Monthly Archives: August 2010

Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce

It’s been great having my mother here with me in Dallas — every morning when I wake up I am greeted with a warm “Good Morning Xin xin!” opposed to my usual routine of Collin tickling the bottoms of my feet and me grumpily falling out of bed.  Don’t get me wrong, the feet tickling hasn’t stopped., but now I wake up with a sense of excitement because I have my mother there for company.  I no longer clumsily search for my pot of coffee and skip breakfast because nothing sounds good because… okay before I go any further, please refrain all judgment of me being a spoiled child… my mom will be there with a cup of ginseng tea because “Too much coffee is no good Xin xin! Ginseng give you energy.”  After my tea routine my mother continues to check all aspects of my health — “OKAY lemme see your tongue! Oooooh tsk tsk tsk, today tongue is no good I will fix you medicine.  Hmm lemme check your heels!  OOoooh dry heel, sign of bad health, I go get you ointment I massage for you.” 

Wow.  A girl could honestly get use to this treatment.  After not living with my mother for almost 10 years, one forgets how well she had it, and trust me I am soaking up the glory right now…every single drop.  When she arrived we made a cooking schedule “Okay you make American Monday Wednesday Friday, I make Chinese Tuesday Thursday Saturday, Collin order pizza Sunday!” Except I haven’t cooked at all because my mother has taken over the kitchen with her wonderful glorious food, and frankly it’s been absolutely frikkin’ AWESOME.

And as I promised, I am going to share the wonderful food with you guys.   Results are best achieved by cooking with a wok on a propane fueled fire station — the temperatures are hotter and as a result gives the dishes a nice smokey flavor. 

Ingredients for Pork with Garlic Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 small dried chiles
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork, preferably from the shoulder (Boston butt or picnic), cut into thin shreds and thoroughly dried
  • 2 teaspoon corn starch + 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup dried tree ears, soaked in hot tap water until softened, drained, patted dry, and torn by hand into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup carrots, finely shredded
  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, finely shredded
  • 1/4 cup white onion, finely shredded
  • 1 bunch of scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths, white and green parts separated


  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons hot chile paste
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch

Combine the pork, cornstarch, and 1 tablespoon of water in a medium bowl. Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to come about 1 inch up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 325° F. Add the pork and stir gently until it turns light brown, about 40 seconds. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, transfer the pork to a colander to drain. Discard all but 4 tablespoons of oil from the wok.

To start the sauce, mix the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine in a small bowl and set it aside. Dissolve the cornstarch in 3 tablespoons cold water, and set it aside. Return the wok to high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and scallions, and stir-fry until they are fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add onion, carrots, tree ears, and bell pepper and stir-fry until the bell pepper starts to soften, about 30 seconds. Transfer the vegetables to the colander. Add the vinegar mixture to the wok and stir for 10 seconds. Then add the hot chili paste and stir for 10 seconds more. Return the pork and vegetables to the wok, and stir-fry until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens, about 20 seconds. Add the hot chili oil, if using, and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the sesame oil and serve immediately.

Wow, it’s a tough life I live here in the Wells household…:)

I would also like to share a couple photography shoots I’ve done recently — one was an engagement shoot for my bestfriend and the other was of my adorable nephew. 

Fundraising Project #1 – “The Man Who Never Cried”

A few weeks back I wrote a post about The Importance of Giving where President Clinton discusses ways we can contribute our time and skills to help others.  Since then, my mind hasn’t stopped thinking about ways I can help and the differences I am able to make with the resources that are readily available to me.

My friend Andrew Lee has been busily working on a short film titled “The Man Who Never Cried” and together with his team, they’ve been  hard to raise money for the project.  Thus far he has raised a whopping $12,000 for the film but still has another $9,000 to go before reaching the budget needed.  Unfortunately I’m not a millionaire, or I’d throw a fat check his way BUT I do like to bake and photograph the things I make so I came up with a fun idea — organizing a fundraiser by selling cupcakes to my friends and family!

This week I’ve written an article at Appetite for Good, a website geared towards promoting philanthropic organizations and events through food.  Be sure to read more about my first fundraising event and most importantly, don’t forget to support!

Ingredients for Lemon Cake: (makes 30 cupcakes)
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks/8 oz/226g) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 (8-ounce) cartons dairy sour cream
  • 2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel

Recipe from Diana’s Desserts.

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F (180 C). Line thirty 2 1/2-inch muffin cups with paper bake cups; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar and vanilla; beat until well mixed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and sour cream alternately to beaten mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. (The batter will be thick.) Stir in lemon peel.

Spoon about 1/4 cup of the batter into each prepared muffin cup *(See Tip Below). Bake in preheated oven about 18 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before frsoting and topping cupcakes with lemon or orange zest (optional).

Ingredients for Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes (Makes 24 cupcakes):
  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 12 T unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 c + 2 T sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/2 c sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup fresh strawberries, hulled & coarsely chopped
  • 1 package of graham crackers, smashed into crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 F and prepare 6 – 8 muffin tins.  Sprinkle about 1 t of the crushed graham cracker into the bottom of each prepared muffin tin.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder & salt. In a large bowl, cream together butter & sugar until light & fluffy and then add the vanilla & beat on a low-speed.  Then add half the flour mixture until incorporated then mix in the sour cream or yogurt.  Add remaining flour & mix until just blended.
In another bowl beat the egg whites until stiff, glossy peak appear, about 2 minutes. Gently fold 1/3 of the egg into the batter until combined, do not over mix the egg whites or the cake will fall flat. Add remaining egg and fold in the chopped strawberries.  Fill each muffin tin about 3/4 of the way and bake for about 20 minutes depending on your oven.   You can test the doneness by sticking a toothpick through the center, if it comes out clean it is ready to take out!

Ingredients for Carrot cupcakes (Makes 1 dozen):

  • 8 carrots (1 1/4 pounds), peeled and coarsely shredded (4 cups)
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners. In a medium bowl, toss the carrots with the raisins and pecans. Onto a large sheet of wax paper, sift the flour with the cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the canola oil with the sugar at medium-high speed until smooth. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well between additions. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the carrot mixture.
Spoon the batter into the cups, filling them three-fourths full. Bake the cupcakes for about 25 minutes, or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

Ingredients for Moist Chocolate Cupcakes: (Makes 12-18 cupcakes)
  • 1 3/4 cup All-Purpose flour
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 c cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup coffee
For the chocolate cake, mix all of the dry ingredients together so they are evenly distributed.  Add the wet ingredients one at a time as listed, until fully incorporated.  This ensures the batter comes out nice and smooth. Line the muffin pans with cupcake liners and pour the batter about 3/4 of the way, leaving room for the cake to rise when baking.  Place in the oven for 20 minutes, you can check the doneness by inserting a toothpick in the middle, if it comes out clean it is ready (Because oven temperatures differ, if the batter is still wet leave for 5 minutes longer, repeat until done.)  Set aside and cool.
For the toppings of the cupcakes — you can find the recipe for caramel here and the cream cheese frosting here and the candied carrots here.  The rest is pretty self explanatory and use your creativity to see what you can come up with!

The Value of Friendship

Life. A confusing concept, widely unknown, highly unpredictable and often challenging.  I remember how simple it use to be, when days use to consist of coloring in the lines, playing with barbie dolls and going on field trips.  Then time slowly takes it away and you wake up one day and it’s been replaced by bills, family and relationship problems, and all the other “fun” forks in the road that life throws at you.  That’s when friendship comes in.  But not just any friendship, a true friendship.  One that saves you when life can be unjust and difficult or just plain crappy.  One that will always tell you the truth, even when no one else will.  One that truly understands you inside and out and will never judge you despite all the stupid things you’ve done.

I’ve known Courtney since the 6th grade – and we were inseperable with our stirrup pants, bad perms, questional haircuts and bright blue eyeshadow – don’t deny it, we were hot.  We spent so much time together you’d never see one without the other, and even after spending the entire day at school together the first thing we’d do when we got home was call each other.  We never ran out of things to talk about, and we deemed each other as “sisters”.  We’d always tell each other “You’re my other half!” and even to this day, that holds true to my heart.

Though we never attended the same school together after middle school, we still remained best friends for many years.  But with time and the distance we slowly began to drift apart.  The phone calls became less frequent, we both became too busy to visit each other and eventually it became the occasional “hey what’s up? how’s it goin?”.  I think we both felt it but didn’t want to admit it because after all these years of being best friends, how can you suddenly not be?

A few months ago, Courtney finally said “Joy I don’t think our friendship is the way it use to be.”  I felt an extreme pang of guilt because I knew she was right and I should’ve said something earlier.  How stupid to think I could’ve potentially have lost one of my closest and dearest friends ironically because of my fear of losing her.  But I guess that’s what best friends do.  Step up to the plate and say something, break down the facade and delusions and face reality, and fight for each other because it’s not easy to find a sister, your other half, your ever lasting rock.

So we made a commitment to each other we would work together to strengthen our friendship back to what it use to be but better — because all relationships take work.  It had been so long since we both did anything together so we booked a room at Lakeway Resort and Spa in Austin, and enjoyed a beautiful weekend catching up right where we left off.

There’s something special about the friends you grow up with.  You know each other’s deepest darkest secrets, you’ve been through hell and back, and after all these years (13 to be exact) there’s invaluable comfort and familiarity that you have with each other.  I honestly couldn’t imagine life without her, it’d definitely be a much more scary place that’s for sure.  The value of a friendship, a true friendship, is priceless.  There’s nothing in the world like it and to be fortunate enough to have it, I’ve learned now to never ever let it slip away again.

Thank you Courtney for always being a wonderful friend, for loving me despite my faults and flaws and for understanding me when no one else could.  I am looking forward to a lifetime of friendship and taking the journey through all the trials and tribulations in this so-called life together. I love you best friend, forever and always!


I’d like to thank Tammy from Lakeway Resorts and Claudia from Big Noise for setting the two of us up in such a wonderful room!  It was exactly what we needed: relaxation, good food and a great view.    The staff was extremely cordial and I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone who is looking for a private getaway from the city!

Braised Short Ribs in a Red Wine Reduction

I haven’t posted a “fancy schmancy” meal in a while and on a whim I decided to make some braised short ribs.  Not just any short ribs though, but short ribs from Von Geertsem’s Butcher Shoppe. That’s right folks, I get my meats from a personal butcher.  Greg does not charge extra for his artistic meat cutting skills nor do his prices make your wallet hurt.  They’ve actually been the same for the past 3 years.

There’s something special about this place you see, it makes you feel important.  After meeting Greg only one time, the next time I came in he greeted me with a huge smile and a “Hey Joy how are you doing?” How did he remember my name?? But that’s the cool thing about Greg, he remembers everyone’s name — “I have the best customers in the whole world.” he’d tell me and since I am now one of them, I say I’d have to agree! 🙂

Okay with jokes aside, I’ve found that butcher shoppes in America are quickly dwindling down to extinction.  With large chain stores mass producing our meats at a cheaper cost, quality is always the first thing that goes out the window.  Aside from the unsanitary conditions the animals are raised in, many meat producers now pump CO2 gas and Nitrogen to keep their meats nice and pink  for up to 6 weeks.  Ever buy a pack of those steaks that looks nice and rosy on the outside but once you cut into it, it’s a dull and lifeless brown?  That’s why.  You’re buying rotten meat.

That probably makes your stomach churn, because let’s be honest we’ve all seen it and I’m sure most of us probably have eaten it whether you know it or not.  Save yourself.  Find your local butcher.  Strive to find quality products when you cook.  Yes it makes all the difference in the world.  Turning a blind eye to the unsanitary and unethical practicies of mass meat production facilities does not fix the problem — go ahead, explore! If your city does not have a local butcher, buy your meats direct from a livestock farmer.

For this recipe, I originally wanted to make a polenta cake to go along with it — unfortunately I recently transferred a bunch of flours into large UNLABELED containers and instead of using coarse corn meal I believe I used chickpea flour.  Poop. HOWEVER, the ribs were tender and rich and paired perfectly with the lemon thyme corn and vegetable ragout.  A good sign that you’ve made an amazing meal?  All plates are returned polished clean :). I adapted this short rib recipe from Epicurious, it was apparently Daniel Boulud’s recipe which explains the excellent results.  Bon Apetit folks and have a great weekend!

Ingredients for Braised Short Ribs: (serves 4)

  • 3 bottles dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt and crushed black peppercorns
  • Flour, for dredging
  • 8 large shallots, peeled, trimmed, split, rinsed and dried
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 2 ribs of celery, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1 medium-sized leek (white and light-green parts), coarsely chopped, washed and dried
  • 10 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 bay leaves and 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 quarts unsalted beef broth
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • Pour the wine into a large saucepan set over medium heat. When the wine is hot, carefully set it aflame. Let the flames die out, then increase the heat so that the wine boils; allow it to boil until it cooks down by half. Remove from the heat.

    Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350°F.

    Warm the oil in a large, heavy, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Season the ribs all over with salt and the crushed pepper. Dust half of the ribs with about 1 tablespoon flour. Then, when the oil is hot, slip the ribs into the pot and sear 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until well-browned. Transfer the ribs to a plate. Repeat with remaining ribs. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pot, lower the heat under the pot to medium and toss in the vegetables and herbs. Brown the vegetables lightly, 5 to 7 minutes, then stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

    Add the wine, ribs and broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover tightly and place in the oven to braise for 2 1/2 hours or until the ribs are very tender. Every 30 minutes, skim and discard fat from the surface. (It’s best to make the recipe to this point, cool and chill the ribs and broth in the pan overnight; scrape off the fat the next day. Rewarm before continuing.)

    Carefully transfer the meat to a platter; keep warm. Boil the pan liquid until it has reduced to 1 quart. Season with salt and white pepper and pass through a fine strainer; discard the solids. (The ribs and sauce can be combined and kept covered in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Reheat gently, basting frequently, on top of the stove or in a 350°F oven.)

    ** For the red wine reduction I tasted the meat juices and felt it needed a little bit of sugar.  I added 1/4 cup of brown sugar and allowed the liquids to reduce into a syrupy consistency, about 15 minutes on high heat.  To serve, plate the sides of your choice (I’ve chosen corn and vegetable ragout), place the meat on top and drizzle with the reduction.


    Poached Eggs with Smoked Provolone and Pistou

    As I’ve mentioned before, my mother will be moving back to Shanghai this year — September 14th to be exact.  I’m picking her up from Houston this weekend where she will come to stay with me and Collin in Dallas before she goes home.

    A bittersweet feeling for sure, the child in me screams “DON’T LEAVE! WHAT WILL I DO WITHOUT YOU?” but I know it’s for the best.  For years my mother has sacrificed her own personal happiness for mine, I could tell she always missed China.  Her food always evoked her longing — I remember as a child I’d always complain “AW MAN MA, CHINESE AGAIN??” But now I realize it was one of the few connections she had to home.

    Week after week it was always something different — braised pork belly, sauteed peat shoots, tea smoked duck, herbal chicken soup — I lived like a king when it came to food, I knew I had it good.  Now that she’s leaving, I wanted to keep my mother behind with me, through her recipes.

    I really look forward to learning traditional Chinese cuisine and at the same time exposing my mother to the different types of cuisines I make at home.  A month’s worth of cooking adventures with my mother in my new kitchen, can life be any better?  I can’t wait for everyone to meet her, she is truly the sweetest, cutest and the most talented lady I know.  You’ll see 🙂

    I made this healthy breakfast over the weekend — I love poaching eggs because it’s a great alternative to frying and you still get the same delicate texture and of course the best part, the runny yolk.  I got my recipe from Epicurious and made a few minor changes — I used less oil and used Smoked Provolone.  I really enjoyed the addition of the Pistou, very bold in flavors but light in textures — a great breakfast for the summer.

    Ingredients for Poached Eggs with Pistou: (serves 2)

    • 1/3 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
    • 1/2 small garlic clove
    • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 4 large eggs
    • 2 1/2-inch-thick slices french bread, toasted
    • Smoked Provolone cheese shavings

    Puree basil, garlic, and oil in mini processor until very smooth. Season pistou to taste with salt and pepper.

    Add enough water to medium skillet to measure 1 1/4 inches. Sprinkle salt generously into water. Bring water to simmer over medium heat. Crack eggs 1 at a time and gently slip into water. Cook until egg whites are just set and egg yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes.

    Place hot toasts on plates. Top each with Parmesan. Using slotted spoon, transfer 2 eggs, well drained, to each piece of brioche. Sprinkle eggs with salt and pepper. Drizzle with some of pistou and serve.