Posted in General

It’s Gyoza time

I’ve written cooking posts before- my first official one being my Ramen post, but I’ve taken pics of food before that, too.

Anyway, when there’s Ramen, you gotta have Gyoza, so I decided to post my Gyoza recipe on here for you all to enjoy! This is a lab favourite, and I’ve made them a couple times for annual lab dinner (we had those before COVID-19).

***

The stuffing:

Gyoza is, generally speaking, a pork-based dumpling. You can substitute it with chicken mince if you want to, but I strongly recommend pork. Don’t bother with beef- it was nasty.

Meat mix:

  • 500 g pork mince
  • Few cloves of garlic
  • Ginger (adjust amount based on how much you love ginger)
  • A healthy splash of rice wine/Sake (drinking grade)
  • An equally healthy splash of sesame oil
  • A dash of soy sauce

Vegetable mix:

  • Half a wombok/Chinese cabbage
  • A quarter of a green cabbage
  • A giant bunch of garlic chives (spring onions will also do, but add more garlic if you use this instead)
  • Shiitake mushrooms (Only add maybe five or so large fresh mushrooms, or 6 small, dried mushrooms – rehydrated – so as not to overpower mix)

Do feel free to adjust quantities to suit. I’m just listing what I put in this evening.

Roughly chop wombok/Chinese cabbage into small chunks. Don’t worry too much about chopping them super fine. It’ll still work if they’re in big chunks. I actually like the texture when they’re chunky.

Rough chopping

Roughly chop green cabbage- chop these finer than the wombok, because these don’t lose as much moisture and become super mushy like the wombok does.

Green cabbage

Add these to a mixing bowl, and salt fairly liberally. Mush them with your hands (get in there!) so as to rupture the cells and help release as much moisture as possible. The salt is there to help with that. Leave the cabbage mix to sit for a while.

Finely chop garlic chives and shiitake mushrooms and set aside.

Mince ginger and garlic, and place in mixing bowl. Add rest of seasoning for meat mix, then add the pork mince.

Now, this is really important- you have to mix the meat so that the texture of it becomes a smooth paste. You can pretty much mix the crap out of it.

Once you’ve got the meat mix ready, get a good cloth or towel, and drain the cabbage mixture. You’ll note that a whole lot of liquid will come out (this is good). You’ll never be able to remove all of it, and you don’t need to have it super dry- just try and wring it out as much as possible, then plonk it and the chopped garlic chives and shrooms with the meat mix.

This is really important:

Don’t over-mix the combined stuffing

If you over-mix this, it’ll change the texture of it into a meatball. You don’t want a tough meat ball. Just mix until roughly combined.

This stuff smells amazing, even when raw

Pastry/skin:

The real stuff uses low gluten flour (<8% gluten), but I actually just use normal plain flour (~10% gluten) to make my pastry. This is mostly due to laziness, but I also like the more chewy texture you get from normal plain flour. I’ve never used high gluten flour before, but hey, you do you.

You can also use corn flour/potato flour to help keep the pastry smooth, dry, and crispy when cooked, but see how you feel. These days I’m too lazy to bother with all that fancy stuff.

  • Flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • Warm water

I never measure these things out, so I just dump flour into a mixing bowl and sprinkle a bit of salt into it. You could probably just add the salt to the water as well, but I slowly pour water in and slowly incorporate it into the flour, until I get a tactile dough. After that, you just knead for a minimum of ten straight minutes, and… you can rest it if you want, but I tend to never have enough time so I just go straight to rolling it out.

I used to use a rolling pin, but these days I use a pasta machine to flatten the dough into sheets, then a ring to cut circles out of them.

The folding part is too hard to explain in a blog (there’s heaps of YouTube videos, I’m sure), but so long as the bottom of the Gyoza is nice and flat, the edges are sitting at the top, and you’ve avoided any holes at the bottom… you’re pretty much good to go.

If you want super crispy bottoms, make sure to coat the bottom surface of your Gyoza with corn flour or potato flour.

***

Triple cooking:

It sounds way cooler than it actually is. All you need to do is line the Gyoza up in an oiled pan, and let them fry until the bottom is golden and crispy. Then you add hot water to the mix (watch out for the sizzling/spitting water), so that the Gyoza are at least 1/3 immersed. Whack a lid on the pan, and then let it steam until all the water has evaporated, which will then cause the Gyoza to start frying again. Fry until the bottom is crispy again, then serve while hot. You can drizzle more sesame oil over the top for more flavour.

Dipping sauce:

Usually it’s just 1:1 vinegar and soy sauce. If you can get your hands on some chilli oil (sesame oil with chilli), you can add as many drops of this as you like.

***

And there you have it! My crowd-pleaser Gyoza recipe. It’s pretty fun to make this together with a group of people, so if you want something to do for your next dinner night… Just make sure you don’t cross contaminate anything. Raw pork mince is still raw pork mince- even if it smells amazing with all the added seasoning.

Posted in General

One year anniversary

Hah! I got a notification to say that I’ve been blogging for a whole year!

I hope I’ve been able to give some entertaining snippets into what life as a Ph. D student can be like.

Posted in General

Still under attack

Remember my bird netting cone from a couple posts ago?

The cone of (semi)protection?

Well, something got inside and managed to ravage the sugar snap peas- which suggests to me that whatever has been munching at my vegetables is likely to be a rat like being.

I added more ties to prevent any large gaps from forming between the mesh, but I think we’ll just have to see how it goes. This is the sunniest spot for the plants at the moment so I don’t really want to move them elsewhere.

The back garden is doing alright thus far (i.e. nothing has been eating the plants here).

This is in the shade, so not quite ideal for growing stuff

And I finally have garlic chives sprouting out! I use a lot of this stuff when I make Gyoza on occasion, so I would love to have a giant bed of them one day.

Definitely looking forward to eating these

There are some beautiful autumn colours about at the moment. It’s probably my favourite time of the year, because it’s not freezing, not hot, and I’m not sneezing like crazy (thank you, hay fever).

Posted in General

Under Attack!

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been doing some more gardening lately to pass the time (gotta get my daily vegetable intake!).

But I made a grim discovery a couple weeks ago where I’d noticed that my poor sugar snap pea seedlings were being nom-ed upon by something (photo too graphic to show).

We get all sorts of wildlife around here in suburban Melbourne, so it could be a number of culprits.

Coronavirus: Rats are on the rise as COVID-19 shutdowns cuts their ...
The most likely scenario is that it was a rat. (Google images)
Australian Brushtail Possum
But it could also have been one of these cheeky bastards. (Google images)
Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) | Common R… | Flickr
We also get the ringtail variety as well. (Google images)
Humans harming Victoria's fruit bats in record numbers | Herald Sun
… This would be unlikely- but we do have them here, too! They like the fruiting trees along the nature strip. (Google images)

Either way, I thought I’d try to show a little more ingenuity and bought some bird netting to shroud the pots that had vegetables. So far so good.

A view through the wires
Posted in General

Adjusting

Why hello there- long time no see!

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve basically been spending most of last month working in my new job.

Starting work in a new environment/role was always going to be a huge learning curve, but given I’ve spent the last five years doing relatively similar things in the same lab, I’d sort of forgotten how exhausting a day can become when almost everything is new stuff.

Meeting new people, being in a new environment, learning about the job role and what the organisation does… my brain quickly turned into goo 😵, but hopefully I can slowly become more at ease with everything. There is a looming terror that I’ll stuff something up (thanks, anxiety), but so far so good. I’ve shifted from basic research to public health, so my whole world has changed.

I’m actually still working in the same building as I have been for years, so that’s a big bonus (I can’t say on my Blog exactly where I work- sorry). I know the place well, and my commute hasn’t changed at all- except the floor I get off at is different. But unfortunately I’ve noticed that I’m feeling a little lonely at work, as the pandemic has meant all the familiar faces aren’t around.

My Ph. D lab is still shutdown, so while I’ve been back working in the building, I haven’t seen any of my former lab mates. I’m sure some of them would be happy with that 😒. We still catch up for Zoom meetings, though, which is quite nice. Many of my other friends in the building are also working from home, so unfortunately they’re not around either. 😔

On the plus side, the morning commute has become significantly better. I’d worked from home these last couple weeks, and this week I was working the morning shift (6:30am-1:00pm 🤮💀), but prior to that I was getting into work in 20 minutes (door to door) during peak hour, when normally it would take me well over an hour. But the eeriness of not seeing people around is still somewhat disturbing. There’s alcohol-based hand sanitisers everywhere, too. My hands have probably been cleaner than they’ve ever been- not that I was a grot, but given I’m using the hand sanitisers on top of my usual hand washing, I’d imagine my hands are even cleaner.

***

I also finished my only remaining teaching commitment for the semester, as all other prac components for other subjects were cancelled. This particular subject is being taught online now, so adjusting to teaching everything via Zoom and such was an interesting learning curve, given this subject is Prac heavy. Fortunately for us, we didn’t have anywhere near the same work load as subject coordinators, so we can’t really complain. I don’t envy teaching staff at the moment.

***

My Ph. D thesis is still under examination, too. It’s only been a little under two months, so I would imagine I won’t be hearing about it for a while yet. *twiddles thumbs* Given that the mid year graduation ceremonies will likely be cancelled or postponed, I don’t feel as great a need to have the results back ASAP.

***

Aside from work, I’ve been doing some gardening around the house. 🌱🌿 I actually had a funny interaction recently when I went to buy more gardening gear. A guy who’d parked next to me remarked that everyone is gardening ‘because there’s nothing else to do’. I chuckled, but also refrained from mentioning to him that this is what I do every year, regardless of pandemics. I just like growing stuff! Plants and bacteria alike- but not fungi 🍄! Moulds creep me out (yeast are… okay). The only thing that I wanted to do that would have been out of the ordinary would have been to keep chickens, but they would have been harder to house. I would also imagine our real estate agent would have had objections. 🐓🐓

Hoping for some sugar snap peas and spinach… the little stubs are pak choy I’d bought from the shops. I lopped the top off and planted the bottom to see what would happen.
Splashed out on some frames. 💸

I’ve also been cooking stuff, and I was going to make a post about making Gyoza, but while I was putting my porcelain grater away into the dishwasher, I slipped, smashed the grater, cut my finger on the ricocheting shrapnel, and had a bit of a bloody accident, so… another time, perhaps. I already have the recipe written up (it’s in my Ph. D lab’s Dropbox), but I thought it would be nice to have accompanying photos that don’t have blood in it.

I still made the Gyoza, though. It was pretty tasty. 🥟

Posted in General, Ph D posts

Tips for writing

Given that a lot of people are stuck at home with nothing else to do but to write their thesis/manuscript/Literature Reviews, here’s a short post on what I do to ensure I get some level of productivity in a day.

1.Have a rough plan/layout.

It might sound a bit silly, but it really does help to have an idea of what you’re supposed to be writing (and how to structure it). Go over a dot point plan of an outline for the chapter/manuscript with your supervisor. All you need to do is to literally write it out on a Word document and email it to them. Ask for feedback, and that way you’ll both have a clear understanding of what you need to write about (and how to do it).

2. Know yourself.

Do you tend to get distracted easily? Do sounds bother you? Are you addicted to social media (myes!)? Do you love playing the Sims 4 on your laptop (also yes)??

If you know that you struggle a bit with certain activities, then try and address them before you get started. It’ll take some discipline (like uninstalling the Sims 4 from your laptop… *sob*), but hopefully it’ll do you good in the long run.

I personally love writing, so provided I have a desk and chair I could probably write in most places- although I tend to avoid my bedroom, because I have no desk and chair in there (and I find writing while lying down or sitting cross-legged hurts my frail back).

But- I do know that I can’t stand talking/human noises. If it’s a whole classroom and the noise is constant, it’s fine (because your brain sort of drowns it out as background noise), but if it’s infrequent conversation, or spontaneous laughing, I’m very easily distracted. So, to address this, I saved up and bought myself some noise-cancelling headphones. I generally find loud noises and such to be quite startling, so these have become my go to wherever I may be. Downside is people can sneak up on you, but… at least I can concentrate when I need to. I just need to pick the right sound to play. When I was writing things that required a bit of concentration (e.g. discussion), I tended to listen to soundtracks and classical music, or even nature sounds, just because I found that music with lyrics was distracting- also I tend to sing along spontaneously and no one really needs to hear that.

Thankfully no more smokey air, but now people are wearing P2 masks for different reasons!

3. Be in the right environment.

Obviously prior to the ‘stay at home’ period, you had the choice of either writing at home or writing at work. I was fond of the writing at home option, because I found work was too chaotic and distracting to concentrate. We’re in an open plan office, with lots of people coming and going. Any visitor to my supervisor had to walk behind me and my desk to see them, and the Post-Doc office was right behind me so I was in full view of pretty much every single individual. I found that really difficult to deal with, so I would often opt to stay home and write.

Others find that the work environment helps them concentrate more, because they’re surrounded by colleagues. The pressure from them helps drive the writing, because they feel compelled to work (and not get distracted).

Unfortunately for now, most people don’t have the option of going into the lab to write, so… you’ll just have to make do with what you’ve got.

If you have a room you can hole up in, that’s also a good way to get your concentration up. If you can designate that room as your work place, it might be easier to train your brain into realising it’s time for work. These things don’t happen overnight, but with constant repetition, you might be able to trick your brain eventually.

I like wearing PJs or trackies for as long as physically possible (because I am a lazy slob and enjoy the freedom of being able to do this), but if you find that getting properly dressed for work is helping you concentrate- just do it. Whatever helps, right?

The ideal writing environment?

4. Schedule your work day.

If you find that it’s harder to concentrate because you don’t have a set schedule- make one! If you’re a lab student, you have to plan and schedule your day out anyway (or at least be in the process of trying to do this), so why not just do the same thing at home? Set a timer and blitz it out for a certain amount of time (Pubmed-ing, writing, editing, etc), then set another timer for a short break. In one of my previous posts, a student talks about doing this on/off method to stay focused. Organise yourself appropriately.

5. Have realistic goals.

Sometimes, a paragraph is the cumulative result of hours upon hours of literature searching. Especially in the introduction or literature review. Other times, you can write a whole page in 15 minutes, because you’re just interpreting results. The point is, different texts require different amounts of time to formulate.

Also, if you write super duper fast, good on you, but if you’ve always known you’re not a fast writer, then don’t feel bad that someone else drafted something way more quickly than you did. Comparing yourself against other people is a good way to start feeling really bad about yourself- so try to stop yourself from doing it.

Just write as much or as little as you can. Regularly writing small portions is better than occasionally writing a chunk and forgetting about it.

6. Take breaks.

And by breaks I mean proper breaks (not half-arsed ones). If you’ve only worked for an hour and you take a two hour break… that’s not appropriate. But, if you’re taking a half an hour break after a couple hours of solid work, don’t then start scrolling through literature- that’s not a break! Leave the desk, go for a walk (exercising counts as a reason to leave the house!), make a cuppa, go and pee- physically leave the work space and do something completely different.

#Exercise

7. Unwind as necessary

If you find you’re not getting enough sleep, or you’re not feeling well-rested of a morning, maybe work on the schedule more so that you have time to unwind of an evening. If you find that post-dinner writing sesh is stressing you out- stop it. Exercise instead, or stream something. Working right up until bed time isn’t really good for you in the long run. Prioritise proper rest and sleep.

Much hobby

Also- we’re all stuck at home, so catch up with your mates! Call them, or do a video conference call! It’ll be good to see other human beings.

I don’t know why but all my colleagues are starting to look the same…

***

Writing purely about myself, I tended to have a writing day like this:

  1. ~8-9am: Get up, sit at laptop and start writing/editing. Put on headphones as necessary to avoid distractions.
  2. ~11am: Realise I’m starving and eat breakfast/brunch while watching Netflix. Have a shower and finally change out of PJs.
  3. Keep writing/editing and realise you’re stuck in a time loop- where if you leave, you’ll lose your train of thought. Now you are desk-bound forever, or until the next section break.
  4. ~2-3pm: Realise enough is enough- I need to pee, I’m also kinda hungry again, and I haven’t drunk anywhere near as much water as I should’ve. Eat lunch and take bathroom break. Make a cuppa that I’ll inevitably forget about. Keep writing/editing after a lengthy Netflix sesh while eating.
  5. ~7-8pm: Realise that I haven’t really moved around much all day and make a hasty attempt at fitness by going for a walk/run. Make dinner and eat it while streaming something.
  6. ~9-10pm: Either keep working like a lunatic or start some weird hobby (see numerous, previous posts on #hobbies).
  7. ~12-1am: Realise I should’ve gone to bed hours ago, and start making way toward bed.
  8. ~1-2am: Go to bed and stream something like an idiot. Eventually decide to go to sleep.
  9. Repeat from step 1.

Moral of the story: don’t be like me. It’s super bad for your health!

Posted in General, Ph D posts

‘Stay at home’ Ramen – post Ph. D hobbies

It’s the Easter long weekend, but we still need to stay at home as much as possible, so! In lieu of my usual Easter activities (which involves some family get-togethers), I’ve decided to pre-occupy myself with some cooking. Because I love cooking.

I had a thought about ingredients that people might not be buying so much of over the weekend, just to try and minimise the risk of inconveniencing anyone, and… they sort of aligned quite well with homemade Torigara/chicken broth Ramen, so I decided to run with this idea.

I’ve made Tonkotsu/Pork broth before- just once. It was one of those ‘things I want to cook before I die’ type things (I have a weird bucket list?), and while it tasted f***ing amazing, it also took me three days to make and it was very stressful.

Chicken, on the other hand, is way easier, and way quicker, so this is my second attempt at making it. I don’t have any lingering PTSD to worry about in this case!

Day 1: Chashu pork

Every good Ramen has a delicious porky topping, and it turns out this stuff is actually pretty easy to make! I’m just going to write in what I threw into the pot.

  • 2x Pork belly slabs
  • 3 stalks of spring onions
  • 1 whole bulb of garlic
  • A small (2.5 cm^3) bulb of ginger
  • And a make it up as you go along array of soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar- I feel like mine is closer to a 2.5:1:1:0.5 ratio.
  • Water to balance (i.e. cover the pork belly)
  • Salt to season pork belly

All you need on top of this is a slow cooker/multi cooker.

So, to prep your own Chashu pork, you start by removing the skin on the pork belly with a very sharp knife.

Be very careful! 🔪

Once this is done, you can just liberally cover all sides of the pork belly with salt, and then let it sit for a while (I feel like if you can leave it overnight it’ll be even better, but I’m not that organised so I only left it for like, 15 minutes). If it’s a bit wet, you can pat it down with paper towel.

At this point you can attempt to clumsily roll up and bind the pork belly. I’m sure you can take your time with this and make it look pretty, but it was like 10:30pm for me and I wanted to have a shower before bed, so… don’t judge.

Once the belly is bound tightly, then you can proceed to sear all sides in a frying pan, or in my case, in my new multi cooker (this is the test run).

After that, all you need to do is just throw everything into a slow cooker (or just chuck the rest of the ingredients into your multi cooker), and let it slow cook on low overnight. You can also throw the skin you removed earlier (because flavour).

You’ll be greeted the following morning with this magnificent product.

You can sift the contents but keep the soup!! It’s essential for Ramen.

All you need to do now is to let it cool, and then chuck it in the fridge.

Day 2: Ajitama/marinaded egg, fragrant oil, and Ramen broth

Once you’ve dealt with your Chashu- do not throw out the marinade. That’s gonna become your Tare/soup base. The final Ramen broth is a combination of fragrant oil, soup base, and broth, so you need to keep this stuff (it’s hella salty so don’t drink it straight- you’ll die).

One of the most popular Ramen toppings is the Ajitama, or the marinaded egg. It’s delicious stuff, but it’s also a bit of a pain to make.

  • Room temperature egg/s
  • Your Tare from earlier (that you made your Chashu in), semi-diluted with water

So, you have to get a needle/tack, and poke a hole through the shell at the bottom of the egg, where there’s a natural air sac- that way you don’t have any eggy bits oozing out. The bottom of the egg is the end that has a gentler curve and looks more flat. The top of the egg is more pointy- don’t stab that end.

Once the hole has been poked in all the eggs you want to marinade, you can gently place them in a pot with some cold water, and let the water come to a boil. Make sure the pot has a lid on it. As soon as the water starts boiling violently, kill the heat, and keep the lid on. Depending on how you like it, you can leave the eggs in there for 3 minutes (for a gentle oozing yolk), 5 minutes (for less ooze but still somewhat translucent), or whatever else you prefer. I’m a fence-sitter when it comes to recipes that have a range, so I just did 4 minutes.

Place the eggs in some ice-cold water, and leave it in there until it is cool to the touch, before gently removing the shell. Hopefully the hole you poked at the start makes it easier to peel off the shell.

Once the eggs have had their shells removed, you can throw them into the Tare/soup base you made earlier, and let it marinade overnight in the fridge.

***

For the fragrant oil, I just use lard (I had some left over cold smoked bacon fat so I just used that). Just throw in a hunk of lard in a pot with a few cloves of garlic, a bit of ginger, and some spring onions, let it heat and cook for a while until the fat smells divine. Let it cool before you extract the oil. It can sit in the fridge for now until you’re about to serve, at which point you can just microwave it and have it super hot.

***

Now the Torigara/chicken broth- I just had a mixture of chicken wings and chicken drumsticks (again, I figured no one really wants to eat those over Easter). You just need bones, because it’s the marrow that gives the broth flavour.

  • ~3 kg (600 g chicken wings, ~2.4 kg chicken drum sticks)
  • 8 small stalks of spring onions (they were super thin)
  • 1 whole bulb of garlic
  • A small (1.5 cm^3) cube of ginger (add more if you want!)
  • 1 red apple
  • 2 small bay leaves
  • However much Sake as you want
  • Water to balance (to cover the chicken)
  • A touch of soy sauce

So, you can simply throw all these ingredients in a pot and let it boil (a ‘rolling boil’) for a minimum of two hours, and it will give you a decent broth.

I had the equipment and the time, so I threw it all in to slow cook overnight instead- because, why not?

Day 3: Bringing it all together

I didn’t really have a lot to do, so I kinda just faffed about with the broth. I had it in the multi cooker (slow cooking overnight), so I tried to saute on high, then low, and realised the temperature was just too high (it kept burning the bottom), so then I sifted the broth and transferred it into a pot to boil more gently on the stove top (I threw some bones back in). Once I was ready to eat, I just sifted it all again to remove any bony bits.

For toppings, I just went with thinly sliced spring onion, sauteed cabbage and bean shoots, alongside the Chashu (sliced) and Ajitama. Pickled ginger is optional.

The easiest way to slice Ajitama is to get a piece of thread (for sewing) and essentially garrote the egg length-ways. Way better at preserving the oozy yolk than using a sharp knife.

You can just adjust the cooking time if you want a runnier yolk- but it’s that translucent colour that’s the best.

Provided the broth, soup base, and fragrant oils are boiling hot, and the bowl you’re putting them in have been warmed, the ingredients should warm up on their own, but… I still give them a quick zap in the microwave (especially the Chashu) beforehand.

The noodles I use are non-fry, meaning they haven’t been deep fried to dry the noodles out. You don’t have to use these- I just have them because my mum can’t eat the normal noodles without feeling ill.

Once the noodles are boiling, it’s go time. Assemble the broth (I think I ended up doing 2.5:0.75:0.1 broth:Tare:oil- but do taste to check), and have it ready to plonk the noodles in, because otherwise the noodles tangle and clump. I undercooked the noodles by a full minute because I eat slow and that way the noodles don’t overcook so quickly. I reckon in hindsight you could undercook it by two minutes.

Once you’ve got the broth and noodles, you can go nuts and put all the toppings on, and enjoy. We certainly did in our household.

It was way too much food, but it was amazing.

Hope you enjoyed my first foray into a cooking post.

Merry Egg-mas, wherever you are. Stay home, stay safe, and take care. 🍜 ☺️