A fabulous brunch

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It’s spring and asparagus is in season! I went nuts in Chinatown when I saw that the most beautiful asparagus was only $0.79/lb and bought two huge bunches. Then I had to decide what to do with the asparagus, so the first night I made a tomato sauce with zucchini, onion, mushroom, asparagus and kielbasa sausage for my spaghetti. Plenty of sauce was left over and this brunch was born.

Hash browns topped with the pasta sauce, finished off with two poached eggs and roasted asparagus with a sprinkle of Irish cheddar.

Eggs three ways

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What do you do when both you and your roommate bring home 2 dozen eggs each? Go egg crazy and make eggs three ways!

One: (more) Chinese tea eggs

I made 15 more Chinese tea eggs as my first attempt to use a lot of eggs. Yum!

Two: eggs en cocotte

I’ve read many, many recipes for eggs en cocotte, but never made them before because I rarely have heavy cream in my fridge. This Saturday morning, I did, and I had a friend coming over so I decided to try it based on what I remembered. I like that eggs en cocotte is a true “leftover” recipe – you can use whatever leftover veggies or light dish you have on hand and just add an egg. In this case, I sauteed some spinach, mushrooms and a leftover onion and put them in a small Pyrex bowl. Topped with 2 tbsp’s heavy cream, some Irish cheddar (my new favorite cheese – way better than parmesan!), cracked an egg on top and put it in the oven. I wasn’t really sure why the recipes say you have to add heavy cream, but once you try it, you’ll never go back. The heavy cream added a creamy flavor to the veggies that paired well with the baked egg. I also didn’t add any butter to my recipe, so it felt healthier.

Three: eggs baked in tomatoes

Loosely based off this recipe, I picked up two large tomatoes, hollowed them out, cracked an egg in each, topped with a little Irish cheddar and baked. Tomatoes are up there on my list of favorite foods, next to eggs, so this was the most delicious dish to me. The egg whites were loose, but not runny – perfectly cooked in my opinion. Next time, I’m going to rub the inside of the tomato with pesto before baking, which should give it more flavor. Again, no butter or oil in this recipe, so it tasted healthy to me (besides the fact that I ate 3 eggs for brunch).

Chinese tea eggs

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On a recent visit to SF Chinatown, street vendors were selling Chinese tea eggs as a Chinese New Year specialty. I decided to make my own as a treat for myself since eggs are one of my favorite foods. I adapted from a few recipes I saw online and came up with my own method for the recipe.

I love eggs and eat them like candy if I can’t help myself, so I decided to up the recipe to 10 eggs and soft boil them with my tried and true method – cover eggs in room temperature water in a pot, high heat for 10 minutes, then rinse eggs under cool water.

The main variation in my recipe was inspired by my desire to multi-task. The longer you simmer the eggs, the more flavorful they get, but I wasn’t about to sit around for 2 hours watching the stove and adding more water to my simmering egg + tea leaf mixture, so I bought the tea leaf mixture to a boil and threw everything into a crock pot (slow cooker). 15 hours later, I had the best tea eggs I’d ever tasted – the yolks were infused with the flavors of the tea and spices, while the whites were perfectly marbled and pretty (my friends think it looks like a dinosaur egg in my photo).

Storing the tea eggs is important, too. I didn’t want the eggs drying out, so I put them into a large glass jar and covered them with the remaining liquid mixture. This way, as they keep in my fridge, they will derive more flavor from the liquid!

The tea eggs are delicious as a snack or in ramen and I love how they look. I’m keeping the leftover liquid for my next batch.

Roasted leg of lamb

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Lamb is one of my favorite meats to cook because it’s one of the hardest meats to perfect. It can easily be overcooked, under seasoned (leaving a heavy gamey flavor in the meat) or poorly cut (you end up chewing through fat and muscle more than meat).

Julia Child has a few marinade recipes that work for lamb, but I think the marinade matters less than the cooking method. If you’re making an entire roasted leg of lamb, I’d suggest studding the lamb with garlic cloves – this imparts a great flavor to the meat, without being too strong. Just take a knife, stab the meat and put cloves into each hole. The garlic cloves are pretty well caramelized and edible after roasting, too! You can see the garlic cloves in the meat in this photo:

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Cooking method best summed up by Simply Recipes:

Preheat oven to 425°F. Arrange two racks in the oven – a middle rack to hold the lamb, and a lower rack to hold a roasting pan with which to catch the drippings. Place the empty roasting pan in the oven while the oven is pre-heating. Note that this arrangement of racks and pans, with the roast sitting directly on the oven rack, will create a natural convection of heat in the oven, causing the roast to cook more quickly than if cooked the traditional method in a rack in a roasting pan.

Roast at 425°F for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 300°F and roast an additional hour (for a 6 pound roast), about 10-12 minutes per pound.

In the lower pan, put some fingerling potatoes tossed in olive oil. The drippings will give the potatoes flavor and make the outsides crispy. These are the best potatoes I’ve ever had.

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Japanese curry in 2 meals

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My latest obsession is Japanese curry. I had it at Curry House in Cupertino and looooved it so very much. Of course, new obsession means I’m going to cook it at least a dozen times until I perfect it.

You can make Japanese curry from the S&B curry bricks or make your own curry roux base and freeze it. Either way, you’ll have curry bricks ready to melt into water for a quick meal anytime!

Above, I made a simple ground beef and onion curry over whole wheat spaghetti. I topped it with sauteed thick slices of zucchini, my favorite gourd, which is an idea I got from a Japanese curry restaurant I went to. One of the topping options was zucchini and it tasted great with the curry! This took about 20 minutes total.

Below, I had potato and onion curry over some of my leftover char siu fried rice from a few days prior. Very simple and helped me get through my leftovers.

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Wontons, shui gao and ramen

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Every time I tell my friends I eat ramen a lot, they seemed shocked because I’m the active chef amongst us. However, my ramen is often a feast!

The most important part of a delicious ramen meal is to start out with a good brand of ramen. Choosing ramen can get to be a lengthy process as there are different types of noodles, flavors and even the difference between the “instant” cup/bowl varities and bags is great. Here are my favorite kinds:

  • Korean Nong Shim shin ramyum – a thicker noodle with a spicy soup. I usually only use half the soup packet otherwise my mouth is on fire and I can’t taste anything.
  • The classic Chinese CQYD by Nissin – a delicious, more typical ramen style noodle that doesn’t get soggy if it sits in the soup for a while. There are at least a dozen flavors and XO Sauce is by far my favorite.
  • Sau Tao ho fun – a thin, flat rice noodle with a great soup base. Mushroom or chicken abalone are delish!
  • Matsuda rice vermicelli noodles also hold up well and have a good soup base, but I buy them in the bag and not instant bowl.

A good bowl of ramen wouldn’t be filling without wontons or dumplings of some sort, so I make my own wontons and shui gao (water dumplings). I usually go nuts and make them in bulk, then freeze them for future consumption. Quick recipes as follows:

Wontons

My family made wontons on occasion when I was a child, so I’ve followed what I remember of my parents recipe with some of my own modifications. This will make roughly 2/3-¾ of a package of wonton skins.

  • ½ lb. lean ground pork
  • ½ lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined (I buy the frozen shelled and deveined shrimp at Costco)
  • 3 baby bok choy (a.k.a. Shanghai bok choy)
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • ½ tbsp. sesame oil
  • ½ tbsp. dark soy sauce
  • ½ tbsp. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of white pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten into mixture

Chop up the bok choy so it fits into a food processor. Turn it on “chop” until you get small pieces, but not too fine. Do the same with the shrimp, being sure you have peanut sized pieces and not shrimp paste. Stir together in a large bowl with the ground pork; add seasonings, mix well. Beat in egg until well incorporated. Then follow this awesome tutorial by Rasa Malaysia on how to wrap a wonton. Voila, you’re done!

Shui gao recipe is pretty much the same, except I add more shrimp than pork. Maybe 2/3 lb. shrimp, 1/3 lb. pork. I also add in about half a finely shredded carrot and 3 finely chopped shitake mushrooms. Don’t add beaten egg, though. Wrap with shui gao wrappers, which are round instead of square like wonton wrappers, and finish with a shui gao press (you can buy this at an Asian discount store for $1).

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Adding the chopped up bok choy to your wontons or shui gao adds a fluffy, lightly crunchy flavor to the dumpling. Recipes usually call for 1 tbsp. of cornstarch to achieve this, but I like the taste of the bok choy. Freezing the dumplings are easy – just freeze them on a plate in a single layer for an hour to two, then throw them all in a ziploc freezer bag. To cook, just add to boiling water until they float, which indicates their doneness.

So back to the ramen. I add a bunch of extras to my ramen to make a whole meal out of it – some fish cake, wontons and/or shui gao, enoki mushrooms, seaweed and poached egg. This makes a hearty meal that’s also quick and easy!

My friend Joe asked me about the cost per serving of my ramen.. I calculated it out to be roughly $1.25 for each meal. A bowl of ramen at my favorite ramen shop is ~$9 with tax and tip.

Char siu fried rice & garlic honey eggplant

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I haven’t made fried rice in a while and was inspired this past Sunday afternoon as I was strolling through Chinatown. I went into my favorite to-go shop and got 1 lb. of char siu, chopped up. The fried rice was made loosely following Rasa Malaysia’s Chinese fried rice recipe with the following changes:

  • Substituted overnight fried rice with fresh cooked rice that was cooled down on a cookie sheet
  • Instead of all the crazy sauces, I just put 2 tbsp soy sauce and ½ tspn sugar
  • For veggies, I chopped up ½ lb of baby bok choy I had leftover from making wontons and ½ cup frozen vegetables blanched in boiling water
  • 1 lb of bite size char siu, fat removed

My favorite part of the Rasa Malaysia recipe is the “egg well” that produces the perfect, fluffy, bite sized pieces of egg in the fried rice. With all my ingredients, my fried rice was pretty delicious and I made enough for leftovers and lunches this week.

The stuff surrounding the fried rice is garlic and honey glazed egg plant. I salted the eggplant slices and let them dehydrate on a paper towel for 15 minutes – this is important because it reduces the water content of the egg plant and also removes some of the bitter flavor. Next, I brushed the eggplant lightly with honey and sauteed them in olive oil that had slices of garlic. This imparted a nice sweet and garlicky flavor to the eggplant and was healthy!