Flourless Chocolate Brownies With Sea Salt

A few of my proudest accomplishments this year include: landed a full-time job in photography, tried out and stayed on a sports team this spring (the last time I played in competitive sports was elementary school), signed a lease on an apartment (cannot wait to move in next month), committing to put down roots in this very transitional city of Vancouver, and the creation of these fabulous flourless chocolate brownies. 

On days when I feel doubt about trading my creative freelance life for a nine to five — I make brownies and take them into the office. It is simply impossible to eat more than 3 pieces of these brownies and having coworkers to share them with is a very convenient situation. I promise you these will hit the spot when you need a chocolatey, decadent treat in hope that you can stop at three pieces. 

You know you have created an excellent brownie when both of the recipe developers at work ask you for the recipe. I first had these at a ladies night and immediately asked my friend for the recipe. I am pretty sure the original creator is Nicole Spiridakis. Here is my version with reduced sugar, roasted nuts and sprinkled with maldon sea salt

Ps: I made the call and finally ordered a cooking scale off the internet. It really is worth it when you want to use up the many dark chocolate bars sitting in your cupboard and not worry about fitting them into measuring cups. 

Flourless Chocolate Brownies With Sea Salt and Nuts

140g dark chocolate
155g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
200g brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
50g (1/2 cup) cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup almond or walnuts, chopped
Maldon sea salt for garnish (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking pan or sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In short 15-20 second intervals, melt chocolate and butter in the microwave and stir until smooth. Set aside too cool. Add brown sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, salt and vanilla. Mix well. Transfer batter to baking pan or sheet with a spatula. Top with walnuts.
  3. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until brownie is set and firm in the centre. Time will vary depending on container size. Let sit until cool before cutting into pieces. Top with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.

These are very delicious eaten cool or slightly warmed. They also keep well in the fridge up to a week. If they last that long.

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The Easiest Kombu Dashi Recipe

This post has been updated on my website here.

Here is a recipe for a tasty vegetarian broth made from Kombu (kelp) and shitake mushrooms. Seaweed is one of those things that are full of minerals and really good for you. I would use this in place of vegetable stock, add to chawanmushi (steamed egg curd), or add to the base of miso soup.

When I lived in Northern China, I often saw older ladies and aunties harvesting bundles of green seaweed by the sea. They earned the title “Sea Women” from the locals which I found rather comical. Those trips to the fish market were quite exotic and I remember seeing starfish, the tiniest red lobsters, and weird-looking fish. I think of those days with fondness now. Making these recipes make me recall a lot of the shabu-shabu (Japanese hot pot), light broths and dishes I had growing up in Taipei.

Ingredients
4 dried shitake mushrooms, rinsed
A handful of Kelp (gently wiped, do not rinse)

Instructions
Add ingredients with 2-3 cups of water in jar or container. Leave to soak for a few hours. I keep mine in the fridge overnight. Discard the kombu but you can slice the shitake’s into the soup.

*Add bonito flakes for a richer, non-vegetarian broth. I made the mistake of washing my kombu for the first time and realized the white residue on top is what brings the umami flavour to the soup. Don’t rinse the Kombu!

Postcards from Southeast Asia

Here are some of my favourite photos from Southeast Asia — where I visited last winter to volunteer at In Better Hands Asia — a non-profit founded by a friend that helps trafficked children in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. It was one of the toughest trips I have ever made but a rewarding one at that.

Aside from enduring the terribly long drives to villages in the middle of nowhere and learning about the reality of people living entirely different lives (oftentimes in difficult situations) — my favourite pastime was connecting with the staff over meals, eating at street food stalls and exploring local markets filled with smells and colours of produce and foods I could not realize. I may have turned down a couple of invites to eat critters in Myanmar but I thoroughly enjoyed trying Khmer food in Cambodia, filling up on water lotus stems with shrimp paste, sampling an array of Burmese curries with the team in Myanmar, and eating my way through mango filled markets in Thailand.

It took me around a month to get over my reverse cultural after coming back to Canada (the first article can be found on Medium here). There are many days where I remind myself of the beauty of living in a developed country with the many luxuries I enjoy. I think there is some comfort in accepting a role in food photography this year and using the rest of my time to write and share things about countries I have visited.

The trip to Southeast Asia was challenging and one that left an indent in my life. There were many things I witnessed that is still difficult to share. I don’t know when I will be back again but the memories of people — their delicious, fragrant foods and their willingness to share food with strangers are something that will be in my memory for a very long time.

How to Make Tuna Onigiri Rice Balls

This post has been updated on my website here.

Onigiri! This is a recipe for a little snack that accompanied my childhood years in Taiwan. Found in all of the 7–11 or convenience stores, these triangle-shaped rice balls were many of my breakfast, lunch and late-night snacks.

Even though I have never been to Japan, Taiwanese culture is a culture that is greatly influenced by Japan — who ruled over Taiwan in the 1800s. Some of the influence can be found in old Japanese buildings that are now tea houses or galleries, neat lines at the MRT, my grandpa who spoke Japanese, and a millennial generation that is all about Japanese culture.

These onigiri’s! I remember standing in my school uniform (white collared shirt, pleated skirt, bright orange hat), eagerly choosing my flavour of the day. My favourites — pork floss with mayo, egg, salmon, or chicken teriyaki. Sometimes I would opt out of onigiri’s and go for the traditional Taiwanese rice balls. A heavier version made with sticky rice, fried salty donut, radish pickles, stuffed with pork floss and sprinkled with peanut sugar. They were heavy enough to fill you for hours and go down your tummy very well with a cup of soy milk.

There is something about rolling and shaping warm rice together in your palms. I don’t know if it is the scent of warm rice or act of making onigiri’s that make me want to eat them immediately after. These are great as snacks on the go, picnics, a light meal, or give away and impress your friends.

Tuna Onigiri Rice Balls

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked sushi rice
2 tbs rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 green onion stem, thinly sliced (you can also use cucumber)
1 can of tuna in salted water
1/2 avocado, diced
2 tbs greek yogurt (or mayo)
1 nori sheet, cut into small rectangles

Instructions

  1. Wash rice in a sieve until water is clear. Add 1.5 cup of water and cook until rice is tender. About 15 mins. Let cool.
  2. While rice is cooking, mix can of tuna (squeeze saltwater out with lid when you open the can), avocado, green onions and greek yogurt. Mash and add salt and pepper to taste
  3. Gently fluff rice with a fork. Fold in sugar, rice wine vinegar and salt with a spatula. Don’t over mix.
  4. Place a piece of saran wrap on your hand and measure 1/3 cup of seasoned rice into the wrap. Flatten rice into a flat shape and create an indent in the centre. Spoon in tuna filling and gently form rice into a ball using the saran wrap.
  5. Using your hands, form the rice ball into a triangle. Take off the plastic wrap and wrap a piece of nori around the bottom.
  • The trick to a good onigiri to use rice that is freshly cooked and slightly warm. I felt very Japanese waking up at 7 am to make these for lunch. They will keep for a while in a sealed box in the fridge.
  • The original recipe called for cucumber but I found the green onions to be a nice change.
  • I made these again and mixed in a few spoonfuls of furikake. They were delicious and disappeared very fast at the potluck I brought them to. Enjoy!

How to Make a Photography Background

Here is a DIY tutorial for a photography background that is easy to make and beautiful to use. I have spent a lot of time hunting down backgrounds and know all too well the feeling of staring at textured concrete walls in public— wishing I could bring a piece of wall home with me.

This tutorial is inspired by Bea Lubas (whose photography workshop I am excited to attend in London this September). Some of my favourite surfaces makers are Erickson Surfaces, I also use Capture by Lucy for food photography backgrounds.

And now, pull out your paint brushes from the closet,  head to your nearest hardware store and let’s create something beautiful.

You will need

  • A plywood board (found in the wood section of home depot, my board was 4×8, 1/2 inch thick). Find a board that is not bended or warped.
  • Several tester pots of matte paint (I used 3–5 colours each board) 
  • A cleaning sponge, old paintbrushes

Directions

Select your colours from tester pots. Gradient colours work very well.

Using a sponge, gently swirl the colours. Do not over mix as you want to the individual colours to stand out. Dip your sponge into the mixture and lightly apply brush stokes to cover the board.

Let dry in open air for up to an hour. I am planning on applying a layer of matte lacquer for wet foods, produce and drinks, of course.

And there you have it. Your very own photography background.

I used both sides of my board for different colours and found it helpful to have reference colours on hand. Will experiment with different brushes for textures as well.

Here is last night’s pasta. Photographed on grey.

Video clips can be found on my Instagram story highlights. Have fun.

All images taken on my iPhone 6s.

Smashed Roasted Potatoes Recipe

Papa Hsin • Brunch • The mighty small potato

Every day is brunch day when you have smashed roasted potatoes. I had these for the first time at a friends house last month and could not forget the taste of them. Crispy, soaked in flavour, the perfect size to consume in one single bite. I don’t think I can ever go back to normal roasted potatoes. I skimmed over a recipe online and made these for a belated father’s day brunch. They were everyone’s favourites and are now requested on the menu for when my aunties visit in the fall.

Growing up, Papa Hsin worked in foreign affairs and was the person responsible for cultivating my exotic palette (I was the child that hated Chinese food). Papa loves hosting and it was not uncommon for me to come home to a house full of strangers cooking and eating. Once, I came home to an Indian chef cooking curry in the kitchen with an entire butchered lamb he had brought over in a sack. The kitchen smelled like curry for days and I remember eating curry till I was nauseous.

Some of my best childhood memories with Papa Hsin were the fruit markets we would visit on the weekend. It would be the two of us — on one scooter, trying to fit as many fruit boxes—papayas, pineapples, and mangos we could carry home before eating our weight in fruit. Now that Papa Hsin is getting old, there are times where there seems to be an ocean of cultural and generational differences between us. But there is always one thing I can count on connecting over — food.

I served these smashed potatoes with roasted vegetables, fried eggs, sausages and made them again the following week. They are really good for any meal or thrown together for a light snack. The trick is to roast them till they are crispy, on the edge of burning and eat them while they are hot.

Smashed Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients

Bag of small potatoes
Olive oil
Few cloves of fresh chopped garlic
Salt + pepper
Thyme, rosemary, or herbs you have on hand

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Wash potatoes and put in a microwaveable bowl. Fill with water until potatoes are half submerged. Put saran wrap over the bowl and poke a few holes in it. Microwave for 5–6 minutes or until potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Some potatoes may explode. It is to be expected. Drain potatoes and let cool.

2. Spread potatoes evenly on a baking sheet. Mash potatoes flat with your hands or with a spatula. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Season with herbs. Toss or mix with your fingers to coat. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan.

3. Roast potatoes until brown and crispy. 25–30 minutes. Flip potatoes after 15 mins. Try not to eat too many of them. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve immediately.

Me + Papa Hsin with happy brunch faces.

How to Make Dried Pineapple Flowers

My grandmother • Her pineapple farm • Memories of Taiwan

Dried Pineapple Flowers. A recipe and a story about a favourite person I wanted to write about for a very long time— my grandma — a tea and pineapple farmer in Nantou, Taiwan. The person who instilled in me a love for this marvellous fruit. Golden, ripened under the sun, syrupy sweet they hurt your teeth and so fragrant that drivers put them in their cabs as a natural perfume.

So much of my love for food, being in the kitchen, making things with my hands come from grandma, who wakes up at five am every day to cook for the masses. Tables filled with marinated pork with eggs, her famous fried fish with tomato sauce, sesame oil chicken for winter months, and the best-fried tofu I could eat platefuls of with congee and soy sauce every morning.

Since grandpa passed a few years ago, grandma renounced meat (a tradition in Buddist culture where they believe will help grandpa’s soul go to heaven). Since then, all activity in grandma’s kitchen has stopped. My remaining family on the farm eats out while grandma eats her vegetarian meals in solitude. My heart kind of breaks over this and for my grandmother — who shows so much love through food. I also feel the urge to share more of her recipes and write about my childhood memories and places that will never be the same.

I made two batches of these pineapple flowers and photographed them over the course of a few days. It was difficult to find a recipe that was not too western but one that I could make. I also realized that no recipe or photograph can convey the importance of pineapples in my life, or compare to any of the recipes grandma makes. But one must try.

There are so many recipes I want to collect from grandma — her delicious fried long green beans, squash flowers from her yard and boiled noodles with tea oil (茶油麵線). I wish I could teleport to her farm and take more photos of grandma — slicing pineapples with graceful skills acquired from a lifetime.

So here it is, a simple but tedious recipe dedicated to my pineapple farmer grandma, whose love for her grandchildren travels miles and continents. To the fruit my mother hated as a child because she had to eat way too many of them. And to the fruit I always leave grandma’s house with, wrapped snugly in newspapers to bring back to Taipei or wherever I am headed.

Dried Pineapple Flowers

You will need:

One ripe pineapple
A sharp knife or mandolin
Baking trays and sheets

Instructions:

1. Cut both ends of the pineapple. Stand pineapple on the bottom and cut deliberately around the fruit. Do not be afraid to cut into the flesh and get rid of the eyes (鳳梨眼 in Mandarin). The pineapple will taste less tart.

2. Cut pineapple into even slices as thin as possible (thin enough that you can see the blade through the slice). I used a knife but a mandolin should work too. Dry on paper towels and lay flat without overlapping on a baking sheet.

3. Bake at 220F for an hour. After 30 minutes, flip pineapples flowers. Bake and repeat until pineapples are dried, golden with a texture that represents dried mangos.

4. Place pineapple flowers in muffin tins to attain a curvy shape. Store in an airtight container with lotsa room as the flowers will stick to each other. I kept mine stored separately in silicon muffin cups.

* These flowers are great as a topping for smoothies, yogurt, cakes or eat as a snack. They also make very impressive gifts to your co-workers or friends.

* Check on your pineapple flowers when they are almost done as they go from dried to burnt in a very short time. If your pineapple flowers are still wet to the touch, turn the heat off and leave them in the oven overnight!

A photo of me and grandma. Photographed on her farm in 2017.