For all you Fungi’s and Girls

We’re back and still alive! Rest assured that although we haven’t been posting as much, we’ve still be testing out and refining some new recipes.

In the past two months, we hosted yet another string of visitors including my friend Jim and Sarah’s parents. Sarah has started up her anesthesia residency (let the farting and gas jokes commence!) As of few weeks ago, we replenished our herb collection and now have beautiful sage, rosemary, Thai basil, and basil plants back on our windowsill that fill me with joy.

Today’s recipe features a rather polarizing ingredient: the mushroom. My relationship with mushrooms has been rather tumultuous. I used to love shiitake mushrooms as a child. Later, I refused to eat any mushroom or anything with mushrooms in it. Now, I’ve found myself back on the mushroom train, enjoying all types and varieties. Mushrooms are fascinating given the shear spectrum of texture and flavor that different types exhibit ranging from the meaty portobello to the nutty chanterelle to the feathery maitake. In a mostly plant-based diet, mushrooms provide a much-appreciated depth and heartiness, qualities I attribute to their explosive umami flavor.

Umami can be defined as “savoriness” which we taste through glutamate (MSG anyone?) receptors. It is prevalent in many foods including fermented products, seaweed, soy sauce, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese to just name a few. It also just so happens that breast milk contains high amounts of glutamine and glutamic acid. So one could possibly conclude that we are conditioned very early on to love this flavor. I often incorporate ingredients with high umami content in cooking to reduce the amount of salt I have to use to flavor a dish (Disclaimer: I do not cook with breast milk).

I credit my mom for introducing me to the regal mushroom used in this next dish – the king oyster mushroom aka king trumpet mushroom. Sauteed, this mushroom ends up with an unique, slightly chewy texture.

Sauteed Oyster Mushrooms with Chinese Leeks



  • King Oyster Mushrooms                                2 
  • Chinese Leeks                                                   2 stalks, sliced
  • Oyster sauce(veg version optional)              1 Tbs
  • White pepper                                                    1 tsp
  • Salt                                                                     To taste

Start by tearing the oyster mushrooms into small strips. In a wok/pan, heat up 1/2 tablespoon neutral oil on high heat. Add mushroom strips with white pepper and oyster sauce and cook until slightly soft. Add Chinese leeks and saute until translucent. Salt to taste and serve.

This recipe serves as a nice base to riff off. The two pictures show a version I made with some chicken and one with hot peppers for a bit of a kick.

There’s so mush room for your own customization.



A cure for what ails you

I spent the summer after my first year of medical school living in the Mission District on San Francisco, doing orthopedic research, and living in a rented room in a kind soul’s home. Living in someone else’s space severely limited my ability to do much cooking. So I was forced to survive on a steady diet of Cliff bars, mission burritos, and salmon and kale. Salmon and kale? Sounds like a pretty rough life.

I’d constantly ping pong between the super fancy cappuccino machine, my desk, and the operating room during the day. Then I would book it to the gym in Hayes Valley after work to get in a few hours of training. By the time I made it back to the apartment, it would be pitch black. So dinner would consist of a handful of raw kale and a few slivers of Costco cured salmon.

Even though I’m an avowed brunch hater (more on that another day) cured salmon has got to be one of my favorite brunch items. There’s something magical about the combination of lox, capers, red onion, tomato, and cream cheese on an everything bagel. When Sarah and I lived in New Orleans, our place of choice was Stein’s. Now that we’ve moved to DC, we frequent a cheekily named place, So’s Your Mom to get our fix. Sometimes though, when we’re feeling fancy (or when we want more lox than the 2-3 slices delis often drape over a bagel), we make our own.

Curing is a method of preserving food prior to refrigeration. There are a lot of ways to cure using smoke, fermentation, pickling, salt, sugar. Personally, I like to use a mixture of salt and sugar curing for salmon. The salt draws out the moisture from both the salmon and any micro-organisms living on the salmon via osmosis. In the process, it slows down or kills the growth of bad micro-organisms. The sugar serves a two-fold purpose – it balances out the flavor of the salt and is an energy source for good microbes like Lactobacillus which drops the pH and also inhibits growth of bad microbes. In the process of curing, the salmon will shrink in size as the moisture content decreases, but what it loses in size it gains in additional flavors of the cure. I also love seeing the color of the salmon change to a darker, richer hue of orange after curing.

Simple Cured Salmon



  • Fresh Salmon                 1/4-1/2 lb cut
  • Salt (not iodized)           1/4 cup
  • Brown Sugar                   1/4 cup
  • Grapefruit/Lemon          1

The combo of salt, sugar, and some form of citrus is a classic combo for curing. You can riff off of this as you like with more herbs and seasoning to create more layers of flavor. Start by drying off your piece of raw salmon with paper towel. In a bowl, combine equal parts salt and brown sugar. Be careful not to use iodized salt as it can impart a bitter flavor. Zest your citrus of choice into the bowl. Mix sugar, salt, citrus zest with your hands to make uniform. Lay salmon on a piece of plastic wrap. Cover salmon with a light layer of curing mixture and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place it on a plate in your refrigerator to catch any juices that collect. Leave for 2-3 days in refrigerator.

Unwrap from plastic wrap and gently rinse off the curing mixture and pat dry salmon with paper towels. Slice thinly and enjoy!


“Clam”oring for more Part 2

Assuming you and your guests have not depleted the sumptuous broth left over from our previous steamed clams recipe, you are in luck! Because we are cross utilizing it for today’s treat.

After Sarah and I first made the steamed clams recipe,  we were completely enamored with the flavor-packed broth that was leftover and decided that we could not just simply dispose of it. Somehow, I settled on the idea of risotto.

Risotto is an Italian dish which is essentially rice with broth cooked to a creamy consistency. It is really important to use a starchy rice, classically arborio, for the best texture.

Clam Risotto



  • Arborio rice                                 2 cups
  • Onion                                            1 medium, diced
  • Clam broth                                   3-4 cups
  • Butter                                            2 T
  • Spinach*                                       2 cups, chopped

Prior to starting, put your leftover broth through a cheese cloth or sieve to get rid of any sediment. In a large pan, melt butter over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add rice and a small pinch and salt and saute for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add broth one cup at a time and stir constantly. If you run out of broth, it is okay to add some water as well. Unlike conventional rice, stirring is important to help release all the starches from the rice grain to obtain that classic risotto consistency. When you have obtained your desired texture. stir in the spinach and serve.

*I’ve substituted bok choy in this dish with great results as well.


Taters gonna tate

After 2 weeks working the night shift, it’s nice to join the rest of the world again. Switching schedules back and forth is kind of rough. I finish the evening shift and try to stay up as long as I can to help readjust. Luckily, there’s always cooking to keep me moving along so I don’t pass out in the middle of the day. So I decided to use my transition day this past weekend to go on a long run and make one of my favorite soups, potato leek.

I had made a large batch of broth that I used for soup base of this particular recipe. The ingredients to potato leek soup aren’t all that sophisticated, but the execution is all in the texture and final consistency you are going for (light vs creamy). Personally, I prefer my potato leek soup a bit more smooth and light, but there are ways to change the consistency based on how much and how fast you end up blending the final product. Contrary to popular belief, the longer and harder you blend, the less smooth your final soup will be. This is because you break up the starch in the potatoes, creating a more gooey and creamy texture. Blend too long and too hard and you might end up with an unfortunate gluey mess rather than a smooth soup.

Potato Leek Soup



  • Potatoes (Russet preferred)                         6
  • Leeks (only white ends)                                2
  • Broth
  • Butter                                                                  4 T
  • Heavy cream
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Green onions/Chives

Start by peeling your potatoes and chopping them into large chunks. Place the large chunks in a bowl of ice water while you work on the leeks so they don’t turn brown. Chop leeks and set aside. In a large pot, start melting butter on medium high heat. Be careful with the heat so as not to caramelize the leeks or brown the butter. We want the final product to be a nice creamy yellow color. Add leeks to the pot and cook until soft. Drain the potato chunks and add them to the pot. Add enough broth to pot so you just cover the potatoes and let simmer until potatoes are soft and falling apart.

In a blender, scoop out your mixture potato, leeks, and broth. Add a dash of heavy cream (it adds a nice tang) and a teaspoon of nutmeg (I don’t know why this makes it taste better but trust me). Add salt to taste. Blend the mixture on low until you get the consistency you want. Pour into bowl. Drizzle some olive oil over the top and crack some fresh black pepper. Garnish with chopped scallions/chives and serve.

Pass out in a tater-induced coma after.


Souper Flavorful Broth

An undeniable new coolness and crispness in the air undoubtedly signals the beginning of my favorite season. If I wrote a dictionary entry for fall, it would probably read: Fall (noun): A time for tromping through leaves, apple picking, root vegetables, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and all kinds of soup! See also: the best season.

Unfortunately, I’ve been spending most of these past weeks working the night shift from 5PM-6AM. Oddly enough, based on Sarah’s usual hours on transplant surgery from 6 AM-6 (usually 7 or 8)PM, I still get to see a bit more sunlight than she does now that our days are getting shorter. Being on opposite schedules sucks as I was also just working nights in the ED prior. In the past 2 weeks, I think we’ve only logged a total of 1.25 days where we’ve both been conscious in-person at the same time and able to carry on a conversation. So we definitely had to take advantage of this past Sunday by spending a good chunk of it wandering through Rock Creek Park. The leaves are already starting to fall and change color. We tromped through the park, scaling up rock faces, and catching each other up on the occurrences of the last 2 weeks as I occasionally dashed off to pursue a preying mantis. And of course, we had to talk about what recipes we want to try out this season as well.

Chances are if you’ve been to a ramen restaurant, you’ve noticed that many of them feature a 12-24 hour broth that is packed with flavor. Chances are that most of us also do not have that much time to spare when it comes to creating a broth/soup base. So here’s a little work around to get the most flavor in the least amount of time. One of my most utilized wedding gifts has to be the Instapot. This contraption  is awesome. Its easy pressure cooker function is key.

What is pressure cooking? 

Be nice to your pressure cooker and read the safety instructions prior to use. Rule of thumb to avoid explosive results: if the lid doesn’t want to come off, don’t pry it off and sure as hell don’t stick your face over the pot if you’re foolish enough to try to force the lid off.  Fun fact: the first pressure cooker was invented back in the 1600s by a French guy named Denis! In a pressure cooker, the closed system does not allow for liquid to boil in the conventional sense. Instead, as the temperature increases in the liquid, the pressure build up in the pot forces the heat energy/steam generated by liquid back into the food, raising the actual cooking temperature and forcing a lot of flavor back into the liquid. Another cool trick for pho broth which is supposed to be nice and clear is to make it in the pressure cooker so you can avoid having to constantly skim the top of the broth for impurities. All this because you never raise the temp to a boil which makes your broth cloudy.

The best part of making your own broth is that you can customize the flavors exactly how you want and end up cross utilizing a lot of vegetable or chicken scraps. Below is just an example of some ingredients I use for a chicken broth.

Asian-style chicken Broth

Processed with Snapseed.

Noodles, sliced shiitake mushrooms, Chinese mustard greens, bean sprouts, scallions, and a soft boiled egg

  • chicken bones/carcass scraps (you may roast prior for extra flavor)
  • carrots
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • onion
  • lemon grass
  • thai basil
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • white pepper
  • salt

Throw all of this into your pressure cooker. Fill it up with water and salt to taste and let the contraption do its thing. After it’s done, sieve out all of the scraps which should leave you a nice flavorful broth.

If you want the most flavor out of your ramen, everything (noodles, vegetables, egg) should be cooked in the broth after it comes out of the pressure cooker. Put your ingredients in a bowl and scoop some more broth on top of it to finish.





Explosion of patriotic flavor (小籠包 Part 2)

Sarah and I were both fortunate enough to have the 4th of July off this year. Unfortunately, the weather was rather uncooperative so we decided not to slog out to the National Mall in the humidity and rain for fireworks that may or may not have happened. Instead, we enjoyed a morning jog through the zoo, visiting our favorite pandas and great apes who were also enjoying a sleepy and lazy holiday in their exhibits, and came home to meddle about in the kitchen.

Since I had posted about the science behind soup dumplings or xiao long bao (xlb) prior, I’ve been dying to give it a shot at home. I will preface this recipe by saying that it is pretty labor and time intensive. Usually xlb is done with a pork broth and ground pork filling. I happened to have a chicken carcass lying around and leftover ground turkey so I made use of those instead. The finished product still tasted awesome.


The Broth and Aspic

  • Chicken carcass/bones
  • Shiitake mushrooms                3
  • Green onions                                3
  • Ginger                                            1.4 cup, sliced
  • Basil                                                4-5 leaves
  • Water 
  • Salt                                                  To taste
  • Unflavored gelatin                     1 T to every 2 cups

Place all ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil then turn down heat to a simmer and let it go for 45 min to 1 hr. Strain your mixture through a sieve so you only reserve the liquid. Mix in the unflavored gelatin (the broth needs to be hot at this point). Pour the mixture into a shallow pan and refrigerate. After a few hours, it should have turned broth jello aka aspic. Use a knife and score the aspic into small cubes and place back in fridge to reserve for later.


Mmm savory jello

*You can skip the time intensive broth part and use prepackaged chicken broth or veggie broth if you desire. I like having a bit more control over customizing the flavors in the broth.


  • Flour                 3 cups
  • Hot water        1 cup
  • Oil                      1 T

Put flour in a bowl and slowly add in the hot water as you mix. Add in 1 T of oil and knead until you get a dough ball that is nice and smooth. Wrap your dough ball in plastic and let it rest for 1 hour.


  • Ground Turkey               1 lb
  • Garlic                               4 cloves, minced
  • Ginger                             2 T, minced
  • Green onions                 3, diced
  • Shaoxing wine              1 T
  • Soy sauce                        1 T
  • Sesame Oil                      1 T
  • White pepper                 0.5 T
  • Aspic                                1 cup

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix by hand, trying to incorporate the ingredients uniformly. Take a cup of your aspic cubes and mix them in as well.

The Sauce

  • Ginger                       1 inch, julienned
  • Soy sauce              2 T
  • Black vinegar       3 T

Combine all into small saucer.

XLB Assemble!

You have to move pretty fast in this process or else your aspic will begin to melt or your dough may dry out.

Take the rested dough and divide into 4 pieces. Roll out each piece into a long cylinder. Cut each cylinder into roughly 1 inch pieces. Squish each piece of dough with your hand into a small circle. Use your rolling pin to roll out the edges so you have roughly a 3.5 to 4 inch diameter circle. You can let the middle of the dough be a little bit thicker, but the outer edges should almost be translucent.

Place 1 T of your filling in the center of the dough and add an additional small bit of leftover aspic on top. The technique for making the pleats is exactly the same as the dumpling recipe except you just need to go in a circle. You should end up with a small dough nub on the top of your soup dumpling. Pinch it closed and give it a twist to finish.

Repeat this process with the rest of your dough and filling. Place your soup dumplings into a steamer lined with either a baking sheet or some napa cabbage. Steam for 5-10 minutes. Carefully remove from steamer basket and enjoy! Careful. It’s hot.



Aspics of Soup Dumplings (小籠包)

I’ll start this post off by warning you that this post does NOT contain a recipe. Rest assured, I definitely plan on posting one at a future date once I work out some kinks.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of soup dumplings aka xiaolongbao (xlb), they look something like this:


Vegetarian mushroom medley soup dumplings from scratch

The act of consuming xlb is an experience in and of itself. The surgical precision necessary to pluck the dumpling out of the steamer basket with chopsticks requires the perfect balance of gentle manipulation and assertive force. Too soft a touch and you’ll never liberate the xlb from the bottom of the basket. Too rough and a tear liberates the liquid magic inside. Should you be successful in transferring the xlb to your soup spoon, you are nearly ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The smallest nibble unleashes the hot, savory soup from inside. As you finally consume the leftover filling, dumpling skin, with a combination of dark vinegar and ginger, you know you have made it in the world.

Although the last paragraph borders (okay fine…shamelessly dives headfirst into) the melodramatic, it is not an exaggeration to say that this particular food has launched an empire. But let’s switch gears and talk about the thing that makes soup dumplings special…namely, the soup. I used to believe that the incorporation of the soup involved the finest syringe injecting broth straight into a finished dumpling. This is decidedly NOT the case and instead involves a concept we discussed briefly in another post, hydrocolloids.

If you have ever bought a rotisserie chicken from the store and put it in your fridge, you may have noticed a gelatinous yellow glaze on the bottom of the container when you opened it the next day. If you tasted it, you would have noticed that this “meat jello” contained a lot of that chicken flavor. Therein lies the secret to soup dumplings. Back in the day broth would be made containing a lot of animal bones and/or skin. These particular parts contain a lot of collagen. Upon cooling the finished broth, one could skim the surface of it for all the leftover broth-flavored gelatin. Take a cube of gelatin, stick it into a dumpling with the filling, steam it, and the gelatin block liquifies and becomes the soup in the soup dumpling.

In the modern food industry, it is a hassle to continuously make broth, let it cool down, and skim the surface for the soup gelatin. So I asked Chef McCue how we do it today. He didn’t know for sure so did me a solid and called up his chef buddy in Taiwan who revealed that they utilize something called aspic.

Aspic is very simply gelatinized stock – stock + unflavored clear gelatin. Just like how your mom used to make jello, you heat up your stock with the gelatin mixed in, stir until it dissolves, and put it into a container that you put into the fridge. After a while the mixture turns to a broth jello that you can cut into cubes and use in your soup dumplings. Keep in mind that gelatin is a reversible hydrocolloid which is why it can turn back to a liquid upon heating. Another great thing about making aspic is that you can use it with a veggie stock (like we did with a mushroom stock) with great results.





Ball so hard

One of the perks of taking culinary classes is being able to experiment with techniques I would otherwise never have a chance to practice at home. This week, we had the opportunity to practice “spherification” with Chef Crawley in our spa cuisine class. I don’t know about you, but prior to this class the only “spherifying” I could do was use a melon baller. Look at me now!

Sadly, I can’t provide any specific recipes for these dishes because we made them up on the go and adjusted spices to taste, but I did want to talk a little about the technique of spherification and some of the nerdy science behind it all.


Spherification involves the use of something called hydrocolloids which are polysaccharides/proteins that have an affinity for water. Translated practically, they are used to gel/thicken. There are many examples of these substances which include agar, carrageenan, alginate, pectin, xanthum gum (which apparently is a byproduct of microbial fermentation), and gelatin. Deciding the exact proportions of each to use can be very nitpicky. Chefs pick and choose which one to use based on many factors which include personal preference, pH, and reversibility.

There are various techniques of spherification the scope of which is a bit beyond that of this blog, but suffice it to say, you can end up with some really cool textural and flavor components in a dish. The outside of the sphere has a somewhat gummy texture but breaking the membrane releases a torrent of flavor.

Unfortunately, this is probably not one of those things you will be replicating at home anytime soon. The ingredients are expensive. The technique takes some practice. I’d personally feel a little bit pretentious serving spherified food at a dinner party. Leave this one to the fancy restaurants.



The Mallard Reaction

No you didn’t read that wrong, this technique is actually a close cousin to the Mallaird reaction that creates that nice brown color that you want on the outside of steaks and toasted marshmallows.

The Mallard reaction is actually aptly named because it does have a little something to do with our friend,


such gloss and elegance

If you’ve ever seen ducks swim, you’ll notice that they seem to possess the uncanny ability to dive underwater but come up looking all nice, shiny, and put together. All this is due to the fact that they have a special gland that secretes an oil that they use to preen their feathers and thus repel water.

Chefs have utilized this same concept to add shine to their dishes prior to plating. A great example of this would be grains. Cooked pearled couscous can look a bit dull and lackluster when just put on a plate. Now consider adding a bit of a neutral oil and giving that couscous a toss to coat the pearls before serving and all of a sudden you have something shiny and glossy that stands out on the plate.


Edit: April fools! Most of the information presented was actually true. Only the nomenclature is fake.