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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Leeks and potato soup


I have never cook leeks before. I don't think I have ever eaten leeks before. Leeks and potato have a rhyme to it like they should go together like cookie and milk or chicken and rice.

When you think of leek, think of giant spring onion/scallion. I think they belong to the same family. I followed Alton Brown's recipe loosely and bought some leeks at the grocery store. I have no idea how to cook it so I watched a couple youtube videos for instructions.

4 large potatos
8 skinless chicken drumsticks (you can use chicken stock too instead of making your own stock)
4 large leeks
1 large onion

1 piece of dried bay leaf
A sprinkle of dried basil
A sprinkle of dried rosemary
A sprinkle of dried thyme
Chicken bouillon (optional)
Salt and Pepper.

1. Boil a medium pot of water.
2. Cook the chicken drumsticks for about 10 minutes.
3. Add the "Fragrance" ingredients to the soup.
4. At the same time, chop the potato into small pieces and add to the soup.

While the soup is cooking, start preparing and cooking the leeks.

5. Cut the roots and the leafy parts of the of leeks. You want the white-ish part.
6. Cut the leeks down the middle to slice it half.
7. Wash the leeks very carefully to remove all the dirt, especially near the root end.
8. Chop the leeks into small pieces.
9. Brown the onions in a pan with oil.
10. Add the leeks in to the pan and saute it in high heat for about 1-2 minutes. (the leeks are still hard at this point, but that's okay, further cooking in the chicken soup with break it down).
6. Transfer the leeks into the chicken soup pot.
7. Cook everything for 40 minutes in medium heat.
8. Remove the chicken thighs if you are using it.
9. Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream
10. Add 1 tablespoon of butter
11. Season with salt and pepper.
12. Use a handheld blender to blend everything in the soup until it becomes smooth. (Becareful of splashes when doing this. I advice doing it in the sink)

The soup is done!! I can't distinguish the taste of leek from the soup. I figured it is infused and blended in with everything else. I think the essence of the soup is the humble potato. There are many other soup combinations that you can try such as cauliflower potato or asparagus potato

I thought it will be a good idea to sprinkle some chopped spring onion since spring onion and leeks are families and families should embrace each other, right?  I also sprinkle some paprika for no reason but for color. Well, every family has something spicy, just like paprika.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Baked Brie with sundried tomato and pesto sauce


I have to first confess that I did not make this dish. However, it was made in my presence by SY and I have the permission to share the recipe with you.

This is one of those dishes that involves mainly "assembling" and very little prepping and cooking in advance.

1. One wheel of brie cheese
2. A few pieces of sun-dried tomatoe
3. A can of store-bought pesto sauce (you can make your own pesto sauce if you feel like making it)
4. Store bought Puff Pastry

1. Thaw the puff pastry according to manufacturer's instructions.
2. Once thawed, roll the puff pastry into a thinner layer of dough. Don't over do this.
3. Cut the brie into half and assemble it like you a hamburger. The brie is the "bun", the sun-dried tomato is the "meat", and the pesto sauce is the "ketchup".
4. Wrap this assembled brie with the puff pastry, like you are wrapping a package.

Addendum: Thanks to SY for pointing this out
"Tip! Freeze the wrapped brie for a little while before popping it into the over so that the brie won't get too soft while the pastry puffs up!"

5. Baked in a 400F oven until the puff pastry turns brown.

Thanks SY for sharing this recipe. It sure is something that can wow the crowd if you are attending a party. With little effort, this baked brie taste fantastic. There are so many variations that I can think of from my head.

Instead of sun-dried tomato, maybe portabello mushroom or any mushroom. I think shredded chicken/ground beef will work too (of course these needs to be cooked ahead).

Instead of pesto, you can use tomato paste. I have a crazy idea, how about a dollop of butter?

Be adventurous, be brave!!

Shepherd's Pie

Early this year I made this dish for the first time for my Irish friend and he approved it. Imagine that -- an Irish giving the thumbs up to a first-time Shepherd's Pie maker.

The truth is, making a shepherd's pie is easy although it takes a little bit of effort preparing the mash potato.

I adapted the recipe from Alton Brown's, which you can find it here. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/shepherds-pie-recipe2/index.html

As usual, I found ways to simplify the recipe while keeping the essence of it.

Ingredients (serves about 10 people)

For the mash potatoes:
6 russet potatoes
Milk/cream (optional)

For the meat filling:
2 onions, chopped
4-5 sticks of carrots, diced small
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2lbs of ground beef (I like 80% lean ground beef)
2 tsps tomato paste (make sure you read the label carefully and avoid buying tomato sauce)
2 pieces of chicken bouillon (dissolve in a little bit of water)
Worcestershire sauce
Rosemary leaves and thyme leaves (fresh would be best but dried can be an alternative albeit a poor alternative)
Frozen green peas
Black Pepper
Corn Flour/Regular Flour (to thicken the filling if necessary)


Mash potatoes

1. Boil the potatoes, with skin on, in a large pot of water for approximately 15 minutes (this is what I prefer but other alternative includes peeling potatoes and dicing it before boiling).

2. Rinse the potatoes in cold water and peel the skin.
3. Mash the potatoes with a sturdy fork or a masher.
4. Add 1-2 tablespoon of mayonnaise and 1-2 tablespoons of butter. Add salt to taste. If the mash potato is dry, you can add a splash of milk or cream.
5. Set this aside until the meat filling is ready.

Meat Filling (Pre-heat the oven to 400F while you are doing this)

1. Cook the onions until it turns lightly brown.
2. Add the carrot and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft then add the minced garlic
3. Add the ground meat and and cook the meat until it turns brown.
4. Add a splash of Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, chicken bouillon water, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add a dollop of butter.
(Feel free to adjust the amount of sauce/paste/herbs/salt/pepper until you find the flavor that satisfies you)
6. Add the green peas
7. At this point, you want your meat filling somewhat dry. If there is too much liquid, add a little bit of corn starch/flour (dissolved in water first) to thicken it.

Baking the shepherd's pie
1. Transfer the meat filling to a baking dish until it reaches slightly more than half way point.
2. Fill the top with a layer of mash potatoes. I used my hand to form mash potatoes patties and put it on top of the meat filling.
3. Bake this for 20-30 minutes until the edges of the mash potatoes turn slight brown.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Artichoke Dip


JV planted the seed of making this dish in my head. DC made this dish two days later and I was blown away by how delicious this dish is. The first thing that knocked my socks off was the fragrant of the cheese and then the unique flavor of artichoke. I rarely eat artichoke because if you know this plant, you know that the essence of the plant is the "heart of the artichoke" which takes effort to get to.

Thankfully, you can buy cans of "artichoke heart"!!!!

The recipe that DC used was for spinach and artichoke dip but I omitted the spinach in my dish. The original recipe can be found here  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/hot-artichoke-and-spinach-dip-ii/detail.aspx

Here is my own tweaked-recipe

Ingredients (serves a party of 15-20 people as appetizers)

2 cans of artichoke hearts. Drained and roughly chopped
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese or (1/4 cup of Parmesan + 1/4 cup of Romano cheese) or any cheese you like
2 cloves of garlic, minced
A pinch of salt
A pinch of black pepper
2 big tablespoons of regular cream cheese
2 big tablespoons of mayonnaise
Shredded mozzarella cheese


1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
2. Mix all the ingredients together. (except the shredded mozzarella cheese)
3. Transfer this into a medium size baking dish.
4. Spread the shredded mozzarella cheese over the top.
5. Bake for 25 minutes until the mozzarella turns light brown

To me, there is no easier dish than this. Assemble, mix, bake and eat. Melted cheese smells and taste divine. Especially if it is something "pungent" like parmesan cheese. 

The original recipe asked for 1/4 cup of mayonnaise and 8 ounces of cream cheese. This is what gives the dip its smooth and creamy texture and you can scoop it up with chips/toasted crackers.

If you follow my recipe, you will find that it is not as creamy because I reduced the amount of "fat" significantly. However, this artichoke dip is just as good if not healthier. All you need is the help of a fork!

Hope you will one day make this dish for your own party.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rosemary Garlic Tri-tip steak

This is another steak dish. The 3rd in this blog and it will not be the last as I continue to explore different flavors and marinade recipe.

I bought fresh rosemary from the grocery store instead of the dried rosemary that have been sitting in my pantry for years. This is definitely worth the money.

Also, I wonder what took me so long to buy a garlic press. This thing works wonder. I have seen it used many times. I have spent countless "hours" chopping and mincing garlic. Why didn't I buy this earlier in my "cooking career"?

Main Ingredient

1. Tri-tip steak (or any cut of steak that you like)

1. A stalk to fresh rosemary
2. 3 cloves of garlic. Finely chopped
3. A few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
4. A couple splashes of balsamic vinegar (better if you have Italian salad dressing, I learned this from Mr. A. Walker)
5. Fresh Ground Pepper

Cooking Instructions
1. Marinade the steak for at least 1 hour. Remember to rub the steak evenly with the marinade
2. Bring the steak up to room temperature before cooking (about 30 minutes).
3. Melt some butter on the pan
4. Cook the steak, each side for about 4 minutes depending on the thickness
5. Add more butter if you like.
6. Let the steak rest for 4 minutes before serving
7. Don't forget the salt!!

Unfortunately I overcooked this piece of steak because I misjudged the cooking time and the temperature of my pan. However, the overall flavor is amazing especially the rosemary. Now that I have cooked using fresh herbs, I don't think I will ever want to cook using those dried stuff on the shelves :)

What kind of marinade should I try next? Suggestions please.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mushroom Chicken Soup

Since I made the chicken mushroom glutinous rice, I was left with many chicken thigh bones! Yes, I thought ahead and saved them all after de-boning the thigh meat.

I put all the bones in a pot and boiled it. Once all the scum emerged, I changed the water to a fresh pot of water. Then I added about 8-10 shiitake mushrooms and a piece of thumb-size ginger.

That's all!  Isn't that simple? Oh, don't forget the salt.

Soup spoils easily, so I highly recommend that you freeze them in batches if you make a big pot of these.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Steamed Glutinous with Chicken and Mushroom (糯米鸡)

Traditionally this dish is eaten strictly during breakfast but I don't see why it can't be a lunch or dinner dish. I tried making this dish a couple times in the past but was not successful in replicating the consistency and taste which I grew up with.

Recently, my good friend over at http://chewsome.wordpress.com/  made this dish and that inspired me to try this dish again. Since then, I cooked this dish twice. I learned a few lessons during the first time and made a few modifications Please check out my friend's blog for the recipe that served as a guide for my own.

Recipe (serves 4-6)

Main Ingredients
1 cup of Glutinous rice 
2-3 pieces of boneless chicken thighs
5-8 pieces of shiitake mushroom

Rice seasoning
Pinch of salt
A splash of soy sauce
1 tsp five spice. (This is the key to a fragrant authentic taste)

Chicken Seasoning
2 tbs oyster sauce (optional)
a pinch of sugar
a pinch of white pepper
a pinch of cornflour or regular flour (This is also key. It will prevent your rice from becoming very oily. Add this only at the end of marination, right before you put the chicken on the rice)
a splash of rice wine
1 tsp thick soy sauce
two splashes of light soy sauce
1 thumb size ginger- grated
a splash of sesame oil

1. Wash the rice and soak it in water for at least 1 hour.
2. Wash the mushroom and soak it in water also for 1 hour.
3. Cut the chicken thighs into small pieces and add the chicken seasoning. Remember, do not add the cornflour at this point. Marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
4. Drain the rice and transfer it into a steaming vessel, add the juice from the mushroom.
5. Add the rice seasoning to the rice, add enough water until it covers the rice for about 1/2 inches, and mix everything together.
6. Steam the rice for about 30 minutes until the water is almost completely gone.
7. Slice the mushroom into thin slices and lay it on top of the rice.
8. Add the cornstarch to the chicken and put the chicken on top of the mushroom. (This layering is also very important)
9. Steam this for an additional 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
10. Garnish with scallions.

My second try is definitely miles better than my first trial. I think the ratio of rice to chicken + mushroom is important, since the taste of the mushroom and chicken are infused perfectly into the rice. I also learned the importance of five spice and cornstarch in my second trial.

Overall, I think I have replicated this dish (close to 80%) the way restaurants in Malaysia make them. Here is a very geeky description: The marinade of the chicken not only provides flavor to the chicken, it travels down and gathers the aroma of the mushroom (hence the importance of layering). This heavenly flavor then travels lower into the rice layer and infused itself into the rice grain.

For my readers who do not have access to ready-made 糯米鸡, I hope you will try out this dish. I am pretty sure you will enjoy it as I enjoyed mine.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Before the existence of spam mail, there was SPAM the food. I just learned that Spam is short of SPiced hAM.

In Asia, Spam is more commonly called "Luncheon Meat", perhaps because it was widely consumed during lunch. Growing up, we were discouraged to eat Spam because it is loaded with salt and other unhealthy "chemicals" namely the preservatives.

I like to cook spam for breakfast and serve it on a toast or mixed in with scramble eggs. Now I wonder, which is unhealthier -- Spam or Bacon?

~~More SPAM~~

Friday, November 25, 2011

Strawberry Banana Milkshake

When I was on a weight gain diet, one of the most recommended methods is to drink lots and lots of milkshake. It is full of proteins, nutrients, carbohydrates and unfortunately sugar too. Of course milkshake is an enjoyable drink and the best milkshakes are the ones that are homemade with fresh fruits.
Image source: www.Jayceooi.com

I made strawberry banana milkshake the other day and I have four main ingredients
a) ice cream - any ice cream you like, I don't add much, perhaps one or two scoops for a large cup of milkshake.

b) milk - what is milkshake without milk? :)  Here, I like to add more milk since milk is very healthy.

c) fruits - strawberries and bananas. There really is no limit on how much to add but it is always a good idea to strike a balance between the solids and the liquids.

image source: www.blendersbest.com

What's left is blending. I use a Braun handheld blender. Although it is not the strongest blender, it is a versatile blender that I often use to make spice paste/marinade sauce for cooking.

I like the freshness of this milkshake. Since I don't add too much ice cream, the milkshake is lighter and the aroma of strawberries is what hit your nose first followed by a subtle taste of banana on your palate. Ah, heavenly.

The number of fruits you can try is limitless. papaya, honeydew, mango, all kinds of berries, all kinds of stone fruits (peach, nectarine). Have you tried avocado milkshake? You should!!

Natural lighting makes all the differences in taking a good picture

1) If you use frozen fruits, I recommend letting the fruit thaw just slightly before blending, if you are using a handheld blender.

2) When you freeze banana, make sure you remove the skin and cut the banana into small pieces before freezing. (Thanks Lynn for this important lesson)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Honey Soy Glazed Chicken

My good friend Elsie started her food blog right after I started this blog. Go check it out http://theintrepidbaker.wordpress.com/

I wish I can take stylistic pictures like hers!!!

She posted her recipe for Honey Soy Chicken and I tried making this dish recently.

Here's the recipe (I made some adjustments to the original list, highlighted in red):

8 chicken drumsticks (or wings)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp of red wine vinegar (original recipe asked for 1/2  cup lemon juice)
1 tbsp cayenne pepper powder
1 tbsp paprika powder
1 thumbsize ginger, minced
1 tsp chili flakes (or chili powder), optional


1. Mix all the seasoning ingredients and rub it evenly over the chicken.
2. Let this marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. 
3. Preheat the oven to 375F.
4. Place the chicken into a baking dish (I use Pyrex dish). Make sure it is not too crowded.

Keep the marinating juice

5. Roast the chicken for approximately 40 minutes or until done.

I used a brush to brush the marinating juice over the chicken every 15 minutes.

This is a surprisingly easy recipe to try since I have everything in my pantry except the chicken. The
chicken came out extremely moist, not dry at all, and the juice from the roasting added so much flavor to the chicken. I really like the sweetness of the honey which is balanced by a very small hint of cayenne and paprika.  

Pop quiz time!  

Did you know that paprika is actually made of different kinds of pepper (Bell pepper, chilli pepper) and it is actually very popular in Hungary?  (according to my Hungarian friend); while Cayenne pepper is made out of just one kind of pepper -- cayenne pepper :)



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Grill Steak

I had a bbq a few weeks ago when the weather was still nice. This is our menu

1) Grill steak

I used Trip Tip beef cut for this steak. This cut is found at the bottom of sirloin and it is what I called "poor man's sirloin"  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tri-tip

I marinated the beef with Worcestershire sauce, thyme, oregano, and basil. 

2) Scallops

Frozen scallops that I found at Trader Joe's frozen food section

3) Asparagus

Plain old asparagus. I sliced the skin off the asparagus with a peeler. You can keep it on.

4) Shittake mushroom

Fresh mushroom. Hmmmm....yummy

I love this picture. All credits go to SL for composing and snapping this

It is cooking time!!!

Make sure the charcoals are pipping hot
Time is everything. The meat, the scallop and the asparagus all cook at different time. If you want to serve the all at the same time, then you must stagger the time when you load them onto the grill.

Enjoy  wine while waiting for the meat to cook

In general, it takes 7-9 minutes per side of steak (15-18 minutes total); 2 minutes per side of scallop (4 minutes total), and about 8-10 minutes for the asparagus.
I like the mysterious feel of this picture. Very dark.
Remember to rest the meat for 5 minutes after cooking.

I use the "poking technique" to determine the doneness

Let the wine flow and the meat be eaten.

Bell Pepper Beef

Quite frankly, I am not a big fan of Bell Peppers, especially when it is raw. However, I do like the taste of it when it is cooked, especially in a chinese stir fry dish.

So here it is, my version of Bell Pepper Beef.

The Green Party

In additional to bell pepper, I used jalapeno pepper.


Beef (the cut of your choice. I used Flank steak)
Bell Pepper (2-3)
Jalapeno pepper (1)  (this is optional, and the amount is all up to you)
Garlic (a few cloves)
Ginger (thumb size)
Shallots (2-3 small shallots)

soy sauce
black pepper

1. Slice the beef as thin as you can. The thinner the more tender when it cooks.
2. Remove the seeds from the Bell Pepper and the Jalapeno pepper. Wash, clean and cut into small pieces. I cut my bell pepper length-wise.
3. Chop the garlic, ginger and shallots.

As always, make sure you start with a good size pot/pan

4. Stir fry the garlic, ginger and shallots until fragrance.
5. Add the beef and stir fry, keep the heat as high as possible. (Note: I like to do this in batches so that the beef can be seared evenly. If you add all the beef at once, you will lower the temperature in the pan and your beef will be "simmered" instead of "seared")

Stir Fry in action


6. When the beef is half-cooked, add the pepper.
7. Add a splash of soy sauce, a pinch of salt and some black pepper.

8. Keep stirring and frying until the bell pepper and beef are cooked.
So delicious

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Italian Cure Meat Sandwich

I fell in love with Italian cured meat recently. It all started with Prosciutto. The first time I had prosciutto was on a pizza many years ago. Odd choice for pizza toppings and I wasn't crazy about it back then. Prosciutto and I rekindled this summer after I bought some from WholeFoods. Prepackaged? yes. Is it the best quality? No.

But hey,  I liked it.

Capocollo, salami, prosciutto (L-R)

Since I have been shopping at Trader's Joe lately, I found their prepackaged Prosciutto that also comes with Salami and Capocollo.  Serve this with some seasoned/fresh mozzarella cheese, I got myself a decent meal.

Served with Focaccia bread

I also found this wonderful garlic infused olive oil that I drizzled on the sandwich.

If you ask me, I rather eat the cured meat on its own without the bread :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cheese Fondue/Queso

Although Cheese Fondue and Queso are two very different dishes, they are essential the same in my opinion --- melted cheese. I will be using the word queso in this post instead of cheese fondue because it has one less word :)

Cheese CAVE!!!!  


I can traced my experience with queso to 3 monumental moments :)  The first was a meal at a Tex-Mex restaurant outside of Houston, Texas. After a day of outlet mall shopping, we asked a store owner where to go, and I had my first queso. This was 5 years ago. That opened my eyes to the world of melted cheese.

My second experience was at a friend's football party. His wife made queso and I never left the side of the pot.

In between these years, I have made melted cheese by microwaving cheese (not a bad way), cooking cheese in a pot (i don't recommend this), or simply buy Queso dip from the store.

I had to use this picture!! so nerdy.

Taste pretty good. But only in the first 10 bites. 
The last monumental experience was a fondue dinner at the Melting Pot. It was at this dinner that I have decided that I need make this dish based on the technique I saw at Melting Pot. Why pay $15 for a pot of melted cheese???

Chopped vegies and apples, that looked like it were from Walmart, being served at the Melting Pot

Long and behold, I bought two cheeses from Trader's Joe, (come on Trader's Joe, time to sponsor my blog).

Next, by taking a page out of Melting Pot's technique, I built a "Steaming device".

Fill a small pot with water and put a large bowl over it

Then I cut up the cheese to small pieces. Lesson learned here --- the smaller the better. Grate it if you can.

The cheese should be smaller than this

Next, melt the cheese in the bowl

Cheese and cream. Please pardon the picture quality. I am still learning how to take better pictures.

Finally, add some cream to the melted cheese.

Keep cooking (steaming) until the cheese becomes smooth.

Very stringy melted cheese. Not the liquid flow-y consistency that I expected. Good nonetheless

A bit blurry. Trying to take a picture with one hand holding the camera

I didn't add any seasoning to this dish. Just cheese and cream. But one can definitely spice it up a little by adding chopped onion/chives/herbs/splash of wine. I know of places that add fried bacon to the queso.

I am surprised by how easy it is to make this cheese fondue/queso. I used two kinds of cheddar cheese. I will definitely try other kinds of cheese in the future. Just not blue cheese :)   I read somewhere that it is a good idea to mix hard and soft cheese.

hope you will try making your own fondue and let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Restaurant review - Bhojan

Bhojan is a vegetarian Indian restaurant in Murray Hill. Thanks to Aneesh's recommendation, I visited this restaurant. One of their main dishes is called Thali. It is actually "many little dishes" served on a big metal plate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thali

Let's count the number of dishes on this plate.

Back from my home country, the dishes are served on a big piece of banana leaf.  

source http://foodiegoodietellthetruths.blogspot.com/2010/06/banana-leaf-rice-kanna-curry-house.html

You will not find their Thali options on Bhojan website but it is on their in-restaurant menu. Lynn and I ordered an Asram Thali and a Punjabi (if my memory serves me well) Thali.
Some of the ingredients you will find on a Thali at Bhojan include eggplant, beans, chic peas, pumpkins (seasonal), potato. cheese. The usual fair at a vegetarian Indian restaurant. 

Overall, it was a good meal. Lots of food, and good value too. Nothing to scream about but Bhojan serves up some delicious food. 

If you do not know what to order from their extensive menu, then I would recommend their Thali. As for me, I know what I like now and I will stick to ordering "a la cart".

Oh, did I mention the decor at Bhojan is very interesting??

Pretty nice decor

This should be easy, what do they use to decorate the ceiling?

Wine bottles as "lamp shade". Old tricks?

Hot Chai Masala to warm the belly

First timer? Give it a try.