Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry belated Christmas and happy new year!

it's been almost a month since I updated my blog last time. I kind of feel bad about not having time to make and share something festive, but I was so so busy dealing with the finals, drawing and making portfolio for art school application. The earliest deadline is Jan. 5th, and I just ordered my portfolio from a print company 2 days ago, and with their 5 day-printing and 2 day-shipping policy, as well as this hectic holiday season, I would be lucky to receive the book by Jan. 3rd.

My parents-in-law came to visit for Christmas. We bought a bigger Christmas tree and my mother-in-law and I decorated it together. This year is actually the first time I have ever felt holiday atmosphere. Before, I always traveled with friends to places like Chicago or New York City, because I didn't have family in U.S. and the school I attended is in a college town which gets emptied out when the semester is over. So this year I finally felt Christmas is a family oriented holiday. We put boxes of gifts under the tree and after Christmas Eve dinner, I couldn't wait opening them. Look what I got!

The book in the front is soft covered, with 249 pages, while the one in the back is a hard covered, 498 page book. Both have pretty good comments on Internet. The bigger book is more comprehensive, covering the history of food styling and the market and how to land jobs, and something like that. And of course, it's 35 dollors more than the other one. I will read them through before giving more detailed comments.

Last but not least, here is a bag of cookies I baked as Christmas treats. For recipes, see this link. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My favorite arts and sichuan style spicy chicken and chive flower stirfry

Food bloggers are more or less creative people. They are either working professionals who cook after a long day's work to relax and explore their creativity in the kitchen or stay-at-home housewives who wanna make their daily chores fun and artistic. So I would like to share some of my favorite art work here at my food blog. Generally speaking, I love bizaar looking arts. Unrealistic, exaggerated, sensationally stimulative and visually vibrant. Thanks to Art History classes I took, I got to know many world famous art pieces and how to appreciate them. After picking up drawing pencils, I have respected and admired artists more. I know how hard to draw real life subjects precisely and it's even harder to convert something imaginative, maybe an elapse of thought or fragments of a dream, onto a 2 dimentional paper.  

Open window-Henri Matisse
When I saw this painting at National Museum of Art in DC, it got me at first sight. I especially love the vibrant colors and the warm tone. (Pink is my favorite color)I thought it's impressionism, but found out this style is called Fauve, a style specifically refers to paintings from 1904-1908 exhibited in French salon, characterized by the unblended and bold brush strokes and vibrant colors.

The scream-Edvard Munch
Just as I said, I was fascinated by the weird and kind of shocking look of this painting. It's pretty intriging too to the audiences to wanna find out what happend, who are the two men behind. The waving strokes and strong color contrast also enhance the tense emotion. 

Stary night-Vicent Van Gogh
Who doesn't love Van Gogh? His distinctive short and strong brush strokes definitely influence later artists like Henri Matisse who was actually once on a committee of Van Gogh's exhibition. He leaves people an impression of a poor,desperate and crazy artist, whose whole life was lonely and pathetic, but after reading a little of the letters between him and his brother Theo, I changed my mind. He loved life. He appreciated morning chirping of birds,lovely rains, sunny afternoons and almost everything. His attitude was almost always positive in the letters.  It's really interesting to discover the personal side of this great artist.

Casa Batllo-Antoni Gaudi
My favorite architect, Gaudi! I fell for the teeth like balconies and bone looking outer wall columns, although it might be scary to see bones hanging out of the window at midnight. The architect was either a weirdo or a genius to think of this design. I think he was latter and had good sense of humor. I do think this building has some wisdom and humor to look like this, so harmonious with the nature. Avant-garde of Art Nouveau style in Spain, Gaudi's organic farytale design matched well with Art Nouveau's "nothing in nature is straight" school of thought. Buidings don't just provide secure and warmth to meet the most basic and primitive requirement. In civilized world, they should be reflection of culture, art and humanity, but this is also a mass production era unfortunately. Creative design seems to be losing market to cheap, mass produced buildings. 

I have more arts I wanna put here all together, but don't wanna overwhelm my readers. So i am gonna take my time and show the rest later. 

I was a scientist and now am trying to be an artist. I realized that all science does is to make human physically live better, while art makes human emotionally live better. 

Ok, back to food and photography.I don't always wanna try new recipes. When I don't have inspiration, I get lazy too. I had chicken thighs and Chinese chive flowers I got from an Asian market in the fridge. Noting knowing how to use them respectively, I made this Sichuan style spicy chicken and chive flower stir fry. 
It's a good light dish to go with Chinese porridge.

Sichuan style spicy chicken and chive flower stirfry recipe

1 pound chicken thighs, diced into small cubes
1 pound chinese chive flowers, chopped into 2-3 inches long
1tbsp Sichuan spicy bean paste (郫县豆瓣)
soy sauce 1sbsp
cooking wine/sake 2 tbsp
2tbsp cooking oil

1. marinate chicken with soy sauce and cooking wine for 20 mins.
2. Heat a deep pan or wok, add cooking oil. 
3. Add marinated chicken when the oil gets smoky.
4. stir fry 1 min and add bean paste. Keep stir frying, until all pink meat turns white.About 4 mins.
5. Add chopped chive flowers.Stir fry 1 min. Add salt to taste and turn off heat. Serve hot.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Butternut squash soup in an organic chic bowl

 I did another shot of the the butternut squash soup with coconut cream swirl on top. The point of this shot is the organic shaped dishware which I also used in the Korean BBQ pork post. I am sure you can't find these chinaware anywhere else because they are one of a kind art work from a ceramic artist. He teaches ceramics where I take drawing class, and I happened to mention I took food photographs and had a hard time finding unique and stylish dishware. He very generously offered me to take a tour of his studio and borrow anything I want. So I borrowed these three pieces that are the good size and shape as dishware. For recipe, please check out my earlier post: Butternut squash soup

Bon appetit!
Have a good weekend.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Korean BBQ pork(Daeji Bulgogi) for Thanksgiving dinner

Happy belated Thanksgiving! I was invited to a friend's home for Thanksgiving dinner and thinking hard what food to bring. since I didn't grow up eating turkey or pumpkin pie, I don't really know how to cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal. I finally decided to bring something exotic-Korean bbq pork. The first time I had it was in a Korean restaurant in the Canadian border city Niagara Fall. It was served in a sizzling cast iron plate like the kind for fajita. Once I tried it, I decided to learn how to make it by myself!

We had five ladies,one man, and 2-year-old baby all together. All ladies are army wives, but their husbands are all being deployed in Agfganistan except mine who is going to next year. Since I became friends with them, I've appreciated these girls who gave up exciting urban life to live in this rural town. Since there aren't many job oppertunities here, even those with college degree have a hard time getting a job, but they still keep themselves optimistic, happy, and active. When the husbands are gone, wives keep each other company to share their happiness and sadness, they work out regularly to maintain a healthy life, hoping to drop a size or two before the hubbies are back. Good thing is there's only three weeks left for the one year deployment! 

Daeji Bulgogi is another popular Korean meat dish similar to bulgogi. However, instead of using beef, thin sliced pork loin is marinated in a specially blended red chili pepper paste with various assortments of vegetables.Spicy and sweet, belive me, it tastes better than it looks! It was also one of the favorite dishes at our Thanksgiving dinner.

Korean BBQ pork/Daeji Bulgogi Recipe

1 lb thinly sliced pork (lean & boneless preferred)
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp crushed garlic
½ tbsp crushed ginger root
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp kochujang (Korean red chili pepper paste, available in Asian store)
2 tbsp rice wine (sake)
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 onion, sliced
2tbsp cooking oil

1. Combine all the ingredients except pork and cooking oil to make its base marinating sauce.
2. Stir in a large mixing bowl.
3. Add the pork and marinate for 30-60 minutes.
4. Turn the stove to high and add cooking oil in a deep pan or wok.
5. When it's smoky, add marinated pork to stir-fry until onion turns translucent and soft enough.
6. Sprinkle toasted seasame seeds and green onion for garnish. Serve with steamed rice.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Cauliflower soup with dancing fish flakes and oven-baked cheese crisps-the final instalment of the soup trilogy

    Japanese dancing fish flakes? such a beautiful name, but what the heck is that? Well, other names of it include "Dried Bonito", "Dried Bonito Flakes", "Katsuoboshi", "Katsuobushi", "Katsuo-Bushi". Still don't recognize any?  It is actually dried and smoked bonito (skipjack tuna) that is then shaved into thin flakes. It is a key ingredient in Japanese cooking, specifically its use in making dashi, a fish stock commonly used as a base in many recipes. As for why it's called dancing fish flakes, it is because when you sprinkle some on top of something hot, the heat makes them crimple and toss as if dancing. Topping this cauliflower soup with Bonito flakes is kind of my imporvisation, and it turns out surprisingly good! The smoky falvor does a good job boosting the mild taste of the soup. I claim it a success! :)

    The cheese crisps are another improvisation. Although the soup by itself is good, warm and healthy by itself, it's always better to pair with something solid, preferally crunchy to munch on. I was unfortunately out of bread, but found leftover parmesean cheese. So here are the cheese crisps!

    Oven-baked cheese crisps

    1 cup grated hard cheese (such as Parmesean) - NOT the dried powdery stuff


    1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

    2. Toss cheese with any seasonings you'd like -- garlic powder (about half a teaspoon for a cup of cheese), hot pepper powder, even cinnamon. Or leave plain.

    3. Pile 1 to 4 Tablespoons of cheese (depending on the size you want) on a baking sheet covered with a alluminum foil or parchment paper oiled on both sides. Flatten the tops so they are in more or less an even pile. There should be at least two inches between smaller mounds, 4 inches between larger ones.

    4. Bake 5 to 6 minutes until they are a light golden brown (they will be a little darker at the edges). It happens fast, so watch carefully.

    Cauliflower soup

    1  tablespoon  vegetable oil
    2  medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
    About 1/2 tsp. salt
    3  garlic cloves, minced
    1/2  cup  dry white wine
    1  large head cauliflower (2 lbs.), chopped
    4  cups  chicken or vegetable broth
    Freshly ground pepper


    1. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and salt, cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and wine. Cook, stirring, until liquid is almost completely evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes.

    2. Stir in cauliflower and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until cauliflower is very soft, 20 to 25 minutes.

    3. In 3 batches, whirl soup in a blender until very smooth, at least 3 minutes per batch (or, if you'd like a few florets in your soup, blend 2 batches and leave the last chunky). Stir together and season to taste with pepper and salt.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Roasted beetroot soup-adapted from Russian Borscht soup

    It's been a while since I updated my blog last time. I've been busy preparing my portfolio for design graduate school these days. I did quite a few drawings, some fine art photography projects, and am still waiting for my rice paper and ink to arrive so I can write some Chinese calligraphy. Drawing is something that made me feel grudged to pick up a pencil at first, but once absorbed, I just can't put it down until I finish. Totally love it!

    This is what Northern New York state was like a couple of weeks ago.The biker definitely knows how to enjoy the fleeting fall, but now, trees are bald, colorful leaves are gone, and the outdoor colors are just boring. Well, that's why I made this soup to cheer me up! 

    Since last time I tried butternut squash soup, I have fell in love with the concept of a bowl of warm soup in a cold day's night, especially it has snowed twice here in the past week!! Jeez!I love colors, intense colors, colors with big contrast. This roasted beetroot soup adapted from the Russian Borscht soup satisfies both my tummy and eyes.I hope it warms you up too!

    Here is the recipe to make this Roast Beetroot Soup. I added toasted pine nuts to top to give it a nutty and aromatic kick and light coconut milk to make it taste smooth and rich.

    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • ½  onion, chopped
    • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 4 medium beets, peeled and chopped
    • 1 carrot, finely chopped
    • 2 cups chicken/vegetable stock
    • salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 3/4 cup coconut milk
    • A handful of pine nuts. 
    1. Toast pine nuts in the oven for 5 minutes or until gold, set aside.
    2. Set oven at 375F. Roast chopped beets for 40 minutes.
    3. Warm olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onions and garlic; cook until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in carrot and beets to cook for 1 minute.
    4. Stir in stock, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; cover, and simmer until the carrots and beets are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to cool slightly.
    5. In batches, add soup to a food processor, and pulse until liquefied. Return soup to saucepan, and gently heat through. Add coconut milk. Ladle into bowls, and garnish with a swirl of coconut milk, pine nuts and fresh thyme.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Butternut squash soup

    I have totally fell in love with food styling. Some food stands out naturally, like desserts. Maybe that's why they are tons of food bloggers favorite subject. Cakes, say, look good without any props, although with appropriate matching of napkins, plates, silverware and background, they can only be better; while some food are just not categorized as pretty creatures. Soup is one! For them, food styling and prop styling are especially important to create the right atmosphere.

    The whole point of writing in my blog what I know about food styling is to share what I have learned with everyone who reads my blog. I am still learning this complicated technique, but I totally enjoys it. If my writing can be of any help to you, I would be more than happy.

    When I first started learning food photography, I completely dig myself into the study of shooting techniques and the use of lighting. But compared to the professionals' , my photos indescribably lacked something. I was trying so hard to find that something until recently I realized it's how the food is presented that makes a huge difference!

    I started checking out fabrics stores constantly to buy fabrics of all kinds of patterns and textures. I use them as napkins or tablecloth. Real napkins can be much more costly and less diverse, but a yard fabrics can be less than $5. Also shooting next to the window on sunny days can have too much light and also you don't want to see the harsh shadow on the other side of the sun. Having no extra white sheet, I solved the problem by getting a yard white fabrics and hanging it against the window. The light is softly diffused. Also an antique looking table top is an ideal background for food photography. To seek for one, I even got into the habit of paying close attention to people's garbage. Sometimes, people threw away old furniture in front of their houses, and I just helped myself to the distressed looking flat surface pieces.


    Fall is the soup season. I finally made this butternut squash soup to celebrate the season of harvest, or try to slow it down, since the miserable winner is almost here!

    In the background,putting some stuff related to the food, especially of the same and similar colors creates a consistent and supportive mood. In this shot, the small decorative squashes play the role and along with the gold soup makes a warm and homey feeling.

    The background wood is the top part of a chest of drawers which was abandoned by its owner and lying on the front door grass. I torn the chest apart and happily carried away the one I needed! :>

    Look at that curly green onion, isn't it pretty? The trick to make the curly green onion strips is after slicing the green onion to about 3 inches long thin trips, put in a bowl with cold water and ice cubes to refrigerate one hour, and then they would be happily twisted.

    1 1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
    3 cups veggie or chicken stock
    1 small shallot, diced
    2 garlic cloves, diced
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    2 teaspoons paprika chili powder
    kosher salt
    1 slice ham
    green onion for garnish
    1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pan, over medium heat.  
    2. Add the shallots, turn heat to low, cook for about 5 minutes;  stirring occasionally.  
    3. Add the butternut squash and chili powder, stir and let cook for another 5 minutes.  
    4. Add the garlic and the stock.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a low simmer, cover and let cook until very tender, about 25 minutes.  It will depend on how large your chucks of squash are.  Season to taste with kosher salt.  Remove from heat and let sit about 10 minutes.  
    5. Using a food processor or blender, puree in small batches, then combine back in the same soup pot.  Gently reheat over low heat.  
    6. Spray some pam oil into a shallow pan and add ham. Cook until both sides are lightly brown. Cut into pieces. 
    7. Pour the soup into serving bowls and garnish with ham and green onion. Serve hot.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Toronto trip and coke chicken drumsticks

    Last weekend, we headed for Toronto for a couple of days' trip. It's quite a clean and eventful town with all kinds of restaurants and boutique shops. Lots of Asians too, i mean lots! When we were shopping in the mall of downtown area, my husband felt he, as a white guy, was minority. Within 24 hours of being there, we did 11 hours of walking!! My feet hurt badly after the trip. Staying in an old and classy-looking downtown bed & breakfast, we found interesting things to see immediately out of the house. So we kept walking and seeing until we finished a full circle of the downtown area. Of course, Chinatown was a must-stop for a Chinese who hadn't eaten in real Chinese restaurants for months! We gobbled down yummy dim-sum and Hong Kong style roast duck before hitting back the streets to finish the night walking tour.  Well, I think my husband's writing is a better illustration of a Canadian city in an American's eyes, and I'll just contribute some photos:). So now I am turning it over to you, Ryan!

    Technically Foreign: When You Have To Remind Yourself Canada Is Another Country

    In my experiences in foreign travel, the act of crossing the border can be immediately and significantly felt beyond the obvious "WELCOME TO FOREIGNLANDIA" signs.  Everyone speaks differently, architecture and culture change and food becomes an adventure.  You are a stranger in a strange land, and it's usually not long before you're exposed as such in spite of that fake British accent you were sure sounded authentic.

    For an American in Canada, however, it's "World Travel - Easy Mode".

    (For the record: Yes, I am aware that technically both Americans and Canadians are American by continent, but since "United Statian" is just so awkward to say, I'll be sticking to the old familiar monikers)

    If you happen to be driving, your Canadian Adventure starts at the border crossing.  With an up-to-date passport in hand and minus any unusual circumstances, this is only slightly more involved than passing through a toll booth.  A stock set of questions are asked, and if no eyebrow-raising answers are given, you're on your way, boldly plunging headlong into a strange and foreign country.

    I guess.

    Probably the only major thing that will hit you is the metric unit conversion.  That's the big thing you have to compensate for.  Seeing a big "100" on a speed limit sign will give you a tiny thrill at first until you squint at the fine print on your speedometer and realize that's, like, 65mph.  Aw.  But if, like me, you're using a GPS and you switch the bulky old thing over to kilometers, you might be surprised how easily you can start to think in metric.  Well, except maybe buying gas measured in cents per liter, I'm still working on that one.  Still, even a 3-day trip should be enough, provided you're not one of those types who holds a strange sort of loyalty to a system of measure.

    Oh, and almost everything is in English and French.  But I'm from Texas, where everything is in English and Spanish, so it wasn't a hard pill to swallow.  Your mileage may vary.

    The other big area where you might fear change is money, and I'm sure in the before times this would have been a major point of contention requiring significant planning-ahead.  But this is the after times, the 21st Century, a glorious age of borderless networks where computers provide a common language!  You want a snack?  Roll up to your nearest Tim Horton's (there should be one no more than 100 feet away from you at all times while in Canada), whip out that VISA/Mastercard and you'll be stuffing donuts in your face without missing a beat.  Oh crap, the card machine is down and they're only taking cash!  What can you do?!  Well, find an ATM!  Just make sure it one of its logos matches the one on your debit card! Stick it in, do business as usual, and you'll walk away with a colorful stack of Canadian cash (seriously, I love Canadian dollars, it's like future money)

    **This actually happened to me in downtown Kingston.  A hole-in-the-wall restaurant didn't take cards, so I had to leave Yue behind as collateral while I hunted down an ATM, hoping against hope that my guess was right and I wouldn't have to start hitting up locals on the street.  I ducked into a bank, saw the machine had a VISA sticker to match the one on my debit card, stuck it in, entered the PIN and crossed my fingers.  Sure enough, out pops funny money.  The day is saved and a new dimension of Canadian convenience has been opened.**

    As for everything else, it's just like driving into another state with its minor variations in license plates, local culture and self-reference.  Maybe someone's accent is a little different than you're used to, but no more than you would already find traveling across the U.S.  Honestly, I rarely heard the stereotypical "Canada, eh" accent, which is itself already similar to the Minnesota "don'cha know" accent.  The radio stations play the same music, using the same format.  Scattered advertisements by and large peddle the same familiar brands and products.  Everyone dresses like you, unless you're a weirdo.  Wherever you go, you can find the same stores and restaurants you know.  Ultimately, the same way Canadians get mistaken for Americans abroad, it's simple for an American to blend into Canada...provided your accent doesn't come with a drawl.

    Of course, Quebec is the giant asterisk "See Below" for this whole spiel, what with it's excessive French-ness and all, but even non-Quebecois Canadians think Quebec is like a foreign country, so MMMNNNYYAHH!!

    Cell phones.  This I can only speak for myself on: my Blackberry works the same in Canada as in the U.S.  I've used it in Canada several times over the past year, both voice and data, and my Sprint bill has never changed.  I cannot promise the same for others, but it only helps my immersion.  However, I saw an ad for AT&T that said Canada calls were now considered local, so this may be a rapidly closing gap.

    Finally, and this is more an interesting observation than a caveat, but across Canada, you can still see the cultural influences of the British Commonwealth.  The best way I can explain it is this:  Canada is just like the U.S., but in some mirror universe where the colonies never fought the Revolutionary War and developed normally as part of the British Empire.  There are still scattered references to British Royalty (most noticeably with Queen Elizabeth plastered on all the money), they do the Prime Minister/Parliament thing instead of the President/Congress thing, a few key words are spelled in British fashion ("centre", "colour", etc.), and the "Loyalist" rather than "Patriot" is historically lauded in the Canadian public institution.  Really though, this is all just for flavor, as Canadians don't consider themselves British any more than Australians do or Indians/Hong Kong Chinese did.


    Last I am gonna contribute a dish I cooked, styled and shot tonight. Very simple 3-ingredient coke chicken drumsticks. For recipe, see coca-cola chicken. I used Chinese bok choy cabbage and cilantro for garnish.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Sesame cold soba noodle and miso soup

    Sesame cold noodle is a classic summer dish in the north China to chill off the summer heat. When I moved to Beijing for college and tried this dish for the first time, I was like "What is this? how can cold noodle not be spicy? Well, if it's not spicy,it's flavorless" So I hated it in the beginning, because it overthrew my concept of cold noodle which in my hometown was always dressed in chili oil sauce. However, after having lived in Beijing for 3 years, I fell in love with this food. The sesame sauce rich and creamy, the noodle al dente, with crisp cucumber slices, it's an ideal light and yummy summer food!It takes only 15 minutes to make!

    After raining for 3 days, the sky finally cleared out. I found some soba noodle in the closet and made this dish to savor the last bit of summer.

    Bon appetit! Have a good weekend!

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Advertisement food photography of Pepperidge Farm's Milano cookie and Pirouette waffle roll

    I had a homework recently for the photography class I am taking. It's to shoot a photo of a commercial product and make an advertisement out of it. I got excited with this assignment because I could shoot some food photos and make them mouthwatering! It's also a taste of how real professional photographers and maybe photo editors do their jobs.

    For this project, I especially did some research in the grocery store to look for the kind of food that might look good. At the same time, I was thinking about how to compose the photo to deliver the supporting information about the product. Finally, I decided to shoot Pepperidge Farm's cookies and waffle rolls.

    Above is the final advertisement for the cookies. Below is the how I Photoshoped the original picture and added graphics to it.

    The first one is the original photo. Although I shot it next to the window, it was still a little dark. I increased its exposure and the brightness & contrast to become the second image. Then I noticed the real cookies' chocolate filling wasn't as thick as that of the photo on the package, so I sampled the brown color from its chocolate and used the brush tool to paint the chocolate edge thicker. I also found a high-resolution logo of this company on the internet and added to this photo. Nice thing is when I shot the photo, I knew I was going to put words and graphics on it so I left enough space to fit them in. Now, the chocolate looks thicker and richer, but...ooops, fake too! To give it the natural look, I added some gloss along. Now much better! Not done yet! I gotta keep working. Since it's an advertisement, it'd be better if it could deliver some short and catchy literal information, so I was thinking so hard and eventually came up with this "Made with butter and love" slogan. I was satisfied with this "final version" for a day or so until when I opened the photo again and realized the cookie surface was too rough to match its "elegant European cookie"'s marketed image. I softened the surface and it finally looks fine.

    Similarly I made the waffle roll advertisement photograph.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Chicken and jalapeno & bell pepper stir fry

    When it comes to Chinese cuisine, you just can't miss Sichuan cuisine. Sichuan is a southwestern province of China, and my hometown is its capital city.

    Unlike US, full of national chain restaurants with standardized recipes everywhere you go, in China, almost each province has its regional style, because it's a much less mobile country. Even when something local is good, it doesn't spread fast. This has changed slowly in the past couple of decades simply because people tend to travel more. However, cuisine style is still a regional thing, so the homemade food of a Shanghai family is definitely different from that of a Sichuan family. People in Shanghai like sweet taste, and basically add sugar to everything they cook, including what is supposed to be savory, and we just think it's so wrong. Roughly speaking, there are eight popular cuisine styles, named after the provinces they come from. Sichuan cuisine, is with no doubt the most spread and popular cuisine. I didn't realize how popular it was outside Sichuan until I went to Beijing for college. As the China's capital, it's home of every and each kind of Chinese cuisine. When I saw Sichuan style restaurants everywhere in Beijing, I felt kind of intimacy of home.

    Sichuan cuisine is characterized by its hot and spicy taste. Chili pepper and Sichuan pepper are constant ingredients in many well known dishes. You may find chili pepper in other regional cuisines like Hunan cuisine, but Sichuan pepper is what tells it apart from anything else, or what I call the spirit of Sichuan cuisine!

    This purplish red spice is the outer pod of some kind of fruit growing on the tree. Added to dishes as a whole or grounded, it creates a distinctive numb feeling on the tongue along with an exciting taste. Look at that little red pod, opening its mouth, so ready to give your tongue a bite! For people who never have it before, it might be intimidating, but for someone like me who grew up eating it, it's a must-have spice that never goes out of stock at home.

    A lot of people got sick these days because of the change of season. Maybe some heat from jalapeno pepper and this Sichuan pepper would prevent you from the cold. Why not give it a try?

    This chicken and jalapeno & bell peppers stir fry is developed from my mom's chicken and green chili pepper stir fry-干煸鸡. I still remember that after the last final exam of each semester, my mom would cook this dish as a reward of my hard-working. So it symbolizes relief and happiness to me.

    2 lb chicken thigh (chicken breast though leaner, is less flavorful or tender)
    5 jalapeno peppers
    half red bell pepper
    half yellow bell pepper 
    a teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
    1 tsp minced fresh ginger
    2 cloves of garlic
    2 tbsp cooking oil
    2 tbsp sugar or 1 package of Splenda
    1 green onion
    soy sauce & salt to taste
    1. Dice the chicken into 1.5cm^2 cubes. Add 2tsp salt and 2tbsp cooking rice wine to marinate the chicken for 15 minutes. 
    2. Mince garlic and ginger. Chop the green onion to half an inch long. Slice the peppers to strips.
    3. Heat the cooking pot or wok on high heat and add oil.
    4. When it’s smoking, add garlic and ginger into the pot. Stir quickly to avoid burning. Then add Sichuan pepper and keep stirring.
    5. Add chicken cubes and keep stirring until all the watery liquid evaporates and the chicken gets lightly crunchy and burnt on the outside.It takes 15 minutes or  so, depending on your specific stove. 
    6. Add peppers to keep stirring until the pepper gets soft. 
    7. Add sugar, soy sauce and salt to taste. Turn off the heat and sprinkle green onion to serve.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Bell pepper egg-in-a-hole

    It's exactly 20 minutes before my 26th birthday, when I am writing this line. I am older than a quarter century already! well, I still feel young inside, with plans to do this and that, to go here and there. My heart is still filled with hopes and dreams. I think I look young outside too. This evening, I was walking my dog in the neighborhood, when I came across some neighbor kids playing in front of their houses. They were interested in my dog first and then started a conversation with me. I asked their age and they asked me in return: "Are you a teenager?" I was laughing and said:"No, I am not." Then they grudgingly murmured:"Ar...are you an" I told them I would be 26 tomorrow; then they said happy birthday to me! It was a happy prelude! When I returned home from the dog walk, I immediately spotted a box lying at the door. It's my macro lens, ordered earlier this week using the money I earned from the food photography contest!! So I got myself a birthday present with that money. It came so in time.

    Happy birthday to myself. I wish in this coming year, I can refine my food photography skills, take good care of this blog, and maybe at the same time take one step further into the design field by starting a professional level degree.

    This afternoon I tried this recipe found on "Everyday food" by Martha Stewart. It's light, simple and tasty, great for breakfast or brunch. Enjoy Bell pepper egg-in-a-hole.

    Serves 4
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 1 bell pepper (any color), cut into four 1/2-inch-thick rings
    • 4 large eggs
    • Coarse salt and ground pepper
    • 2 teaspoons grated Parmesan
    • 4 slices wholewheat bread, toasted
    • 8 cups mixed salad greens
    1. In a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high. Add bell pepper, then crack 1 egg into the middle of each pepper ring.
    2. Season with salt and pepper and cook until egg whites are mostly set but yolks are still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. Gently flip and cook 1 minute more for over easy. Sprinkle with Parmesan and place each egg on a slice of toast.
    3. Toss salad greens with 1 teaspoon oil and season with salt and pepper; serve alongside eggs.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Guacamole & homemade low carb chips

    Before sharing the recipe, I want to share my personal story.

    Compared to those lucky guys who know what they want early in life and jump right in, I took a detour. My major in college was biology. In my home country, high school graduates have to choose their college major the summer even before college actually starts, and once chosen, it's incredibly difficult to change. Well, that's how China's higher education system is like. It sucks!! I chose biology because I was doing pretty well in high school, and we heard that biology is a front-line scientific field to explore so it's the most popular major back then. I wish we had some career consultants or workshop to let us know how important choosing a college major was. Well, having no idea what biology research was like, I chose it as many A students.

    In college, I was selected into the extremely competitive Honors Program. They chose 50 students from 3500 freshmen to try this new elite program. Everyone thought students in this program were the smartest. Well, my vanity made it even harder to say goodbye to this.  While I got frustrated with biochemistry, molecular biology, analytical chemistry, college maths and physics classes, everyone in my class was talking about applying for graduate school overseas. Trying to prove I was as good as others, I, without a brain, joined them and got an offer as expected. This is the second big mistake I made.

    In grad school, I started doing research in the laboratory environment. If the earlier stupidity was still hopeful, this time it's desperate. I saw by my own eyes how scientists do research in the lab and write papers  for tens of years until the end of their career. Imagining devoting my whole life working on something as microbial as, say, a membrane protein in E. coli is just suffocating. Everyday I was fighting with myself. "What am I doing? how long am I gonna be like this? I can't stand it any longer! Where is the end?" while another voice was saying" you have come a long way to get where you are. You just can't give up!! Hang in there. Everything will be fine. Don't disappoint your parents. No one totally likes what they do, but it's part of life." My mental world was completely torn apart. Seeing people busy with their research project, satisfied and happy, I was so jealous. Everyone is better at certain things than others. Happy for those who found it, I myself was still seeking. Finally, I quit the PhD program and left with a master degree.


    This experience isn't completely a waste of time. On the contrary, I am grateful. I learned not to do something just because I am told to or I am supposed to, or for some superficial vanity. I learned to be honest with what I am.  I explored and understood my inner needs and desires, and I more respect the natural me.

    I think my right side of the brain-the creativity part was better developed than the analytical left side when I was brought to this world, but it was left unexplored for over 20 years. Now it's time back to track! I registered a drawing class and bought a SLR camera to take photographs. I was the only one in my class who didn't take high school drawing, but the professor gave me A+ for the first assignment. Mostly importantly, I enjoy what I do. I find pleasure and satisfaction from the process of drawing and food photography. Besides classes, I work part-time in a graphic design shop. Design is another thing I like. Completely ignorant when I first started this job, I learn and progress bit by bit every day.

    I saw something like this recently: Happy lives are similar-have someone to love, have something to do, and have some hope. Well, I have all, and I indeed feel happy.

     My first taste of avocado can't be described as pleasant. Neither sweet nor tangy and with some weirdly mild flavor, this muddy fruit almost made me throw up. I didn't touch it for a long time until I tried guacamole in a restaurant. wow, it tasted so good! Rich, spicy and savory, it got me at the first bite. I couldn't believe it was made of avocado. That flavorless dark green weirdo? I decided to make it by myself. Since then, it's been a constant snack food in our home. To go with it, I also came up with this low carb chips made of low carb tortilla.


    3 avocados - peeled, pitted, and mashed 
    1 lime, juiced 
    1 teaspoon salt 
    1/2 cup diced onion 
    3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 
    2 roma (plum) tomatoes, diced 
    1 teaspoon minced garlic 
    1 pinch ground cayenne pepper (optional)

    1. In a medium bowl, mash together the avocados, lime juice, and salt. 
    2. Mix in onion, cilantro, tomatoes, and garlic. Stir in cayenne pepper. 
    3. Refrigerate 1 hour for best flavor, or serve immediately.

    Low carb chips

    1. Cut one low carb tortilla into 8 pie shaped pieces.Lay on a baking pan and spray PAM evenly to coat the chips.  
    2. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 10 mins or until turn gold. 
    3. Cool them down before serving.

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    NY state fair in Syracuse on Labor Day

    I finally saw the movie "Eat Pray Love", in a drive-in theater!! This is my first experience with drive-ins. I like it so far. It allows you to eat in your car during the movie, no matter whatever strange noise you make; it lets you discuss the movie with your friends and not worry about other people. You can adjust your seat to the perfect angle, and you can control the volume of the movie! The radio quality was pretty good to watch a movie like this, but if you are picky about the sound quality, especially of action movies, drive-ins might not be as good. Popular in the old days, it's almost impossible to find a drive-in theater in metropolitan areas. I am really glad to have such an experience to understand more of America's car culture.

    Back to the topic of the title. Yesterday my husband and I went to Syracuse to catch the last day of the 21-day state fair. It was outrageously grand!!! It had everything you expected to see, and only more! Fair food, rides, exhibition, shows, sale, parade, competition... I was shocked to see how many food vendors there were. They took more than 1/3 of the whole fair space. For each single kind of food, say funnel cake, they had at least over 10 different vendors. When I was still overwhelmed by what to eat and which to buy from, I followed the crowd into a building and found even more food indoors. Well, I was speechless...Since we skipped breakfast, we were so hungry when getting there. Naturally our first destination was food. My husband got roast turkey leg, and couldn't wait to gobble it when I screamed "No!! hold on!!! I need a picture!" He grudged to hold it until I was done. Taking food photos is annoying sometimes, I know, especially when people want to eat so bad. I try not to take photos when eating with friends or families, just not to wanna piss them off:)

    This is the big turkey leg.

    Then he got the "so bad for the body but must eat" funnel cake, dusted with sugar powder. Deep-fried and too sweet, indeed a heart attack bomb!

    After the stomachs got satisfied, we headed to the rides to get some craziness and dizziness. Then we strolled in the crowd to see people playing games, drawing caricatures, vendors selling stuff.Of course, I took a bunch of food photos too! It's quite a nice day!

    When the darkness descended, and the lights got turned on, the night looked so colorfully cheerful!!

    Does looking at the photos make you any bit dizzy? If so, it's time for bed, have a good night!