Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: My Version of Mabo Tofu

Mabo tofu was always a favorite dish of mine when I was growing up.  My mom would make it with the House Foods instant mix packet from the Chinese supermarket; it was easy, filling, and it always hit the spot for our busy family of five.  You could say that it was the Hamburger Helper of Chinese immigrant families--there'd always be a stash of these in the kitchen cabinet, and all you have to do is add ground meat and a pack of tofu.  Throughout college, I'd keep a few boxes on hand, too.  In recent years, though, I've decided that it would probably be healthier to make it without the MSG and artificial colors.  I usually stick with the same ingredients (especially my secret weapon: tomato!), but every time I make it, it's been inconsistent.  So this time, I tried to measure things out and write it down.  Even so, every Chinese person likes his or her mabo tofu different.  This is just the version that works for me!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Chinese New Year: A Celebration of Togetherness

Chinese New Year was the last time that we had a family gathering at our place.  Little did we know that it would be impossible to do this again... indefinitely.  We traditionally host Fourth of July, but who knows if the coronavirus stay-at-home order will be lifted by then?

It was around Chinese New Year that the virus first gained attention in the media.  At the time, it was largely dismissed as a virus no more harmful than the flu.  My sister was handing out wedding invitations for her May wedding still.  We were exchanging everything from food, to hugs, to lucky money (cash, the germiest form of currency!).   I remember going to three different markets to get groceries for our Chinese New Year feast, and how "crazy" we thought the Asian markets were around this big holiday.  The definition of a chaotic supermarket has now been blown out the window.  Thinking back, our world has shifted so much since then.

I wanted to go back and relive that fun day.  It was our first family gathering since officially moving in.  The house was full and bursting with laughter and our oven was jam-packed with the many dishes that we had cooked ahead and were keeping warm.  People drove for miles to get together, bringing more goodies to share.  It was hectic getting everything onto the table while taking photos and entertaining, but I remember it being a good kind of hectic.  I miss having guests come by.  Sometimes when we cook great meals for ourselves during these days, I wish that we could have shared them with loved ones.  For now, all we can do is to share virtually.

I hope that we will get to see everyone again soon.  Thankfully, we've got technology to video-chat and my family already has a group text, but to share a physical space (without having to be six feet apart) is still an irreplaceable experience.  Also, food is our mutual love language.  On the final days before the stay at home order, we visited my parents and my mom insisted on cooking dinner for everyone to eat.  On Wes's birthday, about two weeks into the lockdown, his mom dropped off a box of homecooked food on our front doorstep.  We are really looking forward to bringing everybody together for a hearty feast to celebrate when it is safe again!

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Facing our Pizza Fears

Confession: we have PTSD from making pizza.  It is the one thing that we irrecoverably failed at in our kitchen a few years ago.  The shame and heartbreak from that unfortunate incident still burns to this day.  The failure was multi-staged.  We couldn't figure out how to stretch the dough, it kept springing back in on itself.  Finally, we decided to just top it anyway and try to bake it.  The toppings looked great and concealed the half-flattened crust, so we allowed ourselves to hope again.  Alas, upon attempting to slide everything onto the pizza stone inside of the oven, our pizza skidded in its tracks, tripped, and turned into a quesadilla.  That was, an inedible quesadilla, because the dough never did quite cook all the way through.  The most pitiful part of this story is that the pizza dough wasn't even handmade...we were using a Trader Joe's pre-made dough!  What should have been totally foolproof was our worst nightmare.

So... pizza has been the last thing on our list of things to make for ages.  We've had some success with making it on a grill during a group trip to Bamfield, Canada, but somebody else had made the dough and flattened it for us.  Wes pre-grilled it, then we topped it, and he grilled it again with the toppings and removed it one piece unscathed.  Still, it didn't seem worth reattempting on our own, until the pandemic hit.  Maybe we were craving some suspense in our lives, a much-needed adrenaline rush after weeks of being stuck inside.  Maybe others on social media had made pizza successfully and I was getting FOMO.  Whatever the case, we tried again and triumphed!  There are no photos from the first attempt because we were too afraid to document another round of pizza-fail, but we did it again.  This second time, we made an olive and anchovy pizza (we love anchovies!) as well as a Peking duck pizza.  We had leftover Peking duck from one of our takeout dinners, so why not try to imitate the famous CPK one? The results were fabulous for both!