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.


  1. The dinner was amazing and your paintings are fantastic.

  2. 我想我的中文并不好我认为这是

    LOVE the painting, and the blog post, and we're still talking about the fabulous dinner. Asian spice is a very good thing.


  3. yo xxx xxx!!!

    i like the picture with all the people sitting around the table, with 3 cute angels :)

    haha!! K can type Chinese!

  4. I am deeply impressed....:p long long time ago (when you was kid), if you was hungry at home, you could just make a sandwish but you insisted to wait for mom coming back and give you food to eat.

    love changes many things....haha :)

  5. It was a fabulous meal!

    We went to a restaurant last month and had dumplings (on the girls' request), but these dumplings failed miserably.... They didn't pass the "Carmen test". Now, I guess we have been told the secret recipee and have no excuses for not trying to make them just right.

    We are so impressed with your painting - as well as with everything else about you.

    M (oh no, we have several Ms)