Friday, May 29, 2009

Dragon Boat Festival 端午節吃粽子

Festivals should always be about good food, right?

It's Dragon Boat festival! Everybody back at home in Taiwan is on long vacation to celebrate Dragon Boat festival, the official first break as summer begins.

The festival made me crave for some 粽子 ZongZi, which is a typical food eaten at this holiday and time of the year. I actually didn't even love Zong Zi when I lived at home, but I guess this is the homesickness kicking in!

粽子 Zong zi is a glutinous rice ball, with different sorts of filling, wrapped in bamboo leaves. It's a traditional food for the Dragon Boat festival. The fillings contain pork, dried scallops, dates, peanuts, lotus nuts, mushrooms, and egg yolk. There are vegetarian options of just rice and peanuts. Zong Zi are generally steamed.

and NO, I did NOT make this. I bought it at my favorite Taiwanese restaurant in Houston, called Taiwan potato . There's a blog entry about our adventure at 芋仔番薯Taiwan potato some time ago....

Okay, so enough about the food ( but aren't all holidays all about the eating?) and some history about Dragon Boat Festival:

Dragon boat festival ( Duanwu festival) takes place on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. There's a legend about the festival commemorates the death of poet Qu Yuan. The poet committed suicide, by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th month. Villagers who admired him threw food into the river to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan's body. This is said to be the origin of 粽子 Zongzi, the rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats, either to scare the fish away or to retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat racing.

Here's a REALLY CUTE illustrated story about the legend of 屈原 Qu Yuan Enjoy!

Image of Qu Yuan

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Roman style chicken with edamame &corn salad

Mi dispiace, I have not been posting recently due to traveling and we've been busy with other stuff, so Michele and I have been skipping dinner a lot. Well, not entirely skipping, but our dinners have been replaced by cereal or fruit/yogurt or take-out, now that we are looking at houses or go running after work.

I have been craving for chicken recently. Whether its spicy wings, or a chicken salad, or a chicken body has been wanting chicken!!! Some nights I'm just craving for some really good hot wings. I even almost went into Chik-Fil-A the other day....

So here's a yum chicken recipe from Giada 's Roman Style Chicken. I just love her recipes because its never too heavy, and she uses alot of ingredients we already have at home. Also, incorporating fresh herbs are great because it's so tasty and healthy! I used less meat, and skipped the tomatoes, and added fresh rosemary to the chicken. I also paired this up with some broccoli and edamame & corn salad.

Oh! And I have to say thanks to Imedla, who gave me some beautiful precious fresh herbs from her garden. The herbs went straight to this dish =) thank you thank you thank you!

For the Roman Style chicken

1 skinless chicken breast halves and 1 chicken thigh
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 ounce prosciutto, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. In a heavy, large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, cook the chicken until browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Keeping the same pan over medium heat, add the peppers and prosciutto and cook until the peppers have browned and the prosciutto is crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add wine, and herbs. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pan, add the stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.

If serving immediately, add the capers and the parsley. Stir to combine and serve.

For Edamame and corn salad:

Boil edamame and corn in a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. Strain and let it sit and cool down. Mix in fresh chopped parsley, salt, white and black pepper. Sprinkle just a small dash of onion powder. A GREAT summer salad or side!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fusion debut: Chinese spaghetti meatballs!

Chinese meatballs and eggplants with wheat spaghetti!

So I bet you are thinking, how come we never created some type of Chinese Italian dish? Here is our fusion debut.
I wanted to make eggplant spaghetti whereas Michele wanted some Chinese meatballs. So we combined the both, and here's our fusion creation from our Taiwanese Italian family.

Ginger, garlic and chive really brings out the juiciness and texture from the meatballs. I am a big fan of wheat pasta, but Michele is a traditionalist so he's not so fond of it...but I'm sure he will slowly adjust =)
I also cooked asparagus as a side dish. Just blanched them in water. It counter-balanced really well with the salty, flavorful pasta, eggplant and meatballs

wheat spaghetti ( or linguine)
1 eggplant
3 tablespoons of hoisin sauce
1/2 bunch of chives
one clove of garlic

for the meatballs:
one clove of garlic
1/2 bunch of chives
one pack of ground veal and pork
two thin slices of ginger
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
a pinch of pepper
In a medium bowl, combine chopped garlic, chopped ginger together with the pork and veal. toss in chopped chives, stir in soy sauce, pepper, and integrate well.

Use your hands to form little meatballs. In a frying pan of oil, cook the meatballs, occasionally turning them, and when they are cooked, set aside. Keep the juices inside the pan for the eggplants.

Simultaneously, cook the eggplant on one stove and start the pasta on another stove.

Cut eggplants into 1 inch lengths, and stir fry them with the meatball juices. when the liquids are gone, add the hoisin sauce, and 2 tablespoons of the pasta water. Add the chives that are cut into 1 inch lengths.

In a pot of boiling water, add salt and cook pasta until al dente. Wheat pasta usually takes about 10 minutes. Time well, drain and toss into the mixture immediately. Add in meatballs and gently fold together.

Surprisingly, this fusion dish was a success!

Where is my bowl of rice?

Michele wanted to surprise his parents by taking them out to dimsum.

We went to yum yum cha cafe, which is close to where we live. Not one of my favorite dimsum places, but Michele is not a fan of dimsum carts and big noisy Chinese restaurants that use plastic bags as tablecloths...and I don't blame him. The carts sometimes don't look so fresh and clean, and plastic-bag tablecloths are not so appetizing, either...

We went for a weekday dinner, and ordered many dimsum dishes, and honestly, only Chinese broccoli, tarot cake, eggplant with shrimp, and peppers with shrimp was well received. They didnt enjoy the shumais or dumplings at all. The tapioca starch type of dumpling skin was not appealing to them. His dad actually thought they smelled funny...made a face and didn't even want to try. Poor Italians!

Picking apart dimsum with a fork and knife...

At the end, they gave up on dimsum. The first time his dad ever asked me, "why didn't we have any rice at a Chinese restaurant?" we had to explain that it was a dimsum cafe...Confused and hungry, I think we didn't help make a good first dimsum impression. So we made it up to them by taking them to another place for panini and deserts, to console them for some post-dimsum stress syndrome. Better luck next time!? I wonder if they would like the dimsum at Formosa Regent?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chicken spinach strawberry salad with balsamic vinaigrette

A healthy gorgeous salad, big on flavors!
This is one of my favorite salad dishes, and shamefully I have to admit that the first time I had something similiar to this was with my girls Em n Mon at Taipei's Macaroni Grill. It brings me back to those memories where we'd order one salad, one appetizer and one ( or maybe two ) deserts! GNOs!!! Romano's Macaroni Grill Insalata Florentine inspired me to make this summery salad, especially now strawberries are in season. I skipped the orzo ( although I do love orzo) and cheese to keep it light, but the salad is still so yummy and beautiful.


One chicken breast
One fresh lemon
Fresh baby spinach
Mixed green salad
Fresh strawberries
half an onion
¼ cup of mushrooms
cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper
spring onions ( optional)
balsamic vinaigrette
Pine nuts


Toast pine nuts in a pan until they are golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top, lay a couple of slices of lemon on the chicken, and top with rosemary sprigs. Put into oven to broil for about 10 minutes - 15 minutes. This is a healthy and tasty way of making chicken, with no oil at all! The citrus and rosemary chicken goes really well with a salad. Remove chicken from oven and let it sit

In a sauté pan, use olive oil to sauté the sliced onions until they start to turn color. Add mushrooms and sauté together until brown. ( I also sneaked in some white wine to brighten up the flavors a bit)

Mix baby spinach, salad greens, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, sautéed onion and mushroom into a salad bowl. Drizzle balsamic vinaigrette, and toss well.

Place the salad servings onto a plate. Next, plate the sliced strawberries around the salad.
Slice the chicken breast into strips and leave them on top of the salad. Now, how can you not love this salad?

Monday, May 4, 2009

lazy wife's Chinese stir-fry

Chinese stir fry on wild rice

Here’s one of my lazy wife’s one-pan stir fry for dinner. It tastes really good, and we always can’t stop ourselves with second and third helpings, because flavorful stir- fries just make you want to devour more with rice!

This crazy stir fry is a combination of shallots, dry scallops, mushrooms, carrots, celery, tomato and potato. Real filling and yummy!

This is a healthy dish and helps you get rid of the carrots, potatoes and celery you have lying around in your fridge

Dried scallops, soaked in cold water
Shallots, sliced
Mushrooms, sliced
Carrots, diced
Celery, diced
Potato, diced
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Rice wine or sake, ¼ cup
Half a Serrano chili, chopped
Wild rice ( or brown rice)
(1/4 cup chicken stock) if needed

Soak the dried scallops in a bowl of water for 20 minutes.

In a sauté pan with oil, cook the shallots, mushrooms, and dried scallops. Season with salt and a little sprinkle of Hondashi. When the ingredients are cooked through, add Serrano chili, carrots and potato, pour in rice wine and simmer for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and until the mixture thickens. If the liquid runs out, add some chicken stock.
Then add celery, continue to cook. Check to see if it is well seasoned. If not, add some more salt and pepper.

Serve on a bed of warm rice, and there you have it - lazy wife's one plate dinner =)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pettole con Cozze e Fagioli

square pasta with mussels and beans

Michele spotted some unique pasta the other day at the Italian grocery store - Pettole Abruzzesi - 2-inch little squared pastas. When Michele's parents were visiting, Michele's dad Gennaro wanted to make Pettole con patate, because Pettole goes great with potatoes. This type of pasta is meant to be cooked with a hearty sauce, a pasta sauce that is thick and cooked for many hours.

However, after searching for several recipes for this type of pasta, Michele landed with one of his favorite celebrity chef's recipe - Mario Batali's pasta with mussels and beans We slightly changed things up a bit, using canned beans and fresh cherry tomatoes, lots of wine, and of course, using pettole instead of penne. This dish is meant to be very hearty, garlicky and peppery, so add lots of pepper when making the beans sauce.

The apartment was filled with amazing aromas in the evening while this was being cooked. The beans were simmering away in white wine, releasing such a sweet fragrance that felt earthy, light and inviting. The mussels when being shucked after it was cooked in wine and garlic was oozing with aroma in the kitchen, with smells of fresh and juciness like it was straight from a Belgium bistro...

I also started to use fresh herbs from our balcony, and it just took homemade cooking to a new level!


1 can of cannellini beans
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
4 pounds mussels, scrubbed
1/4 cup dry white wine
chopped garlic, 3 cloves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
fresh cherry tomatoes chopped
1/2 pound Pettole abruzzesi pasta
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
2 sprigs basil
Salt and pepper


In a saucepan, use medium heat and cook the beans with the chopped carrot and celery. Add 2 cups of wine and bring to a boil, then redue to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook until beans are tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check water level from time to time and add wine or boiling water as it cooks down so that beans are always covered. Again, this dish is meant to be very peppery, so Michele added lots of pepper every 10 minutes, when checking the sauce.

Place mussels in a large pan with the wine and chopped garlic, and set over high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until all mussels have opened. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Strain cooking liquid through several layers of cheesecloth and set aside.
When mussels are cool enough to handle, remove flesh and discard shells.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.
In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add garlic. When garlic is soft but not brown, add tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and disintegrating. Stir in cooked beans and simmer gently while pasta cooks.
Cook pasta in boiling water until it is almost cooked through, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and add to the bean mixture. Add the mussels and strained mussel liquid. Stir over low heat 5 minutes, then add parsley, basil, and salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Balcony with fresh herbs

One of the great things about living in warm weather is that you can have plants and they will survive throughout the year! Never did it cross my mind to have plants at our lovely balcony in Evanston, but here in Houston, everyone has plants and gardens and huge yards ( and two dogs and three cats )...
So when Michele's dad came to visit us, he saw lots of herb plants at Whole Foods, and suggested us to buy some. ( Since he was enjoying lots of time on the balcony, it would beautify his cig breaks on the balcony)

We now have two basil plants, one mint ( mojitos, anyone?) and one rosemary bush...

Nothing beats having fresh herbs to add to your cooking. When picking the leaves out of the plant, your fingertips and palms smell soooo fragrant...and it puts such a smile to my face!

We already cook with lots of herbs, and now I can't wait to water our herbs everyday, watch them grow and pluck the top leaves off for dinner....and make pesto pasta, rosemary chicken, baking deserts with mint, marinating tomatoes with basil, lamb chops with rosemary, making some "three cup chicken" with basil...cucumber salad with mint....and the list goes on...suggest more dishes with fresh herbs, anyone?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Seafood Zucchini Paccheri pasta 海鮮節瓜巴掌麵

The first time we had Zucchini Seafood Paccheri was at beach town Gaeta, which is a beautiful south side Italian gem located between Naples and Rome.

We ate lunch at a trattoria and the pasta was so amazing that as soon as we returned to Chicago, we cooked it at home...and when I returned to Taiwan, I cooked it for my family...and when Michele's parents came to visit us in Houston, we made it for them as well!

Paccheri is an interesting pasta, it's a large and hallow tube, and has a large diameter. A legend started that the Paccheri pasta was invented to hide garlic cloves inside the pasta tube for smuggling garlic from Italy to Prussia.

Paccheri also means "slap", like slap on the face...Kind of similar to Chinese, when we say 巴掌. Interesting onomatopoeia between different English it's "slap", in Chinese it starts wth "", Italian also, "Pa"

Zucchini and seafood is a wonderful combination, and makes a great base for pasta as well.

( Top: Seafood Zucchini pasta with rigatoni, bottom with spaghetti)

zucchinis (thinly sliced)
squid ( tube and tentacles), octopus, and prawns, or mussels
white wine
chopped garlic
olive oil
salt & pepper
pasta ( Paccheri or rigatoni)

Best to use pasta that has big/ flat surface, such as Paccheri pasta, or use any pasta that has a wider area that will soak up the sauce.

Heat olive oil and cook the chopped garlic over low heat, for about 3- 4 minutes. Add the thinly sliced zucchini and continue to cook until the zucchini has turned into a bright green and the edges start to brown. Stir in squid, octopus and prawns, pour in white wine and cook for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. The best version is when you have the moist purplish sauce formulate from the octopus and squid tentacles.

In salted boiled water, cook the pasta until al dente.

When pasta is cooked al dente, drain and toss the pasta into the sauce. Slightly stir fry until the pasta starts to soak up the sauce, and turn off heat. Serve immediately, while hot.