Hainanese Chicken Rice

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I’ve gotta admit, it’s been a rough week over here but I dread the upcoming weeks even more.

I’ve been waking up as early as 5 a.m. with Mark on weekdays even though I have no reason to be up that early at all. I can’t seem to shake away ominous thoughts and I carry on through the day feeling constantly anxious and worried.

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But the weekend is finally here and it’s warm and sunny and I plan to savor every bit of it. Mark and I ran errands today because we’re grown up and married now and that’s what grown up people do. We chose to take his car so we could put the top down and bask in some warmth.

I’m finally at the point of my life where I have to file my taxes like an adult and of course I was clue-less. I wonder why they don’t teach you stuff like that in school. Like what steps to take so you can earn tax credits, or who qualifies as a dependent, or how to read your W-2s. What even is a W-2? I just know I needed it for tax purposes.

Regardless, we sought out a tax professional to help us with all the mumbo jumbo and I think I understood about 50 percent of the things he said to me? Mark seemed to know a great deal more so I left the Q&A session to him and just signed when instructed.

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Oh I also decided to cut off about 12 inches of my hair today! It was semi-impulsive, meaning I had been going back and forth with the idea for the past week or so and finally decided to walk right in to Great Clips and snipped it all away. I miss it already but I figured it was time for a change. As with every other aspect of our lives right now.

I just need to try and find the good in all this change. Change is always good, right?

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It was also warm, sunny and basically beau-tih-ful today so we opened all our blinds and allowed for lots of sunshine to drench and cover every corner of our home. Mark made this taco/quesadilla hybrid thing for lunch, which was pretty delicious, I have to say. It had an interesting concoction of pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese, better known as leftovers from within the fridge. He’s a breakfast master that’s evidently on his way to mastering lunch too. Soon I won’t have a kitchen to call my own anymore…

But we cracked open a beer each and peered outside our kitchen window to the neighbors and people that walked by and ate our lunch over the sink. It was simple yet sweet. I live for the little things in life.

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I’ve been intensely craving Malaysian food for — oh I don’t know, the past six months probably but have not gotten it anywhere except for that one wintry night I was in D.C. and indulged in a huge bowl of noodles. The cravings subsided for a while but everyone knows a bowl of noodles is hardly enough to satiate my longing and fondness for food from home.

So while it is impossible to get a taste of home where I live, I decided to take it upon me to recreate tastes that I grew up with but have been so far away from for so long. This chicken rice is one of the most popular Malaysian food there is. You can find simple satisfying versions of it in hot and small coffee shops in corners of towns to fancier varieties in upscale-y restaurants in the city.

Regardless of where you find yours, if you’ve ever had it, it almost always promises the rich, unmistakable taste of chicken infused with great aromatics. And if you haven’t tried, don’t be intimidated by the seemingly long list of ingredients. It’s honestly, incredibly simple and I pulled it off perfectly.

And that’s saying something because I used to be a college kid.

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Hainanese Chicken Rice

Ingredients:

For chicken & soup
1 pound bone-in, skin on chicken thighs or breast
1 tbsp goji berries (optional)
1 stalk green onion
1 medium sized carrot, chopped
1 thumb sized ginger, peeled and bruised
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 tbsp black peppercorn
3 tbsp salt

For rice 
1 cup Jasmine rice
1 1/4 cup chicken broth
1 thumb sized ginger, peeled and bruised
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
A small piece of chicken fat, trimmed from chicken

For sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp chicken stock
3 tbsp garlic and shallots in oil

For ginger sauce
2 inches ginger, peeled and sliced
1 green onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 lime, juiced, or 2 tbsp lemon juice
5 tbsp chicken stock

Directions: 

To make the soup and chicken, bring chicken broth, water and carrots to a boil in a deep pot. Add green onion, goji berries and chicken to the pot and turn the heat down to let it simmer. Allow chicken to cook for about 30 to 45 minutes. Once it is cooked, take chicken out and submerge in a ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Set chicken aside.

For the rice, cook garlic and shallots in chicken fat and some oil l until golden brown. Reserve 3 tablespoons of oil and garlic mixture for sauce. Stir in rice and ginger and cook for 1 minute, until small white specks can be seen on the grains of rice. Add chicken stock from pot and cook on low heat until all the liquid is absorbed. Let stand for 10 minutes before fluffing with fork.

To make sauce, add all ingredients and stir until well combined. For ginger sauce, add all ingredients into a food processor or blender and grind until fine.

To serve, place chicken back into pot and bring to a boil. Let cool for a while before slicing. Place chicken slices on a bed of thinly sliced cucumber and dress with sauce. Garnish with green onions if preferred. Serve with rice, soup and ginger sauce.

Note: This recipe can be adjusted to feed a larger crowd by using a whole chicken. Follow the same steps to make the chicken and soup, but insert green onions, ginger and goji berries into the chicken’s cavity instead. Cooking time may have to be a little longer to ensure that the chicken is cooked all the way. 

Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

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Well the supposedly long weekend came and left in a blink of an eye.

Why does time have the pesky habit of doing that? Or maybe it’s an indication that we should slow down and catch up with its pace instead. Regardless, I can’t seem to have enough lazy Sundays on the couch with Mark while he watches action films or plays video games or his guitar. One of the above.

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I celebrated Valentines Day for the first time in 23 years this year. I had been jokingly pestering Mark about his plans for me since it would be the first I actually had somebody to celebrate it but I knew I would be happy just having quiet time with him at home. But about a week before the 14th, he came home to tell me that we wouldn’t be gone the entire weekend for Valentines but he wouldn’t tell me where.

So on the morning of Valentines, I crept out of bed before he woke up and plastered the bathroom mirror with love notes written on yellow Post-Its and left a bag of chocolates right beside his razor. He brushed his teeth, shaved and came back into the room with a thank you. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with chocolates.

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We jumped into my car and was on the road almost as soon as he got off that evening. He said we had a four hour drive ahead of us, so we loaded the iPod with an audio version of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and a satirical encyclopedia by The Onion. Before I knew it, our drive had come to an end and I was greeted with a beautiful view of a resort in the Outer Banks and the salty taste of ocean air.

The next two nights were spent comfortably in a spacious hotel room that featured a king-sized bed and patio. We laughed, sang, drank wine and slow danced in the middle of our room to cheesy love songs. We also shared a bonfire with other couples, went for a morning run, indulged in a full-body massage and ate at a quaint local restaurant downtown.

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I couldn’t help but feel immensely grateful and happy for this love. In so many ways, it’s been the one I’ve been waiting for all my life. I’ve never really known what it’s like to have a partner, somebody to share every single aspect of my life with. Some days it’s daunting but mostly, it’s comforting.

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It’s a little embarrassing to say, but this meal was inspired by our empty pantry upon coming home. All I had was some ground beef, lots of canned tomatoes and some spaghetti noodles, so I decided to throw everything into a crockpot and see what happened.

The result was a rich, extremely flavorful sauce that I would make over again. Plus, it’s freezer-friendly!

Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced, or petite diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
*4 ounces cream cheese

Directions:

Brown beef, onion and garlic in a pan. Drain grease and transfer into slow cooker. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and seasoning. Cook on high for 3 hours and turn heat down to low for 2 hours after that. Stir in cream cheese until it melts and is mixed evenly with sauce.

Serve over buttered noodles and garnish with fresh basil and parmesan reggiano if preferred.

*You can substitute cream cheese with 1 cup of whole milk if you like. I used cheese because that was all I had on hand! 

Homemade Wonton Soup

Sometimes I find myself at a dead end with conversations.

As much as I love to find myself engaged in interesting dialogue with another person, to listen to perspective and learn about experiences, sometimes talking just leaves me…tired.

When that happens, I find myself shrinking like a turtle into its shell and being content with sorting my thoughts into words. Sometimes I feel like I run through over a million thoughts in a day and the process of sorting each one out with relevance becomes therapeutic and so personal.

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I started writing when I was 12. I kept a purple journal, the first one I ever purchased on my own. It was $1.50 from the bookstore by school and I carried it home like a trophy. I filled its pages with events from the day, lyrics from favorite songs and magazine cut outs of 90s boybands and heartthrobs.

When I first had a crush on a boy in middle school, I started to write about him like any other pre-adolescent girl would. I daydreamed in my journal and wrote about premature feelings of heartbreak in its thinly lined pages. Since I knew it held my vulnerability, I started hiding it– under the layers of my clothes, behind my dresses in my closet, under my bed– until I was ready to open and fill it with more parts of myself again. Suddenly this cheaply bound book became my biggest secret.

After that, I kept three more journals before moving my writing online onto blogs that I shared with friends. By that time and age, I’d learned to mask myself up a lot better by writing vaguely because I was sharing a part of myself, yet I still found the same comfort in turning my thoughts into words.

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I’ve been writing for over a decade now. Each year more different than the last but I still get the same feeling of familiarity when I’m able to turn an empty canvass into a space filled with thoughts and emotions that make sense– to me at least. But after all this time, I still don’t know how to explain to people exactly the purpose of why I write. I’ve came up with a bunch of reasons over time, most of which are reasonable but only half truthful. Maybe one day I’ll be able to work up the courage for an honest answer.

Last week, Mark and I got into a small kick of making wontons (see cream cheese wontons in previous post). This was the first batch we made that were classic meat-filled wontons, half baked and half cooked in broth, which we turned into a soup fit for dinner. It’s really easy and the process of making these could almost become a date night activity if you really wanted to turn it into one. Either way, they’re delicious and the possibilities for the wonton fillings are almost endless.

Homemade wonton soup 

Ingredients:
1 can chicken broth
3-5 slices ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tomato, quartered
3 cups water
3 cups Napa cabbage, chopped
1/2 packet rice vermicelli, or rice sticks
Salt and pepper to taste.
Wonton skins

Filling
1 lb ground pork
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-inch ginger, minced
2 stalks green onion, sliced thinly
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch

Directions: 

In a medium-sized pot, heat some oil. Brown garlic and ginger until aromatic. Pour chicken broth and water and bring to boil then turn the heat to low and let simmer. Bring some water to boil in another pot and cook rice sticks until al dente. Strain and let cool.

In a separate bowl, mix all the ingredients for filling until well combined. Spoon small spoonfuls of filling into center of wonton and seal edges by wetting the sides with a diluted corn starch mixture.

Bring pot of broth up to boil and add tomatoes. Gently ladle each wonton in, letting cook for about 4 minutes or until wontons float to the surface. Remove wontons and divide them into bowls. Add Napa cabbage to the broth and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes, until cabbage is soft.

Divide rice sticks into bowls with wontons and ladle soup into each bowl. Garnish with more green onions if desired.

Cream Cheese Wontons // Kung Pao Chicken

Today I was feeling ambitious.

I’d spoken to my mom for 2 hours on the phone, patiently listened to her and my dad’s advice on life, marriage and money, and still had the motivation to carry on through the day. That’s kind of a personal win.

I stopped by a small Asian grocer that I happened to discover while driving home one day. I remember the friendly Filipino lady telling me that on Wednesdays they receive shipments of fresh vegetables not usually found in regular grocery stores. So I decided, why not?

True enough, there were an assortment of produce I thought I’d only see in markets back home. Bitter gourds, long beans, plump okras and even a type of leafy green known to Malaysians as kangkung (which happens to be one of my favorite vegetables, lucky me!) It took a lot in me not to splurge on produce. I walked away with a small Daikon radish, a fistful of kangkung and a loaf of pineapple cream bun, which I thought Mark would like.

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I’m so glad Mark’s not a picky eater in a way. I know there are things he likes, things he dislikes and then things he swears by, like pizza and an Italian BMT from Subway. But other than that, I think he’s been pretty adventurous so far. I, on the other hand, have a pretty adventurous palate. I think I would try just about anything once.

I’ve been getting tired of the daily fares here. Don’t misunderstand, I still love a guilty fettuccine alfredo or a juicy burger, even a large, fresh salad but I miss having at least three different dishes on the dinner table along with soup and rice. It’s weird how much variety there is, at least in homes in Malaysia, compared to everywhere else. And now that I actually cook every day, I’m amazed at how my mom was able to get dinner ready on time every night, sometimes even earlier.

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In an attempt to recreate dinner just as it was growing up, I took the time to make three different dishes and rice. I wish we had a dinner table so we could properly sit on something and not have to perch over the coffee table for a meal. But I guess the time will come. Our apartment is small and probably temporary, so I can’t complain. That’s one last piece of furniture we have to move out of here.

It was kind of Mark’s idea to make the cream cheese wontons. I’ve honestly never had them until I dined at a Chinese restaurant here but the ones we made were pretty delicious. They were baked, as opposed to the deep fried ones you find, which took some of the guilt off. We also substituted the crab meat for turkey bacon instead.

The Kung Pao chicken was something I had never tried making before. I looked up some recipes online and finally came up with one that would cater to our taste buds. It was actually pretty easy to make and I think a lot healthier than the ones you find in restaurants that are usually filled with MSG and sitting in a pool of questionable brown sauce.

Kung Pao Chicken 

Ingredients: 
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1/2 yellow onion
Knob of ginger
1 clove garlic
3 green onions, chopped
Handful of peanuts
5-6 dried red chili
3 tbsp canola or peanut oil

Marinade
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soy sauce

Sauce 
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/3 cup water
1tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar

Directions: 

Mix chicken and marinade in a baggie or covered bowl for about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, heat 2 tbsp of oil in large pan or wok. Fry chicken until almost done and remove from pan. Add remaining 1 tbsp of oil and fry garlic, ginger and dried chili until fragrant. Stir in onions and cook until translucent. Add chicken back to the pan and stir in sauce until evenly coated.

Let simmer for about 5 minutes or until sauce thickens up. Throw in green onions and peanuts. Serve with warm rice.

Cream cheese wontons 

Ingredients: 
4 oz. cream cheese
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
3 turkey bacon (or regular bacon), chopped and cooked
1 tsp honey
Wonton wrappers
1 tsp corn starch, diluted in water

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 375 degree F.

Combine cream cheese, jalapeno, bacon and honey in a bowl. Spoon small amounts of cream cheese mixture into the center of the wonton wrappers. Dip a finger into the corn starch solution and wet the edges of the wonton wrapper. Fold the wrapper envelope and press gently to seal the wonton.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until skin turns golden brown.

Makes about 12 wontons.