01
Dec
13

Mom’s Gravy and the Start of a new Journey

IMG_4417

Perfect Thanksgiving combo: Stuffing and Gravy.

Today, I start a new chapter in my life.  I begin a 6 month trip that has been 10 years in the making.  Since graduating from college, I have always told myself that my back-up plan in life would be to pick up everything, get on a plane, and move to Taiwan.  If I didn’t get into grad school, I would pack all my things; if I didn’t get the job I wanted, I would find some stinky tofu; if I didn’t have the right house, I would work on the family pig farm.  But the thing is, I always found a reason to not use my back-up option.  I never admitted to myself that the back-up option was actually the dream that I wanted to have come true.  I always came up with excuses to convince myself that I wasn’t going to be able to make the trip. That I would fail. That I didn’t have enough money. That I would ruin something good that was happening in NYC, DC, or Oregon.

I’ve decided though, enough with the excuses.  I had to make a decision, and that decision was to have everything else be a back-up, and to just buy a ticket and go.  So, thanks to the people who reminded that I was turning 30, the visa requirements in Taiwan,  the understanding and support of my family, friends, and colleagues, and a drunken night, I will embark on a six-month personal adventure to discover food, family, and myself.  I’m scared shitless.

I don’t have many goals for this trip; I’ve been trying to convince myself to not worry about that.  It’s a challenge

Passport?  Check.  Vaccines? Check.

Passport? Check. Vaccines? Check.

that I want to try to succeed at.  Goals are not necessary for me right now.  I’m about to take a journey and I want to be as spontaneous as I can, without feeling overwhelmed.  So, as I write this, I am preparing for the first leg of my trip.  I’ll have limited internet access, but will post as often as I can, but I’ll be starting in South America.  I’ll be going up  to a lost city of the Incas, hanging out with pink dolphins, and checking out some blue footed boobys. But first, a trip home to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family.  This is the first time having Thanksgiving with my family in four years and it’s a great way to start a journey of a new chapter.  A return to something so familiar and so delicious: my Dad’s sticky rice and my Mom’s mushroom gravy.

 

~stuff

1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup (10.5 oz)

½ c turkey fat from drippings (or any animal fat)

1 c cremini or button mushrooms, sliced

½ c  scallions, minced

~steps

combine soup, fat, and mushrooms in a medium saucepan over medium high heat

stir until combined and heated through (about ten minutes)

turn heat on low and stir in scallions and cook for about two minutes

remove from heat and serve, especially over my dad’s stuffing

-serves 6 or 7-

 

17
Oct
13

Water Spinach Stem with Black Bean Pork Sauce

seasoned by pork...

seasoned by pork…

“Our friend is a pescetarian. She only eats seafood, so no chicken, beef, or pork. Especially pork.”

“Ok, so the daikon and ginger soup is ok?”

“No, there are pork bones in it.”

“So, if I take the bones out, then it will be ok? It’s just flavoring.”

I’ve just spent the last twenty minutes trying to explain to my relatives what it means to be pescetarian and the restrictions involved.

“Forget it, yes pork flavoring is ok, but I think tonight is the night I show them the night market instead of dinner at home.”

My parents grew up in a very traditional setting when it comes to food. Both of my parents grew up in the Southern region of Taiwan and both come from large families. In order to have fully flavorful and affordable meals at the table, both my grandmothers utilized meat to season vegetable dishes to ensure all 7 and 8 kids where happy. And to do this, they would buy pork and stretch it over a few dishes. It made sense to have pork as a flavoring agent; unlike chicken, pork has more fat and marbleization to flavor the vegetables. Beef would be too gamey and would compete against the other flavors, as well as being expensive and a waste of a work animal.

So, it’s no wonder why everything I ate growing up had some sort of portion of the pig in it: belly, foot, ear, loin, etc. It’s been sliced, ground, chopped, and cured.

This dish is one of those two-out-of-one-ingredients-money-saver-frugal dishes . It utilizes the stems of the water spinach. If you’re not familiar with water spinach, it’s also known as “morning glory” and “Chinese water spinach”. If you want to make this vegetarian, you can use extra firm tofu. If you can’t find water spinach, I might skip this dish. It’s hard to find a substitute for the water spinach, and you’d be missing the whole point. It’s not for the pork. That’s just seasoning.

~stuff

1 tbs vegetable oil

½ lb ground pork

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbs. fermented black beans, rehydrated (can use jarred sauce)

1 tbs. soy sauce

1 tbs. Chinese rice wine

2 c water spinach stems, minced

~steps

heat oil on high heat in a large saucepan or wok

brown ground pork in oil until the meat is no longer pink

add garlic, black bean, soy sauce, and rice wine to pork and sautee until fragrant, about 2 min.

add stems and stir until cooked through

season to taste and serve with rice

-serves 4-

26
Feb
13

Roasted Garlic Bread

...garlicky...

…garlicky…

When I was young, I thought that everything I learned about food – the techniques, the ingredients, the flavors, and the rules of eating – was tied to Asian culture, in particular the Taiwanese culture. I feel like it’s a common issue facing young second generation children growing up in the US. Well, I’m at least going to believe that to make me feel less awkward about my lack of awareness as a kid.

I recall one lunch specifically in the third grade: I spied a couple of my non-Taiwanese friends placing napkins over their laps. I was quick to let them know of their error in doing something that I had, up until that point in time, assumed was exclusively a Taiwanese custom. They looked at me confused, but I persisted to try to educate them. As a seven-year-old, I felt that it was my duty to be a cultural soldier of all traditions sacred to Taiwan, in order to ensure that customs like placing napkins on laps, eating chicken feet, and drinking hot tea during a meal were kept in all of their authenticity. I later realized (albeit way too late in my development) how wrong I actually was.

Garlic powder was also one of those things that I believed to be deeply rooted in Taiwanese culinary history – I imagined a Taiwanese grandmother, rich with culinary stories and secrets tucked within the wrinkles of her face, experimenting with garlic in her kitchen and accidentally stumbling upon a new creation. Alas, I could only wish that garlic powder had such a romantic history.

My parents often used garlic powder in their cooking: My dad’s turkey recipe called for a healthy slathering and my mom always used it in a marinade with soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, and sesame oil for her stir fries. It’s no wonder why I thought garlic powder was an Asian ingredient. Especially because I thought that the ingredients that filled our refrigerator, pantry, and spice closets only contained items that were native to my parents. It took me until I was a young teenager to come to find out otherwise.

It was when my mom used garlic powder for cooking non-Taiwanese cuisine that my mind was blown! She used it to make garlic bread that was unlike the bread that I had at Olive Garden, which in my mind I thought was authentic as it gets. So, by that standard, my Mom had just created an Italian dish with Asian influences. I thought my mom was a genius, a trailblazer in fusion cooking, and a creative culinary matchmaker. It was all happening in front of me and I was honored to be present as history was taking place. Or, so I thought.

Eventually, my knowledge of ingredients and their origins grew as I began to do my own research through recipes, blogs, and online resources. I do miss my mom’s garlic bread, though. She would take a loaf of French bread and, without cutting all the way though, slice it into half inch sections. Next, a paste of garlic powder and salted margarine was spread onto each slit, then wrapped and baked. Eventually, what you get is a deliciously garlicky, butter-soaked slice of bread. What isn’t there to like?

In terms of the history of garlic powder. It’s shrouded in mystery, but until someone tells me the history (and if you know it, please share in the comments below), I’m going to believe that the Taiwanese grandmother discovered it. Enjoy.

Note on the recipe: I updated the recipe to add roasted garlic to give a subtle sweetness to the spread. I also added parsley to give it the green color that you see in garlic powder with dried parsley. This is mainly an homage to the recipe that my Mom used to do. You don’t need to put it in if you don’t like the flavor profile. I like it because it looks like the garlic powder my parents have at home.

~stuff

1 head of garlic

1 tsp olive oil

1 loaf crusty bread, Italian or French, halved lengthwise

1 stick of butter, about ½ cup softened

1 tbs. parsley, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp salt

 

~steps

preheat oven to 400°f

slice head of garlic in half exposing cloves and place on roasting pan

drizzle olive oil over garlic and roast for 25 to 30 min, until garlic is soft.

Remove roasted cloves from the garlic paper once the garlic is cool enough to touch and set aside

mix in another bowl the butter, parsley, minced garlic, and salt

blend garlic into butter mixture until well mixed

spread mixture onto cut side of the bread

wrap bread, cut side together, in foil and set aside for at least an hour

bake bread in 325°f oven for 10 minutes in foil and then remove from foil and brown the cut side for the last 2 minutes. Or until mixture has melted well into the bread and the top is toasted. Keep in foil if you want softer bread.

-serves 8-

16
Jan
13

Day 14: Taiwanese Braised Pork Belly with Pickled Vegetables

Yes, I will always eat pork belly.

Yes, I will always eat pork belly.

There are certain ingredients that I will always equate to Taiwanese food.  They are ingredients that make up dishes that bring me back to my childhood and remind me of a time when I was innocent, eager, and always ready for culinary adventures.  And that’s one of the main reasons that i started this blog, to share with you the moments when I fell in love with certain dishes.  These ingredients are sticky rice, preserved vegetables, the Taiwanese braising combination, and pork belly (or any gelatinous dish).  The moment any of these things touch my mouth or the smell of them cooking fills the air, I’m reminded of when I was younger when I was full of energy, excitement, and culinary adventure.
I had to get some help when purchasing the ingredients for this dish though.  Also, it’s gone through a few different attempts before I finally figured out the right recipe for it.  The key item in this dish is not the pork belly.  Although, the pork belly is the star in my books with it’s beautiful unctuous texture and rich flavor.  Before I salivate all over my keyboard, let’s get back to the point: the key ingredient to this dish is Mei Gan Cai.  It is preserved mustard greens that are made by drying, salting, squeezing, steaming, and fermenting the greens and stalks.  The long process gives the pickled vegetables a delicious earthy flavor with a subtle sweetness to round out the salty flavor that comes from it.  You can usually find this at larger Chinese supermarkets.  But make sure you bring a picture of the product or the characters when you go shopping.  It will help, I promise.
Here are the things I learned while working on this dish:
1) bring a friend who can read Chinese to the market with you.  I thought I would be able to go by sight when picking out the vegetables for this dish, but I’ve actually never bought it in it’s raw form before.  Luckily, I had a friend with me who reads Chinese so she was able to pick it out for me.
2) wash the vegetables and soak them multiple times before you cook it.  The first time I cooked this dish, I treated the pickled vegetables like the dried turnips or zha cai and just washed it once.  That with the soy sauce in the liquid made it unbearably salty.  The second time I made it, I washed the vegetables four or five times and then soaked it in hot water for around 45 minutes to release the salt from the vegetables.  With a final rinse before cooking, you will finally be set to cook the dish.
3) cut the pork belly into 1 inch cubes if you are in a hurry.  And when I mean hurry, I mean like you need to have dinner ready in 3 or 4 hours from start of braise time as opposed to 6 to 8 hours for a whole piece of bork belly.
4) don’t be afraid of sugar in this dish.  If you think about it, your putting in soy sauce, preserved vegetables, and rice wine which all contain a high amount of salt.  Of course you are going to need a lot of sugar to help balance that out.
~stuff
2 lb pork belly, sliced in 1 in chunks if you want
1 tsp oil, canola, vegetable, or peanut
2 c mei gan cai, rinsed, soaked, and chopped
5 slice of ginger
2 medium scallion, minced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 c soy sauce
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c rice wine
1 c water
~steps
sear pork belly in a large pot or dutch oven on high with oil
add preserved vegetable, ginger, scallion, and garlic and stir until fragrant
pour the rest of the ingredients in the pot and stir
braise on low heat until pork belly is completely tender, about 4 hours
-serves 4-
12
Jan
13

Day 10: Taiwanese Stewed Ground Pork with Pickles (Lo Ba)

Taiwanese Stewed Ground Pork

Taiwanese Stewed Ground Pork

This post does get graphic. I want to warn you.

My dad comes from a family of farmers in southern Taiwan. He used to live in a small farming township called “Yanpu” that only has about 25,000 people in it. The rest of his family still live there and continue to manage the farm that my grandparents started decades ago. One of the amazing values that my parents wanted to instill in my brother and me is the importance of family and knowing where you come from. To do this, we would travel to Taiwan every winter holiday and visit all the relatives from Northern to Southern Taiwan. This wasn’t a very easy feat, and I commend my parent’s planning skills, because they both come from a family of 7 children. But the great thing is it allowed me to really experience the country that I miss now.

The farm that my grandfather started was mostly sugarcane. However, when the market was getting rough for sugarcane, he saved all his money and slowly turned it into a pig farm. It began to gradually expand; and eventually my grandfather owned two different farms with hundreds of pigs on each. All my uncles and cousins worked on the farm and I commend them for the hard work to help build my grandfathers legacy to what it is today. I haven’t visited the farm in years, but I will always have memories of the farm and the pigs, as they are a very important part of my life. Here are the ways they are important to me.

  • I was born in the year of the pig
  • I like pork belly
  • I like pork ears
  • I like pork tails
  • I like pork loin and chops
  • I like pork neck bones
  • I like pork hocks/feet
  • I love ground pork

Now, I’m going to be honest with you, I’m surprised that I’m not more of a vegetarian because of all the jokes that my relatives played on me. I was one of the youngest of all the cousins in our family so it would make sense to pick on me. Let’s see if I can recount them all for you without going into shock or seeking out professional help after this post. Some events may have been exaggerated, but I’m running off the memory of a scared little boy who can never unlearn what he saw. To give context, all of this probably happened between 7 to 10 years of age.

Memory #1

“Hey Dad, where are we goin’?”

“We’re going to go visit your uncle at the farm first. He said that we should go see him before we get to the house”

“Ok, cool”

At the farm, the pigs are all separated by age, and I notice we are going to my favorite part of the grounds, which is the piglet section. Because, who doesn’t love a baby pig? As we get closer, I begin to hear loud screams, which is not anything different from what I remember in the past, because pigs scream out of excitement for food or company. We get closer to my uncles and I notice he has an iodine stained apron and a facemask on. In one hand is a shiny object and in another hand is a liquid bottle with what I now know as iodine. I don’t really think much of it, until I see all my 8 year old and 10 year old cousins chasing after little pigs, picking them up, and bringing them to him. At first, I wanted to join them in chasing the pigs but then I realize what is happening.

I am witnessing a mass neutering of the piglets.

Memory #2

My brother is walking around the grounds of the farm. He pulls me over and tells me to look into a red bucket that is by the front gate.

“Sure, I’ll go look at the red bucket.”

My older brother couldn’t possibly want try to scare me. I notice a small bucket on the floor and slowly creep up to it. Suddenly my instincts kick in and I fear my brother is playing a trick on me. I step closer and I don’t see anything moving, so I ease my anxiety a little and look in. I scream louder then a piglet getting neutered or birthing pig and run away. My brother had led me to a bucket of still born pigs.

Memory #3

My uncle asks if I want to go see piglets.

“Yes! Of course! I love piglets!”

“Ok go down this aisle to the very end, your other uncle is there now.”

“Dad will you go with me?

We walk down to the end of the aisle. I hear loud screaming, but clearly I did not learn from previous experiences that screaming should be my warning sign. We get to my other uncle who is hunched over on the floor. I asked my dad what he was doing and he said that the pig was giving birth.

“I get to see a BABY pig?! Amazing!”

We get closer and I noticed why my uncle was hunched, his hand was up to his elbow inside a pig. There was a problem with the birth and he had to help it along. Before I had a chance to even react, out came the babies.

“Um, Dad? So they don’t come out furry and cute when they are born?”

My uncle asks if I want to touch the slime and blood covered babies.

“…no…”

My dad still continues to tell me stories about growing up in a small town that had less people then my college campus and what it was like growing up in a poor farming family. I treasure each one of them, and hope to be able to share them with you in many future posts to come. I’m proud of my dad. He was the first person in his family to graduate college, the first in the town to go to grad school and complete it, and the first one to move to the states. I took for granted the road he took for us and through some reflections I’ve had in the past couple of year, am grateful for the sacrifices he made for my brother and I. Because, if it where not for him and his ambitions, I would probably not have had the creativity or drive to create this blog and instead, would be neutering pigs.

~stuff

1½ ground pork

1 tsp oil

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 c scallion, minced

¼ c soy sauce

1 c soy sauce pickles (you can get this in any Chinese market), sliced

5 tbs pickling liquid

1½ c water

½ c Chinese rice wine

~steps

brown pork in a large saucepan or pot with oil on high heat

add scallion and garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute

turn heat on medium high heat and add the rest of the ingredients

simmer on medium for at least 30 minutes

serve with rice.

-serves 6-

11
Jan
13

Day 9: Garlic Chive and Bean Sprout Stir-Fry

Please accept this stir fry as my apology.

Please accept this stir fry as my apology.

Hi friends,

 

I’m going to apologize to you all for today’s post.  There is no funny story, no memory from the past, or some interesting research that I have done.  Instead it is a recipe, that my Mom did teach me, and a letter of apology.

 

When I started this journey to blog three years ago, it was solely for the purpose to document recipes that I would want to revisit in the future.  Stories, anecdotes, and essays where more of an afterthought when it came to posting on brb…eating and wasn’t a priority of mine.  However, a few years have gone by and I realized that I found joy in sharing the stories with everyone about my memories, experiences, and connection that I have with food.

 

I did a food blog marathon a few years ago as a challenge to myself to continue writing and follow through on projects.  I, like many people, start things with excitement, joy, and determination to finish but soon fall into the comforting embrace of laziness and procrastination.  So, in 2010, I challenged myself and completed my first 30 posts in 30 days marathon.  I was excited to accomplish something as challenging as a marathon.  However, in all honesty, I was not proud of the posts.  They felt rushed, forced, and shallow at times because my focus was on the recipe and not on the story.
This time around, with a slightly improved writing style, I’ve set out to do a marathon that I am proud of.  Instead of focusing on the food, I would focus on the story and find out what dish that inspires from it.  From that I have been able to share spills in ice water, the history of Chinese restaurants, and my mom and dad trying to force me into a life of crime.  But, today, I’ve hit a block.  The first time I did a marathon, posts took an average of 3 hours to create, cook, and write.  Now, I work 8 to 9 hour days and in addition spend 4 to 5 hours developing and creating the recipe, photographing the completed dish, and then writing the post to share with everyone.  At the end of the day, doing this on a daily basis is rough and something I didn’t plan.  But, I’m not letting it deter me from completing.

 

Since I made the rules for this blogging marathon, I feel like it will be ok to add one more rule.  I’m here by stating that it’s ok for me to not have a “traditional brb…eating” post once during the marathon process.  This will give me a chance to recharge, reboot, and be re-invigorated to continue on in the rest of the marathon.  So, I’m using that rule today as I share with you a recipe that my mom made when I was young.  It’s a stir-fry recipe so it’s quick, easy, and fresh.   It is the perfect post on a day where I am suffering from a loss of words.

 

I also now understand, why some of the bloggers that I admire write on a weekly basis.  And the ones that write more than once a week, I admire you even more.

 

~slu

 

~stuff

1 tsp oil

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 c garlic chives, one inch pieces

2 c mung bean sprouts

1 tbs rice wine

1 tsp salt

 

~steps

heat  oil in a wok or pan on high heat until it begins to shimmer

stir fry  garlic until it begins to change color

add chives and bean sprouts and stir for a few minutes

season with rice wine and salt and stir

serve as a side

 

-serves 3-

10
Jan
13

Day 8: Tomato Egg Drop Soup

Tomato Egg Drop (Flower) Soup

Tomato Egg Drop (Flower) Soup

As you know from a previous post, one of the most common dishes that I made when I was young was a noodle soup that my parents taught me. It was a dish that I commonly made after school and would involve whatever vegetables I can find, canned chicken stock, and scrambled egg. Well, it was supposed to be egg drop, but I was having trouble with creating the desired texture. Instead I was getting an omellette floating on the top of my soup.

For .01% of people who have never had a soup from any Chinese resteraunt, Egg Drop or Egg Flower soups are soups that have scrambled egg in it. The egg is done in a technique that creates a light feathery texture to the scrambled eggs allowing it to keep the broth light and fresh. Also, by doing the egg drop method, you’re ensuring that each scoop of the soup with have a subtle egg flavor rather than a big bite of egg.

If I sound a little too enthusiastic about the egg flower method, I am. I think it’s a brilliant cooking technique that has stood the test of time and it’s also one of the first cooking techniques that I learned. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to master this technique when I was only 13 years old. There is a sense of accomplishment that one feels when they finally get thin ribbons of egg in the soup.

When I was young, I was having a problem with my egg drop technique. I finally asked my dad to teach me how to make the egg drop soup and he said the secret was to turn the heat off completely and using one chopstick to stir. By having the heat off, your ensuring that the eggs don’t cook too quickly. The same theory is being used when you cook scrambled egg on a lower heat, because high heat would just turn it to rubber. By stirring with one chopstick slowly, the broth will be agitated just enough to move the egg around, but not too quickly to break up the eggs. The goal is to create a slow flowing movement to build ribbons instead of agitating the egg to break down the protein. If there is too much agitation, you risk turning the soup cloudy.

Now, the first time you do this, it might not be perfect. But, after a few times, I promise you will be just as good as your neighborhood Chinese take out.

~stuff

4 c chicken broth

2 c water

3 tsp salt

3 medium tomatos, sliced into wedges

1/4 c scallion, minced

4 eggs, beaten

~steps

combine first four ingredients and turn heat on high

simmer soup for 20 minutes, until the tomato begins to break down

turn off heat and slowly pour egg into soup while stirring the soup

add scallions and serve

-serves 4-




…me…


i hunger...i cook...i eat...i come back...i reminisce...i blog...enjoy.

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