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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Honeyed 5-Spice Chicken Wings (with Creamy Cilantro Dip)

It’s probably sacrilegious to admit this on a food blog—but I’m a sucker for junk food.  Now I don’t mean junk food in the traditional sense (though I am addicted to potato chips).  Instead, I refer to the junk-y food that most foodies would turn their noses up at.  I love it all: from childhood Big Macs shared with my dad, to boxed Mac n Cheese after late Saturday nights.  And though I haven’t had any in years, I still count Pizza Hut buffalo wings among my list of unabashedly lamentable eating predilections.  While even I will laugh at the thought of Pizza Hut wings ruining me for all other buffalo wings, I will concede that I have yet to find the perfect recipe for homemade buffalo wings.  After all, it’s pretty difficult to compete with the sentimentality of memory and the taste of nostalgia. 

Instead, after taking a break from testing buffalo wing recipes, I took a fortuitous detour that led straight to these irresistible honeyed 5-spice wings!  I’ve always been skeptical of oven-baked wings, but these are the perfect blend of crispy skin, oozing honeyed glaze, and juicy tender meat.  Add the cool, creamy cilantro dip and you’ve got a genius accompaniment for the aromatic complexity from the 5-spice, dry heat from the cayenne, and satisfying indulgence from the honey glaze.  These wings are inspired, dangerously addicting, and absolutely a new favorite.    

Honeyed 5-Spice Wings with Creamy Cilantro Dip
Adapted from Leite’s Culinaria
\Total Recipe Cost: $6.93 for 18 wing pieces!

For the wings:
9 whole chicken wings (~3 lbs)
1 tablespoon 5-spice powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons soy sauce

For the dip:
½ cup minced cilantro
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup light mayonnaise
juice from ½ lemon (~1.5 T)

Preheat the oven to 500 F.

If you have whole chicken wings, separate them at the joints into 3 sections, as pictured.  (For this recipe, you’ll only need the wings and drummettes.  I usually pop the wing tips the freezer and save them for future use in making chicken stock.)  Put the wings in a large bowl, and toss with the 5 spice, cayenne, and a generous sprinkling of salt.  Rub the spice mixture thoroughly onto each wing piece.

Place the chicken wings on baking sheet (lined with parchment paper or foil for easy cleanup).  Bake at 500 F for 20 minutes.

While the wings are baking, mix together all the dip ingredients and refrigerate.  Also, mix the honey and soy sauce together.  After the 20 minutes of baking, remove the wings from the oven and brush them with the honey-soy mixture.  Put the wings back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes until they are crispy and oozing with honey glaze. Serve the wings hot with the chilled cilantro dip and a tall stack of napkins!

Unit Cost
Total Cost
9 whole chicken wings
1 T 5-spice powder
2 t cayenne pepper

2 t honey
2 t soy sauce
½ C minced cilantro
$0.59/bundle (~ ¼ lb)
½ C sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
Juice from ½ lemon


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ahi Poke

All my friends are in Hawaii without me!  Granted, this is blatant exaggeration, but still, it's remarkable that four different sets of friends are all there on vacation or honeymoon (Congratulations Heidi and Fara!!).  While they're in Hawaii enjoying palm trees, cloudless skies, and turquoise waters, I'm stuck in San Diego with all the palm trees, cloudless skies, and... hmm.  Admittedly, San Diego itself is no slouch in the paradise department, but there's no place else quite like Hawaii.  And if I can't be in Hawaii, I might as well eat like I'm there!

The first time I had poke (pronounced poh-keh) was during a visit to my friend Rachel's house in Oahu.  While I'd been to Hawaii before with my family, it's a different experience all together when you've got the low-down on all the local eats.  A substantial part of the trip centered around food, and in fact, for one particularly lavish dinner, we even took before + after photos--proof of our 6 month-sized food babies.  We feasted on everything from shave ice at Matsumoto's, to spam musubis at 7-eleven, shrimp trucks on North Shore, and of course, poke.  

At first glance, my impression of poke wasn't overwhelming; I was greeted by several unassuming containers from Foodland (a local grocery store), but upon opening the lids, the sight of these luscious chunks of ahi made my mouth immediately water.  The simple sesame-shoyu dressing doesn't overpower, but rather enhances, the fresh flavor of the fish.  And to clarify, when I say fresh, I mean really fresh--totally raw.  Throughout my childhood, my parents were constantly paranoid about the dangers of less-than-fully cooked meat, and it wasn't until college that I started to embrace the joy of runny eggs, rare steak, and still-pink pork.  In fact, it was around the time of this first poke encounter that I had begun dipping my toes into the world of sushi and raw fish.  And so, not one to miss out on a true Hawaiian treat, and like the intrepid diner I am, I just dived right in for that first delicious bite of poke and haven't looked back since.  

Left to right: Garnished with sesame seeds, scallions, and nori.
Ahi Poke
Total Recipe Cost: $14.95 for 3 servings!  

While I like to consider myself an expert at eating Hawaiian food, I certainly can't claim to be an expert at cooking authentic Hawaiian cuisine.  But, thank goodness I have friends from Hawaii to consult with (thanks Mikey)!

½ lb ahi tuna, sushi grade
1 large shallot
2 stalks scallions*
1 tablespoon soy sauce (called shoyu in Hawaii)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (or similar)
½ teaspoon sesame seeds

Cut the tuna into bite-sized chunks.  Then, mince the shallots and scallions, setting aside some minced scallions for garnish.  Mix everything together.  Garnish with scallions or additional sesame seeds, and serve chilled as an appetizer!  Take a bite, then close your eyes and pretend to be in Hawaii…

Unit Cost
Total Cost
½ lb ahi tuna, sushi grade
1 large shallot
2 stalks scallions*
1 T soy sauce
2 t sesame oil
1 t Sriracha sauce
½ t sesame seeds



*As mentioned in a previous post, scallions are ridiculously easy to grow!  Watering is optional needed only occasionally.  Mine have survived over a month without watering!  But they prefer at least once every few days.  

When you buy scallions (with roots attached), use the stalks as usual, but leave at least an inch or two from the end of the roots.  Fully submerge the root portion in water for a few days.  Then, plant the rootlets and enjoy the bounty of your free food!  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Siu Yuk (Crispy Roast Pork)

Pork belly will never top anyone’s health food list.  With its crispy skin, generous marbling of fat, and succulent (faintly spiced) meat, this roast pork belly is comforting, familiar, but yes—utterly decadent.  Growing up, we ate siu yuk often enough that it might have become commonplace, but still it remained a special treat.  It was treasured enough that when we brought some home from the store, even before the groceries were stowed away, I'd have opened the aluminum takeout tray and would already be crunching away on a choice piece.  I'd get scolded of course, but not before everyone joined me at the counter, all of us scrounging for the tastiest bits.

Poking holes all over the skin gets it bubbly-crisp, while a light marinade on the meat provides subtle flavor!
In truth, the real scolding came at dinnertime, when my parents sternly warned me to cut away the fat from the meat.  By the end of the meal, everyone else would have a neat pile of discarded fat, but my plate would be curiously clean; "Oops," I'd say innocently.  It's only fitting then that my parents were both aghast and exasperated when I told them last week I'd be testing out this siu yuk recipe, which calls for one of the fattiest (but oh-so-good) cuts of meat—pork belly.  Frankly, I was a little apprehensive myself (since I’m “California-healthy” now, hah) but those worries melted away at the first taste: salty crunch, hot fat, butter-soft meat, and nostalgia all wrapped up in a single bite. 

Siu Yuk (Chinese Crispy Roast Pork)
Barely adapted from Bee Yinn Low's Easy Chinese Recipes
Total Recipe Cost: $6.64 for 6 servings (2 lbs)!  (At the store, siu yuk costs ~$10/lb)

Like cha siu, siu yuk is ubiquitous throughout Chinatown; these roast pigs hang in restaurant windows at every street corner, tempting passersby with their gloriously golden, crunchy skin.  Unlike cha siu, siu yuk (in its usual form) is nearly impossible for the home cook to attempt.  After all, how many ovens can accommodate a full-sized pig?  Fortunately, all you need to recreate siu yuk here is a handful of spices, a small slab of pork belly, and a healthy appetite!

The key to this recipe is crisping the skin properly:  
1) Don't skimp on the air-drying step, which removes most of the moisture from the skin.  
2) More importantly, make sure to thoroughly prick the skin with holes.  During the roasting, hot fat and oil will bubble out from the holes, crackling the skin.  I've never seen this, but my dad says that in Chinatown, they have actual boards with nail-like protrusions to smack against the full length of the pig.  In comparison, my method of poking (by individual bbq skewer) is pretty inefficient, but effective nonetheless!  Make as many holes as possible, no matter how exhausting.  Your arms may get tired, but your stomach will thank you later!

1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

2 lbs pork belly

Combine all the marinade ingredients and set aside.  (Don't be alarmed, the mixture stays a bit gritty.)

First, the pork belly skin must be carefully cleaned (and kept intact).  This is very important, since the skin is the most delicious part!  To clean the skin, scrape the surface with a sharp knife to remove residual hair/debris.  Rinse the meat off in cold water and thoroughly pat dry.

Using a barbecue skewer (or similar), thoroughly poke small holes all over the skin.  This will help with crisping the skin later.  Turning the pork belly over (skin side down), use a sharp knife to score the meat part of the pork belly with shallow slits.  Brush the marinade mixture onto the meat and in between the slits.  Be careful not to get the marinade onto the skin, though if you do, just pat it dry.  Flip the pork belly over, so its skin side up, and salt the skin generously.  Let the meat sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours.  This dries out the skin, so that it can get crispier!  (You can also use a fan to help air-dry the skin.)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Tightly wrap the meat side of the pork belly in aluminum foil (two layers), leaving the skin exposed.  Roast the meat for 40 minutes.  Remove it from the oven, brush the skin with oil, and sprinkle with additional salt.  Change the oven setting to broil, and position the pork directly under the broiler (~6 in away).  Broil for 3-5 minutes, (carefully monitoring) until the skin is golden and bubbly-crispy.  If the skin is not crispy enough, you may need to poke more holes in the skin; alternatively, the meat can be briefly fried (skin-side down) in a heavy skillet.

After removing the pork from the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes.  Cut the pork into pieces, and eat immediately with hoisin sauce for dipping!

For leftovers:
While siu yuk tastes best when fresh and crispy, I've found a few ways to still enjoy it the day after.  Remove the siu yuk from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.  Heat up a lightly oiled skillet for several minutes.  Place the meat (skin-side down) in the skillet, and fry it for a few minutes until crispy.  If you flip over the pork to heat the meat side, try not to cook it for too long--the meat will dry out quickly.  After all, a partially-warmed meal is a small price to pay for crispy skin, tender meat, and full flavor!

Unit Cost
Total Cost
1 ½ T soy sauce
¾ t salt

½ t 5-spice powder
½ t sugar
¼ t white pepper
2 lb pork belly



Monday, August 13, 2012

Berry Gin Fizz

Third year committee meeting finished?  Check.  PhD thesis project complete?  Not even close...  Celebratory drink to mark the end of my third year of grad school?  Of course!

This fruity gin concoction is sweet, refreshing, and perfect for summer evenings and special occasions... for example, birthdays!  (Happy birthday, Gip!  Here's my take on your "Gin + juice")

Even gin-haters will gobble down this drink; the gin here is as subtle and restrained as the berries are exuberant.  While gin tastes like Christmas trees in your mouth (in the best way), this drink is pure (boozy) summer-in-a-glass.  So whip up a pitcher, sit on a porch somewhere, and sip away the summer with your friends by your side, and one of these in your hand.  Cheers!

Berry Gin Fizz
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Total Recipe Cost: $1.58 per drink!

Of course fresh berries probably taste better, but the added bonus of the frozen mix here (besides cost) is that you can make one of these any time...  You might also be pleased to know that even with medium-to-low shelf alcohol, this tastes delicious!

1/4 cup frozen berries (I used a mix of black-, blue-, rasp-, and strawberries.)
2 tablespoons sugar
3 oz gin (1.5 shots)
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 1 small lime)
club soda

Add the frozen berries to a tall glass and allow them to thaw.  Add sugar, then use the back of a fork to smash the berries into a coarse puree.  Add the gin and lime juice.  Top off with club soda, as desired (I used ~6 T).  Add ice, stir to combine, and garnish with a lime slice.  Enjoy!

Unit Cost
Total Cost
¼ C frozen berries
$0.33/oz (~$2.00/C)
2 T sugar
3 oz gin (1.5 shots)
1/4 cup lime juice
Club soda


Monday, April 16, 2012

Lemon Braided Bread

The bread machine is a glorious thing.  Toss in a few ingredients, and--presto! magic!  Before you know it, a lush, steaming loaf is ready to slice into.  Just imagine, with the press of a single button, your kitchen is filled with that perfect, yeasty, fresh-baked bread smell.  The only thing wrong with this marvelous machine is that it can't make this Lemon Braided Bread.

Oops, I was so excited to record the braiding process, that I forgot to fold over that bottom flap before photographing!
Having a bread machine means that any hand-made bread recipe seems, at least, infinitely more difficult, and this recipe was no exception.  Naturally, I just had to make the most complicated-looking bread ever--I blame this insanity on a sudden lemon curd craving.  Surprisingly, although I would definitely classify it as a weekend recipe, this process is long but sneakily simple.  Frankly, as a beginner, I was shocked that my finished product was so beautiful!  With its crunchy sugar crust, fluffy interior, and refreshing lemon cream filling, this bread is certainly worth the extra effort!

Even better, after making this bread, there's leftover lemon curd.  If you're feeling generous, plop on a bow and it's perfect for gifting; otherwise, I won't blame you if you'd rather slather it on toast for a midnight snack.  Personally, I'm plotting to stuff it into cupcakes... 

Braided Lemon Bread
Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Total Recipe Cost: $3.01 for 10 servings!  This bread is huge, guys. 

Given my lack of bread making experience, I will unabashedly admit that I had to Wikipedia what a sponge is.  Basically, the sponge kick-starts the fermentation process which makes for happy yeast and thus happy bread.  And honestly, I’m too scared of bread-making to really deviate much from the recipe.

The original recipe calls for pearl sugar to sprinkle over the top of the bread.  I suspected this would be expensive, and couldn’t find it anyways, so looked for the largest sugar crystals I could find, hoping they wouldn’t melt away during baking.  I used “Natural Cane Turbinado Sugar” (the generic, and thus cheaper, version of  “Sugar In The Raw,” which worked splendidly!

6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1.5 teaspoons yeast (also called bread machine yeast)
¼ cup all-purpose flour

Sponge (made above)
6 tablespoons sour cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups all-purpose flour

Cream Cheese Filling
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Lemon Curd Filling (recipe below)
¼ cup lemon curd

Egg Wash
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Making the Dough:
Stir together all the sponge ingredients, until well mixed.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 10-15 minutes. 
Mix together the sponge, sour cream, butter, beaten egg, sugar, salt, and vanilla until well stirred.  Add the flour and stir until a “rough, shaggy” dough forms.  Knead the dough (it will be quite sticky and soft) on a lightly floured surface for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth.  Let the dough rise in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap.  After 60-90 minutes, the dough should be puffy, almost doubled in size, and ready to braid!

Making the filling (while your dough rises):
-Combine all cream cheese filling ingredients, stirring until smooth. 
-Prepare the lemon curd.  The curd recipe below will more than what’s needed for this bread—a perfect gifting opportunity!

Braiding the bread:
Roll out the dough on floured parchment paper, making a large rectangle (roughly 10"x15").  With the side of your hand, make indentations in the dough to divide it into 3 equal columns, lengthwise.  Leaving the top and bottom 2 inches clear, spread cream cheese filling in the center section, then top with the lemon curd.  
To prepare for forming the braid, cut the outer columns crosswise into 1 inch strips (use the dull edge of the knife so the parchment paper isn't cut).  Make sure there is an equal number of strips on both sides.  Remove the top-most and bottom-most strips (the 4 corners of the rectangle); these leftover dough strips can be balled up and baked (at the same time as the braid) as a single roll.  
Start braiding by folding the top and bottom flaps over the lemon filling.  Then, fold the top most dough strip diagonally over the filling.   Do the same to the other side, alternately folding left and right strips.  At the end of the braid, the last two strips can be folded over, then tucked beneath the braid.  
If you are preparing the bread ahead of time, it can be frozen here--to be resumed within a week.  If frozen for a few days, bring the dough to room temperature and proceed to the steps below. 
Transfer the bread (and parchment paper) to a baking sheet, and loosely cover with plastic wrap.  Allow the bread to rise for 45-60 minutes.  

Baking the bread:
Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Whisk together the egg wash ingredients, and brush it over the dough.  Use just enough egg wash to coat the bread; don't use it all.  Sprinkle generously with large sugar crystals (i.e. turbinado), then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Allow the bread to rest 15 minutes, then dig in!  

Unit Cost
Total Cost
1 t + ¼ C + 2 T sugar
1.5 t instant yeast (also called bread machine)
¼ C + 2.5 C + 2 T flour
$0.01/T flour
6 T + 2 T sour cream
4 T unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 t salt

1 t vanilla extract
1/3 C cream cheese
1 t lemon juice

Incl. in lemon curd cost
¼ C lemon curd (below)
Turbinado sugar



Lemon Curd
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Total Recipe Cost: $0.64 for ½ cup!

While my lab work requires me to attend to amounts as small as picograms, cooking—thank goodness—is much more forgiving.  (Or perhaps I just have a forgiving palette.)  In any case, the original recipe is more exact; here, I use all the juice and all the zest from a single medium lemon.  It’s not particularly precise, but at least it’s not wasteful!  In the same vein, for the braided bread recipe, I only use 1 lemon for the entire recipe.  Instead of reserving all the lemon juice for the curd, I sneak away 1 teaspoon for the cream cheese filling.  Voila, no waste!

Zest from 1 (medium) lemon, grated
Juice from 1 medium lemon (~3 T)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Cut the butter into small pieces, and combine all ingredients in a saucepan.  On medium-low heat, whisk frequently until the butter melts and the curd is thickened.  This will take about 5 minutes, or until bubbles start coming up and the curd is thick enough to hold whisk marks. 

Transfer the curd to a bowl and cover its surface with plastic wrap (this will prevent a film from forming).  Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before use.  Lemon curd is great in the baked goods (as in above), and even just spread on toast!

Unit Cost
Total Cost
Zest from 1 lemon
Juice from 1 lemon
3 T sugar
1 egg
2 T unsalted butter


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pan-Seared Shrimp with Sesame Peanut Salad

Sadly, this Valentine's Day themed post is nearly one month overdue.  No matter, the tardiness is quite fitting, considering that I'm not so crazy about VDay hype.  While I love any excuse for a nice restaurant outing, I'm not one for demanding chocolates or presents, except in jest (Oh Buddy, look, a jewelry sale*). Because really, who wouldn't prefer being romantic and appreciative every day instead of just once a year?  And what better way to show your love than with a home-cooked meal on a regular, ordinary-turned-special night?

The added bonus of this meal is that thanks to some Martha Stewart craftiness, you can finally repurpose that romaine lettuce stump.  Need a Valentine's Day (or other) card?  No problem--just have salad the night before!

Pan-Seared Shrimp and Sesame Peanut Salad
Adapted from my mom
Total Recipe Cost: $12.74 for 4 servings!

Usually, I make these shrimp on their own, seared with crispy ginger and garlic, then tossed with barely cooked slivers of scallions.  With its savory saltiness and sweet succulent flesh, these shrimp need no accompaniment; I’ll admit that the lettuce here was just a sneaky ploy to have a lettuce stump for card-making.  In truth, the delicate and subtle flavor of the shrimp can stand on its own, and doesn’t need to hide beneath peanut sesame dressing.  That being said, the lettuce and cucumbers do add a refreshing, healthful crunch, and I’m never one to say no to more vegetables!

4 cloves of garlic
1 small piece of ginger
1 lb jumbo shrimp, deveined
1 head of romaine lettuce
1 cucumber

Finely mince garlic and ginger, and then set aside to fry up with the shrimp.   

Heat a skillet on high for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, rinse the shrimp, then pat dry with paper towels.  Turn the heat down to medium, and place shrimp in the pan, without oil.  Depending on their size, sear the shrimp until they’re fully cooked, flipping once.   For my enormous prawns (16 per lb, shell on), it was approximately 3 minutes per side, but I generally just judge by appearance; once cooked through, the shrimp flesh should lose its translucence.  In the last few minutes of cooking, add some oil and the minced garlic and ginger, so it can get crispy.  Once done, set the shrimp aside to rest and cool slightly. 

Wash and chop the lettuce into bite-sized pieces (reserve the end of the lettuce stump for some arts n’ crafts, above, if desired).   Thinly slice the cucumbers, and toss with the lettuce.  Top the salad with the ginger-garlic shrimp, and drizzle with Peanut Sesame Dressing (below).  Enjoy with a glass of wine, and your special Valentine!

Unit Cost
Total Cost
16 large shrimp
1 small piece of ginger
Several cloves of garlic
1 head of romaine lettuce
1 cucumber
$0.49 each
Peanut sesame dressing
(see below)


Sesame Peanut Dressing
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Total Recipe Cost: $3.51 for 1.5 cups!

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup water

Pulse everything together in a food processor until smooth.  Store in the refrigerator for future salads!

Unit Cost
Total Cost
½ C peanut butter
¼ C soy sauce
¼ C water
2 T rice vinegar
3 T sesame oil
2 T honey
1 t red pepper flakes



Questions about the "Total Recipe Cost"?  Click here!

*Who buys a ring that costs as much as a house??  And why is it being sold at Costco??  More absurdly, I saw another ring at Costco that was several million dollars.  And someone bought it.