Breakfast

Here’s my breakfast from a few days ago. I had pancakes with raspberry preserves, tomatoes, and sausage.

breakfast

This is how you make perfect pancakes. The main thing is to keep the pan on low-med heat. If you are using non-stick, you don’t need any oil. You could dab some oil on a napkin and smear the pan if you want, but too much oil will make uneven cooking and make the pancake blotchy. When all the bubbles have risen to the top and the sides are cooked, it’s ready to flip.

ready to flip!
yummy pancake

This is how I make my drip coffee. I don’t trust the water reservoirs on coffee makers, they’re always dirty and it’s a chore to clean them out. With my method, the elution time is about 30 seconds and you only need to rinse the strainer clean after disposing of the filter and solids. The mug reassures me of my engineering capabilities. I’m not sure if I’ve learned anything from my engineering classes.

i'm an engineer!

I hope everyone has a good new year’s eve.

Love and peace.

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Dinner: Impossible

If you’ve ever watched Dinner: Impossible featuring Robert Irvine, I went through a similar scenario today. If you haven’t, watch the ones with Robert Irvine. I don’t like new ones with Michael Symon. His personality doesn’t really fit with the show and it feels fake. Robert Irvine was more entertaining and enthusiastic. It begins like this: I got to lab at 3pm to do some work but when I got there, my professor invites me to my grad student’s (Yash) going away party instead.

Mission:
Party starts at 6:30pm (3.5 hours)
Potluck party
Limited counter space (2′ x 3′)

Menu:
Spring rolls
Samosas
Dark chocolate chip walnut cookies

From there, I walked home and drove to Sweetbay and Oriental 88 to pick up groceries. By the time I got home, it was 4pm. That gave me 2 hours to make everything if I take into account half an hour to change and drive to the party.

I started by making the cookies. Here’s the recipe I used:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup walnuts
1 cup dark chocolate chips

cookie ingredients
Here’s a picture of all the ingredients.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cream butter, sugar, and eggs
Add the rest of the dry ingredients (minus walnuts and chocolate chips) and mix well
Gently fold in walnuts and chocolate chips
Separate dough into 12 balls
Bake for 14 minutes (16-18 minutes if you like your cookies more cooked)

creamed butter and sugar
I don’t have an electric mixer so this is what I do. I just use a coffee mug or in this case a jar to cream the butter, sugar, and eggs. That extra effort and love makes my cookies that much better.

cookie dough
Butter + sugar + eggs + cocoa powder = yum
This equation took Pythagoras 17 years to prove. You can look up the proof on Google. It’s very complex and long, you probably won’t understand it. All you need to know is that it is delicious.

cookies before baking
You could eat these as they are, but these babies are going into the oven and will come out even better.

cookie dough
Who wants to lick the bowl?

cookies!
Cookies done! If you give one of these trays to a girl, she will forgive any offense.

cookies close up
Are you drooling yet?

Once the cookies were in the oven, I started making the samosa filling. Really, you can put anything in a samosa. Potatoes and green peas are a good base and add spices to taste from there. Some people may like bold spices but others may not be able to handle it. Mine is pretty mild compared to traditional savory Indian samosas. Here’s what I used:

1 can of diced potatoes
1 diced yellow onion
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 cup of green peas
1 tbsp oil

Directions:
Heat up some oil and drop some mustard seeds in there
Add onions once the seeds start popping (It may be better to take the seeds out from the oil before adding onions and then putting them back in once the potatoes goes in. Otherwise, the seeds will burn like mine did).
Add the rest of the spices
Add potatoes and peas
Stir mixture well until potatoes and peas are cooked

samosas
I finished the spring roll filling and wrappers before I started wrapping and frying the samosas. I only managed to finish 7 and I didn’t have time to take pictures of the process. The only way that was happening was if I had an extra pair of hands. I didn’t get too many pictures of the spring roll making process either. I’ll do those in another post.

For the spring rolls I used:
1 package firm tofu
1/2 head of cabbage
1/2 cup carrot strips
1 bunch green onions
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce

*If I had more time or ingredients, I would’ve added some mushrooms and sesame oil.

Directions:
First drain the tofu and cut into 1 cm cubes.
Fry those in 1 tbsp of oil until the sides get textured. Add 1 tbsp soy sauce. Set aside.
In same wok/pot, add 1 tbsp oil.
Fry shredded cabbage and carrot strips. Add 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper.
Once cabbage and carrot strips are cooked, add green onions and remove from heat. Add tofu back to vegetables.
Drain vegetable filling on paper towels before wrapping.

spring roll filling
Draining the vegetables on paper towels.Not shown is the tofu cubes. See how much water comes out from the cabbage? By draining them, your spring rolls are less likely to tear from the water during rolling. Also, they stay crunchy longer because there is less water in the filling.

wrapping station
Rolling station. In the upper left is a mixture of corn starch and water to seal the roll.

deep frying spring rolls
Everything tastes better deep fried. Deep frying is tricky without a proper thermometer. If the temperature is too low, oil will seep into the food. If it is too high, the outside will burn quickly. I usually set it the heat to medium and adjust based on the rate of items I am placing in the oil.

spring rolls on cooling rack
I took one of the grills from the oven and placed it over the sink to drain the spring rolls.

spring rolls
Finished product. Mine stayed crispy for about 2 hours or so. If you heat them up in an oven, they will crisp up again.

I didn’t manage to finish all the samosas so my mission failed, but considering what I made in 2 hours, I think I was pretty efficient. I made good use of the little counter space I had. I ended up using my dresser, computer desk, chair, and microwave as extensions of my workspace. I got to the party on time too. My grad student didn’t arrive until at least 20 minutes after I did, so I could’ve finished frying the rest of the samosas. So if I analyze how I spent my time, I spent 1 hour shopping, 2 hours cooking, and a half hour in transportation. I had food and cooking utensils scattered all over my tiny apartment and McGuyvered my way through this challenge. Move over, Michael Symon. I’m eying your job.

potluck 1
potluck 2
There was 10 people at the party and these pictures were taken AFTER everyone had eaten. Needless to say, we had a lot of food. Hyung brought bulgogi and fried rice. Peng brought the seafood casserole. Yash and his wife brought samosas with tamarind sauce. Brett and Michelle brought lasagna and cookies. I think Gaurav and his wife brought some sort of milkshake that was really good. I wouldn’t mind drinking that milkshake every morning. My professor bought calzones and pizza. I didn’t want my lab mates asking why I was taking pictures of the food so I sneaked a few pictures in while everyone wasn’t paying attention. I was thinking about making bulgogi, but good thing I didn’t. The samosas my grad student’s wife made were way better than mine. I was actually embarrassed when he tried one and had his wife try one. He said it was really good but it’s nerve wrecking when an Indian person is trying your samosa! Like always, my cookies were a hit and I I think everyone liked the spring rolls too. There were only 5 or 6 left and Peng took all of them home. I’m guessing that means he really liked them!. Everything was delicious and I had two platefuls of food. Today was an unexpected surprise but I had a ton of fun cooking and socializing at the party.

Love and Peace,

Zaw

be patient!

I’ve got about 5 posts planned spread throughout the upcoming week. If you can’t wait, go over to my flickr photostream on the right and you can see what I’ve been up to. At the rate I’m going, I might need to upgrade to the Pro account soon since it only lets me upload 100MB per month on a free account. I could either resize my pictures before I upload them (right now they average 1.5-2MB a pic) or upgrade. I think the Pro account is worth it though at $25/year. Donations welcome!

Kazu’s for lunch

Tuesday afternoon, I went to Kazu’s for lunch with my good friend Gan. The place is pretty small; it has 4 tables of 2 people and 2 tables for larger groups. It’s always packed every time I go. During dinner time, there is usually a wait. The decor inside is nice, it feels like a Japanese restaurant. Most of the menu consists of Japanese appetizers, rice bowls, noodle bowls, salads, and sushi. I really like going there for lunch because they have bento boxes for lunch and their lunch specials are cheap. You can get two rolls for $9.25 and most of the bento boxes are all under $10.

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I got the siesta roll (tempura shrimp, cilantro, spicy sauce, avocado) and the spicy tuna roll (spicy tuna, cucumber). I thought it would be weird having cilantro in a roll, but the siesta roll has to be one of my top 3 favorite rolls. The cilantro and the spicy sauce go really well with the tempura shrimp and avocado. Kazu’s sushi menu doesn’t have too many specialty rolls and the ones they do have don’t really appeal to me. Their basic rolls, ones you’ll find in almost every American sushi joint, are really good though. The rice is always consistent and they’re perfectly seasoned and cooked. Nothing ruins a roll like improperly cooked rice. I really like the tempura shrimp they use in their rolls. As you can see from the picture, you get huge tails sticking out for maximum crunchiness.

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Gan got the snapper katsu bento. It came with potato salad, salad with ginger dressing, rice, and sauce. You also get a miso soup with every bento. I didn’t really like the sauce, it was too vinegary. The katsu was really crunchy, light, and not greasy at all. The same salad with ginger dressing came with my two rolls. I’ve never been a big fan of ginger dressing and this one didn’t sway my opinion. I don’t mind the taste but the mushy, gritty texture of the dressing feels weird in my mouth.

I would definitely recommend going there for lunch or dinner for some quality sushi, but you can’t beat their lunch specials. You can choose from 6 rolls (tampa, california, mexican, siesta, spicy tuna, crab lagoon) at two for $9.25 (also comes with salad) and most of their bentos are under $10 (comes with miso soup). If there was one near where I lived, I would definitely go there at least every other day.

First meal at home

The good thing about being home is I don’t have to worry about what to eat for lunch. My parents always make comfort food and dishes I like when I come home too. So on Monday, I woke up and walked into the kitchen to find some lotus root soup in chicken stock.

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It’s my favorite soup. Sometimes, my mom makes the stock with pork bones but either is delicious. I like the lotus root undercooked so that it’s still got a crunch (like an apple). It gets mushy when it’s overcooked. The soup is pretty plain, just stock and the lotus root. A lot of Chinese soups we make at home are simple and only have 1 or 2 ingredients in addition to the stock. I think the appeal of lotus root is mainly a texture thing. It’s also considered a “cooling” yin food. I’m not sure what else you can use lotus root for. The only two ways I’ve seen it used is in soup and fried. I’ve seen them just freshly sliced and fried but my grandma dries them before frying. That way you can also store the dried chips in the pantry.

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I had some sticky rice with chicken also. My Dad cheated though, he used sushi rice instead of glutinous rice. There wasn’t much to it, just rice, dried shrimp, and chicken but it was tasty.

Love and peace,

Zaw

Lazy Sunday

Today was a lazy day. For breakfast/lunch I had 2 pork buns that I had in the freezer. For my mid-afternoon snack I was going to have a tomato cut into chunks with some salt and pepper but I then had the idea to add a few squirts of fish sauce (a little fish sauce goes a long way!), some peanuts, and laphet. It was delicious. I didn’t have dinner till 10:30 PM. I left Gainesville at 8:30 PM and stopped into my sister’s apartment in Tampa around 10:30 PM to see how she was doing. I had a leftover Olive Garden breadstick and take-out chicken lo mein. The lo mein was too bland, just chicken and lo mein noodles tossed in lots of oil and there were tiny strips of green onion, snow peas, and onion. The chicken pieces were okay, but I marinade my chicken with Xiao Hsing cooking wine and that makes a world of difference. Take-out places should start doing that. I don’t know what I’ll ever do without Xiao Hsing. I was hungry enough though that I ate all of the lo mein (almost a quart?) cold straight out of the take-out box. The breadstick was disappointing. I can’t blame them though; they’re not really meant to be eaten cold. I’ve only had Olive Garden’s breadsticks once before and they were great fresh. Soft and warm. That was my only visit to Olive Garden. Didn’t like it. I believe I ordered shrimp alfredo. What was I thinking? Shrimp, cream, and a ton of pasta? No, Thank you. I’m not a big fan of Italian food like I’ve said before. Then again, It could just be the Americanized Italian food. I’m not really sure how authentic Italian food compares to the likes of Olive Garden and Carrabba’s. If it’s anything like comparing take-out Chinese and authentic Chinese cuisine, authentic Italian food has to be good.

I’ll make a few comments about fish sauce. It comes in a bottle with a squid on the label and you can find it in any Asian grocery store. You won’t find it in the Publix Asian section anytime soon since its got a very fishy smell, for lack of a better description. It’s great in congee and salads (“thote” in Burmese). Laphet is Burmese pickled tea leaves. You won’t find in any other country besides Burma. So good luck getting it unless you know someone coming from Burma. Once you get some though, they last forever in the refrigerator. My family always has a supply of it. I don’t know how to describe the taste. It has a bitter tea taste and there’s a very strong after taste. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Even tea aficionado’s might not like it. Traditionally it’s served as “laphet thote.” It consists of laphet, fried garlic chips, and a variety of roasted bits (fried yellow split peas, peanuts, seasame seeds, and fried yellow beans). You can also add chili peppers, dehydrated shrimp, fish sauce, lime juice, tomatoes, and shredded cabbage. Usually, laphet thote is served to guests in a shallow dish with compartments for each ingredient. Then the guests can put mix their own.

I could go on forever about dehydrated shrimp and laphet, but those will be in another post. I don’t want to start writing a whole book. One thing I’ve found on other food blogs I read is that there isn’t too much text and if there is they are broken up with vibrant pictures so that it doesn’t seem like you’re reading a freakin’ novel. Don’t worry though, I found my camera and I’ll be going to either Kazu’s or Raw Bar Sushi tomorrow for dinner. Expect pictures and my first review!

Love and Peace,

Zaw

Ward’s!

Today I went to Ward’s (health food store in Gainesville, FL). The place is awesome. Their deli has ribs, BBQ chicken wings, and brisket! I bought some BBQ chicken wings from there today and I’ll say that they were the best chicken wings I’ve ever had. It might’ve been because I was starving but the chicken was literally falling off the bone. The wings had a nice smoky flavor but they were lacking a little sodium. The skin was perfect though. It wasn’t too fatty like how some chicken wings can be where you get a quarter inch of fatty skin and little meat. I ate all the cartilage off the bones too. My dad would’ve been proud of me. I would’ve taken pictures but I don’t know where my camera is. I think I left it in Sarasota.

Their seafood section looks good too. They had some nice looking fish (whole perch) and fresh large shrimp. Maybe I’ll try a salt baked fish one day. I’ve wanted to try this Spicy Orange Garlic Shrimp recipe from the Pioneer Woman Cooks also. They’ve also got spices and dried beans they sell by the pound. I’ll have to get some lentils and bay leaves to make some sambar (South Indian lentil soup with veggies). The only time I’ve tried it was at Dr. Shah’s house when I made dinner. Dr. Narayanan (Head of the Religions department at UF) brought sambar and basmati rice to go with it. The rice was cooked with ghee, cloves, cinnamon, and I think fennel seeds (could’ve been cumin, they look alike). The sambar was basically a soup with lentils, tomatoes, and assorted veggies. The lentils were broken down and gave a nice gritty texture that was filling and heart warming. Apparently, sambar is a very common South Indian dish that’s eaten almost everyday with meals. It seems like a simple recipe too, but it was so good.

I’m so glad I live close to Ward’s now. This is going to be great! It’s alot cheaper than Publix too and all the produce is local!

I’m getting hungry again. Time for a nice glass of warm milk and then sleep!

Love and Peace,

Zaw