Showing posts from 2005

Chicken and Dumplings

It's not really picture perfect, but it surely tasted good!

Chicken and Dumplings

This is the first recipe I have tried from the Gourmet Cookbook, and it was fantastic! This smelled so good. The whole cup of shallots and the wine really gave this dish its wonderful fragrance. It is definitely a comforting meal to have on a cold night.

Recipe: Chicken and Dumplings
Serves 4 (or just 2 hungry people)
(from the Gourmet Cook)

For the chicken:
1 chicken, 3-3.5 lb, cut into 8 parts
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp vegetable oil1 cup chopped shallots (about 8 medium sized shallots)
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper

For the dumplings
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of ground black pepper
2 Tbsp cold butter cut into pieces
2 Tbsp chopped chives
1 Tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
2/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the gravy
3 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
2.5 Tbsp flour
salt and pepper

Cook the chicken
1. Season all sides of chicken parts with salt and pepper
2. In a large deep pan over medium-high heat, melt butter with …

Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

The finished product -- isn't it cute?
The cross-section: outer layer is a hard bittersweet chocolate coat; in the middle are two layers of pistachio cookies sandwiching a creamy sweet chocolate filling. (I was too hungry to use a knife for a clean cut. I just bit off half of it and ate it. It was gooood!)

Chocolate is good/bad for you

My good friend Osman is in town (all the way from Pakistan!) and I have not done anything special to welcome him other than providing a futon to sleep on. So I decided to make him some chocolate, a favorite of his, while he is away in Cornell this weekend.

Chocolate is quite a peculiar food. Its melting temperature and other properties like its sheen and tendency to "seize up" upon touching water make it sometimes a big pain to work with. However, very good chocolate is worth the work and money. Find any chocolate lover, he'll tell you how a piece of chocolate melts silkily across the tongue (thanks to the cocoa butter) and also about the intoxicating aroma, kind of like coffee, but more seductively sweet. Even though recent findings suggested that chocolate has health benefits, it's almost gratuitous. People don't need any more reason to eat chocolate. Deep down we all like it partly because it's sinful. Food this delicious is good for you? Puhleeez, it has …
Before washing
After washing with flour

Thoughts on Grapes

Until recently I have not bought or even eaten many grapes. For some strange reason I always get bad heartburns if I eat a lot of them. And I am pretty disappointed by the grape varieties in the US. It seems like the market is geared towards convenience rather than taste. Grapes found in supermarkets these days are hailed as seedless, thin-skinned, and sweet. Whatever happened to fragrance and the nice tartness that compliments the sweet? The grapes in Taiwan are so much better. The 巨峰 (Ju4-Feng1) variety is a favorite of mine. It's a pretty traditional purple variety with on average 3-4 seeds in each fruit and the skin is thick, generally needs to be peeled. But it's got such a nice aroma that makes you think "ah, GRAPES!!!"

But my real lack of motivation stemmed from how my parents always used to make me prepare the grapes. In my family, fruits are not eaten off the hand. Almost everything needs to be nicely cut up, presented in a plate or a bowl, and eaten in a civ…

Back from Shanghai

I figure it is time to dust the spider webs off this blog. I just returned from Shanghai. And I thought I would have had lots of good food there. I was wrong (sorry Charles, Erica, and Vivian). Honestly, the food was underwhelming. The quality of the better meals could have been just as easily found in Taipei. It is really cheap to eat in China, though. The labor is so cheap, now they just have to bring up the quality and the service.

Overall, I ate little rice in China. Since the tabs were so cheap, we just ordered more dishes instead of having rice. I definitely sampled more variety this way. But the lack of rice also felt somewhat less satisfying, a feeling often expressed by Atkin's dieters. In Chinese, the phrase to convey "eat a meal" is equivalent to "eat rice." There must be some underlying explanation to this. Whether it is out of cultural habit or our human bodies' needs for complex carbohydrate, I just feel less wholesome without eating it. In fac…

stressful times and morbid food thoughts

I haven't added anything to this blog for a while, because I just haven't been cooking much. Seriously, anyone with a PhD degree should be very well respected. Whoever is able to go through this crappy experience deserves a special mention. I have been so stressed that I just don't have the desire to cook. Heck, I can't even care enough about the quality of my supper. It is pretty funny that during these stressful times my thesis advisor kept offering me chocolates. Maybe she is on to something.

If I have this much trouble eating these days, I cannot imagine how a dead person should care the least about what is served at his/her funeral. This New York Times article talks about the comfort food at funerals. Only the alive ones are eating, so the food is only meant to comfort them. We only hold funerals for ourselves anyway -- to bring closure, to soften the blow for ourselves that it is okay to lose a loved one. Considering all this, I had some funny ideas. Is it approp…
Left to right: Asparagus and shiitake mushrooms in oyster sauce; pork salad; scrambled eggs with shredded carrots; pickeled cucumbers.

Making somethin' out of nothin'

Cooking is for the leisurely minds. I've found that my food tastes good only when I am cooking in a relaxed and happy mood. Hence in the last couple of weeks I basically lived off frozen dumplings and take-outs. But now my friend Iris is in town. I can't possibly feed her frozen dumplings. That would be a crime. (although she does have a strange yearning for bad American food -- macaroni&cheese; bad Chinese take-out...) Regardless, for my pride I have to deliver a decent home cooked meal. So I made what any Chinese housewife would probably make in a jiffy -- little dishes to go with congee. I made pickeled cucumbers (very classic summer side dish), scrambled eggs with shredded carrots (sounds bizarre, but pretty good), asparagus and shiitake mushroom with oyster sauce (I had to use up my 1-week old asparagus), and a improvised pork salad. All the cooking was done in one hour. The host and the guest were both pleased as we carried our full bellies to the sofa after dinner.

Miso Chicken Salad Sandwich

Miso Chicken Salad Sandwich

This summer truly feels like a global warming sign. After playing two hours of tennis today in the humid and hot air, I was ready for getting take-out. But since I am on a budget now, I reluctantly forced myself to scavenge my fridge for dinner inspiration. After some Rainier cherries and orange juice, I was cooled down enough to think creatively. I usually buy chicken whole and cut it into parts myself -- typically breast meat for stir fries, thighs for roasting, and drumsticks and wing parts for stews. And oh, don't forget the chicken tendorloins! These are the tendor strips of meat underneath the breasts, usually made into fried chicken fingers. I was going to cube them and stir fry them with cucumber chunks. But high heat cooking with oil just seemed wrong today. I thought of a chicken salad sandwich with cucumbers and sesame sauce, which really didn't appeal to me at the moment. I placed the bag of frozen chicken in warm water to thaw while I dragged my sweaty self into t…
Taiwanese pork soup

Taiwanese pork soup

Many popular Chinese dishes these days may seem strange, making you wonder what the cook was thinking when he or she made up the dish. Chicken feet, anyone? Well, cooking is an art to make food more delicious to the palate, but also a magic to make something out of nothing. When resources were scarce, clever tricks were invented to make scraps of leftover meat and organs edible, stretch the minimal amount of ingredients into a fulfilling meal. This requires lots of time and labor, and most importantly brain power, to change the texture of raw ingredients, to impart flavors, and to add fillers that actually don't taste like so.

The example of chicken feet requires changing the texture (skin) and imparting colors and flavors to this scrap of meat that would normally be trashed. Sausage is another example. Whatever leftover pieces of meat are ground down and spiced up. Meat that had lots of chewy connective tissue is cut into little pieces so that eating them is no longer painful on t…

Restaurant Review: Uncle Cheung's

In the spirit of more positive thoughts on food, I have this review on Uncle Cheung's.

Uncle Cheung's cooks up Shanghai-style dishes. The maitre d' speaks Shanghainese and Mandarin, and she is very nice and friendly. I do not claim to be an expert on Shanghainese food. I only know that this cuisine is what pleases my palate the most among the different Chinese reginal cuisines. I first tasted their food at their other branch China Ting in Ashland, MA. It was about 1-hour drive to get there for weekend brunch -- it had better be damn good to worth the drive on an empty stomach! Now China Ting is closed, and Uncle Cheung is a little closer -- in Framingham, about a 30-40 minute drive. The restaurant is very roomy. I never had to wait to be seated. Do not be fooled by many tables serving up Americanized Chinese food to unknowing customers, the chef can produce the real stuff.

Brunches there have been worthwhile for the following items: pork moon cake -- juicy ground pork fillin…

Evolution of taste and standards

My tastes for food has changed so much since high school. When I first came to the US, pizza and burrito were novelties to me. There wasn't much of whether I liked it or not. Most of the time I was just happy to discover new ingredients, new flavors, and new cultures. Then in college I really got to eat a wider array of food: Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Greek, Spanish, Mexican, Mediterranean, French, Italian, and whatever ethnic foods presented at cultural events. After college in a small town, I moved to Boston. Faced with a dizzying number of restaurants, armed with a bigger wallet, I was able to try even more different places. And now that few dishes are surprises anymore, I do start to pay more attention to details and compare the differences. This creates a problem that didn't happen very often before -- I become pickier than before and I start to find more and more faults with my food. Take my latest two dining experiences for example:

On Thursday I had dinner wit…
Flank steak, asparagus, and goat cheese appetizer

July Fourth party appetizer

I am not terribly creative, which is why I don't think I would make it big being a professional chef. So I was very proud of myself for coming up with this dish. I had to make something to bring to a July Fourth party that has meat in it. I didn't want to make any casseroles, because I don't want to eat any at the time. So I decided to make some appetizer type of thing. Basically appetizers and desserts are really crowd pleasing dishes because everything will have a nice presentation and everyone will think you spend the whole week making it. So I start looking through my Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres book, which of course features gorgeous-looking food, most of which requires either too much time or too many exotic ingredients. (As much as I love Martha, I only had one afternoon to make this) Neverthelss, I did get inspiration from it. I have really come to love broiled flank steak, and I have lots of asparagus in the refrigerator. To make it richer, I added goa…
chicken with garlic, basil, and tomatoes

Yet another standby recipe

I've been getting home so late that I can't really do much elaborate cooking. So I always fall back on dishes that I have in my head and take no effort to make. This is also one of my standby recipes because it is quick, easy, and tasty! Tomatoes go so well with basil. And sauteing garlic and black pepper in butter creates the most wonderful aroma in the kitchen. This dish works best with shrimp because chicken tends to take longer to cook and is easily overcooked. Also the heavy flavoring (garlic, butter, basil) goes well with seafood, while chicken can be a little too weak to carry all these fragrances, especially bland chicken breasts. I only had chicken breasts at home so that's what I used. This dish goes well with plain rice and sweet buttery peas with onions.

Recipe: Shrimp/chicken with garlic, basil, and tomatoes

1/2 lb of shrimp or chicken meat
2 stalks of fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 pint cherry/grape tomatoes
black pepper

This is one of the bizarre mutant cherries I had last night. Doesn't it look like a butt!?
Chinese egg pancake

Chinese breakfast egg pancake

Breakfast doesn't seem to get much attention on weekdays here in the US. It seems that most people just get by with milk and cereal, some toast, and coffee or orange juice. When I am home in Taiwan, I usually have tons of choices. The traditional breakfast places serve freshly made soy milk, scallions pancakes, chinese chive pockets, and other pastries. These pastries were traditionally made with flour, water, and lard so that the crust has hundred of layers like puff pastry. The filling can be ground pork with scallions or malt sugar. There is also the plain pastry, and it is usually ordered with scrambled eggs (kept as one whole piece though) or "deep fried puff dough", another pastry that is super crunchy and puffed up. Another popular item is the egg pancake. The pancake part is like a crepe but much lighter, made without milk and butter. The egg is scrambled but in the pan it is kept as one sheet and allowed to stick to the pancake. The whole thing is then rolled in…
Blackberry sorbet
Flank steak with spinach walnut salad

Cool-off meal

Summer is here with a big bang. The temperature has been rising into the 90's and the humidity is so high we can probably just breathe in liquid water droplets. Combining these facts with a lousy AC, I just don't even want to turn on any heat in the kitchen. But I gotta eat! Tuna salad is only going to last me a few days. So I made up a salad meal with minimal heat generation -- broiled flank steak on a spinach and walnet salad followed by fluffy blackberry sorbet.

I usually keep a piece of flank steak in the freezer because it's the beef cut I normally use for stir fry. It's also very good grilled and then thinly sliced. In this case, I just used the broiler. I could just eat a spinach salad, but I need my daily protein consumption. To cool off the heat, and to kick start my ice cream maker for the season, I looked up this sorbet recipe that cannot possibly be simpler. But the real reason for using blackberries was that I knew it was on sale -- I do try to be to frugal…
Crepes with Blackberries
Green Veggie Risotto

Lazy weekday

Green Veggie Risotto and Crepes with BlackberriesI had a wonderful weekend with my friend Kay-wen from Cornell. I played host and we attended our friend Amy’s lovely wedding. Kay-wen has been asking me to cook for her ever since I fooled her into cooking for me in freshman year during spring break. Today we had all day to waste before she had to leave for LA at 6, so we paged through my Martha Stewart, Cooks Illustrated, Real Simple, and Everyday Food magazines and lots of my cook books to look for something to make. We decided to make this “healthy” risotto. At the grocery store I also bought some blackberries and heavy cream for dessert – crepes.

My number one comfort food has always been noodle soups. But in recent years risotto has slowly made its way closer to the top of my list. Made poorly, it becomes a mambo-jumbo of badly westernized Chinese congee. Made well, it sparks up my senses and nourishes my tired body. I guess a lot of people substitute ingredients when they are hard …

Cha-Siu=Chinese BBQ Pork

叉燒肉 -- Don't forget the sauce!

What kind of image does the word "Chinatown" conjure up? Well, besides the crowd and less-than-clean sidewalks, I think of tightly neighboring storefronts with large panes of glass behind which roasted ducks, BBQ pork, and marinated chickens are hung side by side. Yes, the three treasures, as the Cantonese restaurants call them. Most people are fooled by the three treasures served in many Chinatown restaurants -- they only get the duck, pork, and a sunny-side-up egg. The three treasures were my introduction to Cantonese cuisine, even before my dim sum days. I remember I didn't like the duck very much; I usually just ate the chicken and pork. I especially liked the sweet glazed pork with a shockingly red color. That is my favorite.

Since I started cooking regularly, BBQ pork has made its way into my repertoire. This is my stand-by recipe. I've made it so many times I don't even need to think much when I make this. This may not be …
Thin slices against the grain is important!
Finished baking!
Raw pork hang-baking in the oven. Make sure there's a grease trapping device.
Asparagus tart -- looks good, but tastes bad.

Looks can be deceiving

Doesn't that look like a delicious asparagus tart? Well, it wasn't. Let's count the ways it turned out badly.

1. The pastry: A frozen puff pastry that was opened at least 6 months ago and has been sitting in the freezer ever since. Apparently frozen puff pastry gets freezer burns too. (DUH!!) Notice how the top and right edges of the tart did not rise properly and was browned more significantly. There was a lot of water loss there. It caused the pastry to crack and difficult to be rolled out.
2. Asparagus was not that fresh. I threw away some old stems, cut out the fibrous ends, but it just didn't have a clean taste to it. Plus some of them were still too fibrous for my taste.
3. The final blow was the horrible Gruyere cheese. It smells bad. Simple as that.

The lesson was -- if a recipe is so simple, you'd better damn make sure your ingredients are of the finest quality. Otherwise there will be nothing like a heavy sauce to cover it up.

Recipe: Asparagus cheese tart

1 bu…

Recipe: Rosebud Madeleine Cookies

6 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 large egg
1 pinch of salt
1 Tbsp rosewater (can be found in Indian stores)
1 Tbsp confectioner sugar (optional)
Makes about 30

1. Melt the butter over very low heat.
2. Remove 2 Tbsp of melted butter into another container. Leave the rest 4 Tbsp to cool
3. Combine egg, sugar, and salt in a bowl and beat with a electric mixer on high for at least 5 minutes until mixture is lightly yellow and resembles mayonnaise
4. Sift flour over mixture. Fold it in just until combined.
5. Fold in rosewater and cooled 4 Tbsp of butter until combined.
6. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
7. Take out the bowl and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes
8. Meanwhile, pre-heat over to 425 F. Butter a mini-madeleine cookie pan with the remaining butter. Put in freezer for 5 minutes. Re-butter the pan so it is thickly buttered. Return to freezer.
9. After 30 minutes of resting in room temperature, start filling the pan with small spoonful of &quo…
Rosebud madeleine cookies

Food and memories

I can still remember my very first steak dinner. It came with a white creamy soup with a richness that soothed my tongue and its buttery smell haunted me for the entire night. The steak was a shock too, since I had never tasted anything like it -- its slightly salty, meaty, and bloody juices splashed down my throat as I bit into that first piece with such skepticism as to how anything so undercooked can taste so good. I was in the third grade when my mom took me to this dinner. And to this day I still laugh at that experience, not only because I enjoyed it so much, but also because looking back that wasn't such a fancy dinner after all. The restaurant was a cheap establishment. The meat was not a prime cut. The soup was floury. And I ate most of the steak with ketchup. But it wasn't the quality of the food that haunts my memory so. What I want to relive again and again is how that first bite hit my head with so much seretonin and filled my body with happiness.

It was a similar…

Recipe - Pad Thai

Some people have suggested that recipes would be good on my blog, I'm now putting the recipe up! I am writing down what I did, not exactly what was on th original recipe. So this is a modified version of the Pad Thai recipe in the book The Best Recipe.

2 Tbsp Tamarind paste
3/4 cup boiling water
3 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp peanut oil
8 oz vermicelli
2 large eggs
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced thinly.
1 medium shallot minced
2 Tbsp dried shrimp
2 Tbsp pickled daikon (Thai style)
6 Tbsp chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
9 oz bean sprouts
5 medium scallions green parts only chopped
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro leaves
salt to taste

1. Rehydrate tamarind paste in 3/4 cup of boiling water and soak rice noodles in hot tap water for at least 20 minutes. soak dried shrimp in hot tap water for 10 minutes.
2. Drain and finely chop the dried shrimp. Pinch off heads and tails of the bean sprouts. Wash clean.
3. Strain soaked tamarind paste (now pulpy) and …
Pad thai with a bowl of hot daikon, carrot, and pork spareribs soup -- a nice home dinner on a cold winter night!
Finished plate
Ingredients for pad thai!

Homey Asian Food

Pad Thai

For some reason I have been craving Thai food recently. Even when I was in Taiwan I went to a Thai restaurant with my mom. I don't care much for the Thai spiciness that lingers forever on the tongue. What I love is the interesting dance by very different flavors imparted by a variety of ingredients: basil, coconut milk, lime, mint, and fish sauce, just to name a few. In fact, I remember Nigella Lawson once said that it is easy to go on a low-calorie or low-fat diet with southeast Asian food because there are many layers of flavors, and the food tastes good without the help of high amounts of fat.
I love the dish Pad Thai because it is just like that – layers of flavors and textures – you get the sweet and sour, not just the typical vinegary sour, but the tanginess from tamarind seeds; you also smell the intoxicating fish sauce fragrance, too much of which is murderous, but the right amount gives the sophisticated savory sense, not unlike the use of anchovies. Texture-wise, …
Chinese New Year's Dinner: Center: Aged hen soup with two bamboo shoots. Clockwise around soup starting top left: fried bok choy; risen gluten fried and stewed with bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms; red-cooked beef shank and tendon with daikon and garlic shoots; fried olive greens; Lion head (pork meatballs) with napa cabbages; more bamboo shoots with shiitake mushroom; 10 vegetarian treasures (see post below); fish marinated in soysauce, garlic, ginger, and scallions and then fried and glazed with the reduced marinade. The outside dish: ginko nuts and large mustard greens stewed in sweet brown sauce.