A cooking frenzy

It’s been three days and I’m still exhausted.

Last Saturday–correction: I started on Friday–I cooked up a storm in my kitchen and invited 10 hungry friends over for lunch.

Remind me never to do that again.

At least I got to test 10 recipes all at one shot and didn’t have to eat leftovers for a week, or so my friend Jess comforted me.


Anyway, here’s what the menu looked like and a little blabber about each dish (links will go live as I put up recipes on my blog):

Fried Shrimp Rolls (from my friend Carol’s mom Thanh Nguyen)
These were very simple to make, so simple that I made a big boo boo. I was supposed to use spring roll wrappers to wrap the shrimp, but guess what I bought? Wonton skins! Anyway, they still tasted fab dipped in Thai sweet chili sauce. My sis, Mo, suggested trying Japanese mayonnaise as a dipping sauce. Mmm …

Tea Eggs (from the Chong family cookbook)

Soy sauce, tea bags and star anise (and eggs of course) are the only ingredients that go into making this popular Chinese snack. But there’s definitely a skill involved in cracking the egg shells just-so to create the beautiful marbling effect which I’ve yet to master. Not bad for a first try don’t you think? 

Chinese Pickles (adapted from recipes given to me by Li Chang and Nellie Wong)
I couldn’t resist combining the recipes as they both offered elements I was intrigued with. Li’s recipe uses maple syrup, a substitute for the original ginger syrup that’s not so readily available in the American supermarket. Nellie, on the other hand, included carrots–they add beautiful color!–and she had a very interesting method of cutting her cucumbers.

Chicken Adobo (from Olivia Dyhouse through her sister, Juana Stewart)
So easy, so yummy! I couldn’t resist adding more garlic.

Pepes Jamur or Mushrooms Wrapped in Banana Leaf (from Brigitta Suwanda)


I admit, I didn’t pound the spice base (comprising lemongrass, shallots, garlic, turmeric, palm sugar, candlenuts) in a mortar and pestle. I used a modern kitchen vice–the food processor.

1-2-3-4-5 Sticky Spare Ribs (adapted from recipes given by Jonathan Liu and Ivy Chan)

See those numbers up there, that’s the ratio of ingredients: 1 part alcohol to 2 parts vinegar to 3 parts sugar to 4 parts soy sauce, and finally 5 parts water. This is just too much fun and one reason I love this recipe. How many recipes like this are there out there? It’s also easy to prepare and oh-so-delicious. As Jonathan said, it’s got “one of the best ease-of-preparation to tastiness ratios!”

Gai lan or Chinese broccoli in Oyster Sauce
Having eaten this at many dim sum lunches, I attempted to come up with my own concoction. It’s a deceptively simple preparation (or so I thought)–blanch the gai lan and drizzle with an oyster sauce mixture (oyster sauce, wine, sesame oil, broth, and sugar). I cooked about 2 pounds of veggies and they were a little soggy, plus there wasn’t enough sauce. I’m going to have to work on this one. 

Beef, Tomato and Green Pepper Stir-fry (from Mary Lee Chin; recipe is below)
This dish was hands-down everyone’s favorite. It was tasty, the beef so tender, and Mary’s recipe was spot-on, making my life so easy! I suspect Mary, who is a registered dietician, is quite an old hand at writing recipes.

Honeydew sago


Sago is another name for tapioca pearls, however, you shouldn’t substitute the sago found at the Asian grocery store with the American supermarket version. I have fond memories of many a birthday party where I’d slurp down ice-cold bowls of honeydew bits (sometimes they were balls, sometimes cubed) and sago in coconut milk. In those days, I would pick out and eat the fruit first, but this time round I savored the sago just as much. It’s funny what you learn to appreciate later in life.

My mum’s wedang jahe or ginger tea
You have to love ginger to love this drink. I used 8 oz of fresh ginger to make about 4 cups (or about 8 servings). Yes, that’s a lot of ginger but I’m thrilled to report that all my friends gulped it down! Maybe it was the pandan syrup. 

Please be patient with me as I post the above recipes. All the more reason for you to come back and visit often!

Since it was such a hit, I’ll start off with Mary Lee Chin’s Beef, Tomato and Green Pepper recipe.

Beef, Tomato, and Green Pepper Stir-fry

OK, so I almost forgot to take a photograph and when I got around to it, it was just about gone. Hey, you try making 10 different items, taking notes and photos, and entertaining 10 guests at the same time! 

Don’t let the various steps in this dish fool you: it’s fairly easy to make and the results are delicious. As with all stir-fries, this dish is very versatile. Instead of tomatoes, green pepper and fermented black beans, try using broccoli, green beans, or bok choy with fresh ginger. Served with a bowl of white rice, it makes a complete meal.

Time: 30 minutes (prep), 15 minutes (cook)
Makes: 4 to 6 servings eaten with rice

1 pound round steak, trimmed
1 tablespoon sherry or Shaoxing wine
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons fermented black beans or “dow see,” rinsed and drained (optional but highly recommended)
1 medium onion, cut into 8 to 10 wedges and separated
1 green pepper, cut into 10 to 12 strips
2 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal
2 teaspoons cornstarch, mixed with 3 tablespoons water to form a slurry
2 ripe medium tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
1 teaspoon soy sauce, or to taste

So that beef is easier to cut, handle it partly frozen (if it’s fresh, freeze for about 30 minutes). Cut meat along the grain into 1-1/2-inch-wide strips. Then, with your knife at an angle almost parallel to the cutting surface, slice the meat diagonally against the grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices.  

In a medium bowl, toss beef with sherry, oyster and soy sauces, and sugar. Cover the bowl and let the meat marinate in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or up to overnight.

Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat. [Wait about 30 seconds and sprinkle a few drops of water. If the water sizzles and evaporates immediately, the wok is hot enough.] Add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add garlic and fry briefly until lightly browned, about 15 seconds. Discard. Add black beans and onion, and stir-fry 1 minute. Add green pepper and celery. Stir-fry 2 minutes until crisp-tender. Set aside.

Return the same wok to high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil. Divide marinated meat into 4 small batches and stir-fry each batch until pieces are still a little pink, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer each batch to a single plate when done

Return cooked vegetables to wok at high heat. Add cooked meat and toss continuously until heated through, about 1 minute. Add cornstarch mixture, and toss to coat meat and vegetables evenly. Cook until mixture thickens and the meat and vegetables look glossy, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and soy sauce. Toss quickly until heated through, about another minute.

Serve immediately.


19 thoughts on “A cooking frenzy

  1. Hi Pat, she’s no longer with us, but she used Soy and Sherry, no celery, though, and no Oyster sauce. She did use fresh garlic, then removed it. She made it in her big old black cast iron skillet, and taught me to be very careful not to overcook the meat or it would be tough, and that the green peppers should be “crisp-tender,” and the tomatoes just heated through. Interesting that you used that same phrase “crisp-tender”. I never knew where she got the recipe, but I love that it’s part of my cooking heritage. It seems like it must have been from someone who knew what they were talking about, and that Mom just left out what she couldn’t find. We grew green peppers and tomatoes in our little garden.

    When I went off on my own, it was one of the family recipes I had memorized, and I included it in a recipe book for my own daughter. I did buy the fermented black beans yesterday at the store, and already had Oyster sauce, so I’m set to make it. I’ve also reviewed your steps for fried rice, which I’ve never been very successful at making, but we love. Thanks for posting these!

    1. Thank you for sharing Frugal Hausefrau! I love hearing how a family recipe becomes “yours.” And you’re right, it doesn’t matter where it comes from just as long as you and your family enjoy it. I’m also thrilled to hear that you wrote your recipes down for your daughter. Definitely keep it in the family. Let me know what you think of the dish after the addition of black beans. Cheers, Pat

  2. My Irish/German mom made the beef, tomatoes and peppers for us in the ’60’s when we were growing up in Northwestern Iowa – I have no idea where she got the recipe or the idea. I don’t think there was a Chinese restaraunt within 100 miles of us, and certainly no one in my hometown of Chinese descent. Regardless, it’s always been a family favorite for 50 years, and a dish I’ve often cooked often for my children! Mom never used the black bean, and I think that’s what was always missing from the recipe – thanks for publishing this, and I can’t wait to try your version.

    1. Hi Frugal Hausfrau,
      What a great story! Did you ever ask your mom where she got the recipe from? She probably skipped the fermented black beans because it’s not easy to come by unless there’s an Asian market in town. Did she use soy sauce though? What other seasonings did she use? Thanks for stopping by. Cheers, Pat

  3. Pat–Hope you guys are doing well!

    I just tried this recipe tonight, but actually put it over chow fun noodles. It was really delicious. My husband and 14 month old daughter loved it–it’s a keeper!

    Thanks for your wonderful website…can’t wait to see the cookbook!

  4. I hadn’t seen the eggs in their unpeeled phase–what a beautiful color! And delicious to boot, as was everything else. Thanks for having us!

  5. Hi Tuty,
    Yeah, next time my friends are coming over for a POT LUCK using recipes from my book! My mum makes nasi tumpeng once in awhile–it’s a lot of work! At least you can say you tried it …

  6. Next time you may need to call “bala bantuan” from your invitees… I am sure they will have fun helping you and you won’t go crazy by yourself. I could only imagine. Nine years ago I prepared “nasi tumpeng komplit” for my daughter’s birthday… all by myself for about 25 people. It’s an experience that I will NEVER repeat :o)

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