Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gong Pao and Chinese vegetables

About a year ago if someone asked us who usually cooked in our house, we could answer that I usually cooked "western" food and Jon usually cooked if we have "Chinese " food.  It  occurred to me that we will have lived in China for years, and I could not cook Chinese food.  It is not that hard to cook Chinese food.  I needed to learn.  The best way to learn is by doing.  So I have been cooking Chinese food more.  It is also much cheaper to cook Chinese food here.  I have found that the kids really like this dish.  I call it Gong pao, because I add peanuts it is not exactly like what you can get in a restaurant.  Many times this dish is spicy and you could make it spicier, but my kids don't really like spicy.

Cut up some boneless chicken into bite size (or chopstick size) chunks.  Add some Hoisin sauce.  You can easily find this sauce in the US, and here, the word Hoisin is almost always on the label in English.
I add about 1/2 the jar or at least a couple of big spoonfuls to the chicken.

Mix the sauce into the chicken and let it marinate for a while.  

I usually chop a green pepper and onion and add.  I also usually add a chopped carrot.  If Bamboo or something like that is in season, I chop that up and add to the mix. You can add lots of different things here.  Carrots usually take a little while to cook, so I sometimes cook them a few minutes first.  If I don't they stay a little crunchy, but that is ok too. I do add a little bit of oil to the wok so things do not stick.

Keep stirring and cooking over medium high heat until the chicken is cooked through.  If there is any left over sauce from the marinade add it now.

I like to mix up a little corn starch in some water and add that to mix too.  It helps the sauce turn thicker.  You could skip this part if you want.

Look at that lovely brown sauce!  I add the peanuts now if I am going to and just stir until they are heated up a bit.
This is very tasty over plain white rice.

The other day, we were in the grocery store and these lovely greens were on sale for less than 2 kuai for a box.  (less than 50cents!)  I LOVE Chinese vegetables.  They have so many different kinds of greens, vegetables, and cabbages.

In the US so many of us do not like greens or cooked Spinach because we really do not know how to cook them properly.  I am still working on how to do this right.  I have a tendency to over cook them.  I am trying to learn.

This dish is very simple.  In the US, you could probably use spinach.  If you had to you could just get one of those bags of greens in the produce section (shudder), but it would be much cheaper if you buy it not in a bag.
Ingredients: greens, chopped garlic, and soy sauce, maybe a little salt.

Wash your greens well.  They are plants! They could have bugs or dirt on them.  That is good, but I don't want to eat bug or dirt.
Cook them in a wok with the garlic until they wilt down.  Then add some soy sauce, and salt if you need to.  Be careful here.  Soy sauce is already salty.  

I don't worry about soy sauce, salt and oil here because we have a very healthy diet.  I only add a little. You could use low sodium soy sauce if you wish.   What good is healthy food if it tastes bad and you won't eat it.  

The trick to stir fry is to keep the food moving.  If you feel like this is starting to stick, you can add a little bit of water.  I do not use oil in this dish.

Ok, not the prettiest, but it was pretty yummy.  It may have been a tad over cooked, but it was not bitter. I like my greens to still have a tiny bit of crunch in the stems.  

If you were to start cooking greens and cabbage, you kids may not like them much, but see if they will try it.  The more they are exposed to different foods, the more likely they are to start liking them. 
This dish is not my kids favorite, but they will eat a little.  

They love the Gung pao (or kung Pow!)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Yang rou pao mo

We first had this dish in the Muslim Quarter in X'ian.  For some reason I thought that was about the only place you could get this dish. However, the other day when we were in our favorite Noodle shop, we saw a girl with this dish.  At first we did not recognize it, so we asked her what it was and then ordered some for us.
Yang rou pao mo is a rich "lamb" broth or soup with a special bread.   The bread is eaten in the soup.  At our favorite noodle shop you can also get a Beef version of this soup (Niu ruo pao mo). Yang rou is usually translated as lamb, but I think that most often it is mutton and not really lamb, sometimes it is actually goat meat. 

This dish is our new favorite especially in this chilly weather.

Free vegetable broth

Yep, I said free.  Basically this is free to make.  I found this idea on the crockpot for a year blog.  All you do is save scraps from your vegetables.  You know, the ends of carrots, onion ends, and skins, garlic skins, ends of beans, parts of the broccoli I did not use.   Her blog says you can pretty much use anything except potato skins (they taste like dirt).  We use lots of different greens, so there were some of those in our bags.  I just  keep the "stuff" in bags in my freezer.  I add to the bags little by little.  When I feel like I had enough veggies. I took them out and 
threw them in the crockpot.  I then put a bunch of water in the pot.  You pretty much want to cover the veggies.  I did have to kind of squish down the veggies because some of them wanted to float.

All you do now is cook it on low all day.

Then you strain out the veggies:

and you are left with lovely  FREE broth.  

I froze some and stored some in the fridge.  I used a  bunch when I mad the stuffing for Thanksgiving.  It was great.  It is about time to make some more, my bags are about full in the freezer.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fried rice

When we lived in China the first time, I almost never had fried rice.  I really almost felt like it was an American invention (I am sure it is not).  It is a great way to use up left-over rice.  I love fried rice now.  I will even order it out sometimes. Actually it is one of my favorite "fast" meals.  Of course the stuff we eat here tastes nothing like what you get at Chinese restaurants in the US.

Jon usually makes fried rice when we eat it.  I took some pics the last time he made it.

You start out with some rice.  This is a mixture of brown and white rice.  

Jon scrambles a few eggs in the wok and breaks it up.  Then he adds any vegetables or meats.  We usually just use left overs here, but sometimes we will cut up a carrot, add some peanuts, onion, and greens.  He cooks this for a bit or if it is leftovers, just heat it all up.  Then he adds the rice.  He stir-fries this until the rice starts to un- clump.  Then he adds about a tablespoon of soy sauce.  
 We used to add way too much soy sauce.  We like it better with less.  This is not rocket science.  He just adds what he thinks will taste good together.  It is the kind of dish you need to cook and fiddle with until you get it the way you like it.

Jon likes to "throw" the food around in the wok.  I just use the spatula to stir and turn my cooking.  I tried to take a picture of him doing it, but it did not work.  I have one picture somewhere....

Fried rice is a yummy and quick way to use up small bits of left-overs.

What's for dinner- all week!

I wish I could say that I am always organized with my meal planning.  I try to be and sometimes it works out great, other times....not so much.  But we aren't talking about that today.  The week of my birthday worked out fantastic!  I think it went like this:
 On Monday I cooked some brown rice and made this  broccoli quiche that I found on Pintrest. I had to look up how to cook brown rice, but it is not too difficult.  I really like brown rice.  I have heard that it is healthier than plain white rice, so I have started mixing it with white rice in casseroles and even Fried rice.
This quiche/ pie was pretty good, but it was pretty bland.  It could have used more cheese and more salt, but I will try to make it again.  There were no left-overs, so it couldn't have been that bad.

The next day was my birthday, so I did not want to slave in the kitchen, but I still wanted to eat something yummy.  I made some potato cheese soup.  I did not make it from scratch.  I used one of the big soup bags from Bear Creek.  All you have to do is add water!  We buy several of these soups when we are home in the summer.  They are great to have on hand, especially for cold and rainy days when we do not even want to go out to the market.  I also had some bread mix from Tastefully Simple, all you have to do is add a can of beer or soda and bake.  These breads are always terrific!  We did have some of this soup left over, and we had a guest for supper.  One bag makes a huge pot of soup.

Wednesday, I just threw some chicken in the crock pot with a can of condensed soup.  I served this with some canned green beans.
Thursday, we had Tacos!  This was a special treat.  We usually do not have taco shells.  They are very hard to find.  Truthfully the shells were not very good, but Hallie was very happy.  She likes crunchy tacos.

The best part of the week, was I made a casserole with the leftovers from the week.  I had left-over brown rice from Monday, chicken from Wednesday, cheesy soup from Tuesday, and a spoonful or two of green beans and a tiny bit of salsa left from taco night.  I mixed it all together and topped it with some shredded cheese and breadcrumbs.  It was really yummy!

I wish I could be this organized every week!  Then again, we ate mostly American food that week.  We usually eat at least some Chinese food.

The next few food posts, I will talk about some Chinese food that we eat.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Noodles! (what's for dinner)

Last week, or maybe it was two weeks ago now, we had Noodles for supper.  It was one of those nights that I did not have anything planned for supper, and I had to just see what we had in the kitchen.  

I had bought a tiny carton of some kind of broth in the store.  Was going to use that to cook my noodles in, but it was not enough to really have a taste when mixed with the water in the pot.  So we decided to add a packet of good ol' onion soup mix. 

We have a lot of that.
We bought more than we meant to this summer.  One thing about shopping soon after we arrive in the US, is that many times, I forget what I have bought, until I start packing it all.
We also added a sliced carrot.  I could have also added some Chinese cabbage.  I let the soup boil for a little while to soften the carrots and then I added the noodles.  
Chinese noodles are super cheap.  They also cook much faster than noodles that we normally cook in the  US.  If you are making this in America, you could use spaghetti, but if you can find Chinese noodles, it would be better.

I felt a little guilty about this being such a skimpy meal, so I also fried up some peanuts ( I bought them raw).  They have protein, right?  My kids LOVE peanuts.  Jon added them to his bowl of noodles.

I also fried up some frozen spring rolls.  Our ayi (domestic assistant) has started getting these for us and they are really yummy.

Noodles! ( I guess, Hallie had something in her eye when I snapped this pic).
One strange thing about Chinese noodles is that the longer they sit, the more they soak up liquid.  By the end of the meal, the noodles were just as delicious, but there was not really any soup left.

Based on the sound of slurping at the table, I would say that this cheap meal was a success!