Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to pack for work: yogurt parfait and tuna arugula salad

Now that I am working part time at Tufts' Health Education Department, I have been waking up extra early to pack my breakfast and lunch. It's a great morning ritual that I have developed that gives me some time to wake up and get the gears running in the morning (caffeine free). And instead of just having leftovers every day, I do enjoy a fresh start once in awhile. So here are some ideas for super quick meals and snacks to pack with you to work when you're looking for something healthy, filling, and refreshing. 

Breakfast parfait
4-6oz non/low fat plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup frozen blueberries 
1/4 cup granola 

1. Scoop the yogurt into a portable container. 
2. Then add the blueberries. 
3. Add the granola last so that it won't be too soggy by the time you eat it at work. 

✓ low fat dairy
✓ protein
✓ fruit
✓ whole grains

- I always have some frozen blueberries or raspberries in the freezer for occasions like these. But obviously feel free to substitute in fresh berries or any chopped up fruit. 
- Sprinkle on the flax seed and the chia! 
- When buying granola, look for one that is not too high in added sugars (no more than 8g/serving)
- I prefer buying plain yogurt because I like to know how much added sugar I am consuming. Sometimes I add a drizzle of honey to my yogurt parfaits, depending on how sour my fruit is. 
- I like the thick creaminess of Greek yogurt, but feel free to use regular yogurt as well. 
- Adding a teaspoon of chocolate covered cacao nibs is a win also.
- Try it savory! Stir in olive oil, cucumbers, and grape tomatoes.  

Tuna Arugula Salad
2 cups arugula
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
2 oz tuna in olive oil
1-2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp black pepper

1. Line a portable container with arugula.
2. Add the tomatoes, avocado, and tuna.
3. Drizzle on the olive oil and sprinkle on the black pepper.

✓ vegetables
✓ fruit
✓ monounsaturated fat
✓ polyunsaturated fat
✓ protein

- Avocados and tomatoes are technically fruit. But the main point is that avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fat and tomatoes are a great source of vitamin A and C.
- For avocados, buy them when they are green. They will turn dark themselves after 2-3 days. This way ensures that your avocado won't be bruised and brown when you cut them open! 
- I use a tuna that comes in a jar with olive oil. Feel free to use any type of canned tuna, but make sure that it's in water or olive oil. Check the nutrition labels because it can get pretty high in sodium. 
- If you're not into tuna, try cooking chicken breast the night before and tossing it into your salad instead.
- The avocado and tuna are already quite flavorful, but if you want another level of taste, try using a teaspoon of pesto as your dressing instead. 


✓ fruit
✓ fiber

I always like to be snack secure, so I tend to always have something extra with me. I try to always have it be a fruit because they're packed with vitamins and fiber, which make you healthy and full. If you want to add some protein to your snack, enjoy your apple with a cube of cheese or a tablespoon of peanut butter.

Other fruits I like packing with me: banana, grapes, orange, kiwi, berries

Monday, September 23, 2013

Preserved Mustard Greens Braised Pork Belly 梅菜扣肉

It goes very well with steamed buns!
When I was in Hong Kong, I caught part of a TV program that exposed the lives of everyday people with everyday jobs. This one particular special was an owner of a cha chan tang, a Hong Kong styled diner, that specialized in braised pork belly with preserved mustard green (mui choi). I watched the owner sizzle giant slabs of pork belly and dunk them in an ice bath as he prepared the salted mustard greens. I was surprised because it is such a process, yet this dish is so commonly eaten. I never thought of all the work that goes behind the multitude of choices at a cha chan tang. After I watched that special, I naturally craved mui choi kou yuk all the time, so I finally go to make some for myself. And it was not bad at all. It was actually very flavorful and quite authentic, if I do say so myself.

Note: when purchasing the preserved mustard greens, go to the dried good section. Also, if there's a Hakka brand, go for that one. It's the most traditional.

--Edit: I don't think I made it clear enough how good this dish is and how necessary it is to be served with either steamed buns or hot rice. I hope it's clear now. 

This tastes best as a leftover. 

Preserved Mustard Greens Braised Pork Belly 梅菜扣肉
6-8oz preserved mustard green
2lb pork belly
6 cloves garlic
1 chunk ginger, slivered
1 star anise
5 tbs dark soy sauce
5 tbs Chinese cooking rice wine 
1/2 tsp brown sugar
3 tbs canola oil
1/2 cup water
ice bath (~3 cups)*

1. An hour before cooking, soak the mustard greens in a bowl of water. This removes all the visible salt from the greens and makes it a lot more manageable to cook with. 
2. While the mustard greens are soaking, marinate the slab of pork belly with about 3tbs of dark soy sauce.
3. After about an hour, prepare the ice bath. 
4. Heat the oil in a pan and sear the pork belly until browned on all sides. Remove the pork from the pan and insert into the bath. Keep the oil and the pan on the side. 
5. In the meantime, remove and wring out the mustard greens. Chop into small pieces.
6. Reheat the pan with the oil and stir fry the chopped mustard greens, garlic, and ginger. Once the garlic and ginger are slightly brown, add the soy sauce, water, sugar, and star anise. Bring to a light boil. Add minute amounts of water and soy sauce until the taste is right. 
7. As you are waiting for the sauce to boil, remove the pork belly from the ice bath and chop into bite size pieces. 
8. Once the contents in the pan are boiling, add the pork belly and stir well. Cover the pan, leaving a small crack, and simmer for about 2 hours while mixing occasionally. 
9. After two hours, skim the top fat/oil layer and either serve immediately or place in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to seep in before reheating and serving the next day.

*BREAKING UPDATE: Just found out the significance of the ice bath. My mom claims that it helps remove some of the fat, but more importantly, it keeps the meat in shape and prevents it from falling apart during the braising process. LIFE CHANGING. 

Are you into slow cooked pork belly? Try out my recipe for red braised pork/hong shao rou

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Travels in Thailand

Happy 中秋節! Today is the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival, which celebrates the largest, brightest, roundest full moon of the year. It's a special holiday for giving thanks for a bountiful harvest, hosting family reunions, and of course moon gazing. What's really special about this full moon is that even if you are far away from your family, if you both look at the moon, you will be sharing the same magnificent sight. Though this post has nothing to do with moon cakes, lanterns, or rabbits on the moon, it does have to do with family and good food. 

Thailand: land of a thousand smiles. After more than ten years, I finally had the opportunity to return to Bangkok. When I was younger, Phuket and Pattaya left very strong impressions, and I can only hope to visit again. This time around, I stayed closer to Bangkok and traveled to Hua Hin and Ayutthaya. Hua Hin is a town associated with the royal family and a local vacation destination, and Ayutthaya is the old capital, rich with ruins and teeming with temples. Everywhere I went, the locals were courteous and tolerant. There was neither hustling nor pushing, even at the most crowded night markets filled with Thais and Burmese celebrating the queen's birthday. They really do live up to a thousand smiles. 

The food in Thailand goes without saying, but I don't think I had a single bad meal. Road side dives, hotel dining, floating markets, Chinatown, night markets, mall food courts, street stands... I ate it all and enjoyed every bite of it. The creative uses of lemongrass, coconut, ginger, and other spices all worked together in harmony giving you sweetness, spiciness, and tang. I was reminded of how sweet and refreshing coconut water could be, inspired by the diversity of curry, and disgusted by the amount of durian I ate. Fruit and seafood do not get much fresher than do they in this country, and desserts do not get much sweeter. Thais are pampered by sweet coconut cakes, condensed milk laden coffees, and endless supplies of sticky rice. If I could, I would do it all over again. 

Khao khluk kapi, rice mixed with shrimp paste

Coconut butter candies

Orchid farm

Floating market foods

Mangosteen, mango, rambutan, and durian

Coconut water, all day erryday


Oyster pancake at Siam Paragon

Gai ka pow lak khao kai dao, spicy basil with ground pork

Red curry duck

Thai desserts!

An assortment of local fruit jams and honeys

Chinatown pickled goods

Curry crab in Chinatown

The durian team!

Street side pad thai, 20 baht

Dessert roti!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Steamed Blue Crabs in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland

My family has been making an (almost) annual road trip to Maryland for almost a decade now. It is a rather peculiar place to make such frequent trips to, but we do it for one reason: blue crabs. Yes, we drive several hundred miles to get our crab fix on the regular. Is it worth it? For the crabs and all the Waffle Houses in between, you better believe it's worth it. 

For the past few trips, we have stayed at the Chesapeake Bay Hyatt Regency. It's a golf resort that comes with a beautiful infinity pool, great seafood restaurants, and plenty of family friendly activities. As a family we always play golf and mini golf at the resort, and this year we even got to try out crabbing. When the resort only gives you a line with a chicken neck and a net, it can't possibly be that difficult, right? Except that crabs are very fast and are very sensitive despite their hard exteriors, literally. Out of maybe 30 people on the boardwalk trying to catch a crab, only one lady succeeded. My brother even managed to lose the chicken neck on his line. 

When in Maryland and when in season, you have to eat more than a few steamed blue crabs. It's just blue crabs with Old Bay spice, but because the crabs are spanking fresh, the texture is like no other traveled crab you have had before. Based on the lunar calendar, crab season is the fifth and ninth month of the year, making crabs biggest around June and October. If possible, get the jumbo sized because otherwise you'll be doing all this hammering and cracking for nothing! 

I would say go for anything seafood related. Steamers, steamed shrimp, crab cakes, crab dip, fried shrimp, are all worth eating at the local seafood restaurants. Most of it is tossed in Old Bay, which contains paprika, mustard, hot pepper flakes, and lots of other things that makes it plenty salty and a tad spicy. Basically, only the good things. Summer time also calls for sweet corn, and corn on a cob pairs great with all the other finger licking good foods. 

After the images, I have a list of restaurants that I have frequented during my trips to Maryland. Most are in the Chesapeake Bay/ Eastern Shore area. Jimmie and Sook's and Blue Point Provision are both great seafood choices, though they do not offer steamed crabs. They have pretty much every other variation of crab and seafood, though. Jimmie's is a local spacious bar and restaurant, while Blue Point is located on the Hyatt resort and is a bit more high end with lots of great fish choices. Ocean Odyssey is also in the Cambridge area and serves the delicious crabs. Make sure to call ahead to reserve your order! But if you're looking for a wood-beamed, seaside, all American crab house, then perhaps you should check out Harris'. It's a lot pricier than Ocean Odyssey, but they have a great crab hammering ambiance. 

All there is left to say is: I can't wait until next trip! 

Poolside crab cake sandwich
Crabbing is a lot harder than you would imagine
Crab themed everything! (These are dog biscuits)

Steamed shrimp with Old Bay
Jumbo steamed blue crabs
Hot crab dip and crab imperial 
Don't forget to buy some crab chips on your drive home! 

Ocean Odyssey
316 Sunburst Highway
Cambridge, MD

Jimmie and Sook's
527 Poplar Street
Cambridge, MD 

Blue Point Provision
101 Heron Boulevard
Cambridge, MD

Harris Crab House
433 Kent Narrow Way
North Grasonville, MD

Suicide Bridge Restaurant
6304 Suicide Bridge Road
Hurlock, MD

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Watermelon Peel Recipes

There's still watermelon at your local supermarket, right? Good. Because you have to try cooking some watermelon peel. I'm not talking about the entire rind; I'm talking about the good white stuff between the red flesh and the green shell. It sounds kind of strange, but I promise it's quite delicious and it makes a great substitute for any Chinese "melon" such as cucumber, hairy gourd, or winter melon. 

Here is a recipe that I use all the time at home when I'm lacking inspiration or if I just want some familiar flavors. It's a stir fry with spare ribs, dried shiitake mushrooms, vermicelli, and watermelon peel. This recipe is very adaptable and usually instead of watermelon peel, I use napa cabbage, hairy gourd, or silky gourd. 

Watermelon Peel Spare Rib Stir Fry
1lb spare rib, marinated* and chopped into 1in pieces
3-4 cups prepared watermelon peel**
1 pack vermicelli, soaked
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tbs canola oil

*Spare rib marinade (prepare 30min-1hr prior to cooking)
3 tbs soy sauce
3 tbs rice cooking wine
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper

1. Heat canola oil and garlic until garlic browns
2. Add spare ribs and stir fry in high heat until no more red shows
3. Add the mushrooms
4. After meat is more thoroughly cooked, add the chicken broth and cover with a lid. Braise on low-medium heat for ten minutes or until meat is completely cooked
5. Add the watermelon peel and vermicelli. Stir fry until vermicelli is clear (~1-2min)

**How to prepare watermelon peel for eating and cooking
After slicing off the flesh and the exterior peel, boil in water until slightly tender. It should still have a noticeable crunch to it. This boiling process removes the watermelon flavor we all know and love, but would taste off in a savory soy sauce situation. It also helps remove excess water stored in the peel that would otherwise all come out while cooking in high heat.

Another great way to use watermelon peel is in a cold dish typically prepared with cucumber. But instead of just boiling the watermelon in plain water during the preparation phase, add a teaspoon or two of salt (depending on how much water you use).
Watermelon Peel Cold Dish
2 cups prepared watermelon peel**
2 tbs light soy sauce
1 tbs Sichuan chili oil
1 tbs garlic, minced
1/2 tsp black vinegar
1/4 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp sesame seeds

1. Mix soy sauce, chili oil, garlic, black vinegar, and brown sugar
2. Pour over watermelon peel
3. Sprinkle sesame seeds
4. Thoroughly impress your guests

Monday, September 9, 2013

Yin Yang Private Kitchen, Wan Chai Hong Kong

Summer Island: potato leaves, winter melon, pears, stewed eggplant with chili, and garden snails

Since I was in Hong Kong most of the summer, you can take for granted that I spent most of my days eating. Instead of visiting only the top restaurants in Hong Kong, this time around I was able to try a few private kitchens. They've been around for even up to two decades now and a lot of them started as amateur chefs trying to save on rent and opening unlicensed restaurants in their own homes or office spaces. Though the locations haven't changed much, private kitchens have become more mainstream and accessible, though many still require prior reservations.

Having tried a couple of staples (Xi Yan, TBLS), I must say that Yin Yang was the only one that impressed me enough to want to visit again. Yin Yang prides itself with using organic ingredients all grown and raised on a farm in New Territories. All the dishes on the menu looked familiar, but when each dish arrived, I was impressed by the innovative techniques used in preparation and the use of mundane ingredients in new ways.

Some highlights:
- Summer Island: the use of potato leaves in the salad. Who knew potato leaves could be so delicious? Also, if the snails are really from the farm, extra props.
- Ginger duck gelee: mmMMMMmmm! Maybe not for everyone, but I think Asians have a thing for gelatinized foods (though namely sweets).
- Soup without Water: Though they are famous for their terracotta oven baked yellow earth chicken, the soup without water is the most rousing component of the poultry. It's just the natural juices of the chicken with mushroom. No water added.

Another perk of eating at Yin Yang is that the environment has a nostalgic old Hong Kong (~1950's-1960's?) look. It's located in a three story house with barred windows and tiled floors, and there are even vintage furniture and appliances in the upstairs dining room. Private enough for you? So if you're in Hong Kong and searching for food on the more creative side, I definitely recommend that you look up a few private kitchens to try out.

Fact: "Yin Yang" in this case refers to the monogamous mandarin ducks, not the tai chi yin and yang symbol.

Ginger duck gelee
Lobster pineapple ice 九龍冰室
Yellow Earth Chicken
Soup without Water
Forest crab curry
Red Hot roast pig

Tea Smoked Fish

Red Bean Crepe

Yin Yang
18 Ship Street
Wan Chai, Hong Kong