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This dish has a very weird Chinese name; it literally translates as ants climbing up a tree… ?? I wonder if the ground pork is the ‘ants’ and noodles is the lines of a tree bark? Anyway, it’s delicious! That’s all matter!

Ground Pork Stir Fry with Clear Noodles 螞蟻上樹

Ground Pork Stir Fry with Clear Noodles 螞蟻上樹

Ground Pork Stir Fry with Clear Noodles (serves 4 people)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb ground pork
1 bundle clear noodles– soak in water to soften
2 cloves garlic– chopped
2 red hot peppers– chopped
2 tsp rice cooking wine
1/2 cups chopped Chinese celery stems– see note below

Seasoning:
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp chicken powder
1/2 cup water

Method:

  1. Season pork with typical seasoning (salt, ground white pepper, sesame oil and cornstarch, water). Set aside.
  1. Heat up a wok on medium high heat. Sauté garlic and peppers until aromatic. Add in ground pork. Keep stirring to loose it up. Add in rice wine. Stir until wine evaporates.
  1. Add all seasoning ingredients. Stir to mix well. When it boils, add in noodles. Stir to mix well. Cover, and cook until noodles almost absorb all the liquid and turn transparent. Stirring a few times in between to make sure noodles don’t stick to the wok. Add a little more water if needed. Before dishing out, add chopped Chinese celery stems and stir a few more times. Serve hot immediately with rice.

Regina’s Note:

  • Chinese celery stems: I use Chinese celery stems for its crunchy texture and color. As with regular celery, always remove the fiber ‘strings’ before use.
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I had this salad when I was at my gym potluck party. Considering myself not a cole slaw fan I even got hooked from the first bite. So I asked my workout friend Kathy, who made this salad, for the recipe. The dish is easy to prepare, and the flavor is very light and refreshing. Since the cabbage is finely shredded, you won’t feel like eating big chunks of cabbage which really turns me off for raw cabbage.

Japanese Cole Slaw

Japanese Cole Slaw

Japanese Cole Slaw (serves 6-8 people)

Ingredients:

1 small head cabbage–finely shredded/sliced(see note below)
2 stalks green onion– finely sliced
2 tbsp sesame seeds– toasted
2 tbsp almond slices or silvers– toasted
1 package Asian noodle snack– see note below

Dressing:
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
4 tbsp cooking oil or extra light EVOO
4 tbsp vinegar– see note below

Method:

Mix dressing well until all combined and sugar dissolves. Pour over salad before serving. Toss well.

Regina’s Note:

  • Cabbage: I use a knife to finely shred but you can also use mandolin or other shredding tools. The key is to shred as thin as possible.
  • Asian noodle snack: You can find this snack in Asian grocery store, in snack aisle. Depending on the brand, it comes in different form (crumbs, whole piece, balls) so crush it if needed. And choose original flavor.
  • Vinegar: I use apple cider vinegar.

The first time I had a brown sugar icebox cookie was from Karin Johnson Specialty Cakes and Pastries in Castro Valley, California. They used oatmeal instead of nuts that is typically used for this cookie. As I was chewing the first bite I was pulled by its characters– honest, pure, simple and down to earth. Honest as it does not have any fancy coating; pure in its flavor that is not taken over by other addition; simple for its ingredients and texture, and down to earth for its form and nature goodness.

This cookie is not to be sat side by side with other kinds (especially the Chocolate ones!), because they are often overlooked. But if you give them a chance, they will keep you in good company, especially on cold rainy days, with a cup of tea, a good book, and some soothing music playing in the air… Life is content, life is love, life is beautiful.

Brown Sugar Icebox Cookies

Brown Sugar Icebox Cookies

Brown Sugar Icebox Cookies– recipe adapted from Auntie Rose’s brown sugar-walnut Icebox Cookies posted on BostonGlobe.com (makes about 30-35 pieces)

Ingredients:

2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter– soften– see note below
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup oatmeal– toasted– see note below

Method:

  1. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
  1. In a separate bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Mix in egg, followed by vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.
  1. While the mixer on lowest setting, gradually add in flour mixture to butter mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is smooth. Stir in toasted oatmeal with a spatula until well distributed.
  1. Divide the dough in half and scoop onto a large parchment paper and shape into a rectangle bar or cylinder. Wrap up tightly and chill until it hardens. Slice into 3/8-inch thickness.
  1. Place cookies on a lined baking pan, 2 inches apart. Bake at preheated 350F oven for 15-20 minutes. Cool on a rack and store in air tight container when cooled completely.

Regina’s Note:

  • Butter: Use really good quality butter as it’s the soul of these cookies.
  • Toasted oatmeal: Because I want to taste the buttery and brown sugar of the cookies, I used toasted oats instead of nuts. Oatmeal is a very “mild” ingredient to provide some texture without taking over flavor of the cookies.
  • My cookies were crunchy on the edge when they were fresh out from the oven, with the center being firm (but not hard or crunchy). As the days go by the cookies get a little soft each day. So if crunchy cookies are preferred, slice the, thinner and/or bake them longer.
  • Cookie dough can be kept in freezer– wrap up dough tightly with parchment paper, then double wrap with foil. Thaw slowly in the refrigerator or until the dough can be sliced. To prevent cookies from spreading out during baking, slice dough when you are ready to bake, or keep sliced cookie dough chilled in the refrigerator.

My dear Chinese friends, are you tired of all the Chinese New Year foods? Want something light, healthy and simple? Look no further. This is very simple to prepare and easy on your tummy! Bonus is that you can prepare ahead of time!

Eggplant Appetizer 凉拌茄子

Eggplant Appetizer 凉拌茄子

Eggplant Appetizer 凉拌茄子 (serves 4 people)

Ingredients:
2 Chinese long eggplants

Sauce (mix together):
2 cloves garlic– minced
2 red hot peppers (optional)– minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp black rice vinegar 黑糯米醋– see note below
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chili oil
1 tsp sugar

Chopped cilantro for garnish

Method:

  1. Fill a large bowl with some water (enough to soak eggplants after they are cut), add in 2 tbsp white vinegar. Start the steamer on high heat.
  2. Wash eggplants and remove the stem caps. Cut into 3-inch length pieces, then cut in half lengthwise. Immediately soak cut eggplants in vinegar water. Since eggplants tends to float on the top, use something heavy (pot, plate, bowl etc.) on the top to press down eggplants, so they are totally submerged in vinegar water to prevent discoloration after cooking.
  3. Drain the water. Place eggplant in steamer with skin side face up. Steam on high heat for 3 minutes. Remove and let cool.
  4. Cut eggplants into strips then place in a bowl or deep dish plate. Spoon over the sauce and garnish with cilantro. Served cold or room temperature.

Regina’s Note:

  • Black rice vinegar 黑糯米醋: I like to use black rice vinegar in this recipe because it’s less acidic than typical white vinegar and has a some sweetness to it. If you use white vinegar, use less amount and increase amount of sugar.
  • To prevent eggplant from discoloration after cooking, soak in vinegar water and steam with skin side face up.

Malaysian style pork jerky, or locally called ‘Bak Kwa’ is different from American version– well, it’s mostly made of pork, usually sweet, tender and moist. Taiwanese version of jerk, although flavor is closer, is different too as it is mostly made of beef, and it lacks the typical ‘shine’ that you’ll find in Malaysian style. In Malaysia and Singapore, ‘Bak Kwa’ is an luxurious snack due to its expensive price, making it a popular gift for friends and family on special occasion like Chinese New Year. I remember eating ‘Bak Kwa’ sandwich with plain white bread on rare occasions… great childhood memories…

Back to making ‘Bak Kwa’, there are many recipes online and I tried at least a couple different versions before, but none tasted quite like the way I had it from ‘Bak Kwa’ specialty stores in Malaysia. Then I started thinking~ Bak Kwa sellers must keep the ingredients simple in order to cut down the cost… so the recipe I look for should have simple ingredients rather than a long list of all kinds of sauces and spices (as I tried before)… thus I chose this recipe “Homemade Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)” from MyKitchen101en.com. I did make some modifications to the ingredient list to play around. The results is quite good especially the flavor. Although the look is not as pretty as I expected but that’s probably because no red coloring was used.

With the Year of Pig at our doorsteps, I’m done trying out recipes for CNY snacks (for now!). Now I’m shifting focus to Chinese New Year Eve reunion dinner menu– it’s the feast of the year in my family. I can’t wait for the lunar new year to start, so I can finally lay back and relax, while enjoying the fruits of love of all the hard work I put in. May the Year of Pig bring you abundance of health, wealth and joy. Huat Ah!!

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky 'Bak Kwa' 蜜汁猪肉乾

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky ‘Bak Kwa’ 蜜汁猪肉乾

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky 'Bak Kwa' 蜜汁猪肉乾

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky ‘Bak Kwa’ 蜜汁猪肉乾

Malaysian Style Honey Pork Jerky ‘Bak Kwa’ 蜜汁猪肉乾

Ingredients:

1 lb ground pork– see note below
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp Chinese rice cooking wine

Coating (microwave for a 5 seconds then mix well):
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp water

Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Stir in same circular direction until the meat becomes sticky. Alternatively, use a stand mixer with paddle attached, mix on medium high speed for a few minutes until the meat gets sticky. Cover and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Lined two large baking pans with parchment paper. Place half of the meat in the center. Cover with a large sheet of plastic wrap, then roll out to 3mm thickness. Repeat with the remaining meat.
  3. Remove plastic wrap, bake in preheated 325F oven for 12 minutes. The meat meat will shrink and there will be some liquid drawn out. Let the pork jerky cool slightly while it absorbs back some liquid. Brush with honey water and cut into big pieces (for easier handling during charring on the grill)
  1. Transfer pork jerky to grill to char slightly. Cut into desired size. Cool completely before storing in container.

Regina’s Note:

  • Ground pork: If the meat is too lean the pork jerky will be dry in texture. I like to use 80(lean)/20 (fat). Also, mix some coarse ground pork with regular ground pork for better texture.
  • I found out my honey water was a bit too thick and thus the jerky was a bit too sweet. Next time revise honey water to 1:1. Or skip honey water for the classic original flavor.
  • My jerky was a bit thin for my liking. Next time just use one large tray instead of two trays.

I stomped upon this recipe Lemon Raspberry Sweet Rolls many months ago. I knew at first sight that I would like the recipe because of lemon and raspberry combination (plus I got captured by the gorgeous pictures!). Sadly I didn’t get to make it and forgot all about this recipe, until recently I was cleaning my Safari tabs on my iPad (yes I have lots of tabs open to remind myself to follow up later…) I rediscovered this recipe.

This is pretty much like making cinnamon rolls, except the filling is different. I did not follow the recipe– I used my basic white bread Pullman Loaf recipe for the dough. For filling, I used blackberry jam that I made few days before. As for lemon glaze, I chose not to use cream cheese because I want to keep flavor light and fresh.

Blackberry Rolls with Lemon Glaze

Blackberry Rolls with Lemon Glaze

65C Blackberry Rolls with Lemon Glaze (makes 12 Rolls)

Ingredients:

Dough starter:
1/4 cup bread flour
250ml water

Dough:
1 egg– beaten
6 tbsp milk, plus 2 tbsp
6 tbsp whipping cream
4 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp dry yeast
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp milk powder
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter– melted and cooled

8 oz. blackberry jam

Lemon Glaze:
2 tbsp unsalted butter– melted and keep warm
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 small lemon)
4 tbsp powder sugar

Method:

  1. Prepare dough starter: Combine bread flour and water in a small sauce pan. Blend well with a balloon whisk over medium low heat (whisk continuously). When the mixture thicken slightly, reduce to lowest heat setting while whisking continuously, until the mixture reaches 65 degree C. The consistency will be like condensed milk. Remove from heat and cool before using.
  1. While dough starter is cooling, beat egg in a bowl, then add in 6 tbsp of milk and whipping cream. Mix well.
  1. Pour in egg mixture to the bottom of bread machine loaf pan, followed by bread starter.
  1. Add flours to loaf pan.  Make an indent in the middle, and add dry yeast to the indent. Add sugar, milk powder and salt to different corners of the loaf pan.
  1. For Zojirushi bread maker (model Zojirushi BB-PAC20), press HOME MADE button and set timing as follow and press START: Rest: OFF–> Knead: 25 min –> Shape: OFF –> Rise 1: 45 min –> Rise 2: 30 min –> Rise 3: 1hour –> Bake: OFF –> Keep Warm: OFF
  1. 1-2 minutes after the knead cycle starts, add in 2 tbsp milk (the dough will be very wet– add more milk if needed). Add melted butter in 2-3 batches before knead cycle completes.
  1. When the final rise cycle is completed, transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Gently roll out to 15 x 13 rectangle. Spread blackberry jam evenly on the dough, then roll up lengthwise to a log. Pinch dough to seal the end. Cut into 12 pieces. Place dough, cut side up, in a deep dish greased baking pan or glass pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise to almost double in size.
  1. Brush top with whipping cream, and bake in preheated 350F oven, middle rack, for 25-30 minutes. Remove rolls from the oven.
  2. While bread is cooling in the pan, prepare lemon glaze: melt butter in microwave, then add in lemon juice and powder sugar. Whisk together until smooth. Spoon glaze over the top of the rolls. Rolls are best served warm with glaze..

Regina’s Note:

  • Don’t let the long steps scare you– most of the time it’s the bread machine that is doing the job. I program my bread machine for each cycle, but you can just follow a simple white bread loaf recipe.
  • For a slightly healthy version, substitute out 1 cup bread flour with 1 cup of wheat flour.
  • The rolls taste the best when it’s warm and freshly glazed as you can taste more of the lemon glaze.
  • Be creative with the filling– raspberry, strawberry, orange, chocolate…

I don’t use jam often because I find all store bought jam are way too sweet. One day my husband Richard brought home a jar of blackberry jam made by his coworker. It was semisweet and yet tangy. I loved it and asked for the recipe. This was the start of my jam making journey– blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, peach, apple… they were all delicious, except I had problem with the consistency. Sometimes the jam was too hard, other times too runny… I used SureJell pectin and followed the recipes on the package. Even their low sugar recipes were too sweet to my taste. I tried to cut down sugar further but the jam wouldn’t set properly… all those jam making were really trial and error process.

Just as I was experimenting and finding the balance of sugar amount versus setting point, I came across Pomona’s Universal Pectin on Amazon. It uses a totally different approach to set the jam without tons of sugar, and thus producing jam that has more true fruit flavor. I decided to give it a try based on its raved reviews.

The results? Very happy jam! I can taste the real fruit flavor instead of sugar! Although the price of Pomona’s Universal Pectin more expensive (compared to SureJell), but one package lasts a very long time. I didn’t realize this so I bought 6 packs all at once… It’s going to last my whole life!

Low Sugar Blackberry Jam

Low Sugar Blackberry Jam

Low Sugar Blackberry Jam

Low Sugar Blackberry Jam

Pomona’s Universal Pectin

Pomona’s Universal Pectin

Blackberry Jam (Low Sugar)– please note this recipe uses Pomona’s Universal Pectin (makes 4- 8oz. jars)

Ingredients:

3 cups mashed sweet blackberries (5 cups fruit)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 tsp calcium water (from Pomona’s Universal Pectin)– shake well before use– see note below
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp pectin powder (from Pomona’s Universal Pectin)– see note below

Method:

  1. Prepare jars, lids and rings– wash them and rinse. Boil glass jar in hot water, add lids and rings to simmer. Turn off heat and let stand in hot water until ready to use.
  1. Combine sugar and pectin in a bowl, mix well.
  1. Combine mashed fruits lemon juice in a heavy sauce pan. Add calcium water to mix well. Bring fruits to a full boil on high or medium high heat. Stir well.
  1. Add pectin sugar mixture. Stir vigorously 1-2 minutes to dissolve pectin while mixture returns to full boil. Remove from heat. Skim off foams on the top.
  1. Carefully remove jars, lids and rings from hot water and drain. Fill jam to 1/2 inch of jar top. Wipe clean any spills on the rim. Place lids and screw the rings to loosely fit.
  1. Canning jam– put filled jars in boiling water. Water level must at least 1 inch above top of jars. Cover and boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars and cool on a rack for 24 hours to set. If the canning process is successful the jars will produce a ‘popping’ sound during cooling, which means the lid is sucked down and sealed tight. If not then repeat canning process. After 24 hour cooling time, screw the lid rings tight. Store in cool dry pantry for up to 1 year. For failed canning jams, store in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Regina’s Note:

  • Calcium water: it’s the mixture of calcium powder and water as instructed from Pomona’s Universal Pectin. You mix it and keep in a glass jar. Since not much is needed each time for jam making, there will be extras which can be kept in freezer until next use.
  • Pectin powder: be sure to mix pectin powder thoroughly with sugar before adding to fruit mixture.