carina’s cooking


1.26.15 | Black Sesame Tea Cookies

My current indulgence is a ceremonial cup of matcha tea from Asha Tea House.  Matcha tea is fine, pea-green powder that is whisked with hot (not boiling water) and served foamy in a bowl.  It is said to have brought clarity and focus to Buddhist monks in the 12th century.  Along with my tea, I love to eat these black sesame tea cookies from a local bakery in Oakland. But they are so expensive at Asha that Siena and I decided we needed to make our own version.sesame cookies

We took Julie Cookenboo’s recipe for lemon poppy seed short bread and modified it. Cream together two sticks butter and ½ cup of sugar.  Add one egg.  Roast black sesame seeds on the stove and then use a mortar and pestle to crush them and release the flavor. You’ll smell the sesame oil coming out of them!  Mix the sesame seeds, two cups of flour and a pinch of salt into the butter mixture. At this point you can either put the dough in plastic wrap in a log and cut into cookies when firm (easiest), or roll out the dough (chill again if butter is too soft) and cut with a biscuit cutter (prettiest). I top with a few extra sesame seeds and bake at 400 degrees until they are cooked, but not brown.  They only take a few minutes to cook, so watch carefully! Enjoy with your favorite cup of green tea. Gyokuro is my second favorite tea, with a spinach and grassy flavor.

 

1.19.15 | A Good Bolognese Will Fix Your Cooking Blues

I have to admit, I haven’t been inspired to cook lately. I think it might have been the holiday rush of 30 people over for Thanksgiving last November; cooking for 150 people for a church holiday dinner in early December; having 30 people over for Christmas dinner; throwing the “rocket-and-ramen bar” party for the boys two weeks ago, and 150 fried wontons and noodles for 30 x 2 for the school birthday celebrations. It’s overwhelming for me from November through February (Chinese New Year is coming up and my daughter’s birthday, so there is more to come).bolognese

But thank you Dr. King. The long weekend gave me a chance to regroup and I went crazy with meat and breads: grilled rib eye (my favorite cut), braised lamb shanks, morning buns (now those are a lot of trouble); multigrain bread and a homemade pasta Bolognese. All this, all in one weekend, believe it or not! A colleague of mine inspired me to make a Bolognese, and I brought out my “chitara,” which is a pasta cutter with strings like a guitar, sent to me by a friend in Italy.

The pasta is a combination of semolina, one egg and water until you get the right texture. For the sauce I use three kinds of meat: pork, beef and veal, plus bacon. Three kinds of tomato textures: crushed, sauce and paste. Brown the meat (bacon done separately). Add diced carrots, diced onions, crushed garlic, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste to the meat. You want a thick ragu, and add different amounts of each to get the texture you want. Add a splash of wine.  Season with bay leaf, fresh or dried herbs, salt, pepper and I sometimes throw in a little smoked paprika.  I cut up the bacon, fry it and add toward the end.  My daughter said it was “the best sauce I’ve ever made” but not as good as Chez Panisse. I’ll keep trying.

 

12.15.14 | Winter Melon and Collard Greens

melon

 

I grew up eating winter melon soup on cold days and when we went to Chinese banquets. It’s a fairly simple soup usually made with a good broth (pork or chicken) and small pieces of winter melon cooked in it.  It’s clear and clean-tasting. This last week we had winter melon and collard greens soup. I think it’s all those trips to New Orleans rubbing off on me. Boil bones to make stock. Peel and de-seed the winter melon. Dice and add to soup stock with slices of ginger and salt to taste. Add chopped-up collard greens when the soup is nearly done and cook until the greens are soft.

 

12.12.14 | Go to Berkeley for BBQ and Thai Food?

This Sunday I was at home with the kids alone and we found ourselves in Berkeley on University Avenue looking at thrift shops, when we really only wanted to eat noodles. A ramen house had been replaced with a new Thai street food restaurant near the Goodwill. My daughter and I were all in. The boys were skeptical. They are loyal to ramen. Since when did University Avenue in Berkeley have such good food?  Three places to follow: Asha Tea House (right at Shattuck in the Citibank building) offers great matcha green tea and healthy boba drinks for kids. They crush up seasonal fruit instead of using that nasty syrup the kids like so much. The homemade mochi at Asha is worth the $2 each—black sesame, coconut cheesecake and green tea. Dare I say better than Benkyodo in SF? Fresh and chewy. If you are still hungry, go two doors down to Imm Thai—the best street Thai food I’ve had in Berkeley. It’s street food akin to Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok in Portland. The Su Kho Thai noodle soup is absolutely mouthwatering with strong hits of lemongrass and that quintessentially Thai layering of flavors. It comes with pork rinds too! Look out North Berkeley—University Avenue may become the next gourmet ghetto. Next stop: Perdition BBQ a few doors down from Imm.

12.9.14 | Egg and Cheese Biscuits, Please

I love biscuits. I mean really love biscuits. I could probably eat three and not look back. Lately I’ve been eating cream biscuits with soft persimmons for breakfast. But the kids want them with egg, cheese and bacon. I take Chez Panisse’s basic cream biscuits and cut the sugar and use half buttermilk instead of all cream. I don’t know about your kids, but mine don’t like “things” hanging out of their sandwiches so I take the time to actually use the biscuit cutter to cut out the scrambled egg with melted cheese on top. I slice a sausage, very thin and cut it just to fit.

To make the biscuits: Sift together one and a half cups cake or regular flour, two teaspoons of baking powder, two teaspoons of sugar, and two pinches of salt. Add six tablespoons of cold, unsalted organic butter and crumble with your fingers until they are pea-sized pieces. Add five tablespoons cream and five tablespoons buttermilk (or all cream if buttermilk is not on hand).  Gather dough into a circle, flatten to about 1 inch and cut into biscuits. Makes six to nine biscuits, depending on the size of your biscuit cutter. Brush each biscuit with cream or butter on top. Cook at 400 degrees until brown. Let sit a few minutes before you slice it in two and add your perfectly round egg and cheese. The perfect Sunday breakfast.

12.8.14 | Miso Mayonnaise

My only regret when O Chame closed is that I never asked them how to make the sauce they served with the corn cakes. The hostess would always say it’s just a mayonnaise. But it was pinkish in color and very thin and tangy, not thick and white like most American mayonnaise. It was more like a salad dressing. Here is my version, which isn’t nearly as good.

There are some things you’ll never forget—the first time you set eyes on your first-born child, the first time you learn how to ride a bike. Me? I’ll never forget the first time I learned how to make mayonnaise. I was in Prague teaching English and I be friended a Spanish reporter who didn’t speak English. We were both learning Czech and horrible at it, so we defaulted to my rusty Spanish.

Method: You start with two egg yolks. Add a little drop of olive oil (you could use any oil, and when I make the miso mayo I use a little sesame oil and a canola oil). Keep adding little drops and whisk vigorously after each drop. When it begins to thicken, you can add the oil in a steady stream, but slowly until you have made a cup of mayonnaise. Keep whisking. I like it to be a little drippy and you control the texture and thickness by how quickly you add the oil and how much you whisk. If you add the oil too quickly, you’ll get a very drippy mayonnaise that never stabilizes. If you whisk too much, the mayonnaise will get stiff the way whipped cream does if you whip it too much. Season with miso, salt, finely chopped shallots and rice wine vinegar.  Ginger or garlic powder can also give it a nice flavor. Essentially you can add any flavoring to the mayonnaise base (i.e. Siracha!).

12.1.14 | Asian Corn Cakes for Dinner

 Last week while I was out of town, I got a text from my husband with a picture of my baby with a very happy face. The text said: “Grubbing!”  They were eating at the Ramen Shop on College Avenue in Oakland. Friends of ours opened a ramen shop several years ago and the broth is so rich and delicious that you just want to take it home when you finish slurping all the noodles down. It’s a good thing that my husband and I think alike. I had just hopped off the plane and I needed to make dinner in a hurry! I saw the broth, he brought home fresh noodles and I got to making corn cakes. This were our favorite appetizer at O Chame, our favorite restaurant in Berkeley before it closed down. I used a basic buttermilk pancake recipe (cut the sugar down) and added frozen corn (fresh was not to be had at this hour) and made a homemade miso mayonnaise to eat with the corn cakes. Great with Ramen. At O Chame, they cut the edges and make rectangles and stack them neatly. We always asked to eat the edges because they just throw

 

11.24.14 | Pumpkin Marmellata from “English”

This week I ate entirely too much fried food in New Orleans: trout, quail, shrimp, chicken, eggs, sausage, rabbit.  I could go on, but I’ll stop. The best combination was at Domenica on Baronne Street—burrata with pumpkin marmellata, toasted pecans and fried prosciutto. I paired that with the fried kale, also on the menu. Something sweet, something salty. Something creamy. Something crispy. It was so delicious I made the waiter taste it and asked for the recipe. “English,” a.k.a. Jonathan the sous chef, was kind enough to give it to me, as well as a jar to take home. I need to send him some persimmons!  Here you go:

marm

Cooking liquid: Equal parts sugar, rice wine vinegar, and water.

Spice bouquet: cinnamon, cloves, star anise, allspice (all whole toasted in a cheese cloth).

Peel and dice the pumpkin. He used cushaw pumpkin, which my Southern friends say is really a squash, but sugar or other pumpkins will do. Place the pumpkin in a non-reactive pot with just enough of the cooking liquid to cover the pumpkin and spice bouquet. Cook on lowest heat and reduce to a thick syrup. Add a pinch of salt while warm and stir gently. “English” dices it up into even smaller pieces when he serves it on the burrata. I’m thinking of dicing it up and adding a few shallots and serving it as a relish. But I don’t want to compete with my cranberry relish or mess up his recipe. Maybe I should just let it be and cook it as he taught me and serve it with my daughter’s favorite cheese, Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam triple cream brie, since I neglected to ask for the burrata recipe. Shoot!

11.20.14 | Egg and Cheese Biscuits, Please.

I love biscuits. I mean really love biscuits. I could probably eat three and not look back. Lately I’ve been eating cream biscuits with soft persimmons for breakfast. But the kids want them with egg, cheese and bacon. I take Chez Panisse’s basic cream biscuits and cut the sugar and use half buttermilk instead of all cream. I don’t know about your kids, but mine don’t like “things” hanging out of their sandwiches so I take the time to actually use the biscuit cutter to cut out the scrambled egg with melted cheese on top. I slice a sausage, very thin and cut it just to fit.

To make the biscuits: Sift together one and a half cups cake or regular flour, two teaspoons of baking powder, two teaspoons of sugar, and two pinches of salt. Add six tablespoons of cold, unsalted organic butter and crumble with your fingers until they are pea-sized pieces. Add five tablespoons cream and five tablespoons buttermilk (or all cream if buttermilk is not on hand).  Gather dough into a circle, flatten to about 1 inch and cut into biscuits. Makes six to nine biscuits, depending on the size of your biscuit cutter. Brush each biscuit with cream or butter on top. Cook at 400 degrees until brown. Let sit a few minutes before you slice it in two and add your perfectly round egg and cheese. The perfect Sunday breakfast.

11.17.14 | Miso Mayonnaise

My only regret when O Chame closed is that I never asked them how to make the sauce they served with the corn cakes. The hostess would always say it’s just a mayonnaise. But it was pinkish in color and very thin and tangy, not thick and white like most American mayonnaise. It was more like a salad dressing. Here is my version, which isn’t nearly as good.

There are some things you’ll never forget—the first time you set eyes on your first-born child, the first time you learn how to ride a bike. Me? I’ll never forget the first time I learned how to make mayonnaise. I was in Prague teaching English and I be friended a Spanish reporter who didn’t speak English. We were both learning Czech and horrible at it, so we defaulted to my rusty Spanish.

Method: You start with two egg yolks. Add a little drop of olive oil (you could use any oil, and when I make the miso mayo I use a little sesame oil and a canola oil). Keep adding little drops and whisk vigorously after each drop. When it begins to thicken, you can add the oil in a steady stream, but slowly until you have made a cup of mayonnaise. Keep whisking. I like it to be a little drippy and you control the texture and thickness by how quickly you add the oil and how much you whisk. If you add the oil too quickly, you’ll get a very drippy mayonnaise that never stabilizes. If you whisk too much, the mayonnaise will get stiff the way whipped cream does if you whip it too much. Season with miso, salt, finely chopped shallots and rice wine vinegar.  Ginger or garlic powder can also give it a nice flavor. Essentially you can add any flavoring to the mayonnaise base (i.e. Siracha!).

11.10.14 | Asian Corn Cakes for Dinner

Last week while I was out of town, I got a text from my husband with a picture of my baby with a very happy face. The text said: “Grubbing!”  They were eating at the Ramen Shop on College Avenue in Oakland. Friends of ours opened a ramen shop several years ago and the broth is so rich and delicious that you just want to take it home when you finish slurping all the noodles down. It’s a good thing that my husband and I think alike. I had just hopped off the plane and I needed to make dinner in a hurry! I saw the broth, he brought home fresh noodles and I got to making corn cakes. This were our favorite appetizer at O Chame, our favorite restaurant in Berkeley before it closed down. I used a basic buttermilk pancake recipe (cut the sugar down) and added frozen corn (fresh was not to be had at this hour) and made a homemade miso mayonnaise to eat with the corn cakes. Great with Ramen. At O Chame, they cut the edges and make rectangles and stack them neatly. We always asked to eat the edges because they just throw them away. Shame.

11.6.14 | Cheeky Huevos Rancheros

cheekyWhen I lived in South Africa, Mamkhulu, the matron of the Zulu house I lived in, used to describe sassy girls in the village as “cheeky.”  I was thinking of how much I would have loved to treat her to breakfast at Cheeky’s restaurant this week in Palm Springs. I don’t know why anyone would want to live in the desert or how they came up with that name (the logo is a monkey), but it has an awesome brunch menu. From fresh grapefruit juice to buttermilk pancakes with corn to eggs benedict on a cheddar biscuit to chocolate cookies—there is something for everyone and no shortage of bacon if that’s on your list. My favorite was the huevos rancheros that were stacked with two (or was it three?) fried corn tortillas. Here’s their method: Fry two corn tortillas as if you were making a crispy tostada. Place one on the bottom and spread refried beans (they used peruano beans which were delicious), and then put the other fried corn tortilla on top. You could keep making layers; it depends on your appetite! Gently fry the eggs keeping soft centers and smother with your favorite ranchero sauce.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream and guacamole on top. Delicioso.

11.3.14 | Green Papaya, Daikon and Ginger Soup

When I was at the farmer’s market this weekend I saw a fruit that looked like a papaya but it was green. The farmer’s wife told me to buy it. It was ripe and ready to eat now, she said.  She called it a white papaya. I looked at my daughter; we shrugged our shoulders and bought it. I cut it open at home only to see small white seeds and a very hard and plain-tasting fruit. I realized then that this is what papaya salad is made of at Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. Being Chinese, the white flesh reminded me of winter melon and I decided it was too cold for salad and that I would make a soup. I had a Japanese radish (daikon) and a knob of ginger in the refrigerator. Why not?

papaya

If you are using a 3-4 quart pot, then half a papaya, half a daikon and a healthy knob of ginger (8-10 thick slices) will do. Peel the papaya, daikon and ginger. Slice into small pieces. Remove any seeds from the papaya. I happened to have roasted chicken and duck bones from Chinatown and threw those in for flavor. Remember, the soup is only as good as the stock, so the more bones, the more flavor. You could use raw pieces of chicken or pork bones. It doesn’t matter. If you are vegetarian, I would use carrots or celery to add more flavor to the stock. Bring the ingredients to a boil, add salt to taste, and then lower to a simmer until the papaya and daikon are soft and the meat is falling off the bones. Remove the bone if desired before serving. Papayas (green or the fully ripened ones) are good for digestion so this was the perfect post-Halloween lunch when the kids all had stomach aches from too much candy!

Image by Jerry Alcantara

 

10.27.14 | Cranberry Relish

cranberryI always get asked what I cook on Thanksgiving. I’m actually a traditionalist and serve the basic turkey, stuffing, greens and cornbread. We have a few other quirky things in my family like hand-cranked spinach noodles and mushroom sauce, crabs, and my famous cranberry relish. This is really from Martha Stewart, but I’ve long lost her recipe and so I just improvise. One bag of cranberries makes enough relish for 20 to 25 people. Mince each ingredient separately in a food processor: one bag of cranberries; one shallot; one or two stalks of celery, and a handful of roasted pecans (if no nut allergies). Mix all but the pecans in a bowl with sugar and orange juice to taste. I like it on the tart side and it goes great with turkey, chicken or even a pot roast. Add pecans and chopped mint just before serving.

 

 

10.20.14 | One Pot Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

lentil

Fall is here and the air is getting cooler, so it’s time for soup! This can be made thick like a stew or thinned out like a soup. I’ve eaten it both ways, and it just depends if I have rice nearby. If I have bread, I prefer the soup version. If I have rice, then I want a thick stew. The kids love it either way!   Method: Chop celery, onions, potato and carrots. I had some fennel and threw that in. too. Whatever you have in the refrigerator will do. Wash a cup of lentils in a pot and remove any stones (I used a mix of black and red but any kind will do). Then add all the chopped vegetables. Add one or two cans of coconut milk, depending on how much liquid you want (soup or stew). Water is also fine to add if it seems too thick. I made mine vegetarian but you could use a chicken or other stock instead of water.  Add your favorite curry powder (yellow, red or green). I used a Thai basil curry paste this week. Cook it on the stove until the lentils are soft and the soup is the desired thickness.

10.13.14 | Brussel Sprouts: The D.C. Ways

This last week I was in D.C. and found myself eating brussel sprouts all week. Here’s where to go if you happen to be in D.C this season and hanker for a hunk of sprouts. While I am never a fan of hotel food, I must admit that I like going to Zentan in the Donovan House Hotel for sushi and ramen. Daikaya in Chinatown will give them a run for their money, especially on the seven-minute egg in the ramen, but this week it was all about the brussels at Zentan.  Roasted until they are crispy and the leaves are falling off.  Simply, well done.

brussleAnother hotel restaurant?  Yes, I’m a fan of the Blue Duck Tavern.  Their bison hanger steak is perfectly cooked and accompanied by braised purple cabbage and tobacco onion rings.  I didn’t need to order the brussels, too. But I did. How could you resist?  Ham hock mustard BBQ?  Honestly, I worried they would be too mustardy, but I was wrong. They had just the right mix of BBQ sauce and mustard. Save room for the apple pie. D.C.’s 14th Street is nothing like I remember it back in the ‘90s and Doi Moi is a popular Thai/Asian spot. I like to eat their whole fried fish, and I tried the brussels with black bean paste this time around. They were not as salty as I imagined, but spicy! They don’t skimp on the red chilies, so order the sticky rice, too (unfortunately without the mangoes) and save room for the sour plum sorbet.

 

10.6.14 | Persimmon Ice

persmimmonI absolutely love fall because I love persimmons. Fuyu persimmons are hard and eaten peeled (or not) like an apple. Don Shalvey has the most extraordinary persimmon tree in California, and I highly recommend poaching a bag from him (if there are any left after he sends me my box!) I have a hachiya persimmon tree. These can only be eaten when soft and ripe. If you try to eat them before they are soft, you’ll have a bitter, chalky taste in your mouth. Even the deer dare not touch my tree until the fruit is soft. My tree is overflowing right now and so I often freeze the flesh to make my own version of Chez Panisse’s persimmon pudding later in the year, or just eat the persimmon like a frozen treat.  You simply wait until it ripens and is squishy, cut off the top, scoop out the flesh and puree. Freeze and enjoy. Some friends freeze the persimmon with the top cut off and simply scoop out the frozen treat directly. You choose the presentation you want but now is the time to eat persimmons!

9.29.14 | Basic Tomato Cream Sauce

Right after a swim, the kids are always hungry, so I have to make something fast or else they’ll snack themselves silly and won’t eat dinner. The past two weeks have been extremely warm in California, so we’ve been going for a swim on Sundays at Strawberry Canyon pool and then heading home for an early dinner. We had a friend join us this time and she devoured this pasta and brought her mom into my kitchen when the play date was over to make sure she got the recipe…This is for Jada!

tomatoYou can use this recipe year-round with canned tomatoes or use fresh tomatoes. It’s the end of the season here, but you can still find some nice cherry and Early Girl tomatoes in the farmer’s markets. You need one 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes), one small onion, garlic, and cream. Saute diced onions in olive oil. Add garlic and tomatoes. Cook down. Add salt to taste. After adding the tomatoes (fresh ones would need to be cut but canned tomatoes can be put in whole), cook down until most of the water is gone and the onions are soft. Remove the pan from the stove. Use a hand-held blender to puree the sauce. Add salt as needed and as much cream as you desire. I only use a little. Serve this with any pasta, from shells to spaghetti to rigatoni! We finished off the sauce for Jada with some small sliced cherry tomatoes and a handful of basil and parmesan cheese.

 

9.22.14 | Pork Bone Soup with Chinese Yams (shan yao)

This summer when I visited China, I ate something that seemed like taro root but not exactly. I had it boiled in a hot pot and stir fried with soy sauce. I couldn’t figure out what it was at the time, and I learned later they are Chinese yams, also known as cinnamon vine. It is not at all related to the orange-colored yams Americans eat at Thanksgiving. The Chinese yam is often used in Chinese herbal medicine, translated as mountain medicine. My mother tried to feed it to me, boiled with goji berries and a whole chicken, after I gave birth to my third child,. They come as a long, hairy, light or dark brown tuber and the flesh after peeled is white. It’s a healthy alternative to the potato in any soup.

chinese yamWe ate shan yao in pork bone soup this week when my Chengdu friends came for a visit. It’s very easy to make. Peel the Chinese yam and slice it into thick pieces. Bring pork bones and several slices of peeled ginger in water to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Add Chinese yams and cook until they are soft, and the soup has a rich flavor. Add salt and Chinese pepper as desired.

9.15.14 | Curry In A Hurry

There are those days when a mother just doesn’t feel like cooking and just wants something fast to feed the kids when they come home from school, hot and tired. My mom used to make this Japanese “golden curry” from S&B, which comes in bricks in an orange and gold cardboard box. You store them in the refrigerator and it only takes a few cubes to jazz up the most boring set of vegetables.  Use whatever is available to you in your refrigerator; don’t make a special trip to the store!  I had a head of broccoflower (a lime green-colored cauliflower from the farmer’s market), two carrots, half of an onion, one Satsuma sweet potato, frozen peas and about a fourth of a pound of ground turkey in the freezer.

curryFry the turkey until it is as brown as you can get it (or substitute any meat or tofu). Add chopped onions. Chop up the remaining vegetables into small bite-sized pieces and toss into the pot with two curry cubes and enough water to cover the vegetables. (I peeled the sweet potato, which has a white flesh). The curry will thicken as it cooks, but you can add broth or water as you go if the curry feels too thick. When the all the vegetables are soft, and just before you are ready to serve, add a handful of green peas (frozen in my case). Serve over hot rice or noodles. My kids prefer rice.  I made it this week and my daughter said: “Mom, this is even better than last night’s dinner,” which was pan-fried salmon seared with fennel, onions, yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes and a splash of white wine). Right on!

9.8.14 | Crispy Pot Stickers

I reblog pot stickermember the first time I ate a soup dumpling, or xiaolongbao, when I was a child. There was cabbage underneath, and my mom had taken us deep into a Chinese enclave near Monterey Park, with a name of a restaurant I’d never remember. The chef was from Shanghai and that’s all that mattered. The soup from the dumplings burned my tongue, but with great delight because the reward was so delicious. I later learned how you eat these delicious dumplings—bite off a small piece off, suck out the soup and then eat the dumpling. But I was anxious to get every drop of soup in my mouth. These days, folks go to Din Tai Fung, which started in Taiwan and is also famous in Shanghai.

But you don’t have to go to China for dumplings. They even have a location in Bellevue, Wash.  One of the newer locations is in Glendale, Calif., and I ate there a few weeks ago. But instead of being impressed by the dumplings, I was impressed by the not-so-sexy cousin, the pot sticker.  My mom has made me pot stickers since I was little. The secret is frying the bottom in a little oil, splashing in a little water and covering the pan so you get a fry/steam. The pot stickers at Din Tai Fung are different though. They come stuck together in a rectangle pancake with crispy edges. Knowing the secret to making the bottoms crispy, I asked how they make the crispy pancake. I assumed they used a rectangle pan. But here is the answer in case you are wondering. It is basically the cornstarch coming off the dumpling that becomes a crispy pancake when you steam/fry them.  I’m going to try to make them this weekend. Wish me luck!

9.2.14 | Chopped Salad, Los Feliz Style

I grew up in Hollywood in a little community called Los Feliz—yes, “the happy” in Spanish. I never recognize all the restaurants and hip new places when I go home. But this time, I noticed a little shop called Stamp that sits under another restaurant that used to be The Los Feliz Inn, an old-school dinner and lounge. I’m not sure why it’s called Stamp but its tag line is “proper foods.”  While the bison meatloaf sandwich is pretty darn good, the chopped salad stands out.  First of all, it is really chopped, I mean like in a Cuisinart: kale, broccoli, cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, and radishes with a light French dressing. While it looks a bit like horse food (according to my mother), it tastes amazing. It’s fresh, it’s light, and it’s the kind of thing skinny Hollywood stars probably eat. So next time you are reaching for the lettuce, try making a chopped salad like the happy people at Stamp. I’m addicted at this point.

8.25.14 | Spaghetti and Meatballs for Seven Koreans

I had a Hyundai executive and his family over unexpectedly for dinner last week. It was his first time in California, and my mother-in-law told me that they wanted a simple “American” dinner: spaghetti and meatballs. The thing about Koreans is that they like their kimchi and their meat—mostly beef but I’ve had some pretty tasty pork belly in Korea too. I had only 30 minutes. Go! Sometimes I use veal or beef in the mix, but I had no time to go to the grocery store. I used what was available: one pound of ground pork and one pound of ground turkey in my refrigerator.

Put a peeled and roughly chopped large onion in the Cuisinart, three large cloves of garlic and two pieces of leftover bread. Fresh bread or breadcrumbs work; I just didn’t have any! Mix the onion/bread mixture with two extra-large eggs, the ground meats and a generous sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. You want the meat mixture to feel loose but not goopy. Shape the meatballs into the size you like and fry them until they are brown on all sides. Because I make really large meatballs, they don’t cook all the way through in the frying pan. I finish them off in the sauce.

For the sauce. I usually use whole peeled tomatoes. Cook them down and then use a hand blender to emulsify. No such luck and no time for that, so I used a 22-ounce can of crushed tomatoes and a handful of sun-dried tomatoes my mother-in-law brought. Cook down the tomatoes with some minced onions, olive oil and garlic. Add salt and other herbs as you like. Simmer. Let it cook down. Now is the time to slow down. An unfinished sauce tastes acidic and flat. When the sauce is to your liking, add the meatballs. Sometimes I add a little heavy cream to take away any lingering acidity and give the sauce a little body. I always grate fresh parmesan on top of my meatballs. Enjoy with your favorite pasta. Ours happened to be fresh spinach noodles.  Two thumbs up from the meat-eating Koreans. Oops, who forgot the kimchi?

8.18.14 | Fish Taco @ The Taco Stand

When you go to San Diego, you have to eat fish tacos.  But where? There are dozens of places to choose from. When I looked up my options in La Jolla, I noticed one taco stand that stood out:  The Taco Stand.  Why eat at just any taco stand when you can eat at The Taco Stand?  I put 621 Pearl Street into the GPS and I was off. Fish battered or grilled with a homemade tortilla and chipotle sauce. Yum! The tacos were so good I went back the next night and discovered the dessert: homemade paletas (popsicles) and churros y chocolate!  They don’t make the paletas in house, but they are made by hand in Chula Vista at Neveria Tocumbo.  Strawberry and quince caramel were my favorites. Everything at The Taco Stand is made from scratch! So the next time you have a meeting in San Diego, stop by The Taco Stand.  You won’t regret it.

8.11.14 | Eggplant with Hoisin Sauce

Eggplant is one of those vegetables that you either love or hate. If it isn’t properly cooked, you’re not likely to want to try it again. Kids are more likely to hate it, but my daughter loves eggplant. The baby eggplants that are often used in Indian food are cropping up at the farmer’s market and they are one of my favorite kinds to cook. My other favorite is the long Japanese variety, which I used this past week to make my daughter’s favorite Chinese eggplant recipe.

Slice the eggplant anyway you want. I cut them about the size and shape of a carrot stick on a party platter. Sauté the slices in olive oil on medium to high heat. Eggplant wants to just soak up the oil so don’t be too cheap on the oil. When soft to the touch and nearly cooked through, add a splash of soy sauce and a few tablespoons of hoisin sauce. Turn down the fire slightly and cooked until the sauce is absorbed and the eggplant is browned.  We ate it with summer basil on top, but cilantro or green onions also work well. If my kids weren’t eating it with me, I would have put a teaspoon of garlic and chili sauce in too!

8.4.14 | Wild Chinese Plum Sauce

The wild plums are here! My friends Sam and Julia shared two huge bags of crimson-fleshed wild plums with me yesterday. Their tree is overflowing with literally hundreds of them dropping to the ground because they ripen all at once. How could I possibly eat 10 pounds of plums? My first reaction was to make jam but that would be too easy. So today it’s Chinese plum sauce; tomorrow, upside down plum cake. If I have any left on the third day I’m sure it will be jam! These plums only last a week or so in the refrigerator once they are picked.

I got this recipe from Put ‘em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton. I met Sherri at the Farmer’s Market in Santa Fe, N.M. one Saturday. It’s a great book if you have a home garden or fruit trees and can’t possibly eat all that the earth gives you in one summer.

Combine:

2 pounds of plums (washed, pitted and chopped)

¼ cup cider vinegar

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup soy sauce

3 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger

2 garlic cloves

1 star anise

Cook down for about 25 minutes or until the sauce reduces and thickens. Remove star anise and puree with a hand blender. Adjust the sweetness to your tastes.  Alice Waters suggests adjusting for sweetness with sugar, but there is no cure for bitterness. The only way to know if your plum skins will be bitter is to test one by slicing and boiling it for a few minutes. Because you make this sauce with the skins on (and jam for that matter) it might serve you well to do a taste test first! My dad reminded me that this sauce would taste terrific with wild duck or venison. Got any to share?

7.28.14 | Best Seattle Meals This Week
If you find yourself in Seattle anytime soon, try these restaurants. These were some of my favorite meals during the first of two summer work-weeks:

  • Fried oysters and shrimp and  grits at Roux in Fremont
  • Green garlic hummus and the fattoush salad at Mamnoon
  • Cheddar chive biscuit sandwich at Citizen Coffee
  • Summer salad of grilled radicchio and the fries at Loulay
  • Copper River salmon sashimi and yuzu yogurt panna cotta at Sushi Kappo Tamura

7.21.14 | Oxtail Stew from a Hawaiian Bowling Alley?
Since I was in Seattle this week, I didn’t get to do much cooking. But I did watch a lot of late-night cooking shows. I admit, this recipe for Oxtail Stew from a bowling alley in Hawaii sounded pretty good and comes with a dipping sauce! For the stew: Put oxtail in cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for about 45-60 minutes and then strain the broth and remove the oxtail.  Put the oxtail in a pot with dried red dates, dried orange peel, star anise, and pieces of whole peeled ginger.  Add clear oxtail broth back in the pot and supplement with chicken or other broth if needed. Cook for another 30-45 minutes or until the oxtail is completely tender and the broth is flavorful. Add salt and pepper as needed. Serve with baby bok choy and scallions on top.  For the dipping sauce, mix together soy sauce, orange juice, pureed daikon, chili flakes, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. I’ll tell you how it goes when I get to my stove!

7.15.14 | Skillet Plum Cake
As promised, here’s the plum cake recipe! I make two versions of this cake; one is upside down and one is in an iron skillet. It’s a variation on a cake from Cooking Light that I first made over a decade ago and still love to bake. The cake is moist and with the right amount of sugar, the plums are tangy and the juices bleed into the cake with a crimson-colored syrup.  Since you can’t give it away after you take a bite, I had to make three small cakes: one for the couple who gave me the plums; one for my family, and one for, none other than Don Shalvey. Don was coming over for a meeting and I had nothing in the house but plums. I used two five-inch pans and a small, five-inch iron cast skillet. Line each pan with parchment paper You know how to make a circle our of parchment paper to line the pan, right? Fold parchment into a cone shape, put the point in the center of your pan and trim the parchment to fit.

Slice six or seven plums and cook them in 2 tablespoons of butter and ¼ cup of sugar (add more if they are too tart). Don’t be cheap on the plums; you want to generously cover the bottom of your three pans.  When the plums have released their juices and you have a nice syrup, turn off the heat. Spoon the plums into each of the lined pans, or if you are feeling festive or French, place them in a decorative design. To make the batter, cream a stick of unsalted butter and ¾ cup sugar (or less depending on your sweet tooth). Add two eggs, one at a time. It’s best if all these ingredients are at room temperature. Separately, sift together 1½ cup flour and 1½ teaspoons baking powder. Alternate putting this dry mixture and ¾ cup of buttermilk into the creamed-butter mixture. Spoon the batter into the three pans. The skillet pan should have the least and it’s ok if the juices or plums are peeking through on the edges. If you are making an upside down cake, then you want to smooth it out and make sure the plums/juice are covered. If not, let those gorgeous juices show. Bake at 350 degrees until brown on top. Don liked it and we ate it straight out of the iron cast skillet, how about that? The only problem was that I forgot about my mother-in-law who came over later that day and took the cake for the family so I had to start all over again that night. No problem, I have 10 pounds of plums!

7.8.14 | Steamed Trout, Chinese Style
Ever since I can remember, we’ve had this July 4th family tradition of going up to Lake Tahoe and watching the fireworks. This year we were on our way back from China, and didn’t quite make it, but my 84-year-old dad did, and I’m glad, because on his way back he paid a visit and gave me two fresh rainbow trout that he had caught in the Truckee River. After he scaled the fish, gave my two boys an anatomy lesson by cutting through the vent (don’t break the gall bladder by the way), and showed us what the fish ate for lunch (another little fish and some bugs), it was my turn to cook! The problem with my dad’s fish is that there is never a wok or pan big enough, and Chinese people always cook fish with the head and tail on. So if you fancy whole fish, here is an easy recipe, but you’re own your own with the pan. I steam the fish. To make the sauce, heat peanut or canola oil, soy sauce and some cooking wine. I like a 3:1 proportion on the oil and soy sauce, and it’s a splash of the cooking wine. Heat the sauce until it boils vigorously. Sometimes I’ll add few black beans (the salted, fermented kind from Chinese grocery stores, or you can buy them in a jar, but they are usually mashed in that form). Add a little chili or sesame oil, if you fancy. Pour onto the hot fish. Garnish with thinly sliced fresh ginger, scallions, and cilantro. Serve with rice.

7.1.14 | The Tomato Bread Salad 
I went to D.C. office this week, and as I was leaving, I went to the staff room to take some snacks for the trip back West. I saw the usual: leftover pastries from the Global Health meeting and a plastic bowl of sorry-looking cut-up melon and a few berries. But at the end of the counter was a surprise—a huge bunch of fresh oregano and lemon thyme with a little sign that said, “Take me!” I wasn’t shy about taking and the next day I feasted on one of my favorite summer salads made with toasted levain bread and fresh tomatoes. Cut or tear the fresh bread up into small bite-sized pieces. (I prefer the flavors of a nutty, slightly tart levain but any great loaf will do).  Toss in olive oil and toast in the oven until brown. Slice fresh, sweet tomatoes. I prefer small, cherry tomatoes or Sun Gold, but again, any will do. Make a vinaigrette and toss the two together with some fresh herbs. Basil works too, but if someone is offering lemon thyme and oregano in your office, go for it!  I often add fresh corn or haricot vert. It all depends what your farmers are selling that week at the market.

6.15.14 |As Easy as Peach Pie
Summer = peaches in California. Growing up I had a peach tree in my backyard, and my father used to make us peach pie during the summer. We made the crust from scratch with shortening and always made a lattice on top. It’s one of my favorite desserts. My husband is a “crisp” man himself, and that’s what we ate for dessert on Father’s Day this year, along with a pie I made for myself!

To make a delicious crisp, submerge ripe peaches in boiling water until the skin comes off easily.  Peel the peaches and slice. I add several tablespoons of organic sugar to bring the juices out. Put in a baking dish that is also nice for serving. Mix together three or four tablespoons of butter, about a 1/3 of a cup of brown sugar, half of a cup of oats, and a couple tablespoons of flour.  Sprinkle the mixture over the peaches and put in a 350-degree oven until the juices are bubbling and the top is browned. If you need a recipe with exact measurements, try Deborah Madison’s crisp recipe in The Greens Cookbook. She makes a mean blackberry crisp!

5.19.14 | The Pizza Egg
My husband just came home with half of a Lane Splitter pizza from a sleep over party that my son went to. Did he really think I wanted that for dinner? Pizza from a kiddie party? Now if you know Lane Splitter, their pizzas are HUGE and remind us of the time we lived in New York. Yes, in that 500-square-foot studio on Park Avenue that cost us more than our current mortgage!

But what to do with leftover pizza? In New York, you’d probably throw it out. But in California, we always make a Pizza Egg. We fry a sunny-side up egg and heat up the bottom of the pizza in the pan and put the egg on top when the edges are crispy!  Breakfast, done!

5.12.14 | Sandra Licon’s Mexican Corn
Welcome to summer and corn season!  My own humble method for grilling corn is to actually just put a pat of butter with the corn and wrap it in tinfoil and throw it on the grill.  I’ve never really liked the mess of grilling in the husk.  Sandra sent me this recipe with a nice twist on what to do after you’ve grilled your corn in the husk or out. Regardless of the method, she says you want the corn a little charred.  To each piece of corn, add butter (the Mexican way is to put a bar of butter on a plate and just roll the corn back and forth), a tiny bit of mayo, a squirt of lime, and crumbled Mexican cheese (cotija). Sprinkle Mexican chili powder (there’s one called Tajin) or a Mexican sauce called Valentina if you like spicy (which I’m sure you can find at a Mexican store). In Mexico, they sell this all over on street corners. It’s messy, but addicting!

5.5.14 | Sugar Peas and Pan-Fried Noodles
Spring is all about asparagus and peas! The sugar peas are the fat little pods that are entirely edible. They have a stringy side that you have to remove, but it’s well worth it. They cook quickly and are perfect in a stir-fry or on top of some pan-fried noodles with oyster sauce. You can buy the thin wheat noodles dried or fresh. The fresh are infinitely better and at this point, I would be surprised if Trader Joe’s didn’t sell them. They cook quickly  (like three minutes) if you buy the thin ones (I prefer these to the thick ones you sometimes see in Chinese restaurants).

Heat a wok or frying pan with olive, peanut or sesame oil. Toss in slices of ginger, your cooked/drained noodles and let them get crispy on one side. Sometimes at this point, I add a little soy sauce to the pan but it will make your noodles burn if you are not careful. Remove from pan by flipping over the noodles on to a plate and top with your favorite sautéed veggies (snap peas!) or meat and oyster sauce. I like the crispy side, but if kids want their noodles to be soft with no crispy edges , just keep moving the noodles around until they are heated. Dinner, done.

4.28.14 | Jiaozi, Chengdu Style
Well, Memorial Day weekend slipped away for me until Sunday afternoon when I got a chance to get out of town and take the kids to the beach. We ended up having a strange set of guests: a Frenchman (whom I met on an airplane ride home from China) and his family, plus two Chinese families (one that speaks no English and the other that speaks good English).  I was nervous about cooking for two reasons. First, the French are good cooks and I knew the wife would judge my skills. Second, the Chinese-speaking family owned a restaurant in China. What could I make that would make both parties happy?  After all, French people like to eat French food and Chinese people, well, they naturally like to eat Chinese food. What could unite East and West? All this, and supposedly I was on vacation. I just wanted to take the kids to the beach.

Who cares what I made. We ate the most delicious dumplings on Sunday night made by the Chinese restaurateurs. I was shocked at the chef’s method. I have made dumplings with my mother hundreds of times. Thousands of wontons and potstickers have been folded by my fingers. But never have I made these kinds of dumplings—jiaozi, Chengdu style. Get ready—I’m about to fund a food truck for this family because I believe in their dumplings. I’m looking for a good name for a dumpling truck—suggestions?

I can’t give you exact amounts, but here is the method with rough measurements: mince one scallion s five slices of ginger. Put it in a couple cups of water to boil. Strain and pour the liquid (yes, the liquid) over ground pork (or another meat). We had at least two or three pounds because we were cooking for a crowd.  But you would pour less liquid if you use less meat. The meat was not goopy but it was loose. They said they often add egg white (which didn’t surprise me because my mother does the same). Whip the meat and the liquid. Yes, beat it hard and actively! Add salt. Use the round dumpling wrappers and put a tablespoon of meat in the center. There are many ways to fold these but the easiest is just to fold in half. Use water around the edge to seal.  I wasn’t able to fully replicate their folding technique, but believe me, I tried!  Cook the jiaozi in boiling water. To make the secret sauce, heat a couple cups of water and about one-fourth cup of brown sugar. You are making a simple syrup. Add soy sauce, slices of ginger, fennel seeds, three crushed bay leaves and star anise for flavor. In a separate pot, heat a cup of oil plus generous amount of dried crushed red peppers. Heat the oil and stir in the dried peppers to make chili oil.  When the flavor smells roasted, remove from the heat. If six people are eating, create six bowls and strain the soy sauce mixture into the bowls, about one-fourth cup per bowl.  Add a few tablespoons of chili oil with chilies into each bowl for the desired amount of heat. It’s really not that spicy but it will look spicy.  Add cooked dumplings to this soy/chili sauce. Toss in the sauce and serve in individual bowls.  If you follow the method and go by taste, you will find this is one of the most delicious jiaozi and sauces you’ll ever taste! The sauce is very special if you get it right. If you can’t get it right, fear not. A food truck is coming!

P.S. I grilled corn and made fall-off-the-bone St. Louis cut pork ribs for my guests. Both parties were happy with my humble BBQ. I was most impressed by the cheeses my French family brought, and I’m still thinking about eating those dumplings.

4.25.14 | Romano Bean Revival
Romanos are among my all-time favorite beans. When picked at the right time and cooked properly, these flat, broad beans are sweet and tender. They are popping up at the farmers’ market this time, right next to those sugar peas. I steam them until tender and then slice on the diagonal and eat them with butter and salt. They’re great in a salad with ripe tomatoes too, just a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

I still remember a salad I ate three years ago at Paisan in Berkeley with Romanos, Blue Lake green beans, ripe, Sungold tomatoes and shaved radishes on top, with a buttermilk and mustard vinaigrette. My version: 1/8 cup buttermilk; 1/8 cup olive oil; salt and pepper to taste, and a teaspoon of grainy mustard. Add a little sugar if you want it sweeter or a little lemon juice if you want a little tartness beyond that of the buttermilk. Sometimes if I have them, I’ll add fresh herbs; marjoram, thyme or chervil is great.

4.24.14 | Carina’s Dry Fry Green Beans
Last weekend I bought Chinese takeout. This is always dicey for me because I grew up with the most delicious Chinese food in Los Angeles. Nothing compares to it in the Bay Area, and there’s only one place I trust for Salt and Pepper Crab: RG Lounge. There is one good restaurant for my all-time favorite dry scallop fried rice called Bay Fung Tong in downtown Oakland.  People have been telling me about Little Chin Chin on Piedmont Avenue so I tried it this week. Their Kung Pao chicken was horrible (but I’ve had the real deal in Chengdu). They did, however, have some nice dry fry green beans that my son loved.

So here’s my version with blue lake green beans, but the traditional Chinese long beans would work too!  Wash and pick the ends off a handful of beans. Dry thoroughly. Fry whole in oil until the skin shrivels. Remove from pan.  Drain oil and return beans to frying pan and toss in a tablespoon of soy sauce, a tablespoon of hoisin sauce, and a teaspoon of sweet chili sauce (or your favorite chili sauce), and a tablespoon of balsamic or other sweet vinegar. Stir fry until beans are completely cooked in sauce. Serve immediately!

Radicchio for Breakfast—Ridiculous?
This week I had the luxury of cooking breakfast for myself. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any food to work with but a few corn tortillas, leftover salsa, cheddar cheese, eggs and a few leaves of radicchio from last night’s salad. Chop the radicchio and put on the bottom of a bowl. Spoon on three or four tablespoons of salsa.  Fry an egg and in the same pan (if there is room), place one of the corn tortillas next to it with slices of cheddar cheese and the other tortilla on top. The quesadilla will cook faster than the egg so turn over mid-way through. Put quesadilla on top of radicchio and salsa. Put fried egg right on top. Voila! Breakfast.

4.22.14 | The Shank Is the Way To Go
Sadly on Easter Sunday, I had no plans for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. Like none. No food except for a few little gems in the refrigerator and the ramen my kids didn’t finish earlier. But I dared to invite eight people over anyway that morning while at church. I told my husband to stop by the grocery store on the way home: my big dilemma was at the meat counter. There was no doubt in my mind we were having strawberry shortcakes for desert and a radicchio/little gems/hearts of palm salad with ponzu dressing. But the meat?

Sam Stilton of the New York Times had published a great lamb meatball recipe. The lamb roast was on sale but I am not really a fan of roasts. I like a good rack now and then but timing is key. So honestly, when in doubt always go for the shank. My husband loves a slow-braised shank. Here is a simple recipe for two. Brown two shanks on the stove in a Dutch oven or cast iron pot. Let it get brown. The browner the better with lamb. Add three cloves of chopped garlic, one small shallot, chopped, four tablespoons of tomato paste, a handful of cut-up fresh tomatoes if you have them or three to four whole tomatoes from a can with their juice. Add a couple of cups of water to cover the shanks and cook on a low heat until the meat is soft and falling off the bone and the liquid is reduced. I season the lamb with cinnamon, salt and pepper. Instead of water, add stock—any kind—or some red wine. I had none.

You can’t go wrong with a shank. You just need time. It takes two to three hours to get it really soft. We ate it with a buttery pilaf. My pilaf recipe, next time!

From Hamburger Surprise to Mince to You
When I lived in Africa, ground hamburger meat cooked with spices was called mince. We would eat mince with mealy (the sticky corn based staple called pap). When I was a little girl, we used to make a version that just had salt, hamburger meat and onions (and yes, even some of us—not me—ate it with ketchup. Yuck). We also ate it with rice and called it hamburger surprise! I loved making that for my little sisters and they just thought I was the best chef! Ah, those were the days when the little ones looked up to me.

Mince anything. I like pork or lamb, but not turkey or beef. You can use anything, even tofu. My palette is a little more sophisticated now. But mince is still a fast easy dinner for the parent on the run and good on a cold night. Make the rice first. Mince is fast cooking. I was at ChoLon in Denver and they had a terrific version with kaffir lime leaves. Andy Ricker, the author of “Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand” has a great set of Thai minces. Chinese folks eat mince with water chestnuts, oyster sauce, and sometimes celery or bamboo shoots. It’s what you might find wrapped in lettuce leaves. It’s easy to do. Invent your own mince. Remix the idea for me and tell me about it.

4.19.14 | So what did you do with that syrup from the candied citrus?
You know how I hate to waste. There was syrup left from the Meyer lemons/Pixie tangerine candy experiment. So, the extra box of strawberries just became the most delicious runny jam. I know I’ve told you before how to make jam: wash and de-stem the strawberries, cut and put them in pot with sugar. I used the syrup instead of adding sugar and it was delicious with a hint of lemon on homemade biscuits. Try this recipe for Cream Biscuits from Chez Panisse:

1.5 cups flour (cake flour is best, but regular will do)

Pinch of salt, or not

4 tsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

6 tbsp unsalted organic butter cold

10 tbsp organic cream, plus 1 tbsp for brushing on top

 

Sift dry ingredients. Break up butter into pea-sized pieces.

Add 10 tbsp cream and bring dough together.

Roll into a small disk that is 1-2 inches thick (I like my biscuits high!) and cut with anything round or with a biscuit cutter.

Baste top with cream.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until brown on top. Best eaten right out of the oven.

4.18.14 |Fava Beans Are In
Fava beans take work but if you put a big basket in front of your kids, they’ll pop them out while watching TV with you. Step One: Take the pods out of the outer stock. This is how the kids can help you. Step Two:  Cook the beans in boiling water for three to five minutes. Step Three: Remove and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking and peel them again. Yes, peel again, and invite the kids back in. If the fava beans are small, they cook faster and you can remove one, peel it and taste for readiness after a few minutes. It should be soft and sweet and a bright green color. Step Four: Add a little sea salt and olive oil. Or mash and serve on crostini, the Chez Panisse way. Requires real olive oil and ricotta on the crostini, too.

Vietnamese Pork Chops
I love pork, especially the way Vietnamese do their chops. Marinade: ¾ cup sugar, ¼ cup fish sauce, 1 stalk lemongrass, 1 ½ tbls minced garlic, 1 Thai chile, ¼ teaspoon ground pepper. Marinade and grill. Eat with rice noodles or rice. Basil, salad on the side.

No Ordinary Eggplant:  Stuffed with Sesame Peanut Masala (Easy Peasy Recipe)
It’s summer: eggplant, okra and tomato time! I love eggplant but remember it’s only as good as the oil you cook it in. Six years ago I went to a party organized by a chef and learned how to make this dish. You need the small purple Indian eggplants, say 8. Try to buy the same size.  Slice them from the bottom in an X or cross all the way down to the stem but not cutting through. You will stuff in between the four pieces you just created.  Stuffing: 1/2 cup raw peanuts, ¼ cup sesame seeds. Ground in food processor. You don’t want fine powder or big chunks. Something in between.  I’m lazy so I just put these in food processor and pulse too but you could alternatively just mince by hand:  two cloves of garlic, handful of cilantro leaves/1/2 a cup or so, 2 tbls brown sugar, 2 tsp salt, ½ tsp cayenne, ½ teaspoon turmeric. Mix well. Ok if mixture is lumpy. Stuff eggplants gently. Don’t be cheap on the stuffing. Reshape them nicely. Fry in good oil and brown on all sides. When browned, add a ¼ cup of water and cover to finish cooking. You want the eggplants to be soft.  Ok for stuffing to spill out into pan. Don’t sweat it. Just clean the pan later. Try not to burn it. I like the outside a little crispy and like to eat the little crispies in the pan. Take it to a party as an appetizer, that’s what I did this weekend!

4.07.14 | Candied Tangerines and Meyer Lemons
At the end of the day, all I really care about is if my kids know how to cook and eat. So I taught them how to make their own candy. Pixie tangerines are tight-skinned tangerines from the Ojai Valley, north of Los Angeles. They rival the lovely Kishu Mandarins, but Pixies have a more distinct flavor—slightly tart and super fragrant. Yes, I love these tangerines so much that I almost did give my last child the name Pixie, but was vetoed by my husband. They are juicy as all get up. And the skins? Well, I couldn’t throw them away, so I candied them this week with a batch of Meyer lemons that I got from a friend.

Here’s how: Peel the citrus, put the skins in cold water and bring to a boil. I do it a few times and replace the water. I remove when they are soft and take out all the pith, which is now easy to scrape off with a spoon or a knife. Slice the skins into thin pieces and then boil in a syrup mixture, which is made with 1 cup sugar, a ½ cup water, and a couple tablespoons of corn syrup. Boil gently until the skin is translucent. Remove and coat with superfine or regular granulated sugar. You can buy superfine sugar or make it by putting it in a food processor. The candied citrus stores in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a long time. Enjoy on your favorite ice cream, cake or cookie. The candy tastes a little like gummies, my daughter said. Did she just compare my handmade candied citrus peel to gummy bears? No appreciation for the finer things in life.

3.31.14 | Fried Anything?
Imagine Don Shalvey is coming to lunch. What do you serve him? The only possible answer—chicken and waffles. I have seen it served in restaurants, with lines out the door on Sundays for this brunch specialty. But I have never actually made the combo myself. Well, Don liked it! You must have real maple syrup, though. I passed his fried chicken test and yes, I passed on the waffles (I really did), and I made myself some greens and fried cauliflower. So for the vegetarians: first wash the cauliflower. I like to slice it instead of keeping it in florets, which are hard to fry unless you have a deep fryer. Dunk the florets in buttermilk, salt them and then dip in a corn flour/regular flour mix and fry. Any kind of oil works—olive, canola or peanut. Flip when brown on one side. The kids liked it but they liked the fried chicken better. They like to eat it like popcorn chicken, in small little pieces. Yes, you might have seen in at Popeye’s first. The Japanese call it karaage. My method for creating popcorn chicken: slice chicken into small pieces (like really small), salt and season with your favorite combo, soak in buttermilk overnight or for at least 30 minutes if you’re stretched for time. Coat each piece in a combo of corn flour and regular flour—fry until crispy. Better than Popeye’s.

3.17.14 | Greens are the new Black!
I love collard greens raw. Sweet big leaves. I recently cooked them for some friends that I had not seen since high school. The secret: Cook in a pork or chicken broth (Having given up the meat for Lent, I considered the broth in bounds).

Wash and cut greens. I de-stem them, but the stems are sweet and edible. Chop up some onions, cut up the collards and cook in about a cup or two of your favorite homemade broth until soft. Add salt and serve with or without the broth.  Super good for you and super tasty. I also recently ate the collard greens at Local 360, here in Seattle. Nice job! Seasoned with vinegar and truly the Southern way.

10.15.13 | Chicken Schmicken and Siena’s Secret Sauce
Chinese people have a steamed chicken that we eat.  You salt it and let it rest a couple hours (or overnight) and then steam it and cut it into pieces.  It can be served with an oyster sauce or more likely  ginger, scallion, and oil. It’s that second sauce that is worth paying attention to.  I used to just slice finely the ginger and scallion and throw them on top.  But the kids like it better (and adults too) if you put it in a Cuisinart and pulse it until it’s nearly a paste.  You add peanut or other oil and salt. Voila. Keeps in the refrigerator for at least a week if not longer.   Siena’s Secret Scallion and Ginger Sauce.  We eat it with  rice noodles, on chicken, with tofu, over fish, whatever you want.  Try it, you’ll like it.

8.30.13 | Steamed Rock Cod
My dad showed up at 11pm one night last week with ten rock cod. He’s 82. Thank God I was home. Who would have opened the door at that hour?  He stopped by on his way to go dove hunting. True story.  The next day I made fish tacos with the three that he fileted and steamed four others Chinese style. Have I ever given you the secret? Steam the fish you would any other fish or bake it if you want with a little water. When hot pour on HOT peanut oil and soy sauce mixture. Garnish with thinly sliced ginger, scallion and cilantro. Watch for bones. If you do get one, swallow piece of bread  and try and wash it down. It works. If you are doing the math, I have three more fish to cook: what is your favorite way to eat it?

6.24.13 | Sesame Noodles
Lots of different ways to make this dish. I use a little peanut butter, soy sauce and sesame oil. Use the white noodles (dried udon or saimen). Cook, drain and rinse with hot water. Mix sauce together first,  making sure to blend pb with soy sauce. Coat (not drown) noodles and garnish with toasted sesame seeds, cilantro and scallion.  If you want extra protein, try slices of baked tofu or steamed chicken. Easy summer dinner. Sliced cucumber pickles on the side. Try David Chang’s recipe in Momofuku.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *