Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lychees: from Jell-O to martinis

I am always pleasantly surprised when I ask my Caucasian friends if they like lychees.  I think this tropical fruit has a very distinct flavor and texture that you either love or hate.  But almost everyone I have asked has said, “Oh, I love lychees!”  Shame on me for underestimating the worldliness of my friends’ palates.

One of my most distinct childhood associations with lychees was when I was about seven years old.  My Uncle Mike was a bachelor in his mid 20s and had invited my family over to


Prior to starting my blog, I tested this lychee martini out on some of my good friends from college.  I was a little nervous because there is a very successful restaurateur in the group.  His scrutinizing palate coupled with his ever present frat-boy sarcasm could be a lethal combo.  However, soon after our party, a lychee martini appeared on his restaurant bar menus.  I'd say that calls for a round of Dragon Lady Martinis.  Cheers!

Serves 2 
4 whole lychees (from the can, found in the Asian section of most supermarkets)
1 cup ice cubes
3 oz. Soho® lychee liquer
3 oz. vodka
2 TB lychee syrup juice (from the can of lychees)

Garnish two chilled martini glasses with two lychees on cocktail skewers.  Fill shaker with ice cubes.  Add the lychee liquer, vodka and lychee syrup juice.  Shake vigorously for 10 seconds.  Pour into martini glasses.

Monday, December 21, 2009

“Just needs a little soy sauce, mom!”

When mom used to make her weekly Sunday dinners for our immediate family 0f 17, it really was a grand affair.  We’d pack the chairs around the round dining room table and feast on no fewer than eight delicious courses of home-cooked Chinese food.  With a gentle flick of the wrist, the spinning Lazy Susan would smoothly float the platter of choice right in front you.  Each time my mom would bring out a steaming hot stir-fry dish from the wok, she would say with a shrug, “Oh, it’s not that good.  I don’t know, it’s just okay.”  Of course, every morsel you tasted was always one of the most delicious things you’d ever put in your mouth.  But it’s a Chinese thing to be modest and humble. 

There’s actually a scene out of Amy Tan’s best selling novel, “The Joy Luck Club,” that reminds me of our family dining ritual.  In the film, when the mom proudly brings out her grand finale dish amidst everyone’s “oohs” and “ahhs”, she demurely says, “Oh, it’s not so good.  Not my best…”  Of course she doesn’t really believe this.  But then the doofus Caucasian boyfriend proclaims, “Oh, that’s okay, all it needs is a little soy sauce!” and douses the entire platter with a bottle of soy.  The room goes silent, the family is frozen with shock, the mom’s mouth is gaping open, and the clueless boyfriend continues to eat the now-ruined dish.  Ever since that movie came out, whenever my mom presents her signature kung pao chicken at the end of an eight course meal, my husband just can’t wait to say, “Just needs a little soy sauce, mom!”  (Ar, ar!)  It was probably an LOL the first couple times he did it.  But now my mom brushes it off with an affectionate, “Okay, okay…”, and my dad just gives him a courtesy chuckle and spins the Lazy Susan. 

My parents have come a long way.  They have a sense of humor now.  And, they’ve really loosened their cultural boundaries.  A couple decades ago, this certainly was not the case.  I should mention that we all married lo fans (that’s Chinese for “Caucasian”, or as we affectionately like to say, “white person”).  It’s hardly an issue now, but 25 years ago it was a huge point of contention.  My oldest sister and her boyfriend John M. (now husband) really had some major ground to break.  After all, they were the first culprits to crush my parents’ dream of having a nice, smart, rice-loving-Chinese son-in-law.  Instead, they got a nice, smart, potato-loving- Irish son-in-law.  (Damn banana-kids!)

I know John M. was truly devoted to my sister because he was practically put through Chinese water torture before my parents finally gave him their blessing.  It was nothing personal.  He was just, well…white.  But they grew to truly love and accept him.  To make a long story short, this is how my brother-in-law puts it…”your parents took a long time to open that door to me, but once they did, they pulled me inside and have never let go.”  (kinda brings a tear to my eye.)  That sentiment can also be taken quite literally, because John M. initially would never even come to the front door when he picked up my sister for dates.  He’d park on the corner and wait for her in the car.  We also had a German Shepard, Dartanian, who ferociously barked at lo fans, but for some reason, didn’t make a peep at Chinese people.  Honestly, no one ever trained Dartanian to do this; he just did it!

My second oldest sister inducted the second lo fan son-in-law into the family.  So by the time I brought my boyfriend (who is now my husband, and whose name is also John) around, my conniving brother Mark would welcome these lo fan-initiating-opportunities with open arms.  Although Mark is 4 years older than me and is a successful business man, he is the biggest jokester I know and often possesses the maturity level of a kindergartner.  The first time John came to dinner at my parents' house, he brought a bottle of wine.  Mark got his hands on it, and taped a fake tag on the bottom indentation of the bottle that read, “To John, From Susie.  Xmas ’88” to make it look like a re-gift.  When he nudged my sister at the dinner table and showed it to her, her eyes popped out of her head with embarrassment for John.  The next time John came for dinner, Mark clinked on his water glass and announced out of the blue, “John would like to make a toast now…in Chinese.”  On another occasion, when Mark tried to teach John some “respectful Chinese phrases” for him to say to my parents, John knew better.  He realized that if Mark tried to teach him to say “Your hair looks nice” to my mom in Chinese, the phrase probably really meant “Your butt looks huge.”

Now that my mom’s family dinners have become fewer and farther between, the upside is it doesn’t give Mark as many opportunities for his antics.  The downside:  we don’t have as many opportunities to feast on the family favorites, like kung pao chicken.  Again, that is the purpose for this blog.  So give this special recipe a try, and let me know what you think.  If you tell me, “It just needs is a little soy sauce,” I’ll hope you are joking.


Prep ingredients earlier in the day, then sit down to a Kung Pao Chicken dinner in 20 minutes!

This Dragon Lady signature dish has a slight tinge of spiciness to it.  But if you prefer more “pow” to your kung pao, add 1 ( or 2 , or 3!) more green Serrano chili to the recipe, or sprinkle in some red pepper flakes during the last 3 minutes of stir-frying.  If you prefer white meat, you can also substitute boneless, skinless chicken breast for the chicken thighs (note:  the breast meat will cook faster than the thigh meat).

Serves 4
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon corn starch, divided
½ cup low sodium soy sauce
¼ cup white wine
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger root (Microplane zester grater works best), or ½ teaspoon ginger powder
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon white pepper
4 garlic cloves
4 green Serrano chilies
6 stalks celery (about 3 cups, chopped)
1 large yellow onion (about 3 cups, chopped)
4 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 tablespoons black bean garlic sauce (in Asian food aisle of most grocery stores)
¼ teaspoon salt

Steamed white or brown rice

Trim off excess fat from chicken thighs and cut meat into 1/2” pieces.  Place in a shallow bowl.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of corn starch on chicken and turn to coat.  In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce, wine, ginger, sugar and white pepper.  Pour 1/8 cup of the marinade mixture over the chicken and turn to coat.  Set aside.  (If prepping in advance, cover chicken with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.  Take out 30 minutes before stir-frying.).  Add the other 1 tablespoon of corn starch to the remaining marinade; stir until dissolved and set aside.

While chicken is marinating, finely mince the garlic and set aside.  Finely mince the chilies