I am a scientist who loves to cook because there are many similarities between working in a lab and cooking in a kitchen. I love to share my cooking experience with you and to inspire others to cook.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pork Schnitzel



The original dish is called the Wiener schnitzel a.k.a. Viennese schnitzel. This is a traditional Austrian dish made up of a thinly sliced meat, pounded, breaded and deep fried. It is also traditionally made with veal (young calf).

I first came across this dish at a restaurant called Edi & The Wolf and it was one of the most memorable meals I ever had, for three reasons. This restaurant has the the "chillest" decor (see the pictures below for yourself), and the most amazing piece of fried meat - the schnitzel. What made that evening truly memorable was the atmosphere of that evening. It was one of those cool autumn evenings and I was with a group of buddies. We ate, we drank, we chatted, we laughed while the world passed by us in a slow motion. This is what life is all about - surrounded by friends, enjoying good food in a quirky place. 


Image source: www.ediandthewolf.com

Now, back to the star of the evening - Wiener Schnitzel. Two things about this dish at Edi & The Wolf stood out - the crust is super crispy and puffy (more on this later) and the meat is super thin and tender. 

Here is what the owner of this restaurant said on TV



                                   Edi & The Wolf's Wiener Schnitzel (image source: CBS News)

"2/8th of an inch, pounded....perfectly fried....crisped and puffed."

There you go again, the word "puff" is used. Let me explain. When you bread and fry a piece of meat, the breading will stick to the meat like glue, but not the Wiener Schnitzel served at Edi & The Wolf. Their breading puffed up, which creates an air pocket between the crust and the meat. This creates two additional effects - the crust is very crispy and the meat feels tender on the teeth. 


           
               Edi & The Wolf's Wiener Schnitzel (image source: http://culturesplosion.wordpress.com/)

When asked how he created the puffed schnitzel, this was what he said:

The meat has to be "perfectly pounded, perfectly breaded....the flour has to be perfectly strained...and fried...."

I have two challenges to overcome - I don't know where to find veal and I don't like to fry stuff at home. My solution is to use pork loin and then "shallow fry" it on a skillet. 


I sliced the pork loin to about half an inch thick before pounding it thinly then I seasoned the meat with salt, pepper, a bit of light soy sauce and a bit of dark soy sauce (schnitzel purist don't shoot me). Next, I dip the meat in flour, shook off excess flour, dipped it into the egg wash, shook off excess egg wash, then coated it with bread crumbs. 





I bought a cast-iron skillet not too long ago and what I really like about a cast-iron skillet is that I can heat the oil to a very high temperature and it will not damage the skillet. This gives me the function of a faux-fryer. Not perfect, I know.




I served my pork schnitzel with a quickly made hummus. 





Did my crust puffed up? Clearly not. Was it crispy? Oh yes. The meat was tender, from the pounding, and the flavor was subtle yet flavorful. I am not here to create a replica dish but to cook something new and delicious. On that end, I think I have succeeded.






















Monday, September 22, 2014

Second "My Burger Lab" review (official name is myBurgerLab)




If you missed my first review, you can read it here review.

I went to myBurgerLab for the first time more than a year ago (too long!) and I went again recently (still thinking about it!).

For those who have little patience to read through this page, here is how I would describe the experience:

took the first bite..."this is so good"....took a second bite...."hmmmmm"....took a third bite....."this is amazing".....took a fourth bite......"look at the juice"...took a fifth bite......"I don't recall it being this good the last time"......took a sixth bite....ate in silence........and.....I am out of burger.

You get the gist.

My first review wasn't glowing because of two things - The QUEUE and The Nostalgic factor. You see, I was still too hung up on Shake Shack. It was only when I learned to let go that I learn to enjoy the new. On top of that, I went on a weeknight so the QUEUE was a breezy 5-8 minutes of waiting in-line and 5-8 minutes for the food. Compare to 45-50 minutes on a weekend. I feel blessed to have the option of going there on a weeknight.

A few things got this place going for me again - the burger was very juicy and the beefy flavour was very prominent. I also ordered the double-patty burger, which came with two slices of cheese. Double the meat juice and double the cheese made this a winner. The fries wasn't over-salted like last time and I would like to think that the managers read my first review.

Now, I am already plotting my 3rd visit.






Sunday, July 27, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Pasta (Pasta Oglio Olio)



Has it really been 5 months since I last posted something? Wow!!

This is an uncomplicated dish that is easy to prepare and simple to make. It is as simple as saying A-B-C, or rather R-C-M.

R - roast the vegetable
C - cook the pasta
M - mix everything together

Still following?



Right. Let's continue. 

I have selected bell peppers and zucchini as the base of my pasta. Mushroom was added as an after thought. 



Instructions:
1. Cut the vegetables to similar size.
2. Drizzle some olive oil, salt and pepper over the vegetable.


3. Place a few cloves of garlic.
4. Roast the vegetable at 200 degree celcius for 1 hour (remember to pre-heat the oven)
5. Cook the pasta (it is all about timing).


6. Drain the pasta and mix the roasted vegetable with the pasta.
7. Add olive oil, salt and pepper to adjust the taste.
8. Garnish and serve.





I am not a big fan of bell peppers nor am I a big fan of raw garlic. Roasted bell peppers and garlic? Now that's something else. The roasting process mellows the taste, caramelizes the sugar and brings out the sweetness. With some good quality olive oil, just enough salt and black pepper, this dish is D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S.   How much simpler can it go?

The only drawback? It takes a long time to roast the vegetable - 1 hour. It would have been better if this dish can be put together in 30 minutes.










Saturday, March 1, 2014

Vietnamese Sandwich (Bahn Mi) - My way




Bahn Mi, ladies and gentlemen, is one of my top top favorite food (note the repetition for emphasis). Vietnam was once colonized by the French and, as a result, Vietnamese cuisine is heavily influenced by the French cuisine. Bahn Mi, aka, Vietnamese Sandwich is a birth-child between the marriage of French and Vietnam cuisine.


                                 Banh Mi at Banh Mi Zon in Manhattan (picture: Banh Mi zon)


Here are the elements of Vietnam and French cuisine found in a Bahn Mi:

French - French Baguette, Pate
Vietnam - meat and pickled vegetable.

 
I am not learned-student of either cuisine nor have I experienced the real deal in Vietnam. The experience that I had is based on the Anglo-American version, with each restaurant adding its own unique take. Have I tried an authentic Bahn Mi, probably not; did that take away my enjoyment of this sandwich? No.


One of my favorite Banh Mi restaurants in NYC (picture: yelp user Louis K)



I have seen many kinds of Bahn Mi, from Sloppy Bahn Mi (sloppy joe on a baguette) to Char Siu Bahn Mi (cantonese roast pork on a baguette), to minced pork on a baguette with mayonnaise sauce, to good old pate. For me, it does not really matter what they put on the sandwich as long as it meets the following criteria - a) fresh baguette, b) balance sweet and sour pickled vegetable, c) distinct flavorful meat.

Cut to the chase, I have been craving for Bahn Mi and I decided to take things into my own hands. To start, I need to make my own pickled vegetable.




Pickled vegetable
1. Start with fresh carrot, cucumber, and radish
2. Julien or slice the vegetable into fine strips with a mandoline
3. Put the vegetable into an air-tight glass container
4. Add asian rice vinegar and sugar to the vegetable
5. Store the pickled vegetable overnight in the refrigerator

How much vinegar and sugar to add? you might ask. Well, that's where you got me. Honestly, I don't know because I didn't measure. I started with maybe a quarter cup of vinegar and a few tablespoons of sugar. Then I adjusted the amount of sugar and vinegar bit by bit until I found the right balance that I want. I was told by someone experience in pickling vegetable that the ratio of vinegar to sugar should be 1:1  (ie: 1 tablespoon of vinegar + 1 tablespoon of sugar).






Meat (In this case, pork, but it could be anything)
1. I bought a piece of pork tenderloin then butterflied it, which I did poorly
2. Then I pound the pork tenderloin until it became flat
3. Transfer to an air-tight container and season with five-spice powder, salt, pepper and some soy sauce. (sorry, I wish I can give you a precious measurement)
4. Season the meat overnight in the refrigerator

Putting all together the following day,
1. I cooked the meat with my new toy - cast-iron skillet (AWESOME!)
2. Toasted some baguettes (not as fresh as I want, fresh baguette is hard to come by in my area)
3. Sliced the cooked pork and overlay it with the pickle vegetable





The result?
Not as good as the "commercial" Bahn Mi, that is for sure but it is delicious no less. The deliciousness of Bahn Mi (mine and others) can only be described in one-bite. The harmony of the sweet and sour pickled vegetable, the crunch of the vegetable, the savory flavor of the meat and the softness of the fresh bread. This, ladies and gentlemen, is marriage made in  heaven.




 Sloppy Bahn Mi at "Baoguette" in NY (picture: Flickr user Christa)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Risotto



I am not an Italian so my opinion on Italian food has to be taken with a grain of salt. The holy trinity of italian food is pizza, pasta and risotto. The availability and the "market penetration" also follow that order pizza > pasta > risotto.  Of these three, risotto is the holy grail. I don't know why, since making a good risotto is as difficult as making a good pasta or pizza, if not the easiest. There is no reason why pizza or pasta is more widely available than risotto.





For the uninitiated, risotto is a rice dish.  To be more specific, it is arborio rice cooked with rich broth. Therefore the key to an excellent risotto is to start with the highest broth quality. The second key is to use arborio rice and nothing but arborio rice.

After immersing myself, years after years, in looking at recipes, I finally stretched my hand and reached for the Holy Grail - Risotto- and the risotto that I chose to make was the most generic of the generic kind - mushroom and green peas and the broth was chicken stock.



Instructions:

To make the chicken Stock
- chicken carcass
- a stalk of celery
- a medium size carrot
- a medium size onion

I am not a stock purist nor do I have the time to cook a stock for 5 hours so do whatever you feel like doing in the manner that you deem appropriate for yourself. This is what I did:

I cooked the chicken carcass in water for about 5 minutes, then I discarded the water. I added just enough water to cover the chicken carcass. I cooked this in low heat for about 1 hour (this is not enough, I admit). Then I added the chopped/sliced/julienned celery, carrot and onion into the stockpot. As for other aromatics, it is really whatever you want. I am limited by what I can get, which is not much. Salt and pepper, that's all. Cooked this for another 45 minutes.




To make the risotto (serving size: 5-6 adults, if risotto is the main dish)
1. Cook the mushroom in a pot and take it out of the pot when it is cooked.
2. Fry some chopped onion (from 1 whole onion) until it turns translucent.



3. Add a cup of raw arborio rice to the pot and stir the onion with the rice thoroughly.
4. Once the rice is evenly coated with oil and onion, add a ladle of the chicken stock.
5. Keep stirring the rice until the stock vaporizes.
6. Add another ladle of the chicken stock, and stir the rice until the stock vaporizes.



(It is these steps that makes the risotto a risotto. The slow process of cooking the rice while you add the stock in small quantity. You achieve two things - the rice will soak up the stock and the rice will begin to release its starch to give risotto its classic goo-ey consistency).

7. Keep repeating step 5 and 6 until the rice is cooked to el dante. At some point, it will be a good idea to season the rice with salt, pepper, and butter. (some chef goes crazy with lots of butter, the effect is undeniably better).

8. Stir in the cooked mushroom and the frozen green peas at the very last minute and you have yourself a risotto.

9. As you served, add some shaved Parmesan cheese. Be liberal with the portion!



                                             Arborio rice coated with oil and onions

I haven't had many risotto in the past but if I were to give my creation a score, I would give it a 6. There is still room for improvement. The biggest place to improve is the stock. I am limited by the aromatics that I have so that's something that I can work on. I wasn't being generous with the Parmesan cheese nor do I have the best quality Parmesan cheese (read: stinkiest) so that, again, is something that I can work on in the future.



                                                     The dish is turning goo-ey

For now, I am happy with the result. The risotto is delicious, flavorful, I achieved the desired goo-ey consistency (what's the chef term for this?) and most importantly, all of my food tasters enjoyed it and that brought a lot of satisfaction.

The risotto is nothing but plain rice. It is like a blank canvass. You can "paint" this rice whichever way you want. My next risotto adventure would involve seafood. That's a teaser for you!




Here are some lessons that I learned (by no means expert opinions). These are the things that they don't tell you on the cooking show or in the recipe book:

1. I feel that the ratio of your stock to rice is about 5-6 cups of stock to 1 cup of rice. So make sure you make the stock according to the serving size. It is good to have more stock and start with the most concentrated stock.
2. The rice expands when it absorbs the stock. So start with a large pot. A cup of arborio rice can service 5-6 adults.
3. If you anticipate having left-overs that needs to be stored, make sure you set a side some chicken stock. The risotto will harden in the refrigerator. Use the chicken stock as "lubricant" when you reheat it the following day.
4. Do not underestimate/under-use the cheese and the butter.
5. Be patience. It takes a lot of patience to stir, mix, stir and mix for 20+ minutes.

have fun making this dish.


 

                                       The sight of melting cheese makes me very happy


















Saturday, January 11, 2014

Basil Chicken Asian Style with a "twist" (Three cups chicken, 三杯鸡)



This blog has come a long way since the beginning and one of the earliest posts was this dish - Three cups chicken (click on the link to see the early days of this blog). I gave it an Anglicanized name this time to make it sound less exotic.

The general idea is quite similar with several significant differences between this time and last time. Traditional "Three Cups Chicken" is cooked with lots of basil. I wasn't a fan of basil back then but I am now, so I went back to the root of this dish. Another difference is the ratio of the wet ingredients. In my previous post, I used 1:1:1 ratio of soy sauce, sesame oil and cooking wine (hence the term three cups) but now, after years of cooking, I can imagine the flavor in my head and adjust the recipe to find the right balance on-the-go (a skill that is still a work-in-progress).

The aromatics remain largely the same except a "twist" as you shall see later.



Ingredients: (serves around 6)

3 whole chicken drumsticks and thighs (bone in and skin on; you can go full-on skinless chicken breast, if that's your thing)
2 cloves of garlic
1 small piece of ginger
a few tablespoon soy sauce
a few tablespoon cooking wine (any cooking wine is fine, no cooking wine is fine too)
a few tablespoons sesame oil
a few tablespoon dark soy sauce (optional)
a few sprigs of fresh basil (stem-off) - thai basil, italian basil, whatever basil you can find
a few sprigs of cilantro (completely optional, this is just me playing with flavors)
salt, pepper, and sugar for taste

and here's the "twist"

Curry leaves, a few of these add a ton of intricate flavors to this traditional dish

Instructions:

1. Brown the chicken evenly on all sides in some oil.
2. Add the garlic and ginger.
3. Mix the wet ingredient in a bowl and add equal volume of water.
4. Pour the wet ingredients into the cooking pan.
5. Cover the pan and let the chicken simmer in the juice at low heat for about 10 minutes.
6. Uncover the pan, add a pinch of sugar, salt, and pepper.
7. Now this is when you put the basil, cilantro and curry leaves into the pan. Stuff it snugly around the chicken.
8. Cover the pan and cook it for an additional 5-10 minutes.
9. Trust your sense of taste and adjust the flavor accordingly.




The flavors of the basil, curry leaves and cilantro blended so well together that you get a hint of different flavors in every bite. I used high quality chicken so the meat stayed together, instead of breaking down too quickly, yet tender and juicy at the same. That sauce! I slurped it down like it is the most delicious thing on earth! There is no way to describe this.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Crispy hash browns

A while ago I made some oven fries and two things made me think twice about making oven fries again. 1) Time consuming and 2) Oven consumes more energy. Therefore I decided to make "non-fried" hash browns. 






It is a simple dish to make since all this dish requires is potatoes and some extra effort in prepping the potatoes. After you peeled and grated the potato, you need to rinse the grated potato to wash away excess starch. Then you need to dry the grated potato before cooking it.



Here are the seasonings that I used :
salt, pepper, and dijion mustard. I would put some fresh herbs if I have them. 

(** one thing I learned after this experience: season the hash brown with salt AFTER it is fully cooked)



Next, just spread the potato in one thin layer and cook until the potato turned brown. 




I enjoyed making this dish and the flavor is so simple and delicious. In fact, I made this twice in a week. This hash browns is as good as it gets without the hassle of baking or frying.

The only negative part of this dish is that it requires a lot, I mean A LOT, of cooking oil, in order to make the potato crispy. 

I think I will try something a little different in the future, which is a hybrid of this hash browns and the oven fries. I will spread the hash browns on a baking sheet and bake it in an oven. Perhaps that method will require less oil. 

Added bonus: Roselle drink (Agua de Jamaica)

I might had this drink when I was little but I was re-introduced to it by my friend Ant. Apparently it is an everyday, all-occassions drink in certain parts of central America. Roselle is the name of a plant that belongs to the same species as the Hibiscus plant. To make agua de Jamaica, I simply washed the flowers and cooked it with water for about 1 hour. I also added some lemon peels to make it a little different. The juice has a slightly tangy flavor and I don't think it is necessary to sweeten it. I didn't do any research but I can venture a guess that this drink it filled with nutrients and anti-oxidant.