Hawaiian Pork Sandwiches

I had a wonderful housewarming party this weekend -- complete with a 40 pound roast pig, a keg full of ice cold beer and a feast of epic proportions from salads to fried rice to cupcakes.  Life is good, what can I say?  Granted most of my girlfriends were completely grossed out by piggy, I happily enjoyed sneaking pieces of the crispy pork skin and sandwiching it between those delicious Hawaiian rolls that every one likes...don't judge me, it's delicious.

I guess the entire concept might've seemed a bit barbaric to some but I had to do it big, because finally having our house at a presentable state was a huge accomplishment -- a feat that seemed merely impossible just 6 months ago is now finally completed.  I needed a centerpiece that would scream VICTORIOUS!, because frankly I am ready for a vacation from anything house-related for awhile.

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes anyone?  Someone didn't wash their hands before eating... I would continously make these little treats throughout our house building process as a way to convince Collin to keep working -- "If you finish building the deck I'll make you those cupcakes you like..." poof, deck is done.  He deemed me the nickname "slave-driver Zhang" but in my defense, if I didn't crack the whip every once in awhile how would we stay on track? (just kidding boo!).

When Babe finally arrived, his massive size took me by surprise -- this sucker was big, almost as big as my friend Sonya here.  Perhaps I might've over estimated the pig consumption among 40+ people as I am currently holding 20lbs of leftover pig in my freezer.  Hey, no worries!  Just don't question why my site will be posting pork recipes for the rest of the month...

My friend Heather captured these shots of me cooking fried rice -- I made Pineapple Fried Rice with cilantro, cashews, onion and of course, PINEAPPLE!  I didn't mean to have a cooking demonstration at the party but I'm not gonna lie, it added some pizazz.  It was as if I had my own miniature cooking show right in the comfort of my backyard -- Cooking with Joy -- it has a nice ring to it.  As a result, the rice actually became the favorite dish of the night and thanks to my trusty apron, I didn't get a spot on me. ( Win! :) )

So what does one do with 20 lbs of excess pork?  Make Hawaiian Pork Sandwiches that's what.  I had a bunch of those sweet little Hawaiian rolls left over, I put two and two together and came up with the tastiest little sandwich combination.  For those of you who don't order a whole pig just for shits, you can go to your local asian market that sells BBQ pork, peking duck, etc and more than likely you will find pig that's fried, cooked and sold by the pound.

Ingredients for Hawaiian Pork Sandwiches: (serves 2-4)

  • 1/2 lb cooked pork, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons bbq sauce
  • 8 miniature Hawaiian rolls
  • 1/4 c mandarin oranges
  • 1/4 c red onions, small diced
  • 1 teaspoon jalapeno, small diced (you can increase the quantity if you like spicy food or omit it all together)
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime wedge, squeezed

Place chopped pork and bbq sauce into a bowl and mix thoroughly.  In another bowl, combine the mandarin oranges, jalapeno, onion and cilantro with the fresh lime juice and allow to sit for 20 minutes or can be kept overnight.  You can toast the buns if you choose --or eat them as is.  Split the buns in half and top with the pork mixture and relish.  You can use some fresh field freens as shown or leave them out completely.  Serve immediately with a glass of ice cold beer.

Drooling yet? You should be.

So onto the cool stuff...the before and after pictures of our house makeover!!  The past 6 months of bitching complaining was for good reason...see for yourself.

Check out the swirly retro ceilings!  Check out the crusty old carpet and linoleum!  How was this stuff ever in style??  We raised the ceiling, knocked down a few walls, put in wooden floors and got a new door.

And here is the master bedroom...YUCK.  Please note the heavily yellowed close doors, apparently the tenant before us was not a fan of cleaning supplies *shudders* and those retro curtains...tsk tsk.  We tore down the weird light fixtures, fresh paint, hardwoods and installed a nice ceiling fan (excuse the messy bed).

Boy, were the bathrooms a nightmare.  I'd say crappy would be an understatement in this case.  I mean who even has sinks like that anymore?  We knocked out more walls, found some hidden space that we later made into a shelf in the living room, dressed it up with new tile and new fixtures and VOILA! A master bath fit for a stud.

We also raised the ceiling in the guest bath, gutted the old fixtures and replaced it with new ones.  My aunt Lori and mommy Wells actually tiled this entire bathroom by themselves, what talented ladies!

AAAAAAH my dream kitchen tranformation -- looking how undreamy it was when we first started.  You can't see very well from these pictures but the old stove top was activated by BUTTONS...I don't even think my parents used buttons on their stoves in China.  Collin is convinced someone will buy this "vintage" stove, I give it 3 months or else it's outta here (*insert whip crack here*).  We pretty much kept NOTHING from the old kitchen except for the old cabinets which we made into Collin's workbench in the garage.  We put in granite counter tops, stainless steel applicances and custom made cabinets -- a wonderful change from the past elf kitchens I've been cooking in for the past 4 years.

And finally the living room.  We knocked down a lot of walls, put up a beam, new hard wood floors and some fresh paint.  Most of the furniture is courtesy of my mom, she gave us most of her belongings before she moved to Shanghai so that helped out a lot when we moved in.  As you can see Layla made a point to get into some of my shots, what a boob.  Though I have a lot of decorating left to do, like I said, I'm going on vacation from house chores for the next couple of months :).

None of this project would be possible if it weren't for the help of family. Collin's parents put in hundreds of endless hours of blood sweat and tears to make our house to what it is today.  Aunt Lori and Uncle Dave made a trip down especially to help us renovate bathrooms and clean up debris.  We worked Carter all Summer helping with installations and texturing (I made sure to feed him well during this time so he wouldn't quit on us) and Layla...well she just sat there and looked cute the whole time, what a HAM.  I think our first home will always be my favorite home -- solely because of all the different people who helped us along the way.  I can't begin to express my love and gratitude to everyone who took part in this huge project, a part of me is even a little sad that this project has come to an end.  It's crazy even now for me to look through these before and afters, I just can't believe my eyes.  WE DID IT! Through the stress, the unexpected challenges, the countless late nights -- our first home is complete.  And it's perfect.

Shanghainese Baby Back Ribs

My mother sent me back with this gigantic rack of baby back ribs -- see why I like going back home so much? Haha :) I decided to be inventive and created a unique bbq sauce made from "Jiu Nian" or Fermented Rice.  It turned out  to be FINGER-LICKIN good delicious! I did a dry rub first and then simply "braised" them in the oven, then finishing cooking by generously covering the ribs in my yummy bbq sauce and baking at a high heat so the sauce can caramelize.   I think good ribs are succulent, messy and fall off the bone tender, which is exactly what this recipe entails.  Forget forks and knives kiddos, these ribs are best when you dig in with your hands and lick off all the saucy goodness afterwards!

Ingredients for Shanghainese Baby Back Ribs:

Dry Rub

  • 2 tablespoons Ginger Powder
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese 5 Spice Powder
  • 2 tablespoons Ground Cloves
  • 2 tablespoons Crushed Red Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar


  • 4 gloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 cup Shao Hsing rice cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Jiu Nian or fermented rice

Rinse off the rack of ribs under cold water and pat dry.  Combine the ingredients for the dry rub in a medium bowl and mix well.  Generously place the mixture all over the meatier side of the ribs, so this ensures maximum flavors are soaked in.  Allow rack to marinate for at least an hour in the fridge, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 250F.

In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients for the braising mixture.  If the rack of ribs are too big to fit in your roasting pan, simply just cut them in half like I have.  Take two large sheets of aluminum foil and create packets for the racks of ribs to fit in.  You can do this by laying the rack of ribs on one half of the foil sheet and folding the other half over, then seal the sides closed so no braising liquid leaks out during baking, be sure to leave an opening for the braising liquid.  Pour the liquid into the packets and seal them tightly -- it is very important no liquid leaks out when baking in the oven -- the braising process makes the ribs nice and tender.   Place the packets in a roasting pan and bake for 2 1/2 hours or until meat is tender.

Once the ribs are done braising, carefully take the packets and empty the braising liquid into a medium heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Return the ribs to the roasting pan and cover with foil and set aside.  Meanwhile, heat the braising liquid at medium high heat and reduce the mixture until it is syrupy in consistency.  This will be your bbq sauce, taste and make any changes to your preference accordingly.  (Add more salt? more heat? more sugar?)  Change the oven temperature to broil and uncover the ribs and return to oven, generously brush the ribs with the bbq sauce.  Repeat process 3-4 times, in 5 minute intervals, until the ribs are entirely covered in the sauce.  The "broil" function in the oven should further caramelize the sugars and even add a "crispy" texture to the ribs.

Remove the ribs from the oven, give it one last generous brush with the bbq sauce and sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top.  You can eat it alone or serve it with some steamed white rice.  I also added some grilled pineapples as a "side" and it went together beautifully.   Does anyone else think that food tastes better when you eat it with your hands?  Because I sure do :) Licking off the sweet and spicy sauce that covered my fingers (and probably a good portion of my face) made these ribs all the better.  I invited my good friend Eric to share this meal with us and all three of us were happily stuffed, without a rib to spare.  Granted, Collin was a little unhappy about not having any leftovers, I took it as a sign of success! My honey definitely has a strong affinity towards ribs, I am not sure how it developed but it is intense to say the least.  He has woken up from a deep slumber before because he heard me asking friends  " Would anyone like any leftover ribs?", immediately he appeared in the room and in a deep thunderous voice exclaimed "WHY ARE YOU GIVING AWAY MY RIBS????" -- I definitely made sure not to make that mistake again...

I would also like to dedicate this post to the stranger who performed a random act of kindness for me and my friend today.  She unfortunately had a flat tire, and GRANTED we did get a KILLER deal on some used tires -- collectively we had NO idea as to how to change a flat (I got a splinter lodged into my thumb just by picking up the stupid tire).  I honestly hope my dad never reads this post, because he's taught me several times just in case it ever comes in handy...like today.  I guess cars to women is like women to men -- it is just something we will never come to understand, or try to.  BUT, thankfully a nice Hispanic guy who was driving by stopped and offered to give us a hand.  It was probably due to the fact that both my friend and I looked completely helpless and confused, but that is besides the point.  I am just thankful to know that people are nice enough to stop and lend a helping hand, his kind gesture really made my day.  I guess it inspired me to be more helpful throughout my day, a simple act of kindness always goes a long way and many times I find it to be contagious :)   So thank you stranger, for your kindness and consideration -- without your help we'd probably still be stuck out there figuring out how to unscrew this bolt thingy using the tire handle thingy.

I hope you guys enjoy this one, I was really impressed by the bbq sauce.  The fermented rice really brought out a different type of sweetness, and it had a nice lingering bite from the crushed red chiles in the dry rub.  Til next time, stay warm, eat lots and be merry!

Chinese Five Spice Braised Pork Belly with Lotus Root and Steamed Yucca

My earliest food memory as a child would have to be my mother's braised pork shoulder otherwise known in Chinese as "Hong Sao Rou -- here the centerpiece for a feast is turkey, at my home it was the almighty braised pork shoulder.  It was always everyone's favorite, I'd remember smelling the wonderful aromas of star anise and ginger enriching the air melting into the delicious meat, and that rich succulent braising liquid that holds the union of spices and delicious juices of the pork in all that dark syrupy goodness.  I use to sit on my hands so I wouldn't be tempted to steal tiny tastes before everyone else sat down at the table.    Once seated, my mother would exclaim "Bu yao ke qi, da jia chi chi chi!" meaning "No need to be polite, everyone eat eat eat!!".  She never had to tell me twice, my chopsticks would immediately dart for the pork shoulder, but would be quickly slapped away by my mother -- "Not until everyone gets some."

That was horrible.  How could she make me wait? I would watch painfully as slice after slice was handed off to every plate EXCEPT MINE. But I'd tell myself the waiting made the pork taste even better and once it was my turn I would drench my rice in liquid heaven and ask for a slice of pork with a lot of pang ruo (fatty meat) on it!  It really was one of the most glorious, satisfying things I've ever tasted, like...ever.  So I am happy to share this recipe with you guys, it is a comfort food to many Chinese and is extremely popular in Shanghai.  The braising liquid becomes thick and sweet and is rich in spices like cinnamon, star anise and ginger. The pork meat, especially the fatty parts, are so melt in your mouth tender that the only logical reaction would be to close your eyes sit back and sigh MMMMmmm.

I have made some slight changes to the recipe, I am using pork belly instead of shoulder. I have also added a jalapeno for an extra kick to the sauce.  You must steam the pork belly and cook it half way through and allow it to simmer in the braising liquid several hours after so all the good flavors can seep throughout the entire cute of meat as well as melt in your mouth tender.

How to Steam Pork Belly:

Take a large pot and fill it a quarter of the way up with water.  Take your pork belly and place it in a heatproof bowl.  Add 1/4 cup of ShaoHsing Cooking Wine and one cinnamon stick and place it on a steamer rack inside the large pot.  Cover pot and allow pork to steam for 10-15 minutes or until the meat feels firm to the touch.

Ingredients for Braised Pork Belly: (serves 2)

  • 1 - lb pork belly or shoulder, cut into 4-5" pieces
  • 1 lotus root
  • 2 small yucca, steamed
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup ShaoHsing Rice Cooking wine
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup rock sugar (yellow or white)
  • additional brown sugar to thicken liquid
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tablespoons star anise
  • 2 large ginger slices
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • salt to taste

In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil at medium high heat.  When almost smoking, add the spices along with the ginger, garlic and shallots.  Once the spices are aromatic, add the pork belly along with the cooking wine and remaining liquids to the pot.  Stir to mix well and add the rock sugar.  Once sugar is dissolved, reduce mixture to low heat and braise for 2 hours.  If the liquid becomes too low, simply add more water and adjust the sweetness and salty level to your tastes.

Peel the lotus root and cut into thin slices.  Place in the braising liquid and cook until slightly tender, about 20 minutes.  It will have a nice starchy and crunchy texture to it.  Meanwhile, take the yucca and place it in a heat proof bowl.  Allow to steam until cooked through, about 30 minutes.  Once done, peel off the skin and mash the yucca to a paste.  Add a little bit of salt and sesame oil, set aside until ready to serve.

Prep Time: 40 minutes  Total Cooking Time: 3 hours

Using a fork, check to see how tender the meat is.  If the meat easily flakes with pressure, it is ready to eat, if it is still tough allow to braise for an additional 20 minutes, repeat until meat is fully tender.  To plate the way I have, simply take some different sized ring molds -- you can find these in any baker/pastry section at places like Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, and use a big ring mold for your steamed rice and place a piece of braised pork belly ontop.  Finish by using a small ring mold to plate the steamed yucca ontop.  You can also substitute yucca for taro or regular potatoes if you'd like.  Place slices of lotus root on the side and place braising liquid all around the plate -- it is the best part!

If the braising liquid is too thin, simply remove the meat and lotus root and cook the liquid until it further reduces. If it is having trouble reducing, one of the issues could be not enough sugar.  If this is the case, add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar until it reduces to desired consistency or reaches your desired taste.   One of the most important things a good cook should learn is to taste with their palate.  If the dish is missing salt, add it in SMALL increments until it reaches the desired flavor, same with sweetness, tartness, etc.  Remember, adding in small increments is key -- it is not pleasant for anyone (especially yourself) when you over season your food -_-.

Also, do not remove the pork belly from the braising liquid until you are ready to serve or it will dry out.  The traditional "Hong Sao Rou" is usually just the meat itself but I have chosen to add the lotus root for some crunch and the steamed yucca for starch.  All components are good sauce "soppers" so at the end of the meal you are sure not to miss a single drop of lusciousness.