Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Virtues of Cabbage

Today I want to share this really simple but DELICIOUS dish that I learned about from Orangette's website.  Essentially, it is fried cabbage.

Ok, pick your jaw up from the floor.  Yes, I know cabbage doesn't have the best reputation, but cooked this way, it will change your entire conception of cabbage.  It will be a revelation.  I've eaten it three times in the last 2 days.  I kid you not.

But first, why cabbage?  According to Wikipedia (that most reliable of sources), cabbage is an excellent source of vitamins and dietary fiber.  It is reputed to have a bad odor when cooked, but that is only when cooked for a prolonged period of time.  We usually see it used in pickled form (ie sauerkraut, which my husband doesn't care for, despite being half German) or used in soups and stews.

In this dish you are cooking the cabbage at high heat for less than five minutes, which means the vegetable remains relatively crisp and less sweet than in prolonged preparations (the sugar doesn't have time to be released).  The original recipe called for fennel, but that's impossible to find in China, and I substituted garlic.  The result is peppery and homey, the creamy egg yolk falling gently into a bed of slightly salty cabbage - it is a humble dish, but deeply satisfying.

Fried Cabbage on Toast
adapted from Orangette's recipe

half a cabbage, chopped into strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
oil, salt and pepper
soy sauce
2 eggs

Heat the pan on high heat.  Add a tbsp of oil.  When hot, add minced garlic and stir around for a few seconds.  Add cabbage strips, stir to coat with oil, and stir-fry until cabbage is wilted and slightly browned.  Add a dash of salt, a generous grinding of black pepper, and a splash of soy sauce.  Continue stir-frying until liquid is evaporated.  Mound onto two plates.  Top each with a fried egg and serve with a slice of whole-wheat toast.

Could anything be easier?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Urban Garden

I think I am at heart a city girl.  Even living in Xiamen, a city of 2.5 million, feels a bit provincial to me.  I used to live in Shanghai and I didn't appreciate how cosmopolitan it was until I moved to Xiamen, where the local Carrefour runs out of cheese AND butter at the SAME TIME, and where you can't find western clothing to save your life.  That said, I like Xiamen - the streets are cleaner, the air is clearer, and the landscape is greener than almost any other city in China that I have seen, and it's actually, for a city of this size, very internationally aware and expat friendly.  I've just been spoiled by living in Toronto and then Shanghai.

Now that I am, for the moment, a full-time wife, living in a laid-back mid-size city, I have time to try things that I never did in my previous incarnation as a big city girl.  Growing an herb garden, for instance.  The only thing I've ever managed to grow was an african violet...for a while.  I have even been known to kill cacti.  But under the influence of Chris, who likes plants and animals and any kind of do-it-yourself project, I have begun growing a small collection of herbs in pots on my windowsill.  I have a mint plant that our friends gave us as a gift and that I have somehow managed not to kill yet, and a few basil and cilantro plants that we grew from seed.  They are not yet big enough to harvest, but dreams of unlimited fresh pesto and salsa are already blooming in our heads.  Of course, you can buy cilantro at the market.  But the pleasure of cooking something you've grown yourself...well I haven't yet done it, but I imagine it must be wonderful.

Finding the materials wasn't difficult.  We just went to the plant market and bought a bunch of pots and soil, and we are using coffee grounds as fertilizer.  Actually, we're using ground coffee.  I bought a box in Vietnam and it tastes HORRIBLE.  Which is surprising because I had a lot of good coffee in Vietnam.  I should have been smart and asked at the coffee shops which brand they use.  Anyway at least it's being put to use.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Rainy Day Scones

For the longest time when I was living in Toronto I wanted to be in Asia.  And now that I'm in Asia I'm missing home.  Especially on a cool rainy day like this, I miss being able to duck into a Second Cup and sit there for hours nursing a latte, a biscotti and a good book.  But since I'm not in Canada - rather, I'm apartment-bound, just ran out of eggs, sitting in my pajamas - I thought I'd make some scones for a little comfort food.  It also happens to be one of the few breakfast foods that don't require eggs, and went well with our last jar of homemade strawberry jam (that we were supposed to be saving for our friends, but decided was too good to resist).

This is a recipe I found on, my new addiction, with a few modifications.

Easy Scones Recipe
(adapted from Brunch Scones, on

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
5 tbsp butter (salted or unsalted)
4 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup partially skimmed milk

Mix together flour and bp (I don't have a sifter, so I just stirred it thoroughly with a fork).  Rub in butter and sugar to form a fine crumble.  Add milk, mix gently.  Do not overmix.

Pat into circles on greased baking sheet (I used a non-stick silicone sheet).  Let stand for 15 min.  Brush with milk, bake at 400F 12-15 min until golden.

You can add all sorts of things...I enjoy adding a handful of cranberries in the dough.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sesame-Peanut Noodles

My husband and I spend one night a week in a neighbouring town called Zhangzhou, because he has to teach a night class and then a morning class there. The university puts us up in the campus hotel. It's a bit of a hassle, but also a fun change of pace. Unfortunately, the meal options in the area consist of MSG greasebombs, so I've taken to packing us at least one meal. This week it was buckwheat noodles in a sesame-peanut sauce. It's a cold noodle dish, so keeps well for the journey.

You can use any other kind of noodle that will hold up well.

Sesame Peanut Noodles

1 large carrot
1 seedless cucumber (English or Chinese)
300g pkg buckwheat noodles
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 tsp sugar (or more if you like it sweeter)
splash of vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
tsp chili flakes
dash salt
dash black pepper
hot water for mixing

Prepare noodles according to package directions or until al dente.  Rinse and drain.  Meanwhile, chop carrot and cucumber into matchsticks.  Mix together rest of ingredients except for hot water to form sauce.  Toss noodles, veggies and sauce together, adding a bit of hot water one tablespoon at a time to help mix if noodles are too dry.  Chill and serve garnished with sesame seeds or chopped peanuts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Plain Yogurt!

I've just discovered plain yogurt!!!  Ok, I know this doesn't sound like an amazing discovery, but I live in China, where it's next to impossible to find things like sour cream, whipping cream, pretty much any kind of cream except the canned variety.  And I'm not a fan of yogurt (especially since they only have the runny drinkable kind), so I had never really looked in the yogurt section.  Chinese are actually pretty big on yogurt...their dairy section pretty much consists of yogurt, a few cartons of milk, some processed cheese slices and something that looks like squares of cream cheese but tastes like...nothing I've ever really tasted before or wanted to.

But today I was making Tandoori chicken from a spice mix I bought in Malaysia (yes it's cheating, but it was MSG-free), and I thought I would check out the yogurt section just in case they did have some plain yogurt and voila!  There it was!  And it even had English on it!  "Plain"!!  Amazing!  So not only did I have yogurt for the chicken, but I even had some left over to throw together a cucumber salad (thinly sliced cucumber, a tablespoon of yogurt, a tablespoon of mayo, and a sprinkling each of veggie soup mix, cumin powder, black pepper and salt).  Hooray for yogurt!

Basic Honey-Garlic BBQ Sauce

My husband bought a little charcoal grill at Carrefour along with a big box of Chinese charcoal. Here in China, having a backyard BBQ is pretty much unheard of, though you can go get your lamb-kabob fix at the local muslim style street BBQ. Anyway, we wanted to have a full-on American style BBQ, so we set up the grill on the balcony of our apartment. Unfortunately, the Chinese charcoal wouldn't light, and sent clouds of smoke blowing into the hallway, which led to our neighbours calling security. A camouflage-clad guard came and pounded on our door, but apparently found it pretty funny after he realized what was happening. Chris just pretended not to speak any Chinese.

After that fiasco we decided to try again, but on our friend's balcony this time. Heh heh. Well this time it worked, and we were able to BBQ a piece of steak and some chicken kabobs. I whipped up a batch of homemade BBQ sauce to go with, since BBQ sauce is hard to find here (I think you can get it at Metro). Feel free to adjust the ingredients to taste.

Honey-Garlic BBQ Sauce

1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
splash of vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
dash of chili powder
dash of black pepper
1 tbsp of olive oil

Cook the garlic in the oil until softened. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat until thickened.

Pretty easy huh? And it tasted good too. We used this on the chicken kabobs and I used it again the other night to marinate and glaze some drumsticks which I baked in my little Chinese toaster oven (my substitute for a real oven). Yum!


Hi there! This is my first post on my new food-related blog. Just to introduce myself and my food history - I am a Canadian-born Chinese person, currently living in China with my Californian husband. Being in China has forced me to confront the latent foodie hiding deep within my subconscious. The reason being - the dearth of Western ingredients at hand makes cooking the food we know and love difficult, to say the least. So I've had to use creativity to improvise substitute ingredients, and I've been forced to make pretty much everything from scratch, from strawberry jam, to pizza dough, to BBQ sauce. And I've realized how much I enjoy cooking. I get such a thrill from trying something new and having it come together properly, and I love feeding people.

While I had whipped up a few stir-fries in my previous incarnation as a poor university student in Canada, I wouldn't say that I was much of a cook until just about a year ago. So bear with me, I'm just a beginner cook who loves to experiment with food. My food influences have been manifold. I grew up on Cantonese cuisine, and I spent my formative years enjoying the diverse ethnic cuisines that Toronto had to offer (food in Toronto is sooooo good...I can't even tell you).

Hopefully for my fellow expats (especially "trailing spouses" who spend their days, like me, trying to figure out what to make for dinner), my culinary adventures will provide entertainment, at least, if not a few ideas for your kitchen =).

Bon Appetit!