Beef
Moisture is a good indicator of freshness, but not drenched-ness. It should be bright, but not glowing. Red is fresh, but if it’s too red it may be dyed to that color. Not too much blood and no bruises. Purple, blue and gray are all bad colors. Green is really bad. Don’t even think about rainbow colored beef. Store in the freezer if you’re not using it within the day. I always marinate it. Use MMM. If cutting into pieces/slices, cut perpendicular against the flesh lines, otherwise it’d be hard to chew. Sirloin and ribeye are ideal, and while relatively pricey, it’s alright when cooking for a single person.

HeZhang-Melon / Chayote
The Chinese name is 合掌瓜; it is also called chayote and Buddha Hand. HeZhang-Melon is a much less awkward name for me, though, so that is what I’ll be referring to it as. Peel it and take the pit out, and scrape away some of the white stuff around the pit too. Something about it makes it sticky and sometimes a little stingy to the feel. Scrub it off your hands well. (Discovery! It is sap, and apparently you’ll escape unscathed if you peel it under running water.)

MMM
Mommy’s Magic Marinade. I learned to recite it when I was little before I ever started cooking. Use for beef, chicken, and pork. Salt, brown sugar, cornstarch, light soy sauce, and oil. No measurements, just make sure each piece gets a fair share of each ingredient. I marinate more generously if I want to cook the flavor into other ingredients of the same dish.

Mushrooms
I use mushrooms a lot. I buy them dried, soak them for several hours, and cook with brown sugar and light soy sauce. I made the whole hall smell like mushroom once. My friends and suitemate came out of the elevator, which is on the other end of the hall, and came to report to me that they smelled and recognized my cooking. (Win!) I also use enoki mushrooms, but since they’re fresh and not dried, it’s necessary to eat them as soon as possible after buying them.

Pork
I actually have no experience picking pork because I just tell the butcher what kind I want ^^;; Eheheh~ (Tip from the butcher!: Pork chops with the bone give more flavor for soup.) Same tips as the beef, except it should absolutely not be the same color red. It should be pink in color. Blood and bruises are still bad, as are rainbowy colors. Store in the freezer as with any raw meat you’re not using within the day. Use MMM if cooking a dish, but don’t marinate if using for soup. I use one to two pieces of pork chop for one pot of soup- how much I end up using depends on my mood and how much pork I have on hand, and not at all on anything else, unfortunately.

Rice
Yum! I eat rice nearly every night 😉 Sure, brown rice and multigrain whatevers are healthier and whatnot, but I’ve grown up on white jasmine rice from Thailand, so those eight-grain things don’t cut it for me. The brand we usually eat back home is a Phoenix brand. The one I ate freshman year was a Cock brand (WordPress, please don’t hate on me! It’s not my fault the brand was named that and not Rooster T__T). Now, I have a bag of Elephant brand. Lugged all 25 lbs of it in a backpack from Chinatown back to my dorm on foot, which didn’t seem that far because I walk that distance several times a week to go to work, but I just found out that the trip is at least a mile… x____x Lastly, sticky rice is Koda Farms Premium Sweet Rice. (Remember to click on the images if you want to see the bigger size!)

Spam
My mom says Ma Ling is better, so I’ve grown up eating Ma Ling brand rather than “SPAM” brand spam. Pork and chicken is best; I’ve tried spicy, it’s not very good. Spam is spam, though, so use whichever one you’re most comfortable and familiar with (unless you’re adventurous and unafraid of food poisoning! If that’s the case, explore explore explore. Just… explore safely. Meaning avoid the homemade spam the little five year old next door is offering to sell you).

Soy Sauce (Light)
Light soy sauce has a heavier flavor than dark soy sauce. (I’ll put up a description of dark soy sauce if I ever use it in any dish I post here.) I use Kimlan. Again, use whichever one you are most used to and most comfortable with. You know best how much to use, how much will taste best to you. My mom has actually switched to another light soy sauce, I think the difference is probably the sodium content. It’s not as strong by the slightest margin, but still tastes darn good. (Actually, it’s my mom’s magic cooking that tastes darn good and it has nothing to do with what brand of condiments she uses because everything she makes is zomgfreakingamazing.)
Love you 媽咪 ^^!!

Dark Soy Sauce
I also have dark soy sauce stocked now ^^ The flavor is a lot more subtle, and it’s a little different, but definitely very very good. It’s used in conjunction with light soy sauce though- not alone. Yum~~~

Tofu
There are different levels of firmness. Decide which is best for whatever you’re making. House brand is good.

Sacha Sauce
This is a barbeque sauce that my family usually uses as an ingredient for hotpot sauce. However, I’ve also tried using it in dishes (inspired in part my my friend Elaine’s use of it in her dishes, shown on her food blog). I’ve found that it’s very strong, and the taste unfailingly brings me thoughts of hotpot.

XO Sauce
Another type of sauce. This one is more expensive than sacha because it contains all kinds of seafood (although I can’t really name what kinds exactly…) Very tasty 😀 For some reason, I haven’t seen it in the supermarkets here at all.