Surprise Dinner

25 04 2010

Since Alice is home for a job interview (good luck!), and because I haven’t cooked for a while, I decided that I would surprise Alice with a traditional Chinese dish: Spicy Braised Beef Noodle Soup (牛肉麵) (i.e., niu rou mian or NRM).

I bought the necessary ingredients at a Far Eastern grocery store and Kroger:

  • Beef shank
  • Chinese green vegetables (青菜)
  • Tomatoes
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar
  • Star anise (八角)
  • Spicy chili bean paste (豆瓣酱)
  • Rice wine
  • Noodles
  • Garlic
  • Ginger (Eww..I hate! ginger >.<)

    First, I cut the beef shank into cubes.  Then, I placed the beef shank into cold water heated until just boiling.  I strained the beef and rinsed it with cold water to prevent overcooking the meat.  I like to do this preparation step in order to remove some of the blood and impurities from the beef.

    Then, I first sautéed a little bit of ginger, sesame oil, and spicy chili bean paste.  After the mixture was hot I added the beef to pan-sear the meat temporarily. Because it’s a braised dish, one needs to sear the beef first and then cook it in liquid in a covered pot.   One of the secrets to good NRM is this braising process.  In a perfect NRM, the beef will be very tender, and chewy with minimal loss of flavor to the soup.  The braising process allows for all of these delicious things to happen just before you eat the first spoonful!

    Afterwards, I added a little bit of water and rice wine together to cover over the meat along with the star anise, garlic, and some sugar. Then, I let it boil for ~30 minutes.  I then chopped two tomatoes, and added those in, reducing heat down to simmer for about an hour.

    Meanwhile nearing the end of the hour, I boiled some water with a little bit of salt and heated up the vegetables.  In another pot, I boiled the noodles.

    When everything was ready, I ladled the broth with some meat into a bowl removing the ginger, garlic, and star anise.  Then I places some noodles on top.  I chopped some sour mustard greens and placed it on top of the noodles along with the boiled green vegetables.  As garnish, I added some cilantro and green onion.

    Braised Beef Noodle Soup

    The final product!

    Congratulations to Ching-san on signing with Cornell’s graduate program for financial mathematics! We wish you good luck in the future. Ganbatte!


    Taste of China Part Deux + Wild Wings Cafe

    18 04 2010

    Readers, you get a special treat today. Two back-to-back restaurants!

    Yesterday night, Chris’ parents and his sister came to visit him. We went out to eat at Taste of China. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was jammed packed with people and we had to take a number. About 10 minutes passed and we were seated at a really big table meant for 8-9 people. Most of the waiters looked stressed, walking briskly around trying to take everyone’s orders and bring around dishes and drinks.

    Our selections:

    • Hot appetizer: 3 scallion bubble pancakes (葱油泡饼).
    • Hot appetizer: Hot & Spicy Beef Rolls (麻辣牛肉卷).
    • Cold dish: Sliced beef and beef tripe with hot pepper sauce (夫妻肺片).
    • Chef’s Special (Entrée): Roast fish with green onion (竹塔烤鱼片), which is fried fish sautéed with onion and chili powder and ground cumin.
    • Meats: Braised beef with tomato in hot pot (蕃茄牛腩锅)
    • Entrée: Braised beef fillets with chili sauce (成都水煮牛).
    • Veggies: Oilseed Rape (油菜).

    The food was delicious. We also got a big tub of rice, which helped with the spiciness. I especially liked…everything! But in particular, I enjoyed the sliced beef and beef tripe with hot pepper sauce, the roast fish, the braised beef with tomato and the braised beef fillets in chili sauce (so essentially, everything!). The oilseed rape was good too, and so were the scallion pancakes. We ate most of the food, and only the oilseed rape, braised beef fillets in chili sauce and a very small portion of rice were left. We boxed our leftovers and Chris’ parents gave them to us.

    Scallion pancakes

    Sliced beef and beef tripe with hot pepper sauce

    Hot & Spicy Beef Rolls

    Braised beef with tomato in hot pot

    Roast fish with green onion

    Braised beef fillets with chili sauce

    Hmm, doesn’t everything look so appetizing? Very good food in very good company :)

    Today, Chris and I went to Wild Wings Cafe. The restaurant is located right next to the Amtrak station, on West Main Street, towards downtown Charlottesville. I must comment, the parking lot is super bumpy and not at all paved. When we went into the restaurant, initially we were going to be seated upstairs, but the hostess discovered there were no seats left, so we were seated in a booth downstairs. Our menus were handed to us, and Chris and I began looking at the menu of this highly popular restaurant, which we never set foot in until today.

    Our selections:

    • Appetizer: Steel Town Spuds (a generous portion of Big Fat Fries or crispy Buffalo Chips covered with ranch dressing, bacon, scallions & melted cheese) – we chose the Big Fat Fries!
    • Main course: 25 piece sampler, 5 flavors (Jalapeño cheddar, the Slayer (hot garlic wings), Ragin’ Cajun, honey mustard, Flaming Parmesan). All the wings were served with celery and homemade bleu cheese or ranch dipping sauce. We asked for both sauces.

    These wings were super yummy! I especially liked the Slayer and honey mustard. Chris’ favorite was the Flaming Parmesan. Unfortunately, we forgot the camera back in the dorms, so there are no pictures of these fantastic wings :( However, we really like Wild Wings Cafe! Can’t wait to go back someday!


    17 04 2010

    The long-awaited surprise is here; at least, it was long-awaited for Chris.

    I came back around 4 pm and he went to a friend’s room while I prepared the surprise. I gathered all my necessary ingredients and went to wash and cut them. I had with me: 2 tomatoes, bella mushrooms, mini-cucumbers and two cloves of garlic. I diced the tomatoes, mushrooms, chopped the cucumbers and minced the garlic. I placed everything in their respective bowls.

    Preparation of the food

    Then, I cleared a space on his desk so that I could arrange all my ingredients. I added water to the rice cooker and set that on for high. While that was heating up, I also heated the pot and prepared three eggs in another bowl. I added some of the mushrooms and tomatoes into the mixed egg and added a pinch of salt. When that was ready, I cooked an omelette for Chris. I added Parmesan cheese when the egg was half-done and flipped half of the egg on the other half. Before long, the omelette was done and I scooped it out (with a little bit of difficulty!) into a bowl.

    Preparing the Omelette

    Cooking the Omelette

    The Omelette is Ready!

    Almost immediately after the omelette was done, the hot water in the rice cooker was boiling. I then added the pasta linguine to the cooker. After stirring for awhile, I quickly went to wash the pot and came back, ready to make the sauce for the spaghetti. I opened a can of organic tomato sauce from Trader Joe’s that my mom brought me the last time she visited. I poured the sauce into the pot. After awhile, I added the meatballs (!). The meatballs were enormous, so I decided to cut them all in half with my spatula. I then added the rest of the mushrooms and tomatoes I had prepared earlier. I mixed the sauce continuously for about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, the linguine was ready. And not long after, the sauce was ready to go!

    Cooking the meatballs and the sauce

    Mixing in mushrooms and tomatoes

    Almost Ready!

    I heaped a bunch of noddles for Chris into a bowl and added a lot of meatballs and sauce on top. I did the same for me, though with less quantity.

    Food is Ready!

    Oh, I almost forgot! The cucumbers! I had diced 4 mini-cucumbers and put them all in a bowl. Then, I minced some garlic for flavor and added some sesame oil to top it off.


    After, I arranged everything on the table for Chris and poured him a glass of grape juice, I called him back to the room. He was very surprised and went straight to eating everything! He didn’t even finish his bowl of spaghetti and meatballs when he stated that he was full o.O But that’s okay, because he still finished it later!

    Finished product: Omelette!

    Finished product: spaghetti and meatballs!

    I had a great time cooking the surprise dinner for Chris. I’m looking forward to another surprise dinner sometime!

    Chris had a great time eating his surprise dinner!

    Stay tuned tomorrow for our dinner at Taste of China Part II w/ parents!

    Guadalajara and a surprise!

    14 04 2010

    This past weekend, my parents came to visit me and Chris.

    After much debate, I remembered there was a fantastic restaurant (from what I heard from friends) called Guadalajara. There are 3+ Guadalajara restaurants in the Charlottesville area alone, but the one we went to was the one on Rt 29.

    It was a really nice restaurant, from its exterior/interior appearance to its delicious food. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the food we ordered, but I will describe what everyone ordered.


    • My mom – Lunch carnitas (pork cooked in seasoning blend, served with beans, lettuce, guacamole, jalapenos and tortillas).
    • My dad and me – Lunch chimichanga (flour tortilla filled with beef topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream & guacamole, served with Spanish rice and beans).
    • Chris – Burrito California (steak burrito with cheese and served with refried beans and rice).

    I love Guadalajara <3 I hope to go back again soon! There’s another Mexican restaurant in the area that Chris and I used to frequent – Aquis es Mexico. Both these restaurants are fantastic and serve truly amazing food.

    My parents also gave us some premade food for the weekend.

    Premade Mom dishes

    Asparagus and Shrimp

    Haagen Dazs Ice Cream

    They prepared some cooked soybeans and dried tofu, asparagus and baby shrimp and bought 2 mini cartons of Haagen Dazs caramel dulce de leche ice cream :) The asparagus and shrimp were eaten really quickly by our resident fatty (hint: not me :D) and we still have a little bit of the soybeans + tofu. The ice cream was gone in one day as well.

    I am planning to make a special surprise dinner for Chris this Friday, so stay tuned for more details!

    Sausages, Bento and Gardens

    7 04 2010

    Hallo, readers!

    On Sunday, Chris made eggs and sausages for breakfast/lunch! I really like sausages, even though they’re so fatty and greasy >( But eating them once in a blue moon is okay, so the guilt isn’t such a burden.

    Chris cooking the sausages

    In progress: cooking sausages

    Sausages: ready to eat!

    Afterwards, the room smelled like a sausage factory. But the sausages were very good, and went well with the sunny side-up eggs Chris cooked afterwards. I really like sunny side-up eggs, especially when the yolk doesn’t spill out during the cooking process, which happens quite easily, I’m afraid. But in my duration of cooking sunny side-up eggs, only 1 has had its yolk spilled during cooking, so that’s good news :)

    Today’s bento stars yesterday dinner’s leftovers. There are some fish sticks and tartar sauce on the side, potatoes (which are really good!), and some side salad (leafy lettuce, cherry tomatoes and carrots). It’s the first time I’ve had fish in my bento, but I’m excited to eat it!

    Bento with fish sticks, potatoes and salad

    What do you think, readers? A “fishy” bento? Hehe, I couldn’t resist the pun. Gomennasai (trans: I’m sorry).

    Yesterday night, I took a walk around grounds. I strolled through some of the gardens and really liked the scenery of the flowers and trees, so I took some pictures. I’m glad I did, because some of the flowering trees are blossoming very quickly, and soon, I won’t be able to see the flowers anymore. For instance, there was this magnolia tree in one of the gardens just a week ago that I passed by and took a picture of, but yesterday, I went by again and the magnolias were completely gone :( It’s a good thing I took a picture of them already!

    Garden V Tree: my favorite!

    Squirrel in a Garden V tree: I captured this picture through the gate door!

    Squirrel in a Garden V tree: I captured this photo through the gate door!

    Garden bench and flowers

    Garden flowers

    A magnificent garden tree

    I love my university. The nature scenery is absolutely breathtaking. It’s unfortunate that Chris has allergies and can’t experience them too much. Anyways, the scenery is one of the things I’ll miss most once I graduate. But there’s always the prospect of visiting!

    Oh em gee, the weather high for today is 92 degrees F, 33 degrees C o.O It’s like summer already!

    Taste of China

    4 04 2010

    Happy Easter!

    Warning: Reading this post while hungry might send you straight to the fridge/freezer/telephone.

    On Friday, I made spaghetti for dinner! Quite simple; we had a bag of Italian capellini pasta and a bottle of organic tomato and basil sauce. I heated up some ground meat first in the pot, and then added the tomato sauce in. Stirred in some more basil leaves and a splash of pepper. Then, I remembered that we had some leftover baby bella mushrooms in the fridge, so I chopped the remaining mushies and added them to the sauce as well. In our rice cooker (creative, n’est pas?), I heated up some water and put the pasta in there to cook. As we didn’t have another pot for the pasta to cook in, we usually use the rice cooker. One has to be a bit inventive in college dorms.

    Making spaghetti

    Chris' bowl of spaghetti

    The spaghetti was good; Chris gobbled it all up quickly and then went for seconds. He finished it all on Saturday for lunch. I wish I had bought meatballs to school, because they would have made the spaghetti tastier.

    Saturday night, Chris and I went to Taste of China (川娃) for dinner. He had been there before with some people from our hall, and said it was really good. The restaurant is in this semi-remote shopping center, where the biggest attraction is the Outback Steakhouse. Next to the restaurant was an insurance company o.O But there were plenty of people inside the restaurant, all munching happily on authentic Chinese cuisine. Chris and I were seated by the window, and we took awhile to glance over the menu.

    Our selections:

    • Hot appetizer: 3 scallion bubble pancakes (葱油泡饼). Cost: $5.50.
    • Chef’s Special (Entrée): Roast fish with green onion (竹塔烤鱼片), which is fried fish sautéed with onion and chili powder and ground cumin. Cost: $14.50.
    • Entrée: Braised beef fillets with chili sauce (成都水煮牛). Cost: $12.50.
    • Veggie: Pea shoots sautéed with Chinese green vegetables (豆苗抄青菜). Cost: $8-9 (wasn’t on the menu).

    The food arrived, and it looked so yummy I just wanted to gobble it all up right away. But I restrained myself long enough to take pictures of our selections and then, Chris and I started eating. The scallion pancakes were warm and although they looked really big, it was just filled with air, so once you tore open the pancake, the size diminished significantly, leaving behind a crispy and delectable pancake. The braised beef was delicious; not spicy at all in my opinion (though I’m relatively resistant to spicy foods), but the beef was very tender and I loved mixing the sauce with rice; it gave the rice a nice, zingy flavor. The roast fish was really scrumptious; each piece was crunchy and savory. And the pea shoots and green veggies were a healthy and tasty choice.

    Pea shoots and Chinese green veggies

    Braised beef fillets with chili sauce

    Roast fish with green onion

    Scallion bubble pancakes

    We had to have most of the food bagged up for takeout afterwards, as it was too much for just the two of us to eat in one sitting. But we did finish the scallion pancakes and most of the roast fish. The beef and the pea shoots/green veggies remained in plentiful quantities for today’s leftovers :)

    Taste of China was an excellent restaurant! I definitely want to go back sometime. It is perhaps the best, most authentic Chinese restaurant in the Charlottesville area.

    As always, bon appetit!

    April Fool’s Bento

    2 04 2010

    Howdy, readers.

    Yesterday, I made a delicious April Fool’s bento box. I also concocted a geeky prank on Chris, by placing a post-it note over the eye of his optical mouse so that when he tried to use his mouse and the cursor didn’t move, he’d think he needed new batteries. And on the post-it note, I wrote, “April Fool’s Chris! Love, Alice.”

    However, regarding the obento, I’d made a small taco the day before. It was a hard-shell corn tortilla filled with beef, lettuce and  sour cream. Alongside the taco, I added some rotini (spiraled shaped) pasta and conchiglie (seashell shaped) casserole. For veggies and fruits, I had cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, and a slice of cucumber.

    April 1st Bento box (not a joke)

    The bento was very good; I ate it all in one sitting. My friends commented how good the bento looked, to which I felt extreme happiness of having made such a delicious bento and one that didn’t include a sandwich! Not that I have anything against my sandwich obento, but it’s nice to have a change.

    Chris is surprising me this weekend with my bento box. I’m very excited; I get to take a break from bento box making (not that that’s entirely a good thing; I love making bentos!) and I get to see what scrumptious obento concoction he comes up with. It’s going to be loads of fun!

    Today is such a beautiful day outside! I took a nice stroll in the morning and went to one of the university gardens, where I sat and petted Noble, a collie belonging to the Vice President of Student Affairs. Noble was such a peach, either siding up beside me so I would pet him or laying beside my feet. Also, there were some puppies from the animal shelter and a massive throng of students was surrounding four puppies. The puppies seemed a bit overwhelmed but equally delighted in all the attention.

    Now, I have to go and eat lunch; I’m starving! Enjoy this beautiful day, everyone!