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, August 20, 2017

Carbonara Pasta

I have always wanted to make carbonara pasta simply because it is a simple pasta to make. In pasta-lore, carbonara pasta is like a holy-grail and that is my own definition. I have not had real roman-esque carbonara pasta in my life so I can't say how authentic or good my pasta is compare to the real deal. Take on its own, this pasta is really delicious. It is creamy as it should be.

Now that I know how easy it is to make carbonara pasta, may I make a plea to all restaurants around me that serve carbonara in cream to STOP. Just STOP doing what you are doing. If you want to keep doing it, fine, but don't call it carbonara pasta. 

I will not spell out every step of how I made this dish. If you are interested, check out my main source of reference: Cook's Illustrated. Here, I will simply emphasise a few areas of note:

1 lb pasta (most websites say 1lb of pasta feeds 4 people. They must have been talking about feeding                  4 giants. The way I see/eat it, 1 lb of pasta yields about 6-8 regular size servings)

3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/4 cup of cheese
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
6-8 strips of bacon
1 tablespoon of fat, I used ghee

I used cheddar cheese, not the fancy cheese (read: Pecorino-Romano). Before you cry "sacrilegious!", hear me out. It is not only expensive, it is also very difficult to find fancy cheese here in this part of my world. Invite me to cook for you, I will buy Pecorino but you pay! :)

Although I have heard of this way of cooking bacon, I have not done it before. The main problem this method solves is - oil splatter. I fully agree with the effectiveness of this method in creating crispy bacon with much much less oil splatter.

The carbonara sauce sans cheese. That will go in soon.

I toss my pasta over a double boiler.

The black bits that you see are not charred bacon. They are the brown bits of good stuff that caramelised on the pan. Millard reaction!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Potato Leek Soup

For whatever weird reason, I'd always say to myself "I am going to make this dish" every time I come across this dish on the internet. I can't say for sure how long that has been going on. At least a few years.

So yesterday I decided to "just do it". I turn to Kenji Lopez's Potato Leek Soup for guidance and I thought I would share my own general thoughts on his recipe.

1. A mix of butter and corn oil instead of 2 tablespoons of butter
2. 6 leeks instead of 2
3. Store-bought chicken stock (more on that later)
4. 3 large russet potatoes
5. 1 bay leave
6. no buttermilk (I don't have this laying around in my pantry)
7. no cream (more on that later)
8. no nutmeg (I don't have this laying around in my pantry)
9. I flavoured my stock first (see below) before adding it to the leek and potato. I then cooked everything for 15 minutes in a pressure cooker.

As with most cooking, there are a lot of "feel" that goes into it. In my opinion, whatever "timing" that was given is just for reference. I took me less than 10 minutes to soften the leeks.

Now, the stock. The stock is probably the most important ingredient of this dish. I didn't have the time to make my own chicken stock so I bought it from the store. The selection was minimal, more like, there was only 1 brand to choose from. I warmed the stock on a stock pot and tasted it. It tasted strange. There is a funny synthetic mushroom taste, like a can of you-know-what brand mushroom soup. The soup was thin and lacked flavour so I improvised by adding the following these two items - a fistful of dried anchovies and a chicken stock cube. Now before you scream at me, hear me out. I read somewhere that anchovies add umami flavour to any stock and I figured a fistful of anchovies can't hurt. It turned out to be the correct choice. Now chicken stock cube. I am not a purist. For something last minute and frill-free, I'll take it.

The surprising part of my soup is that it did not require any cream. The soup is already creamy after I blended it. Could be the extra potato in my soup. Anyway, I prefer it without the cream. I might lack some flavour but I can do without the extra fat in my diet.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Garlic Confit and Kale Chips

There isn't much in common between these two things. Funny that they should appear in the same post.

Oh wait, I do find one thing in common between garlic and kale. They both taste bad, to my own taste bud, when it is raw; but they taste amazing when roasted properly. There is also a fine line between toasted-yummy and toasted-not-so-yummy-anymore. 

Garlic confit is nothing but whole garlic cooked in oil under low heat until the garlic turned golden brown. There is some weird chemistry inside that, if explained, can fill pages in a chemistry article. Maybe there is already one out there. Whether it is garlic cooked in oil, roasted in the oven or pan-grilled. there is only one outcome, when done right, and that is golden goodness. 

Kale, was and probably still is, a "super food" according to organic-"foodista". The problem is, kale taste horrible when it is raw. Kale, when roasted, turns into something else. Again, this merits a chemistry textbook explanation.

The problem with kale chips is that it is very expensive. I have always wanted to make kale chips when I first had it many years ago.  This was my first try and I learned two things - 1) the kale must be very fresh when you roast it, 2) don't over-roast it. When it turns a bit black-ish like mine, it taste bitter. 

Kale is very expensive. I tried to make lettuce chips a while ago, which didn't turn out well. There must be some cheaper vegetable out there that would undergo similar transformation like kale. Let the hunt begins. Maybe I should start with vegetable that taste absolutely bad when raw. I know where I should start.

To many trials and failures!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Pressure Cooked-Deconstructed Carnitas Tacos with Salsa Verde and Guacamole

I am a big fan of Mexican food and tacos rank up there as one of my all-time favorite food. Not just any tacos but carnitas tacos served with fresh salsa on a piece of fresh tortilla. The best tacos have the most balanced flavor between the meatiness of the pork and the tanginess of the salsa. 

For the basic recipe, I chose the recipe by Kenji Lopez (http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/07/no-waste-tacos-de-carnitas-with-salsa-verde-recipe.html)

As usual, I had to improvise. For one, I don't have fresh tortilla here. I also don't have 3.5 hours to spend. So whenever I see a recipe that requires 3.5 hours of cooking, I turn to my trusted kitchen equipment - pressure cooker. 

This is Kenji's recipe. My note is highlighted. Kenji listed recipes for the carnitas and the salsa together. Below I separated it.

For the carnitas (the way I served it, as a main dish in a meal, it yielded 5-6 generous servings. To put it into perspective, if this is a road-side Taco truck or Taco stand, this would yield about 12 Tacos, as Kenji has correctly estimated in his recipe)

Half medium onions (I used yellow onion)
3 pounds boneless pork butt (shoulder), rind removed, cut into 2-inch cubes (I used 1kg of pork shoulder. I separated the fatty layer from the meaty layer. Everything was cooked together but the fatty layer was thrown away at the end)
Kosher salt
1 medium orange
6 cloves garlic, split in half
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick, broken into three or four pieces (I substituted with 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (this is crazy amount of oil. The meat itself is quite fatty so i just used a splash of oil)
2 jalapeƱo peppers, split in half lengthwise, stem removed (I didn't use this)
3 limes, cut into wedges (for the carnitas i used 2 limes)
1 cup crumbled queso fresco or feta (I don't have this)
24 corn tortillas (I don't have this)

Salsa Verde
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (I played by ear. I didn't use this much. It is all up to you)
6 medium tomatillos (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and split in half (I don't have tomatillos so i bought 3 under-ripped medium size tomatoes)

3 medium size avocados
chopped onion
chopped under-ripped medium size tomato

For the Carnitas
1. I mixed all the ingredients, according to the list above, in the pressure cooker.
2. Since I used a pressure cooker, I needed liquid so I added water until it barely covers the meat. 
3. Cooked everything on high heat until the pressure has built up then turn the heat low and cooked for 20 minutes.
4. Depressurize the pressure cooker. Stir the meat. Add salt if needed. Return to the heat.
5. Cook in the pressure cooker for another 20 minutes. 
6. Take the meat out and drain the juice. (keep all the juice)
7. Break the meat into small pieces.
8. Heat the cast iron pan until very hot then sear the meat until brown bits appeared. Don't over cook it.
9. Drizzle the meat juice and squeeze some lime juice to serve.

For the salsa verde
1.  A lot of what I did was based on feel. I like tomato so i added more tomatoes. I don't like raw onion so I added less. Add cilantro, salt and lime juice to your preferred taste. 

For the guacamole
1. I used three avocados. Could have used two
2. Also a lot of it is based on feel. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, onion, salt and lime juice to your preferred taste. 

In the end, I don't have tortilla bread so I ate it with rice. I must say, it is better with tortilla bread. It just does not feel right eating carnitas with rice. I think the sourness of the salsa does not go well with rice. 

As a whole, I think this dish is great. Kenji's recipe (at least the ingredient) works. My method is different but it is a tried and tested method that I often use. I think that's how Mexican taquerias cook their carnitas - in a big pot of juice.