Apr 29, 2014

Semi Stir Fried and Simmered Choi Sum - 煨炒菜心

Quick stir fry recipe using "choi sum," or vegetable heart 菜心. This ingredient can be found at Chinese grocery stores. Among all the leafy greens, this is the only one that looks like thick sticks. Should be pretty easy to spot choi sum even when finding yourself surrounded by all the unfamiliar Chinese produce. 

Semi stir fried and simmered choi sum 煨炒菜心 -


  • 1 large choi sum
  • 1/2 cup of low sodium chicken stock
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 red chilies
  • 0.3 lb/one handful of pork strips
  • Some olive oil (yummier choices are pig fat and chicken fat)
  • Some salt


Here's a picture of the choi sum, there's no way you can miss this thing at the produce section -

Choi sum comes with fibrous outer surface, kind of like celery. Try to make a slit in order to peel the exterior skin from the opening. However, simply peeling off the surface is not enough. Use a peeler to further remove any residual fibers until the choi sum appears moist and smooth.

Cut the prepared choi sum diagonally into almost half an inch thickness pieces. Peel and trim off the tough end from the garlic cloves, then slice the cloves. Trim off the stems from the chilies and finely chop the remaining. 

The pork strips I used were actually from a large chunk of meat used in soup. So I took the pork out and cut them into strips. You can definitely use uncooked version but try to avoid the pre-cut ones from the grocery stores since they are mostly too lean for this recipe . Use semi-fatty pork for a more moist and tender texture. 

The homemade chicken stock used in the picture was still in cold gelatinous form. It contains natural chicken fat derived from hours of simmering, which looks like soft jelly when stored in the fridge. This type of stock is perfect for this choi sum recipe, in which more fatty content creates a smoother bite for the vegetable. 

Drizzle some oil in the pan till it thinly coated the entire bottom. Turn to medium heat, add in sliced garlic and the chilies. Cook for couple minutes, till the garlicky aroma comes out but not burned.

Add in the choi sum along with a small pinch of salt. Give it a quick stir, about one minute. Add in pork strips and just cook till about half way through.

Pour in low sodium stock and turn to medium high heat. Keep the stock simmering or slightly boiling. Cook till the stock appears nearly gone and when the ingredients have a slightly sticky or gooey appearance. 

It might take up to few minutes for the sauce to get condenses and soaked in the veggies. The choi sum still has a bite to it even after simmering. The texture is similar to ripe melon, but the bottom part adjacent to the skin. 

The garlic and chilies create extra kick for the choi sum, but the chicken stock is the true flavor determining the success of this recipe. Chinese style chicken stock works the best, the one made with scallion, chicken bones, ginger, etc. Or if you ever have any leftover chicken soup from a Chinese restaurant, why not bring it home and give this recipe a shot? 

Apr 24, 2014

Sirloin Fried Rice with Crisp Red Onions and a Hint of Japanese Seasonings (蒜香味噌牛排炒飯)

The USDA Choice grade sirloin steak was on sale at a local supermarket, from my memory it was at least 50% off. For such a bargain like this, it can be expected that the quality might be compromised. Still great meat but not supreme. So instead of cooking the beef as a mediocre steak, how about turning it into luxurious fried rice? Yes, we are having steak fried rice tonight!

Sirloin fried rice with crisp red onions and a hint of Japanese seasonings -

Ingredients (for 4 portions)?

  • 1 lb of sirloin steak
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 5 red chilies
  • 2 stalks of scallion
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter 
  • 2 tablespoons of crisp red onions in oil 油蔥酥
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2.5 cups of white rice
  • Small pinch of salt

  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of miso
  • 1 tablespoon of mirin


Cook 2.5 cups of white rice, perhaps use a little bit less water than usual to achieve chewier texture for the fried rice.

Discard the scallion stems and chop the remaining into smaller pieces. Save about 2 tablespoons of the chopped green parts to sprinkle on the fried rice later on. Peel and chop off the very tough ends of the garlic cloves. Chop the cloves into smaller pieces. Make sure not to chop the garlic too finely, otherwise it'll get burned easily, plus we are actually looking for those bits of garlicky bites for this recipe.

Roughly chop the crisp red onions. Discard the chili stems and finely chop the remaining.

Chop the steak into small bite size cubes. Mix together the marinade ingredients and add in the steak. Marinate for about 20 minutes.

Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan, or just enough to evenly coat the bottom. Also add in 2 tablespoons of butter. Turn to medium heat. Add in chopped garlic, scallion, chilies, and a little bit of salt to bring up the flavors.

Cook for couple minutes till the garlicky and buttery aroma come out. Watch out not to burn the garlic, if so, slightly lower the heat during this process. 

Add in the crisp red onions and cook for another minute. Turn up the heat to high power, or at least medium high and add in the beef cubes. Give it a quick stir. Cook till the beef is about 80% cooked through. 

Drizzle the soy sauce from the edge of the pan, that way the sizzling heat from the pan will further release the aroma before the soy sauce touches the ingredients.

Lastly, add in the steamed white rice in two batches. Stir well and make sure every grain is coated with the seasonings. You can tell by looking at the color, dark yellow/pale brown hue.

Once ready, plate the fried rice and garnish with the chopped scallion saved earlier.

Butter and garlic is always a good combination. Not to mention there's steak quality beef and lots of chilies used for the fried rice. You can even serve with additional freshly ground black pepper if another layer of spiciness is desired.

Apr 16, 2014

Old Vine Café - Irresistible Beef Tongue Omelet with a Mexican Flair

Old Vine Café has always been one of my favorite spots in Orange County. Breakfast and brunch are superb here, especially the dishes that come with a Mexican touch. Dinner is served from Tuesday to Saturday but I never got a chance to try it. In fact, this place is packed almost all day long during dinner hours and weekends. If you ever want to pay a visit without the wait, try your luck before lunch rush hours on a weekday. 

Old Vine Café is located at The Camp between Bristol Street and Baker Street. There are quite a few unique shops and restaurants with a hipster vibe. Wine store, tea shops, sportswear, even salon can be found in this area. My beloved (and up till this moment: the only beloved) burger joint Umami Burger is also situated at The Camp. 

Semi-opened restaurant layout with no windows barrier between indoor and outdoor seating area. 

Weekday morning before 11 is the best time to come. However, beware that the service can be quite slow doesn't matter if the restaurant is full or not. Not a big deal for me since my purpose was having a delicious and relaxing meal while soaking in the California sunshine at the same time.

Best seat to my opinion, is the indoor ones adjacent to the outdoor area, like regular window seats.

Six for sixty, where you can buy 6 bottles of carefully selected wine at a bargained price here at Old Vine Café. Not a bad choice if not sure how to pick up a decent wine with limited budget -

Menu -

Click on the picture to enlarge the view -

3 course set lunch for $22, available daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. -

Drinks menu -

Hitachino Nest beer is getting popular in California, I can see that owl everywhere. Espresso stout for the morning $7 -

The pleasant coffee beans aroma adds a nice complexity to the beer.  

2011 Riesling, Scholss Lieser, Thomas Haag, Morsel, Germany $11 - 

Rabbit mole $16.5 -

"Braised rabbit, 2 eggs, pasilla and cashew mole, fresh baked corn bread."

Where else can you find rabbit from a breakfast menu in Orange County? The meat was tender with just a tiny hint of that chocolate bitterness from the mole.

Lengua omelet $14 - 

"Slow cooked beef tongue, queso fresco and spicy tomatillo salsa."

The fork tender beef tongue together with moist omelet and fragrant salsa, totally made my morning. Even though it must be at least 20 minutes passed from the moment when the order was placed till this wonderful plate of food showed up, it was all worth the wait. 

Spanish style potatoes are included for the lengua omelet and other savory dishes. The potatoes can be substitute with cheese grits or mixed greens for extra $2. However, Old Vine makes awesome potatoes and it would be a shame to switch off to something else. 

Unwillingness to give up my potatoes that was fully soaked in Spanish seasonings with crunchy seared edges, I ordered cheese grits on the side -

Creamy and satisfying. The leftover cheese grits were boxed home and turned into the dip for my salami chips

House baked English muffin that comes with the omelet -

Other choices are toast or fresh baked cinnamon roll for extra $2. In addition, other house made spread including kiwi marmalade, strawberry marmalade, and apple butter.

Final bill -

The waitress took out the extra cheese grits because she forgot about it till half way through the meal.

Old Vine Café, along with The Camp is the place I would bring my friends over if they come to visit Orange County. There is quite a lot of stuff to see, to shop around, and most importantly, delicious food to help the friendships bond.   

Cindy's Rating: 7 (supposedly 8 but the service can be very..very slow)

Old Vine Café
2937 Bristol Street. Suite A-102
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 545-1411

Operating Hours:
Breakfast daily from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Lunch daily from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday starting at 5 p.m.
Dinner Sunday and Monday closed

*Reservation is highly recommended for dinner
*Old Vine Café does not take reservations for breakfast or lunch

Apr 11, 2014

Festive Japanese Food at Home - Colorful Chirashi as Easy as 1 2 3!

Chirashi, kaisen donburi, or seafood bowl is one of my all time favorite Japanese food. The thought of making my own sushi rice has been preventing me from trying to make it at home for years. Finally one day when I was strolling down the sashimi aisle at a local Japanese market, looking at all sort of sushi grade fish, my cravings just couldn't hold any longer. 

Ended up with packs after packs of sashimi ranging from salmon, tuna, uni, squid, and more. Very happy indeed. The homemade chirashi was colorful and festive (I have to come up with some sort of celebration excuses in order to lower my guilty feeling of overspending on these high quality ingredients). In addition, the sushi rice, if not too picky, is actually quite easy to make. There will definitely be a wide variety of sashimi donburi recipes coming up in the future.

Color chirashi with a touch of shiso leaves -

Ingredients (for 2 generous portions)?

Sushi rice:
  • 2 cups of sushi rice/short grain rice/or any type of white rice
  • 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt

Tuna marinade:
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of mirin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of wasabi

  • Assorted sashimi grade seafood (I used about 0.25 lb of squid,  0.3 lb of salmon, 0.5 lb of tuna, 0.12 lb of salmon roe, and 0.25 lb of sea urchin)
  • 1 square of tamago
  • 2 to 4 shiso/perilla leaves
  • Some wasabi
  • Some light soy sauce or kombu infused soy sauce


Sushi rice is preferred among all types of grains for making sashimi-related recipes. However, it can always be substituted with short grain or other types of white rice at your convenience. Prepare the rice as usual but cook it with a little less water in order to get slightly chewier rice. 

Once the rice is ready, scoop them out to a wide wooden box or any other wide opening container to help the heat evaporates. Mix together 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, and 1/4 tea spoon of sea salt. Make sure the sugar and the salt have been fully dissolved in the vinegar, otherwise try to heat up the blend in a small pot or in the microwave for just a little bit. 

Sprinkle the mixture over while folding the rice gently, so that each grain is coated with the flavoring. The result will be better if there's also a fan on the side sending cool air, helping the heat to escape at a much faster rate. 

Warning!! I was too eager on folding the rice the second time making chirashi for my friends. As a result, my sushi rice started to stick together and turned out way too chewy. Maybe they'll turn into mochi if I keep flipping and stirring..

Make sure not to over-fold the rice. The goal is to fluff the grains while spreading the liquid throughout, the heat will also help in distribution the seasonings. Let the rice cool down to room temperature before serving.

Cut the sashimi grade fish and tamago into smaller cubes. Slice the squid into strips. I purposely bought twice as much tuna compared to other seafood, using half as sashimi and the other as tsuke/marinated style fish.

Mix all the marinade ingredients and add in half of the cubed tuna. Blend gently and let the fish marinate for about 10 minutes.

Finely chop the shiso leaves, use more if a stronger minty scent is preferred. 

To assemble, scoop the rice to a bowl, save the sea urchin till last and arrange the remaining seafood and tamago onto the rice. Lastly, carefully transfer the sea urchin on top of the ingredients and sprinkle with some shiso leaves. Add a small spoonful of wasabi on the rim of the bowl and serve with light soy sauce on the side. 

It's better to keep the sea urchin in the fridge till right before assembling to prevent from melting. 

First time making simple sushi rice was such a success, despite the sticky result from the second attempt. Doubting if the success is a good thing or not...since I'll start making much more chirashi at home..not very wallet friendly (but definitely keeps my tummy happy).

Apr 4, 2014

Taiwanese Fu Cai and Meatballs Stew 福菜肉丸

Fu cai, fu choy, or 福菜 is a type of pickled vegetable made with mustard greens. Mustard green is such a versatile ingredient for Chinese cooking. Every part of the vegetable can be used straight up, or even sun-dried and pickled into totally different kind of ingredients with distinct tastes and looks. 

Take fresh mustard green and let it dry under the sun before rubbing with salt and pickling. While the vegetable still holds some moisture, it needs to be stored in a jar to continue the pickling process for few months. One other more popular ingredient suan cai, or 酸菜, which is the dark green colored condiment added in Taiwanese beef noodles, is also made with mustard green. However, the process is slightly different and usually can be made in just a few weeks. In addition, suan cai tastes sourish but fu cai on the other hand, is very aromatic with little sourish taste remains. 

Fu cai is not as popular compared to suan cai in the states, so it can be quite challenging to get a hold of it. Try your local Chinese grocery store, fu cai can be found either in a big bucket, meaning still pickling, or sealed in air-tight plastic packaging. 

Taiwanese fu cai and meatballs stew 福菜肉丸 -



  • 1 lb of ground pork
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 stalk of scallion
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce


  • 2 bundles of fu cai
  • 9 to 12 deep fried tofu curd 油豆腐
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 8 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce


Rinse the fu cai with running water. Make sure to extend each leaves and rinse with running water. Some dusts might get trapped in between during the sun-drying process. Once done, cut the fu cai into large bite size pieces. If the stems are too hard, cut into small pieces so they get cooked through and softened more easily.

Chop off and discard the tough ends from the garlic cloves, peel and give the remaining a fine chop. Chop off and discard the scallion stem. Chop the remaining into small pieces. 

Mix together all the ingredients under meatballs section and let it sit for 10 minutes. Form the mixture into meatballs. You can form a small ball first and throw it in between your palms in order to drive out any air trapped inside. This step also helps the meatballs stay in shape when first adding into the stew liquid. Click on the link or the picture, it'll lead you to my Instagram video showing my throwing back and forth motion.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add in the fried tofu curd. This process helps in cleaning the tofu curd and wash out any excess oil. Bring to a boil again and cook for one to two minutes. Once ready, drain out the water and set aside for later use.

Take a big pot, add in 8 cups of water, 1/2 cup of soy sauce, 4 peeled garlic cloves, and chopped fu cai. Bring to a boil, add in the meatballs along with fried tofu curd.

Bring to a boil again and lower the heat to keep the pot simmer. Cover with lid and cook for 2 hours, or minimum one hour so the aroma from the fu cai can be fully released into the stew. 

Be careful when biting into the tofu curd because the stew juice will burst in your mouth!

I like to eat it with steamed rice. You can also use the stew as the base for noodles. Just remember to add some more black bean soy sauce and perhaps a spoonful of chili sauce to jazz up the flavors.