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, 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.  

Friday, September 16, 2016


Can't believe it took me this long to make a lasagna. I made beef ragu/bolognese a few times for regular pasta and never for lasagna. 

The recipe that I followed came from The Food Lab with my usual modifications, of which I will only mention a few. 

Kenjis' recipe calls for three sets of ingredients - ragu, ricotta mixture, and besciamella. 

Kenji's recipe for the ragu is long and usual reader of my blog knows that I like to keep things to a minimal whenever possible. His audience is different from mine. I didn't use lamb (can't find ground lamb), chicken livers, celery (not a fan of celery), sage, red white (too expensive), fish sauce (don't feel like getting another bottle of condiment), and heavy cream. 

I didn't make the ricotta mixture because ricotta cheese are expensive.

If I a chance, I would like to ask Kenji or any chef friends "what's the point of besciamella?" I am sure their answer is "flavor" but does it make a whole lot of difference?   

I know the besciamella has a nutty flavor so I went ahead and made some but not with all the ingredients that Kenji used. Instead, mine consist of butter and flour, nothing more. 

The pasta looks a bit rigid in this picture, doesn't it? Well, you would be right thinking so. I used this lasagna pasta brand and the instruction asked me to use the pasta straight out from the box into the lasagna pan (did I read it wrongly?). I was sceptical about the non-cook step so I cooked the pasta anyway but I didn't cook it long enough.

I do not have a cheese grater or a microplane so my cheese came out in chunks!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Crispy Skin Pan Seared Chicken

I learned a trick from The Food Lab of Seriouseats.com on how to make crispy-skinned chicken. The author of The Food Lab, Kenji, says "Once that's done (put the chicken skin side down on the pan), don't touch it, and I mean it! Don't try to lift that chicken until it's good and ready to be lifted".

I didn't bother transferring the chicken to the oven because I am not a fan of cooking one dish with two separate methods unless absolutely necessary (lasagna, I am looking at you).

I bought the freshest chicken I can buy to ensure excellent taste and kept the seasoning to minimum  - salt and pepper. Some baby cherry tomatoes completes this dish.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Miso Soup

I am a fan of easy-to-make soup and none easier than miso soup. All you need is to source the ingredients and the rest will take care of itself.

You need to buy seaweed/kelp and a tub of miso paste.

Wash the kelp thoroughly to get ride of the fine sand. Remember, dried kelp will expand 5-6 times the size after it is rehydrated. I went overboard and ended up with a big bowl of kelp.  Kelp snack, anyone?

Cook the kelp in a pot of water for 2-3 minutes and remove the kelp. Next, take 2-3 spoonful of miso paste and dissolve it in a few tablespoons of water. Then add the dissolved miso paste into the pot of kelp-stock. Feel free to add as much miso paste to your own taste.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Crostini (Toasted Bread)

I remember vividly the day I placed a piece of double cream Gouda cheese on a piece of crostini and then put it in my mouth. It was at a Christmas party and it was one of those special "food-moment" that I will always remember it. I could never imagine a piece of toasted bread can taste like this. Since then, Gouda cheese and crostini would be the staples at every party or gathering that I was invited to, whether it was picnic at the park or a house warming party.

It has been a long long time since I had crostini so I decided to give it a try and I was surprised by how easy it was to make crostini. All you need is a loaf of baguette and olive oil. I repeat baguette and olive oil and you create magic with these two items.

Pop the thing into an oven and toast it for 10 minutes and you will get these golden brown crostini.

I have since made a few batches and I learned that the quality of the baguette makes a lot of difference. Go for quality baguette and you will not regret it. You will be popping this by the mouthful and before you know it, you will be making another batch.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage and Quail Eggs

With a big pot of leftover rice, I wasted no time in making fried rice. It has been a long time since I made fried rice and it brought back delightful memories of the past. With some chinese sausages in the freezer, what I need was something "different" and I chose quail eggs to be the difference maker.

I love the spots on the quail eggs. Each egg is like a piece of modern art. Pollock anyone?

It was my first time frying quail eggs so it took me a while to figure out how to crack and cook quail eggs properly. In this case, 50% failure, or 50% success, depending on how you see it. The biggest lesson I learned from cracking quail eggs is that the shell membrane is very thick so it takes more force than you would use to crack a chicken egg to break through that membrane. I was worried that the force may damage the yolk but fear not, quail egg yolk is quite "sturdy", which explains the very "yolky" consistency of quail egg, which also explains why some people really enjoy eating quail eggs. The money is in the yolk