Chinese Spiced Meatballs

CEA054EE-A857-44BA-8530-9A1E08A3D268 (1)These meatballs transport me back to the past, when my now-husband (then-boyfriend) was completing an internship in Shenzhen, China. We had been a long distance couple since we first started dating. After 6 years of living in different ends of the state, it felt so good to finally live in the same city. We enjoyed 3 years of living together for the first time, and it was challenging but incredible. Unfortunately, after this brief period of bliss, life took us in different directions yet again. Ray was offered an internship in Shenzhen, China following his graduation from architecture school in 2013. He was in China for what felt like an eternity, but in actuality, was 3 months. The time difference and lack of cell phone data made it difficult for us to keep in touch. We had daily chats during his lunch time, when he would tell me about his upcoming weekend adventures or new food finds.

Ray and I are huge fans of good food. My way of showing love for him is to remember his favorites and to try to either recreate them or find a local restaurant that serves them. One of his favorite street foods came up again and again in our conversations: spiced lamb skewers. My family had never made these for us, as their culinary and cultural roots were in the Canton province of China. I had never tried Chinese lamb skewers until I attended the 626 Night Market, when I made it a point to finally sample this special treat. I was blown away by the explosion of flavor in my mouth-there was sweet, salty, spice, and heat all in one bite. After trying the traditional lamb skewers, I have wracked my brain to figure out how to recreate the dish. I did not have lamb available, so I used ground beef instead. When I eat these meatballs, I remember the time that he was in China, as well as the separation that we have weathered as a couple. Sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, and spice-this meatball carries it all; just like what life has to offer. Having these elements in balance is key to a beautiful dish and a beautiful life.

When Ray came back to the States, he was offered a job and had to move away. We were apart yet again. We were reunited in 2015 when I successfully matched to an internship near him. We found an apartment together, took in my family dog, and the rest is history. We are now newlyweds and cannot be more grateful for the amazing life that we have -full of love, family, friends, and wonderful moments. After all these years of distance and missing one another, we have learned to cherish the precious amount of time that we have together.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

When making any meat dish that is marinated, I highly recommend cutting of a small piece to cook and sample to taste for flavor. I prefer not to eat raw meat. So when you make any meatball/meatloaf dish or have a filling for ravioli or dumplings, always taste for seasoning before proceeding with your dish.

Do not over mix meatballs as they can become tough and difficult to eat. Mix just enough for your ingredients to be evenly distributed.

Thai restaurants provide delicious red pepper flakes that would be perfect for this dish. If you are getting takeout from a Thai restaurants, do not throw these red pepper flakes away. Making these spiced meatballs is a great way to use up this often discarded condiment.

Please do not add sesame oil or sesame seeds to a dish just because it is Asian. Not all Asian dishes have sesame oil and sesame seeds in them. In fact, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines hardly use sesame oil. Korean cuisine uses it the most, followed by Chinese cuisine, and even then, only very specific Chinese dishes use sesame oil. Ok, end rant. Thanks for reading.

Recipe
Serves: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

1 lb ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp seasoned salt (e.g., Trader Joe’s), to taste
1 tbsp red pepper flake
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
optional: sambal (red chili sauce)

Directions

Prepare meatballs. Place ground beef, spices, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Use hands to mix together all ingredients. Set aside (preferably for 4 hours or overnight).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Begin forming meat mixture into meatballs 1-2 inches in diameter.

Place meatballs onto an oiled baking tray, allowing some space between each meatball. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove 2 tbsp of juices from cooked meatballs and mix with honey. Use this to glaze meatballs after they are cooked.

Optional: top with red chili sauce and serve hot.

Enjoy!

 

Seared Tuna Poke Bowl

IMG_0719A few days ago, summer officially began. This has been a cooler summer so far, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. There are times that I leave my air conditioner on at home to prevent my dog from overheating. So the cooler days are much appreciated. To fight against the heat in the summer, I eat lots of cold foods, Vietnamese spring rolls, salads, cold sandwiches, especially summer fruits. Watermelon, cantaloupe, Hami melon, honeydew… I love them all. Eating cool foods reduces the amount of heat generated in my kitchen from cooking. Another reason is that the coolness of the food itself is a welcome contrast to the ambient heat. I have heard that in countries where summers are ridiculously hot, the people eat spicy foods so that they can sweat and cool down. While I understand that logic, I dread the idea of being drenched in my own sweat while suffering both the heat of summer and the heat of my food.

Which leads to today’s post: seared tuna poke bowls. I had some white rice leftover in my refrigerator, so it was just a simple matter of giving a quick sear to the tuna steak that I had and then combining with vegetables and a quick and easy poke sauce for a refreshing and light meal. This is such a simple and fast meal, especially if you already have rice ready to go. Poke bowls have become more and more elaborate with its recent celebrity status in the food world. Toppings can range from fried onion and garlic chips to salmon roe. I encourage folks to use whatever toppings are available to them in their pantry and refrigerator. I had cucumber in my refrigerator and sesame seeds in my pantry, so those were my toppings of choice for this poke bowl.
The sauce is a very easy combination of sugar, soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil, and a splash of water. It is a quintessential flavor combination of sweet and savory that is characteristic of many Asian dishes. This basic sauce is incredibly versatile in Asian cooking and can be used as the foundation of a salad dressing, the sauce for a yummy stir fry, brushed onto seared meats as teriyaki sauce, or as the base of a marinade for chicken, pork, beef.

 

Cooking Tips

Fresh fish is the key to delicious poke. Buy the best quality fish that you can find to ensure a tasty outcome. I find that Costco has some nice quality fish at prices that do not completely drain your wallet. Salmon could be a substitute for tuna in this dish.

When making the sauce, make sure that the sugar is well-mixed. Otherwise, sugar granules may fall to the bottom of your sauce and create a grainy texture and uneven flavor profile when you pour your sauce into your poke.

Recipe
Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
½ cup uncooked rice, washed
½ cup water
2 Persian Cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 small avocado
½ lb tuna or salmon steak
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 splash of water
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Follow rice cooker instructions to cook rice. Otherwise, place rice and water in a pot and place it on high heat until it begins to boil. Reduce to low heat and cover with a lid. Cook for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until rice is just done (rice should still be chewy, but soft).

Slice avocado and cucumber tomato thinly. Set aside.

Make sauce: add soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and a splash of water together.

Pat tuna steak dry, and then season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a pan on high heat until it begins to smoke. Then add oil and place tuna steak gently on the pan. Allow to sear for 1 minute, then flip and allow the other side to sear for another minute. Remove immediately from the heat and allow to rest.

Thinly slice seared tuna into ¼ inch thick slices and set aside.

Check rice for doneness. When the top grains of rice have softened, the rice is ready. Give rice a quick stir and spoon evenly into 2 bowls.

Top rice with tuna slices, cucumber, and avocado slices. Sprinkle on sesame seeds.

Pour sauce onto fish and rice and eat immediately.

 

Enjoy!

 

Tomato Cucumber Avocado Toast

868A05A6-5D3E-4EDA-B98D-747EF0092292 (1)I am a person with many unpopular opinions and preferences. For one, I dislike Hello Kitty. * Gasp* This one has always shocked my friends. I also dislike Disneyland because I feel that it is an over-commercialized theme park that drains honest working people of their money and creates a vicious cycle for parents and their children. How does this relate to my post for today? My last unpopular opinion that I dare to share is that I dislike most breakfast foods. It’s not that I hate eating in the morning; I just do not enjoy the super rich foods that are popular as American breakfast items: scrambled eggs, omelets, pancakes, sausages, breakfast burritos. For breakfast, I usually enjoy lunch/dinner foods. People often give me strange looks when they see what I bring for breakfast. Growing up in a Cantonese/Vietnamese family, breakfast was often a savory affair that consisted of whatever leftovers we had from the previous night. Or we would have rice porridge (i.e., congee) flavored with chicken, pork, and various herbs.

Anyway, I’ve had to re-think what I find acceptable for breakfast because it is not ideal to start the work day on an empty stomach. I am someone who experiences pretty extreme hanger (defined as anger precipitated by hunger). It would definitely not be ideal to snap at my coworkers just because I have sworn off most breakfast foods. I like simple foods for breakfast that are not overly heavy or rich, and importantly, do not take too much time to prepare. So, toast with different types of toppings is a perfect solution. I really enjoy the freshness that lime juice, tomatoes, and cucumber bring to this avocado toast. It makes breakfast feel lighter, while also providing adequate nutrition to start your day. Ironically, there is a running joke about Millennials and how much money we spend on avocados. Who knows if my extravagant spending on avocados will prevent me from ever being a home owner? But I do know this: I will be smiling in the mornings because of the satisfaction from eating this delicious and satisfying breakfast. And happiness is what life is all about, right?

 

Cooking Tips

This is a ridiculously simple recipe, so no, there are no “real” cooking tips for this specific dish. But I think that seasoning is so important for this dish because of its simplicity and “cleanness” of ingredients. I made sure to lightly season all the layers of veggies with a sprinkle of garlic salt to infuse the avocado toast with flavor. If you only season on top, the rest of the toast will be bland and then you will be hit with a wall of salt on the top. That is definitely not yummy, nor is it pleasant. So, with this dish as with others, season your components individually and then as whole. Always season along the way.

With certain dishes using cucumber, you would want to cut the cucumber in half length-wise and spoon out the seeds in the center. In this casual breakfast dish, feel free to leave the seeds in.

Recipe
Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
2 slices whole wheat toast
½ avocado sliced
1 Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
1 Roma tomato, thinly sliced
squeeze of lime juice
pinch of garlic salt
pinch of fresh ground black pepper

Place toast in a toaster/toaster oven and allow to toast for 5-10 minutes at 300 degrees F.

Slice avocado, cucumber, and tomato thinly. Set aside.

When toast is golden brown and crispy, layer cucumber on and sprinkle sparingly with garlic salt. Then layer tomato and sprinkle sparingly with garlic salt. Lastly, top with avocado.

Add a little splash of fresh squeezed lime juice on top of avocado toast. Add a small sprinkle of garlic salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Enjoy!

 

Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Wraps

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I am a huge fan of leftovers. Throughout my childhood, my parents taught me the importance of minimizing waste. This was because they grew up in less than ideal circumstances, often going hungry due to not having enough food available. When they came to America, they were horrified by what they saw their fellow neighbors do with excess food: toss it in the trash. I recently ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant with my husband, and we were dazzled by the delicious variety of dips that came with our pita bread. Eating out is a huge challenge for our health goals because portions in America are ginormous! So we’ve tried to make it a habit to enjoy ourselves fully while eating out, but also not overdoing it. Instead of clearing all of the food that is in front of us at a restaurant, we choose to stop eating right when we no longer feel hungry and box everything up to enjoy later on. This single change in behavior has been so instrumental in helping me lose over 30 lbs and keep it off (for the most part) over the years.

So our dinner featured eggplant and caramelized onion dip, tzatziki, and hummus. I wanted to find a way to utilize these dips by breathing new life into them. So in the spirit of re-using leftovers, I made these chicken wraps using roasted chicken from Costco. Ready-made hummus, tzatziki, and baba ganoush would be perfectly suitable dips for this wrap. I roasted zucchinis, red peppers, eggplant, and caramelized onions for some freshness and flavor. Roasting is one of my favorite simple ways to prepare veggies. My friend gifted me a grill pan when he was getting ready to move out of the country. And I am happy to say that I have given his pan lots of love through the years. It can be a lot of work to start a fire in an outdoor grill, so a grill pan is a nice and easy substitute that also provides a similar flavor profile.

Cooking Tips

Honestly, this recipe is incredibly simple to put together since many ingredients are store bought. It is challenging to think of a good cooking tip…. I guess the tip that I have is related to sandwich architecture, about which I am a huge stickler. Don’t you hate sandwiches that become soggy and fall apart when you go to eat them? That is one of my biggest food pet peeves. To avoid these pitfalls, make sure that you DO NOT let dips or wet vegetables (e.g., tomato, cucumber, lettuce) touch the surface of the bread. Instead, let drier veggies (e.g., avocado, roasted eggplant), meat, and cheese (or some dry cheese spreads) sit at the base of the bread and neatly stack other ingredients on top of these. Place dips/wet ingredients in the middle of your sandwich and place drier ingredients at the top. This creates a barrier for the top and bottom of your bread and protects it from wet ingredients and allows your bread to stay intact/relatively dry.

 

Recipe 
Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
Lavash bread
1 cup roasted chicken
2 tbsp hummus
1 tbsp tzatziki sauce
1 tbsp eggplant dip/baba ganoush
2 tbsp olive oil
2 red bell peppers
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise
1 eggplant, sliced lengthwise
1 tsp garlic salt
½ onion, sliced
1 cup salad greens
optional: 1 avocado

Roast bell peppers whole in toaster oven on broil for 15-20 minutes, until peppers have softened and skin has black spots. When they are done, place into a large bowl and cover the bowl to allow steam to help loosen the skins. When bell peppers have cooled (5-10 minutes), remove skin and seeds from the inside. Slice and set aside for use.

Cut zucchini into ½ inch thick slices lengthwise. Cut eggplant into ½ inch slices lengthwise.

Heat pan on medium high. Spray pan with olive oil. Place zucchini onto pan evenly. Roast for 3-5 minutes each side, until brown grill marks have formed. Repeat for eggplant. Remove from heat when grill marks are golden brown and season with garlic salt.

Heat another pan on medium. Add olive oil and add onions. Saute until golden brown and caramelized, occasionally moving onions around ~5-10 minutes.

Once veggies are cooled, begin to assemble sandwich.

Place lavash bread on a clean flat surface length-wise. On the left or right side, begin stacking 2 slices of roasted eggplant and 2 slices of zucchini neatly. Then spread sauces on top of roasted veggies: hummus, tzatziki, and baba ganoush. Place roasted bell peppers on top of the sauces. Neatly stack a handful of shredded roasted chicken next to the stack of roasted veggies. Then, next to the chicken, neatly pile a small handful of salad greens. Optional: top salad greens with a few slices of avocado. Spread a thin strip of hummus on the other end of the lavash bread to act as glue for the roll. Begin rolling from the side that has veggies on it. Roll over the chicken and veggies, making sure to keep the roll tight. Roll until you reach the end with hummus, which will seal the roll and help it keep its shape.

Enjoy!