Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eat to Live, Live to Eat

When I was a kid, Uncle A lived with us for a little while when he was in college studying architecture. We called him "Kau Fu". In Chinese "Kau Fu" means mother's brother. He used to pretend that he was a big monster chasing us. One time he said, "I'm so hungry, can I just eat one of your fingers?" "No!" I said, "But you have 10 fingers now. You'll still have 9 if I eat one of yours", he said while he reached his big arms to my tiny body. "I was scared and went to mom. Mom said jokingly with a smile, "Okay! I won't make dinner for kau fu, and let him die!" I protested, "I don't want Kau Fu to die!"

Even now, I still want to protest that I don't want Kau Fu to die. But I don't know whom to go to. God? Or some kind of higher power? Kau fu got diagnosed for nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC), and passed away 9 years ago, at his age of 47.

When Kau Fu went through a lengthy treatment he lost his sense of taste because of the radiation. Food to him had a whole different meaning, to pack in the most nutrients whenever he could. Afterall, it was still comforting to sit together with family to share chicken, fresh vegetables, soups, and chat about odds and ends. I cannot imagine food without taste but I guess our will to survive is so strong, especially for someone who had a wife and 2 kids, that he kept fighting. He traded his sense of taste in order to see his kids grow up, even if just for a few more years.

The week before I left to start a new job in the Bay Area, Kau Fu and Kau Mo (Chinese word for wife of mother's brother) took me to a Japanese restaurant. While we ate sushi, I was thinking to Kau Fu sushi must tasted like rubber, no flavour only texture. Despite what I thought, he was having sushi with a smile and said it tasted really good. Even though his taste buds were useless he could taste through his heart. Although I saw Kau Fu a few more times after I moved away, but I'd like to think it was my last memory of him. He had sushi with a smile and sending me off.

After I started working at an animation studio in the Bay Area, I became a good friend with a character designer, D. I learned later we both coincidentally lived a few city blocks away from each other in a suburb of Toronto in our teenage years. We actually went to the same high school and the same college. But D was always a few years ahead of me so we didn't know each other back then. What I liked about D the most was his sarcastic humour and his love for food. You know a lot about a woman by the content of her purse. You know D by what he watched on TV. He loved the Food Channel and he got me hooked on Futurama. D used to have cooking nights at his place. Each of us would make a dish in his kitchen and share it with each other. One time D and I made Peking duck from scratch. We poached the duck in a soy sauce molasses mixture for a few minutes, stuffed the cavity with ginger, orange peel and scallions and rubbed Chinese 5 spice over the skin, then we hung the duck right next to his TV with a fan close by to blow dry it for a day. A Victoria secret commercial was playing right along side the dead duck, it was quite a sight to see. It was all worth it until we saw some Chinese restaurant serving the same thing as special for $9.99.

Besides food, D also liked biking. Then biking got upgraded into motorbiking. D had a classy looking BMW F650. One day he dropped his bike and injured his back. Then slowly he developed a reoccuring cough. The doctor told him that sometimes a back injury could cause coughing. But who would think at such young age, 33, he was coughing because of lung cancer. When D was going through his treatments, he still loved his junk food, KFC, chicken wings with shake and bake, and ate mostly meat. Food became his main source of happiness. His sister made him healthy smoothies to offset his not too healthy diet but whenever D had a chance, he would get his hands on some junk food.

When D had the appetite and the energy, we cooked dinner together at his place. One of the popular dishes was Chinese poached chicken with ginger and scallion dipping sauce over rice. If it was a night we decided to have steaks, there was no compromise the way we'd liked our steaks. He cooked it the D's way; broiled in the oven till medium, served with HP sauce. I cooked it the Carmen's way; marinated with salt and pepper, or with garlic, brown sugar, and soy sauce, pan seared both sides till medium.

No matter what we did, highschool, college or career, D was always ahead of me. This time, he left this world before me. After D passed away, I looked at all of our pictures. They were mostly taken in front of restaurants, at a dinner table, or in a kitchen. He lived such a rich life; traveling, animating, designing many memorable animated characters that will live on forever. But the thing I'll remember most about D was that he loved to eat, as if he lived to eat.

We eat everyday. Eat to live, or live to eat? I'd like to think that I live to eat. The ability to taste is a gift. Ironically, there are lots of people who are perfectly healthy but do not care to taste anything, neither through the taste buds or their hearts.

Chinese Poached Chicken with Ginger and Scallion Dipping Sauce


1 4 pounds chicken
3-4 slices of ginger
2 tbsp salt

2 tbsp grated ginger
4 tbsp chopped scallion, both green and white part
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 minced garlic
1/4 tsp salt

1. Wash chicken from the inside out. Pat dry. Put chicken in a pot, breast side up, and fill it up with water to cover the entire chicken. Add salt and ginger slices. Cook chicken in low heat for 45 mins. Turn off heat and cover with lid. Let chicken soak for another 30 minutes. Rinse chicken under cold water for 1 minute. Pat dry.

2. To make dipping sauce, heat vegetable oil in a pan until medium high heat and starts to smoke. Add garlic, ginger, scallion and salt.

Rib Eye Steak (D's way)


1 rib eye steak
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

1. Preheat broiler. Grease broiling pan with vegetable oil.

2. Pat dry steak. Sprinkle 1/2 salt and pepper on both sides of steak. Broil steak for 4 -5 minutes each side for medium rare. Transfer to cutting board to rest for around 5 minutes. Serves with HP sauce.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Add Some Asian Spice to a White Family

I went to R's family for a visit in upstate New York. Before I went, R's mom asked me if I would be interested in cooking a Chinese dinner for them. I said, "Sure!" In my mind, I was thinking, I'll make some real Chinese food mix in some fake ones, and we'll eat with chopsticks. They'll never know. If they find out, I'll call that "New Chinese Cuisine".

Before my trip, I was reading Chinese cookbooks given to me by S to help myself to think of some ideas. The night I left for the airport, 1.5 hours before my plane took off, I was still frantically packing. You can tell a lot about a woman by the contents of her purse. In my luggage, I had fermented black beans, Vietnamese rice paper rounds, Chinese dumpling wraps, spicy bean sauce, star anise, Chinese five spice, some soba noodle, and a bikini. When I was going through the security at the airport, I was praying the security guards wouldn't check my luggage. I'm sure they would have found me very interesting.

R has 3 brothers, all of his brothers are married and some have kids. The family tree has already grown quite a bit. I'm going to make dinner for 14 people! No, actually, 14.5! The 0.5 one (5 weeks old baby) was a 2nd hand eater. I created a to-do list and timetable for me, and my assistant R, naturally. After a brief power point presentation of my plan of attack, we started cooking at 2:30 in the afternoon. For 14.5 people, it was like going to war. You definitely needed a plan of attack to stay calm, cool, and collected in the kitchen with kids screaming, and baby crying in the background.

I was proud my assistant and I could deliver dinner right on schedule at 7:30 sharp. The table was all set, candles were lit, we all sat down, and then R's brother, K said, "hey wait! It is a tradition that we say grace before each meal and since this is a Chinese meal, we should say it in the Chinese style. Let's have Carmen lead." Everybody was looking at me and waiting for me to say something in Chinese. Perhaps it was the perfect chance to make everyone say something silly. But at the end I just said, "chī faahn" (Bon Appetit in Chinese) K said, "well...we all just said our penises are small."
During dinner, there were lots of laughs, and some shocking topics for a family dinner table, at least for someone who grew up in an Asian household. Even though we spent 5 hours cooking, it was worth it to see people enjoying this.

After dinner, R's mom said to me,"Before you were in the picture, R wasn't into food at all. You should have 4 boys!" I'm sure my sweet and sour chicken ass had been checked out by R's it big enough to bare a few children?


Summer Rolls with Tofu, Carrots, Cucumber and Soba Noodle, serves with Peanut Sauce

serves 14


Peanut Sauce:

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 tbsp peanut butter
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp Chinese chili bean sauce
9 tbsp water
2 tsp sugar
vegetable oil

Summer Rolls:

14 8 inches Vietnamese rice paper round
3 carrots, peeled and julienned
2 blocks firm tofu, chopped into roughly 1cm X 1cm X 4cm
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeds discarded, and julienned
2 bunches soba noodles (portion for 2 people)
2 cups mint leaves
2 tbsp sesame oil
rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Make Peanut Sauce

Coat pan with vegetable oil. Cook onion in medium high heat for around 4 minutes or until soft. Add garlic, cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 2 minutes, then cool.

Make Summer Rolls

1. Poach soba noodle in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and rinsed in cold running water. Toss with salt and pepper, sesame oil, and rice vinegar. If noodle is still sticky, drizzle a little bit of canola oil and toss. Set aside

2. Pour warm water into a pan which is big enough for the rice paper round (a round cake pan is perfect). Water should be around 2 inches high. Line a few pieces of paper towel on a work surface. Soak 1 rice paper round in the water for around 30 seconds, or until soft. Remove from gently water and transfer to paper towel.

3. Arrange a few mint leaves in the middle of the rice paper round, then 3 pieces of tofu, a little bit of carrot and cucumber. The filling should form a rectangle of 1.5 inch X 4.5 inch in the middle.

4. Wrap both ends of the rice paper round lengthwise to the middle over the filling. It should look like a "butterfly", with filling in the middle, and 2 sides are opened. Fold one side towards the middle over the filling, and then roll it over to the other side. Repeat the process for each roll (13 times)! Serve with peanut sauce.

Turkey Dumplings with Green Onions, serves with Soy Sauce and Rice Vinegar

serves 14


Dipping Sauce:

4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Turkey Dumplings:

2 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 pound ground turkey
2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp sesame oil
28 dumpling wraps

1. To make filling, combine the first 6 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix well.

2. To fill dumplings, place about 1 tsp of the filling in the centre of a wrapper. Make sure there is no filling near the edges of the wrapper. Use your finger to brush a little bit of water on half of the edge of the wrapper, fold the wrapper in half without entirely closing it. The dry side of the edge is facing the wet side of the edge. Starting at the corner, make pleats along the dry side of the edge while pressing to the opposite side to close. Repeat this for all of the wraps.

3. Heat a large non-stick pan over high heat. Swirl oil to coat. When oil starts shimmering, add dumplings, bottom down. Don't crowd the dumplings too much. (You'll probably need to cook that in 2 batches at least) Cook for around 4 minutes, or until bottom is slightly browned. Add about 3/4 cup of water in the pan and cover the lid. Water should evaporate pretty fast. Lift the lid to make sure the pan still has a thin coat of water. If not, add a bit more. Steam dumplings for another 8-10 minutes. Serves hot with dipping sauce

Roasted Asian Marinated Pork Loin with Apple Glaze and Five Spice Apple Sauce

serves 13 - 14


Five spice Apple Sauce

1 small red onion, finely chopped
3 tsp five spice powder
4 firm apples (fuji, granny smith), peeled, cut into 1 cm cubes
2 cup apple cider
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp corn starch, mixed with a little water

Roasted Pork Loin with Apple Glaze

2 pieces boneless pork loin (roughly 4 pounds each)
a few star anise
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup apple cider

Make Apple Sauce:

1. Heat a big frying pan over medium heat. Add butter. Saute onion until it is translucent, for about 4-5 minutes. Add 5 spice powder, apples, and apple cider, season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 12 - 15 minutes. Apples should be soft, but still retain its form. There should still be some liquid in the pan. Add corn starch mixture to thicken.

1. To brine pork loin, have a deep dish handy. It should be big enough for 2 pieces of pork loin with 1 couple inches of water above. Pour cold water in the deep dish (you'll have to guess since dish and pork loin size varies), add salt and stir. The rule of thumb is, the salted water should taste like sea water. Add star anise, bay leaves, 1 tbsp peppercorns and soy sauce. Add pork loin, then cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

2. To make apple glaze, simmer 1 cup of apple cider in a small sauce pan for around 15 minutes, or until cider is reduced down to 1/3. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degree. Discard brining liquid, rinse pork with cold water, pat dry. Season ground pepper to taste. Heat a large stainless steel pan with oil over high heat. When the oil starts shimmering, add pork loins and brown all sides, around 2 minutes per side. Transfer pork loin to a roasting pan. Brush pork loin with apple glaze. Roast for 30-35 minutes. During roasting, brush pork loin with apple glaze in 10 or 15 minutes interval. Pork loins should reach 150 degree when done. The inside should be pink.

3. Cover pork loin with tin foil and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve with 5 spice apple sauce

Mashed Yams with Ginger and Garlic

serves 14


12 Yams
4 tbsp butter
4 garlic clove, peeled
6 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
125 ml heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven 400 degree. Wrap yams with tin foil. Bake yams for 40 - 50 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add butter to coat the pan. Saute ginger and garlic for about 3-4 minuets until garlic is slightly brown. Add cream and simmer for about 10 minutes , or until it is reduced by 1/3. Discard garlic cloves.

2. Remove yams from oven when done. Set aside until it is cool enough to handle. Remove yams' skin, and transfer yams into a large mixing bowl. Mash it with spatula or a fork. Slowly drizzle the reduced cream in it. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Braised Red Cabbage

Serves 14


1 head red cabbage, finely sliced
1 small onion
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of water
vegetable oil

Heat a big pot over medium heat. Saute onions for around 4 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add red cabbage and 2 cups of water, salt and pepper to taste. Stir, cover with lid, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until cabbage is soft. Adjust seasoning if desire.

Roasted Black Cod with Black Bean Honey Glaze

serves 1-2 trouble makers who don't eat meat


2 small pieces of black cod
1 tbsp fermented black beans, washed, drained, and finely chopped
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp honey
green onions

Preheat oven to broil. Mix fermented black beans, soy sauce, sesame oil and honey together. Brush it on the fish in a baking dish. Broil fish for 3 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 degree, and bake for 5 more minutes. Garnish with green onions.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Exboyfriend's Pasta Sauce

I don't know too many people who got married to the first person they dated. So, that means most of us have exes. Having "ex-files is inevitable. Mine is not insanely long; probably around a few pages depending on the font size, or if it is single or double spaced, . Actually, there might be a few people who I can use as "references" if there is a such thing called "dating resume". But when it comes to opening the ex-files, have to handle with care. Otherwise, one seven letters word; "A-W-K-W-A-R-D!"

One time I was making pasta sauce from scratch. R is a big fan of Trader Joe's. To him, pasta sauce is always from a jar. He asked me where did I learn how to make it. The romantic answer would be , "oh I learned from my grandmother." But my grandmother is Chinese. This answer is highly unbelievable. I guess the uncomfortable ex-file moment has arrived. "I actually learned that from an ex-boyfriend." I said.

Usually, at the end of a relationship, we always try to console ourselves that we learned something from this experience. You get to know yourselves better, especially when it comes to what you hate. For me, some examples would be when I and some guy went to a cafe to hang out, and all of a sudden he just pulled out the newspaper like I was not even there, or canceling on dinner with me because of a basketball game or a poker game, and even had the balls to ask me to buy him beer and chips...There is always the time you just have to remember the magic word with 4 letters, not "fu_k", or "sh_t". It is "NEXT"! Then you take all this knowledge to the next relationship. Some might call it baggage. Baggage is not always bad. At least this time I ran away with a $475 dress by Diane Von Furstenberg, and a delicious, authentic Italian tomato sauce with me. I'm going to share with you without you finding it out from the hard way.


Tomato Sauce with Onions, Olives and Oregano


1 can of whole tomato (prefer San Marzano)
1/2 medium onion,chopped
10 - 15 olives pitted, such as Kalamata
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
1 glove garlic, peeled
1 tsp Oregano
2 pinches salt

Heat olive oil in medium heat in a sauce pan. When oil is hot, put the whole garlic in the pan or 1-2 mins. Discard garlic. Put onion in sauce pan, add 2 pinches of salt and Oregano. Cook onion until caramelized and becomes transparent. Pour in red wine, juice from the can tomato and olives. Reduce heat to simmer,until sauce is reduced and thicken, for about 10 minutes. Put the tomatoes in the sauce pan. Use a spatula to smash them. Simmer for another 15 - 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chinese Roast Chicken with 5 Spice Which My Dad Disapproved

My friend told me after she and her boyfriend broke up, she went back and cried on her dad's shoulder. I was shocked. You can do that?! It is like a colour that I cannot even imagine. My dad made a surprise visit to San Francisco a couple months ago. Partly it is because of the Chinese culture, the fathers tend to be very serious and distanced, and they believe in tough love. I remember when I was a kid, I asked my dad, "Dad, how come you never compliment us on anything?" He said, "Whenever I'm not saying anything, that's a compliment."

I guess that is part of the reason why I'm so distanced from him. Because that gives me the illusion that he is not saying anything, and it is a compliment. When he arrived at my apartment building, he insisted on carrying his luggage. I grabbed the luggage from his hands and started walking up the stairs. After we reached the top floor where my apartment is located, I realized he was breathing heavily. I think as daughters, we always forget our parents have aged. And they forget we are grown ups. His eye brows are growing so long and curling up. He is quite proud of them actually. He was also proud of my car's powerful rumble. He didn't say anything about it, but he took out his new digital camera, and asked me to stand beside my car.

During his stay, I made Chinese roast chicken with 5 spice for him. While I was busy in the kitchen, he was reading Chinese newspaper, word by word, silently. When we had dinner, he was commenting on everything. Why didn't you put more salt on the chicken? Roast chickens in China tastes so much better than this. Why didn't you put some bouillon powder in the vegetable stir fry... When I was doing the dishes, I thought of how stupid I was to cook him a Chinese meal and give him one more chance to criticize me. I even spent $14 to buy a top quality free range organic chicken from Berkeley Bowl and then stood in line to pay for that damn misery.

While I was driving him around the city, there were tons of posters for the movie I worked on, in the bus stations, and on billboards everywhere. I was one of the tailors for this movie, which I am proud of. I got to see some of my work on a big screen. But I didn't bother to point that out to him. I guess all our lives, we try so hard to get our parents' approval, ranging from roasting a chicken to having a career. I can cook a fantastic 9 course French dinner and I work in a reputable computer animation company, but it might not mean anything to him after all.

After I drove him to the airport, I came home and felt such a relief that my life was back to normal. When I walked into my bedroom, on the drawer chest, there was a picture of me standing beside my car with an awkward facial expression. I don't know when my dad got that printed out. Next to the picture there were a little webcam, a package of bootleg Chinese typesetting software, and a writing tablet. Unfortunately, none of them are compatible with my laptop, which I think he didn't quite understand. It is the thought that counts. Well, I don't know Chinese typesetting, and he doesn't read in English. But there is always a beginning on everything. Perhaps he didn't hate my Chinese roast chicken with 5 spice that much after all.


Chinese Roast Chicken with 5 spice


1 chicken (about 2-3 pounds)
salt and pepper
3 tbsp 5 spice (it is available in most Chinese supermarket)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
a few slices of ginger and some green onion

Preheat oven 450 degree
rub chicken with vegetable, 5 spice, and sprinkle salt and pepper. I like to rain a thin layer of salt evenly over the skin. It will give you a result of a crispy salty skin. Sprinkle some in the cavity, too. Put the ginger slices and green onion in the cavity. Tie legs with strings.

Put chicken in a roasting pan, breast side up. Stick a meat thermometer at the thigh of the chicken. Bake chicken for 20 minutes. Then turn the heat to 375 degree, and make for another 30 mins to 40 mins, depending on the size of the chicken, or until the internal temperature reaches 180 degree. Discard ginger and green onion in the cavity. Let chicken rest for 15 minutes before you serve.

Monday, July 6, 2009

People Are Like Food

People are just like food. They all come with different tastes. It sounds kind of bizzare...I know. But let's just start with people we all know. For example, Jack Black, to me, he is like pop candies. You know, the kind of candies are red, so small that it's almost powder like. You can feel the exploding sensation. It is fun! Another example, George Cloony, he is like a bottle of fine wine, perhaps a bottle of Chateau neuf du Pape, dark and deep, very tasty, if you keep on drinking, it gets you drunk.

When I look at people around me, my mom is like a cup of tea, the taste is understated and elegant. It gives you comfort and calms you down. My dad is like... fermented black beans with melted chocolate chips and grated ginger. When you taste it, you wonder, what the hell is that?! He is kind of difficult to understand. My older sister J is like hot and sweet peppers. Younger sister J is like oysters. It takes a little while to open up, but one cannot deny the wonderful taste of oysters. The taste of it has depth and the sweet aftertaste lingers. My baby sister Y, she is like marinated strawberries with whipped cream. There are a few of my friends are like pop candies, made me laugh non-stop. There are some like hard liquor. You can have couple shots of them, it's fun, but you'll be done quickly. Some of them are like tofu. They are good for you, but the taste is a bit too subtle, in another word, a bit too blend. Some of them are like green veggies. Healthy food that I can eat everyday.

How about R? He might be thinking, "what's up with that? Fantasizing George Clooney?" But the truth is, I love fine wine, but I cannot drink it every night. My doctor said that I'm a light weight. To me, R is like an egg. Egg is extremely versatile. It tastes good on its own, either poached, soft boiled, or scrambled. You can use it to make cake, pasta, ice-cream, quiche, lemon curd, is endless. It can be paired with a lot of different food, just like a pair of shoes which can go with all of your outfits, either jeans or dresses, can be casual or elegant.

For me, I don't know. Of course I wish I am a piece of filet mignon or rib eye steak. Juicy and sinfully delicious.


Raw Oysters On Half Shell (such as Kumamoto or Malpeque)

Scrub Oysters with a stiff brush to remove dirt. Find a durable thick cloth and fold it over several times to create a square; This will steady the oysters as you shuck them and also protect your hand. Using the towel as a mitt, place the oyster, cup-side down in the palm of your towel-covered hand with the hinge facing you.Insert the tip of an oyster knife or dull butter knife as far into the hinge as it will go. Gently twist the knife back and forth to pry the shell open. Using the knife, cut the muscle away from the top shell, bend the shell back, and discard it. Run the knife underneath the oyster to detach it completely, but leave it in its shell. Serves with fresh lemon or lime juice, tabasco and horseradish.

Scrambled eggs

Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a non-stick omelette pan in medium heat. Crack 2 eggs into pan. Use a spatula to keep stirring the egg mixture. Turn heat to simmer. Remove pan from the heat if eggs get cooked too quickly, and keep stirring. It should still be a little bit runny when it is done. Salt and Pepper to taste. It is very important to add salt at the end of the cooking process, otherwise eggs can be watery. Stir in cream fraiche or heavy cream if desire. Garnish with fresh chives.

Hot and Sweet Pepper Pizza (serves 2)

1 12 inch thin crust pizza dough
1 red pepper, roasted, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds discarded, sliced
4 ounce goat cheese
a small handful of fresh basil leaves
olive oil

At least 30 mins before cooking, preheat oven 500 (the highest setting) with pizza stone inside on the lowest rack.

Slice jalapeno pepper in half lengthwise, discard seeds (be careful not to rub your eyes. If you wear contacts, wear gloves). Thinly julienne jalapeno pepper.

In a mixing bowl, add red pepper and jalapeno pepper, add olive oil to coat and toss.

Dust rimless baking sheet with flour and carefully transfer dough to it. Jerk baking sheet once or twice. If dough is sticky, lift dough and sprinkle flour underneath it, reshaping dough if necessary. Working quickly.

Brush top dough with olive oil, leave about 1/2 inch border, arrange roasted red pepper, jalapeno pepper and goat cheese on pizza dough. Line up far edge of baking sheet with far edge of stone and tilt baking sheet, jerking it gently to start pizza moving. Once edge of pizza touches stone or tiles, carefully pull back peel or baking sheet, completely transferring pizza to stone or tiles (do not move pizza). Bake pizza 8 to 9 minutes, or until dough is crisp and browned, and transfer with a metal spatula to a cutting board. Garnish with whole basil leaves and serves

Marinated Strawberries with Whipped Cream (serves 2 - 4)


1 small pint of strawberries, sliced in half or quarters
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp brown sugar (depends on the sweetness of the strawberries, adjust accordingly)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp cognac
1/2 cup heavy cream
fresh mint for garnish

Combine strawberries, lemon juice, lemon zest, brown sugar, cinnamon, cognac in a mixing bowl, toss and covered. Put it in a fridge for 4 hours or over night.

To serve, divide strawberries into cups, whip heavy cream, add cream into each up, and garnish with mint leaves.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Way To A Man's Heart

Some might say, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I think not just man's heart, woman's too. I have a French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney given by my friend L. I love this book. The way he wrote about food is very sensual. If he invited me to his place for dinner, I would go in a heart beat.

Richard Olney didn't invite me to his place for dinner obviously. He passed away in 1999 in his Provencal home. But S did. He wanted to take a stab at making a rack of lamb. At the end, I didn't go that night. I didn't know the fate of the rack of lamb. Perhaps he ate it all. But our fate didn't change because I didn't show up that night. Roughly 1 year after no show on the dinner invitation, we were dating. At the end, him and I together, was a perfect recipe for a disaster.

Towards the end of a relationship, it's always take one last struggle. When you know that it is definitely dieing, then you have to decide how do you want it to die. For me, I wanted to give it a beautiful death. That night, I purposely put on a slinky tang top and a mini skirt, (casual looking, just to make it I wasn't trying too hard) and made roasted rack of lamb. S said, "You just want to make it difficult for me, dress like this, made me such a nice meal...." Yes. I wanted to make it as difficult for you as possible. I wanted to remind you one more thing you would be missing besides me in my slinky outfit. There was also my rack of lamb! The slinky outfit was my armour, and rack of lamb was my sword. I wanted to get into your heart through your stomach, and tattooed my name on it with my sword, and watched it bled. When the next woman got there, she would know I was there, and my name will always be there.

At the time, the whole night tasted so bitter. But when we have our memories marinating in the brain, or simply left in the freezer unnoticed over the years, the memories taste differently than when they were fresh. I don't know if he still remembers my rack of lamb, but it was my attempt at the time to get into his heart through his stomach, not for love, for hatred I guess. Love and hate, they are very similar emotions. When I think of that night now, it is not bitter anymore. It is more bitter sweet. After all, he was someone who wasn't worth it. I moved on.

Roasted Rack of Lamb with Thyme, Dijon Mustard, and Honey Glazed

Serves 2

1 rack of lamb (8 ribs), trimmed of fat, French trimmed
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3/4 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or rosemary)
3/4 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp honey
ground black pepper
3/4 tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat oven 425F

2. Mix garlic, thyme leaves, Dijon mustard, honey, ground black pepper and olive oil in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Coat mixture onto the meat of the rack of lamb. Let it marinate for 15 - 30 minutes

3. Put the rack in a shallow roasting pan, and roast for 25 minutes for medium rare or 35 minutes for medium. (meat thermometer inserted into the meaty part should reach 135F to 140F for medium rare to medium).

4. Slice lamb ribs between the bones into chops. Garnish with fresh thyme or rosemary.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Meals on 2 wheels

A few years ago, I was enjoying my life as a single gal. When I said single, I meant it the way it means when you fill out a form; not married, no husband and all these responsibilities. I wined and dined with friends, dancing, hopping around, and just having fun. All of a sudden, I'll never forget, it was the year of 2004 and I got a bunch of wedding invitations. I couldn't help but to have this mental picture; all of us were in the battle field together, standing back to back, and holding big guns. "Bang", one went down, "Bang", another was down, and "Bang", one more. There was just me, standing in the battle field by myself, holding a gun. So I started to hang out with people younger and y ounger, but slowly, one by one, they too went down. Then I found R in the battle field.

After people are out of the battle field, they either drive a mini van or some sort of station wagon. Women push strollers everywhere and run you over with their pride of motherhood. For me, someone who is still sort of in the battle field, I enjoy driving a 2 seater car with a powerful rumble and my new red Vespa. R and I are still living like teenagers, and each night we have a discussion about, "your place or mine?"

R is pretty busy working in his studio at home these days, so, I have been delivering dinner on my little Vespa to his place. It sounds pretty cute and elegant, some might say romantic, like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday riding a Vespa...To be honest, I look more like a bag lady with all this food for dinner and breakfast for the next morning. But at least I'm a fancy bag lady, who happens to be quite well read (mostly cookbooks though). I have been reading the "Bouchon" cookbook (thanks to M) and have gotten inspired by bistro style cooking so... Tonight, on Chez Carmen's meals on 2 wheels menu, I have:

Carrots a la Grecque
Roasted Beet Salad
Baby Broccoli Goat Cheese Quiche


Carrots a la Grecque

1 bunch of small carrots, peeled, discard leaves
1 cup of water
1 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 bouquet garni
juice of one lemon

1. Mix water, white wine, olive oil, shallot, and lemon juice in a pot, bring to a slow boil. Add carrots and bouquet garni. Simmer for 15 - 20 minutes. Carrots should be soft, but still have a little bit of a bite. Store carrots in poaching liquid in the fridge.

2. To finish, discard bouquet garni. Remove carrots from pan and set aside. Bring poaching liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until liquid is reduced to around 1/4 cup. Stir in carrots and coat them with the poaching liquid. Can be store in the fridge for 1 hour, or up to 1 day

Roasted Beets Salad:

Preheat oven 400 degree. Wash beets, trip off beet green but leave about 1/2 inch of stems attached to the beets. (For beet green, you can wash it, trip the stems, and steam it. It tastes really good) Put beets in small roasting pan with 1/4 cup of water. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 30 - 45 mins depends on the amount and the size of beets. When they are done, you should able to pierce with a knife. When beets are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Cut into wedges, squeeze a little bit a lemon juice and drizzle olive oil over them. Salt to taste. Garnish with herbs.

Baby Broccoli Goat Cheese Quiche

1 Trader Joe's Pie Crust
2/3 cup blanched and drained baby broccoli florets
3 eggs
3/4 cup half and half cream
1/2 cup milk
4 ounce goat cheese
pinch of nutmeg

1. Preheat oven 400 degree

2. Butter 9 inch rameken with butter. Fit pie crust into rameken. Store pie crust in the fridge

3. Put goat cheese in a mixing bowl. Combine egg, one at a time. Use a spatula to slowly mix in half and half cream to ensure the mixture is smooth. Pour in milk. Salt to taste. Add a pinch on nutmeg

4. Arrange broccoli florets in cooled pie crust evenly. Pour in egg and cream mixture. Bake for 35 minutes. To test doneness, use a tooth pick to pierce the centre of the pie. The tooth pick should be clean if it's done.