Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cook: Chinese Sticky Rice with Sausage and Shiitake - Lo Mai Gai

I was born and raised in US, but my Chinese heritage has always been important to me.  Chinese new year is a big deal for my family, and my parents always ensured that we ate the symbolic foods and we try to be together on new years eve and day. 

For Chinese New Year, it is a popular tradition to eat "Nian Gao", or sticky dessert rice cake which symbolizes aiming high for the new year and "sticking together". I posted a recipe for a baked version here.  This year, I was excited because I developed this quick and easy instant pot recipe for sticky rice, based on this recipe by blogger Two Sleevers.  Chinese sticky rice or "Lo Mai Gai" in Cantonese is one of my and my husband's favorite dim sum foods.  I thought - "It's sticky, and we should stick together, so maybe it'll be a good item to contribute to our Chinese new year feast".  Well, lo and behold - google search did not associate sticky rice with a traditional Chinese new year food, but it's delicious, so I'm sharing the recipe below. Maybe we'll make it our own family tradition :)

Wong Family Instant Pot Chinese Sticky Rice
Servings 4-6, depending on your appetite

  • heaping 1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms - I used 10 medium sized ones, soaked until soft, stems removed and chopped into bite size pieces
  • 2 cups glutinous rice
  • 5-6 links Chinese Sausage "Lap Xuong" chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 3.5 cups liquid (I used a mixture of the leftover water which I had soaked the shiitakes in and chicken broth, but water would be fine)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • * I did not add more salt because my chicken broth was salted but if you're using water, you can consider adding 1/2 to 1 tsp salt.    
  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water and let them sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. When they are soft, cut off the stems (the first time I did not, and I found they were still chewy and hard after cooking).  
  2. Add all of the other ingredients into the pot, add the chopped mushrooms and give it a good stir.
  3. Cook Manual - high pressure for 10 minutes, and then allow natural release pressure for 10 minutes, then release the remaining steam. 
  4. Open the pressure cooker, stir to mix well.  Allow all water to absorb, and serve hot. 
Other additions while cooking include dried shrimp and peanuts.  I'd garnish with cilantro, but didn't have any on hand. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Cook: Instant Pot Chicken Shiitake Spinach Congee

Growing up, Congee (rice porridge) was always our go to comfort food when we were sick. Congee is a traditional Chinese food that has reportedly been eaten in China since 2500 BC! 
 My family has been fighting various colds for the past few weeks, and we have turned to congee to soothe, warm, and fill our bellies. Thanks to the instant pot I received for Christmas, this congee can ready to eat in about an hour (natural release-recommended*), with only about 10 minute of active time.  You can eat it sooner in about 40 minutes with instant pressure release (which I tried because I'm impatient and my kids were hungry) but I do not recommend this - see below.

The congee my parents use to make for us was a plain rice porridge that we would later add toppings (meat, vegetables, egg, pickled cucumbers) to, but I've made this "fully loaded" congee with rave reviews from my family.  I adapted this recipe from “instant pot congee” by Beth of Budget Bites. My modifications: I used more shiitake mushrooms (8-12), used about 1.3 lb (between 1 and 1.5 pounds seemed right) boneless chicken thighs and added spinach (trying to up the vegetable count for my family). This recipe is toddler approved, as both my 2 and 4 year olds love it! 
Chicken Shiitake Spinach Congee Recipe
Serves 6

1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
2 cloves garlic, crushed (I used Dorot frozen crushed garlic cubes from Trader Joe's)
1-2 inches fresh ginger, sliced (I am not sure how much this is, I guesstimated and it tasted fine)
8-10 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1.3 lb boneless, skinless, chicken thigh
7 cups water
2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
5 oz baby spinach
Optional Toppings
soy sauce to taste
sesame oil to taste (a little goes a long way)
green onions, sliced
cilantro, chopped
  1. Slice the ginger - peel if preferred, I did not find it necessary.  Crush the garlic, or use 2 frozen garlic cubes.  Slice the mushrooms into thin strips. 
  2. Wash the rice in the Instant Pot and drain. Spread evenly at the bottom of the pot. 
  3. Add the crushed garlic, sliced ginger, and sliced mushrooms on top of the rice. Lay the chicken pieces over the rice and aromatics.  
  4. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Add seven cups of water.
  5. Close and lock the lid of the Instant Pot. Make sure the steam release valve is turned to the "sealing" position. Press the "porridge" button to begin cooking. The pot will begin to heat and build pressure. Once it reaches the required temperature and pressure, the display will begin to count down 20 minutes.
  6.  When the 20 minutes are up, the pot will switch to the "keep warm" setting and begin to drop in pressure. The original recipe (and my experience- see below) recommends allowing the pot to reduce in pressure naturally, without opening the steam release valve. When the float valve falls back to the down position, open the steam valve, and then open the lid.  *I tried quick release carefully, but I think the pressure forces some rice-y water to come through the valve / and then you have to wash the entire lid carefully to provide the parts from clogging up. 
  7. After opening the pot, it will look watery, but don't worry the consistency will be correct once you stir it.  Taste the porridge, and add additional salt as needed. Only add enough salt to amplify the flavors, but leave room for the addition of soy sauce as a topping.
  8. As you're stirring, break apart any large pieces of chicken - this should happen very easily, as the chicken is now very tender, but you can use a fork if needed.  Add a large bunch of spinach and let it cook down (with residual heat) for a few minutes.
Ladle the congee into each bowl and enjoy! Depending on your taste preference, you may drizzle a small amount of toasted sesame oil and/or soy sauce on top of each bowl. I like mine with some chopped cilantro.  I hope this recipe helps warm some other people during this cold and flu season!
Kid Approved!
3 generations enjoying congee (please ignore the mess in background, because #reallife )

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Must Eat: Olympic National Park - Dungeness Crab, Salmon, Smores

Here are some of our favorite things, and places to eat, during our Olympic National Park vacation.  

Family Travel: Olympic National Park Part 3: Kalaloch Beaches and Quinault Rainforest

** Update Jan 2018:  Hello there, and Happy New Year! I just realized I never completed my 3 part series/ summary of our June 2017 trip to Olympic national park.  I had part 3 in drafts, but am sharing now so that some of you might be able to reference it for your summer 2018 vacation planning!  I've created a label "ONP" to make it easier to search for all the related posts.

*Back in June 2017, we visited Olympic National Park as a family of 10 (2 grandparents in late 60's and children as young as 2).  All of the activities mentioned are suitable for a healthy, average fitness, family - though, we did carry the 2 year old at times.

Day 5: Ruby Beach & Beach 4

On day 5, we visited the coastal portion of Olympic National Park.  We live by the pacific coast in Southern California, so I wasn't sure what to expect but I was sure blown away with the beauty and bounty of the tide pools in the Pacific Northwest.  We visited Ruby Beach and Beach 4.  We checked the tide schedule and planned our visit to Ruby Beach around low tide.  To get to Ruby beach, you do need to climb over some large driftwood.  Our 4 year old enjoyed this quite a bit, and our 2 year old was comfortably carried by myself or daddy. We did not find the path to the beach difficult, but do recommend taking your time on the driftwood if you are elderly or with younger children.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Family Travel: Olympic National Park Part 2: Hoh Rainforest

*Activities in this post are suitable for healthy individuals from 2 years old to 70 years old.  We did backpack carry our 2 year old in a Tula carrier at times on the hikes. 

On day 4, we moved rental homes from the east side of Olympic National Park (Lake Sutherland) to southwest Quinault Rainforest (Amanda Park/ Lake Quinault) area.  On our drive over, we stopped for lunch and some groceries at Forks (biggest town on the way to Lake Quinault), and visited the awesome Hoh Rainforest. 

When people think of Olympic National Park, Hoh Rainforest comes up as one of the top highlights.  I'll let the pictures do the talking :) 

Family Travel: Olympic National Park Part 1: Hurricane Ridge, Sol Duc Valley

*Activities in this post are suitable for healthy individuals from 2 years old to 70 years old.  We did backpack carry our 2 year old in a Tula carrier at times on the hikes.  We travelled from our rental home on Lake Sutherland. 

Day 2:  Exploring Lake Crescent & Hurricane Ridge, 
Our little hikers - Brian (2) and Alex (2) 
Cousins enjoying the Lake Pleasant area
We began our day with a hike to Marymere Falls, near Lake Crescent  This was a 1.8 mile out and back trail through the forest to a waterfall, which our family greatly enjoyed.  It is mostly flat,  except the final part where you climb some steep steps to view the waterfall. Our 2 year old walked most of the first half himself (0.8miles), and then we put him in the backpack carrier before climbing up the steps.  The other kids (4,5,10) and the grandparents had no problem hiking this. 
After our hike, we went to the Lake Crescent lodge where we enjoyed a nice lunch. The view from the restaurant was beautiful, though I did not get a picture of it :).  The service was a bit slow - but the kids were entertained with coloring pages and crayons. We enjoyed our fish and chips and salmon. 

Family Travel: En route to Olympic National Park: Strawberries, Lavender and Ice Cream in Sequim

PNW Summer 2017 Trip:  Day 1:  Strawberries, Lavender and Ice Cream in Sequim

In late June, we travelled as family of 10 to the Pacific Northwest, in order to visit Olympic National Park. Our group included 2 grandparents (healthy, in their late 60's), my family 2 boys - ages 2 and 4), and my brother's family (their kids -10 year old boy and 5 year old girl).  I planned this trip to include a combination of fun activities, suitable for all ages. We visited the Olympic Peninsula for 5 days, described in the next few posts. You can also find all of our ONP posts under the label "Travel-with Kids"

Since we were arriving from Arizona and California, our family met up at the Seattle Airport - SeaTac. After renting our cars (we booked through Costco), it was already around noon. We decided to grab a quick bite on the road and headed towards our first rental home in the Port Angeles area. For family travel, I like to find houses from airBNB, homeaway/ VBRO because there is more room for the kids, kitchen and laundry access -more on this in the next post.  

We took the route using the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and stopped in Sequim (pronounced "Skwim") on our way, as it seemed like a charming place full of lavender fields and farms.  Since it took us about 3 hours to get there from the airport (with a short lunch & bathroom break), we didn't arrive until 3:40pm. This limited what we could do, since most of the farms close around 4 or 5pm. We were able to squeeze in strawberry picking, a lavender field and ice cream!

Our boys love U-pick, so our first stop was Graymarsh Farm U-Pick, where they happily (and quickly) picked strawberries until closing time 4pm.