Curry Rice Gratin

It's THAT time again-to clean up my fridge. Trav has a thing with casserole; he hates it without a verbalizable reason. So every time when I am about to make this dish, I need to say: Honey, I'm making the oven rice again! Yet Gratin is truly a subcategory of casserole. As far as I understand, every casserole dish thrown into the oven has bubbly, golden-brown topping (made of cheese and/or bread crumbs) as the outcome could be called Gratin. 
So I started with a container of steamed rice, which is a staple of our leftovers. I also gathered the last cube of Japanese curry form the fridge's compartment and a frozen link of chorizo sausage. Let the assembling line begin!
The rice part:
Chop onions, garlics, carrots, cabbages (you can certainly use something else, such as peas, corn kernels, celery, or bell peppers) into fine cubes, set aside.
Heat up the pan and add a bit oil on it; discard the case of the sausage and torn the meat into the similar size of the vegetables; adding all of the vegetable mixture onto the pan after the sausage turns slightly brown. Add a bit flour into the mixture and stir well at this time.
Add one can of chicken broth and a cube of Japanese curry, and then the rice.
After all of the ingredients are combined well, the texture would turn risotto-like, starchy- looking. Adjust the seasonings and set aside.
Finish it in the oven:
Prepare a casserole dish (with a shallower depth and wider-opening face). Grease the bottom of the dish very slightly and dump the rice mixture into it. Preheat the oven to 380 degree. Sprinkle your fav cheese generously on the top of the dish (I used pepper jack, smoked cheddar, and parmesan, which were the only three cheeses I had at that time). Add some herbs if desire. Bake it for 15-20 minutes. For golden-brown result, crank the heat up to 390 (or 400) degree after the first 15 minutes for another 5 minutes/or you can simply use broil. Please keep an eye on it at this stage of cooking; you want a golden-brown topping instead of a burnt one. 
If you like comfort food, you would love this dish! 
p.s. If prefer more chewy. starchier texture of rice, you can use risotto rice instead. Yet it would be more expensive alternative, I think. Even for just using the regular sushi rice, the result is quite starchy and satisfying.   



Steamed buns & Taiwanese shrimp pancakes

I do think marriage is not easy. Before getting married, I sometimes wondered if I would be a good wife. I still ask myself the same question silently often.
I bought a package of flour mixture to make steamed buns and followed the instructions printed on its back. And the result--not very successful. I think I should have rolled out the dough thiner so that the bun wouldn't have tasted so...cakey. Anyway, I need someone to teach me how to wrap a bun in person...
The Taiwanese shrimp pancake is supposed to be an oyster pancake. Taiwanese usually puts oysters into this kind of street food. the most important things are the freshness of the seafood and the sauce. You can put any kind of seafood you like into this pancake. 
The dough:
1 cup sweet potato starch; 2/3 cup 太白粉(or corn starch); 2 1/2 water
mix them together and set aside 
The sauce
ketchup; miso paste; dark soy sauce (醬油膏, I usually don't have it in my pantry, so I just use regular soy sauce); sugar; water (I got this recipe from this blog: tw.myblog.yahoo.com/jersey-wind/)

Saute the shrimps or choice of seafood first, and then add the dough, cook for a while
add some leafy vegetables and one egg, cook till done. Drizzle the sauce freely on the top.


Belated Happy Valentine's Day and President's Day!

Trav & I have been getting up early on Saturday mornings to serve at MTC since last month, and this past Valentine's Day (Sat) was no different. While I was chewing my oatmeal groggily, Trav presented me my first valentine's gift (from him) ever-a "cow" bank and heart-shaped shortbread cookies! I knew right away where the cow bank came from since it was spotted in a nearby dollar store during a spontaneous window-shopping trip. The shortbread cookies were catered to my taste-NOT fond of chewy cookies! My sweetie Trav! He told me a single rose's price was raised to about 15 bucks (around BYU campus) so that he couldn't get me one. And he also told me that he thought I would choose food over roses if I could only choose one. (Yeah, you know me well, Trav) Well, you can see we've been struggling to meet the ends and roses are too luxury for us. Since dear bishop did encouraged us to serve in the temple to celebrate this special holiday, we went, in a very snowy, windy afternoon, and luckily the sky did clear up after the temple trip. We decided to rush to grocery stores and finished shopping for next week. Everything seemed pretty ordinary by far yet tinted with a slight bubbling anticipation of the Valentine's Day dinner, which was supposed to be a surprise for me. 
Finally, the moment had come. We sort of dressed up and sort of pretended to be in a premarital dating scene (which implies more excitement, I think). Our reservation was at 8 so we went to the restaurant, the Ottavio's, a bit earlier...
Then we saw its reception area packed with people.
At first, we were not concerned. We had a reservation, wasn't it? A reservation was supposed to protect us from such an embarrassing, seem-to-be-endless waiting in an over-crowded front of a restaurant. Different scents of perfume and cologne were entwined, mixing with some sort of anxiety. I tried to strike a conversation with a mid-aged woman and she revealed that she ALSO had a 8-o'clock reservation.
Bummer. I thought.
Yes. The two-third of this crowd had reservation around the same time. Yet we were not moving at all. The freezing air sneaked in through the often on-and-of front door. I felt myself as if a prisoner was enticed with the smell of food yet only could stay in a cold chamber. 
Time seemed to pass slowly. I was anxious, angry, then silent. The lady at the front desk called different parties in and some of them were even walk-ins or had later reservations than us. I started to ponder on justice. 
Finally, we got in around 8:40. 
Well, unfortunately, that's the part impressed me the most during this romantic day. The food was good yet wasn't worth 40 min. wait and 49 bucks. So please don't go to this restaurant on Valentine's Day unless they decide to not over-book the Valentine's Day reservations...(Their lunch menu looks much more affordable; about 8 to 10 bucks for a main dish. 
I need to say that compared to the Valentine's Day, we had a more relaxing and fun experience at Dad & Mom's place. Chatting with folks during Sunday evening, sleeping-over, munching leftover Valentine's Day chocolate and watched old classic Star Wars with a slice of rich, fattening cherry pie garnished with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Thank you Dad & Mom! I love you guys and it's always a pleasure to invade your big, warm house!!   

Egg Dumpling

Egg dumplings are usually used in Chinese hot-pot cooking. To be honest, I've never made it on my own since I always had easy access to it in Taiwan. Well, apparently, things have changed a lot after I moved over here. I went to Old Chao (老趙店), located on University Ave, last Saturday and intended to get some blood rice cakes. Apparently this delicacy is not popular here, thus the store doesn't carry it any more:( Ah, I do miss the blood rice cake though. When I go back to Taiwan, I definitely will eat some steamed blood rice cake, fried blood rice cake, and spicy stewed blood rice cake with stinky tofu (my fav)!
I guess not everyone is crazy about the blood rice cake or stinky tofu as much as I am. So I went ahead and got some hot-pot dumplings, such as fish dumplings and a sort of fish ball with fish-egg stuffing, which is Trav's fav. Egg dumplings are easier to make as compared to the above two. If you have made 1) dumplings (pot sticker) and 2) omelet before, you'll find making egg dumplings is a piece of cherry pie (in commemorating President's Day, haha!)
For the stuffing 
Mix ground pork, ginger, green onion, pepper (preferred white pepper powder), soy sauce, chicken powder (optional), sesame oil, and salt. Knead it till the consistency shown in the pic.
For the egg wrap 
Mix 3 to 4 egg with some water, some corn starch, pepper, salt, and chicken power (optional). pour about 1 to 2 table spoon egg mixture onto a hot pan. Place the pork stuffing on one side of the omelet and fold the other side unto the pork side before it's completely cooked. Make sure you seal the edge of the omelet before it's completely cooked. See the pic. The size of one egg dumpling should resemble that of a regular Chinese dumpling. 
You can add the home-made egg dumpling to your chicken noodle soup or any kind of soup. I added it to my kimchi soup along with some vegis and hot-pot dumplings, yum!


Recipes learned from Magazine

I like to check out magazines from library, especially some home & women magazines. They provide some fresh ideas for me to play in the kitchen. Due to our TIGHT budget, I tend to adopt recipes using more affordable ingredients. Here it goes!

thai chicken legs (From Woman's Day, Jan. 2009 issue, the following recipes are also from the same issue)
Serves 4   Total: 7 to 9 HR ON LOW

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 each chicken drumsticks and thighs (about 2 1/4 lb), skin removed [of course you can save the skin]
1 large red pepper, quartered and sliced
1 can (14 1/2 oz) petite diced tomatoes with zesty jalapenos
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp each fresh lime juice and soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground ginger
8 oz fresh mint leaves, cut in strips
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

So put everything in at once expect for the snow peas (only need 15 min. to be cooked through), mint and chopped peanuts are for garnish. 

Skewers Ideas: 
Different combinations: Chicken tenders and zucchini slices; Swordfish chunks, bay leaves, lemon wedges, grape tomatoes; large shrimp, pineapple and cubanelle pepper cubes; Thin-sliced beef round steak (rolled around scallions, then sliced) and asparagus; Lamb chunks, mushrooms, red and yellow pepper cubes; Pork tenderloin chunks, apple slices, sage leaves, red onion slices.
Dips for dunking
Whisk 1/2 cup cream of coconut, 2 Tbsp each creamy peanut butter and lime juice, and 1 to 2 tsp jalapeno hot sauce in small bowl. Stir in 1 Tbsp chopped jalapeno pepper.
Red Pepper Mayonnaise
Pulse in food processor 1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted red pepper strips, 1/2 cup light mayonnaise, 1 small clove garlic and 1 tsp red wine vinegar. Cover; refrigerate until serving.
Cilantro Chimichurri
Pulse in food processor 1 cup packed cilantro leaves and 3 cloves garlic until finely chopped. Add 1/2 cup olive oil, 3 Tbsp each lime juice and water, 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes and 1/2 tsp salt; process until blended.
Curry Yogurt
Pulse in food processor 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup mango chutney and 2 tsp curry powder. Cover; refrigerate until serving.
Asian Soy-Orange
Mix together 1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce, 3 Tbsp each dark brown sugar and water, 1 Tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tsp grated ginger, and 1 tsp grated orange zest until sugar dissolves.
Versatile Marinade
Serve 4
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon or lime juice or vinegar
2     tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flacks or ground black pepper


about mixed children

I was reading an article in Vogue (on the October 2008 issue) on the differentiations in a cross-cultural, racial marriage. The author, Christina Thompson, a white New Englander married to a Polynesian New Zealander, expressed her expectations for her children in the following message:
"...But what I truly hoped for, what I still hope for, is that they will end up someplace comparatively neutral. I like to think they might ultimately have social identifies as fluid-seeming as the way they look, with their black eyes and brown hair and varying shades of skin. Ethnically indeterminate, difficult to place, they are, in my fondest dream of their imaginary future, unconstrained by membership in any social class." (Italics added)
I just think this message is cool:) If I have kids in the future, it would be what I hope for.


I found this bag of yakisoba at the corner of our freezer and it looked "suspicious." Why? Cuz I couldn't recall when I got this at all. I guess either Trav got this or we got it together during one of the many trips to different oriental stores. Yet I am sure it happened way before we got married! Um...in other words, I don't know how old this pack is.
 Well, I guess I feel courageous today so I risk myself to partake it regardless of its suspicious expiration date. The ready-to-make yakisoba package contains 3 individually-packed frozen cooked noodles and three packages of seasonings. In order to make my lunch more nutritious, I add a couple of ingredients, such as shredded onions, carrots, cabbages, one clove of garlic (smashed), one strip of bacon (uncured), one egg, and some chopped green onions. See the pic. These ingredients mixing with one package of frozen noodles makes about one-two servings. (If you eat as much as I do, then it only makes up for one serving) Basically, you can add whatever you want to the noodles. I make a thin egg skin by pan-frying the mixture of one egg, some water, a pinch of salt & pepper, and a pinch of corn starch. Corn starch makes the egg more stretchable and less fragile. Cut the egg skin into strips after it's cooled down. Saute all of the ingredients (expect for noodles) first, then add water and seasonings, and then add the noodles. I add some additional yakisoba sauce into the noodles. You can also buy yakisoba sauce in the oriental store. We always have some in the fridge since Trav makes okonomiyaki pretty often and we discovered that we can totally substitute yakisoba sauce for okonomiyaki sauce.      


Chinese-style Tomato Beef Noodle Soup

I had a rough day yesterday, so did Trav. We went up to the USCIS office in Salt Lake City and met with some officer to go over our questions about the application. I'm still waiting for my birth certificate sent from Taiwan while Trav needs to deal with his dad's & his Tax info. Ahhh...How dreadful it is! If I miss the deadline to submit all of these required documents, my application might be denied and we need to start it over. Consequentially, I won't be able to visit Taiwan in anytime soon. I haven't been home for almost two years and I really want to go back to visit. I need prayers, the more the merrier:(
Trav loves this noodle soup very much and I've been making it several times since we started dating. It's funny that I've never made this dish before I met him so it's packed with our mutual memories, I guess. I'm suprised that he likes the anise flavor. Here is how to make the soup base (about 5-6 servings):
1. Saute fresh ginger (chopped and lightly-smashed), roughly-chopped onion, and roughly-chopped green onion till they're aromatic. 
2. Add beef chunks (about 0.9 to 1 lb), which has been boiled with hot water thus removed some bloody water.
3. Add about 2 table-spoon sugar and 1 big table-spoon chinese chili bean paste, saute till aromatic
4. Add fresh tomato chunks (about one big tomato), saute till soften. Adding tomato this time makes the result somehow thicker and starchier. Good stuff!
5. Add water till cover all of the ingredients.
6. Add three star anises and about 1 cup of soy sauce 
7. Ok, then you can add some carrots and Daikon radishes. Daikon radish is usually pricey so I've been substituting regular green cabbage for it. Add some more water till cover all of the ingredients.
8. Simmer the pot for at least two hours. Cook some noodles to serve with the soup.
Well, I usually cook it without recipe so it's hard for me to give you the measurement. Just trust your taste bud when it comes to adjusting the seasonings and flavor. It's better to use beef with tendon parts. I don't like to use the regular beef stew parts; it's just not as good as the fattier or beef tendon parts. This dish is also better on the next day! Garnish with fine-chopped green onion and cilantro. 


Humble Oven Fries & Split Pea Soup

Urrrr...I can't believe it's snowing AGAIN! I was really looking forward to spring and warm weather, sigh. Anyway, I made the oven fries and the pea soup a couple of days ago. These are so easy to make and they also clean up the leftovers in your fridge well. 
When it comes to fries, I use any kind of potatoes I can get my hands on. I know some breeds are starchier than others and the retainment of starch affects the crispness of fries. Generally speaking, less-starchy potatoes yield crispier fires. (But it's kind of annoying to figure out which is starchier than others, isn't it?) I used to prefer red potatoes, especially those tiny ones, for oven fries because I just needed to chop each one  in half. How convenient! But red potatoes are usually pricier than others. Russet potatoes are pretty common and price-friendly.  
So this time I used russet potatoes to make fries. The trick is to keep the skin on for at least two good reasons: one is that it's more nutritious this way and the other is that it saves time and trouble. (and the outcome is yummier!) Just simply use a scrub sponge (I have one reserved for scrubbing vegetables only) to remove dirt or mud off the skin. And then julienne the potato into desired strips. On the other hand, mix olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt, and Italian herb mix (or thyme, rosemary, fresh/dry parsley...well, you get the idea). Wanna get fancy? Sprinkle some paprika. Rub the oil mix onto the potato strips and send the whole thing into the oven on 380 degree for 30 plus minutes. If you want the result crispier, then just let the fries stay in longer. No-brainer, right? If by any chance you have truffle oil in your pantry, you may drizzle some on the fries and then it becomes the truffle-oil fries ($8) I had at a restaurant in Carlsberg, California:p  
The pea soup is another easy task. If you have milk/half-half/whip cream and chicken stock in your fridge, then you can make any sort of creamy soup. I first sauteed chopped leak (the white and light green parts), chopped onions, and two strips of bacon pork with butter and then added flour into the pen. After mixing well, I threw in few cauliflower florets along with almost 1/3 bag of frozen split peas (the fridge-cleaning act). Added chicken stock. After all of the ingredients soften and cooled-down, I pureed the soup with a smoothie maker (well, the main point is to puree, so use any reasonable tools you can get hands on). Afterwards I heated the soup again, poured in some cream, and seasoned it with salt and pepper (and parmesan cheese). You can also make corn, roasted red pepper & tomato, or other other kind of vegie soups in this manner. Good luck on experimenting your own!     


Miracle happens everyday!

Conversion, the most miraculous event, is occurring everyday at every corner of the earth.

"Conversion is the greatest miracle. It is even more wonderful than healing the sick or raising the dead. For while a person who is healed will eventually fall sick again and ultimately die, the miracle of conversion can last forever and affect the eternities for the convert as well as for his or her posterity. Whole generations are healed and redeemed from death through the miracle of conversion."-- quoted by Susan Tanner from her husband's mission journal. 

I think it's so inspiring:) Who says there's no miracle nowadays? 


Chicken Pot Pie?

I love libraries! I've been checking things out of the Provo public library, such as books, DVDs, and magazines. I'm glad I didn't need any "American government-issued" IDs to apply for the library card. Ah! I love the feelings of using stuff for FREE! The Provo library is located on University Ave. and is merely 10-12 minutes away from my house by walking. I've been more willing to walk around my neighborhood lately since the temperature has been much warmer than before. I really can't wait for the spring anymore. I'm not a big fan of working out (yeah, I know, it's bad...) so I count the walk back and forth to the library as my daily exercising regimen. Walking makes me move around, being "green," save gas money...How wonderful !(Yup, I try to comfort myself and overlook the fact that I can't drive)
Yeah, do you notice the chicken pot pie in the pic doesn't look like a regular one? It doesn't even look like a "pie" and definitely doesn't look like  one you can get from your grocery store's freezer aisle. I've tried some of the store-bought kinds; some of them are good whereas the others only contain little flavor with plenty of salt. A good store-bought chicken pot pie usually costs more than 3 bucks; as a thrifty shopper, it's no way for me to spend a penny on it!
So why there is no crust on the "pie"? I'm just too lazy to do it. If you're familiar with the food network star host, Rachael Ray, you would notice she seldom bakes. Well, I can totally empathizes with her. I am that kind of person bakes from a box, a klutz when it comes to making any sort of pastries. So I adopted Rachael's recipe Chicken Mug Pie (please look it up on the food network website) and used the alternative way to replace a traditional crust with biscuits! I got ready-made biscuit dough and baked it in my oven; for one dollar I can make ten biscuits. Just simply dunk the biscuits into the chicken filling in your bowl then done! Make sure you either bake the biscuits in your oven or warm up them before you serve. Fresh biscuit is the best for this dish!


Music, singing, and shouting out loud

(Trav's dog, Oreo)
My personal studying music for a long time is Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 & 3. I would play it over and over again until I finish a study session, or writing a paper. There's some sort of calming power within; meanwhile, it's less distracting than other musics. This music might also have accompanied me through heartaches, different sorts of stress, and loneliness. I guess it's my all-purpose solution. There's just one downside of it: I can't really sing long with it. Sure, I can hum along with it yet where to vent my excessive energy? The yearning for connecting with this world, the yearning for doing something for real instead of staying in this lovely yet overly quite home...Sometimes I wonder. 
Thus I need to sing, not just sing, shout out loud. It's like my kind of exercising for the soul. A couple of falsettos wouldn't hurt my vocal cord. Just let my mind wander along with the pitches and the lyrics. Scream out so that I can hear the echoes of my own voice, piercing through the silent air.  
It just happened last night, right before I fell asleep. All of the sudden, I felt nostalgic about those old days while living in Taiwan and apparently being held in somebody's arm can't resolve this feeling. Don't get me wrong. I love the person I'm with and have promised him that we'll be best friends for eternity, regardless of our personal follies and shortcomings. It just that...I used to work so hard there for my dreams and future. My initial zeal for this life originated there. 23 years of my life was spent there. So many first-time experiences happened there. Although I always refuse to claim my homesickness, somehow it creeps into my dreams and my chains of thought. Have I lost something without knowing it? Do I need to find a new dream? 
About almost 2 and half years ago, Alana asked me why I am here. This is such a typical question you (especially if you're also a foreigner in this country) might have encountered on countless occasions. I didn't know why I tried to answer this seriously at that moment. I told  her, I would like to find a home. I couldn't even remember the exact wording I used, yet I knew I was searching for a home. I loved Taiwan and my family there dearly, yet I wasn't sure if that was the home in my mind. Back then, I didn't know how to love and appreciate much, yet I was adventurous and prone to risk-taking. I felt I missed something in Taiwan so that I came to the states, being rootless voluntarily. Then I found the gospel, the church, and started sensing what I might have missed in the past. I would like to ask myself, THEN, THEN WHAT? What can I do here to really mend myself whole. What kind of dream I should have from now on? And what can I do here to fulfill the purpose of my life and maybe, others' too? 
 p.s. I love Horowitz's Rachmaninoff's piano concerto no. 3 the best.


Sesame Noodles

I've made sesame noodles several times and it's been an easy way to whip up something simple, also has a taste of home. The trick here is to substitute peanut butter for Chinese sesame paste. I believe the peanut butter in the states is generally cheaper than Chinese sesame paste. For this dish, you need to mix fresh minced ginger, minced garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar (or honey), sesame oil, and peanut butter for sauce and eat the noodles with your fav toppings, such as shredded carrots, cucumbers, Japanese egg omelet, shrimps, green onions, and cilantro.    

Parmesan Eggplant

You might have heard parmesan chicken, but have you heard parmesan eggplant? The first time I had parmesan eggplant was in a local restaurant in BG, Ohio (or Biaggi's ?). The eggplant was crispy and golden-brown outside, tender and juicy inside, complimented with basil & tomato sauced pasta. As you can see in the upper picture, the making of the outward crispy coating goes through three steps; first is to coat the eggplant with flour, salt, and pepper mixture, second is to drench it in a egg & water (egg wash) mixture, and finally finish it with seasoned ground bread crumbs (seasonings: dried parsley, salt, and pepper) and shredded parmesan cheese mixture. 
The trick is that the eggplant needs to be thinly coated with these three mixtures. And it's better to slice the eggplant into no bigger than a quarter inch in thickness so that it's easier to pan-fry it and cook it through that way. If you decide to deep-fry the eggplant, you may divide it into thicker slices as desires. Serve the eggplant with tomato sauced pasta, or, like me, serve it with fettuccine alfredo. 
p.s. If you want to make parmesan chicken instead, you may pound chicken breast into thinner piece first for the best result.  


Thanks to YouTube, I can listen to pop music for free. As to the old days, the happy time of downloading pirate musics & movies onto my PC laptop has long gone. Due to moral & technical issues, I have abandoned this habit for a while. (Now playing - OneRepublic's Too Easy
It was my first attempt to make sushi and as you can see the outcome was a bit...umm..."homemade" looking. I didn't really make sushi rice, which is supposed to be infused with rice vinegar and sugar. My brand new kitchen pantry is still equipped with very scarce variety of spices and seasonings. There is neither rice vinegar or toasted sesame seeds in it. Anyway, the upper one has imitation crab and avocado in it while the bottom one has cucumber, carrots, and cream cheese in it. Eat both with wasabi & soy sauce mixture.