May 30, 2013

Chinese Cold Dish using Chicken, Cucumber, Bean Sprouts, and Lots of Appetizing Seasonings

I just recently traveled back to Taiwan and the weather here is getting slightly intolerable. I can sweat within minutes just by standing anywhere without AC, even under the shade. It's that serious.

Food choice-wise, hot pot and fried food probably won't be on my top list at this moment. How about a cold dish that comes with some protein, couple different vegetables, and lots of tasty Asian seasonings? That should help the appetite in this scorching weather!

Chinese cold dish using chicken, cucumber, bean sprouts, and lots of appetizing seasonings -


  • 1 lb of chicken (dark or white meat based on personal preference, I used half and half)
  • 4 small/medium cucumbers (skinny type)
  • 1 small bundle of bean sprouts
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 2 stalks of scallion
  • 3 red chilies
  • 1 small bundle of cilantro
  • 4 tablespoons of black vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 3 teaspoons of homemade chili sauce (include some chili oil)
  • 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar
  • Some sea salt 


Use boneless and skinless chicken as a whole. Put the chicken into a pot and fill in the water till all the chicken is covered by the liquid. Turn to low heat to slowly cook the chicken. You can test the doneness by sticking a chopstick into the thickest part of the chicken. If the chopstick comes out easy and clean then the meat should be ready to use.

If the pot starts to boil eventually, leave the fire on for another 3 to 5 minutes then the chicken should be fully cooked through too. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool off for about five minutes. Remove the chicken from the liquid and thread into smaller strips by hands.

Remove any dry string-like stems from the bean sprouts. Bring another pot of water to a boil and add in the bean sprouts. Cook for about 10 seconds, drain well and shock the sprouts with icy cold water. Make sure to use previously boiled water to prevent bacterial contamination. Once cool down, drain well and set aside for later use. You can also cover with foil and transfer to the fridge while waiting for the "final assembling."

Thoroughly rinse the cucumber and chop off stems. Use the side of the knife to smash the cucumber. You can also cover the cucumbers with clear foil and smash them with a rolling pan. We want unevenly smashed surface so that the seasonings can better cling onto the cucumbers.

Transfer the smashed cucumber strips to a container and sprinkle about 3 teaspoons of sea salt. Mix well with one hand and let it sit for about 3 minutes. The salt will help drawing out the liquid and the grassy taste from raw cucumbers.

Discard this liquid and rinse the cucumber with cold water (previously boiled also). Once done, pat dry and set aside for later use. You can also cover the cucumbers with clear foil and transfer to the fridge first.

Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves. Discard the bottom stems from the scallion and chop the remaining section. Discard the stems from the chilies and finely chop the remaining part. Finely chop the cilantro.

Take a big bowl and add in the following ingredients: chopped garlic, chopped scallion, chopped cilantro, and chopped chilies.

Mix in the following seasonings: black vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce, granulated sugar, and sesame oil. Mix well.

Mix all the ingredients on a big plate. Give it a quick taste and see if more seasonings are needed. The key here is not to be afraid of over-seasoning. It's actually pretty hard to over-season this dish. In fact, if this cold plate is not sour or spicy enough, the overall flavors will appear flat.

I love to eat it as a side dish with some dry noodles. However, when I'm not in the mood to heat up the food, this dish actually works with cold rice too.

Hope this recipe helps you temporarily forget about the summer heat.

May 24, 2013

Leftover Makeover - Congee with the Very Last Bits of Yumminess from Peking Duck Bones

Ever had Peking duck at a Chinese restaurant?

This famous Chinese dish requires various steps in the cooking process. Baste with duck juice, roast in wood fire oven, soak in restaurant's secret stock, and coat with sugar based sauce are just part of the work in order to create a juicy duck with fatty yet crunchy skin on the table.

Some restaurants offer two to four different ways to devour the duck. First and the most delicious in my opinion, simply wrap the duck skin with steamed buns, add a spoonful of sweet fermented flour paste and scallion, and enjoy all the flavors in one bite. One common way to enjoy the remaining of the duck is heavy seasoned stir fry using the meat. As for the bones, many restaurants use it as stock base for congee, and I'm gonna do the same for my leftover Peking duck!

Congee with the very last bits of yumminess from Peking duck bones -

Ingredients (for 4 to 5 people)?

Leftover Peking duck bones (discard the neck bones)
2 slices of ginger
4 cups of chicken stock
4 cups of water
2 1/2 cups of cooked white rice
1 cup of bak choy
1 cup of mixed salad greens or whatever vegetables left in the fridge
6 cremini mushroom
2 to 3 eggs
Some finely chopped celery
Some white pepper powder
Some sea salt


Let's make the stock first. Put the leftover bones along with 2 slices of ginger inside a big pot.

Add about 4 cups of chicken stock and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to keep it simmer. Remember to skim off any dirty floating bits during the process.

Cook for about 30 minutes, or till the stock has been reduced by at least 1/3, 1/2 the most. Once ready, drain the soup to another pot and discard the bones and ginger slices. Set the soup aside for later use.

I added some chicken stock because there weren't enough leftover bones from just one duck. You can use water only if there are more bones to make the stock. Either way, I do think using some chicken stock adds more flavor to this soup base.

Discard the mushroom stems and chop into small cubes. Chop and discard the bak choy stems, about 1/2 inch in length. Thoroughly rinse the veggies and drain well. There were some leftover mixed salad greens in the fridge so I used that in this recipe too. You can always substitute with other types of leafy greens of your liking. 

Preparing celery might be tricky. Break the end of the celery and peel it from the bottom till the top from the outer layer. The tough strings should attach to the very bottom section, so when you try to pull through the celery, the tough strings can be removed at the same time. (I promised I'll take a picture of this step to better show you what I'm talking about next time.) Chop the celery into tiny cubes.

Add the cooked rice into the pot and pour in about half of the stock. Turn to medium heat to slowly bring the pot to a boil. As for the other half of the stock, turn to medium high heat and toss in prepared veggies to cook away the raw tastes. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat.

Keep an eye on the rice, add all the remaining stock along with cooked veggies when the rice needs more liquid. Stir the mixture once a while to prevent the bottom from burning.

Season the congee with some sea salt and white pepper powder. The amount used depends on the flavor of the stock and the tastes from the duck bones. Just add a little bit at a time to make sure the flavors are right. You can also use just a few dashes of Japanese ponzu sauce if desired. Beat 2 to 3 eggs first then add into the pot. Give it a gentle stir then turn off the heat.

Serve the congee with some chopped celery to brighten up the flavor. The chopped celery here works just like chopped parsley added in the end of some Italian dishes.

Leftover makeover, even the bones can be fully utilized!

May 19, 2013

Store Bought Sauce Makeover - Meatballs with Pasta Sauce and Asian Seasonings

How often should I update my food blogs (I also have one in Chinese)? For all these years, I've been trying to update at least once a week. However, there are way too many food pictures to share, and that's why I got Instagram!

If you are interested in my food ventures, check out my Instagram account "foodmakesmehappy" where I update daily with mostly food pictures that went into my stomach!

And here's today's recipe, store bought sauce makeover - meatballs with pasta sauce and Asian seasonings -

Ingredients (about 24 to 30 meatballs)?

Meatball mixture:
  • 1.3 lbs of ground beef
  • 1.3 lbs of ground pork
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 medium onion (peeled and chop into mini pieces)
  • 3 tablespoons of water
Sauce and other ingredients:
  • 2 stalks of scallion (stems removed, chopped into 2 to 3 inches long strips)
  • 1 big ripe tomato (cubed)
  • 1 cup of all natural or organic pasta sauce
  • 1/4 cup of black vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • Some olive oil
  • Some red chili flakes
  • Some sea salt
  • Some freshly ground black pepper


I actually prefer using more pork than beef for this recipe because the fat content of the pork provides more moisture to the meatballs. However, I got both ground meat that were pre-packaged instead of directly from a butcher. As a result, there's no chance for me to ask for specific amount of meat. If possible, try to use about 1:2 beef to pork ratio for this recipe.

Take a big bowl and add in all the ingredients under "meatball mixture" except water -

Don't even bother to use a spatula or a spoon to do the stirring work. I assure you that all the meaty goodies will eventually get on both of your hands shortly. Use one hand to slightly mix the ingredients with the same stirring direction, ex. clockwise or counter-clockwise. Once done, use the clean hand to add the water gradually and keep mixing with the other hand. You can substitute water with beef stock to enhance the flavor. This liquid-adding step helps the ground meat to absorb more moisture, which will result in juicier meatballs.

Form the ground meat mixture into about 2 dozens to 30 medium sized meatballs -

Drizzle just enough olive oil to evenly coat the bottom of the pan and turn to medium high heat. Sear the meatballs in two to three batches. Make sure the sides turn slightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside for later use.

Take a big pot and drizzle just enough olive oil to coat the bottom again. Turn to medium high heat and add in the scallions, some red chili flakes, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Sear till the scallion turns slightly burned then pick them out.

Discard 1/3 of the excess oil in the pot. Transfer the cubed tomato into the pot along with 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Cook for about 3 minutes.

Pour in the pasta sauce, black vinegar, and soy sauce. Give it a quick stir then add in the seared meatballs. Make sure all the meatballs are coated with the sauce.

Reduce the sauce till it thickens, about 2/3 or 1/2 left depending on your own preference. I like to keep more sauce so I can drizzle it all over steamed white rice.

Taste and adjust with soy sauce, black vinegar, and granulated sugar if needed.

Supposedly ketchup works for this recipe. However, I think a good quality pasta sauce has much more flavor and can truly "upgrade" the taste for the meatballs.

May 12, 2013

Colorful Mung Bean Sprouts Stir Fry

Happy belated Mother's Day! I supposed most of you had a festive meal full of meat and high calories dishes over the weekend. How about switching to something healthier for the next few days?

Colorful mung bean sprouts stir fry -


1 pack/12 oz/340 grams of mung bean sprouts
10 shiitake mushroom
1 medium carrot
2 stalks of scallion
3 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons of high quality ponzu sauce
Some olive oil
Some sea salt
Some freshly ground black pepper
Some toasted white sesame seeds


Most mung bean sprouts come with thin and dry stems unless your local market carries the already-picked and washed type. Get a helper from the family to pluck out those string-like stems for you!

Of course you can just leave the mung bean sprouts as the way they are, but it'll affect the texture of the dish. Once done picking out the stems, rinse the mung bean sprouts and make sure to drain out all the water.

Discard the stems from the scallion and chop into 2 inch pieces. Peel the garlic and cut off the stems. Slice the garlic cloves.

Discard the mushroom stems and cut the remaining into strips. Peel and julienne the carrot.

Drizzle just enough olive oil to evenly coat the bottom of the pan, turn to medium high heat. Add in the scallion, garlic slices, small pinch of sea salt, and some freshly ground black pepper. Give it a quick stir and cook till the edges of the garlic turns slightly golden brown color.

Add in the mushroom and carrot. Give it a quick stir. The mushroom will absorb all the oil from the pan but there's no need to add more oil for this recipe. Remember we're trying to eat healthier after big meals?

Add in mung bean sprouts and give it a quick stir. Pour in about 3 tablespoons of ponzu sauce. Mix well and cook till the bean sprouts no longer carry that raw veggie taste, about 3 minutes.

Sprinkle some toasted white sesame seeds after plating. So now we have the veggies, how about some meat? Below are some no fuss meaty recipes for your protein needs:

Beef shabu with a touch of sesame dressing and homemade spicy oil
Top recipe - shabu shabu black angus beef slices with ponzu garlic dipping sauce
Stewed chicken with sausage and leek

May 5, 2013

Highly Recommended! Eva's - A Caribbean Kitchen (Laguna Beach, CA)

Indeed a very satisfying meal.

A friend recommended this place the other day when I was looking for a chill and casual western restaurant around Orange County. Nothing fancy like Morton's or 21 Oceanfront around the area, but something close to Memphis or The Playground - if you know what I'm talking about.

There was a misunderstanding of reservation hours. As a result, the initial visit for me and my boyfriend got cancelled. The restaurant made an effort to invite us plus two additional guests back and everything will be on the house. Of course we didn't take such an advantage of bringing more people, which might further enhance the stereotype of cheap Asians in this case. On the side note, we left a good amount of tip as a token of our gratuity.

I have to say that everything I tried at Eva's was all so delicious and packed with flavors, flavors not so familiar with but in a good way. What's even more impressive? Eva's truly cares about their customers and I'm already converted to be one of their regulars from now on. In fact, I came back again with group of friends just over the weekend. The pictures throughout the post will be the munching results from these two visits. Just need to clarify here in case you're wondering how in the world I can fit in so much food and drinks in my stomach over a single meal.

Eva's is a cute petite restaurant located on Pacific Coast Highway. It might be hard to find for first visitors. However, just make sure to keep an eye on a palm tree with pink lights.

The restaurant arranged a spot for us next to the windows during first visit -

Media coverage hanging on the wall -

Other wall decor -

Menus -

This place is pretty chill during weekdays.

However, Eva's might turn into a loud and party-like place on Fridays and Saturdays. Partly due to the beach crowd, but most likely it's because of Eva's wide collection of alcoholic beverages, particularly rums.

Notice that there are still many more pages for the alcoholic beverages menu?

Of course other "less aggressive" beverages are available too -

Something small to start with -

Entrees -

Our wonderful waitress Melanie brought us some drinks before we even get a chance to take a look at the menu. The one below is Eva's famous tropical rum punch -

"Made with mango, guava, passion fruit juices with rum."

I'm never a big fan of rum but this punch is totally doable for me. The amount of rum used is just enough to carry the oaky aroma without adding too much bitterness taste in the drink. High recommended for ladies!

Eva's also has other specialty drinks which I managed to try some more during second visit. First is the guava mimosa on the bottom -

My friends' drinks:
Left - Pomegranate martin (martini)
Up - Dark & stormy (Bermuda Gosling's dark rum and Jamaican ginger beer)
Right - Tropical rum punch

Key lime pie martini -

It was soooo good. It tastes exactly like a key lime pie but in a foamy liquid form. I can almost skip dessert and just have this drink instead of the real thing!

Brown suga -

This one was really good too. Made with 12 year old rum, sweet & sour, and a squeeze of lime. The rim has a thin coat of cinnamon sugar that adds a touch of spiciness and warmth to the drink.

Jamaican beer Red Stripe -

Bread basket -

The bread always comes hot. Not warm, but hot! The room temperature butter served on the side just melts on the bread right away. Of course you can also dip it with the extremely hot sauce from the Cajun prawns -

"Black tiger shrimp marinated in lime, garlic, and chili, then dredged in Cajun spices and seared in a black skillet. Served with a grilled pineapple, roasted pepper, and passion fruit relish."

It's not the Chinese oily kind of spiciness. You probably won't feel the heat right away. However, do be aware that the burn might slowly creeping up to your throat and linger through the next 10 minutes. Highly recommended if you can take the heat!

*Insider tip: Eva let the spicy sauce marinate for 3 weeks to intensify the aroma and "impacts!"

On the top is the only soup dish available at Eva's. It's called callaloo soup, which comes either in a cup of a bowl. Ingredients consist of spinach, okra, and coconut milk from Trinidad. Made with clam and lobster base, thyme, garlic, and shallots. Perhaps the best western style soup I've ever had. Highly recommended too!

We also ordered the St. Martin salad during my second visit. The pineapple on the salad surely helped in relieving the burn from the Cajun prawns -

"Mixed baby greens, red onions, pineapple, tomatoes, and tossed with passion fruit/raspberry vinaigrette."

Time for entrees. Let me start with what we had from the first visit, jerk pork loin -

The pork loin was cooked to perfection, just a slightly pink in the center -

It was juicy and packed with flavors as well. Eva makes all the sauces and seasonings all by herself, and for sure you do get authentic tastes from her awesome skills in the kitchen. There were allspice, brown sugar, garlic, cumin, and other "secret" ingredients used for the jerk sauce. You can also sense a slight minty taste from the cinnamon. This is the first time in my life that I like cinnamon so much in my food. Another high recommended dish.

Blackened salmon -

Slightly spicy but I can't really feel the heat anymore from the salmon after tasting the Cajun prawns. The spiciness level of the salmon and the prawns are like comparing water to coffee.

Underneath the blackened seasonings you'll find herb butter, which adds another layer of aroma for the juicy salmon.

The little dark thing on the left is plantains.

During the second visit, we tried some other entrees and below is the jerk steak -

I was so in love with Eva's jerk sauce so I ordered jerk-series again. Still as good as I remembered, but the pork loin was definitely my first choice for jerk dishes.

I also love how much veggies that come with the entree, making me feel like I'm having a well-balanced meal instead of overloading with meat and alcohol.

Jerk chicken -

Organic chicken by the way. This is the only dish that didn't perform too well due to dry texture of meat.

Pan roasted Chilean sea bass -

Seasoned and breaded with Japanese panko, seared in a black skillet and roasted in oven.

Curry snapper -

If you're a seafood person, Eva's really know how to prepare and cook a fish. All fish entrees were succulent and again, packed with flavors. I probably use this phrase way too much but this is truly how I feel about Eva's.

Crème brûlée with a slight touch of coconut and lots of vanilla beans -

Forgive me for not remembering the name of that creamy drink on the top right corner. Both visits my mind and body were already filled with food. As a result, towards the end of the night, the name of the drink can never find an empty spot to stick with me.

Goodie bag -

Carrot cake! -

The walnuts were a plus for this moist cake.

Towards the end of the night (on a quiet Thursday) -

There's not really a set time for closing hours, mostly depends on customer flows. Usually it closes around 10 p.m. during weekdays and the nights can last pretty long on weekends.

I rarely give out such high rating for a restaurant, not mentioning I was actually upset about the whole reservation mixed up incident in the beginning. If you ever decide to come and give it a try, tell them the Asian couple Cindy and Kenneth recommended this place. It's that good that I'm afraid to put our names on the table!

Cindy's rating: 9

Eva's - A Caribbean Kitchen
31732 Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
(949) 499-6311

*Opens Monday - Sunday at 5 p.m.
*Parking spots can be easily found on the street
*Google gives the wrong direction, DO NOT USE Google Map
*Easiest way to get to there is to stay on PCH, Eva's is in between 3rd and 4th street

*Ladies, I didn't get any food smell on my hair nor clothes during both visits, if this matters to you