Monday, November 29, 2010

"T'is the Season for Lo-Mein Noodle Stories"

Hands down, my mom’s most universally appealing signature dish is her lo-mein noodles.  If there’s a big, extended-family potluck, by popular demand, mom always brings her noodles.  For family holidays, even if we have a traditional Easter brunch with egg casseroles and cinnamon rolls, we must have a pan of mom’s noodles.  And best of all, when my siblings or I host big parties with a hearty cocktail buffet, we can rely on mom to whip up a huge platter of her noodles.  Even if I hire a caterer, I still ask mom to make her noodles to round out the menu.  When my dear friend from NYC visits over the holidays, we host an intimate cocktail party for her and her husband.  She always anxiously asks, “Is your mom going to make her noodles?”  Yup, even the finest restaurants in New York can’t match the Dragon Lady!

The best part of my mom’s noodles is that she always makes a huge mound.  (My family gets really nervous if we don’t have piles of at least twice as much food as we need.)  So if you’re

Dragon Lady Lo-Mein

Dragon Lady Lo-Mein, aka the ultimate party noodles:  double (or triple) the recipe, make ahead, then cover with aluminum foil and re-heat in the oven at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes.  Also very buffet-friendly because it also tastes great at room temperature.  Offer plenty of hot sauce on the side!

 Serves 4
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons corn starch
3 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons + 4 tablespoons oyster sauce*, divided
¼ cup sesame oil*
1 pound asparagus, rough ends trimmed; cut at an angle into 1 ½” pieces
1 pound Chinese noodles*
1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided

Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce*
Hot Chili Oil*

* in Asian food aisle of most grocery stores

Trim off excess fat from chicken thighs, and cut meat into 1/2” pieces.  Place in a shallow bowl.  Sprinkle corn starch on chicken and turn to coat.  In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons oyster sauce.  Pour over chicken and turn to coat.  Set aside. 

In a large stock pot, bring 5 quarts of water to boil.  Add noodles and cook until done (about 5 minutes).  Drain noodles in a colander, and rinse with cold water.  Shake out excess water completely.  Transfer noodles to a 9x13 Pyrex dish (or large platter).   In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, remaining 4 tablespoons oyster sauce and sesame oil.  Pour over noodles and toss to coat evenly.  Set aside.

In a large wok or sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat; add chicken and marinade juices, stir-fry until 90% done (about 5 minutes).  Remove chicken from wok into a clean bowl and set aside.  Add remaining tablespoon of oil to wok; add asparagus, sprinkle lightly with salt; stir-fry until heated through (about 1 minute).  Add chicken and juices back into wok.  Continue stir-frying for 2 more minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked.  Pour over noodles, toss gently and serve with Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce or Hot Chili Oil on the side.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chinese Baby Back Ribs

Get ready to say “hands off” when you make this one!  My oldest sister whipped up these ribs for my dad’s birthday celebration last weekend, and they barely made it to the dining table.  While the glistening racks of baby backs were resting on the cutting board, my other “not-so-helpful” sister (what a surprise) snuck in and hacked off a rib to sample.  After that, the flood gates were open and five or six others followed suit (including myself!).  Even the younger kids were reaching for the carving knife to kipe a juicy rib.  When my mom makes these, she uses country style spare ribs, but I prefer the baby backs.  Either way, it’s ridiculously easy.  And your house will smell incredible!
The sugar in this marinade creates a rather tasty charred edge!

Serves 4
2 pounds pork baby back ribs (about 1 rack)
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons cooking wine or sherry
2 teaspoons salt

Cut rack of ribs into two equal halves to fit into a gallon-size re-sealable plastic bag.  (Use two bags if both half-racks don’t fit into one.)  Whisk together sugar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, wine and salt.   Place ribs and marinade in plastic bag, seal and turn to coat the ribs evenly.  Refrigerate overnight, for up to 48 hours, flipping bag 2 to 3 times to re-distribute marinade.

Take ribs out of refrigerator 20 minutes before baking.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in middle.  Line a 17” x 12” x 1” baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil.  Place ribs on pan meat side down; pour remaining marinade from bag onto ribs.  Bake for 35 minutes.  Turn ribs over; baste top of ribs with pan juices, bake for 40 more minutes, until meat is browned nicely and edges start to char.

Let ribs stand for 15 minutes.  Transfer to work surface and cut racks between bones into individual ribs; serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stir-Fry Tomato Beef

Mom's best friend, my "Aunt Suzanne" (she's not really my aunt, but in our Chinese world, every close family friend is called "Aunt-something" or "Uncle-something") taught her how to make this dish.  And then my mom taught me.  This recipe is a family favorite in both our Chinese households.  Aunt Suzanne's son (who I guess is my "cousin", but not really), makes it at least once a week.  I especially love it because the natural juices from the tomatoes create a luscious, rich sauce with the marinated flank steak.  I'd put this one in the "comfort food" category, for sure.  Once again, fire up loads of steamed rice  because the gravy is to die for!
Wedges of red, ripe beefsteak tomatoes give this dish a flavorful and saucy personality!

Stir-fry some baby bok choy or make Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce (both previously posted) to complete this meal.

Serves 4
1 lb. flank steak
¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 beefsteak tomatoes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 /2 teaspoon salt

Cut flank steak into three equal sections by slicing into thirds lengthwise.  Take each 1/3 section and cut at a 45 degree angle, against the grain, into 1/4 inch slices.  Put the slices of flank steak into a shallow dish. Whisk together soy sauce and sugar; add to flank steak and turn pieces to coat evenly.  Sprinkle cornstarch on flank steak; turn pieces to coat evenly.  Drizzle sesame oil on flank steak and continue to turn pieces to coat evenly; set aside.  (Flank steak can be prepared up to this point, covered and refrigerated several hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.)

Core and slice tomatoes into wedges, about ½” each (or 16 wedges per tomato).  Heat vegetable oil in a large wok or large sauté pan over high heat.  Add the flank steak to the wok and stir-fry until the meat is cooked halfway (the meat will look half brown-half red), about 2 minutes; remove meat from wok.

Add tomatoes and stir-fry until soft and tender, about 3 minutes.  Return the flank steak and all its juices back to the wok; add salt; stir-fry until meat is cooked through and sauce starts to thicken, about 2-3 minutes.  Serve with steamed white rice or brown rice.  

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


That’s what my friend Kristy said when I told her about the plans for my next posting: Rice Paper Spring Rolls with Shrimp.  It’s another light, healthy favorite that makes for a unique finger food any time of year, but is really just the ultimate dish for summer!

In my Rice 101 posting, I told you all about my dad’s obsession with rice.  Well the apple doesn’t fall far from the rice paddy because I love all the by-products of rice…rice candy, rice crackers, (Rice Krispy treats!), but most of all, rice noodles and rice paper spring rolls.  There’s something about the translucent appearance and light texture of them that I just can’t get enough of.  (I just polished off five of these rolls, and could have easily downed a sixth!)  Generally, rice noodles or the rice paper wraps alone don’t have much flavor, so the key is to combine them with fresh, fragrant ingredients that add texture, plus a phenomenal sauce for dipping. 

Fill a beautiful platter for a striking hors d’oeuvre at your next party.  Or serve with a green salad for an elegant luncheon or light dinner.  Just don’t forget to pass the sauce…it is equally important as the roll itself!  
Working with rice paper rolls may seem tricky, but it’s very similar to wrapping a burrito.  The key is to make sure all your ingredients are prepped and within reach, then work quickly.  The rice paper wrappers are actually very forgiving to work with.  Each time you roll one, it will get easier, I promise!

Makes 12 rolls
4 small bundles of Chinese vermicelli rice noodles (usually comes in a 10.5 ounce package with 8 small bundles), *found in Asian food aisle of most grocery stores
12 dried rice paper wrappers (8” each), *found in Asian food aisle of most grocery stores; I prefer Banh Trang Vietnam Spring Roll Wrappers
1 cup cilantro leaves, stemmed
2 cups romaine lettuce, julienned
½ cup baby carrots, julienned
36 large, cooked shrimp, peeled/tailed and cut in half (31-40/lb. size)

Chili Soy Dipping Sauce:
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tsp. Sambal Oelek chili paste, *found in Asian food aisle of most grocery stores
3 tsp. rice wine vinegar

In a small sauce pan, bring 5 cups water to boil.  Add the 4 bundles of rice noodles; simmer for about 2 minutes until noodles are cooked (do not overcook); drain in colander; rinse thoroughly with cold water until completely cool.  Set aside.

Fill a bowl (at least 9” wide and 2” deep) with warm water.  Fully immerse one rice paper wrapper in the warm water for five seconds; shake excess water and place on cutting board.  Place approximately 1/4 cup rice noodles on bottom third of wrapper, leaving at least 2” border around the edges.  Place six pieces of shrimp on noodles, then sprinkle on 1 tablespoon cilantro, 6 carrots, 8 pieces of lettuce.  Fold over the right and left sides of the wrapper.  Roll the wrapper from the bottom (closest to you) towards the top to cover the pile of ingredients,; continue to roll upwards while keeping the ingredients tightly tucked inside.  Place on a large platter, seam side down.  Immediately cover with cold, wet paper towels.  Repeat with remaining ingredients.  Keep spring rolls completely covered under the wet paper towels, then cover with plastic wrap, until ready to serve.  Can be refrigerated up to 3 hours before serving.

Whisk together the three dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl.  Pour into a small serving pitcher.  Cut spring rolls in half, at an angle.  Serve with dipping sauce on the side.  Pour a small amount of sauce into the sliced-open end of the roll before eating.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Thanks for sticking around while the Dragon Lady has been on hiatus for the last three weeks.  My “day job” as a producer took me to a project in London, followed by three days of fun in Los Angeles!  So I’m sorry to have left you hungry, but I do have a delicious braised pork recipe for you to sink your teeth into.  Literally.

However, the meat in this recipe becomes so succulent from braising, you won’t have to sink your teeth in very far at all…because the pork will just effortlessly fall off the bone.  If you’re a big fan of braised lamb shanks or short ribs, this one’s for you.  Ask your butcher to cut a rack of pork spareribs into “sweet and sour” sized strips.  You’ll end up with the perfect, bite-sized pieces of tender pork, drenched in a mouth-watering soy sauce/black bean garlic gravy.  Fire up a huge pot o’ rice and stir-fry some baby bok choy…the Dragon Lady has come home for dinner!

For my birthday meal (and when I was pregnant!), I would always request “Pai Goo” from my mom.  But now that I know how easy it is, I don’t have to wait for my birthday anymore!  Make sure there's plenty of rice -- the gravy is spectacular.  Bonus feature:  freezes and re-heats extremely well. 

Serves 6
1 rack pork spareribs* (4 1/2 – 5 ½ pounds)
1 cup soy sauce**
3 tablespoons black bean garlic sauce (found in the Asian food section in most supermarkets)
¼ cup white or red wine (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 slice fresh ginger root, about 1/2” thick (optional)
1 ½ tablespoons corn starch
¾ cup cold water
¼ cup sliced green onions

Steamed white or brown rice.

*Ask your butcher to cut the rack into “Sweet and Sour” strips (which should result in about 4 long strips, approximately 2” wide each)

**Watching your sodium intake?  Substitute low sodium soy sauce.  Or use ½ cup regular soy sauce + ½ cup low sodium soy sauce.

Cut in between the bones of each strip of pork sparerib to create approximately 2” to 3” pieces of pork; trim any excess fat and discard.  In a large stock pot, bring 3 quarts water to boil; add pork.  Cover; bring water to boil again (about 5-7 minutes); remove from heat.  Drain pork in a colander in the sink; rinse thoroughly with cold water for several minutes.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, black bean garlic sauce, wine and sugar.  Transfer pork to a large pot (braising pot or French oven works well) on medium heat; add sauce mixture; stir to coat pork evenly.  Add ginger; cover and simmer on low to medium heat (stirring every 10 minutes) until pork is fork-tender and begins to fall off the bone, about 50-60 minutes. 

In a small bowl, dissolve corn starch with ¾ cup cold water.  Add to pork; stir and continue to simmer until sauce thickens, about 3-4 minutes.  Discard ginger; sprinkle with green onions.  Serve over steamed white or brown rice.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Cool as a cucumber.  English Cucumbers are usually sold wrapped in plastic to reduce water loss.  Therefore, they are not waxed so they generally don't need to be peeled.

The time:  August, 1974.  The place:  SeattleWashington.  The temp:  hot!  When I think of the peak of summer back then, I picture two things:  a 30” light turquoise oscillating fan perched on our dining room floor…and crisp, cold marinated cucumbers.  Truthfully, a “scorcher” in Seattle in those days (pre-global warming hype) was probably only about 85°.  But I distinctly recall that those abnormally hot days were miserably unbearable.  And when dad went to the trouble of resurrecting that turquoise fan out of the basement, it was officially a sizzler in Seattle.

Since it was too hot to cook in the kitchen, dad would barbecue chicken marinated


Serves 4-6
1 large English cucumber (approximately 1 pound)
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

Cut cucumber into ¼ inch slices.  Place in a wide, shallow dish.  In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar; pour over cucumber slices.  Toss to coat evenly.  Refrigerate for 1 hour, tossing 2-3 times.  Serve chilled or room temperature. 

Monday, April 19, 2010


When spring comes around, I get really excited.  Not just for the warmer weather, but also because my husband will step up to the barbecue several nights a week.  All I have to do is throw together a salad and a simple side dish, and dinner is d-o-n-e! 

This Sesame Noodle recipe is one of those super-easy, yummy dishes you will make over and over again.  It's so easy, you'll spend the most time waiting for the pot of water to boil!  This is a perfect side for steaks, grilled chicken, fish, kabobs, anything really.  It makes for a very nice, simple lunch, too.  This is also a big hit for potlucks, picnics, tailgates, and buffets because you can make it in advance, and have it room temp or chilled.  Just one warning:  before you serve it, make sure you have the recipe on hand, because everyone will ask you for it!  Better yet, direct them to the Dragon Lady Kitchen.

The hot chili oil gives this dish a "subtle zippiness."  For spicier palates, offer Srirachi Hot Chili Sauce on the side.
Serves 6
1 pound Chinese noodles (found in Asian food aisle in most supermarkets)
½ cup low sodium soy sauce
½ cup sesame oil
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons hot chili oil

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
¼ finely chopped green onion

In a large stock pot, bring 5 quarts water to boil.  While waiting for water to boil, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, sugar and hot chili oil in a medium bowl.  Whisk together and set aside.

When water boils, add noodles and cook until done (about 5 minutes; do not overcook).  Drain noodles in a colander, but do NOT rinse.  Shake out excess water completely.  Transfer noodles to a 9x13 Pyrex dish (or some sort of wide, deep bowl)*.  Pour sauce mixture over hot noodles.  Toss to coat evenly; continue to toss about every 5 minutes, until completely cool and all the sauce is absorbed by the noodles.  Transfer to a serving platter or bowl.  Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.  Serve at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to serve cold.

*Note:  tossing the noodles in a very wide dish, like a 9x13 Pyrex, will allow the noodles to absorb all the sauce much faster and easier.  You can keep the noodles in the Pyrex, but can transfer to a prettier platter or bowl for picture perfect presentation!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I hate the “L” word:  you know, leftovers.  If I open my fridge and see remnants of last night’s dinner in little Tupperware containers, I cringe:  “Been there, done that…why did I bother saving it?”  However, fried rice is actually a yummy way to use up the excess main course from the previous night (can you tell I’m trying to avoid using the “L” word?).  Barbecued pork, teriyaki chicken or marinated flank steak all work really well with this recipe.  Extra steamed white rice?  Even better.  Fried rice works best with rice from the night before, rather than freshly made rice.  According to mom, a firmer rice is better.  The other basic ingredients for this recipe are things you would normally have in your kitchen…eggs, frozen peas, green onions.  I’ve included shrimp in this recipe, but if you don’t have any, don’t worry about it – just leave it out.  But feel free to throw in anything else you may have.  Chop up those last few grilled asparagus spears, throw in some corn off yesterday’s cob, or dice up that last portion of sautéed green beans...stretch out the “L” word into two meals.  Left with any leftover fried rice?  It actually re-heats great in the microwave for a quick lunch the next day.  Wow, double leftovers!  In this economy, maybe I should call this “Recession Rice.”

Serves 4
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ pound cooked shrimp (size 51-60 count/lb.)
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons cold water
1/8 teaspoon salt + ¼ teaspoon + 1 teaspoon salt
6 cups steamed white rice
1 ½ cups leftover cooked meat, cut into small dice (ie: barbecued pork, flank steak or teriyaki chicken)
1 ½ cups frozen peas, defrosted
4 teaspoons soy sauce
3 finely chopped tablespoons green onions
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in wok over medium heat.  Add shrimp, sprinkle ¼ teaspoon salt; stir-fry quickly just to warm through (about 45 seconds); remove from wok; set aside in small bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok over high heat.  While wok is heating whisk eggs in a small bowl; add water and 1/8 teaspoon salt; continue to whisk until well-blended.  When wok is very hot, add eggs; scramble quickly, breaking eggs into small pieces.  Turn off heat after 1 minute, but continue to cook eggs until fully cooked; remove from wok; set aside in small bowl. 

Heat 2 more tablespoons of oil in wok over high heat.  Add rice; stir-fry for 3-4 minutes or until rice is heated through and clumps (if any) are broken up.  Add meat and peas; stir-fry for 2 more minutes, mixing well.  Add soy sauce, green onions, soy sauce; sprinkle in last teaspoon of salt and white pepper.  Continue to stir-fry until all ingredients are mixed in completely.  Serve hot.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rice 101

Rice cake:  for an elegant presentation of your steamed white rice, wet the inside of a measuring cup with cold water, fill with steamed white rice, and invert onto a plate.  For picture-perfect presentation, garnish with green onions or toasted sesame seeds.

In honor of my father, I continue my focus on his favorite four-letter word:  r-i-c-e.  A childhood memory that’s in-grained (pun intended) in my head, revolves around the daily 4:00 hour:  time to make the rice for dinner.  Back then (in the 70s), years before Costco existed, my dad was ahead of the times when it came to bulk-buying.  He would stock up on 25 pound bags of rice from Chinatown, and dump them in a 3 foot tall, brown tin barrel, which sat in the corner of our kitchen next to the fridge.  That barrel represented an endless pit of rice.  I don’t recall ever seeing the bottom of that barrel, probably because my dad would panic that we’d run out and re-fill it before it got even halfway empty.

When you took the lid off the tin barrel, a light-blue, plastic teacup always sat at the top of the rice pile.  Five, level cups of rice would be precisely measured and carefully poured into the aluminum rice pot insert, making a distinct crisp, tinkling sound when the hard rice grains hit the bottom of the pot.  By the mid-70s, my mom had probably made about a thousand pots of rice.  So she finally came to her senses and taught my sisters and brother how to make rice as soon as they were old enough.  So “rice duty” became a weekly rotating chore for them to share.  I always knew when it was 4:00 because I would hear one of my siblings moan and groan about having to make rice.  No more “Speed Racer”; go make the rice!

Since I was the youngest, I was lucky enough to fly under the radar and escape the rice duty rotation.  Years later, the downside to that was that I never really knew how to properly make a pot of rice!  It would come out too hard, too mushy, too overcooked, or just plain too stuck to the bottom of the pot!  Pretty embarrassing for a Chinese girl.  Here are some “Rice 101” basics, so you don’t have to learn the hard way (trial-and-error), like me.
1.      Choosing the rice – Many of the recipes on my blog list “steamed white rice” as an accompaniment.  For all my Chinese cooking, I use Niko Niko Calrose white rice.  You can find small, five pound bags at your mainstream grocery store (in the Asian food

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Please pass the rice!

If there’s such a thing as a “rice-eating gene”, it definitely runs in my family.  Or perhaps it originated in my family.  For as long as I can remember, my dad has always loved rice.  He wholeheartedly believes that a meal is not complete without it.  All our relatives and family friends are very aware of dad’s rice fixation.  Even when my mom would occasionally stray away from the wok and roast a traditional prime rib for dinner, that Chinese rice pot always made its way onto the Lazy Susan, right next to the au jus.  (Au jus-over-steamed-white rice, anyone?  It’s actually not bad.)  Don’t worry, I won’t be posting a recipe for that on my blog.  
A tribute to dad’s love affair with rice:  his 60th birthday cake (17 years ago) was decorated with a bowl of rice and chopsticks (made out of marzipan).  Also pictured, from left, my grandpa (who I mentioned in my Chinese New Year story, who didn’t really have a glass eye), my mom, and my nephew, Steven.

But one particular Chinese dish that brings out the “rice-eating gene” in everyone in my family is Mapo Tofu.  This spicy bean curd recipe has such a tasty flavor, you must eat it over steamed rice to soak up every drop of savory sauce.  I have to admit, “bean curd” does not sound like the most appetizing food.  Plus, it doesn’t exactly look that appealing either.  But this dish is definitely a mouth-watering favorite for everyone in our immediate family.  Even all the kids, ranging from 8 years to 21 years, just love it.  They always come back for more, which means my mom always make sure she has plenty of rice.  Who knows?  After you try it, you may just catch the “rice-eating gene” yourself!

Mapo Tofu (Spicy Tofu)

Fresh blocks of tofu are easy to find these days.  I buy Trader Joe’s Organic Tofu, which has a firmer texture and therefore holds up better during stir frying.  However, if you use a regular (non-organic) block of tofu, it could be a bit softer and may not hold its shape as well.  To help avoid this, after you cut your tofu into ½” cubes, add them to a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain completely before using in this recipe.  Or, just buy "Firm" tofu.

Serves 4
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sambal Oelek chili paste* (found in Asian section of most supermarkets)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground red cayenne pepper*
2 teaspoons corn starch
4 teaspoons cold water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ounces ground pork**
19 ounces fresh tofu, drained and cut into ½” cubes
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped green onions

Steamed white rice or brown rice

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, chili paste, salt, and cayenne pepper; set aside.  In a smaller bowl, dissolve the corn starch in the water; set aside.  Heat vegetable oil in a large wok or deep sauté pan over high heat.  Add ground pork, breaking into smallest pieces possible, and stir-fry until cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.  Add tofu, gently stir-fry for about 30 seconds; add reserved sauce and stir-fry until sauce is evenly distributed, about 1 minute.  Add chicken broth; continue to stir fry for about 1 minute.  Add corn starch and water mixture; stir fry until sauce begins to thicken, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat; sprinkle with green onions.  Serve over steamed white rice or brown rice.

*Note: this is a 4 star spicy dish; to alter the spiciness down to 3 stars or 2 stars, decrease the amounts of red cayenne pepper and chili paste to 2/3 or ½ the amounts listed  in the recipe.

**Another note:  the smallest quantities of ground pork at the grocery store come in packages ranging from ½ pound to ¾ pound.  (If you don’t have a kitchen scale to measure 2 ounces and want to go by a “visual measure”, it’s about ¼ cup of ground pork).  What do you do with the leftover ground pork?  Divide it up into individual 2 ounce portions and freeze for next time.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap first, then wrap again in aluminum foil.  Store all these little packages in a large re-sealable bag in the freezer.  They will thaw out quickly for the next time you make Mapo Tofu.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Priceless homemade wontons: worth bartering for!

This past football season, my sister asked my brother how much he wanted to be paid for his Husky/LSU football tix.  He didn’t want any money.  Just a big batch of homemade wontons.  That’s how good these are.  If you don’t know how to make them, you can’t even buy them.  You have to barter for them.

When I was a kid, as soon as my mom got out her big, turquoise-etched Pyrex Cinderella mixing bowl, my mouth would start to water --- homemade wontons!  She’d fill the bowl with her special ground pork mixture, grab multiple packages of wonton skins, and head to


This recipe makes approximately 168 wontons, which equates to 3 meals for a family of 4, based on 14 wontons per person.  (Note:  my mom insists on serving an even number of wontons per person, never an odd number.  Must be bad luck!)  So you can have a batch for dinner, and save 2 batches in the freezer.  But if you’re like my family, they won’t last long!

Makes 168 wontons

2 packages (16 ounces each) thin, square wonton wrappers* (available in refrigerated section of Asian supermarkets)
2 pounds ground pork
1 cup finely minced Napa cabbage (about 6 large leaves; rough-chop first then run through Food Processor)
¼ cup finely minced green onions
1 egg, slightly beaten
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup water
1/8 cup sesame oil
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ginger powder (or ½ teaspoon freshly grated)

Take wonton wrappers out of refrigerator so they come to room temperature while you make your pork mixture.  Place ground pork in large mixing bowl; add remaining ingredients, stirring vigorously after each addition to mix well.


Fill a small bowl with ½ cup warm water.  Place approximately 1 teaspoon of pork mixture in middle of wonton wrapper.  With your index finger, dab a line of warm water across the top border, and halfway down the left and right border.  Fold in half, bringing the bottom half to the top so the seam is at the top.  Firmly seal edges.  Fold the top half over again, towards you.  Dab a little water underneath the bottom right corner.  Bend the wonton so the bottom right corner presses on top of the bottom left corner.  Place on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet.  Repeat with remaining pork mixture.

Place the cookie sheet of wontons in the freezer, uncovered, until they are frozen, about 1 hour (freezing wontons first will prevent them from sticking together in the bag).  Once frozen, fill large, re-sealable bags with the wontons.  Keep wontons in freezer until ready to use. 

 *Note:  if you have leftover wonton wrappers, store them in a re-sealable bag in the freezer for next time.  Thaw completely before using.

4 servings

54 frozen homemade wontons (14 per person)
5 cups chicken broth
8 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
4 tablespoons sesame oil
4 cups fresh spinach leaves, divided (optional)
4 tablespoons chopped green onions, divided (optional)
Ground white pepper (optional)
Srirachi Hot Chili Sauce (optional)

In a large pot, bring 5 quarts water to boil.  In a separate saucepan, heat chicken broth.  While pots are heating, season 4 large serving bowls with each of the following:  2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 cup of spinach leaves (if desired). 

When water pot comes to a boil, slowly add wontons, a few at a time.  Stir wontons; cover with lid; bring to a second boil.  Remove lid; stir wontons; continue to simmer uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 3-4 more minutes, or until meat is done (cut one open to check).  With slotted spoon, transfer 14 wontons to each bowl.  Pour 1 ¼ cup of warmed chicken broth over wontons in each bowl.  Stir to distribute sauces.  Garnish each bowl with 1 tablespoon of green onions, if desired.  For spicier appetites, serve with white pepper and Srirachi Hot Chili Sauce.

*Note:  if cooking fresh wontons, reduce the uncovered simmering time to 1-2 minutes.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


To celebrate the Year of the Tiger, here’s a refreshing drink that my friend Theresa taught me how to make.  They’re so good, whenever she would tell me about the recipe, she’d always end her description with, “I could drink 20 of them!”  After Theresa kept saying this, I thought she might have a little drinking problem.  But when I served them last weekend at a little pre-Chinese New Year dinner party, we went through the fifth of vodka in about 30 seconds!  Everyone just loved them.  So much to my relief, I don’t think Theresa has a drinking problem.  It’s just a really good drink!  The zippy essence of ginger is a wonderful enhancement to Asian dishes.  Cheers and Happy New Year!

*NOTE:  you will need to steep the ginger in the vodka 2-3 days prior to serving

Approximately 12 servings
One-fifth bottle of quality vodka
Fresh ginger root (about 3” in length), peeled and sliced
Six 12-ounce bottles Ginger Beer (this is non-alcoholic; can be found at Trader Joe’s)
Fresh mint leaves for garnish
Thinly sliced, peeled slices of fresh ginger root for garnish

Add ginger slices to one fifth bottle of vodka; let steep for 2-3 days.  For one serving, fill a tall glass with ice cubes.  Add 1 part vodka to 2 parts ginger beer.  Garnish with mint leaves and slices of fresh ginger.

Chinese New Year Flashback: Good Food and Good Pranks

We have always celebrated Chinese New Year by following many of the typical Chinese traditions….we try to get our hair cuts prior to New Year’s Day, we refrain from washing our hair on New Year’s Day (ok, at least the girls in the family pretended we didn’t wash our hair that day), we try not to fight, we exchange hong baos (little red envelopes of good luck money), and we all gather for a traditional Chinese dinner at my parents’ house. 

When I was in college, my oldest sister Joanie was the only one who was married, so we had more room around the Lazy Susan table back then than we do now.  Therefore, we were allowed to invite a guest to Chinese New Year dinner.  Sophomore year, I brought my Pi Phi roommate, Kay Tacke (aka, one of the “Tacke-y twins from Tacoma” – no joke.)  Kay adored

Friday, February 12, 2010

Everyone’s seeing red!

We are definitely “in the red” right now.  But that’s a good thing!  This year, Chinese New Year’s happens to fall on February 14, Valentine’s Day.  This is only the third time since 1900 that these two red-hot occasions have coincided.  And how fitting…it’s the Year of the Tiger, which is supposed to be filled with passion and great love.  So mail out the red hearts and surround your house with red roses, then buy yourself a new red outfit and give your loved ones Chinese red envelopes of good luck money.  Let the dual festivities begin!

Celebrate Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year with this non-traditional combination:  chocolate-dipped fortune cookie, nested on scoops of mango and raspberry sorbet.  The extra-sweet surprise -- the custom fortune inside!  Read on for details, and see recipe post.  

So far, I have posted a variety of Dragon Lady recipes, but haven’t shared any traditional Chinese desserts yet.  Well, there’s a reason for that.  There really aren’t any.  Okay, there are a few (which I will post down the road), but for the most part, the Chinese are not known for their sweets.  I think that’s mainly due to the fact that most Chinese people do not care for sweet, rich, sinful desserts.  “Dessert” is actually a word that’s almost non-existent in the Chinese vocab.  Unless you consider sliced oranges a dessert.  Growing up, that’s how we’d end many of our traditional Chinese meals -- with a platter of sliced fresh fruit –whoopee!  No wonder I’m a chocoholic now.  I’m making up for years and years of sliced oranges for dessert.  Someone please pass the peanut M&M’s!

However, I think there is one Chinese sweet that everyone loves:  the fortune cookie.  Alright, I know that’s really an American thing, but let’s not get technical here.  Work with me, people.  In celebration of the Chinese-New-Valentine Co-Celebration, I considered adapting a homemade fortune cookie recipe so you could write and insert your own custom fortune cookie messages.  Cute, huh?  However, it is a time-consuming and tedious task.  And once I found out about this tip, I thought “why bother?”  My dear friend Katie P. told me about a local company that makes fortune cookies with your custom fortunes inside!  They’re delicious (made-to-order, so they’re fresh), they’re fast (2-3 day turnaround) and they’re a bargain (60 cookies for $8.00)!  Simply print and cut out 60 fortunes measuring 2 ½” x 1/2”, and bring them down to Tsue Chong Co., at 810 S. King St. in Seattle’s International District (206.623-0801).  If you don’t live in Seattle, you could probably find a place in your local International District.  Or call Tsue Chong and they will ship!  They will print your custom fortune for you for $3.00 more (but you’ll be limited to one message).

To satisfy that chocolate fix, and also make these fortune cookies more “Valentine’s Day-ish”, I have posted a simple technique to dip them in chocolate for a beautiful and delicious finish!  But don’t just make these for the Chinese New Year/Valentine’s Day holiday.  After all, the rendezvous of these two occasions won’t happen again until 2048.  Consider surprising your guests with these custom treats at your next dinner party, birthday celebration, anniversary party, wedding.  Or serve alongside small scoops of mango and raspberry sorbet at the end of a simple Dragon Lady dinner.  Trust me, it beats sliced oranges anyday!


Serves 12-24
24 fortune cookies* (found in the Asian food aisle of most supermarkets)
8 ounces dark chocolate
Mint leaves for garnish

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper.  In a double boiler, slowly melt chocolate over low heat.  When chocolate is completely melted and smooth, dip a fortune cookie halfway in the chocolate.  Place on cookie sheet with waxed paper.  Repeat with remaining fortune cookies.

Refrigerate for 10 minutes to set.

*Sweet surprise:  to personalize your treat with custom fortunes inside, go to Tsue Chong Co., at 810 S. King St. in Seattle’s International District (206.623-0801).  Live outside Seattle? They will ship!  (Go to my "Everyone's Seeing Red" posting for details).