Thursday, May 28, 2009

Recipe Onslaught

Posting two days in a row, what will that crazy Pu do next? She'll continue to inundate you with Asian recipes, that's what (hey, blame MR, she actually asked for them)! To start, if you really get serious about experimenting with Asian food, there are a few things you should have on hand that will help you with your recipe creations. In my pantry/fridge I almost always have:
- Soy sauce
- Lime juice
- Hot chile sauce (usually Sriracha since I eat it on just about everything)
- Thai fish sauce
- Mirin
- Chinese cooking wine (also called Shaoxing)
- Rice wine
- Rice wine vinegar
- Tonkatsu sauce
- Sesame oil
- Peanut oil
- Canned coconut milk
- Green and red curry pastes
- Sichuan spice mix
- Chinese five spice powder
- Turmeric
- Garam masala
- Sesame seeds
- Sake
- fresh ginger
- fresh garlic
- Lemongrass paste (fresh lemongrass goes bad pretty quickly, this is not quite as tastey but much more economically sound!)
- Fermented black beans (black bean paste)

I could keep going on this list of essential ingredients, but these are some of the easiest to get your hands on. If you live in a large city or in an area with a large Asian community, you can probably find a specialty market where you can get the right produce (trust me, using galangal instead of ginger - the poor American's substitute - makes all the difference!) Even if you just have a few of these items, you should be able to make lots of yummy dishes you never thought could come out of your kitchen!

Here's the ultimate what's in the fridge, super fast and easy dinner. I make this (or variations of this) all the time (As I said before, I cook a lot of Asian food, so I have all of these condiments on hand, and I always have cabbage). You may know this dish as Chow Mien, but the correct pinyin transliteration is actually Chaomian, which literally means fried noodles. Enjoy!

Pu's Chao Mian:

1lb Chinese egg noodles
1/2 cabbage, shredded
8-12 shiitake or dried ear mushrooms, soaked, softened and chopped into strips
2 Tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp Shaoxing or rice wine
1 tsp Thai fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
about 1/2lb leftover meat sliced into strips (optional)

Cook noodles as directed on package.* Meanwhile heat oils on med-high heat, in a wok if you've got one. Add the cabbage and mushrooms and stir fry for 1-2 minutes or just until the cabbage starts to wilt a little. Remove the veggies and add a little more oil to the wok if it looks dry. Then add in the cooked noodles and the rest of your ingredients, except the meant, and cook for about 1 min. Then add in the reserved veggies and meat (if you wish) and stir fry for another min or so, and voila! The perfect 10 mintue meal.

And please remember, I cook for a family of 5, so adjust the recipe as needed! :)

*Hint - give them a cold water bath after you've taken them out of the boiling water. This will stop the cooking process and it will also prevent the noodles from sticking together and make it easier for you to stir fry them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Long Time No Post

Sorry I've not had a chance to blog in so long. Things have been quite busy at the work place. Hubs was gone the weekend before last taking a bit of a vacation in Buffalo with his Dad before he has to start his 6(!) class odyssey next week. This last weekend we were mostly busy with family stuff. We hit the St Petersburg aquarium (which sucks, there's a reason it only costs $5 to get in!), went to a barbecue birthday bash for Hubs' cousin, and, of course, hit the beach. Hubs and I also spent a night out on the town. We had dinner at the Melting Pot and then caught a show where the bassist was one of Hubs' old friend's sister. They were actually quite good, and we enjoyed the music immensely.


I realize I haven't blogged a recipe in a while, so here's one of my absolute favorite comfort foods: Mapo Doufu. I know that sounds a little odd, but this spicy pork and tofu dish is one I crave constantly. Most of my comfort foods are Asian, and I'm not exactly sure why that is. Maybe its that I've studied Chinese for so long or the copious amounts of time I've spent in the Pacific region, but I love all types of Asian food. Since I live in an area where there aren't really any Asian markets (I've heard a rumor that there may be one in Tampa, but I've yet to venture out to find it), I've had to learn to adapt my cooking to try and mirror the flavors I remember without the actual ingredients. In some cases this can be done quite easily (fried rice, yakisoba, bulgogi) in others it is not even worth trying (Tom Ka Gai, my all time favorite soup, just does not have the right flavor no matter what I try to substitute :( In the case of Mapo Doufu, I think this recipe is pretty darn close, and it certainly satisfies my craving. Be forewarned, this is not really a kid friendly recipe. C will eat it, but remember this is a kid who counts sushi and brussel sprouts among her favorite foods, i.e. not your typical eater.

Pu's Mapo Doufu:

1lb ground or diced pork
1 block soft tofu, drained and diced
2-3 tbsp peanut oil (you can use other oil if you don't have peanut oil)
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fermented black beans (you can usually find this with garlic in your grocer's Asian food aisle)
1-2 tbsp hot chile sauce (I use Sriracha)
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
2-3 tbsp Sichuan spice mix (McCormick's sells bottles of this)
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp sugar
1 cup chicken broth
3tbsp corn starch mixed in 6 tbsp water

Heat the oils over medium-high heat, add the onion and garlic and saute until softened. Add the pork and cook thoroughly. Add the hot chile sauce, black bean sauce, soy sauce, sichuan spice, red pepper flakes, and sugar and cook for another minute or so. Add in the chicken broth and mix well. Stir the corn starch into the water and add to the sauce to thicken it. Then add the diced tofu. Cook mixture on low to medium heat for about another 5 min so that the tofu can absorb all the flavor from the sauce. Serve over rice. And remember, you can always adjust the amounts of chili sauce and red pepper flakes to make the dish as spicy or mild as you like.


- Is there really anything more awesome than a toddler dancing? I love watching their little brows furrow in concentration as they run determinedly in a circle to the strains of the Go, Diego, Go theme song.
- Pre-schoolers are amazing creatures. J is basically teaching herself to swim. She enjoys spending time with his big sis in the pool, so we bought her a life jacket-type floaty vest and now she uses that to paddle and kick her way around the pool unassisted. She'll get actual swim lessons this summer when the step-kids are here
- Not sure if I have mentioned this before or not, but my company is paying for me to take more Chinese lessons (or at least reimbursing me for them anyway). I have a tutor who comes to my office once a week from the Longmen Chinese Center, and I can't tell you how much I have missed studying the language!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Totally Geeking Out...or My Trekkie Mother's Day

I cannot tell you about my fabulous moms day weekend without outing myself as the total nerd I am, but since I'm sure you're all aware of my nerdtastic tendancies anyway it probably won't come as much of a surprise. Considering I come from a family who has more members that have attended Star Trek conventions than not (yours truly being one of them), it will come as no surprise that I was both eagerly and warily anticipating the release of the new Star Trek movie. Just to put this in context, this is the first non-PG movie I have gone to see in a theater since Hubs and I went to see the 300 and I went to see it on the IMAX on opening day weekend. So, you can see that my Trekkie fandom knows no bounds. I won't spoil the movie for you all except to say that I truly, truly enjoyed it. I have a soft spot for JJ Abrams (hello, Lost anyone?) and I thought if anyone could handle the Trek franchise and breathe new life into it, it would be someone with his creative touch. The movie itself has just right amount of action, sci fi gobblydegook (space-time continuem, eeee!), and an extended cameo by the venerable Leonard Nimoy (double eeeee!). But the true bit of genius is in the casting, something I think Abrams is well known for. All of his work is marked by the excellent casting, and this movie is no exception. The movie mostly plays around the Kirk/Spock dynamic and both actors are really phenomenal at capturing the spirit of their characters. Of course, some purists will not be happy at how Abrams has messed with the timeline of their beloved Trek, but I think he has managed to put the Trek franchise back into orbit, so to speak. I can foresee additional movies and possibly even a new series spun off of this new equation, and I am all for anything that brings a little Trek back into our lives. Even more impressive was that Hubs, someone who knows so little about Star Trek that he actually leaned over to me at one point and whispered loudly, "who is Jim Kirk?", also enjoyed the movie greatly. Plus, he managed to enjoy it whilst dealing with my total geek out moments (me: OMG, that's how he got his nickname 'Bones' squeeee!; OMG, the captain is Christopher Pike, squeeee!; etc..)

In other Mommy news, we spent all weekend sunning at the pool (we did attempt to go to the beach, but it was record breakingly hot this weekend so we only lasted about 10 minutes in the blazing sun). I received many cards and flowers, as well as Tracy Anderson's Dance Cardio Workout, which has been on my wishlist for a long time but has been sold out, so I was very excited to get it. I also had a chance to speak/skype with most of the moms in my life, including my dear big sis MR, who is preggers with #2. Seems like pregnancies come in droves because, I swear, just about everyone I know is pregnant right now. I swore I wouldn't have any more babies, but I can't help feeling a twinge of sadness that I'll never have another newborn...maybe when Hubs graduates, tee hee. Much love to all the moms out there, I hope you all had as wonderful a weekend as I did!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Traveler Alert - Magical Unicorn Pony God Stolen By Dutch Sister

So apparently the Pu family only gets one magical unicorn pony god of travel smile because my experience this last weekend was decidedly not magical or ponyish. It started off with my accustomed delay out of Tampa on the first leg of my trip, but nothing too out of the ordinary. It was the joy of the Dallas airport that really made this trip special. To begin, I had planned to fly out Friday night to get to the Springs so I could work Sat-Sun and fly back Monday morning. Well, I had a four, which turned into five, hour layover at the Dallas airport, so I amused myself by traveling from terminal to terminal as American arbitrarily changed my gate five or six times. At the Dallas airport, when you go from one terminal to another, you must exit the terminal and go back through security. There I discovered that my 5oz bottle of expensive conditioner was only considered secure enough to pass through Tampa screening. Apparently Dallas is worried that too many people with shiny hair might overwhelm their ability to respond to a security incident. So I was forced to pay American to take my extremely small and light baggage since the baggage fee was actually less than what the conditioner originally cost me. Then we were delayed for another hour and sent back to Terminal C to fly out (but you had to run to make it since I had only had five hours in the airport for them to make the decision to switch the gate...again). I finally made it on board the aircraft and we began to taxi...and taxi...and taxi...all the way back to our original gate...where we were informed that due to fog in the Springs our flight was officially canceled. Of course, I was seated in row 32F, which in case you're not familiar, is the very last seat on the aircraft. So you can imagine what place in line I got when I finally got off board. After much patience on my part, I finally got to speak to someone at the counter, where I was informed that since the cancellation was due to weather and thus not the airline's fault, I would have to pay for my own hotel room. They did, however, book me a room and put me on the very next flight in the morning. I could have chosen to fly into Denver that night, but then I would have had no luggage so it was a moot point. The lady at the counter then tells me that I need to go to baggage area 26 to get my luggage (which I'd just paid to have checked even though I didn't want to). I proceed to discover that the woman is an idiot because baggage area 26 does not actually exist. After much wandering aimlessly around the airport, I attach myself to another group from my original flight that is also wandering aimlessly, and we manage to bring force in numbers and, after several unsuccessful attempts, make one of the airport employees tell us where we can find our bags. Then we make our way to the unmarked pick up area (again, strength is in the numbers...I am convinced the only reason we were picked up is because we became an angry mob of people who were looking for the hotel shuttle and someone pitied us) and make it over to the hotel. Finally, a night's sleep.

I wake up at the crack of dawn the next morning because I don't know the Dallas airport well and don't want to miss my flight. Of course, I end up with two hours to spare but at least I make the flight...which is then delayed due to more fog. After about an hour the pilot comes on the loud speaker and tells us we are just going to take off anyway and hope the fog lifts like it is supposed to. We make it to the Springs and circle the airport once, twice, thrice, god knows how many times but long enough that the pilot finally comes up and tells us we will be landing at Denver because we're running out of fuel. At this point I no longer care and just want to get the fuck off the airplane, so I am not even upset. We land in Denver and begin to taxi down the runway. As we stop at the gate, the pilot comes back on the loud speaker and says we ere just cleared to land in Colorado Springs so we are going to take back off, but we still need to refuel so it is another 45min wait and then we finally get to fly back the the Springs. So after leaving Tampa at 3pm on Friday, I finally arrive in the Springs at 2pm on Saturday. Then, of course, I have to go into work, otherwise I won't get paid. So I work until about 7pm that night, all day on Sunday (0630-1700) and then fly back on Monday only to go back to work at my civilian job. Remind me again why I do this? ;)