Chinese

Best Shrimp Fried Rice

Back in Elementary school I’d remember we had International Day, where students were asked to bring a dish from the country they were from.  Being Chinese, most of my friends assumed all we ate were eggrolls and fried rice and that we all knew some form of karate.   Not wanting to veer too far from stereotypes to risk confusion and so more people would like me, I decided to make Shrimp Fried Rice.

I cooked two pots of rice and was frying my eggs when my mother loomed into the kitchen -- “WHAT YOU DOING?” You see my mother has a thunderous voice, the kind that just shocks you right in the ear making your shoulder suddenly jolt up in pain. “Uhm...I’m making shrimp fried rice for International Day at school.” I continue to sauté my vegetables, feeling her lurking heavily over my shoulder.  She looked over at the pot of my freshly cooked rice and watched her brow wrinkle in distress: I’ve really gone and done it now, I’ve offended the Fried Rice Gods!  “How can you use that rice?  Must be OLD RICE, you cannot serve this, BU HAO!” And indeed it was bu hao, it sucked actually – I ended up with a goopy, soggy, pasty mess and safe to say, it was the worst fried rice ever.

You see--good thing you have mommy here to teach you how to make!” I ended up buying the Shrimp Fried Rice from General Chopsticks that day because what I made was honestly not edible.  That very weekend my mother taught me how to make the world’s BEST Shrimp Fried Rice, her secret? -- A sprinkle of chicken bouillon and white pepper at the very end.  So here it is, I’m passing on the love: My mother’s guide to Shrimp Fried Rice.

1.       Always use day old rice – make sure it is dry and not mushy and preferably cold.

2.      Fry all of your ingredients separately – shrimp, eggs, vegetables, rice, to avoid making just one gigantic clump and this ensures that all ingredients are cooked evenly.

3.      Use very hot heat and the right amount of oil, too little oil will break the rice apart, making it very sticky – for every 2 1/2 cups of rice I recommend using 2 tablespoons of oil.

4.      Pre-marinating the shrimp makes all the difference in the world.

5.      Always taste your rice the very last minute and adjust seasonings accordingly.

Recipe for the Best Shrimp Fried Rice:

(Serves 2-3; Prep Time: 15 minutes Total Cooking Time: 40 minutes)

Shrimp

  • 1 cup shrimp
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • ¼ cup Shao Xing Cooking Wine
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • ½ cup vegetable oil

--------

  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
  • ¼ cup white onion, chopped
  • ½ cup frozen mixed vegetables
  • 2 ½ cups of cold, day old rice
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Chicken Bouillon
  • A pinch of white pepper (and salt if needed.)
  • ½ cup green scallions, finely chopped

Marinate the shrimp with shrimp, cornstarch, cooking wine, soy sauce and white pepper.  The oil will be for later use.  Refrigerate the shrimp for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, gently break apart the rice into small clumps using your hands and set aside.  Chop the onion, green onion and scramble your eggs.

Set a metal strainer and a bowl aside to catch the excess oil from cooking the shrimp.  Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok at high heat until the oil just begins to smoke.  Add the shrimp mixture and quickly sauté the shrimp, making sure all surfaces of the shrimp hits the hot oil.  Cook for about 1 ½ -2 minutes or until shrimp are almost cooked through (the surfaces will turn entirely pink), turn off heat and allow shrimp to cook the rest of the way for an additional minute.  Strain shrimp through strainer and set aside and save the oil for the rice.

In the same skillet or wok, heat a tablespoon of the reserved oil over medium high heat until hot.  Sautee onions for 2 minutes and then add the frozen vegetables.  Add another tablespoon of oil and add the rice.  Gently break up the rice with the vegetable mixture by shaking the skillet or wok, or moving it around with a heat-proof spoon.  Add the soy sauce and mix thoroughly and then add the shrimp.  Sprinkle with chicken bouillon and a pinch of white pepper, taste and salt accordingly.  When ready to serve, sprinkle finely chopped green scallions to add a burst of freshness.

My Mother's Wonton Soup

Since my mother moved back to Shanghai a couple months back, I've found myself not only missing her (terribly) but reminiscing back to all the Chinese traditions that she's instilled in me over all these years.  I almost feel less Chinese without her -- no more ancient Chinese medicines, no more meditation practices, no one to speak Chinese to, no one yelling over my shoulder "AIYA JOY put that back, why you always buy buy buy??  SAVE MONEY!"   It feels weird to not have my mother completely accesible -- I'll pick up the phone to call her with a question only to realize she's 13 hours ahead of me.

I miss her.  I miss laughing loudly with her, Collin would constantly complain about us making his ears ring but we couldn't help it -- we have way too much fun together.   I miss going to the asian markets with her, it's been a tradition since as young as I could remember.  My mother worked a lot and the little free time she did have she spent coooking for us. Every Sunday for 13 years I followed her to the market where we'd do our shopping for the week and she'd always let me get a little snack as a treat for tagging along :).  I miss eating her food, I realize maybe I don't make Chinese food as much as I should because it just doesn't taste quite like Mom's.  It's just not the same.

 

My nostalgia left me feeling a little empty and found myself craving for some type of comfort.  I called my mom and told her --

"Mom not having you here makes me sad, it also makes my tummy sad." 

"I miss you Joy!  Why your tummy sad?  You get fat?" 

"...NO (yes)! Mom that's not the point, I wish you were here to make me food."

"OOOH fancy girl!  Become milloinaire and mommy move back to cook for you."

"You better watch out mom, I'm already half way there..."

" Why you no make wonton?  You make you freeze you eat whenever you want!"

But of course, WONTONS what could be more soul comforting that that?  It's like getting a big warm hug without my mom even being here!  Best part is, everytime I make these they do taste just like mom's!  I'd remember during the holidays my mom, aunts and cousins and I would gather around the table making wontons.  We'd set up an assembly line almost, I'd be in charge of taking the wonton peels apart, my aunt would divide up the filling and my cousin would fold the wontons and my mom would cook them up.  Best part is, any wontons we didn't eat my mom would freeze and then portion out into individual bags for later use. 

 

Ingredients for My Mother's Wonton Soup: (makes 48-54 wontons)

  • 7 oz shrimp, shelled
  • 14 oz ground pork
  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1/2 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon corn strach
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

-------

  • 6 cups chicken stock 
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • cilantro and green onion, chopped for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  •  

 

Wash the shrimp, squeeze out the excess moisture and chop coarsely.  Mix together with the ground pork, egg white, cornstarch, sesame oil, salt, sugar, rice wine and ginger.  Take your wonton wrappers and wrap them in a moist towel, this keeps the wrappers from drying out.  Wrap one teaspoon filling in each wonton wrapper.  You can fold them as the way I've shown or just gather and twist the edges together to form a little purse. 

Bring the chicken stock and salt and white pepper to a boil and pour into a soup bowl.  Bring 5 cups of water to a boil and drop in the wontons.  Cook until the wontons rise to the top, about 5 minutes.  Remove the wontons from the water and place in the prepared chicken broth.  Top with scallions, cilantro and drizzle with sesame oil.  Serve immediately. 

 

***** A trick my mom would always use to adjust the flavorings for the filling is she would make a wonton and cook and taste it first.  That way you're able to adjust the flavorings according to your taste (i.e. add more salt to the filling or more sugar or more wine). 

 ***** My mom use to steam the wontons and then place them in the broth.  This keeps the wontons from falling apart and becoming over cooked.  If you choose to steam the wontons you can use a bamboo steamer (as pictured) and steam for 10 minutes on high heat.  You can also eat the wontons plain without the broth and serve them alongside a dipping sauce. 

***** also note the orange slices serve no purpose in the broth except for a nice garnish and color contrast, do feel free to leave that out. 

 -------------------------------------------

 

So as I promised awhile ago I'd share some pictures of my mom that I took before she left.  Thankfully she's not able to see my blog in China because she specifically told me "Do not put my old face on your website, who wants to see an old lady?"  That's where I think she's wrong.  My mom is in her mid 50s and she looks anything BUT old -- I can only HOPE that by the time I reach her age I look as good as she does. 

Please note that I did not use any blurring or retouching of her face because I wanted everyone to observe the quality of her complexion.  Her secret?  Well where do I start....she has never tanned once in her life, she's never eaten fast food for the 25 years shes lived here (aside from the occasional ice cream cone from McDonald's), her daily diet usually consists of boiled vegetables, very little meat and virtually no salt.  She never wore makeup, only lipstick and a little brow pencil, never a smoker or a drinker, and she always has a glass of warm lemon water first thing in the morning.   

When we go out, people always ask "Are you guys sisters?"  Now while my mom is soaking it up and giggling like a little school girl, I'm standing in the back looking extremely unamused.  "NO WE'RE NOT SISTERS." I'd reply with a scowl.  But with all jokes aside, I worry sometimes.  I worry that despite having her genes once you factor in all the environmental effects I've done on my skin, maybe I won't look as radiant and beautiful as mother when I'm in my 50s.  She always tells me though "The secret is prevention.  Always protect yourself when you're still young."  Good advice from a wise wise woman. 

I love you mom and miss you everyday, and though this wonton soup doesn't completely make up your absence it does help bring comfort to my belly and soul.  I can't wait to see you next year and no matter how old you become you will always be the most beautiful woman in my eyes.  I hope you guys enjoy this recipe as it holds a very special place in my heart and plus its a Shanghainese recipe so therefore you know it's freakin bad ass.  ^_^ ENJOY!

Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce

It's been great having my mother here with me in Dallas -- every morning when I wake up I am greeted with a warm "Good Morning Xin xin!" opposed to my usual routine of Collin tickling the bottoms of my feet and me grumpily falling out of bed.  Don't get me wrong, the feet tickling hasn't stopped., but now I wake up with a sense of excitement because I have my mother there for company.  I no longer clumsily search for my pot of coffee and skip breakfast because nothing sounds good because... okay before I go any further, please refrain all judgment of me being a spoiled child... my mom will be there with a cup of ginseng tea because "Too much coffee is no good Xin xin! Ginseng give you energy."  After my tea routine my mother continues to check all aspects of my health -- "OKAY lemme see your tongue! Oooooh tsk tsk tsk, today tongue is no good I will fix you medicine.  Hmm lemme check your heels!  OOoooh dry heel, sign of bad health, I go get you ointment I massage for you."

Wow.  A girl could honestly get use to this treatment.  After not living with my mother for almost 10 years, one forgets how well she had it, and trust me I am soaking up the glory right now...every single drop.  When she arrived we made a cooking schedule "Okay you make American Monday Wednesday Friday, I make Chinese Tuesday Thursday Saturday, Collin order pizza Sunday!" Except I haven't cooked at all because my mother has taken over the kitchen with her wonderful glorious food, and frankly it's been absolutely frikkin' AWESOME.

And as I promised, I am going to share the wonderful food with you guys.   Results are best achieved by cooking with a wok on a propane fueled fire station -- the temperatures are hotter and as a result gives the dishes a nice smokey flavor.

Ingredients for Pork with Garlic Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 small dried chiles
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork, preferably from the shoulder (Boston butt or picnic), cut into thin shreds and thoroughly dried
  • 2 teaspoon corn starch + 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup dried tree ears, soaked in hot tap water until softened, drained, patted dry, and torn by hand into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup carrots, finely shredded
  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, finely shredded
  • 1/4 cup white onion, finely shredded
  • 1 bunch of scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths, white and green parts separated

Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons hot chile paste
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch

Combine the pork, cornstarch, and 1 tablespoon of water in a medium bowl. Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to come about 1 inch up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 325° F. Add the pork and stir gently until it turns light brown, about 40 seconds. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, transfer the pork to a colander to drain. Discard all but 4 tablespoons of oil from the wok.

To start the sauce, mix the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine in a small bowl and set it aside. Dissolve the cornstarch in 3 tablespoons cold water, and set it aside. Return the wok to high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and scallions, and stir-fry until they are fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add onion, carrots, tree ears, and bell pepper and stir-fry until the bell pepper starts to soften, about 30 seconds. Transfer the vegetables to the colander. Add the vinegar mixture to the wok and stir for 10 seconds. Then add the hot chili paste and stir for 10 seconds more. Return the pork and vegetables to the wok, and stir-fry until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens, about 20 seconds. Add the hot chili oil, if using, and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the sesame oil and serve immediately.

Wow, it's a tough life I live here in the Wells household...:)

I would also like to share a couple photography shoots I've done recently -- one was an engagement shoot for my bestfriend and the other was of my adorable nephew.

Part 4 of 5 -- Wuxi SuZhou and Chenghuang Miao

The second part of the Wuxi trip we went to Turtle Head Peninsula on Tai Lake.  It is the most beautiful place of Tai Lake and the name comes from  the tip of the peninsula that is shaped like a turtle head!  Inside the park are ten famous scenic spots, which include Chongshan Garden, Jiangnan Orchid Garden, Taihu Fairy Islet, and Guangfu Temple.

We only had about an hour to venture through the park, so Collin and I practically sprinted through the different scenic spots.  Inside the park was filled with lush vegetation of vines, trees, and vibrant flowers, creating a serene and splendid view for the eyes.

The traditional Taoist culture has influenced this island in many ways of becoming a natural wonderland.  The Sanshan Taoist Temple built during the Taibo era (around 3,000 years ago) was actually the only Taoist temple built on an island in China.

Scattered all around the park were these uniquely shaped limestones, I especially liked the checker board carved into a large slab of stone, complete with 4 little stone chairs.  Legend has it that the emperor of the Song dynasty nearly bankrupted the country because of his obsession with finding these uniquely shaped limestone rocks.  What unusual formations they were indeed!

I saw this alluring women adorned in traditional Chinese silk robe playing the Gu Qin - which is a seven stringed zither with no bridge, I call it an old-fashioned Chinese piano.  The notes are strummed by the hand, creating different effects by the skillful techniques of well trained fingers. Confucius was actually a master in this instrument, and said it had powers of enriching the heart and elevating the human spirit.

There were so many different types of flowers, the colors and fragrance permeated throughout the entire park.  I couldn't help but snap numerous pictures of their magnificent beauty, I find flowers fascinating.  To think that all of their traits were developed soley for evolutionary effects -- with their sweet scents, rich colors, various formations -- they not only attract humans but so many different types of animals and insects too!

A friend once jokingly said -- "Joy you take pictures of food and FLOWERS.  You're just like my mom, always snapping random pictures of flowers and trees and plants and stuffs."  Gosh, I honestly have NO idea what she's talking about! :)  It comes down to the basics for me though, the simplicities of life.  The beautiful and pure things that people often overlook throughout the day but never realize their enchanting effects.

9 times out of 10, if I see a beautiful flower I will stop to appreciate it -- whether it's to observe it's exquisite flawless beauty or it's intoxicating smells, it never ceases to amaze me what the world is able to create.  Are you diggin the babushka I am sportin on the left?  Also note the lack of enthusiasm on my face, that's because sprinting through a freaking GIGANTIC park and then getting LOST in between made Zhang very tired.

Our last stop of the day: Su Zhou.  By this time, it was around 7:00 PM, we were all very tired but a wedding dress had to be made people!  Most well known for their silk industry, Su Zhou is also heavily populated with wedding factories (score!).  As we were taking the city bus to the area, Jiu Ma just so happen to sit next to a young man whose family designed wedding gowns. WELL THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT because upon our arrival, there were THOUSANDS of wedding dress boutiques I honestly don't know where I would've started.  It was absolutely overwhelming.

But wait.  The story gets better. The minute I walked into the young man's boutique I spotted a dress that was almost IDENTICAL to what I wanted.  I couldn't believe my eyes, I literally thought I would be stuck in SuZhou for hours searching through hundreds of thousands of gowns until I found the perfect one.  Thankfully all the praying I did in the temples brought me good fortune :).  I picked out my dress, made a few modification, took some measurements and BAM I was out in less than an hour.  Oh did I also mention that my custom made gown was a whopping $85?  Verrry niiice!

After dress shopping we had to grab some grub.  We went to the main market center in SuZhou where there were numerous eateries, clothing stores and gift shops.  The streets were full of hip youngsters dressed in colorful and ecclectic fashions, I was surprised as to how up to date the youth seemed to be here.  I also saw this donut shop, probably the weirdest donut shop I've ever seen.  I usually go for the usual glazed and maybe on a good day I'll go for a chocolate glazed with sprinkles.  They had crazy flavors like "Italian-style Bacon" (what the heck does Italian bacon taste like??), "Spicy Fluffy" (wow yeah I dont know about that..) and Burberry (Uhm..so would that donut cost like $400?).  I did not buy one, I just couldn't -- all these flavors were just too much for me to handle. (Shipley's will always be #1 in my heart.)

The next night, Jiu Ma (#1!) suggested that we check out one of the most famous market areas in Shanghai -- Chenghuang Miao otherwise known as The City God Temple, an area of temples that are reminiscent of old Shanghai.  Back then, every Chinese city had a designated Temple of the Town God which served as a shrine for Daoist worship.  The temple in Shanghai was named “Cheng Huang Miao” which was devoted to the god of commerce.

However, the temple was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but thankfully restored during the early 90s.  It now has been transformed into one of the largest marketplaces in Shanghai filled with gift shops, restaurants, bulk food shops, basically anything you can think of!

I loved the lighting of the shrines at night -- the structures looked incredibly magestic.  It is hard to imagine that long ago these were the buildings people prayed in!  The antique Chinese architectural designs really brought you into another dimension of time, especially with the elegantly curved roofs crowning the shrines.

Nestled inside the shrines were individual vendors selling a variety of goods.  This woman sold hundreds of different types of Buddhist bracelets and name stamps carved from stone.  Back then when people wrote letters, instead of signing their signature they would have a name stamp containing the character of their last name.

This man sold Jian Zhi or Chinese Papercutting, an art practiced since the beginning of the Han dynasty in China when paper was first invented.  Back then people who used paper as a means for decoration were considered to be nobels and royalty.  Now they are used commonly in every household for decorative use, many families enjoy placing papercuttings by the front door to bring good fortune.  One must have much patience and a steady hand to master the art form of Jian Zhi!

This man sold miniature figurines and jewelery made from copper that he made with only a scarce set of tools and his hands.  If you look at the bottom left hand corner of the photo on the left, you will notice the miniature little figurines (you can barely see them) but I have blown them up in the picture on the right.  The detailing is pretty incredible, the figurine literally fit on the tip of my index finger.  He told me it took him about 6 hours to mold each of the miniature figurines, I think it'd take me a solid 6 weeks haha :)

Now.  Onto the important stuff...THE FOOD.  Oh man, the food possibilities are ENDLESS here.  Many people come to Chenghuang Miao for the infamous Xiao Long Bao -- there is a small restaurant here (I do not know the exact address) that serves only Xiao Long Bao.  Don't worry, you won't have any trouble finding it once you are here -- just look for the long lines that pour out of their doors (the wait could be as long as an hour sometimes!).

We actually went to the main food court for their wide range of options.  They serve hundreds of different types of traditional Shanghainese dishes -- think lots of seafood, dim sum, soups, and steamed dumplings.  The woman in the photo above is serving "Tang Yuan", tiny glutinous rice balls served in a steaming hot broth sweetened by Jiu Nian or fermented rice.  Some tang yuans are filled with traditional fillings like black sesame, red bean, etc.  The weird picture on the top right is Lotus Root stuffed with Glutinous Rice -- for those of you who have never had Lotus Root it's delicious.  It's the root of the beautiful Lotus flower -- with a very slimy but crunchy texture and slightly sweet nature, it is often stuffed with glutinous rice soaked in soy sauce and steamed to a wondrous perfection.

There were so many different types of crab -- I honestly had no idea what kind they were.  The common crab we have here in Texas would be the blue crab and other than that I don't see much else.  Here they had square shaped crabs, trapezoidal (is that a word?)  shaped crabs, tiny round looking crabs -- I mean there were a lot of freaking crabs dude!

But don't panic non seafood eaters, there's plenty more to choose from.  They also had a variety of fried foods -- fried chicken wings, tempura vegetables, fried fish cakes, fried rice cakes as well as various types of chow mein, soup noodles, cold noodles, hot noodles... I think even the pickiest of all picky eaters would be able to find something here.

They also had a HUGE selection of dimsum, some things I recognized other things I hadn't a clue.  They had Xiao Long Baos, Glutinous Rice wrapped in Bamboo Leaves, various types of Puddings, Steamed Cakes and Desserts, different kinds of steamed dumplings, it was seriously the most intense dim sum spread I've ever seen.  Mind boggling.

Unfortunately, the dishes we picked actually weren't that great.  The weather was really cold that day, and they don't really use heaters here so all of our food was cold by the time we brought it back to our table :( Better luck next time as one would say!

With full tummys and empty pockets, we headed home to enjoy a homecooked meal from Jiu-jiu.  The livin is good in Shanghai!  :)  My last installment will be more family photos, more food of course and any other random blurbs (they are pretty random...) If you have any questions about the places I've been or good places to eat in Shanghai, feel free to contact me!