Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chinese New Year

Year of The Rabbit,  2/3/2011

新年快樂!  Happy New Year to all my Chinese Friends and Family. I usually don’t make a big deal about holidays. To me, you can celebrate any time you want. Every time you have a good meal is a celebration. Holidays are good for the little kids who don't have to go to school that day.

There is no Chinatown in the city where I live, only a small family owned Asian store. That sort of takes away all the fun for people who love Chinese food. We need large Asian markets and nice Chinese dim sum restaurants here. The closest Chinatown to me is a four hour drive to Chicago.

Anyway, I made a Chinese New Year chicken soup (冬菇腐竹蓮藕雞湯) to bring good luck for my family. I only make this soup once a year because it is hard to get all the right ingredients together. I went to Chicago and got some fresh lotus root, dried mushrooms, dried scallops and dried bean sticks. I also added some fresh carrots for extra flavor. This soup is full of flavor, rich and hearty. We enjoyed it very much. I feel blessed already.


The Chinese believe that every household has a Kitchen God (the Stove Master  灶君) to protect and observe the family. The Stove Master makes reports about the family's activities and behavior. Each year on December 23, lunar calendar, he leaves the family on earth and travels back to heaven and reports to the Jade Emperor on what the family has been up to for the past year. The Jade Emperor would then give out punishment or rewards to the family depending on how they have behaved. The Kitchen God will return to the family on New Year’s Day.

Giving offerings to the Kitchen God is the symbolic beginning of the Chinese New Year's festivities. Although mostly abandoned nowadays in the city, this tradition is still largely practiced in China. In fact, many older Chinese settlers in Chinatown celebrate this tradition to teach their youngsters about Chinese culture. They begin with telling a mythical story about the Kitchen God and cooking some food with sugar and honey.

In order to ensure a good report from the Kitchen God to heaven, on December 23, the family will prepare sweet sticky rice cakes, candies, cookies, sugary tangerines and oranges to treat the Kitchen God, hoping the sweet mouthed Kitchen God would not say anything bad about the family. They also clean the kitchen thoroughly to welcome his return from heaven for the new year. Every family wants to believe they have been blessed with safety, abundant food and good health for the coming year.

This year I made a new recipe for a simple carrot cake that has just the right flavor and texture for a homemade coffee cake. The carrots add color and goodness to the cake. It has a little bit crunch on the top and is moist, chewy inside. Perfect to serve with cream cheese and a nice cup of coffee in the morning or for an afternoon   pick-me-up. I think the Kitchen God would agree this is a good cake.

Homemade Cinnamon Carrot Coffee Cake

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year 2011

First of all, happy New Year to the world. Time goes so fast I can't believe we are celebrating another new year. What happened to last year? I hope people won't ask me about my new year's resolutions because I don't have one. The experts said you should not make a promise you can't keep. Instead you replace some old, bad habits with new ones that are better for you. For instances, you stop going to late night movies on work days. Instead you watch the nightly news and go to bed early. How does that sound? You'll be the judge.

On new year's day my husband and I made ginger cookies. These are our favorite cookies, very gingery and buttery and it is good for you. It is a healthy snack we don't feel guilty eating. I got the crystallized ginger at a local whole food store. If you have a choice get the ones for cooking, they are much cheaper than those for eating. Any organic or natural food store should have crystallized ginger available, I think. You can always make your own crystallized ginger at home.

Leslie's Ginger Oatmeal Cookies  

Makes 24 cookies

You need:

1½  cups all-purpose flour
1/2  cup Quaker Oats Quick-1 Minute Oatmeal
1  teaspoon baking soda
1  teaspoon ground ginger
1  teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4  teaspoon salt
1  stick I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Stick, soften    
1  large egg
2  tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4  cup unsulfured molasses
1/2  cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2  cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped  


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Baking time:  13 minutes.

Grease 2 large cookie sheets or use nonstick pans. Put aside. Combine flour, oatmeal, baking soda, ginger powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Mix well and put aside.

In a large mixing bowl, first beat together butter and granulated sugar using a mixer. Add egg, brown sugar and molasses, beat at medium speed until thick and creamy, add crystallized ginger into the mix. Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed first, then medium speed until well blended. Don’t over mix. Cookie dough may be sticky but will spread out during cooking. They are easy to drop on cookie pan.   

Use a medium cookie scoop and drop dough 2 inches apart on a cookie pan and lightly flatten tops. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, rotating pan halfway through if possible. Cookies are done when edges are turning brown. Remove from oven, cool 2 minutes and place cookies on a wire rack to cool completely before serving. Store cookies in airtight container if not finished. Good for 3 days unless put in freezer. These cookies are great traveling snacks. They will calm your troubled stomach. May be I should call them miracle cookies.  

Ginger Oatmeal Cookies

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A White Christmas

Merry Christmas to you all! This morning we woke up to a winter wonderland with 4 inches of snow overnight. We are truly blessed with a beautiful White Christmas, absolutely breathtaking. Most people can only dream of a White Christmas. Oh, we are having an extra large pizza with everything on it. No cooking for me today. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Greetings

We Wish You A Merry Christmas
And A Happy New Year

This kitchen is closed. See you next year. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Comfort Food

This Hong Kong style (Cantonese) dessert soup is a heartwarming and healthy treat that can be easily prepared at home. It requires only a few simple ingredients and takes very little efforts. It is so easy to make you don’t even need a recipe, just boil everything for a while and there you have it. Chinese people often make a pot of this sweet soup on holidays, or as a delightful warm-me-up remedy in those cold winter days. You can adjust the amount of sugar and ginger according to your own taste. I love the spice flavor of fresh ginger. It is a perfect dessert after eating fried rice for dinner.  

Sweet Potato Ginger Dessert Soup  
Recipe by Leslie, 2010  
Makes 4 servings 

You need:  

1  large sweet potato, peeled, cut into bite size  
1  (1½ inches) fresh ginger, thinly sliced    
6  cups water  
1/4  teaspoon salt  
1/2  cup light brown sugar   ( or rock sugar )  

1  medium soup pot, about 4-qt   


Put sweet potatoes and water in a pot. Cook on medium high heat and let it come up to a boil; add salt, ginger and sugar, stir well. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 20-30 minutes until sweet potatoes are tender. Serve hot in the winter and cold in the summer.    


People in the old days made fried rice to get rid of old food. Nowadays people plan ahead and make extra rice to save for the next day to make fried rice. As long as you have cold cooked rice, you can stir-fry it with anything you like. Although simply adding eggs and green onion would be fine, you can also add vegetables, shrimp, chicken, beef, salty fish, ham, sausage, or barbecue pork. My favorite is chicken fried rice with lots of green onion. But I also like shrimp and Chinese barbecue pork, the more the better. When it comes to fried rice we just can’t seem to get enough of it. It is indeed a tasty comfort food. To make it a healthy meal, I always add some vegetables to the fried rice. Over the years I’ve tried napa cabbage, zucchini, green beans, broccoli, bean sprouts, sweet peas and carrots. While they all taste good but some are not ideal for the rice. I don’t like my fried rice taste too sweet or become soggy if it sits too long. Choices, choices, everybody has their own version of fried rice recipe... and here is mine:

Chicken Fried Rice 
Recipe by Leslie, 2010  
Makes 4 servings  

You need:  

1  store bought rotisserie chicken, need 2 cups bite size meat  
4  cups refrigerated cooked rice, break up large clumps      
1  cup chopped green onion, for garnish  
1½  cups chopped green beans  
1  medium yellow onion, chopped  
3  large eggs, beaten, add a little bit of salt  
2  tablespoons low sodium soy sauce   
1  tablespoon aged (dark) soy sauce  
1  tablespoon oyster sauce  
1  teaspoon sesame oil  
Olive oil, salt and black pepper  

1 medium skillet   
1 large frying pan or wok    


Heat a skillet, add some oil. When the oil is hot, cook the eggs, stirring until they lightly scrambled but not too dry. Remove and put aside. In the same skillet, add some oil, saute the beans and onion until tender, season with salt and pepper. Stir in chicken and mix with the veggie. Remove from heat and put aside.  

Prepare a frying pan on high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the rice, stir-fry quickly, season with soy sauce, aged soy sauce and oyster sauce. Add eggs, chicken and veggie to the rice, quickly stir-fry for a few minutes until the rice is heated through. Taste the rice and add a small pinch of salt if needed. Add sesame oil, toss to combine flavor. Remove from heat, spoon the fried rice out onto a serving platter. Spread green onion on top. Serve hot. Delicious!


Dried shrimp and sausage fried rice was a more traditional recipe created by people who had very few choices of food in the old days. Since they did not have refrigerator back then, meat and vegetables were preserved with either salt or dehydrated. Preserved mustard, salty fish, dried shrimp and sausage were the popular choices and readily available. In fact, you can find them in large Asian markets in Chinatown, pretty pricey too. They look a little strange but taste quite good once you get used to eating them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Happy Side Dish

This is a busy time for a lot of people. Doing extra work in the office because many people are taking their vacations, making plans to visit friends and family during the holidays or else preparing to cook a big holiday meal at home. Traveling during the holidays is such a hassle nowadays, especially if you are flying out. I will choose to stay home if you ask me. To whip up a little bit of holiday spirit, we are making mashed potatoes this year. To my surprise, mashed potatoes have been voted as America's favorite holiday side dish, also a classic comfort food. Who would know a plain old looking potato would have such wow factors. 

When it comes to mashed potatoes, people have their own style and flair, different taste different mash. Mashed potatoes are a very forgiving food. People will eat them no matter how you cook them, as long as they are mashed and served with a spoon. 

Lucky for me, I bought some Chinese chives during a visit to Chicago Chinatown. They were fresh and smelled wonderful. Wish we had a decent Asian market here. I missed the fresh vegetables and the delicious Chinese   dim sums. I use a lot of chives because I love the sweet, delicate flavor. But it is perfectly OK to use less, there is no right or wrong when it comes to chives. It's all about personal preference.  

Chives Mashed Potatoes 
Recipe by Leslie, 2010     
Makes 6-8 servings                                                                          

You need:

2  pounds Yukon Gold potatoes  (or Russet potatoes)
6  tablespoons (2/3 stick) butter, melted    
1  cup warm milk or heavy cream  
1  cup chopped Chinese chives
2  cloves garlic, chopped
Olive oil, salt and black pepper


Peel the potatoes, cut each into 4-6 pieces, put in a medium pot with cold water. Cover and cook until boiling. Add 1 teaspoon salt and reduce the heat, simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender but not mushy.

When the potatoes are almost ready, warm up 1 tablespoon oil in a frying pan, saute the vegetables   on medium heat until tender, season with salt and pepper, about 5 minutes.

Drain, add butter, mash the potatoes with a masher or potato ricer in a large mixing bowl. Add half the milk, stir the potatoes, add more milk as needed until smooth and fluffy. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper. Do not over mix the mashed potatoes or they will turn dense and gummy. Taste and season with additional salt or milk as needed. Stir in sauteed chives. Ready to serve.   

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Fall is the time for raking leaves and cleaning the yard for winter. Even though I love the nice, comfortable weather, I feel a little sad seeing the trees loosing their leaves to the ground. We have to take down the vegetable garden pretty soon. Here we go, getting ready for winter.

On the contrary, the mums and sedums are blooming gorgeously. They proudly show off their dazzling color against the falling temperature and raging wind. Nothing can stop them from finishing the season gracefully. It is amazing how nature balances its course.

Talking about nature, have you listened to the song "Greenfield" lately? Beautiful, isn't it? It gives me goose bumps every time I listen to it. Can you imagine being in an open field waiting for the lover who may never return?

I had a surprise visit from my friend while I was baking brownies. She brought me roast duck, yummy. The day just got better, my brownies turned out really good. They were rich, moist and chewy. My house smelled like a bakery. We had a good time.

My friend is a career woman with two jobs and a family, which includes a young son. At the end of the day she still has to prepare dinner for the family. I took it upon myself to share some simple recipes with her. She can have dinner ready in 30 minutes or less hopefully. We are making semi-homemade the American Chinese way. I will start with dessert first, brownies. Which by the way, is very American.

I followed the instructions on the box and added some chopped pecans to make it more interesting. Nothing beats using something already prepared for you. To me it is perfectly OK to use frozen food, canned food, cake mix or any ready to cook products such as sausages and bacons. Use whatever makes dinner fast and easy. Pick and choose first, then stick to the brands and products that have less sugar, less fat and less sodium. You can eat healthy if you choose wisely and carefully. Home cooked meals are always healthier.

Brownies with Pecans 

You need:
1  box (20 oz) Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix
1  large egg
1/3  cup water
1/3  cup vegetable oil
Optional:  1/2  cup roasted, salted pecans

1  baking pan  9" x 9"


Preheat oven to 325 F degrees.

Spray baking pan with cooking spray. Blend egg, water and oil in a medium bowl, whisk 10-15 times. Add brownie mix slowly and stir with a spatula until moistened (about 40 strokes).

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly, put pecans on top. Bake 40-45 minutes. Cool in room temperature for 15-30 minutes before cutting. Fresh-baked brownies look undercooked. They will set when cool. Makes 16, 2-inch brownies. Store in a covered container and finish in 3 days.


Cooking fish has always been a challenge for me. I have had a lot of burned or loose, fell apart fish. The next recipe is one I have used all the time. It has never failed me so far. I like to use the seasoned soy sauce for this recipe mainly because it is ideal for steamed fish. But any soy sauce is fine.

Savory Tilapia
Recipe by Leslie, 2010
Makes 3-4 servings

You need: 

1  package (16 oz) frozen tilapia fillets
1  medium onion, chopped
3  cloves garlic, chopped
1  cup chopped veggie (celery and bell pepper)
2  tablespoons olive oil
2  tablespoons sherry cooking wine
Salt and black pepper
2  tablespoons soy sauce or seasoned soy sauce for seafood ( 蒸魚豉油 )
1  tablespoon black bean garlic sauce  ( Lee Kum Kee  蒜蓉豆豉醬 )

1  baking pan  9" x 13", lined with tin foil  (less cleaning afterward).


Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Combine oil, wine, soy sauce and black bean garlic sauce in a bowl, mix well.

Rinse, pat dried fish and put in the pan, season with a little salt and black pepper. Arrange onion, garlic and veggie on top and around fish. Stir in sauce mixture on top evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 18 minutes, no cover. Don't over cook, remove from oven immediately. Serve with steamed rice, broccoli or beans.


I am not a big fan of canned soup because they contain too much salt. However, I always have a few cans of Campbell's condensed soup in my pantry for fast cooking. Today we are making a quick and easy bitter melon soup. If you don't like bitter melon, you can use 1 cup zucchini or 2 cups spinach instead, don't add ginger.

Chicken Soup with Bitter Melon
Recipe by Leslie, 2010
Makes 3-4 servings

You need:

1  can (10 oz) Campbell's Chicken with White and Wild Rice Soup
2  cans water
1  cup diced bitter melon  
1  tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

1  small soup pot


Mix soup and water in small pot, cook on medium heat until boiling. Add bitter melon and ginger, cook until boiling again and 2 minutes longer. Don't cover the pot, soup may spill over. Serve with biscuit or toast.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Can Sing

My Mother-in-law calls me Mrs. Barnes. She said I am the only Mrs. Barnes in the family. Wow, that makes me proud. It is pretty cool, don't you think? I should do something to honor that title. Let me think... how about a blog! Yes, I like that idea very much. Now I can talk all day long nobody can stop me.

I have this song playing in my head all day. So I went and checked it out on the internet. And I have been singing this song called More Than I Can Say all day, while my husband is at work. I have fun since nobody is listening.  

woh woh yeah yeah
I love you more than I can say
I'll love you twice as much tomorrow
oh ooh love you more than I can say

woh woh yeah yeah
I'll miss you every single day
why must my life be filled with sorrow
oh ooh love you more than I can say

don't you know I need you so
tell me please I gotta know
do you mean to make me cry
am I just another guy

woh woh yeah yeah
I love you more than I can say
I'll love you twice as much tomorrow
woh woh love you more than I can say

Today is the Chinese Moon Festival. There is a beautiful story about this festival. But since I am not prepared, I can't tell you the story. I'll instead share a classic Chinese dish with you. My Chinese friend gave me a moon cake last week. I couldn't wait any longer so I ate it yesterday, yummy. I'll have to settle for apple pie today. It's sugar free.

Bitter melon is a staple of Chinese cuisine. Chinese people love bitter melons as much as the Americans love tomatoes. Home grown bitter melons are much appreciated in Chinese cooking. We grow bitter melons, peppers, basil and parsley in our backyard garden every year. We stopped growing zucchini and tomatoes because they got too big for our small garden. We share our vegetables with friends and family, along with recipes. Everybody enjoys the home grown bitter melons because they are not as bitter like those in the store. Once you acquired the bitter taste, you will love the unique flavor in soup, stir-fries and stews. Even though people are very creative and come up with new ways to cook bitter melons, they always come back to this dish: Bitter melon with black bean garlic sauce. You can use chicken, beef or pork, always delicious. I love the creamy, rich flavor.

Bitter Melon Chicken Stew in Black Bean Sauce
Recipe by Leslie, 2010
Makes 4 servings

2  pounds chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
3  big home grown bitter melons, about 2-3 lbs
1  large yellow onion, thinly sliced
4  cloves garlic, chopped
1  sweet bell pepper, thinly sliced
2  tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
4  tablespoons black bean garlic sauce, divided
3  tablespoons oyster sauce
1  cup water, as needed
Olive oil, garlic salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mix in with
2 tablespoons water to thicken sauce later

Cut each bitter melon into 4 pieces lengthwise, remove seeds, slice into half inch pieces.

Cut chicken into bite size, season with garlic salt, black pepper and 1 tablespoon black bean garlic sauce. Marinade in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot, stir in chicken. Don’t cook it too long, keep stirring. Cook until brown on the outside, about half way done. Remove and put aside. In the same skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 3 tablespoons black bean garlic sauce, quickly stir fry for about 10 seconds. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, ginger and bitter melons. Stir fry for 5-10 minutes, season with oyster sauce, cook another 10 minutes over medium high heat, add 3/4 cup water. Return chicken and juice, mix well with bitter melons. Cover, reduce heat to medium low, cook for about 20 minutes until bitter melons are really tender and juice thicken. Check once and stir to cook evenly. Adjust the seasoning by adding salt and black pepper. Slowly stir in cornstarch mixture to cream the sauce, mix well. Serve with steamed rice.


We grow bitter melons in our garden.
The Benefit of Eating Bitter Melons

Bitter melon is member of the squash family, native to southern China. Bitter melon is rich in iron, and has twice the beta carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, twice the potassium of bananas, and contains vitamins B and C. Its bitterness comes from the high concentration of quinine. Studies suggest that bitter melon may be one of the best herbal medicines for diabetic management. Eating bitter melon regularly helps to regulate blood sugar levels. It can also lower bad cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, and enhance the immune system.  

Bitter melons grow on vines, from May to October in zone 5. We had good crops this year. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Food for Thought

I finally decided to add my voice to the blogging community. Since this is my first blog I have no idea how it will look like. But I know I have to start with something, anything and go from there. So I will share with you some of my favorite recipes. Food can bring people together. It is an easy topic anybody can appreciate. Rest assure, if I don't eat it, you won't see it. I even take the pictures myself. They look pretty good to me.

Smoked Sausage Tomato Stew with Bell Pepper  
Recipe by Leslie, 2010
Makes 4 servings

2  pounds fresh vine ripe tomatoes, cut into bite size
1  pack (16 oz) smoked sausage, thinly sliced
1  large onion, chopped
3  cloves garlic, chopped
1  green bell pepper, sliced into bite size
2  tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
2  tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4  cup brown sugar
1/2  cup water, stand by  
Olive oil, salt and black pepper 

Heat a skillet on medium high heat with 2 tablespoons olive oil; add sausage, cook until brown on both sides. Remove and put aside. Add another tablespoon oil in the same skillet, saute onion, garlic and bell pepper. Add tomato and ginger, season with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and oyster sauce, cook 5 minutes. Add brown sugar, cook until sugar melted, stir gently. Return sausage and juice to the skillet. Cover the skillet, cook 15-20 minutes on medium low heat until juice thicken. Add water as needed. Check once and stir to cook evenly. Serve with steamed rice or cooked pasta.


True to the Skin
A tomato a day, keeps the wrinkles away. Tomatoes contain powerful lycopene, an antioxidant which fights the free radicals that can potentially lead to cancer, heart disease and premature aging. Tomatoes are also high in vitamin C and contain good amounts of potassium, iron, phosphorus, vitamins A and B. One medium tomato has fiber that equals to one slice of whole wheat bread with only 35 calories. So be good to yourself and reach for a tomato today.