Saturday, December 29, 2007

Two-sided noodle (家常 兩面黃)

1/3 lb Precooked pan fried noodles (available at Chinese grocery stores. You can substitute fresh Asian noodles or even fresh angel hair pasta if you really can't find Asian noodles)
About 12 large prawns, shelled and deveined
1/2 lb pork tenderloin, thinly sliced across the grain
1 cup Chinese broccoli, washed
2 stalks green onion , roughly chopped

Soy source
Cooking Oil

Serves: 2 to 3 persons

Marinate the meat with soy sauce and white pepper for about 15 minutes.


1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the noodles for about 3 minutes. Remove and drain. Set aside.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons cooking oil in a small frying pan (about 3 inch diameter for easy shaping of the noodle cake, similar to making pan cake) over medium high heat. Add the noodles to the heated pan.
Make sure the noodles stay flat and shape into a noodle cake. Cook over medium heat until the surface of noodle turns crunchy. Turn off the heat.
3. In a larger sautee pan, heat 3 tablespoons of cooking oil over medium high heat. Stir fry the green onion with vegetable briefly until cooked. Remove and keep covered on a plate.
Stir fry the shrimp in the pan until pink and cooked through. Remove and keep on the plate with the vegetables.
Stir fry the pork slices in the pan until cooked through.
Return the vegetables and shrimp to the pan with the pork.
Add salt and/or soy source to taste.
Mix two to three teaspoons of cornstarch with about half a cup of water. Add the corn starch mixture to the pan with the vegetables, meat, and shrimp. Stir fry for a short moment until the sauce comes together.
4. Turn the noodle cake over in the small pan and return to medium high heat to cook the other side of the noodles until the other side turns crispy.
5. Put the noodle cake on a plate and pour the vegetable mixture over it.
6. Dinner time. Ooh, Yes!

Chef's secret:
Add a little more cooking oil when making noodle if you like the noodles more crunchy.

Reference cooking recipe : 1. 三鮮兩面黃 2. 四味三鮮兩面黃
If you like to try another variety of the Two sided noodle, the above links provide more complicated style. However, taste is not guaranteed.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ribs Round Two: Brian's Korean BBQ Marinade

Our smoke alarm got a pretty good workout this week when we roasted the rest of the ribs last night! It was a battle of Asian marinades and the winning marinade, courtesy of my college friend Brian, is below:

Brian's Korean BBQ Ribs

2 parts medium soy sauce
1 part water
brown sugar
Plenty of chopped scallions
4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
3-4 tablespoons of sesame oil
Grated ginger to taste
Lost of fresh ground black pepper

Mix together the soy sauce and water in a large glass or glass measuring cup. Pour enough brown sugar into the cup such that when the sugar settles, it reaches to about a third of the cup. (This is exactly how Brian told me the recipe over the phone. I love the inexactitude of homemade recipes because that's how you know it has been passed down in a family kitchen).

Note: For our marinade of two lbs of pork ribs, I used 2 cups soy sauce, 1 cup water, about 1/2 cup sugar because I don't like my meat too sweet.

Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the scallions, garlic, sesame oil, fresh ground pepper, and grated ginger (Sorry Brian, I know you don't add ginger in your recipe but I love ginger).

Pour over ribs and marinade over night.

Preheat over to 350 degrees.
Wrap the ribs completely in foil. Bake for about an hour until meat is soft.
Remove the ribs from the foil. Turn the over to broil.
Broil the ribs, meat side up, for 10-15 minutes or until crisp and brown on the outside. Or until the smoke alarm goes off.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas dinner part two - from "Authentic Taiwanese Cuisine"

True to our diverse geographical residences, we made two Taiwanese dishes to accompany the Texas-style smoked ribs. These recipes are from the book, "Authentic Taiwanese Cuisine" by the head chef of Xin-Yeh restaurant in Taipei. The sauce for the asparagus was sweet, rich, and clean-tasting, thanks to the excellent pork stock that Mom made before we came home for Christmas.

Prawns with Pea Shoots

1 lb prawns, shelled and cleaned
1 egg white
pinch of salt
pinch of corn starch
3 cups peashoots, rinsed clean and trimmed
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup ginger, finely minced
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 tablespoons water

Marinate the prawns with egg white, cornstarch, and pinch of salt for 10 minutes.
Over medium high heat, sautee peashoots with vegetable oil until cooked through. Arrange on serving plate.
Over medium high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil until hot. Add the scallions and ginger and stir until fragrant.
Add prawns to the pan and sautee until pink and cooked through.
When prawns are cooked through, add the water and rice wine. Cook until evaporated. Plate the prawns over the pea shoots. Serve immediately.

Asparagus with Dried Scallop Sauce

1 lb asparagus, washed and trimmed
About 5 dried scallops
1 cup pork stock
2 tablespoons ginger, finely minced
salt to taste
cornstarch to thicken

Soak the dried scallops in about half of cup hot water until softened (mom did this the night before). Tear the scallops into thin shreds.

Cut the asparagus into 5-6 cm pieces. Bring a pot of hot water, lightly salted, to boil. Blanche the asparagus pieces until it turns bright green. Arrange the asparagus onto a serving plate.

In a small pan, add the dried scallops with its juices, stock, and ginger. Bring to boil. Thicken the sauce with cornstarch. Pour the sauce over the asparagus. Serve immediately.

The star of our Christmas meal: smoked ribs

Dad and Mom saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen called Rainy Day Barbeque. The result of dad's special smoked ribs, modified from the show's recipe, is stellar!

If you live in a house with a sensitive smoke detector like ours, plan on having a couple of helpers when the smoke alarms goes off, to either fan the smoke away, or climb up on a chair to unscrew the offending alarm.

Oven-Barbecued Spareribs

Serves 4

6 tablespoons mustard (we used Dijon)
2 tablespoons ketchup (we used sodium-free ketchup)
3 medium cloves garlic , minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar (we substituted this with 3 tablespoons of honey)

2 racks spareribs , 2 1/2 to 3 pounds each, trimmed of surface fat, membrane removed each rack cut in half
1/4 cup Lapsang Souchong tea leaves (finely ground)—from about 10 tea bags, or 1/2 cup loose tea leaves ground to a powder in a spice grinder)
(Dad used a mixture of jasmin, hojicha, black tea, and other assortments from our ever-growing tea cabinet)
1 cup apple juice

1. For the Rub: Combine mustard, ketchup, and garlic in small bowl; combine pepper, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, salt, and sugar in separate small bowl. Spread mustard mixture in thin, even layer over both sides of ribs; coat both sides with spice mixture, then wrap ribs in plastic and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

[For a deeper flavor, we just mixed everything together -- the mustard, ketchup, honey, garlic, and all the spices, and coated the ribs with the mixture]

2. Transfer ribs from refrigerator to freezer for 45 minutes. Adjust one oven rack to lowest position and second rack to upper-middle position (at least 5 inches below broiler).

Place baking stone on lower rack; heat oven to 500 degrees. Sprinkle ground tea evenly over bottom of rimmed baking sheet; set wire rack on sheet.

Place ribs meat side up on rack and cover with heavy-duty foil, crimping edges tightly to seal.

Roast ribs directly on stone for 30 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees, leaving oven door open for 1 minute to cool.

While oven is open, carefully open one corner of foil and pour apple juice into bottom of baking sheet; reseal foil. Continue to roast until meat is very tender and begins to pull away from bones, about 1 1/2 hours. (Begin to check ribs after 1 hour; leave loosely covered with foil for remaining cooking time.)

3. Remove foil and carefully flip racks bone side up; place baking sheet on upper-middle oven rack.

[We then coated the ribs with a mixture of sugar and soy sauce]

Turn on broiler; cook ribs until well browned and crispy in spots, 5 to 10 minutes. Flip ribs meat side up and cook until well browned and crispy, 5 to 7 minutes more. Cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into individual ribs. Serve with barbecue sauce, if desired.

A Very Green Christmas

This Christmas Mom and Dad had the wonderful idea of using only brown paper as wrapping paper! Mom had collected brown paper for the past few months and here is the wonderful, inventive results under our Christmas tree.

Family-style Roast Chicken Dinner at Lala's House

My friend Lilah hosted a perfect winter's family meal a couple of weeks ago: a traditional, comforting meal that we made while gossiping and drinking wine.

The menu:
Lemon rosemary roasted chicken with gravy
Squash Gratin
Steamed broccolini with lemon, olive oil, sea salt and pepper
To drink: I think it was a pinot gris.
Dessert: easy apple tart!

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chicken

1 organic chicken, 3-4 lbs
1 lemon, cut in halves
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup baby carrots
1 small onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons butter
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Clean and pat dry the chicken.
Rub salt and pepper generously all over the chicken, including the cavity.
Stuff the garlic, lemon, and a couple of stalks of rosemary inside the cavity.
Chop the rest of the rosemary leaves finely, mix with one tablespoon of butter.
With your fingers, loosen the chicken skin and work the rosemary butter between the skin and the meat of the chicken.
Rub the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter all over the chicken.
(We didn't tie the chicken but if you want, truss the chicken with kitchen string)
Place the chicken in a large baking pan. Scatter the onions, carrots, and celery around the chicken.
Bake for about an hour and 15 to 20 minutes.
Let the chicken rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.

Optional: we made gravy!
Pour all the drippings in the pan into a bowl. Ladle out the fat from the drippings -- you will have left only a little bit of brown chicken jus. Press the roasted vegetables in a sieve and add the juices to the pan. Return the chicken jus to the roasting pan, scraping up any of the brown bits. Heat the gravy until hot, thicken with some cornstarch (make a slurry with corn starch and water first) and return to boil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Squash Gratin

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (we made ours with a whole grain bread, which adds really great flavor)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 cups cubed peeled acorn squash (about 1 pound)
2 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1/2 pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Olive oil-flavored vegetable cooking spray (optional. You can just coat the pan with some olive oil)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, and stir well.
Add squashes, parsnip, and oil, tossing to coat.
Spoon squash mixture into a 2-quart casserole coated with cooking spray.
Cover and bake at 325° for 1 1/2 hours or until the squash is soft.
Sprinkle with cheese, and bake, uncovered, an additional 15 minutes.
Garnish with oregano, if desired.

Note: the recipe says to bake it at 325F but since we were also roasting the chicken, we just baked the gratin with the chicken at 425F. Still turned out fine! I think it was even better since the squash was caramelized a bit.

Easy upside down apple tart

2 Tablespoon butter
10-12 apples, cored and sliced
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 pinch each of ground ginger, allspice, and nutmeg.
1 sheet of puff pastry

Sautee the first four ingredients in a cast iron pan over medium high heat until apples are cooked and the liquid evaporated.

Rolled out the sheet of puff pastry and tuck it over the top of the cast iron skillet.
Bake at 400 F for approx 20 mins until the puff pastry is golden and cooked through. Invert it onto a plate.
Cut into slices and serve with plain whipped cream.

Friday, September 14, 2007

An Indian dinner in "the best city in California"

Brown Geek's parents are in town from India and kindly invited me to their house for dinner. Life is funny this way: it really couldn't have come at a better time for me to be in the company of a such a close-knit family who really understand how difficult it is to live so far apart from one another.

Brown Geek informed me at the door that just like in Taiwanese culture, you call your friend's mom and dad "Auntie" and "Uncle." After a glass of wine and a tour of the house, Auntie sat me and Brown Geek down with a plate of bonda, spicy mashed potato balls, coated with chickpea flour and fried. On the plate was also a scoop kesari, rich yellow cream of wheat with pieces of cashew -- it was sweet, cooked with ghee and scented with cardamom. It is customary to give the guest something sweet at the beginning of the meal, he said.

Auntie and Uncle watched me carefully as I sat down at the table (they said they wouldn't eat until Brown Geek's younger brother came home). I loved the cream of wheat, of course -- it is a version that is about 100 times better than what I make every morning for breakfast from the box. And the bonda -- Auntie seemed worried for some reason because she had added some chili powder to the potato mix even though Brown Geek had somewhat exaggerated my wimpy tolerance for spice. I surprised her by eating all six bondas on my plate.

Relieved, she broke into a smile and told Brown Geek something that sounded (and looked like), "I told you so!" I had long heard that she is by far the best cook in the family, and I can see there is proof in the reputation.

Since there is little chance that I would be able to reproduce the bonda in my own kitchen, I managed to at least wrangle some information from Auntie about the bonda seasoning: tumeric, chili powder, salt and asafetida (a powdered gum resin, according to wikipedia, that imparts a strong onion/garlic flavor). She had a whole bowl of them made already, sitting in a stainless steel bowl and covered with a paper towel.

After I finished my appetizer, which, under any normal circumstance, would have been enough for a meal for a normal-size human being, it was time to fry up the much-anticipated uthapam.

Uthapam is a South Indian vegetable pancake. The very first time I had uthapam was actually when Brown Geek ordered it at our old company when everyone would work overtime. I remember taking a bite and demanding to know what it is. Up until that point I had never really had South Indian food before. Apparently, his efforts of ordering food had not escaped the radar of the managers at our old company. During dinner, Uncle proudly showed me all the awards that Brown Geek had won from the company, not the least of which was a Good Samaritan award (a frosted glass plaque mounted on a wooden wine bottle -- !!!) for ordering all those late-night dinners.

The preparation for the pancake had started the evening before I arrived -- dal and rice had been soaking in water the previous night ("For one hour..." Uncle and Brown Geek tried to tell me, but who am I to listen to these guys? Auntie corrected them: "Three hours," she said.) Auntie then grinds the soaked grains in a special contraption, which may or may not look like it was from a Star Trek episode. The batter is lightly fermented, I believe.

To the thick white batter, Auntie added a bowl of very neatly chopped red onions and a little bit of chopped small green chili peppers. Then came another bowl of perfectly diced carrots, tomato, and bits of cilantro. In a flat frying pan over high heat and a couple of tablespoons of oil, she pours in a ladle of the batter. A few minutes later she drizzles a spoonful of oil over the pancake. A few minutes later she turns the pancake, drizzling a bit more oil onto the other side. (When do you know to turn it? I asked. By practice, she said. It looked like she turns them when they form bubbles on the surface. Since I probably won't have an audience of uthapam eaters soon, you'll have to trust my scientific observations here)

While standing over the stove watching the uthapam cook to crispy perfection, Auntie and Uncle disagreed on the virtues of the gas stove versus electric stove. She says the electric is fine, but I have a feeling that she is such a seasoned cook that she could probably conjure up this meal over a camp fire if it came to that.

There was no disagreement in the house, however, about whether this was the best uthapam ever, period. The pancakes were crisp on the outside and very tender on the inside, with just a hint of sourness in the batter. The most entertaining part of the uthapam experience, however, came from Auntie's famouse sambar -- a spicy soup for you to dip the uthapam. She had mixed her own sambar spice mix and brought two whole containers of it here from India. To the soup she added "drumstick" -- a vegetable that looks somewhat like baby okra.

Brown Geek and his brother had convinced me that you eat the drumstick just as you would any other vegetable -- but I was so unnerved by the gleeful way they were waiting for me to bite into it that I made them tell me how to eat this very strange-looking vegetable.

It turns out that the outside of the drumstick is very tough -- you wouldn't be able to bite into it even when it has been cooked down in the sambar. You pick up the stalk of "drumstick" and press it with your teeth, squeezing out the soft seeds and flesh of the vegetable. It tasted somewhat like a cooked cucumber to me.

Rounding out the meal, Uncle challenged me to a scoop of some spicy pickled green mango, mixed with a bit of yogurt to cut the heat. He also brought out a small bowl of very ripe, cold mango pieces. Unfortunately by this time I was too full to obtain any useful information about these items.

After dinner, Uncle told us that he had concluded California as the best state in the United States to live, and this very spot being the best city in California. Washington D.C. came in a distant second. (Auntie shook her head from side to side to agree, and Brown Geek's brother playfully pushed her head down, telling her to nod instead). Uncle showed me his binder of travel journal, writing, clippings and prayers that he has kept in his trip. He recorded each leg of his journey carefully, noting the length of Central Park in kilometers and naming all the boroughs of New York.

"Thank you for sharing this with me," I told him.

He said something and the family roared with laughter. Apparently he thought I said, "Thank you for giving this to me." Calmly, with a very straight face he had asked Brown Geek, "She thinks she's taking this with her?!"

So, instead of his travel journal, I took home a ziplock bag full of bonda and the kesari.

Also thanks to Brown Geek and Karthik for the photos!

Monday, August 27, 2007

A quick Japanese meal

I finally went grocery shopping at a Japanese grocery store near my house and got inspired (read: hungry) to make a quick Japanese meal for myself. As I usually get too bored and lazy cooking for myself, I like to make quick, easy stuff.

Also I am woefully inept at grocery shopping -- that is, I am somehow incapable of planning for a week's worth of meals on the spot, so I usually end up either with enough to make just three meals, or once I ended up buying a lot of lunchable type items like apple sauce, juice boxes, jellow, etc., all things that came neatly, individually packaged. These recipes don't call for much but just the staples in your pantry.

Japanese sauteed ginger pork

  • 3 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 2 tablespoons mirin (do not subsitute Chinese cooking wines. It doesn't work!)
  • 1 pound thinly sliced pork loin or pork for sukiyaki (as labeled at my supermarket. It's a little fatty so I trimmed some of the fat off)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup scallion, cut in 2-inch pieces
  1. In a large bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the ginger with soy sauce, sake and mirin. Add the sliced pork, cover, and marinate for about 15 minutes.
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet or wok over high heat. Add the scallion pieces and the 1 tablespoon of reserved grated ginger, stir until fragrant, about a minute. Add the pork and lay them flat on the pan and fry until brown. The pork should have a brown, crispy look to it. Do not cook on low or medium heat, as the juices will not cook fast enough to get a crispy texture.
  3. Serve over hot steamed rice.
note: I think whisking in maybe half a tablespoon of miso into the dressing could be good. Will try that next time.

Eggplant with Sesame Dressing

2 small Japanese eggplant, sliced in the diagonal into 2 inch long pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Sesame dressing (see below)
2 teaspoons toasted white sesame seeds

Rub the eggplant slices with salt. Let them sit on a plate lined with paper towels for about 15 minutes. Some liquid will come out of the eggplant. Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry.
Over medium heat, add the oil to a flat sautee pan. Cook the eggplant until brown on all sides.

Drizzle with dressing and a sprinkle of toasted white sesame seeds.

A note about the sesame dressing:
Ok I cheated. I used bottled dressing! I know that is not in the spirit of this blog but here is the dressing that I used:

But I HAVE made sesame dressing before, I swear. And here is the recipe for the sesame dressing:
* 3 tbsps rice wine vinegar
* 1 tbsp sesame oil
* 1 tbsp soy sauce
* 1 tsp sugar
* 1 tsp ground white sesame seeds

Whisk all ingredients together except the oil. Add the oil slowly and whisk into emulsion.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Anthony Bourdain Blogs Top Chef

Anthony Bourdain -- he who eats live, beating cobra hearts, chain smokes like it's going out of style, and wears a black leather jacket no matter where -- is my favorite culinary bad boy. As if I am not already enough of an Anthony Bourdain fan, he now blogs about the reality show Top Chef for Bravo! TV network! Thanks to Amy for pointing this blog my way. Food blogging can't get much better than this:

(Commenting on an episode where some female contestants balked at the idea of having to cook while wearing heels and dressy club attire. Howie is one of the most unbearable chefs in the competition.)

"I gotta tell ya; I've worked with women cooks who could crank out a hundred fifty meals off a very busy grill station in freakin' stilettos and still have the energy to give Howie the beating of his life..."

Chef Rocco DiSpirito came out as the guest judge for an episode. Unfortunately he looked a little like either Nicole Kidman or, according to Bourdain, David Gest -- just a touch too much of the Botox.

"There was no glory to be had last night. There were no winners. Not when everybody, contestants and judges alike, were left wiping Rocco's Frozen Love Juice off their faces at the end."

Anthony's Blog on Top Chef

Some of Anthony Bourdain's books:
Kitchen Confidential
The Nasty Bits
Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook
A Cook's Tour
Typhoid Mary

Panera's summer strawberry poppyseed salad

I have been somewhat addicted to this salad this summer at Panera cafe. Though I usually don't like sweet-ish salads, I really love this one! I think it is easily reproduced with store bought dressing (use Brianna's dressing. Link below).

Strawberry and Poppyseed Salad

4 cups Romain lettuce, wash, dried, cut and chilled
1 cup blueberries, washed and picked over
1/2 cup sliced pineapples (optional)
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup canned mandarin orange segments (substitute fresh mandarin orange if you want)
1 cup poached or grilled chicken breast
Brianna's home-style poppyseed dressing
Handful of roasted walnuts, optional

I have no more instructions than toss everything to combine, serve immediately!

A good complement to this meal is some bread and iced apricot black tea.

Enjoy what's left of your summer this year!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hong Kong Style Cheese Rice Seafood Casserole

, so I think I have figured out approximately how to make a Hong Kong Style Cheese Rice Seafood Casserole. Yay!


Rice portion:
2 cups of cooked rice
1/2 pound scallop
1/2 pound shrimp
2 medium sized shallots (or onions if you prefer)
3 eggs
ketchup (amount to your liking)
butter/olive oil (for you healthy people)
frozen carrot/peas/corn
1 bag of mozzarella and parmesan cheese mix
Salt and pepper

1-1 1/2 cups of white wine (a dry wine like a chardonnay)
2 cups heavy whipped cream
1 medium sized shallot (or onion)
Salt and pepper

Rice portion:
Stir in the butter/olive oil in a heated pan. Add shallots and let it fry a little. Add in shrimp and scallop. Stir until pink/cooked. Add in frozen peas/carrots/corn. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in rice and mix with seafood etc. Beat 3 eggs in a bowl, then pour over rice so that the rice has a nice yellow color. Stir until egg is cooked. Add ketchup to your taste level.

Add wine and shallots to heated pan. Simmer over medium heat until it has almost evaporated. Whisk in cream and continue to let it simmer until it is bubbling a bit. add in salt and pepper.

And now the casserole:
Pour cream over rice and mix together. If there is not enough sauce, you should make more. It really depends on how creamy you like your casserole to be. Scoop rice mixture into two oval baking pans. now put a layer of the cheese over it. If you want it to be more crispy, consider mixing in grated parmesan in the cheese mixture. Put into oven on high broil and let it cook until the top is brown and crispy (usually takes about 5-8 minutes, depending on your oven.)

VOILA! Very yummy and rich, so maybe only eat it once every two months.

Old Fashioned Chocolate cake

I made this yesterday and it was super easy and yummy! I don't remember the last time I baked not from a cake-mix, so it was quite a feat for me. If I can do it, you can too!

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup best-quality cocoa
1 1/2 sticks soft unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons good-quality vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream

Special equipment: 2 (each 8-inch diameter) layer tins with removable bases, buttered

6 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
3/4 stick unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon good-quality vanilla extract
Sugar flowers, to decorate, optional

Take everything out of the refrigerator so that all ingredients can come room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put all the cake ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, cocoa, butter, eggs, vanilla, and sour cream into a food processor and process until you have a smooth, thick batter. If you want to go the long way around, just mix the flour, sugar and leavening agents in a large bowl and beat in the soft butter until you have a combined and creamy mixture. Now whisk together the cocoa, sour cream, vanilla, and eggs and beat this into your bowl of mixture.

Divide this batter, using a rubber spatula to help you scrape and spread, into the prepared tins and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, which should be about 35 minutes, but it is wise to start checking at 25 minutes. Also, it might make sense to switch the 2 cakes around in the oven halfway through cooking time. Remove the cakes, in their tins, to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes before turning out of their tins. Don't worry about any cracks as they will easily be covered by the frosting later.

To make this icing, melt the chocolate and butter in a good-sized bowl either in the microwave or suspended over a pan of simmering water. Go slowly either way: you don't want any burning or seizing.

While the chocolate and butter is cooling a little, sieve the confectioners' sugar into another bowl. Or, easier still, put the icing sugar into the food processor and blitz to remove lumps.

Add the corn syrup to the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by the sour cream and vanilla and then when all this is combined whisk in the sieved confectioners' sugar. Or just pour this mixture down the funnel of the food processor onto the powdered sugar, with the motor running.

You may need to add a little boiling water, say a teaspoon or so, or indeed some more confectioners' sugar, depending on whether you need the frosting to be thiner or thicker. It should be liquid enough to coat easily, but thick enough not to drip off.

Choose your cake stand or plate and cut 4 strips of baking parchment to form a square and sit 1 of the cakes, uppermost (i.e. slightly domed) side down.

Spoon about 1/3 of the frosting onto the center of the cake-half and spread with a knife or spatula until you cover the top of it evenly. Sit the other cake on top, normal way up, pressing gently to sandwich the 2 together.

Spoon another 1/3 of the frosting onto the top of the cake and spread it in a swirly, textured way (though you can go for a smooth finish if you prefer, and have the patience). Spread the sides of the cake with icing and leave a few minutes until set, then carefully pull away the paper strips.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Auntie #1's Mapo Tofu Recipe Goes to California

My friend Nandita made Auntie #1's Mapo Tofu recipe last weekend and reported great success! She said it was absolutely delicious. The only thing she would correct would be the amount of water. She says much less than 1 cup.

Anybody else tried this?

Veggie Fried Rice -- With the Right Soy Sauce!

Finally I have realized what has been wrong with my fried rice: I have been using the wrong soy sauce! Ever since I smuggled a bottle of the soy sauce used at Ahma's house, my Chinese cooking has improved by at least...20 percent by conservative estimates! I think using fresh shiitake mushroom probably helped a lot too.

I have been making this vegetable fried rice lately. It is so easy that I hesitated posting it, but given the lack of my culinary adventures lately, here it is.

Vegetable Fried Rice

4 cups cooked white or brown rice
1.5 cups fresh button shiitake mushroom, lightly washed and diced
3/4 cup cooked soy beans (edamame)
3/4 cups cooked corn (I use frozen white corn and cook it in the microwave)
1/2 cup diced red and yellow bell peppers
3/4 cup cooked broccoli or broccoli rabe
Vegetable oil
Soy sauce to taste
Sea salt and pepper to taste.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok over medium high heat. Throw in the mushroom dices and let cook for about a minute or two. Don't stir too much. Let the mushrooms brown a little bit. When the mushrooms are cooked, push them to the side of the wok. Add two tablespoons soysauce into the side of the hot wok. When the soysauce bubbles, stir it together with the mushrooms until combined. Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for two to three more minutes together until flavors meld. Add cooked rice and stir fry until combined. Add a table spoon more oil if neccessary. Pour one to two tablespoons of soysauce onto the side of the wok and combine with the rice to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Simple. Viola!

I eat this with anything. More stir fried vegetables or even an egg!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Orecchiette with Arugula and Cherry Tomatos

An excellent recipe from Lidia's Italian Kitchen!

Ingredients: (for 2 servings)

1 bag of cherry tomatos
1 box of baby arugula
1/2 lb of Orecchiette ("ear lobe" pasta, or substitute any small pastas)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 medium sized garlic cloves
1-2 teaspoon crushed chili pepper (the kind you get with your pizza)

Boil water for the pasta. Slice cherry tomatos in half.

Peel and crush garlic cloves. Warm olive oil in pan on medium high heat, add garlic. Slice cherry tomatos in half. Add to pan. Turn heat down to medium. Add tomatos, salt, and crushed chili pepper. Stir.

Add pasta in boiling water. Cook for 9-10 minutes. Add arugula into the pot with the water and pasta. Let it cook for 2 minutes.

Take pasta and arugula out of the water. Add to garlic tomato mixture. Tomatos should be soft with the skin wrinkled.

The sauce shouldn't be too thick, and the pasta and arugula should just float in the mixture.

Can be served with parmesan cheese. For meat portion, you can choose to make parmesan chicken! And for dessert, may I suggest some store bought chocolate cake?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Chicken Salad

Home made mayo: Refer to earlier post
Chicken breast
Lemon pepper (seasoning mix)
Granny smith apple (green)
Gala apple (red)

Season chicken with lemon pepper and salt (or AlsoSalt). Grill chicken breast on a frying pan with no oil on a nonstick pan. Cut chicken into .5 inch squares, and put aside to cool. Chop celery into small pieces, and cut apples into thin slices, halved. Make homemade mayo. Mix everything together and stick it in the fridge to cool.

Use egg bread or whatever bread you desire. Toast and butter. Let it cool.
Take salad out after it has been chilled and spread over bread to make sandwich. Lunch is ready!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Chicken Meatball Soup

a 5-minute recipe; easy to make; easy to eat

Ingredients: make about 20 meatballs
ground chicken - 1 lb
fine chopped onions - about 2 cups
green onion - optional
egg - 1 large
corn starch - 2 to 3 tbsp
seasoning - soy sauce, white pepper, salt,...
depend on your taste buds

How to:
1. boil 6~7 cups of water
2. mix all ingredients well but not over mix.
Suggestion: use fork to mix.
3. spoon the mix to boiling water one by one. Cook until done.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Marco Polo Bakery/English School

It is still somewhat beyond my logic why a bakery would be in the same space as an English school, but whoever came up with this idea is a genius. In the Chun Chung area, Wooyi took us to the marvelous Marco Polo bakery where she bought a warm, crusty roll stuffed with cubes of mild cheese. (Amy, sorry we didn't take you!) I don't know why the cheese didn't melt during the baking but the cheese cubes retained their shape pretty nicely.

Unsurprisingly, I have not had any brilliant bakery finds since I have returned to California. BUT, I have realized that the idea of combining a bakery with any other type of business is totally brilliant! Now if I can just get my Honda dealer to build a bakery inside it...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pancakes for Dinner

...or, linner! My favorite meal, somewhere between lunch and dinner, is a perfect time for pancakes. Below is a great recipe by Nigella. It doesn't have the weird baking soda taste, and you can disregard the salt (I've never tried it without the salt but I think it should be OK.)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 1/3 cups milk
butter for frying

Nigella writes: "The easiest way to make these is to put all the ingredients into a blender and blitz. But if you do mix up the batter by hand in a bowl, make a well in the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar, beat in the eggs, melted butter, and milk, and transfer to a pitcher: it's much easier to pour the batter into the pan that to spoon it. I like to leave the batter for 20 minutes before using it; you may then want to add more milk to the mixture if you're frying in the blini pan, so that it runs right to the edges. When you cook the pancakes, all you need to remember is that when the upper side of the pancake is blistering and bubbling it's time to cook the second side, and this needs only about 1 minute, if that. 1 get 11 blini-sized pancakes out of this, maybe 16 silver-dollar sized ones on the griddle."

Try adding bananas and/or walnuts like the picture on the left!
Serve with sausage meat, which you can also buy salt free from the grocery store. Just add some AlsoSalt and you're home free!

Let me know how it turns out.


Thursday, June 7, 2007

Who's afraid of home-made mayo?

I read an article in this month's Martha Stewart magazine about how easy and wonderful home-made mayonnaise can be. Oh, mayonnaise: there's the mayo that went on top of the french fries in Amsterdam (somewhat unthinkable but immensely edible); then there is the Japanese Cutepie mayonnaise which (guiltily I must admit) is delicious with spam and rice. It also made me think of the decadent potato salad we make in the summer, for which home-made mayo is a must.

But then Martha goes on to give a recipe that uses egg yolk, vinegar, and olive oil. Olive oil? Ack. I think not.

Martha's tip said that mayonnaise is more difficult to make on a hot day. True?

In her magazine Martha uses a Kitchenaid mixer to make the mayonnaise, a luxury -- or perhaps unnecessary because I recall wooyi and cousin wawa whisking mayonnaise with a couple of chopsticks in a big bowl.

What's our family's mayo recipe?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A delicious blog

My friend Ted recommended this very popular food blog maintained by a lady who calls herself "spot." Her blog is called 甜蜜的邂逅. Most of her posts are about her cooking, including excellent photos like this one, of organic aiyu jelly !

I think the author had received some organic aiyu jelly seeds in the mail and perhaps made it herself...I'm not totally sure but she definitely takes beautiful photographs and does a great job styling her food! She doesn't always have complete recipes but the photos and sentiments on the blog are enough to get me into the kitchen. . . or at least in front of the computer to post something of my own.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Scallops on a hot summer day -- adapted from Gourmet

It was nice and warm for a change here so I decided to make a scallop dish I saw in this month's Gourmet magazine. The magazine calls for a kind of scallop "ceviche" -- grilled scallops, cucumbers, lime, and orange segments all marinated together and chilled. But after making the dish I discovered that chilled, cooked scallops aren't as exciting as scallops coming hot from the grill (or hot pan). So here is my adaptation of the Gourmet recipe.

Scallops with cucumber salad

3/4 of an English cucumber, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 navel orange, cut into segments
1/2 carrot, thinly sliced (optional)
2 tablespoons of shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
freshly grind pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 lb large scallops

In a bowl, combine cucumber, oranges, shallots, lime juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Chill thoroughly.
Combine the scallops with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. IN a hot pan or grill, sear the scallops on both sides until cooked.
On a plate, set the cucumber salad and put scallops over them. Serve immediately.

*I am also thinking that a balsalmic vinegar glaze might be nice over the scallops..more experimentation for this weekend!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Everything is better with butter...and bacon

Uncle #4 made a truly delicious bean sprout stirfry with some pretty surprising ingredients. I could have eaten the whole plate myself. But then, you can't go wrong with bacon!

Stir Fried Bean Sprout with Bacon

Half of an onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup of bacon, diced in about 2 cm by 2 cm pieces
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 red chili pepper, sliced (optional)
4 - 6 cups bean sprouts, wash and dried
salt and black pepper to taste
MSG (Uncle #4 claims we are all too afraid of MSG! But Wooyi says you can use mushroom-based granules)
1/2 tablespoon butter

Over medium heat, stir fry onion and bacon for a few minutes. Then turn down the head to medium low and add the sliced garlic and the red chili pepper (optional). Stir fry until onion is translucent. Add a dash of black pepper. Turn the heat to high and add bean sprouts. Stir fry until bean sprouts are cooked. Add salt, MSG (optional) and combine to taste. Melt the butter over the side of the wok and stir until combined. Serve immediately (over rice, of course).

Friday, June 1, 2007

Meatballs! YOM.

1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups milk
2 medium onions
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leafed parsley leaves

1/2 cup olive oil

In a large bowl soak bread crumbs in milk 10 minutes. Finely chop onions. Add onions and remaining meatball ingredients to bread crumb mixture and with your hands blend together until just combined well (do not overmix). Form mixture into walnut-size balls and arrange on large trays or baking sheets.

In a large heavy skillet heat 2 tablespoons oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown meatballs in batches without crowding, shaking skillet to maintain round shape and adding remaining oil as necessary.

Parmesan Chicken with Baby Greens

Here is my contribution. I made it the other day and it was very good and easy. You can also use pork chops instead of chicken breast. You can also omit the baby greens part, if you don't like vegetables.

2/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) or fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram (or any herb you choose, like basil, thyme, etc. Or you can omit it completely.)
1 egg
4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar (don't really need that either if you don't have it.)

6 cups mixed baby greens

Stir together panko, Parmesan, and marjoram on large plate. Whisk egg in small shallow bowl. Place chicken in plastic bag. Using rolling pin, pound to flatten to 1/2-inch thickness. Place chicken on plate; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brush on all sides with egg. Dredge in panko mixture, turning to coat evenly.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until deep golden and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate. Reduce heat to medium; cool skillet slightly. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and vinegar. Stir, scraping up browned bits, until vinaigrette is just hot.

Divide baby greens among 4 plates. Drizzle with vinaigrette and top with chicken. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Kabocha: cook at your own risk

I was making kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) last night while talking on the phone with my grandmother. I thought of simmering it Japanese-style like she always does. So I carefully cut off the seemingly tough green skin, dicing it and throwing it in a soy sauce broth that I sweetened with brown sugar.

I told her that I was making Japanese pumpkin for dinner and she seemed really excited.

"Kabocha! So easy. No need to peel the skin. That's the best part! Great texture. And just simmer it in some soysauce and water -- no need for sugar! The kabocha itself is very sweet!"

Hmph. Oops.

Well, what can I say. She was right.

Made correctly by someone with a good camera, the dish should look like this:

Simmered Japanese Pumpkin (Kabocha)

1 kabocha squash, diced into 1"x1" cubes
1/2 cup water (Or you can use water + two pinches of Hondashi granules)
3 Tablespoons brown sugar (if you like it sweet. Or if you're me)
1 to 2 Tablespoons soy sauce

Combine water with soy sauce and sugar in a shallow pan. Add squash, bring to to boil over medium high heat. Turn heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes, add more water if the broth dries out. Serve warm or room temperature.


1日本南瓜, 切成1 " x1 "

1 / 2杯水(或你可以用水+兩匙的Hondashi )

3大匙 紅糖 (如果你喜歡甜一點. 或者,如果你像我, 聽奶奶)


水加紅糖, 醬油, 煮開. 放入南瓜, 用大火蒸5 - 7分鐘, 用小火10分鐘. 如果醬汁乾了, 放多一點水.

Plum juice from Grumpy

On a very hot day, Auntie #5 took us "Chung-zhon Market” – City Center Market. It was an area that we hadn’t been to – at least not for the last 20 years. When we arrived at the market via Taipei’s subway, the day seemed to have gotten hotter. Coming out of the 228 Peace Park from the MRT station, Wooyi pointed to a big, cracking wood sign and told us that this food stall has been there for many many years.

Under the sign was a very tall and very cranky man who was filling plastic cups with a light brown plum juice. Wooyi walked up to buy a cup of plum juice, but when the man wasn’t looking, she whispered for us to grab an extra straw so we can share -- the man will get mad if he sees us sharing.

Behind the man was a plain white freezer that I couldn’t see inside. It turned out to be “three-flavored ice cream” – an old fashion treat that tasted like it was made out of rice milk, not cream.

What were the flavors? The man grumbled and said, “You’ll know when you eat it.” Our guesses were taro root, vanilla, MAYBE strawberry.

Auntie #1's stir-fried mushroom with pork

This is the big meal that Auntie #1 made for us in Bianchao -- she was kind enough to be my first guinea pig of the family recipe project when I sat down with her at Ahma's house. Here are two recipes she shared with me. I don't have exact measurements as I haven't yet reproduced this dish myself so I am just guessing here. But if you have better measurements please comment and let me know!

Stir-fried mushrooms with pork
(lower right corner of the photo)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup to 2/3 cup pork, sliced
1 tomato - diced
half a red bell pepper, roughly chopped
half a green bell pepper, roughly chopped
mixture of your favorite mushroom -- we had shitake, maitake, and brown, all in big irregular slices
1/2 to 1 pork flavor boullion cube
cooking oil

Over medium heat, stir fry garlic until fragrant. Add pork and tomato, stir fry until cooked. Add the mushroom, stir fry until combined. Add pork boullion cube. Then add the red and green bell peppers.

Whether you should thicken this dish with cornstarch is still under debate between Aunt 1 and Uncle 4, who made this dish again a few days later.


The crowning glory of the dinner was the Mapo Tofu, of which I had obtained the recipe from Aunt #1 a week before I went to her house for dinner.

Mapo Tofu

2 cloves of garlic
minced pork
soy sauce
water (I am guessing 1 to 1 1/2 cups but she said just use your judgment)
mushroom essence/powder
pepper (white or black?)
1 red chili pepper, sliced
2 large pieces of tofu, diced
corn starch to thicken
dash sesame oil
green onions, sliced, to taste

Marinate minced pork in soy sauce for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice one clove of garlic. Finely chop the other clove, set aside. In a wok over medium high heat, stir fry the garlic slices until fragrant. Add minced pork to the wok, stirfry until cooked. Add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water, more soysauce to taste, and the mushroom essence, pepper, and chili pepper. Stir to combine. Add the tofu and bring to boil. Thicken with corn starch. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with the finely chopped garlic, green onions, and a dash of sesame oil.

Ready, set, blog!

Tonight while eating my lackluster dinner, I started reading recipes from my trip in Taiwan and wishing that I had some of the mushroom stirfry from Auntie #1's house back in April.

I realized that just about everyone in our family is a food expert. You all have been my culinary and gastronic guides. Some of you know that I have been wanting to gather a family cookbook, so here I have set up a space where we can share everything and anything gastronomic:
a new recipe
an interesting dish you ate at a restaurant
a new food discovery
a good book about food
a great food memory

The Blogger software is incredibly easy to use so I hope you will participate and put up some of your own posts to share!