Jan 30, 2013

Spaghetti Saffron Style with Prawns, Smoked Bacon, and Asparagus

I've been sharing recipes with unique ingredients available in Taiwan/Asia. However, I almost run into trouble when trying to prepare a western dish the other day.

My spaghetti recipe calls for some thick pancetta that can be chopped into cubes. As I searched throughout a high-end market in Taipei, I was left with smoked bacon, only smoked bacon. Well, better than nothing.

Use pancetta if you can get a hold of it. Otherwise, try to substitute this ingredient with slightly smoked bacon instead of the ones that come with intense aroma.

Spaghetti saffron style with prawns, smoked bacon, and asparagus -

Ingredients (about 3 to 4 portions)?

0.2 grams of saffron threads
3 portions of spaghetti (for 3 to 4 people)
15 asparagus
8 slices of smoked bacon
6 prawns
2 medium shallots
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon of dried red chili flakes
1 teaspoon of dried Italian seasonings
1 tablespoon of butter
1 can of whole plum tomatoes
Some water
Some olive oil
Some sea salt
Some freshly ground black pepper
Some fresh or dried parsley


My precious box of saffron - 

Inside the box -

Soak these threads in 1/4 cup of room temperature water for at least 2 hours to help in releasing the aroma. I've always love the smell of saffron. Just a few threads and my kitchen was full of its magical fragrance all day long. It's hard to describe the scent, but to me, it's similar to the smell of grilled shrimps (interesting!?).

Peel and chop the shallots into thin slices. Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves. Take out the plum tomatoes from the can, chop into small bite size pieces then transfer back to the can. Discard the very bottom stems of the asparagus. Peel the sides if the texture seems to be tough, otherwise just keep the asparagus as it is. Take 9 asparagus and chop about 3 inches away from the tip. Chop the remaining about 0.5 inches apart.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and sprinkle some salt in it. Add in the long asparagus tips and cook for about 15 seconds. Quickly remove from hot water and transfer into a bowl full of icy cold water to stop the cooking process. This way the asparagus will stay green and crunchy till the food is served.

Bring a big pot of water to a boil and add a few big pinches of salt. Toss in the spaghetti and give it a quick swirl. Cook till the pasta turns almost al dente in texture. Once done, drain well and set aside for later use.

Gently rinse the prawns with running water then pat dry with a kitchen towel. Take a scissor and cut away the very sharp tip/rostrum on the head along with its long antenna. Also carefully cut a line from the end of the head all the way down to the tail, kind of like butterflying the shrimps but with the shells intacted. Take a small knife and cut a thin line along the back to reveal the dirty vein. Discard the vein and rinse the prawn under water to clean the remaining bits. Pat dry and set aside.

Drizzle about 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive into a big pot and turn to medium high heat. Once the oil turns hot, carefully add in the prawns. Be carefully of the oil flying out if the prawns still got some moisture on them. Sear about 1 minute on both sides or till the shells turned vibrant red. Make sure not to overcook the meat, it should still be rare in the center during this step. Remove the prawns from heat and let them cool down enough to handle by hand.

Separate the head from the body and remove shells from the body. Cut the meat into large bite sizes and scoop out the yummy bits inside the head into a bowl.

In the same pot, add in chopped bacon and sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of dried red chili flakes. Give it a quick stir and cook till the fats have been rendered out from the bacon.

Add in sliced shallots and cook till translucent in color. Add in chopped garlic and cook for another minute. Add in the remaining asparagus along with a little bit of salt. Cook for about one more minute then add in 1 full can of prepared plum tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning, soaked saffron and its colored water.

Give the ingredients a quick stir, bring to a boil then lower the heat to let it simmer for about 3 minutes. Transfer the prawns and the goodies from its head into the pot. Make sure to smooth out the darker colored head paste so it'll melt nicely in the sauce. Cook till the prawns are about 90% done. Taste and see if more salt is needed.

Add 1 tablespoon of room temperature butter into the mixture to bind all the flavors together. Transfer the cooked pasta into the pot, mix well and cook for another 2 minutes. Remember the pasta should be "almost" al dente right now? So all you want to do is to cook the spaghetti to the perfect al dente texture then the meal will be ready to serve!

Serve the spaghetti with some blanched asparagus on top. Sprinkle some chopped parsley or dried parsley if you can find fresh ones. The herb will add a fresh kick to the meal.

I'm in love with saffron. Too bad it costs so much, otherwise I would love to stock a big jar of saffron in my kitchen pantry!

Other spaghetti recipes:

Thai style stir fry ground pork with spaghetti and lots of pecorino romano
Very bacony and garlicky spaghetti
Spaghetti with creamy fava bean sauce and rosemary infused grilled shrimps
Mom's meatballs and my pasta + grated pecorino

Jan 24, 2013

Golden Needle Flower Buds and Two Mushrooms Stir Fry

I've tried many dishes made with golden needle flowers 金針花, but was only introduced to its flower buds during recent years.

Unlike the vibrant orange colored flower, the flower buds come in solid green colors. One big palm-ful of flower buds costs $1 U.S. here in Taiwan, considered expensive as opposed to all other fresh vegetables available in the market.

The blooming flowers are usually sun-dried and then used in soup or stew dishes. As for the flower buds, my mom used them and made a stir-fry dish before. I'll be the copy cat this time and create my version of stir fry golden needle flower buds.


1 cup of fresh golden needle flower buds
1 1/2 cups of mixed brown beech and white beech mushrooms
4 garlic cloves
2 fresh red chilies
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoons of soy sauce
Some sea salt
Some freshly ground black pepper


Gently rinse and pat dry the mushrooms. Wash the flower buds and soak them in water for about 10 minutes. Once done, drain well, pat dry, and set aside for later use.

Peel and slice the garlic cloves. Discard the bottom stems from the chilies and finely chop the remaining -

My mom got those tongue-burning chilies from a local farmer. Usually I would say use 3 to 4 chilies for this recipe back in the states. However, these little devils are so fierce, 2 is enough (maybe still too much).

Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan and turn to medium high heat. Add in chopped garlic slices and chilies. Sprinkle some salt and freshly ground pepper to flavor the oil. Cook till the garlic starts to turn golden color.

Add in the mushrooms and just a tiny bit of salt to draw out the liquid. Give it a quick stir. Once the mushrooms are about 60% done, toss in the flower buds. Cook for another minute. You can definitely cook a wee bit longer if softer texture of the mushrooms is desired.

Lastly, drizzle some soy sauce down from the edge of the pan as our last seasoning. Make sure to drizzle from the sides so the soy fragrance can be released fully when touching the hot surface. Give it a quick stir and transfer the veggies onto a plate.

The flower buds remain crunchy even after cooking for a period of time. It's kind of like eating bean pods, but on a more delicate scale. The texture is finer accompanying with an elegant aroma. I'll make sure to post another recipe using the flower part sometime in the future!

Other vegetable stir-fry recipes:

Stir fry onchoy with shrimp paste and fish sauce 蝦醬空心菜
Spicy and garlicky stir fry shrimps with asparagus and button mushrooms

Jan 20, 2013

Taiwanese Duck Blood and Chives Spicy Stew - 辣鴨血燴韮菜

I've been trying hard to find my little spot in the kitchen here in Taiwan, at my parents' place. Both my mom and my dad own the kitchen. Mom is in charge of daily meals, while my dad helps out with purchasing, preparation, making sauces, and blending fresh juice for the family.

Whenever I suggest cooking something for them, the idea always goes vetoed instantly. First, there is already tons of homemade food in the house. Second, they dislike my food. Yes, how sad is that?! Or should I just make myself feel better and blame that my mom and dad are the pickiest parent in the world!?

However, my mom finally agreed probably because her daughter was nagging everyday about trying and cooking some Taiwanese ingredients. Reluctantly and unable to find ear plugs, my mom gave in and took me to a local market, YES!

Taiwanese duck blood and chives spicy stew -


1 big block of duck blood (about 1 big palmful)
1 small bundle of chives (about 15 stems)
1 small pickled cabbage 酸菜
5 red chili pepper
5 garlic cloves
Some corn starch
Some boiled water
2 slices of ginger
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of black bean soy sauce 黑豆醬油
1 tablespoon of rice cooking wine 米酒
1 teaspoon of Chinese chili sauce
1 small pinch of granulated sugar
Some olive oil
Some salt
Some cilantro (for garnish)
Some sesame oil (final touch)


I got a big palmful of freshly made duck blood and pickled cabbage from a traditional market in Taiwan -

Upper left are the duck blood chunks and the pale green ball shaped things on the left are the pickled cabbages.

Add a small spoonful of salt into a pot of water and bring to a boil. Gently add in the duck blood and the pickled cabbage. Bring to a boil again then carefully scoop out both ingredients.

Pat dries the pickled cabbage and chop into thin strips. Gently chop the duck blood into big bite size chunks and soak in drinking water while preparing other ingredients. Make sure to soak in some kind of liquid otherwise the duck blood will dry out soon. You can also prepare the duck blood one day in advance and soak them in Asian spicy hot pot soup overnight.

Peel and slice the garlic cloves. Peel and slice the ginger root. Discard the stems from  fresh chilies and finely chop the remaining. Rinse and pat dry the chives, remove the very bottom stems and chop into about 2 inches strips.

Drizzle some olive oil to the pan, about 2 tablespoons or just enough to evenly coat the bottom. Turn to high heat. Wait till the oil turns slightly hot, add in the chives and give it a quick stir, about 30 minutes. Transfer onto a plate for later use.

Drizzle another 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a big pan and turn to medium high heat. Add in the ginger slices along with one small pinch of salt. Cook till the edges of the ginger turns slightly brown, pick them out and add in the chilies, pickled cabbage, and garlic slices instead. Lower the heat a little bit if needed to prevent garlic slices from burning.

Cook for about 30 seconds, remember to stir constantly. Add in the seasonings - soy sauce, Chinese chili sauce, rice cooking wine, sugar, and black bean soy sauce. Give everything a quick stir.

Pour in one cup of hot water, mix a week bit. Carefully transfer the duck blood chunks into the mixture. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to keep it simmer. About 6 to 8 minutes. Lastly, add in the chives.

I actually keep the whole thing simmer for another 3 minutes till the sauce has been reduced by 1/3, but that way the chives will turn dark and some might think the dish will not be as pretty in presentation. If you want to keep the chives in vibrant green color, just add them last minute along with a quick stir then off the heat right away.

Last step, mix some corn starch with water, slowly pour them into the pan and stir the mixture at the same time to prevent lumping. Once the sauce thickens, pour onto a deep plate and drizzle some sesame oil, garnish with cilantro.

My first time cooking duck blood, not bad at all (despite my parents still think there're lots more rooms for improvements). Picky, picky.

Jan 14, 2013

Pouteria Caimito/Abiu Tasting

Pouteria caimito, caimito, or simply abiu. In Taiwan, this jelly-liked treat is called "the golden fruit."

Again, I found this interesting thing from a street vendor close to the mountain/scenic area in Taiwan (I also found an interesting Ta Gu vegetable the other day from one of these vendors).

The street vendor kindly cut a big chunk of the fruit for me to taste before making a purchase. This imported fruit was originally from South America and introduced to Taiwan around 12 years ago.

The texture is similar to jelly. As I cut the fruit into wedges, the shape and look reminded me of orange peel jellos.

Not much seeds inside abiu, the most about 2 large black seeds in the center -

I ate the fruit just like how I always eat the kiwis. Simply take a spoon and scrape against the inner skin to scoop out the meaty part. 
The flavor is similar to feijoa or sugar apple. The price tag? A whopping $2 US per abiu, I can buy a pork chop bento with that amount of money here in Taiwan!

I'm still a newbie to this exotic flavor, and its price surely does scare me away. However, if trying the fruit few more times, it's possible that'll grow to like abiu one day (but the price needs to go down first).

Jan 9, 2013

Omelet with Taiwanese Style Pickled Winter Melon 醬冬瓜煎蛋

Winter melon is such a versatile ingredient that can be used in both savory and sweet recipes. In Taiwan, winter melon can also be preserved using fermented rice and other seasonings such as salt and rice wine.

Usually people use pickled winter melon in ground pork or steam fish recipes. I'll share my mom's stewed pork balls with pickled winter melon when she makes it. As for now, let's try my recipe for omelet with Taiwanese style pickled winter melon -


6 eggs
2 tablespoons of pickled winter melon
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of water
1 teaspoon of soy sauce
Some dried seaweed flakes
Some toasted white sesame seeds
Some Sriracha sauce


Gently rinse the pickled winter melon to remove any small rice bits and dilute the saltiness a little bit. Dry well and finely chop the melon till it looks almost like a paste.

Break 6 eggs. Add the pickled winter melon, soy sauce, and water. Beat well, about one minute.

Take a medium sized and round shaped pan. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and turn to medium high heat. Evenly coat the bottom of the pan with oil and pour in the egg mixture.

Slowly stir the center to let the mixture cook evenly. Use a spatula to gently separate the edges of the eggs away from the pan once a while. Stop stirring the center after about 10 seconds, or till you feel the eggs start to firm up. Just leave the mixture and wait till the bottom gets a nice brown color, should be around 1 to 2 minutes.

Carefully flip the eggs. You can turn the whole pan onto a big round plate so the eggs fall onto the plate perfectly without breaking apart. Carefully push the round shaped eggs back to the pan to cook the other side till brownish color.

Once one, turn the whole pan onto a big plate again.

Sprinkle some dried seaweed flakes and toasted white sesame seeds all over the top. Serve with Sriracha sauce.

You can also chop up some scallion and add to the egg mixture. In that case, omit the dried seaweed flakes and use only the sesame seeds as garnish. I suppose some chopped cilantro will also be a good flavor kick for this recipe.

Jan 4, 2013

Blanched Ta Gu Veggie with Citrus Soy Dressing

There are usually small stands scattering near the mountain roads selling freshly picked vegetables in Taiwan. Those are usually the elderly locals who grow the greens and root vegetables around the area. What they do is that they'll put up a stand somewhere close to a scenery spot, along the road where visitors often drive by.

One day me and my parents drove passed a main road to the famous Yangming Mountain and saw this stand selling fresh produce. This green bundle caught my eye. What is it? I have never seen anything like this. It's like a flower bouquet but in green color.

Less than $2 U.S, I brought it home. The vendor told me it's called "Ta Gu" or 塔菇 in Chinese. Ta carries meanings of tart or tower, and Gu simply means mushroom. After some research online, I learned that it's a type of vegetable commonly used in Shanghai, China. Haven't known the taste of it, I've decided to simply blanch the green and serve with some refreshing citrus dressing.

Blanched Ta Gu veggie with citrus soy dressing -


1 bundle of Ta Gu veggie
1 tangerine
Some katsuo flavored soy sauce (or dashi)
Some toasted white sesame seeds


This recipe is fairly simple. I omitted the use of any heavy tasting seasonings such as chili paste, black pepper, even olive oil in order to get a light and refreshing side dish.

Cut off the very bottom stems from the vegetable. Thoroughly wash every leaves and soak in water for 10 to 15 minutes. I actually soaked it twice in case there are any pesticide residuals.

The Ta Gu veggie looks somewhat similar to tiny bak choy when the center stem has been removed. It actually tastes quite like bak choy, but slightly stronger with its grassy scent.

Press and roll the tangerine to help releasing the juice. Cut the tangerine in half and squeeze the juice into a big bowl. Remove the seeds but do keep the pulps. Mix in some katsuo flavored soy sauce or any kind of flavored Japanese soy sauce. Add till desired saltiness as your veggie dressing.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and toss in drained Ta Gu veggie. Cook till wilted a wee bit, should be less than one minute. Remove from the water and quickly transfer to a big bowl full of ice cubes and cold water to stop the cooking process.

Once cooled down, drain well and transfer the Ta Gu onto a plate. Evenly pour the sauce over and sprinkle some toasted white sesame seeds.

The vegetable looks tough but in fact it's as tender as bak choy. For sure I'll start buying this newly discovered green in the future, as long as I can get a hold of it!