Mapo Tofu

Ma po tofu is one of my favorite Chinese dishes and is surprisingly very easy to make (thanks to the recipe by a fellow Seattle food blogger Nook & Pantry). The two key ingredients for this classic Szechuan dish are Szechuan peppercorns and chili garlic sauce, both of which can be found in local Asian markets (if you live in the Seattle area, try Uwajimaya). Szechuan peppercorns are very tongue-numbing, so be sure to adjust the amount for your tolerance level.

Szechuan peppers are reddish in color and very fragrant.

Important final step: make sure to mix cornstarch with water before you pour it into the tofu mixture.

(Adapted from Nook & Pantry; makes 2-4 servings)

1 block soft tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 oz ground pork
2 tbsp chili garlic sauce
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, toasted and ground
1 tbsp soy sauce
6 green onions, chop the white part and cut the green part into 3-inch sections
2 tsp ginger, minced
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water
Salt to taste

- Heat the oil in a pan over medium high heat.
- Cook the ginger, the white part of green onions and Szechuan peppers for a minute.
- Add the pork, garlic, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, white pepper and sugar and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the tofu, the rest of the green onions, chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- After simmering, add the cornstarch mixture and bring up to a simmer again and cook until thickened.
- Garnish with chopped green onions.


Banana Bread

I buy bananas all the time because they're so cheap and, unlike exotic fruits, they're available all year round. I usually eat some by themselves and freeze the rest for smoothies (mango + banana + soy milk = so good!). But every once in a while I like to bake banana bread for breakfast or a snack. Usually recipes call for greasing the pan and flouring it first, but since I didn't have butter I lined the pan with parchment paper instead. I think this is actually a better way of baking because you're guaranteed the bread would not stick to the pan and therefore come out beautifully. Not to mention clean up is a lot easier!

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup flour

- Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F.
- Mix the bananas, sugar, vanilla, eggs and oil.
- Mix the dry ingredients and add to the banana mixture.
- Pour the batter into a parchment paper-lined pan.
- Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
- Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.


Figs, Blus Cheese and Prosciutto - Two Ways

I hope you all had a wonderful long weekend with friends and family. I'm so exited figs are finally available at local grocery stores! I recently made two very similar appetizers using seasonal figs. If you end up trying both recipes, let me know which one you like better!

5 figs, halved
5 slices prosciutto, halved lengthwise
Blue cheese
Black pepper or aged balsamic vinegar

- Preheat the oven at 400 degrees F.
- Stuff some blue cheese into the fig and wrap prosciutto around the fig.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Serve with black pepper or aged balsamic vinegar.

1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg, beaten
5 figs, sliced
2 slices prosciutto, cut into 1-inch strips
Blue cheese, crumbled
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt

- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cook the onion in the pan with the butter and salt for 15-20 minutes until lightly caramelized.
- Roll out the puff pastry sheet on a floured board a little bit.
- Brush with the egg wash and place the figs, onion, blue cheese and prosciutto evenly.
- Bake for 15 minutes.


Cheese and Green Onion Rolls

The other day I watched Ina Garten make a simple appetizer using frozen puff pastry on Barefoot Contessa and I was inspired to do the same. Since I had leftover cheese from Costco (yes, everything is big there!) that I was trying to use up, I decided to make puff pastry rolls with cheese and green onions. These rolls are great by themselves as an appetizer, but they also make a wonderful side dish for a soup or a salad.

1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg, beaten
1 cup cheese, shredded (e.g., cheddar, gruyere)
3/4 cup green onions, chopped (scallions are also great!)
1 shallot, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tsp thyme, chopped

- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll out the puff pastry sheet on a floured board a little bit.
- Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle the rest of the ingredients evenly.
- Roll up like a jelly roll.
- Cut into 20 pieces.
- Bake for 15 minutes.


Bacon-Wrapped Dates

I love making and eating appetizers more than regular meals. Appetizers are usually easier and less time-consuming to make and since they're small, you can comfortably eat main courses and desserts afterward. Appetizers are also great by themselves. I like to make them when I'm not that hungry or when I don't have much time before friends are coming over. Bacon, dates and cheese are three things I always have in the fridge, so I decided to combine them to make a super easy and delicious appetizer. What I love the most about this appetizer is that you get a perfect blend of different textures and flavors: crunchiness and saltiness from the bacon, sweetness from the dates, and creaminess from the cheese.

10 dates, pitted
5 bacon slices, halved
2-3 oz cheese (e.g., blue, feta, goat, ricotta cheese)

- Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Stuff cheese into dates.
- Wrap bacon around each date and secure with a toothpick.
- Bake for 15 minutes, turning the dates two, three times.
- Drain on a paper towel.


Cupcake Jones - Portland, OR

I actually cooked a few meals over the past few days (including yummy, picture-worthy dishes!), but somehow I kept forgetting to take pictures. Anyway, here are some photos of the cupcakes I bought in Portland a while back.

In the box above: "downtown cupcake brown" and "velvet painting".

As you can see from the picture above, the "velvet painting" is a red velvet cupcake with a filling inside (vanilla pastry cream) and is topped with cream cheese icing and a candied rose petal. How cute is that little pink garnish? The cupcake was so moist and scrumptious. I wish the Cupcake Jones people would open a store in Seattle so I can have my cupcake fix every week!

Are you a fan of cupcakes like I am? What's your favorite flavor?


The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever!

I've tried dozens of other chocolate chip cookie recipes before, but nothing compares to the Jacques Torres recipe that was featured in the New York Times a few years ago. This recipe is easy and the cookies always come out perfectly. I've made these cookies on numerous occasions and my friends and family can't get enough of them. And even if they could, I have no problem eating 4 or 5 cookies on my own!

(Adapted from Jacques Torres; makes 1 1/2 dozen cookies)

2 cups minus 2 tbsp cake flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 lb bittersweet chocolate chips
Sea salt

- Cream butter and sugars until very light; add eggs one at a time and vanilla until well mixed.
- Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined; add chocolate chips until combined.
- Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place "generous golf balls" of dough.
- Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
- Bake until golden brown (18-20 minutes).

Unlike most cookie recipes, this one uses a blend of cake flour and bread flour.

The original recipe calls for feves or oval-shaped chocolate pieces. I used regular chocolate chips from Nestle Toll House.

This is the hardest part of the recipe. I know you're tempted to bake the cookies right away but the dough has to sit in the fridge overnight.

This is a crucial part and the part I often forget: sprinkling sea salt on top of the cookies.

Finally the cookies are ready! Don't you just love the smell of freshly baked cookies?


Por Que No? - Portlant, OR

Before leaving Portland to head home, we stopped at Por Que No? for an early supper. It's a casual "hole-in-the-wall" kind of restaurant with fresh, home-made Mexican food.

I had horchata to cool down in the summer heat. Horchata is a refreshing cold drink popular in Latin America and Spain and is often made with rice, almonds, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar.

Tacos here are really good! We had two types of beef, one pork and one chorizo. The chips here are really good too. Sorry I forgot to take pictures: I was too busy eating! I'll definitely stop by at this taqueria next time I'm in town.

PS: I'm still trying to find a good Mexican restaurant in the Seattle area. Do you guys have any suggestions?


Andina - Portland, OR

Andina in a Peruvian restaurant located in the Pearl district of Portland. I've been there once before and liked it so much that I decided to go back again on my recent trip. They have entrees, but since I like eating a little bit of everything, I ordered some tapas.

Traditional cebiche (bottom right) was very good.

The little specks in the bread are quinoa, which the Incas referred to as "chisaya mama" or "mother of all grains." Bread is served with three dipping sauces: peanut, passion fruit and jalapeno.

Yuca rellena served with cheese sauce.

Grilled diver scallop with soy sauce and brown sugar and crispy onion rings on top. Too bad you only get one scallop!

Beef empanadas with raisins and olives.

Cured tuna loin with guacamole-like salsa. This was my favorite dish.

Finally dessert! I wanted to get a bigger dessert, but unfortunately my stomach didn't have enough room. So I settled with one cookie: an alfajor filled with warm, gooey manjar blanco, which I thought was dulce de leche.

After doing some research online, I discovered that manjar blanco tastes very similar to dulce de leche but is slightly lighter in color. And the main difference lies in preparation. Dulce de leche is made with condensed milk whereas manjar blanco is made with whole milk.


Portland, OR

I had so much fun with my family in Portland. If you've never visited there before (especially if you live in the Seattle area), I highly recommend that you take a weekend trip like I did.

Here's a quick summary of the city:
- Great food
- Great music scene
- Individuality of the people
- Pedestrian friendliness (no need to drive; no need to worry about parking)
- Beautiful parks and gardens
- Saturday Market (also open on Sunday)

- Too many homeless people (panhandlers on every block!)
- Weather (around 90 degrees F when I visited!)

Thanks for visiting my blog! In the upcoming posts I'll talk about the restaurants I visited in Portland.