Weekend cooking and Cook It Up: LA Son by Roy Choi



The movers would bring our furniture, but we brought the kimchi. Our priorities were in order. We carried in at least thirty-five Tupperware containers of triple-Saran-wrapped soy-dried beef, radish water kimchi, spicy fish intestine, preserved eggs, cucumber kimchi, oyster cabbage kimchi, scallion sounds paste, dried squid, skate panchan, and pickled garlic to bless our brand-new home, our brand-new neighborhood.

Roy Choi is best known for his Kogi gourmet food truck in LA, and he’s now running several restaurants and even inspired a movie, Chef starring Jon Favreau (also the producer and director), which if you haven’t yet seen, I would highly recommend! Just don’t watch it hungry!!


[Photo: Merrick Morton/Open Road Films]


LA Son is Choi’s story. It takes us from the streets of Koreatown to Orange County to Seoul, Korea, even to New York City. Then back to SoCal and its casinos, where bowl after bowl of pho were consumed by the Vietnamese gamblers, and where he loses himself, and later, his money. Then to the Culinary Institute of America where he hones his skills. Choi takes up jobs around California, working for hotels and resorts and even a country club. His stint at Southeast Asian-inspired Rock Sugar brings his palate an even wider variety of tastes. The executive chef of Rock Sugar is from Singapore, which explains Choi’s recipes of satay and Hainan chicken (which one seldom sees in books that are not about Singapore cooking) – some of my absolute favourite things about Singapore. I grew up on these foods. Marinated chicken chunks skewered and grilled over a charcoal fire, dipped in peanut sauce. I love the chunkier peanut sauces with more chopped peanuts in them. It was intense. All those flavours from the meat and the char and the spices and the peanut. And in contrast the simpler tastes of the Hainanese chicken rice. Tender yet juicy chicken meat and that ridiculously mouthwatering rice flavored with chicken juices and pandan and garlic and ginger. Best eaten with a sauce you mix together yourself, with chili sauce, soy sauce (dark and light) and minced ginger. All eaten in the heat and humidity of a hawker centre, food in the middle of the circular table, six stools bolted to the (sometimes wet and slippery) floor. Washed down with giant glass mugs of sugarcane juice or some other kind of freshly squeezed juice (I am partial to carrot-apple) topped with plenty of ice although it will never be able to keep up with the heat and hopelessly melt away.

Oh the things I would order: rojak (a kind of salad of turnips, crispy bean curd, pineapple, beansprouts, cucumbers, with a spicy sweet-salty dressing); fried carrot cake (made with raddish cake similar to that you find at dim sum, but fried with eggs and spring onions and pickled raddish and soy sauce); roti prata; wanton mee.

I am getting carried away! It has been over a year since I was last in Singapore and I am longing for all that food and feasting.

But that is a sign of a good book, in my, er, books! To cause one to reflect and reminisce about ones favourite foods from back home. To have these flavours and tastes floating around as ideas for adapting your own recipes. To take note of all the recipes that sound both tantalising AND, more importantly, doable by home cooks.

His cooking reflects the diverse cuisines he tried as a kid growing up in Los Angeles. His parents, working hard, first at their own restaurant, then when that failed, running a jewellery business, left Roy to figure things out himself after school. There are recipes that are inspired by European cuisines, Latin American cuisines, Mediterranean foods, and of course Asian and American-style dishes.

Choi’s recipes include:

Carne Asada, but true to his own style, it includes mirin.

“Kung Pao Chicken, Papi Style” – he blends oyster sauce, sambal oelek (an Indonesian/Malaysian condiment), fish sauce, Tapatio, rice vinegar, kochujang, Sriracha, lemongrass and so many more things in his sauce that it would take me too long to type it out. Needless to say, I am curious!

The Perfect Instant Ramen – it has butter, cheese and sesame seeds.

Of course there is also the stuff that’s closest to his heart, like kimchi and dumplings and braised short rib stew

One of the best things about his recipes is that he likes to experiment, and it feels like he wants the reader to do the same.

In a few of his recipes, he adds tips like “anything you got, man” when it comes to the vegetables for fried rice. Or how it’s ok to “just buy macaroni salad and kimchi from the store, that’s fine”. And I love how he appreciates that zen moment you get when washing rice, as the rice grains swish and swirl gently in the pot, as you use your fingers to whisk them around. That is one of my favourite things about preparing meals.

There were so many dishes that I marked, that I really ought to get my own copy of this book! But the one I knew I had to try was the Korean short-rib stew. I’ve always loved galbi (here’s a recipe), that Korean barbecued version of ribs. A little salty, a little sweet. So good. But I’ve never tried it in a stew, and it sounded so good. His marinade was that essential Korean mix of sweet, tangy and salty – blitzing ginger, garlic, onions, soy sauce, mirin, apple juice and sugar (I didn’t have orange juice so just used apple juice). I didn’t have chestnuts, taro or butternut squash so I tried my own mix of Napa cabbage, daikon and leeks. I had wanted to add the kabocha squash but forgot all about it. I did a half portion of slightly under two pounds of ribs, and because we had a late afternoon doctor’s appointment, threw it all in the slow cooker, and it turned out perfect. I served it with short-grain rice the first day, then ate it with instant ramen the next day, the stew gravy poured over the noodles, seasoning packet discarded. Even my visiting father-in-law, who tends to never say anything about food, volunteered a “not bad”.



It’s not pretty, but it was pretty darn good!





Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs


Weekend Cooking: Harumi’s Japanese Cooking

In 2006, after a long flight from Chicago to London, transiting in Dublin, then what seemed like an even longer bus ride from London to Brighton, I finally made it to the University of Sussex’s international graduate apartments. And I was exhausted. It was late in the evening. I was in an unfamiliar place with strangers who had already moved in a few weeks ago (my three flatmates, two Japanese and one Thai, had all arrived earlier to take English classes – and were wondering who the person who got the biggest room was, yes, by pure luck of the draw I got the biggest room in the four-room flat, and it had a sea view, as the apartment building was just across the beach, one of the reasons I wanted to live there). I was hungry. The porter who gave me the key and some brief instructions was friendly but had other students waiting to ask questions so was only able to supply me with: “try the fish and chips down the street”. I didn’t want to tell him that after a long day of almost non-stop travel, I wasn’t quite ready for greasy food.

I sorted out some basic things and had a quick shower. And braced my introverted self for some socializing, and went to chat with one of my new flatmates, to ask her for recommendations on where to go. I found her in the kitchen preparing some dinner. Which she kindly offered to share with me. Perhaps I looked pathetic and half-starved. I’m not quite sure, but I’m forever grateful. It was a simple dinner. I can’t quite remember what we had but knowing Yukiko, it probably had a lot of vegetables in it. Perhaps a salad? And that was the start of our friendship.

Over this slightly less than one year in the same flat on Kings Road, we shared meals together, sometimes went grocery shopping together, shared our music with each other and chatted about everything. I edited her thesis. I dragged her to see The Flaming Lips with me. She met my boyfriend (now the Husband) who flew over from Illinois where he was doing a graduate degree (we met a few months before we were both due to leave for a year overseas. Most of our relationship was a long-distance one). I met her sweet younger sister who visited from Japan, and despite not speaking much English, wandered around London herself and even took in some Wimbledon matches.

And we’ve kept in touch ever since. Through emails, snail mail, the occasional Skype session. She attended my wedding in Singapore in 2008. It was her first trip to Southeast Asia and she really loved it, especially all the spicy food.

It was from her that I learnt more about Japanese cooking. I’d loved eating out at Japanese restaurants for many years by then but it was never something I dared to attempt at home.

Of course what I call Japanese cooking isn’t authentic, as I am not Japanese. Then again, while I am Singaporean Chinese, would I really call my cooking Singaporean? Or Chinese? Not exactly.

Anyway, one of the Japanese dishes that Yukiko introduced was chirashizushi, which is sashimi scattered over sushi rice. Her mum occasionally sent over care packages which included these rice seasoning packets that had a type of sushi rice marinade with finely sliced vegetables like carrots and lotus roots. All you do is cook two cups of rice and when it’s cooked, pour the seasoning mix into the warm rice and stir well. It makes for a quick simple meal. I often pick up some these packets from the Japanese supermarket in San Jose.


(The sushi rice mix hasn’t been stirred into the rice yet)


So it was Yukiko’s birthday earlier this month and I guess I must have subconsciously been thinking of her when I pulled out the seasoning packet and Harumi’s Japanese Cooking, which Yukiko sent as a birthday present one year. I love Harumi Kurihara’s take on Japanese food. Simple, modern, elegant. Like her tofu avocado dressing. Tofu with basil and gorgonzola dressing! And the yummy vegetable dishes like green beans with minced meat. And I really appreciate the very clean look of her cookbook.



(I love these two pages, for its look into the many different dishes that Japanese households use. One seldom sees different shapes in Chinese households, as we seem to prefer round bowls and plates, at the most ovals.)

I’ve used the teriyaki marinade recipe a few times (it’s quite basic, some sweet, some savory:
1 tbsp mirin – I’ve seen recipes that call for equal parts soy sauce to mirin, so it’s really up to you
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tsp sugar – or more if you’d like it sweeter)

And so went with a chicken teriyaki dish, using boneless chicken thighs. And then some really garlicky green beans with a bit of soy sauce, sesame oil and some sesame seeds on top. Perhaps more Chinese than Japanese but it worked well together.



Wee Reader definitely enjoyed it, then again he’d eat almost anything with seaweed sprinkled on top.



Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs


Weekend Cooking: Chocolate-caramel-banana upside-down cake (Cake Keeper Cakes)


I’m not a fan of soft bananas, once they go a little spotty, it’s off to the freezer they go (or sometimes the husband might eat them – he’s not as fussy as I am!).

I tend to make a chocolate banana cake from Bill Granger  but after borrowing Cake Keeper Cakes from the library, I wanted to make this Chocolate-caramel-banana upside-down cake (recipe here. Also check out Malaysian food blogger Kitchen Flavours, who has tested out quite a few of the other recipes, and it was via her blog that I first heard of this book). It’s been ages since I’ve made – or eaten – an upside down cake, and never one with bananas in them. It sounded simple and just delicious, and perhaps more importantly, I had all the ingredients at hand.

Well sort of. The recipe calls for three ripe bananas, to be sliced and placed at the bottom of the cake tin. There were only two bananas hanging from my fruit basket, but there were an additional two bananas in the freezer, and frozen bananas are just too liquid and squishy to be sliced when thawed out. So I made do with my two soft ripe bananas and simply defrosted the frozen ones, mashed them up and added them to the cake batter.

It was great! It might have been the addition of the frozen bananas (or not) but there was a nice fudge-y texture, and it was moist and at the same time, not too heavy. The caramel on top with the bananas was a nice touch.

This recipe is a keeper! And there are plenty of interesting cakes such as a black pepper spice cake and a coca-cola chocolate cake. I like the way she uses spices, such as ground cloves, like this orange and cranberry snacking cake.

Cake Keeper Cakes is written by Lauren Chattman, who has also written Cookie Swap!; Local Breads with Daniel Leader; Bread Making: A Home Course; Crafting the Perfect Loaf from Crust to CrumbThe Gingerbread Architect with Susan Matheson; and From Basic to Beautiful Cakes and Dessert University with Roland Mesnier, and Cool Kitchen.



Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs


Weekend Cooking: The Bread Bible


So this cookbook has been sitting on my kitchen cookbook shelf for 1.5 years now.

Because I have been intimidated by it. This looks like a bread book for serious bread bakers. It isn’t full of glossy photos, or step-by-step photos, instead the pages are mostly words, with clusters of lovely photos of bread interspersed in between.

Now thinking back, I’m not quite sure what motivated me to finally pick up this hefty book on Friday morning. The desire to bake some bread? The lack of bread in the house (except for two lonely slices of storebought raisin bread)? The itch to do something with my hands? I knew I wanted a savoury bread, and this Basic Soft White Sandwich Bread (recipe here) caught my eye. Rose Levy Beranbaum describes this bread as “like a brioche, with less butter and no egg”, “lightly toasted and topped with soft scrambled eggs, it is nothing short of ambrosial”. Ooh…doesn’t that make you want a slice?

Ok so mine wasn’t all that perfect. It had a nice lightness and was much softer than any of the other breads I’ve made before. But it wouldn’t really qualify as ‘sandwich’ bread as it wasn’t tall enough. Because I didn’t let it rise long enough!

The problem began with my less than careful reading through the recipe and skipping over one of the rises. I neglected to factor in two extra hours of rising. Reading over the recipe again after the first couple of steps, I realized that if I followed the recipe to the letter, I’d still be baking at midnight. Oops indeed. So I had to shorten the rising times and make minor adjustments here and there. Note to self: read each step thoroughly next time before proceeding with any recipe!

Plus, my kitchen was a little cold. According to Beranbaum, the ideal temp for rising is 75-80F, and my house tends to hover around 67F (about 20C). So after the first rise (one of many!) seemed to take a while on the counter, I warmed up the oven a little and popped it in. It helped, a little, but just a little too late!

Anyway, this recipe was quite different from the breads I’ve made. It uses a sponge method, essentially making a sponge dough starter (which has all the liquid), and then sprinkling a flour mixture on top of the sponge starter as a protective cover to prevent drying out. Apparently this method helps to deepen the flavour of the bread (to really develop full flavor, it requires an overnight fermentation).

One thing I definitely appreciated in this cookbook was its detailed description on shaping the dough (even though this recipe uses loaf pans). She tells you to press the dough into a wide rectangle, to dimple it, to fold it overlapping and roll it and tuck it under (see the recipe for more information). My previous attempts at dough shaping were far more haphazard! More of a pat pat and into the pan it goes. I’d love to try out one of her free-form loaves to see how the shaping of those works.

At any rate, despite my less than thorough recipe-reading, the bread that emerged from my oven smelled fantastic. The whole house smelled wonderful and of course I had to sneak a bite (after letting it cool). Yummy. I will have to try this recipe again, giving it an overnight ferment and making sure it rises at the right temperature!

The Bread Bible has many other recipes that sound so tempting, like the olive bread, brioches, and scones which immediately caught my eye. I love scones!

Beranbaum has written several other ‘bible’ cookbooks, and has some recipes over at her website.


The Cake Bible (1988)
Rose’s Celebrations (1992)
Rose’s Melting Pot: A Cooking Tour of America’s Ethnic Celebrations (1994)
The Pie and Pastry Bible (1998)
Rose’s Christmas Cookies (1998)
The Bread Bible (2003)
Rose’s Heavenly Cakes (2009)

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

The Cookbook Collector


With its title and cover art, I half-expected to read a lace-filled, sherry-drinking kind of book. Judging a book by its cover (title?). Yes! Guilty guilty guilty.

So I wasn’t quite prepared for The Cookbook Collector to be partly about the tech world. Yes, as in start-ups, data storage, MIT, IPOs, multi-millionaires, that kind of thing.

For Emily is chief executive of Veritech, a data storage and retrieval company on the brink of IPO. Her boyfriend is also in the business, working out of Boston.

Jessamine, or Jess, is the younger sister, is the perpetual student, philosophy that is, tree-hugger, antiquarian book-seller.

The contrast between their lives is fascinating. New vs old. The high-tech world of Internet start-ups vs the cavern of the antiquarian bookstore that Jess works at. Emily is steady and deliberate, very much the older sister, somewhat maternal, especially since their mother died when they were young. Jess is impatient and headstrong, and often a bit melodramatic.

Of course though, this being the Bay Area, the antiquarian bookstore is owned by a first-generation Microsoft millionaire. His store sounds like such a gem:

“Yorick’s Used and Rare Books had a small storefront on Channing but a deep interior shaded by tall bookcases crammed with history, poetry, theology, antiquated anthologies. There was no open wall space to hang the framed prints for sale, so Hogarth’s scenes of lust, pride, and debauchery leaned rakishly against piles of novels, folk tales, and literary theory. In the back room these piles were so tall and dusty that they took on a geological air, rising like stalagmites. Jess often felt her workplace was a secret mine or quarry where she could pry crystals from crevices and sweep precious jewels straight off the floor.”

George, a perpetual bachelor at 39, finds himself becoming enchanted, a little reluctantly, by Jess. His interest is intriguing, “nurturing, not predatory”, and kind of sensuous, in a foodie sort of way:

“Laughable, antique, confusingly paternal, he longed to nourish her with clementines, and pears in season, fresh whole-wheat bread and butter, wild strawberries, comte cheese, fresh figs and oily Marcona almonds, tender yellow beets. He would scar red meat, if she would let him, and grill spring lamb. Cut the thorns off artichokes and dip the leaves in fresh aioli, poach her fish – thick Dole sole in wine and shallots – julienne potatoes, and roast a whole chicken with lemon slices under the skin. He would serve a salad of heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and just-picked basil. Serve her and watch her savour dinner, pour for her, and watch her drink. That would be enough for him. To find her plums in season, and perfect nectarines, velvet apricots, dark succulent duck. To bring her all these things and watch her eat.”

The cookbook collector of the title comes quite a bit later in the book (we unravel Jess’ many interests – and men, and venture forth with Emily as Veritech makes her a multimillionaire), when a woman brings her late uncle’s books to George to determine their value. She is initially reluctant to sell them but invites George to the house to view the collection. And what a collection! The kitchen is stuffed with books. No pots, no pans, just books. The cabinets, the drawers, the oven! Can you imagine finding such a treasure trove? And as Jess and George begin to sift through the books, they discover that these cookbooks have drawings, notes, scraps of famous poetry slipped in between the pages.

Come live with me and be my love … interleaved with menus: oysters, fish stew, tortoise in its shell, bread from the oven, honey from the honeycomb. The books were unsplattered but much fingered, their pages soft with turning and re-turning, like collections of old fairy tales. Often Jess thought of Rapunzel and golden apples and enchanted gardens. She thought of Ovid, and Dante, and Cervantes, and the Pre-Raphaelites, for sometimes McClintock pictured his beloved eating, and sometimes sleeping in fields of poppies, and once throned like Persephone, with strawberry vines entwined in her long hair.”

Poetic, a little bit too dramatic, that’s pretty much Jess for you.

Anyway, The Cookbook Collector was an enjoyable read. The wonderful, often poetic descriptions of food, and that wonderful love for books (whether collecting or reading!)  the contrasting fast-paced world of Veritech and Emily’s Jonathan’s company ISIS. And for me, that familiar Bay Area setting which Goodman deftly paints a picture of.

“Rain drummed the little houses skyrocketing in value in Cupertino and Sunnyvale. Much-needed rain darkened the red tile roofs of Stanford, and puddled Palo Alto’s leafy streets. On the coast, the waves were molten silver, rising and melting in the September storm. Bridges levitated, and San Francisco floated like a hidden fortress in the mist. Rain flattened the impatiens edging corporate lawns, and Silicon Valley shimmered. The world was bountiful, the markets buoyant. Reflecting pools brimmed to overflowing, and already the tawny hills looked greener. Like money, the rain came in a rush, enveloping the Bay, delighting forecasters, exceeding expectations, charging the air.”

I previously read Goodman’s Intuition, although I can’t remember much about it other than it was a workplace novel set in some research institute. But after reading The Cookbook Collector, I’m going to check out the rest of her books.

Allegra Goodman’s works
Kaaterskill Falls
Paradise Park
The Other Side of the Island
The Cookbook Collector

Short story collections
Total Immersion
The Family Markowitz


I read this book for the What’s in a Name challenge.

Weekend cooking: Baked: New Frontiers in Baking


I first came across this cookbook (by the Baked bakery in NYC) looking for recipes for homemade granola. I love granola and am always appalled by how much commercially made granola costs (I have a soft spot for Dorset cereals, although I buy their muesli and not the granola). And when I tasted the granola at Bread & Cie in San Diego, I couldn’t get that homemade feeling out of my head. It was just comforting – and so tasty!

So making use of old google, I came across this recipe on Amateur Gourmet. And since I had pretty much everything I needed in my kitchen, I gave the recipe a try, substituting dried cherries (didn’t have any) with dried apricot and adding a bit of shredded coconut. Tasted good but just a bit too salty.


And so I made it again, halving the salt (about 1/2 tsp), again adding some shredded coconut, sliced almonds, raisins and apricot. I also reduced the sugar. And instead of just using rolled oats, I used 1 cup rolled oats and 1 cup of a mixed grain cereal (rye, barley, oats). I gave this batch away to my mother-in-law who was heading home to Singapore after a visit with us.

Then today I thought that I would make another batch, this time without the nuts (adding more raisins and apricots), just in case wee reader would try some. And he did!


Another recipe I tried was the chocolate chip cookie (someone posted the recipe here). I made it the first time a couple of months ago, but neglected to read that very important step that said ‘refrigerate for 6 hours’. And so, the result was a batch of chocolate chip pancakes. Tasty yes, but so so flat and ugly.

So I made it again, and just to be on the safe side, refrigerated it overnight (ok maybe that had something to do with a sudden craving in the afternoon for said cookies). And they were great. So great I had four that very day. Erm yeah, I did say I had a craving right?

The bakery is probably best known for their brownie (recipe here), named by America’s Test Kitchen as best brownie recipe, and it sounds like a rich sinful brownie (the photos on that blog I linked to look divine!). This weekend perhaps!


Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs