Cooking Journal


A cooking journal. Lightweight. Portable. Semantically versioned.

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Spicy Tofu Celery Salad

Post date: 28 Apr 2019

This recipe is sized for a potluck!

I call it a “salad”, the Chinese name for it might be “liang ban tofu gan”. Liang ban is a technique used to dress cold vegetables of all kinds. Once you’re comfortable with the sauce and technique, you can use it to dress carrots and blanched bean sprouts! Or poached chicken!

Ingredients & Sourcing

  • 4 blocks Tofu Gan – This is the center piece of the dish. You can find it labeled as “Braised Tofu” or “Tofu Gan” or “Pressed Tofu Blocks” in the store. They’re very firm, they’re brown on the outside, and do not come in water (they come in plastic though). Hodo Soy calls theirs “Braised tofu”, and that’s widely available where I live.
  • 1 bunch celery – Just normal standard celery here, Chinese celery would be an OK substitute, please don’t use only the hearts.
  • tablespoon kosher salt
  • neutral oil (grapeseed / canola)

The Sauce

  • 1/4 cup Chili oil
  • a few tablespoons Szechuan peppercorn, toasted, then ground in a spice grinder – I have a lot more I could say about these, but if you’re having difficulty sourcing, I actually buy mine online here. To toast, follow something similar to the chilis in the chili oil. Don’t burn ‘em. The black bits in the peppercorns should be removed, they’re gritty af. Your bag has a lot of black bits? Find a different source. Can’t find any near you, or find this process laborious? You can skip it, or use commercial szechuan peppercorn oil.
  • a few tablespoons soy sauce – I use light soy sauce, Pearl River Bridge brand.
  • a few tablespoons Chinkiang “Chinese black” vinegar – If you don’t have this vinegar on hand, strong sherry vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar can substitute.

Short note on ingredients The above is the majority of my pantry list for all my Chinese cooking. That’s it! Once you have those ingredients, you can make lots of other tasty things.


  • Chop celery on the bias (diagonal), as shown here
  • Lightly salt celery with a tablespoon of kosher salt. Let rest.
  • Chop tofu gan vertically / horizontally so that it’s around the same thickness as your celery.
  • Poach celery pieces for 1-2 minutes until they change color.
  • Stir fry tofu gan pieces, you might have to go in batches as well. After it’s fully coated in oil and hot, add the soy sauce and vinegar. Keep stir frying until fully absorbed. Remove from heat.
  • Combine celery and tofu gan, top with chili oil and Szechuan peppercorn, gently toss to combine. Add additional soy sauce and vinegar to taste (although err on the side of dressing more assertively–cold dampens flavors).

Chill. Serve within a few days. Tastes better after chilling and marinating in the fridge over night. Shake before serving.

Backpacking Duck Confit Salad

Post date: 26 Dec 2018

In April 2016, Buro and I went on a short backpacking trip out on the Lost Coast in California. I came back with mixed impressions and raw feet from walking on the sand for 3 days.

On night one we made a green garlic cabbage slaw that is better forgotten than written up. Green garlic is quite pungent in April and we had used it generously in the sauce like an earlier in the season green garlic.

However, on night two, we made a fun and fantastic duck confit salad that travelled and ate well.

Make ahead

Fish sauce vinaigrette salad dressing

Bring backpacking

  • Carrots (5-7)
  • Y-peeler
  • one to two larger pieces duck confit
  • (small) pan or pot that fits each piece of confit in it easily for searing
  • aformentioned made-ahead fish sauce vinaigrette

Put together

  • Y-peel carrots (This is fun!)
  • While one person is y-peeling carrots, shred each piece duck confit off the bone and place shredded pieces (with any fat that’s fallen off during the day while you’ve been hiking) in the pan to fry up and warm up. Brown and warm.
  • Place duck on top of y-peeled carrots and pour over vinagrette to taste.

<3 Maggie

Pla Rad Prik

Post date: 05 Aug 2018

Pla Rad Prik is a Thai dish: whole-fried, meaty white fish with chili sauce, usually a centerpiece entree. It’s pretty common to find red snapper (delicious!) in Thai restaurants in the US; farmed or less over-fished alternatives like grouper, pompano, white perch, etc. probably work as well. Ideally, whatever fish is sized appropriately for your wok.

  • For the sauce, food process or mince:
    • 1/2 cup - garlic cloves
    • 1/2 cup - small, red Thai chilies (de-seeded)

    Also set aside:

    Reduce the amount of chili’s as desired.

  • Dry fish and score cuts at 45-degree angle, 1.5 inches apart. Coat inside and out with tapioca starch.
  • In a wok, heat up enough oil to submerge 2/3 of fish. Once the oil is heated to medium-high / high heat, hold the fish by its tail and gently slip it into the oil from the side of the wok. After the bubbles settle down, bathe the exposed sides of the fish with boiling oil. Don’t move the fish.
  • Once the fish is crisped through on one side, gently flip it, trying not to break the fins or the skin. Once done, remove fish from the wok and set aside, as well as the oil.
  • Add 1/2-cup used oil to wok and add chili sauce ingredients, first softening the garlic, and then the remaining ingredients. Boil for about a minute and then turn off the heat; add the fried fish, bathe with sauce, and serve.

Coconut Mochi Cake

Post date: 03 Jul 2018

  • Preheat oven to 350F, grease square baking pan.
  • Mix dry ingredients:
    • 1 lb - sweet rice flour (Mochiko or Bob’s Red Mill)
    • 2 cups - sugar
    • 2 tsp - baking powder
  • Mix wet ingredients
    • 1 stick - unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    • 1 12 oz - coconut milk
    • 5 eggs beaten
    • 1 tsp - vanilla extract
  • Combine dry and wet ingredients, bake for 1 hour until the toothpick says its done.

Cashew Cheese

Post date: 22 Jun 2018

This is a recipe for a soft cashew cheese spread, in the style of what you may find from Miyoko’s Creamery. The spread can also be pressed into a package with a cheese press.

Mix together into a food processor and blend until smooth:

  • 500g soaked cashews (simmered and soaked overnight)
  • 1 tbsp miso
  • 2 tbsp fermented tofu
  • 1/4 cup pickle brine (lactofermented)
  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)

Empty into a glass bowl, cover with a secured cheesecloth, and leave to ferment in a sunny area (probably for a few weeks?). The cheese should begin to bubble after a few days and will eventually darken on top.

Chile Oil

Post date: 18 Mar 2018

I always have chile oil in a jar in the pantry. My mother makes her own, and my recipe is an adaptation of hers.

Ingredients & tools

You’ll need:

  • at least 12 whole dried chilis
  • at least 1/2 cup of neutral oil
  • large mixing bowl
  • container for storing chili oil
  • cast iron pan
  • blade grinder / mortar & pestle
  • one chopstick

Sourcing, tools, etc.

Start with whole dried chilis, not chili flakes. I live in California, and I prefer Mexican dried chilis (those used for Mexican cooking, like chile de arbol), despite making a Chinese recipe.

Don’t let sourcing difficulties hold you back though, any whole dried chili at all can be made into a chili oil.

I look for ‘fresh’ dried chilis. Freshness is an interesting concept when it comes to something dried–I mean a chile that has a pliable quality to it still, and it isn’t so brittle that it feels like dust waiting to happen in your hand. If you live somewhere with hotter summers than I do, you can grow your own peppers and dry them yourself to make chile oil.

Personally, I’ve been on a roll with Casa Ruiz’s arbol chiles, and I’ve had good results with Penzey’s Sannam Chilis as well.

You’ll also want something to grind your toasted chilis with. I use a cheap blade grinder. Something like this serves nicely if you don’t already have one. Of course, you can always use a mortar and pestle but it’s really not necessary for this recipe. How fine you grind the peppers is up to you, but enjoy a toothiness to my chile oils–a fine dust is a little too much grinding.


  • Remove stems from dried chiles. While doing this, you can shake out any loose seeds if you’d like a slightly less spicy chile oil. I don’t usually bother.

  • Heat a well seasoned cast iron pan on the stove. Do not use any oil. Toast the chiles on both sides until they smell fragrant. Sometimes they blister! That’s a good thing! If they burn and blacken, start over, or remove the ones that are burnt. A little bit of burnt pepper is OK, but too much creates an acrid oil that you’re not going to enjoy eating. It takes around 2 minutes on each side for the peppers to toast, but watch carefully, peppers vary in toasting time. I usually flip them over individually with chopsticks, a spatula is too coarse of a cooking tool for this job.

  • Remove chiles from the pan as soon as they’re toasted. If some are ready sooner than others, remove those first! No rules here except get the chiles toasted and keep ‘em from burning.

  • Let the chiles cool a little and then grind them in a cheapo blade grinder.

  • Put the ground peppers in your mixing bowl and set to the side.

  • Return the pan to the stove. Heat some neutral high heat oil (grapeseed, canola) in the cast iron pan. The oil is heated through when a chopstick placed in the oil looks as if the oil is ‘bubbling’ around it. When you reached this point, pour the oil over your ground chiles in the mixing bowl. Marvel at the sizzle and smell. Let cool a bit and then pour into your container.

The chile oil is ready a few hours after made, but tastes better as it ages. It keeps indefinitely at room temperature if you use clean utensils when serving it.

eat with:

  • noodles
  • on soups
  • on daal
  • as part of a dipping sauce for dumplings
  • as part of other sauces for stir frying and other types of cooking
  • drizzled on pickles
  • on cheese