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.

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. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Salmon cake

I love crab cake but it is not easy to buy crab meat around here so I've decided to make salmon cake. I came across the recipe from "America's Test Kitchen" cookbook a while ago and I decided to give this a try. 

The full recipe can be found in this blog salmon cake and as usual I took the liberty to adjust the ingredients based on the availability of my resources. 

(yield 4 medium size salmon cakes)
3 tablespoon + 3/4 cup of bread crumbs 
2 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro (I didn't use parsley as instructed because it is expensive here)
a couple tablespoons of lemon juice
1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
salt, pepper
1 1/4 pound skinless salmon fillet

1. I didn't find any bread crumbs in the store so I decided to make my own bread crumbs. I happened to have left overs whole wheat bread in my refrigerator. I toasted two slices of bread lightly, and pulverized it in a food processor. The crumbs weren't crunchy so I roasted it on a frying pan until it turns crunchy.

2. Cut the salmon into small cubes and pulverize this.

3. Combine the bread crumbs (3 tablespoons), cilantro, lemon juice, shallot, mustard, salt, pepper in a bowl and mix it with the salmon. 

4. Form the salmon into a patty (either with your hand or with a small storage container), then cover both sides of the patty with bread crumbs.

5. Heat some oil in a non-stick skillet and cook the salmon until golden brown. 2-3 minutes each side is enough. 

There are easier ways to cook a piece of salmon ie: pan-fry or steam. These dishes take zero time to prepare. Salmon cake requires a little more effort but the result is one delicious dish. It really does not take that much time, that is if you buy ready-made bread crumbs. If you don't have a food processor to minced the salmon, no worries, I think you will do just fine by chopping the fish into small pieces. 

The breadcrumbs add crunch, the lemon juice adds punch, and it is good for brunch (I have to use this word so that the sentence rhymes).  The rest of the ingredients add complexity to complement the real star - Salmon.  So make sure you start with the best piece of fish you can find. 

I only have one issue with this dish. The patty fell apart easily in the skillet when I flipped it. It does not form a solid "puck" like in some pictures. I don't know what is the secret to make everything binds. It does not bother me that I am not serving guests but if I do, I would like to figure out how to solve this issue.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fresh Salad Dressing and Japanese Salad Dressing

I grew up with Thousand Island salad dressing (hmm...haven't touched that thing for eons of years). Then I became a little more sophisticated with balsamic vinaigrette and red wine vinegar vinaigrette. It is time to make my own vinaigrette.  I made my own vinaigrette in the past but it was more like tossing the salads in balsamic vinegar and olive oil instead of "making vinaigrette".

I decided to make two kinds of salad dressings because, sometimes, good things come in pairs. Don't you agree?

First salad dressing - Classic French Vinaigrette
Second salad dressing - Japanese Vinaigrette

** Can someone from Japan tell me whether "Japanese Vinaigrette" actually exist? You know, the ubiquitous salad dressing served at every America Japanese restaurant. Is Japanese Vinaigrette as Japanese as General Tsao Chicken is to Chinese?

I have decided to follow two recipe sources, as usual, as references, instead of strict adherence to "protocols".  I chose Eric Ripert's Garlic Vinaigrette and Smitten Kitchen's carrot-ginger dressing.

I started with the most challenging of the two dressings - carrot-ginger dressing. Why is it the most challenging? Try grating a carrot!!! I guarantee you will have limp-arm-syndrome at the end. Smitten Kitchen used a food processor to pulverize the carrot. I am not sure if I agree with that technique.

                                                                adding the sesame oil

Japanese/Carrot-ginger dressing
I used one large carrot, a thumb-size ginger, salt, olive oil + flaxseed oil mixture, sesame oil, rice vinegar and sugar.

Yield : 1 cup of dressing

1. Mix the grated carrot and ginger and add a tablespoon of rice vinegar.
2. Let this soak for 5-10 minutes (I learned this step from other websites).
3. Add a tablespoon of sesame oil and 3-4 tablespoon of olive. Mix this gently together with a spoon.

** You will begin to see the oil and the acid "bind to each other" (someone educate me with the right terminology).

** I also added flaxseed oil to balance the flavor of the olive oil because flaxseed oil has a more neutral flavor.

4. Adjust the taste with salt, sugar, salt, oil and vinegar.

** This is when you let your taste bud do the work. I went through at least 10 tastings with various adjustments to arrive at what I want. The rule of thumb is - 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil.

Garlic/French Vinaigrette
I saw Eric Ripert making this on TV. You can't really go wrong with learning how to make French Vinaigrette from the best French chef in the world.

For this dressing, I used two small pieces of shallots, two cloves of garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, salt, olive oil + flaxseed oil mixture, high quality Dijon mustard (ain't a French Vinaigrette without the mustard)

** I don't have red wine vinegar and I don't plan on buying one since I have other vinegars at home, so I use lemon juice instead.

Yield: half a cup of dressing

1. Chop the garlic and shallot, place in a mixing bowl. Add some lemon zest.
2. Add the lemon juice (from 1 lemon). Marinade for 5-10 minutes.
3. Add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Mix.
4. Add the oil, sugar, salt. Mix it gently by constant stirring.

** as chemistry dictates, oil and water do not mix but something magical happens when you stir them long enough. The oil molecule is trapped within the water molecule.

5. Just like before, taste taste taste! Keep adjusting the flavor.

** if it is too acidic, add more oil but you don't want it to be so oily, so add sugar.

As for assembling the salad, here's my rule of thumb:
Something sweet, something crunchy, and something tangy - canned oranges, crushed walnuts, sliced tomatoes, respectively.

The carrot-ginger salad dressing is a success because I have past experiences as reference. I am a little unsure about the French Vinaigrette because I never had it before. But the flavor seems just fine.

My food tasters liked this salad and the dressings. Some of them combined both and they liked it too!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tres Leches Cake (Three Milk Cake)

The literal translation of "Tres Leches Cake" from Spanish to English is "Three Milk Cake". The concept is quite simple, which is cake served with 3 kinds of milk - evaporated milk + condensed milk + whipped cream.

For readers who is hearing about Tres Leches Cake for the first time, you might pause and say "what the heck is this?!" Well, you are not alone because I was in the same boat until not too long ago.

Here's the story.

A good friend moved to a Hispanic-centric neighborhood and there is a Mexican bakery/cake shop next door. One day, he bought some tres leches cake for us to try and the experience was unbelievable and memorable. Since then, tres leches cake became a staple whenever we hang out in that neighborhood.

The awesome space where lots of tres leches cake were consumed for all kinds of reasons - birthdays, farewell parties, game nights, and "just because we can" (picture courtesy of Antelmo Villarreal)

Now before you read further, imagine this for a second - cake soak-laden in 3 kinds of milk. The cake is soggy and wet. It does not sound appetizing at all. This is a common reaction I get (including my own).

Well, let me just say this out right - it is delicious! If you live in NYC, do yourself a favor and track up to Spanish Harlem. Contact me before you go and I will tell you where to find tres leches cake.

A street view of Spanish Harlem. Looks just like any other streets in NYC. (picture courtesy of Antelmo Villarreal)

I have been dreaming about tres leches cake and I finally turned this dream into reality. Except one problem - I don't want to make a cake, so I cheated and bought a sponge cake. For experiment sake, I just want to have a proof-of-concept that it will work.

I improvised a lot since this is purely experimental, nothing is quantitative here. Assuming you already have a cake, the rest is easy:

1. I started with 3 slices of screwpine-flavored sponge cake.
2. Then, I whipped some cream and sugar until it formed stiff-peak.

3. Next, I mixed half a can of evaporated milk with half a tablespoon of condensed milk (some recipes have different ratios but I adjusted the sweetness according to the sweetness of the cake. I don't want the whole cake to taste too sweet).
4. Finally, I poured the evaporated + condensed milk mixture on to the cake. Yes, just pour and let it soak! Just make sure you have enough milk.  It is better to have excess.

5. Seal the container and let the cake soak for a couple of hours.
6. Carefully (the cake is soggy and fragile) transfer the cake to a serving dish, put the whipped cream on the cake and garnish with whatever you like. In my case, Pineapple because it is a regional fruit.

From the flavor standpoint, it is close but not there yet. I think this has to do with the evaporated milk. Apparently there are many other ingredients added to the evaporated milk. Next time, I will use the best quality fresh milk I can find, not evaporated milk. As for the cake, I don't see a reason why I can't keep using sponge cake to make my own tres leches cake. I think sponge cake of any flavor would work just fine. Except one thing, sponge cake is a tall cake and the milk-absorption efficiency is reduced at the top. Maybe I will slice the cake horizontally to make a shorter tres leches cake.

Soggy cake? A must-try as long as it is soaked in sweetened milk!!!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Here's how the conversation transpired 9 years ago:

Friend: Do you want to get some hummus for dinner?
Me: Err, what's a hummus?
Friend: It is a Middle Eastern dish made with chickpeas.
Me: What is chickpeas, does it has anything to do with chicken?
Friend: No, it is a kind of legume.
Me: What do you eat it with?
Friend: Just pita bread.
Me: This is like going to a restaurant and ordering just plain rice for dinner.

Alas, that was 9 years ago!

Some of you might be having the same conversation in your head - "what's hummus"?

Hummus is made of chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzo beans, that are boiled and then ground to smooth paste. It is like making peanut butter, except, chickpeas are low in fat and high in protein. Making chickpeas/hummus a very healthy food. Hummus is either served as an appetizer or itself could be the main course. So I was wrong when I compared eating hummus to eating rice because hummus is much more nutritious than rice.

You can either use canned/cooked chickpeas or raw chickpeas, which require slightly more prep work but well worth the effort. The other key ingredient of making delicious hummus is tahini sauce, which is white sesame paste. Tahini sauce cost too much in the grocery so I decided to make my own tahini sauce.

Ingredients: (yield about 1 large bowl)
0.5lb raw chickpeas (about 1 cup)
Quater cup of raw white sesame seeds
1 clove of garlic, chopped/crushed into small pieces
1 lemon, juiced
salt to taste
olive oil

Prepping the chickpeas
1. Soak chickpeas in water overnight for a few hours or overnight.
2. Drain the water and replace with just enough water to cover the chickpeas.
3. Cook the chickpeas either by steaming or in a pot on the stove top (KEEP THE COOKING JUICE).
4. Set aside.

Prepping the tahini sauce
1. Toast the sesame seed on a pan until it turns slightly golden brown.
2. Transfer the sesame seed to a mortar and add some olive oil. Beat the sesame paste with a pestle until it becomes a paste. Add more oil when the paste is too dry.

Putting all together:
1. Transfer the cooked chickpeas into the blender, add some olive oil and beat the chickpeas until it becomes a paste. Add some cooking juice when the paste becomes too dry.
2. Add the tahini sauce, lemon juice, garlic and salt and blend again.
3. Adjust the consistency and taste with more oil, cooking juice, lemon juice and salt until you reach the consistency and taste that you like. (Apologize to folks who have never tried hummus since you won't know what's the "right" consistency or taste, or you can just wing it)

I have made 3 batches of hummus within a short period of 1 month and I have learned a few things that I would like to share with you

1. Toasted and crushed white sesame seeds smell heavenly. The aroma is like nothing I have smell before.

2. Make sure you use a cylindrical blender, not a conical blender. This is key to making smooth hummus as cylindrical blender ensures more even blending than a conical blender.

3. Do not skimp on the lemon juice. The tanginess of the lemon juice adds complexity to the hummus.

4. You might read in certain blogs that recommend removing the skin of the chickpeas after cooking to ensure a smooth hummus. I did not do this because it requires a lot of effort (try peeling 50 chickpeas), and that coarse chickpeas adds texture, besides I am sure there are some nutritious value in chickpeans skin.

So there you go, a snack as healthy as it gets, rich in protein, low in fat and easy to make! A spoonful of this keeps you going for a while.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Restaurant Review: Coliseum Steakhouse

                                                                                         (source: some random dude's facebook photo)

Coliseum is a steakhouse/western restaurant situated in Jaya33. The original location is in KL and this is their first branch.

I am going to keep this review simple by going along with this simple format : the good, the bad, the ugly.

The good:
I like my steak medium rare and that's how I ordered it. To my SURPRISE, my ribeye came out exactly medium rare. A dinner companion ordered the crab cake, which was served on a piece of crab shell. Points for being "interesting". I didn't try it but was told that it tasted good.

The bad:
Where do I began, another companion ordered roasted chicken and it was too dry and lack the tenderness and juiciness of a good roasted chicken. "Interestingly", the roasted chicken was overlaid with a piece of crispy chicken skin. Hmmmm......ok, I will take that. The "special" salad was standard fair without anything "special", then again, this is salad we are talking about.

The ugly:
The fries. This was the first thing I put in my mouth and it completely threw me off my grid. Cold fries. COLD FRIES. HOW DARE YOU??????? My dinner companion had a different kind of fries and that too was COLD!!!  Come on....

That's not all.

Through out the whole dinner, I wasn't ask, for once, if I wanted anything to drink. Okay, maybe I am too spoiled by certain experience where water is the first thing you get when you sit down. Maybe I shouldn't whine about this. Just raise your hand and ask for your water.

Things that could go either way:
The oxtail soup: heavily peppered soup, and served with two pieces of oxtail. Definitely for sharing between 2 people. Not my favorite oxtail soup. My favorite is this oxtail soup.

I don't like any sauce on my steak and this is the de facto way of serving steak in this part of the world. I should've known better and asked them for the sauce on the side.

The decor/ambiance: Paint a huge room white, put lots of tables, covered them with white table clothes and you got yourself a steakhouse. This is not a "fancy" place by any means although they priced themselves as a fancy steakhouse. I won't recommend this place for a romantic dinner date unless eating steak while wearing sandals and shorts is your thing.

Crowd: You definitely need to make a reservation and make them in advance. This place gets really crowded on weekends! Not sure about weekdays.

Miscellaneous tips: If you do come here, make sure you park your car in the multi-level car park unless you are willing to pay RM15 for the parking spots directly in front of the restaurant.

My verdict: I think it is clear that I won't be coming back here EVER. If I want a good piece of steak, I'd go somewhere else although I am not sure, at this point, where to go.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Homemade Nutrition Bar

I am not sure if you can call this nutrition bar because I failed to make "bars". Instead, I made nutrition lumps

The energy/protein/nutrition bars that I tried in the past taste either "funny/artificial" or "too sweet". I don't know what it is but these bars did not make me say "I want more". I eat it because "I just came back from the gym" or "I am hungry, what's convenient?".

I looked into my pantry and quickly put together a recipe for some homemade nutrition bars. You can put anything you want into making energy bars. All you need are two items - dry ingredients (nuts, dried fruits, M&Ms, chocolate chips, seeds, etc) and wet ingredients (oil, honey, caramel, etc)

In this recipe: 
Dry ingredients are: almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts (crushed), sunflower seed, black and white sesame seeds, raisins (chopped).

Wet ingredients: coconut oil and honey.

(I intentionally do not tell you the amount because it is more like "however much you want")

Making nutrition bars is easy:
1. Toss everything together.
2. Press it flat on a large baking tray over a wax paper.
3. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the honey bind the dry ingredients together.

My recipe and techniques are not perfect. I did not use enough honey to bind everything together in a solid form to make bars since I do not want to over-sweetened my bars. I don't know how do people make nutrition bars that's a piece of solid chunk. Lots of sugar, I suppose.

You can't go wrong with this set of ingredients because the crunchiness of the nuts provides a good texture for the naturally sweet raisins and honey. The sunflower and sesame seeds are like icing on the cake, and coconut oil provides a perfumery fragrance.

Overall, this is a good snack for anytime of the day.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Restaurant review: "My Burger Lab"

When you ask a local foodie where to get the best burger in the Klang Valley, all fingers point to -- "My Burger Lab".  

                                                                                       (image source: unknown)

Now, I was "baptized" at Shake Shack and I have had burger at Burger Joint, Corner Bistro, JG Melon, 5 guys, 5 napkins, all so-called burger meccas in NYC (I had In and Out burger, which is a West Coast burger chain; "Dear Minetta Tavern, you and I shall formally meet one day"). Needless to say, my bar is set pretty high and I was intrigued by "My Burger Lab".

                           THE original Shake Shack burger stand in Madison Square Park


                                                                        Shake Shack Burger

Before I give you my verdict, here are some random observations:

1. The average waiting time (from getting in line until taking the first bite), based on my own experience, is 45 minutes. 
2. The yuppiest of the yuppies in the Klang Valley can be found here, which ties in curiously to number 3.
3. The average age of the customers is 22 (totally non-scientific estimation).
4. Lots of camera phone photo-ops. (4square, Facebook, Instagram, "dear dairy").
5. People travel far away to eat here. People at the table next to us traveled 45 minutes .  
6. This place serves about 10-15 different kinds of burgers.


                                               Minetta Tavern's legendary $25 burger that I yet to try
Whenever I visit a burger place, I always order the most basic burger on the menu. All I want are the buns, beef patty, lettuce, tomato, cheese and whatever secret sauce they put. As a side, the fries. 

I was asked the most important question at the end of my meal -- "is it better than Shake Shack?". I said "no" but I said "It is almost as good as Shake Shack". That is as high a compliment as I can give to a burger place and it is based mainly on "burger vs. burger" comparison. 

This is the My Burger Lab burger but it was not my order. The brown fried thing is fried portabella mushroom. The yellowy piece of thing bellow the beef patty is a piece of hardened parmesan cheese. Not sure how they made it but I get the same product when I microwave cheese and let it cool down. It is created by melting and hardening the cheese.

Now the good stuff about My Burger Lab's burger:

1. They replicated Shake Shack's "burger crust" to perfection. I observed the kitchen and noticed the same "smashed action". You need to have a Shake Shack burger to understand what I mean. 

2. The meat is cooked decently and it has the compulsory juicy shine.  

2. The secret sauce is quite good but nothing that special. "I heard mayo and thousand island"?

3. Bottomless soda.

4. Generous bun and patty size. About 20% larger than Shake Shack. 

5. They pay attention to details by placing staffs at the head of the line to explain their menu and to provide guidance, tables were cleaned and setup promptly, they provide free water to customers waiting in line.

6. Lots of seating space. 

My "bare bone" burger or as my friend said "anemic" burger.

And I took some points off for these reasons:

1. Fries: It was overly salted. I will let them slide this time since it could just be an anomaly but  I saw the "fries taster" gave a nodding acceptance to his colleague. They also seasoned the fries with rosemary. I can do without this.

2. It is lacking some of the "beef" flavor that shines in a Shake Shack burger. 

3. Price. It is reasonable if you earn USD, Sterling pound, or Euro. It is expensive by local standard but I had paid more money for worse food. I will unlikely visit My Burger Lab as frequently as I had visited Shake Shack.  

4. The wait.

Why is the bun black?  Black bamboo charcoal powder was added to the dough during the bun making process.

Is this a gimmick (look, we are different!!) or does it has any added value? I can't detect any distinct flavor. Between the meat flavor, secret sauce, onion, mushrooms, fried eggs, or ketchup, I highly doubt anyone can detect any special flavor in the bun. Take away the color, it is just a........bun.