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I am part Taiwanese and part Hakka. I grew up in a predominantly Hakka community in the city of Chungli in Taiwan. Until our move to the U.S., I was surrounded mainly by my Hakka-speaking relatives. It’s a shame that I can barely speak the dialect now. I can still understand some though. It’s definitely a language that makes me feel at home when I hear it. It brings back a lot of the comforts of childhood. Hakka food in Chungli is phenomenal. Even in the big city of Taipei in Taiwan, Hakka food is still subpar to that of Chungli. It’s definitely something you can barely find half-decent in the U.S.

I distinctly remember eating frequently at this stall in the basement of a large public market in Chungli with my family. It was not the fanciest place. In fact, I think by today’s standards, it might not even be sanitary. However, they served this amazing fried Hakka salted pork. It’s basically cured pork belly that’s been deep-fried, then sliced. You then eat it with plain rice porridge. I don’t typically like fatty pork, but I liked this stuff. It’s funny because this was a part of my early childhood and I still have strong memories of this. In fact, I still dream about this ice shop in Chungli that we used to frequent for taro ice pops. I dream about food. I am not ashamed to say I do.

So not being able to get any decent Hakka cuisine in the U.S. nor live anywhere near my Hakka mother, I’d have to make my own. Thankfully, my mother was here to visit last week. It was a fun and a blessed week. As always, she was busy in the kitchen even if it’s not hers. She loaded up my fridge with lots of dishes to savor for later. We made Hakka salted pork together. According to her, this came about in the old days because refrigeration for food was rare, so people had to cure their meats. She recalled her grandmother making this dish with lots of salt. You can fry, steam, or stir-fry this with vegetables or bean curd. This recipe is more of a modern day version of the traditional Hakka salted pork.

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Hakka Salted Pork Belly 

(adapted from Little Bear’s Kitchen)

Ingredients:

2 strips of pork belly (about 1 pound each strip)

2 teaspoons salt

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine

1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

1. In a marinating dish, salt the strips of pork belly so that all sides are covered evenly.

2. Combine all of the ingredients except for the pork belly and salt in a small bowl. Mix well.

3. Place the two strips of pork belly into a marinating dish. Pour the marinade over the pork belly and massage into the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours.

4. When finished marinating, remove from fridge. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Set pork belly strips on a wire rack in a baking dish. Bake for 60 minutes or when no longer pink inside. Flip the strips of pork belly to the other side halfway through baking time.

6. When finished baking, set aside to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

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We brought the kids to Disney World last week and ate at a lot of places catered to tourists. We were limited with time and two younger kids, so we had to eat at convenient places like eateries inside the theme parks or tourists-oriented chain restaurants. I was so ready to eat a light, home-cooked meal by the end of our trip. I was sick of fried, greasy, bland-tasting meals. It reminded me of my parents that no matter where they are in the world, they somehow always find their ways to a Chinese restaurant after a few days of trying out local cuisine. I suppose it’s comfort food for them. I still remember eating Chinese food in Paris instead of eating more of those crusty French baguettes. Those Asian parents! I suppose I’m becoming one like them. I was craving a light, home-cooked Asian meal. Ha!

I like to keep a bag of frozen salmon fillets from Costco in my freezer for quick (emergency) meals. They thaw fairly quickly and I love how they are individually-packaged. I can just take out how much I need. Yes, I know. Bad for the environment, but saves me lots of trouble.

Chinese people say ginger and scallions together will eradicate the “fishiness” of fish. This dish makes my house smells so good. I can’t stand lingering sautéed onion smell, but I love the combination of ginger and scallions together with rice wine.

This is a super-easy dish to make. Just put it together and pop in the oven. You’ll have a healthy meal in 15 minutes.

 

Ingredients:

serves 4

 

4 (7 ounce) boneless salmon fillets

4 inch ginger piece, peeled and julienned

4 scallions, julienned

1 teaspoon rice wine

1 teaspoon salt

4 large pieces of parchment paper

 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place the parchment paper pieces onto a large baking sheet, then place individual salmon fillets onto parchment paper. One fillet on each piece of parchment paper.

3. Salt the individual salmon fillets front and back. Divide the julienned ginger and scallion equally to four portions and place on top of the salmon fillets. Sprinkle rice wine onto the top of each salmon fillets.

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4. Seal the parchment packages tightly. Place in oven and bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

5. Carefully open the package or rip through center of parchment package before serving.

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Unfortunately, everyone here in this house besides me are not huge fans of vegetables. I find it frustrating when I labor over dinner preparation, only to pack up a huge dish of leftover cooked vegetables which I will be the only one having to finish it sometime later. And then there’s the guilt of the family not eating enough vegetables as we all know the health benefits of vegetables.

And then I discovered this: roasted cauliflower.

Finally, a veggie dish that everyone like around here! Even H (the husband, as I will refer to in this blog from here on out) snacks on the leftover after dinner! It’s a miracle. His mama would be so proud of him, as she still constantly “remind” him to eat more vegetables along with a list of other “reminders” like drink more water.

When cauliflower is roasted, it caramelizes a little on the outside making it taste really good- slightly crisp on the outside, while soft on the inside. Believe me, you will never go back to sauté them. It’s another one of those easy stick-in-the-oven dish. I set the timer, break up a sibling quarrel or two between E and S, then come back to it.

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Roasted Cauliflower

Serves 4

 

Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower

3 cloves of garlic, minced

cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

salt

pepper

 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with foil.

2. Wash and dry the cauliflower head with paper towel. (Tip: The dryer you dry the cauliflower, the more “crisp” your dish will be. Sometimes I will wash and dry earlier in the day, let it sit on the counter, then get to it a few hours later. By then, it will be completely dry.)

3. Cut up the cauliflower into 1.5 to 2 inch pieces. (Tip: After slicing off the big florets from the main stem, it’s easier to use the tip of the knife and cut into the bottom part of the stem while carefully splitting the floret into two smaller pieces with the other hand. There will be less “crumbs” or broken pieces of the florets this way.)

4. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cut-up cauliflower florets with a drizzle of olive oil so that every piece will be coated with some oil. Then add the minced garlic, salt, pepper and toss to coat evenly.

5. Spread the cauliflower evenly in one layer onto the lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. At about halfway through baking time (15 minutes), carefully remove from oven and flip the cauliflower florets using a spatula onto the other side so that both sides will caramelize evenly.

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There is something comforting about eating bento boxes (bian dang) that they sell all over Taiwan.

Perhaps it’s because I spent a large chunk of my childhood there. It’s like fast-food Taiwanese-style. You can get them in train stations, eateries that specialize in just selling bento boxes, to convenience stores like 7-Eleven which seems like they are on every street corner. They often come with a meat, a few sides of veggies, and some pickles all served on top of freshly steamed rice. The contents are compacted into these small rectangular paper take-out boxes with rubber bands to hold the lid down.  It’s like eating a home-cooked meal out of a box, packed with love. Ok, I’m sure they weren’t pack with love like mama would have, but close enough.

This chicken dish reminds me of my childhood days eating out of a bento box in Taiwan, as this is often a type of the meat you would find in a bento box. It goes well with rice and a squeeze of a lemon wedge, served with steamed rice and a few sides of veggies.

A chicken leg quarter usually consists of a drumstick, a thigh, and sometimes part of a back. It’s an inexpensive cut. I try to buy humane meats from my local stores. I’ve found that they actually taste better than “regular” factory-farmed poultry. The trickiest part to the recipe is probably deboning the chicken. You’d be surprised how little meat is actually there after you debone the leg quarter. Leave the skin on. It helps retain moisture in the meat. Browning the meat before baking also helps to maintain maximum moisture and flavor.

 

Baked Garlic Boneless Chicken Leg Quarters

serves 2 adults and 2 children, or 3 adults

 

Ingredients:

6 chicken leg quarters

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon rice wine

2 bay leaves

3 garlic cloves, sliced into halves

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I use olive)

lemon wedges

 

Directions:

1. Debone the chicken leg quarters. If you have never done this, here’s a good video to get you started: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrGYaVN_T_0

2. Make 1-2 cuts about 1 cm deep over the thickest part of the meat (not the skin-side). This helps to cook the meat more evenly.

3. Marinade the chicken with soy sauce, black pepper, rice wine, and bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to a maximum of 6 hours. Re-distribute the meat in the marinade as needed during this time so that every piece can marinade evenly.

4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Set aside.

5. Remove chicken pieces and let the marinade drip off of the chicken. Place on a plate.

6. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced garlic. Cook the garlic for about 30 seconds before adding the chicken pieces skin-side down onto the skillet. Let them sear undisturbed for about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip over when there is a light brown color to that side, then brown the other side for about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces skin-side up in one layer onto the lined-baking sheet. Place them with at least 1 inch spacing from each other.

7. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes or when the meat reaches 165 degrees in a meat thermometer.

Optional: Serve with a squeeze of a lemon wedge

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As a mother of two little ones, I am always looking for an easy way to prepare dinner. Somehow around the time when I have to prep for dinner, they become super-clingy. One becomes whiny while conjoined to my leg and the other is throwing all of the toilet paper into the toilet. Easy dinners that come out of the oven have become a go-to around here. Prep the dish, stick it in the oven, then it’s done right around dinnertime. I don’t have to stand over the stove and worry about kids getting burns.

This recipe is one of those. No grill required therefore no risking getting locked out on the deck by two little ones who wouldn’t be able to unlock and let you back in.

I prefer dry rub over sauce for my ribs. The spices are easily found in my spice cabinet. Feel free to substitute garlic powder for onion powder. I have tried both and prefer the garlic version. If you want to make two rack of ribs, just place one rack of ribs on the top rack of oven and the other on the lower rack. Switch the top with bottom at halfway (45 minutes) of baking time so that both racks of ribs will cook evenly.

 

1 rack of baby back ribs

garlic powder

paprika

salt

freshly ground pepper

 

1. Preheat oven to 325 degree.

2. Dry the top and bottom of the ribs with a paper towel.

3. Sprinkle generously on the bottom of the ribs with garlic powder and paprika, followed by pepper. Salt as desired. Gently “massage” the dry rub into the bottom-side of the ribs. Flip the rack of ribs over, and repeat on the other side.

4. Place ribs on a rack (optional) on top of a foiled rimmed baking sheet.

5. Bake for 90 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and tent the ribs with a piece of foil (To tent means to loosely cover the meat while it rests so that the juices of the meat can redistribute). Let it rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting into individual ribs. (This is important because if you cut into the meat right away, you will lose some of the juice and risk your meat from becoming dry).

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