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Retirement is delicious

I’m Back !!! I’ve officially retired from teaching in the classroom. After twenty years teaching kids with learning needs it was time to strike out and spend more time on following my other bliss, writing, cooking, creating new recipes. So many projects, so little time and as I entered my 65th year of life I wanted to make sure I got a couple of these projects done before……… So first on the list was to make a list, prioritize and set goals. Got my private practice as a Learning specialist started. Next was to self publish my book “Tasting Life” a collection of food stories, poems and recipes.** Shameless promoting but that’s what old ladies can get away with these days. Got that done. Now finally, I have the time to work on completing my cookbook and attending to my neglected blog.

In preparation for retirement Larry and I talked about what I wanted to gain from this decision. One major thing was to get healthier, lose weight, exercise more and have the time to complete my writing projects. As my income would be greatly reduced, we planned how we could live on a smaller budget yet still continue to cook and eat delicious meals as well as entertain our friends. We both agreed that we didn’t want to feel deprived when it came to eating. So we started cooking differently and found that we were able save money, eat more healthfully and continue to enjoy delicious meals. I found to my delight that not only was I losing weight but also I was wasting less food in the process. So here’s one thing I’ve learned so far.

Budget and health tip number one. Eat less meat. As a child in a Chinese household, meat was never the main item on the table but was used to accompany vegetables in stir fries. If we did have a roasted chicken, pork or beef we only ate a few pieces alongside the variety of other dishes with vegetables on the table. Back then I was much slimmer and healthier. Over the years after leaving my mother’s kitchen I ate more meat, less vegetables and subsequently gained more weight. Now I’m back to cooking in the style of my mother and I’m finally losing weight and feeling way healthier. Last week I bought a whole roasted chicken from Costco for $4.99. I used just one breast from this roast and made this Southeast Asian chopped salad. Now I’ve got enough leftover meat and bones to make a chicken pot pie for four people, chicken hash for two and enough for curried chicken salad for both of us for lunch. Hmmm, maybe I’ll make some empanadas instead……..

South East Asian chopped chicken salad- 2 large servings

3 cups- sliced romaine lettuce ( 1 inch strips)
handful of arugula
1/2 cup – red onion – sliced thinly
1- medium carrot- cut into julienne slices
3/4 cup cubed cucumbers
1 1/2-2 cups fresh mango*- cut up into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup – chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp.- black pepper
3 Tablespoons FRESH lime juice
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 cup-roasted chicken- cubed into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped or crushed roasted (unsalted) peanuts
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1. In a large salad bowl, toss lettuce,arugula, onion, carrots and cucumbers together.
2. Peel mango with vegetable peeler. Cut sides and then cube. Cut off any extra meat off seed and use as well.
2. Add the cut up mango pieces with cilantro to salad .
3. Sprinkle lime juice and black pepper over the mango pieces.
3. Sprinkle soy sauce, fish sauce over mango, salad and toss together.
4. Add chicken, peanuts and toss again.

* I prefer to use the Hayden or Tommy Atkins mangoes. They are firmer than the Manilla type of mangoes and have more meat.
** “Tasting Life” will be available through Amazon in late September.

Chicken pot pie

I’ve been staying at my daughter Stacey’s house this summer so that I can babysit my grandson. Being a teacher has a wonderful perk. It’s called summer vacation ! It’s been grand. I enjoy making dinner for her and her husband and often times my husband Larry joins us.

It was the end of the month and I was watching my pennies so I could stay on budget until my next paycheck arrived. What could I make that would feed the four of us for the least amount of money? I asked Marcus, her husband, if he had ever eaten a homemade chicken pot pie. His answer was “No” but then he started telling me about eating freshly baked frozen meat pies from the market. His beautiful big eyes rolled with pleasure describing this experience. I’ve witnessed numerous reactions like his at the mere mention of eating these delectable pies. There is this incredible anticipation waiting for it to come out of the oven and then a feeling of awe when breaking into that hot flaky crust and seeing the steam rise from the chicken with all that yummy gravy. Even though those pies were store bought and frozen and the filling was scant, it was the gravy with those bits of meat, carrots and peas housed in hot crust that made us swoon. In our house we served each pie with a scoop of rice so we could capture every drop of that savory gravy.

Over the years I’ve made my own pie with freshly cut up chicken. However lately, I’ve been using the meat from an already roasted store bought chicken. It’s been saving me time AND money. Starting with one roasted chicken weighing about 5 pounds I’ve found that I can make a number of dishes that serve 8-12 people using different parts of the bird. Individual sized frozen pies cost about $2.50 apiece.
I can make two 9 inch deep dish chicken potpies that will serve 6-8 generously with enough breast meat left over to make curried chicken salad for 3-4 sandwiches for the cost of one bird. My local Costco store sells freshly roasted chicken for $4.99 apiece. Now THAT’S a bargain. My pies also have lots more meat and veggies than the store bought ones. So,not only was I making a better pie but I was also saving a substantial amount of money.

In preparation for making my pie I walked down to my local produce stand to pick up the vegetables needed for it. Luckily I found a bag of cremini mushrooms on sale for just $1 a bag. I looked through the bag to make sure they were not slimy. They were marked down because the caps were open. Otherwise they looked fresh and without any brown spots. Since I was planning to use them that night they would be fine. There are bargains to be found on day old shelves at good produce stands as long as you are selective in your choice and use whatever you buy within a few days.

I typically make my own pie crust but the local market had ready made piecrust on sale so I bought them instead. Each box had two pie shells so I bought two boxes. I knew that even if I had bought fresh mushrooms and made my own crust I would still be within budget but I’ve been taking advantage of every opportunity to save money and when a bargain stares me in my face, why ignore it ?

Back home I stripped the chicken down to its bone. The dark meat from the thighs, drumsticks and back were set aside for the pie. The breast meat would be used for chicken salad and the bones to make a stock for the gravy. I made a pot of my “Pumped up chicken stock”* and set it over the stove to boil and simmer for 30 minutes while I prepped the vegetables. I also saved the jelled chicken juices that were at the bottom of the container that the chicken was in. I would use that to enhance the gravy.

I sauteed mushrooms with thyme and garlic and set them aside. Then I sauteed onions, carrots and celery and set them aside as well. In a large stock pot I made a roux with butter and flour, making sure that the flour was cooked thoroughly and added the drained chicken stock. After whisking it till it had bubbled and simmered into a rich gravy I added the vegetables and simmered them together for a few more minutes. Checking to see if the texture of the sauce was about as thick as heavy cream I added the chicken pieces and simmered everything for 2 minutes. I wanted to keep the pieces as whole as possible so I didn’t cook it for long. I tasted a spoonful to see if it needed more salt or pepper. Satisfied with the taste and texture I added the peas without cooking it any further and put the filling aside to cool off while I prepared the pie crust.

Very gently I unrolled each pie crust and placed it on a lightly floured surface. Though not necessary, I like to roll out store bought dough a little bit so that I make sure each piece will hang at least 1 inch over the edge of the pan. With the bottom crust for the pies laid out I ladled the COOLED filling into each pie, making sure the proportions were evenly distributed. I laid the top crust over the filling so that the top edge met the bottom edge and crimped them together. I like to roll the sealed edges a bit forward to make a kind of roped effect but one could also use a fork and press the edges together. That done, I made three V shaped vent holes in the center of each pie to let the steam out and brushed the tops with an egg wash.

The pies were placed on preheated cookie sheets. My brother Mervyn, who once owned a wonderful bakery in San Francisco, taught me that cool technique. This practically insures a crisp bottom crust unless you put in hot filling on a raw dough which I once did. So make sure your filling is cooled off before you ladle it into the pie. Then into the oven the pies went for 30-35 minutes and VOILA ! Two crusty steaming and most aromatic homemade chicken potpies, gravy bubbling through the top were now ready to be devoured !

Hearing the oohing and aahing sounds while eating those pies I felt a warm satisfaction of having made a delicious meal while saving money.

Here is a less long winded recipe for Chicken potpie. Happy eating and saving money!

Chicken Pot Pie makes two 9-inch pies

1 Tablespoon butter
2 ½ cups sliced mushrooms- cremini or button
½ tsp. thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
2 Tablespoons butter
1-cup onion chopped
½ cup celery cut into ½ inch pieces
2 carrots cut into ½ inch pieces
¼ cup butter
6 Tablespoons Flour
3 cups Pumped up chicken broth*
Jelled chicken juices-optional**
2 ½ cups cooked chicken cut into 2 inch pieces
½ cup fresh or defrosted frozen peas

4 uncooked piecrusts

Directions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

1. Sauté mushrooms in butter until soft and juices are released.
2. Add thyme and black pepper. Sauté for 1 minute longer. Set aside.
3. Sauté onions and cook until soft and yellow. Add carrots and celery and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
4. Melt butter and add flour to make a roux.
5. Over medium high heat, whisk the flour and fat together until it is bubbly.
6. Add the chicken stock and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth and thickened to a heavy cream consistency.
Add jelled chicken juices. Let this gravy simmer for 3-4 minutes.
7. Lower heat and add vegetables except for peas and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
8. Add the cooked chicken pieces. Simmer for JUST 2 minutes. Do not overcook.
9. Add peas, taste and adjust with salt and pepper as needed. Set aside and COOL THOROUGHLY before putting in piecrust.
10. Ladle equal amounts of filling into prepared pie shells. Place the top crust over the filling.
11. Seal edges together and crimp together with fingers or fork tines.
12. Cut 3 V shaped vent holes in center of each pie crust and brush with egg wash made from one scrambled raw egg and 2
Tablespoons water.
13. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 425 degrees or until top is browned.

Serve with rice to sop up all the gravy.

*See prior blog posting for recipe- regular chicken broth can be used.
** juices from roasted chicken that have collected at bottom of container or
roasting pan.

chicken pot pie

chicken pot pie

Pie with a scoop of rice-Yum!

Pie with a scoop of rice-Yum!

!

Many of my friends including myself had been feeling rather down with the current economic situation. Having to do without things we were so used to having has been painful and downright DEPRESSING ! So,instead of jumping off a pier my husband Larry and I decided to have a party. Knowing full well that we would not be able to duplicate a party on the scale of our tamale mania party (see my first posting), Larry suggested a Street Foods party. This was a great idea since street foods are always cheap and interesting. Plus this kind of made up for my longing to travel which I have not had the moolah to do for some time.

All cultures have street food. Mexico has its fresh mango, jicama,watermelon, cucumber with lime juice and chili powder. Bali has it’s equivalent doused with tamarind sauce. Just about every culture has a bread with meat or vegetable filling dish. Tacos from Mexico, pupusas from El Salvador or barbecue pork buns from China, they’re all a form of sandwich but much more interesting.

Larry had been trying out a number of Street Foods recipes from Tom Kine’s book of the same name. As a result our appetites were whetted to continue our discoveries. What better way than to invite friends along on our adventure.

We invited 8 guests to bring a street food entree. Larry did not dictate nor ask what they would be bringing. I tend to be more of a control freak and would have at least had them tell me what they were planning to bring but since the theme was his idea I did’nt push. I still shudder remembering college day pot lucks where some twit would bring a box of frozen peas………. However since I wanted to keep our marriage intact and I knew the caliber of folks being invited ( all foodies) I put aside my insecurity issues. Later in the week before the party I found out that Larry would be making pakoras and lamb meatballs with sour cherries. Kris and Sandra said they would bring Salvadorean pupusas and Peter said he would bring knishes.

Okay so now I knew about at least three cultures that would be represented. The other two dishes would be surprises. I proposed to Larry that I provide the beginning nibbles as well as the in between palate refreshers between countries. He could set up music to go with each culture. That man has an incredible eclectic CD library of music !

Before the party I put out bowls of spiced cashews, a crunchy chat mixture as well as a stack of paper-thin crispy chili pepper pappadams that I had purchased from the Indian market in Fremont. I served the pappadams with a lime- cucumber yoghurt sauce to tone down the heat of those chilies. These kept the guests entertained while Larry finished frying the pakoras.

As we sat and ate the sweet potato and onion filled pakoras with freshly made chutney, Larry’s niece arrived with her entree of feather light zucchini meatballs in a rich masala tomato cream sauce. That fit in just perfectly with the Gypsy music from India playing in the background.

Next culture introduced was Latin America.

I set out a platter of fresh mango, pineapple and jicama slices that had been drizzled with lime juice and a sprinkle of chili powder. A jug of water with orange peels was also offered at this intermission

Dan and Elaine served mini soft tacos with three types of fillings. There were small chunks of spicy pork pastor, mildly flavored shredded chicken and crunchy roasted pork carnitas. They even brought the little plastic containers that held cilantro, tomatillo salsa and limes. Elaine put a dollop of sour cream over each taco to fancy them up.

Next came Salvadorean pupusas from Kris and Sandra. The soft corn flour griddled patties were filled with three different fillings;cheese, pork and cheese and cheese and refried beans. Hot and oozy with the melted cheese in it we mounded curtido, a tart and crunchy pickled cabbage relish with a drizzzle of salsa over each slice and popped them in our mouths. It was much more fun to eat them with our fingers.

Intermission time for the Middle East. I served a salad of arugula, parsley, orange sections and shredded carrots sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds* to clear everyone’s palate. A chilled jug of water with cucumbers was also presented.

Deborah, a new friend, brought freshly baked pita bread with a very rich yogurt sauce to accompany her lamb meatballs that had coriander, cumin and mint in them. They were perfectly round, bouncy, subtle and so light. We put a dollop of her sauce on the meatballs and wiped up the remaining sauce with the warm pita slices. After we had taken our time tasting and commenting on Deborah’s meatballs we tried Larry’s Turkish lamb meatballs*. They were more rustic in appearance and were more dramatic in taste spiced with garlic, chili,onions and coriander. A sauce that was tart and sweet with cherries and pomegranate molasses accompanied these meatballs. People could not decide which meatballs they liked better and a draw was called between the two types.

Finally the last entree arrived hot, crisp and elegant. Knishes a New York school boy would never have recognized but hey ! we’re in California and damn they were great! But before we cut into them we had to have a toast to the immigrant Jewish folks who brought us the original creation. A toast was made followed by a shot of Polish vodka that had been chilled in the freezer ! Nastrovya ! Nobody knew what that meant but it seemed the right thing to say. Okay back to that exquisite knish. Rich mashed potato infused with carmelized onions was draped over with a crisply glazed puff pastry. It was sublime! How fitting to end our eating travels with a dish that spoke of the sweetness of life and simplicity of a potato.

Our dessert, served with coffee and tea was cold slices of honeydew melon lightly sprinkled with rose water and a platter of ripe peaches, plums, apricots and cherries.

We had eaten, drunk copious amount of wine, beer and mulberry soda, conversed, laughed, sang, parried and communed for over 6 hours.

We were full of food and life. Forgotten was what we had to give up, remembered was the joy of being with like minded people enjoying a simple meal of street foods.

Hoping you will make the time to commune with loved ones over a meal, simple or extravagant .

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* Recipes for the arugula salad and lamb meatballs with the sour cherries can be found in Tom Kine’s book “Street food”.

A number of the dishes were purchased. That was okay with me since the primary purpose was for us to have fun and eat together. The next time I do this however, I will send suggestions and recipes to people I invite. I used this approach with an Indonesian party I coordinated years ago and had spectacular results.

The tacos and pupusas were purchased from local street food vendors. Those exquisite knishes were purchased from Saul’s Deli in Berkeley. I picked up the spiced cashews and chat mix from an incredible Indian restaurant called Kabila in Union City. An assortment of pappadams can be purchased at Indian markets.

Here are recipes for my nibbles and refreshers for the party. They can be made in a flash for impromptu entertaining.

Pappadams with yogurt dip

Microwave the pappadam wafers for anywhere from .25 seconds or more depending upon the intensity of your microwave. You can also fry them but that would add more fat and who needs more fat ?

Serve with cucumber-lime yogurt dip———–Enough for l pkg of pappadams

1 cup low fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup shredded cucumber ( no seeds, no skin)
juice from 2 Persian limes
grated rind from l lime
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Combine all ingredients. Taste and adjust with more lime juice or more cucumber.
The purpose of this dip is to provide a cooling counterpoint to the pepperiness of the pappadam.

chili pepper pappadams with yogurt sauce

chili pepper pappadams with yogurt sauce

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Fruit skewers with lime and chili powder

Choose ripe mangos that are firm to the touch. Don’t get them too soft ! One thing I look for is a little bit of oozing clear sticky liquid coming from the stem area. If the skin is green that is okay. Often times the mango is ripe under the green skin. The main thing is to gently press it and see if it has a little give to it. I like to buy either Tommy Atkins or Hayden mangos. I don’t use the manilla type mangos, they are a bit to musky for this dish. Peel the mangos and cut them into 1/2 inch half moon shaped wedges.

Slice a ripe pineapple into 1/2 inch thick wedges. Cut them into 2-3 inch long pieces for easy handling.

Peel and cut up 1 inch thick cubes of jicama. Spear a wedge of pineapple, mango and jicama at the end of a bamboo skewer. Drizzle FRESH lime juice over them and lightly sprinkle chili powder over the fruit.

Mango/pineapple/jicama with lime/chili

Mango/pineapple/jicama with lime/chili

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Honeydew melon with rose water

Chill the melon. Make sure it is cold when served. Cut in one inch wedges after being seeded. Sprinkle or douse ,depending upon your whim or intentions*, rosewater and serve immediately.

Honeydew with rosewater

Honeydew with rosewater

For refresher intent, I like to have a light touch. For seduction purposes I like to use a heavier hand.

Like it or not we are going through an economic depression. That doesn’t mean we have to get depressed about it though. I decided that instead of feeling deprived, okay I was feeling that way at first, I was going to change my approach to eating and cooking. The first thing I did was to look at all the ways I was wasting food and subsequently money. I tend to buy too much food often being swayed by divine inspiration to make dishes that I don’t have enough time to make during the week. I had to rein in my creative juices and discipline myself to plan my meals. I had to remind myself that there would be plenty of opportunities to make all those yummy dishes, just not all in one week. Now I buy only what I need for the week which results in me not having food rotting or getting old and limp in the fridge because I can’t get to them. Another thing I’ve been doing is making use of every part of a roast chicken.

I’ve found that I can make 3 extremely satisfying meals for two people from one roast chicken. The first night my husband and I enjoy the succulent breast meat with a carb and veggie or in Mexican tortas. I use the dark meat from the thighs and drumsticks to make another meal that serves 4 people. Sometimes it’s chicken hash, other times chicken pot pie or empanadas. We either invite another couple over for
that meal or have leftovers. Then I use the bones I’ve saved from that same bird to make a rich chicken stock. One particularly satisfying meal I make with that stock is chicken vegetable noodle soup. It’s an easy, non fussy kind of soup that doesn’t require exact measurements. Here’s my recipe for it.
Give it a try. It’s easy to make,cheap and totally satisfying in taste.

Pumped up Chicken Broth

1-49 1/2 oz. can chicken stock
Bones from roasted chicken- body, legs, thighs
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup chopped celery ( some leaves are fine)
1/2 onion coarsely chopped
1 carrot coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp. black pepper
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Bring all to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain all solids through colander or cheesecloth.

Chicken Vegetable noodle soup Serves: 4

1 chopped onion*
3 carrots chopped
2 medium stalks of celery chopped 1/2-1 inch long
1 leek, sliced 1/2 thick, washed and drained
2 Tablsp. butter, olive oil or chicken fat

1 boneless skinless chicken thigh- cut up into 1 inch pieces
1 tsp. salt

1 recipe of pumped up chicken broth
1-2 medium sized potatoes diced into 1 inch pieces
handful of Italian parsley chopped- approx. 1/4 cup
1 cup of mixed vegetables **
salt, pepper
2 Handfuls of dried wide egg noodles

—————————————————————————–
1. Saute onion, carrots, celery and leek in butter or oil until onion is softened and yellow.
Add chicken pieces that have been mixed with salt. Saute for 3 minutes or until chicken is white.
2. Add chicken broth. Add potatoes and bring to boil.
3. Turn down flame and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Add parsley with mixed vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Taste soup and adjust to taste with salt and black pepper.
6. Bring soup to a boil and add the dried noodles. Break up the noodles into 1 inch pieces before you add
them to the soup.
7. Boil gently until noodles are cooked. Taste again and add more salt/pepper as needed.

That’s it ! Enjoy !

* The size of chopped carrots, onions don’t need to be precise. It’ really a matter of how rustic you want your soup to look. The bigger chunks, the more rustic, the tinier the pieces the soup will look more dainty. ** Use any cut up leftover vegetables you might have in your fridge or use frozen mixed veggies.

**Exception: no beets, red cabbage or leafy veggies.

A general rule about size of vegetables is that they should all be around the same size for the purpose of cooking time as well as aesthetics. Don’t stress over this, just relax and enjoy the process of making
it and enjoying how good it makes your kitchen smell.

Tamale Mania party

rosetamalestillife3

A couple of years ago I wanted to celebrate my 60th birthday by having friends over to cook and eat together.  I knew I wanted to make it a Mexican party because my husband and I had recently moved into a part of Oakland that was near a large Mexican community.  The local markets were full of the most interesting ingredients and I wanted to cook with as many of them as I could.  I knew I wanted to have a Mexican barbacoa but when I discovered  a tortilleria where freshly made masa was sold, I knew I just HAD to include homemade tamales in my menu.

So I sent out an invitation to about 75 of my friends inviting them to join me in this adventure. About 25 friends responded to the tamale making part.  The rest of the guests opted to join us  for the Mexican barbeque in the afternoon. The menu would include three kinds of tamales; chicken mole in banana leaves, pork with red chili and  pumpkin tamales for dessert.  The barbecue would have puerco pibil, grilled whole fish, carne asada, coriander rice, drunken beans and of course lots of beer and mojitos.

The day before the party I prepared enough filling for 400 tamales.  Okay, that sounds a bit obsessive now but I had a good excuse !  I’m Chinese and we’re always worried that there won’t be enough food !

pork tamales in progress

The next day 25 friends trooped into my kitchen with 9 food processors in hand along with 1 pound of butter each to make the tamales as outlined by Alice Guadalupe Tapp in her book “Tamales 101”.  The goal was to beat the masa until it floated in water.  This phenomena would insure that the cooked masa would have a fluffy texture.  It was not so easy but it was fun.  Some people got kinda competitive.  But eventually one person, then more people got the hang of how to beat it until it floated.  Then onto the filling, wrapping and steaming.  It was a grand assembly line of laughing people.  I even got a corn husk crown and skirt out of the extra husks.

tamale assembly

While we waited for the first batch to cook I fed everyone pupusas from Lupitas Pupuseria down the street.   The grassy aroma of the banana leaves steaming whetted our appetites for our first batch of tamales with chicken in oaxacan mole sauce. When it was ready we gathered around the platter, threw caution to the wind and opened up our hot little tamale packages.  It was a huge success!   Our sweaty faces shone with the pleasure of  being rewarded with these absolutely yummy toothsome tamales !  All fillings were incredible!  The Mexican barbecue was a hit also.

Steaming the pork tamales

As I sent my guests home with baggies filled with tamales I thought the best part of this party was seeing my very diverse group of friends finally meet each other, laugh and cook together.  It was the absolutely best birthday party I had ever had !  Can’t wait for my 70th !

Chicken tamale and banana leaf in progress