Sunday, September 8, 2013

flatbread pizza

This blog is like my journal of creative endeavor.  Flipping back till 3 years and 1 month ago, my very first entry, is like reliving these past three years, a full spectrum of emotions flushing back.  Starting with simply passion and enthusiasm, I devoted a lot of spare time to learning and refining my photography and styling skills.  It was also then that I got into the habit of shopping photo props.  Eventually when I moved out of Watertown, NY, I'd had a considerable collection of them.  Unfortunately, while I was busy buying them, my aesthetic was evolving too.  I ended up having to throw away a lot of early purchases.  Then, the next chapter of life is called New York City.  I was fortunately enough to get in touch with a food photographer Colin who was willing to take me on board, so here it started my professional photography journey.  I was dreaming bold, full of ambition and aspiration.  I felt like living my dream! However, as days rolling by, and I learning and seeing the reality of the photo business, I became more grounded and started asking myself where my life was going.  With the professional photo industry floundering as DSLR cameras are more affordable and accessible to normal people, even experienced and well-established photographers are having a hard time making ends meet, where should all these young aspiring photographers go? I started to have doubt.  Colin advised me "Give it 5 years to build your network and brand, MAYBE you can make it." Yes, maybe or maybe not.  I couldn't wait that long just to find out it's a dead end.  The inability of seeing and controlling where my life was going frustrated me, but unfortunately this is the fundamental nature of any creative career.  I realized the discrepancy between a passion and a career. I was torn.  As much as it was hard to say good bye to all I'd invested in, my connection, equipment, website, job and newly acquired clients etc,  it was more important to realize that I was yearning for something more stable and foreseeable.  I had the urge to get back in control.  So I left.

Then it was a quiet year up here on the blog as I was working hard to transition my life.  I was eventually accepted to a master program to study something not as glamorous, but that would work out for my personality in the long term.  First week of school is just over.  I felt great!  Motivated, optimistic, and excited about my newest chapter of life!  Reflecting on my prior 3 years' emotional journey, I feel calm and peaceful.  As Steve Jobs once said, you have to look back, not forward, your life to make sense of all the random things that happened.  I think my past life as a photographer is already starting to make sense.

This blog may be quiet in the near future as I will be quite busy studying, but I will try to update it whenever I feel like using my creative right brain, just to give my overused left brain a break!

I've been itchy to try making flatbread pizza for a while.  The crust is lighter,crunchier and heartier. This weekend, I eventually made a point to go to an Indian grocery store and bought a bag of whole wheat flatbread.   Using whatever I had in the fridge, I made these two pizza.  The first one came with customized tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes diced into halves, mozzarella cheese, sautéed Chinese sausage (Yes, Chinese sausage, lightly sweet!), fresh basil and ricotta cheese.  I sprinkled some ground parmesan cheese after 12 mins baking at 400F.  It came out amazin'.  It's actually my first ever homemade pizza, much better than what I thought. I twisted the store bought canned tomato sauce by heating it on the stove to thicken the sauce and adding minced garlic, pinch of dried parsley, basil and oregano, as well as some honey.  The sauce turned out rich and sweet. It formed a thick foundation for my other ingredients.  For my second pizza, I threw in mozzarella cheese on top of the tomato sauce, sautéed mushroom and caramelized onion, and sprinkled dried thyme on top.  I didn't have a recipe in mind.  I was just being creative!   As I was juggling between cooking, styling and photography,  the sun was setting.  My kitchen window faces the west, so I was able to get very directional and rich-colored natural light, while my background was able to remain dark.   I am very happy with the photos, as you can see, coming from the left, the sun shined through the basil leaf,  giving the photo a rich tone and dramatic look.  All right, enough for the pedantic technicality, just enjoy the photos.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

my first homemade gravlax

Intrigued by some gravlax photos shared on my Facebook newsfeed, I looked into it and found the method quite simple and fast, I decided to give it a try this weekend.   New York temperature has been in the upper 90s in the past week.  I lost motivation to cook anything or eat anything hot.   This recipe came just in time.

The original recipe comes from Saveur as below,

2 tbsp. white peppercorns
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
1 tbsp. caraway seeds
2⁄3 cup kosher salt
1⁄3 cup sugar
2-lb. center-cut, skin-on salmon filet
1 cup dill sprigs, plus 1/3 cup chopped dill
1⁄4 cup aquavit (optional)
Mustard-Dill Sauce
1. In a small food processor, pulse peppercorns, fennel seeds, and caraway seeds until coarsely ground; combine with salt and sugar. Stretch plastic wrap over a plate; sprinkle with half the salt mixture. Place salmon filet on top, flesh side up. Cover with remaining salt mixture, dill sprigs, and aquavit.
2. Fold plastic wrap ends around salmon; wrap tightly with more plastic wrap. Refrigerate the fish on the plate for 48–72 hours, turning the package every 12 hours and using your fingers to redistribute the herb-and-spice-infused brine that accumulates as the salt pulls moisture from the salmon. The gravlax should be firm to the touch at the thickest part when fully cured.
3. Unwrap salmon, discarding the spices, dill, and brine. Rinse the filet under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Cover a large plate with the chopped dill. Firmly press the flesh side of the gravlax into the dill to coat it evenly.
4. Place gravlax skin side down on a board. With a long, narrow-bladed knife (use a granton slicer if you have one; the divots along the blade make for smoother, more uniform slices), slice gravlax against grain, on the diagonal, into thin pieces. Serve with mustard–dill sauce or on knäckebröd with minced onion. Refrigerate any remaining gravlax, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 weeks.
SERVES 8 – 10

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Weekend brunch idea-baked eggs

Since I started my new job, I haven't really had a chance to enjoy breakfast. The hectic weekday morning ritual confines me to either PBJ sandwich, or fried eggs and bacon. The weekday ritual momentum somehow tends to drive into the weekends, when I sleep in and eat two meals a day.  Of course the hunger kicks in around mid-afternoon. I finally wrapped up my sleeve and decided to cook weekend brunches to reward my bored stomach. Here is the very first attempt. Baked eggs!


1 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 tbsp. cooked chopped spinach, squeezed to extract excess liquid
4 eggs
½ tomato
2 tbsp. heavy cream
2 tbsp. grated parmesan
½ tsp. chopped fresh thyme
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Heat oven to broil and place a rack 10" from the heating element. Grease two 8-oz. gratin dishes with butter. To each dish, add 2 tbsp. spinach. Using your fingers, make 2 wells in each pile of spinach and crack 2 eggs into each dish.

2. Cut tomato into wedges and nestle 4 wedges on opposite sides of each dish. Pour 1 tbsp. heavy cream into each dish.
3. Sprinkle each dish with 1 tbsp. parmesan, 1⁄4 tsp. thyme, 1⁄8 tsp. nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to oven rack and broil until the cheese is golden brown, and the eggs are set. (depending on how you wanna your eggs, you might wanna adjust the cooking time) 10mins. 

4. Use tongs and a kitchen towel to transfer dishes to 2 serving plates lined with paper napkins to prevent the dishes from slipping.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pesto pesto

Recently, I got a sweet basil plant with the intent of whipping up a batch of homemade pesto.  It turned out to be a long and arduous journey, involving no less than five grocery stores to acquire all the ingredients.  Do you know how hard it is to get pine nuts in Elmhurst?

Anyway, ingredients in hand, I parked myself in front of my woefully-underpowered blender and set to work on two batches, one using the traditional recipe with pine nuts and one with walnuts instead of pine nuts and added parsley to give it a little twist.  The traditional batch was a little more nutty, while my custom creation was a little more mellow.  Here is the link to Saveur magazine that inspired my creation.

Classic pesto genovese recipe:


4 cups packed basil, blanched briefly in boiling water and shocked in ice water
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Coarse sea salt and black pepper to taste


Process basil, oil, parmesan, pine nuts,and garlic in a food processor until smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Pesto di noce (walnut pesto)


1 1/2 cups packed basil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
1/2 cups packed fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic
Sea salt and  black pepper, to taste

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thai green papaya salad ( Som Tam)

It's summer time again! My favorite season of the year. When I was a kid, the whole idea of summer simply meant school break, watermelon, grapes, swimming, ice cream, and days and nights spent playing with my cousins in my grandpa's house in the countryside. I am so grateful to have a happy childhood, highlighted by those carefree summers in the countryside playing like there's no tomorrow.  Although there's no more school breaks, and family is far far away, I still love summer the most, for its variety of fruits, for girls' vibrant-colored dresses, and for the refreshing summer food, such as this green papaya salad.  It's been so hot in NYC recently, almost 100F. I've lost appetite to make anything hot. I tried this in a Thai restaurant in my neighborhood and fell in love immediately. Sweet balances with salty, crunchy mixed with chewy...   and I decided to recreate it by myself.

I used the recipe from and changed it a little to fit my tastebuds.


5 cherry tomatos, halved
1 red chili pepper, coarsely sliced
1 tablespoon baby dried shrimp
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups shredded green papaya
1/2 lime, juiced
1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar
2 tablespoons toasted peanuts, coarsely crushed

Mix all the ingredients, chill in the fridge until serving.

To shred the papaya, the best tool is something like this,

I got mine from an Asian market. it makes beautiful smooth and long strips.  If you don't have one, a coarse cheese grater would do the work. The strips would be shorter and thiner. The authentic green papaya salad (Som Tam/Tum) recipe calls for a mortar and pestle to mash everything, for the best texture and flavor. I simply omitted that, and let the flavor soaked in when chilled in the fridge. It still tastes amazing.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mourning, red velvet cake and Happy holidays

Besides being a freelance food photographer, I also work part-time in a company to photograph  their products and retouch the images. Last week, while i was in my studio shooting, a coworker came over solemnly and said:" Do you know about Elizabeth?" I said:" what about her?" , kind of feeling something bad was coming. " She passed away this morning....." I couldn't believe what I just heard. I was still listening to what had happened to her but my mind floated somewhere else. I was thinking about her voice, her smile, her way of telling me her family's stories, even her walking back and forth in the company. Her cubicle pinned on the wall a picture her kids drew, writing" the BEST Mom Ever!" also her computer's desktop was her family's photo. She even brought her daughter and son to the company to show them around coz this is a company selling children's stuff..... I was shocked. I was speechless.

We all hear people say life is short, but it's normally just one of cliches we hear all the time, until something happened to our family member or friends. Only at this time, do we stop to rethink about our lives. According to a list of dying people's most regrets, One of the top life regrets is working too hard, another is not spending enough time with friends and families. I am at least relieved that Elizabeth wasn't workaholic or ignored her family.  She had a happy family, two lovely kids and a loving husband. At least she spent quality time with them.  RIP Elizabeth.

That being said, the holiday atmosphere is full of New York City. Holiday markets are scattering in the city. Holiday window display can be seen in Macy's and other big department stores. Tourists are flooding the town. However, I left NYC for Oklahoma and Texas to visit my family coz no matter how cool New York is, this is a holiday that's supposed to be spent with family. These past two days, we were busying doing holiday shopping, wrapping gifts and decorating the Christmas tree. I hope you guys enjoy your holidays with family or friends, coz, really, life is short.

To go with the holiday atmosphere, I am sharing this red velvet cake recipe. It scored very high on the internet and has over 200 comments. Happy holidays!!

Food styling: Michael Giletto


  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 4 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Grease two 9 inch round pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Cream shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar WELL. Add eggs and beat well.
  3. Make a paste of cocoa and red food coloring. Add to creamed mixture. Mix salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla and buttermilk together. Add alternately the flour with the milk mixture to the creamed mixture. Mix soda and vinegar and FOLD INTO CAKE BATTER. DON'T BEAT OR STIR NOW.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes.
  5. To Make Icing: Cook 5 Tablespoons flour and milk over low heat till thick, stirring constantly. LET COOL THOROUGHLY! While cooling, cream 1 cups sugar, butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat this well till light and fluffy. Add to flour mixture and beat until of a good spreading consistency. DON'T ICE CAKE TILL COOL.