Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Dinner 2011

Even though I have a two-week break from research, it seems that I need to keep myself busy. My mind was set to write a holiday card message to my long-distance family and spend some quality time with friends and family.

Recently, my research group produced a sample out of carbon atoms that has the shape of a snowflake. In science terms, it is called a fractal. The dimension of the sample is about the diameter of a human hair. My colleagues had this idea of having this sample as an image for a custom-made (or limited edition) holiday card. I found this idea so neat that I brought the image to a print and copy centre, and make a few holiday cards out of it.

With my photography skills improving, I have been posting less frequently food that are made by my friends during cooking meetings. I felt that the quality of these pictures are not up to par mainly due to composition and improper lighting, also I'm used to take food pictures in my "studio". I used to publish quite a lot of recipes when I started this blog. These meetings are still very active, cooking together twice a month, and it has been running for over 3 years now. The cooking group is still expanding, attracting new graduate students to join us. If my three original officemates and I haven't started this cooking project in Fall 2008, this blog would not exist and I probably would not have so many great friends made along my graduate studies. The name Random Cuisine surprisingly still holds over the years.

I'll finish this post with some pictures of our Christmas dinner.

Sharing food with great friends
Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs
Apple, Raisin and Walnut Salad
Salted Duck Eggs
Salted Duck Eggs with Tofu
Tuna Pie
Meal with a glass of sauvignon
Desserts: Lemon Bars, Gingerbread cookies and Apple Pie
Gift Exchange
Happy Holidays!!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Taiwanese Stir-fried Squid Soup

I am excited to announce that Random Cuisine has now its own domain. It never crossed my mind of having my own domain as I consider blogging as a hobby, but after three years in the blogging world, it feels right to own one. Anyhow, you will notice that the address bar now reads instead of If I made the changes appropriately, my old URL will redirect you to my new URL, so you don't need to make any changes.

Ok, now for an anecdote... I know my Taiwanese friend Chris for over four years. We first met when we were knife salesmen the summer before I started my Masters degree in Physics. Since then, we have been cooking together almost every Sunday to test out new recipes and share our food knowledge. He grew up in Taiwan and has traveled around Asia. He is my encyclopedia for Asian cuisine such as Chinese, Korean and Japanese cuisine. He loves to tell interesting stories behind each dish.

This stir-fried squid soup is a classic street food in Taiwan. It is weird to see stir-fry and soup in one name, but it has to do with the cooking method. The aromatics are first stir-fried in hot oil to release its fragrance, then these aromatics provide a flavour profile to the soup. Like most Asian dishes, flavours are balanced by the appropriate amount of sweet, sour and salty ingredients. This is one soup you will definitely enjoy.

Serves 2
Preparation Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 15 mins
Printable Recipe


1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup carrots, sliced
4-5 slices ginger, julienned
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green onions, chopped
2 squid tubes, cleaned and sliced
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 Chinese red chilli pepper (or any chilli pepper), seeded
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp black or white vinegar
1 tbsp white sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)


1. In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté carrots for 2-3 mins. Add in ginger and garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1 min. Add in squid and sauté for 1 min.

2. Pour in hot water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

3. Add chilli pepper, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Cook for about 5 mins until squid is ready.

4. Stir in beaten egg and basil leaves. Serve.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My 3rd blogiversary - Daylight and Night Food Photography

Today marks the third blog anniversary of Random Cuisine. The past weeks, I was trying to figure out if I should make a tower cake or take on an extreme food challenge. The first two years in the food blogging world, it sounds like an exciting idea but I feel that I should approach it differently and cover a hot topic in the food blogging community: food photography. I'm no expert in this field, but at least I can tell you what I have learn up until now. After all, photography is a learning curve same as any other hobbies. Looking back at my first ever post, I realized that I came so far with my photography skills. I wouldn't be able to do it, without the guidance and criticism of my photography friends. I wish they would create a website to showcase their outstanding work.  

Sacher Torte from Fortnum & Mason in London.
Food photography is a very broad topic. I would have to write a book to cover all its aspects. This won't happen as I'm still inexperienced on some major aspects of photography such as styling and camera flashes. It is not about having fancy cameras that makes you a better photographer. It is how you handle it, and the skills that you have acquired since you held your first camera. I have been shooting with my point-and-shoot (Nikon Coolpix S210) for over 4 years, I'm very proud what I can do with this little camera. Despite its limitations, I managed to overcome them over the years.

Reading through thousands of blog posts, it seems on many bloggers mind that natural lights and DSLR cameras are the only solutions to capture stunning pictures. Unfortunately, I'm one of these people that these criteria cannot be met. First, I finish work very late at night, usually around 8pm so I do most of my cooking at night. This means that natural light is mostly unavailable. Don't expect me to leave my food overnight and take pictures the next morning. Second, I carry my camera all the time. When opportunities come, I shoot at food that I eat, powerpoint slides in seminars given by keynote speakers, and lab equipment. However, I can't imagine myself carrying all the time a heavy bulky camera, especially on vacations.

A picture of my lab experiment.
I bet many people are in the same shoes as me, so how do you mediate these issues? As a scientist, we always think that there is a solution to all problems. Since last year, I have been paying attention to the tiniest details in a food picture such as lighting, background, and composition. Darren Rowse article provides a good summary of types of questions that I would ask myself when I see a food picture.

Apple-Cinnamon Compote
Playing with the manual settings of your camera such as shutter speed, white balance, exposure, macro mode, and manual focus improves the quality of your images tremendously. In my opinion, shutter speed is key to obtain a nice sharp pictures. For the unfamiliars, a shutter is a component in your camera which allows the light through for a fixed period of time to expose a light-sensitive sensor. Once the sensor captures enough light, the shutter closes and an image is displayed on the screen. More light means faster shutter speed. That is why, when one shoots in low light areas, the shutter speed is slow and most of the time you will get a blurry image if not using a tripod. For close-up shoots like food, macro mode is a must.

Left image: normal mode. Right image : macro mode. 
The following sections will cover both of my under-the-budget daylight and night photography setup.

Daylight setup

The only opportunity that I can shoot in natural light is on weekends. With natural light, you can guaranteed that the object is well lit and acquire a fast shutter speed. Shooting in daylight can sometimes be tricky because of the bright harsh light. One trick is to wait until the clouds cover partially the Sun which help soften the light. Another trick is to use white curtains or any transparent white fabric to diffuse light.

A photography setup should not cost a fortune especially for an amateur photographer. My setup is quite simple: natural light, one coffee table, a background cloth (I mostly use black or white cloth), and a placemat. On the left is a poster board that I picked up from an art shop. This board acts as a reflector to minimize shadows.

Daylight photography setup
Picture without any image processing.
An image processing software such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is useful to brighten up some colours and make the picture sharper.

Picture with image processing.
Night Photography Setup

Now that I showed you about my daylight setup, night food photography or even indoor photography is a bit tricky because of the limited amount of light. I did quite a lot of research about positioning light sources with respect to the subject for indoor shooting. The main goal is to acquire a fast shutter speed, this implies that the subject should be properly lit. I have learned a tremendous amount through trial and error as to what seems to work best and what doesn't.

Night photography setup
My setup comprises of two lamps lighting both sides of the dish. To reduce harsh light from the lamps, I placed tissue papers fixed by an elastic band to reduce the intensity of light. Make sure to have light bulbs that do not emit heat. Otherwise, your tissue papers might caught on fire. In addition, a bed lamp, sitting on top of the drawer, provides an overall lighting to reduce harsh shadows. Here is the finalized picture of this grilled piri piri flank steak topped with guacamole.

Grilled piri piri flank steak after image processing.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. I'm still far from understanding everything about photography so I hope that this post gave you some insights on improving the quality of your pictures. I will end this post with this fun quote from Digital Photography School:

"Experiment! Photography should be fun and with practically zero cost to experiment digitally, play with your camera and see what works for you."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Maple Syrup Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Simple Couscous

The holidays are approaching soon. Keeping myself busy with research, hoping to discover some new physics and publish papers. The past week, I have been working on a new project from 10 in the morning to midnight. As a PhD student, we work long hours to acquire data and emit hypotheses of the obtained results. This is what I enjoy the most about research and I'm glad that I chose the right field of research: nanotechnology. You are welcome to visit Ananda's blog (A Pinch of Love) about her journey as a physicist. She will be defending her thesis this week. Something that I will have to do eventually within 2 years to obtain my PhD degree. Here is a fun video that I found on Youtube, which summarizes my research and its impact to society:

Holidays are all about going back to our hometown, seeing our family and friends, and have a good meal together. When I think of family food, pork tenderloin is one of these ingredients that takes a few minutes to sear the sides and then finish the cooking process in the oven. In the past, I prepared pork tenderloin with two different methods: wrapping the tenderloin with prosciutto or coating it with herbs. This time, I went for a sweet and savoury combo using maple syrup to glaze the pork tenderloin. You can also use honey as a substitute, and recently I heard that cola provides tasty flavours. I served the pork tenderloin with a side of couscous cooked in vegetable broth. I'll think of a more creative dish with couscous next time, I guaranteed.

Serves 8
Preparation Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 25 mins
Printable Recipe


2 pork tenderloins
2 tbsps thym
salt and pepper
about 1/3 cup flour for coating
1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/3 cup maple syrup

1 cup couscous
1 cup vegetable broth (or any other broth)


1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Season both pork tenderloins with thym, salt and pepper. Coat them with flour.

3. In an ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sear each side of the pork for 1 min. Remove pork from skillet. Set aside.

4. Add butter to skillet and add in chopped onion, cook for 5 mins until translucent. Add in Dijon mustard and maple syrup. Bring to a simmer and cook until thick, about 1 min.

5. Bring pork back to skillet, turn to coat. Roast for 15-20 mins or until slightly pink and the meat thermometer reads 160F.

6. Meanwhile, prepare couscous. In a saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Remove from heat. Add in couscous and allow to sit for 5 mins. Afterwards, fluff the couscous with a fork.

7. Remove from oven. Cover with aluminium foil and let the pork rests for 5 mins before cutting. Serve with couscous.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Maple Pouding Chômeur - Poor Man's Pudding

Everyone has an ingredient that they couldn't live without, so what is your favourite that you must absolutely use? Maple syrup is my favourite ingredient of all time, this natural and versatile ingredient can be used both in desserts and savory dishes. Not only it is good for drizzling on pancakes, it also gives a hint of sweetness in glazes or sauces for seafood, poultry, and meat. 

The traditional pouding chômeur is an irresistible sweet and comfy dessert for French Canadian. The Poor man's pudding was popular since the Great Depression of Quebec and remains a favourite dessert in the homes of Quebecers to this day. Made of basic baking ingredients, one can define this dessert as a syrupy pudding with a cake on top. Usually served warm, a cold glass of milk will make a good companion.

Serves 12
Preparation Time: 15 mins
Baking Time: 30 mins
Printable Recipe


1 cup maple syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup water

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk


1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. In a saucepan, mix maple syrup, brown sugar, and water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 mins until slightly reduced. Transfer sauce to a 8-inch square baking pan.

3. With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until creamy.

4. Add in eggs and vanilla, beat until uniform.

5. In another bowl, sift flour and baking powder.

6. Incorporate dry ingredients to butter mixture, alternate with milk.

7. Transfer batter to baking pan, spreading uniformly over the sauce.

8. Bake for 30 mins until golden or until it passes the toothpick test.

9. Serve warm.


You can prepare this a day in advance, reheat the pudding for 10-15 mins at 250F.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Classic Crème Caramel - Caramel Flan

Does it occur to you that after eating lunch or dinner, you crave for something light and sweet to cleanse your palate? Crème caramel is one of these desserts that awaits for you in the fridge. Once you are in need for  desserts, you only need to take it out from the fridge, run a sharp knife around the sides of the flan, and turn over onto plate. The caramel syrup runs over the flan, and it is ready to be indulged.

Flan is quite popular in several countries, notably in Latin America, France, and Japan. The variations are quite minimal. Since I never grew up using butter or cream, even though French cuisine is one of my forte, I tend to develop an alternative recipe to make a dessert which is low in fat and low in calories. This classic dessert usually requires heavy cream, but you can still make a good crème caramel with only whole milk, or even with coconut milk.

The caramel flan is smooth, silky, and creamy. Not overly sweet with an underlying hint of vanilla, it reminds me of a light version of a crème brûlée. If this is your first time making a caramel, it takes a few tries to get used to it. When I did my tarte tatin, my caramel burnt twice, before I got it correctly. The trick is to not lose sight of it. 

Preparation Time: 15 mins
Baking Time: 40 mins
Chilling Time: 3 hours or overnight
Printable Recipe


3 tbsps water
3/4 cup white sugar

2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/3 cup white sugar


1. Preheat oven to 325F. Place a cloth at the bottom of a 13'' x 9'' baking pan.

2. Prepare the caramel. In a saucepan, heat water and sugar over medium heat. Do not stir. The sugar will froth and start to change colour. Remove from heat when the caramel start to turn a honey-gold colour.

3. Immediately, pour the caramel over 6 ramekins and tilt each ramekin to coat the bottom. Transfer ramekins to the prepared pan and pour hot water halfway up the ramekins.

4. In another saucepan, heat milk and vanilla over medium heat until hot. Do not boil.

5. In a bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until blended. Slowly incorporate milk mixture into the egg mixture while constantly whisking.

6. Sieve custard and pour mixture into prepared ramekins.

7. Bake for about 35 mins until centre is lightly wobbly or until a knife inserted in centre comes out clean.

8. Let it cool for 30 mins, cover with cling film, and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

9. Just before serving, run a blade around the ramekin and flip onto a plate. Serve cold.


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