot of attention lately. This may be due in large part to the First Lady, Michelle Obama, who has launched a major Healthy Eating Initiative for children called “Let’s Move” as she attempts to generate a platform to base her legacy on. Unfortunately, her personal eating habits demonstrate a bit of hypocrisy, as she has been seen repeatedly enjoying a high fat diet, the likes of which have included a meal of ribs and French fries, when a healthier diet was potentially a better option. The First Lady’s defense is that "She's never told people to cut out junk food; she's suggested they eat junk less and exercise more."

The root of the problem, as it applies to childhood obesity, starts not with a government mandate, but with the parents. Parents play a big role in shaping children's eating habits. When parents eat a variety of foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber, children learn to like these foods as well. It may take 10 or more tries before a child accepts a new food, so do not give up if your child does not like a new food right away.

Parents have an effect on children's physical activity habits as well. You can set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride after dinner instead of watching TV. Playing ball or jumping rope, or even taking the dog for a walk with your children shows them that being active is fun.

With many parents working outside the home, child care providers also help shape children's eating and activity habits. Make sure your child care provider offers well-balanced meals and snacks, as well as plenty of active play time.

If your child is in school, find out more about the school's breakfast and lunch programs and ask to have input into menu choices, or help your child pack a lunch that includes a variety of foods. Get involved in the parent-teacher association (PTA) to support physical education (PE) and after-school sports.

Your child's friends and the media can also affect his or her eating and activity choices. Children may go to fast food places or play video games with their friends instead of playing tag, basketball, or other active games. TV commercials try to persuade kids to choose high-fat snacks and high-sugar drinks and cereals. When parents help their children be aware of peer and media pressures, youngsters are more likely to make healthy choices outside the home.

Just like adults, children need to eat a wide variety of foods for good health.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently updated the food guide pyramid. Their new Web site,, now features food guidelines that can be customized for men and women of all ages, including children.

Parents can use the MyPyramid Plan box to enter their child's age, gender and activity level and receive an estimate of what and how much they should be eating.

When you help children build healthy eating habits early, they will approach eating with a positive attitude—that food is something to enjoy, help them grow, and give them energy.

I often surprise a lot of people by suggesting that Chinese food is a healthy option for a family. Some people will write Chinese food off as fatty and full of MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate). Saturated fats and excess salts are considered bad for the heart and so it follows that Chinese food is unhealthy, right?

Wrong. Many Chinese dishes, corrupted to become popular to western palates, are breaded, fried, over-sauced and thus fit this bill. (I have written about this often…) Authentic Chinese food is not fatty, and MSG, if used at all, is used sparingly. In fact Chinese food has a long history of being directed towards promoting health; a much longer one than any local 'fad' in the west.

Although united 2000 years ago, China never developed a state system for healthcare until recently. Citizens had to take their own measures when sick, and since these were often too expensive, that meant avoiding sickness in the first place if at all possible.

The first principles of food therapy were established nearly 4000 years ago, though it was only during the Tang Dynasty (608-906 AD) that this form of knowledge became really popular. Four 'pillars' were identified as crucial to staying healthy: lifestyle, diet, exercise and mind. Of these diet was considered the most important, probably as it was the one over which people had the most control.

Food plays a central role in Chinese culture. Cooking healthy food for the family is a lifelong profession for most women. Children are brought up with some knowledge of the health properties of their food and dietary restrictions are commonly understood and observed. Eating healthily is almost an obsession and forms an unspoken bond between family members.

Traditionally, foods are classified in 4 groups:

Grains are for sustaining

vegetables for filling

fruits for supporting

meats for enhancing

Using modern terminology we can identify Grains as equivalent to carbohydrates, vegetables as roughage, fruits as vitamins and minerals and meats as protein.

A balance of 40:40:10:10 is considered ideal, with perhaps some variation in the balance between vegetables and meats.

Note that dairy products do not feature here. Most Chinese do not eat any dairy foods after childhood and, in fact, become intolerant to them as young adults.

Bearing just this little bit of knowledge in mind it is possible to order better and more healthy Chinese food. By definition that will also be more authentic Chinese food.

Steamed rice, preferably brown, is the staple of choice at any Chinese meal and if cooked properly should be tasty. Forget the various forms of fried rice and try it next time.

Avoid dishes in which meats have been coated and deep fried. The batter soaks up fat whereas fat used to stir fry meat and vegetables forms only a thin film. A little bit of fat is fine (and indeed necessary) but keep it reasonable.

Avoid dishes with sauces. These are laden with sugar and are often the culprits if excess MSG is being used.

Finally, watch what you are drinking. Boiled water and tea are traditional, though usually only before and after a meal not during the actual eating.

In honor of the Birthday Girl, here is a simple recipe that can be modified to decrease the level of spice.

Happy 29th Jeri!! And here is to many more…

Until Then, Good Eating, Friends...

Spicy Mango Chicken Stir Fry


1 almost ripe mango, peeled and cut into thick slices

4 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced thinly

1 Tablespoon sesame oil

1 green chili (this can be substituted with a bell pepper), seeded and sliced thinly

1 red chilli, seeded and sliced thinly

2 large garlic cloves, sliced

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

dash of salt and white pepper

1 Tablespoon rice wine

2 Tablespoons cornstarch with a like amount of cold water

1 teaspoon bean paste

1 Tablespoon thin soy

1 teaspoon sugar


1. Mix mango, chilies and sesame oil and set aside.

3. Saute garlic in the vegetable oil then add chicken and mango mixture and fry until the meat almost loses it pink color.

3. Add salt and pepper and rice wine, stir well and then remove from the pan and serve.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Paid to Blog??

Recently, Pei Wei held a bloggers contest to see who would become their professional traveling blogger.

Yes, I applied. I created a profile, submitted my blog, and got started. Sadly, I never heard back. Not so much as a peep.

Their winner received a stipend of sorts as well as free travel around Asia. The only condition? She has to blog about her experiences throughout her travels.

I have yet to read her blog, but I wonder if her writings will whet my appetite to try to blog professionally. I also wonder what kind of hands on experience she has in the food service industry. Getting ones hands dirty in the business tends to lend a little more credibility behind the words that end up on paper, or on the screen.

Recently, a couple of my friends were discussing a little Chinese restaurant (China Garden) that delivers locally. The place is not a favorite of mine, as I find it lacking in the flavor department. The food that is supposed to be spicy is not. The food that is labeled as a sweet sauced food is simply soupy. While the serving size is generous, the portion size does not make up for the lack of depth in flavor.

I often wonder how well another restaurant would do if my entire family got on board. My wife is a great accountant and she could handle the financial side of the business with her eyes closed. Our older daughter has MAD customer service skills, and she made lots of spending money when helping me out at Chino's Cafe. I would handle the operations side of the business, so the successes we had before could certainly carry over for another try.

Unfortunately, due to the continuing crisis and legal issues surrounding the loss of our last restaurant, it may only be a pipe dream to have another go at it.

For now, we will continue to explore the local eateries and find out what kinds of offerings they have.

Until then, Eat Well Friends...
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Oh My Gosh!!! I just ate there!!!

So after having JUST complimented Phoenix Cafe on their Crispy Duck, I was a bit horrified to learn that their restaurant was issued 40 demerits on their latest Health Inspection.  I saw the report here, and it taught me a lesson:  Always go to the restaurant once before ordering anything to be delivered.  At least this way, I will know what I am getting myself into.  (San Antonio has a requirement that makes it mandatory for restaurants to post their latest health inspection results where diners can see it.)

I may not order anything from them for a while...

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Il Song Garden

Another restaurant that I visited recently, after a doctor's appointment, Il Song Garden, really got the salivary glands and the digestive juices flowing.  This was a little restaurant that did a good job getting me an authentic bibimbap.  The food was served super hot, with lots of the available sides.

The restaurant was clean, and the staff very attentive.  We got there towards the end of their business day, and while we were enjoying our meal, I saw some of the staff sitting in a side room eating something that they had thrown together in the kitchen.  I was 99% sure it was something off the menu, but as they walked past me with the plates of steaming hot food, I could tell that it was something delish...

I can't wait to go back.

Il Song Garden on Urbanspoon

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Year of the Rabbit, Hare, Jumping Thing...

So now we enter into the Year of the Rabbit... until some astronomer or astrophysicist-whatever decides that in the last 2 millenia, the stars have changed their alignment and now we have to add another animal, maybe the capybara to the calendar...

but I digress...

China, with its five thousand years of recorded history, has many traditions and festivals. People of Chinese heritage, no matter where they live, follow these traditions and observe their special festive occasions. Although January 1st is the recognized legal New Year holiday in the United States, the Lunar Chinese New Year or Ying Li Shing Nian, which generally falls between the end of January and the beginning of February, is the one that is traditionally celebrated. It is the most popular and important of all Chinese festivals. Most people will celebrate this happy holiday starting the first day to the fifteenth of the first Chinese lunar month. Deeds that are honorable and good are mentioned and emphasized during this holiday.

New Year's celebration started with a grand feast on New Year's eve, called Tuan Nian when all family members would gather for this happy occasion. On this evening before the New Year's day, children were allowed to stay up and enjoy the last hours of the old year, a custom called Shou Swei, literally meaning 'guiding the year out.' This, according to the old beliefs, would bring long life to their parents.

For the New Year, besides chicken, duck, pork, and fish, there were also pastries specially prepared for this festival. They were and still are called Nian Gao or 'New Year Cakes.' Those made of sweet rice were a must.

All the food and fruit displayed and served at a New Year's celebration have their own special significance. Red is the dominant color. It symbolizes life and happiness. Of course, there are a wide assortment of other colors on display, too. Tangerines are as important as the New Year Cake.

When we visit our relatives to wish them a Happy New Year, we have to bring along a Nian Gao or New Year Cake because it leads to the expression Nian Nian Gao Sun which means 'May your family be prosperous and successful every year.' We also bring along two tangerines, because they are called Gum which in Cantonese also sounds like the word for gold. They are, therefore, a good omen.

The pomegranate, which is sometimes misnamed a Chinese apple, symbolizes fertility with its many seeds. Lotus root symbolizes long life and strong family ties because even after it is cut with a knife, there can be many attached strings between the two cut pieces. Peanuts, because they grow and propagate underground and have long roots, are known as long life fruit. Water melon seeds, which people crack and eat as they sip tea, signify the expression: 'May what you say be harmonious and pleasant.' All of these can be found at New Year celebrations, too.

In Northern China, the most popular food enjoyed by rich and poor alike is jaotze or dumplings. These have a shrimp, beef, or pork stuffing cooked in a wheat dough-skin wrapping. Often the meats are used in combination and with a vegetable such as Chinese cabbage.

I didn't get a chance to celebrate in my regular gastronomical way, enjoying someone else's kitchen, so I decided that today was as good a day as any to make it up.

It is still cold.  Last week's freak weather decided to rear its ugly head again, even though I had canceled my order of winter weather. 

Consequently, I decided I didn't want to drive anywhere, so delivery it would be.  Chinese food, delivered.  The idea kind of makes me shudder even now, after having eaten.

I decided to choose Phoenix Cafe, which I had tried before and not enjoyed. 

Last time I ordered their lunch special of Kung Pao Chicken with hot & sour soup, an egg roll and steamed white rice, since they don't have brown rice.  The dish was bland, overly saucy, and the pieces of chicken seemed to be little more than knuckles and bits of cartilage.  The only good thing about the meal was the fact that the hot and sour soup was indeed hot (temperature-wise.)

Thankfully, when they gentleman delivered this first order, I was smart enough to ask them for their "authentic Chinese" menu, which they were more than happy to provide.  The difference in offerings was like night and day.  Rice noodle soup, duck feet, fish balls, you name it... it was all available.  But I was not in the mood to really go out on a limb, given that I was going to be lunching in my office.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I decided to give them another try, because I REALLY did not want to drive, much less step foot out in the cold, and I was craving Chinese food.  So I ordered their crispy duck.

And duck, I did get.  Half of a duck, with steamed rice and duck sauce.  (I will leave all the inappropriate jokes for everyone else to come up with...)

The duck was well cooked, tasty, and filling.  The pieces were cut into HUGE chunks that required the use of more than 2 fingers on both hands... always a good sign.

So, I may give them a second chance.  No promises, may not be soon, but maybe. 

Phoenix Chinese Cafe on Urbanspoon

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