30 March 2009

Luxurious Cream

I made my version of fettucine alfredo for dinner and totally forgot about being a food blogger! My apologies for this post's lack of inspiring photos. A few day ago we bought a small carton of heavy cream, with the intention of having strawberry shortcake sometime. That dream has yet to materialize, so this evening I cut open the carton to make an alfredo sauce.

First I fried some chicken strips. Oddly enough, our grocery store sells boneless, skinless chicken breasts in little strips perfect for chicken fingers and, in tonight's case, chicken alfredo. Back to the frying. In olive oil, fry up the chicken adding salt, pepper, basil, and oregano until it's golden brown and cooked through. Set aside and add more olive oil to the pan and a whole diced onion, cooking until the onion is translucent. Add four cloves of garlic (diced), cook some more; add chopped spinach, and cook until wilted. Then add the chicken back to the pan along with a few tablespoons of butter, 1/2 cup of cream plus 1/2 cup of water, and a 1/4 cup (or so) of parmesan. Stir together until it resembles a cream sauce. Add your cooked pasta, and you're done!

I like how everything is made in one frying pan. Made cooking easy and clean up even easier.

I promise to have something more exciting in the coming days.

27 March 2009

Pork Is Not a Verb

China has fabulous pork. When we lived in Duluth, our pork options consisted of over-salted Hormel, which always turned out dry and salty. Here though, pork is rosy and fresh. No pale pink, anemic cuts of meat. This is real pork. And the Chinese should know how to do it right, since pork is in almost every dish.

I think that pork shoulder is an unappreciated cut of meat because it requires lengthy cooking times. Not one hour, not two, but three to four for a couple pounds of shoulder. I don't know what the Chinese do with it as it's not suitable for wok cooking, unless you slice it uber-thin, but I like to rub it down with a Latin American blend of seasonings and cook it for a good four hours at low heat.

The spice rub consists of cumin, chili powder, oregano, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Rub this into your meat and let it sit for an hour in a ceramic baking dish with a lid. Then, put it in the oven, covered, at 300 degrees and let it cook for three to four hours depending on your oven and how many pounds of meat you have.

I have adapted my recipe from NPR's The Splendid Table's Close-Roasted Pork with Ancho, Cinnamon, and Cocoa. This time I forgot the cinnamon, but this recipe is very forgiving. You can't over-cook the meat. It's virtually impossible. Stick the shoulders in sometime around 3pm and it's ready by dinner time with no extra fussing.

I whipped up some homemade tortillas and Turner added some goodness (lard, green onion, red pepper, and cilantro) to a basic can of black beans. We checked the pork at about 3 1/2 hours and it was not quite done. The meat should be fork tender and flake into lovely bits if it's ready. So, we had another cocktail and let it cook another half hour.

When everything was finally ready, we sat down for some excellent tacos. I ate four, I think, and could have had more.

Turner picked up some Beard Papa cream puffs on his way home from work. (I know it's a strange name for a cream puff store. Their mascot reminds me of Turner's father.) He brought the chocolate-covered variety this time. A perfect finish to a throughly satisfying meal. I am stuffed.

Caffeine For All

As I was drinking my coffee this morning, I came across this article from the New York Time about how beneficial caffeine can be for athletes. Sure helps me get my feet in my running shoes and out the door in the morning.

Read on and see for yourself: It's Time to Make a Coffee Run

26 March 2009

Wednesday Catch-up

Wednesdays are one of my catch-up days. Monday and Tuesday are full of classes and lesson prep, and then I get a breather (until Wednesday evening when I teach my second section of grammar). Yesterday, I went for a run, swept the floor (you can't imagine how much dust accumulates--think godzilla-sized dust bunnies), and intended to go grocery shopping. When Turner got back from class, he decided taking a nap was a better option. I didn't make it to the grocery store, but I was able to pick up what I really needed from our school store: sugar, peanut butter, tofu, vegetables. My first culinary chore was to use up an old lemon, some eggs, and yogurt. So a yogurt cake it was!

Too bad it flopped...again! It's still tasty but really dense.

I think this may be a case of needing fairly exact measurements of flour, eggs, and oil. Since I don't have any measuring cups, I usually make an educated guess at what is a cup or a cup and a half. Thirds of a cup start getting tricky.

Dinner was to be quick and easy, since I had to leave for my class a little after 6pm. I marinated some tofu (or doufu in Chinese) in soy sauce, fresh ginger, and sliced chilis for a couple of hours. When you want to buy tofu in China, you don't look for individually wrapped packages. At larger stores it is sold near the deli or prepared food counter. At our school store, the vegetable lady also deals in tofu. She has one large block--think 3 feet by 3 feet--and will cut off however much you want. I asked for about 50 cents worth and got a piece the size that comes packaged in the US.

For a vegetable, I bought some youcai (oil plant), which looks and tastes like baby bok choy but is actually a rapeseed plant.
I sliced the tofu into cubes and then fried it in some oil for about twenty minutes until each side was golden brown. The greens went in the wok for a couple minutes. And I made Peanut Sesame Noodles to go with everything.

I wonder if the Chinese would enjoy a meal like this...

I found it very satisfying, though Turner complained about how many dishes and pots I used to make such a simple dinner.

22 March 2009

A Very Windy Day at the Beach

We both had our hairs cut today. Yes, all of them. Turner actually went to a Chinese salon, brave man that he is. I was tempted but could not fathom what they would do to my lovely hair. We have seen all sorts of hideous haircuts around China. They are awfully fond of the mullet, lacking of course the cultural affiliations that most people make with mullets in the US. When Turner returned with a very reasonable haircut, I made him cut my hair.

Yes, my husband cuts my hair. It doesn't really matter since my hair forms Shirley Temple curls not matter how it's cut. I must say he took off more than I expected but it came out well, and I didn't have to brave a Chinese hairdresser.

This afternoon we took our bike to the beach. Notice the use of the singular, one bike. Turner pedals and I sit on the rack over the back wheel. It works out quite well actually, though better last year when we lived in flat ChengYang. Few people in Qingdao ride bikes because of the city's many hills.

The weather was much windier and therefore colder than I expected, so I was not dressed appropriately. I rarely am though, so it was fine.

After our beach jaunt and a trip to the local Western food convenient store for beans and gin, we had cocktail hour and Scrabble back at home.

Turner makes himself a dirty martini with gin, olive juice, and olives, and he makes me a lemon drop martini with vodka, a sugary lemon drink, and fresh lemon juice. Both are quite enjoyable and we often imbibe before dinner.

Along with our aperitif we had a regular smorgasbord (at least for China), black and green olives, vintage cheddar, and a hard-boiled egg, and played a game of Scrabble. Turner beat me, like usual.

21 March 2009

Make Your Buddha Smile

It rained today. For most of the day. My mood followed suit. In part due to my baking disaster yesterday (a whole loaf in the garbage!) and general malaise due to changing seasons, hormones, whatever, I was not a happy camper. I just wandered around the apartment, not sure what to cook, not sure what to buy, but starving nonetheless. Didn't I just write that my life is dictated by food? It's true.

Turner did his best to cheer me up with plentiful hugs, but success in the kitchen is what I really needed. So I went to our local store for vegetables and some other foodstuffs and came home with a head full of ideas.

It went a little like this. Rain. Yuck. Soup. Yum. Water. Carrots. Onion. Celery. Boil boil boil. Strain out overcooked stock vegetables. Noodles. Carrots. Zucchini. Leafy green something. Vegetable soup!

But wait, where's the protein? Ok. Eggs. Water. Boil boil boil. Cover. Hard-boiled eggs!

What a cheery plate of eggs. And perfectly cooked too. The secret, you ask? Cold eggs, cold water. Bring to a boil together for a couple of minutes. Turn off heat and cover for almost 10 minutes. Works every time.

Success at last. A comforting lunch suitable for such a dismal, dreary day.

Makes my buddha happy.

I also made rice pudding, apple crisp, and pizza dough so far today. I'm on a roll!

Tale of a Strawberry Gone Awry

In China, March comes in like a mango and goes out like a strawberry. No real metaphor for anything, other than the fact that my life seems to be dictated by food. Strawberries bring the promise of spring--tough little buggers braving Qingdao's temperamental weather like a band of brothers laid neatly in their flats on the sidewalks. While they appear hardy, these strawberries are much more delicate than their American brethren, to be eaten immediately, not baked in a pie, turned into jam, or left in the fridge for a few days. One touch and their flesh turns to mush.

But oh the smell when they tumble out of the plastic bag. That's spring.

I bought our first pint yesterday, hoping to make another quick bread as an easy way to use up fruit. I really should have taken more consideration with these first specimen. Browsing recipes on Martha Stewart and Epicurious left me with plenty that called for heavy cream or gelatin, neither of which are commonly available in China. Rather than go the shortcake or pie route, I found a Fresh Strawberry Bread recipe on Martha Stewart that seemed quick and didn't require any fancy ingrediants.

It did require me to cook the stawberries for about one minute. I should have known something was wrong when this...

Turned into this...

Another different characteristic of Chinese strawberries is the amount of liquid in them, making them delicate and difficult to cook with. American varieties stand up to heat much better, while these quickly disintegrated. Undaunted, I knew I would have to use them anyway.

Back to the bread batter (not dough, you'll find out why).

This is one of the times when I miss my gleaming ruby KitchenAid stand mixer. If a recipe calls for creaming butter, sugar, and eggs, I know my arm is in for a workout. I have gotten much better at whisking since moving to China and must be developing some sturdy shoulder muscles in my right arm. However, I will be thoroughly grateful to have my trusty sidekick back on the counter.

The recipe calls for adding the sifted dry ingredients to the wet alternating with 1/3 cup of water. Here I have soupy strawberries sitting on the counter and I go ahead with this water idea. I should have listened to my instincts and omitted the extra liquid. Before I added the strawberries, the batter looked acceptable, like a normal quick bread, but once the berries went in, I ended up with grey quick bread soup. (Chinese strawberries also lose their color quickly.) I could have made pancakes at this point. Instead, to try and salvage my disaster, I added an extra cup of flour and into the oven it went.

After the requisite hour, the bread looked almost normal.

One slice into it revealed what looked like uncooked purplish grey matter. C'est la vie. I have two slices in the toaster oven now, hoping they perk up a little to accompany my morning coffee.

UPDATE: Toasting the bread did not help, so the whole loaf went in the garbage. Bye-bye strawberries.

20 March 2009

A Tidbit

A lovely website with innovative menus and carefully edited recipes. Enjoy!

Lunch At Noon

17 March 2009

Purple Potatoes on Patty's Day

The other day I came across purple potatoes at our grocery store. I know what you may be thinking; it comes as shock to you to see them even in an American store. Imagine my surprise to find them in China. I have only seen evidence of three kinds of potato used in Chinese cooking: the traditional yellow potato for frying and two kinds of sweet potatoes--yellow and orange. These potatoes color attracted me, their novelty was also endearing, so I grabbed a bunch.

They waited patiently until today, St. Patrick's Day of all days. What an apropos day to cook with potatoes. I had cabbage, potatoes, and pork, and wanted a hearty meal to fill us up after a couple days of just noodles and sushi. Figuring I could kill two birds with one stone, I looked up potato and cabbage casseroles on the internet and found a recipe for just the thing that used cheddar cheese between layers of the two par-cooked vegetables.

After peeling and slicing the potatoes, I threw them in boiling water for a few minutes to speed up the cooking time in the oven. They turned the water almost black! I could not believe how strong the coloring was, half expecting the color to fade to a pale blue. I probably could have dyed cloth in the boiling liquid, but it went down the drain.

So I had dark potatoes, sauteed green cabbage, and cheddar cheese--not exactly a winning color combination--but I threw everything in the baking dish anyway and popped it in the oven. Cheese can usually salvage anything, so I wasn't too worried until Turner walked in the door and said the apartment smelled like something nasty. Cabbage has that deceptive odor that, until you know what it is, makes you wrinkle your nose in disgust.

The casserole turned out thoroughly colorful and a nice counterpoint to the pork chops (which ended up a little tough). I wonder if the color in the potatoes is similar to that in blueberries, which acts as a very healthy antioxidant, or something along those lines. Anyway, it was tasty.

May the luck of the Irish be with you ... and purple potatoes too!

16 March 2009

Mango Mania!

Mangoes are on sale! We're nearing the end of the season so they are marked down to move them out of the stores before they turn into a rotten mess of sticky fruit. There is a specific smell that I describe as "Mexican grocery store," which can be experienced from a bottle of Chardonnay to a pile of garbage, and stems from an amalgam of papaya, mango, melon over-ripeness. It's heady and knocks me off my feet whenever I catch a whiff. But I digress. The idea of a rotten mango just sends me over the edge.

Anyway, a few days ago I bought a whole mess of mangoes, medi
um and bite-sized. This happened to coincide with my mom buying me Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours. (I just couldn't stand not having this tome that so many great food bloggers reference.) While have to wait a few months before looking at it in person, my mom has flipped through noting some good recipes, and the first one she mentioned to me was for Fresh Mango Bread.

Divine culinary intervention, saving me from rotten mangoes!

For anyone unsure of how to cut this slippery, strangely shaped fruit, the best way is to slice the sides off the pit, score them, and then slice the flesh away from the skin.

The recipe is a basic quick bread with the addition of dried ginger, lemon zest, and two cups of diced mangoes. It calls for quite a bit of flour, and the dough seemed dry going in the pan, but the moisture of the mangoes counteracts what might have been dry, tough bread. Instead, it came out of the oven fragrant and nicely browned. The whole bread is brown actually, though I did not use any whole wheat flour. It even tastes healthy, with the mangoes acting as nice bits of moist surprise, almost like a built-in jam.

No rotten mangoes in this house! In fact, I might make another loaf to freeze.

14 March 2009

Quiz Answer and Purpleness

Nobody even came close in this week's food quiz. It was dried apricots. Come on people, use your imaginations.

In other food news, I went grocery shopping today and you can certainly tell that spring is here. The produce looks so much better than it did one month ago. And what variety! I was drawn, of course, to this dark purple hued eggplanty thing. I don't know what it is, but it sure looks interesting.

I also bought purple potatoes. Or I think they're potatoes. Turner said they might be arrow root. Neither of my purple purchases made it in dinner tonight because I made a red curry with chicken and yellow potatoes. Their glorious purpleness would get smothered by the curry powder and tomato paste.

13 March 2009

Oatmeal Cookies, Take Two

You may or may not remember my recent post about making oatmeal cookies with peanut oil. Let's just say, it was a disaster, though Turner dutifully ate them. Today I made a new batch with a different recipe (found on my iPod Betty Crocker Cookbook). Thankfully the recipe called for the exact amount of butter and eggs that I had one hand, so I did not have to venture out into the nasty windy that blew through Qingdao today. I also was able to use up the walnuts that have sitting in my freezer.

I decided to use some brown sugar instead of the full amount of white sugar, thinking it would give the cookies an extra boost of flavor, but this plus the required molasses made the cookies a little too "flavorful." I think next time I will omit the molasses if I use brown sugar.

I have to bake in batches of six, so I spent much of my afternoon moving back and forth between computer and toaster oven. Somehow I never seem to make the recommended quantity of cookies. Most of the time I actually get nowhere near what the recipe says. I am even careful to scoop the dough out in rounded teaspoons. This time my cookies were well-shaped, but out of the five dozen called for I got maybe a dozen and a half (after I ate a few). How could I be 40 cookies short? I blame it on a typo in the recipe. Betty needs an editor.

I wish I had my mom's oatmeal cookie recipe. My copy is sitting in a recipe box packed away somewhere. She always makes the best cookies. (Hint, hint, wink, wink.)

12 March 2009

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Bean Dip

I buy a lot of lemons these days. I use them in cocktails, in cakes, and today in a tuna and white bean dip. After a solid week or so of eating out at Chinese restaurants, I felt the urge for some satisfying Western food. To go with the pasta I made for our dinner, I whipped together a dip to eat while we "enjoyed" a cheap bottle of Chinese wine, which wasn't that bad.

One can of tuna. One can of white beans. Some lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and diced green pepper for color and crunch. Spread it on crackers, et voila, instant appetizer. It was scrumptious.

11 March 2009


I said earlier that I had no food news to write about.

I still don't, but I wanted to share a memory that flooded over me while I was preparing myself a quick dinner before my evening class.

I was making scrambled eggs and had bread toasting in the oven. My mom used to make "breakfast for dinner" when we had all had a long day and dinner needed to be simple and satisfying. Scrambled eggs were a staple. She would mix in some cheese, salt, and pepper. Nothing fancy. Served with toast and jam, this meal brings me back to my childhood, which is retreating faster and faster into the past.

I almost came to tears over the frying pan as the eggs turned golden. Maybe it was the Norah Jones playing on my iPod, but the poignancy of such a simple, wholesome food that reminds me of the warmth and care of my mother gave me a knot in my stomach.

I ate my eggs, alone at the table, with homemade bread. I could have been twelve years old again, my sister sitting next to me putting jam on her eggs.

I love you, mom, and all the memories you've given me.

Finding my Center

I apologize for my lack of posts lately. We have had house guests, and between hosting, sightseeing, cooking, dining out, teaching, and making lesson plans I just have not had the time. I bowed out of their last afternoon on the town to rest and get my head together.




My iPod in my apron pocket, listening to The Splendid Table podcast, I made a Lemon Yogurt Cake, simple and light.

Since I do not have any interesting cooking or food news, how about another round of the Chinese Food Quiz? Like usual, submit your guesses for the food product advertised below and wait for the answer in a couple days!

09 March 2009

It was ...

... Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library.

No, it was the baking powder.

I bought new baking powder yesterday and made brownies. Miracle of miracles, it fixed my sunken baked goods problem.

07 March 2009

Calm from the Chaos

The boys are off to Beijing, so it's nice to have some quiet time to relax and accomplish minor tasks like sweep the floor and buy groceries. I've taken our guest, Anya, around for some fun things too, mind you.

Just now I put banana bread in the oven and am contemplating a cocktail. Sounds like a lovely pairing to me. Banana bread always reminds me of my mom, but I think it's a quintessentially American food that many people remember from their childhoods--a quiet w
eekend afternoon and a loaf, hot from the oven, cooling on the counter. The smell penetrates the house and you can't wait for a slice.

It's warm, soft, but the best part for me is the crust that forms from the cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on the top. Quite a few foods remind me of the past, and the crust of banana bread is one of them. I never wanted the end though--that was always claimed by my mom--but I would eat around the top crust, saving it for last. The caramelized sugar with a few soft crumbs attached, heaven.

If you don't put cinnamon and sugar on the top of your banana bread before you bake it, you don't know what you're missing.

But back to the present.

I have been having difficulties baking for about a month now. Everything is sunken in the middle--cake, brownies, banana bread. I tested my baking p
owder, which is about a year and a half old, and it still fizzes. I know it's not my recipes because I have been using the same ones for years. I think the culprit may be my toaster oven and it's uneven heating element. I can still bake regular French bread but only because it bakes inside a ceramic pot in the oven, thus regulating the heat. I am going to buy fresh baking soda and powder to make sure it's not just old ingredients. I would rather not buy a new toaster oven since we will only be in China for four more months. If anyone has other thoughts on my failure-to-rise problem, please let me know.

02 March 2009

A Season for Mangoes

Now is the season for mangoes, and we couldn't be happier. These are mangoes like you've never tasted before, unless you have traveled somewhere in Asia. The flesh is bright orange and sweet, like concentrate. Rarely do we get an unripe one, as the best specimens are usually slightly bruised and a little brown.

They come in three sizes, like the Three Bears. The baby mangoes are about the size of an apricot. Once you peel off the skin, you can pop them in your mouth, chewing the tasty flesh from around the small seed. The medium mango is best peeled and then sliced, while the large mangoes resemble those commonly found in the US, except they are a brilliant shade of orange, not green or pink.

Although it's difficult not to go through a whole bag standing over the sink with the vegetable peeler, I like to put mangoes on yogurt for breakfast or with a flan or panna cotta for dessert.

In other news, our friends Eddie and Anya arrived a couple days ago bringing with them many sought-after goodies from the States. In addition to a bottle of Patron tequila and two bottles of Cholula hot sauce, they brought me a selection of food magazines and my new favorite toy, an iPod Touch.

I had been lusting after the Touch since touching one in Shanghai, but the prices here are slightly inflated. So unbeknown to me, Turner had Anya buy one for me and bring it with her. What a surprise! It has 16 GB of storage so I can put almost all my iTunes library on it, plus my podcasts. It also has Wi-Fi, so I can check my email, the internet, the weather, etc, and browse iTunes and the App Store, where I have found many fun applications.

I downloaded the complete (and searchable!) works of Shakespeare, PocketGod (where you have power over a group of islanders), and two culinary apps: AllRecipes and Betty Crocker. In the AllRecipes app, you just shake the iPod (literally) and three rows align like in a slot machine, matching a course, food group, and cooking method. Then the application gives you a list of recipes that match the result. You can also search the database, but it's much less exciting.

The Betty Crocker app has all 4000+ recipes from the cookbook and you can search by name or tell the app what ingredients you have and what type of meal you want to cook (like garlic AND bread/rolls) and then the app will find recipes that match these parameters. This could be very useful for cleaning out the refrigerator.

I have come up with the idea of a rotisserie chicken application, where you can watch a chicken turn on a spit, dripping juices, crisping skin, and all. There is already an iBeer application where you can slosh a glass of beer around the screen. I figured the chicken app would be the perfect accompaniment. Maybe there would also be an assortment of sauces you could rub on your rotating chicken, like barbeque or Buffalo wing. Now, I'm hungry.