Nov 15, 2008

Early, With Beer and/or Slaw


Last night I accidentally showed up two hours early for a party.  The host's home was dark but their next door neighbors were hanging out in their own garage, drinking beer and brewing more, and they invited me to hang with them.

All was well except for the surliness of one of their other guests.  After he made few comments that I couldn't quite tag as racist, rude, or stupid ("shouldn't you be out delivering egg rolls or something?"), he finally told me what was up.  It turns out that he had misheard the introductions and had confused himself into thinking I was a Chinese food deliveryman who was overstaying his welcome.*  After all was sorted out, we were new best friends and we enjoyed the hell out of drinking our host's very hoppy and still green beer ("There's $60 of hops in that five gallon keg") and some exceptional Kentucky bourbon.  Eventually, the correct party started next door and I had a fine time there, as well.

Tonight I drove to Raleigh for the pre-Thanksgiving potluck that my friends Pat and Tim hold every year.  It turns out that I was a week early, but they were home and we had a fine dinner.  I brought coleslaw.  Here's the rough recipe:

1/2 head red cabbage
1/2 head green cabbage
3 carrots
1 medium turnip
2/3 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbs. mayo
powdered ginger

After just a few tries, I haven't yet come to a recipe I like each time (shout out to Dave and Lo for their much better versions), but I'll get there.  Above photo from the first batch I made in Texas.  Keeping an eye on things in Bailey, my cousins' sweet dog.

UPDATE, 10 Feb 09:  I just did a new cole slaw that I like much better than above:

1 small head cabbage (size of a bigger-than-normal grapefruit)
3 carrots
1/3 cup blend of white vinegar, cider vinegar, and raspberry vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs. mayo
1 medium red onion
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
black pepper

MUCH better than the earlier recipe


*Mitigating circumstances: I showed up with a plastic bag full of food, not sure of the street address, and asking, "I'm looking for a party hosted by Megan and Christine".  By coincidence, two of the women at this wrong house were also named Megan and Christine.  Etc. etc.

10:42 PM in Misc 2008, Recipes | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sep 17, 2008

"Does 'ten' sound about right?" Dave's answer to, "How many cookies are in a serving?"


Mmmm... Ginger snaps.

Some of my Denver pals made a fine batch while I was visiting, so I snagged a copy of their recipe:


Missing, though, is one magic ingredient: "the help of a sweet little boy".  I assure you it makes a big difference.

In Dave's San Francisco kitchen, I could find neither the sweet little boy nor the molasses, nor a full bin of sugar when I was making the dough, nor the attention to notice about salt.  Thus the light and dark cookies were made with a few substitutes:

Light cookies: 3/4 to 1 replacement of brown sugar for molasses, no salt

Dark cookies: 1 to 1 replacement of honey for molasses, 1/2 and 1/2 white sugar and turbinado instead of all white, no salt.

And a couple more minutes cooking time on both.

In case you're wondering, both recipes turned out yummy. (I mean, they're cookies, for goodness' sake.)

Nota bene: I know that no one reading this blog needed all the detailed cooking notes, but it was a nice excuse to (a) talk about sweet little boys and (b) show how some people are pigs.  Thank you for your patronage.

03:00 AM in Food, Recipes | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sep 13, 2008

Carrots in Coconut Milk with Turmeric


Some twenty years ago, my Auntie Tini made an appealing salad that included carrots and turmeric.  It was served cold and had a bit of acid zing to it but I remember almost nothing else.*  From that inexact inspiration comes this completely different recipe for carrots in coconut milk with turmeric.  I've made it twice now and hope you might try:

Carrots in Coconut Milk with Turmeric

Ingredients (more or less)

2 lbs. carrots
2/3 lb. green zucchini (yes, I know it's yellow squash in the photo)
1 lb. firm tomatoes (like romas) or else cherry or grape tomatoes
1 can coconut milk
1-1/2 tbs. brown sugar
2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
salt to taste

And optionally

1 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. ground cardamom

Preparation and cooking

Cut carrots and zucchini into sticks, and cut tomatoes into manageable chunks, erring on the larger side.

Place all ingredients except the zucchini and tomatoes into a pot and bring to a simmer, and let carrots cook for a few minutes.

Add zucchini and let simmer for a few minutes more, until the zucchini begins to soften.

Add tomatoes and let simmer until warmed through.

Serve with rice (or naan or a similar moist eastern bread).

Note: the hope is that when you're done, the zucchini is cooked through, the carrots are firm (neither soft nor crunchy), and the tomatoes have not fallen apart.  The first time I made this, I used the full complement of ingredients listed.  The second time, I didn't use any of the optionals.  I suggest you try the simpler recipe first, then taste.


*When my Indonesian-restaurant-owning Auntie Tini (not related by blood, but the wife of my godfather Nurdjaman) made this for my family back in ~'88, I really liked it and asked what was in it.  But I didn't understand half of what she said, nor did I remember half of what I understood. All that stuck with me was that turmeric plus carrots = good, an idea that sat for twenty years before I got around to doing anything with it.

Repeated story
: I meet something yummy in a restaurant (or in someone's home, or in a magazine), I don't know (or have access to) half the ingredients, so when I get home I make something inspired by the original but fairly much different.  Tell me this hasn't happened to you.

02:14 AM in Food, Recipes | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sep 11, 2008

Alice Apple Pie

Apple_pie_from_clipsahoy_2 Sorry no photo.  Ate it all.

Back in college I used to make a lot of apple pies.  I forgot about them for about twenty years but now they're back.  Two weeks ago I kicked off the re-start with a pie for my young friend Alice, for whom I put a nicely cut "A" on the crust.

Having been out of the baking world for a while, I had to look up some basic recipes online for both crust and filling.  I got two good ones from, and then tweaked to my tastes.  Here's what I've been cooking with reasonably consistent success:


Alice Apple Pies (recipe for two):

Apple Filling Ingredients

3.5 to 4 lbs. Granny Smith apples
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
1/3 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. nutmeg
pinch salt

Pie Crust Ingredients

4 c. all purpose flour
2 tbs. sugar
12 tbs. butter
10 tbs. vegetable shortening
2 tsp. salt
12-16 tbs. ice water


In one big bowl, blend all ingredients except the water with a pastry knife.  Add water bit by bit, stirring until you've got everything nicely mixed.  Finally blend all together by hand into a ball of even consistency.  Remove ball from big bowl and place in refrigerator to chill.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Peel, core, and slice apples.  Blend with remaining filling ingredients in the big bowl (you know, the one that you just did the pie crust dough in).

Remove dough from refrigerator, cut into quarters, roll two bottom crusts, fill pies, and roll top crusts, reserving a little bit of dough for decorations.  Pinch edges appropriately.  Use the reserved dough to make a nice initial for the person you love most at that moment, or maybe some hearts or whatever.  Wet with a bit of the filling juice (still in the bottom of the big bowl, of course) before laying onto the top crust.  Punch many fork holes in an attractive pattern.  Ring the edge of your pie crust with a bit of tin foil.

Place on center rack (or on a tray on the center rack -- I'm told that different trays yield different results for the bottom crust, but I don't know what they are) and bake for ~50-55 minutes, removing the tin foil edging ten minutes before it's done.

If you like, throw on a quick glaze with five minutes to go: a 50/50 wash of corn syrup and hot water, dusted with coarse sugar.


Serve with a bit of cheddar or Wensleydale and a bit of whiskey if you'd like to be from Yorkshire.  Else tea.  I think that ice cream with pie is overkill.

Confession: tonight's pie was a bit more moist than I had expected.  I realized while typing this recipe that I had forgotten to poke holes in the crust.  D'oh!



03:35 AM in Food, Recipes | Permalink | Comments (3)

Aug 22, 2008

Roasted Vegetables with Cous Cous


If you Google cous cous with roasted vegetables you'll get a good few recipes.  Skim them and add your own intuition and you'll do fine.

Above, a just-into-the-oven tray of vegetables that J, P and I had over cous cous tonight.  I was just darned tickled at how well it turned out, this being the first time I've tried to make such a thing.  Here's what we had:

Cous Cous with Roasted Vegetables, v. 21 August 08

Ingredients for 3 servings

  • 1 medium-large eggplant
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow onion
  • l medium-large eggplant
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 head garlic
  • handful of grapes
  • 1/2 cup chopped kalamata and olives-with-garlic (findable in your local grocer's olive cart)
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • ground thyme
  • dried rosemary


  • Cut and then lightly salt the eggplant to draw out the bitter.  Let sit for a while.  Rinse.  Pat dry.
  • Cut all the other "food" ingredients (except the olives) to what size you like.
  • Place on roasting pan
  • Dress with a mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme, and rosemary (fresh is probably better but we didn't have any so nyaah).
  • Roast at 450F for 45 minutes.


over cous cous and top with chopped olives and maybe some red pepper.

Notes and Observations

Any number of other ingredients could be added.  The nice thing to remember is to make sure you have some sweet (like from the grapes, or raisins, or whatever) and some acid (from the olives and/or capers and/or more balsamic vinegar).  We also had some green split peas that were meant as a plain side item, but everyone just stirred them in with the roasted veggies.

There are better and worse sizes and shapes for chopping the vegetables.

We meant to serve halvah for dessert, but forgot it in the cupboard.  Instead we had yummy white peaches from California.  I have been told that white peaches and nectarines are an abomination, but we enjoyed ours.

Hey, this meal was vegan!

Tomorrow, something Indonesian.

02:27 AM in Food, Recipes | Permalink | Comments (1)

Aug 18, 2008

Gravlax a la Denver


Above, the last bits of Gravlax a la Denver, served at the 7th birthday party of my delightful young friend A., daughter of my friend-since-childhood L.

This platter was carried around the party by our friend Jn. who requested a name for the dish so she could introduce it properly.  Gravlax a la Denver was the best I could do on short notice while assembling a second batch, but a proper description would be "first-timer gravlax served on cream cheese and toast, with fresh dill and (most importantly) incredible grape tomatoes picked this afternoon from the garden of friends J., P. and M."

Believe what they tell you: it's easy to convert raw salmon into something extra fun with a handful of salt and sugar, a sprinkle of pepper, and a few sprigs of dill.

Here's what I ended up with after checking out a few recipes*:



  • Two salmon fillets (~.7 lbs each), skin-on.
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt [way too much! see notes below]
  • 1 tsp. black pepper [way too little!  I got tired of grinding]
  • 5 bunches dill


  • Coat the flesh side of the salmon fillets in the sugar, salt and pepper.
  • Sandwich the fillets with the dill in between.
  • Insert in a Ziploc bag
  • Throw in any remaining sugar, salt and pepper.
  • Squeeze out any air.
  • Weight down with something modestly heavy (e.g., a bag of rice)
  • Cure for 48 hours in refrigerator, turning every 12 hours
  • Remove from bag, rinse.
  • Place fillet skin-side down on a cutting board, and cut thin slices on a diagonal, with your knife blade perhaps 30 degrees from horizontal.
  • Slice thinly and on the diagonal (knife blade ~30 degrees from horizontal)

Things I noticed about today's gravlax:

  • This recipe was saltier than I would have liked because I mis-read the recipes. I will try with less salt next time, at least if I plan to eat it plain or just with capers.  However, with toast, cream cheese, dill and tomato, the saltiness was perfectly fine.
  • The thicker parts of the salmon definitely cured less than the thin parts -- the flesh was less salty and less firm.  Closer to (but still more firm than) nova lox.
  • Judging from what kids kept coming back for while I was prepping the snacks: (1) all kids love plain white bread, (2) almost all kids love plain white bread with cream cheese, (3) many kids like Gravlax a la Denver if they can pick off the raw tomato.
  • Clever Jn. pointed out that snipping the dill with scissors is a much faster way to distribute it over gravlax than trying to pluck bits off with my fingers.  Go Clever Jn.!  Even better than Clever Hans!
  • If the platter comes back with a bunch of empty toothpicks, it is kosher to reuse the toothpicks when making the next serving.**

Here's how it looks, mid-prep.  Mmm, pile o' salmon:



*If you Google gravlax and recipe***,  the first two recipes come from Cooking for Engineers (click for great photos) and Mark Bittman.  These recipes and others disagree on many points.  For example: Bittman says "It is imperative that the fish be as absolutely fresh as possible," while Cooking for Engineers says, "for safety [in killing parasites] use salmon that has been commercially frozen or freeze the salmon yourself to at least -10°F (-23°C) for at least 7 days."  While reviewing these and other recipes just now, I realize that I used way more salt than anyone would recommend for 1.5 lbs. of fish.  I'm not sure why I did that, but I'm glad I didn't ruin the product.

**Lookit, if the guests think it's OK to put their used toothpicks back on the serving platter...  What do they think, we've got nothing better to do than wash plates all day?  One platter, four batches of canapes, then wash: that's my game plan.  I seem to remember an etiquette expert advising "use your pants cuffs" to a gentleman who didn't know where to put his used toothpicks.

***How do you indicate Google search terms while clearly distinguishing whether you want the terms to be in quotes or not?  For my search, I inserted the words gravlax and recipe, but I didn't join them in quotes.  Normally, I'd be inclined to say, "Google "gravlax recipe" (no quotes)" but that seems annoying and/or longwinded ****.  How about if I wrote "Google gravlax recipe".  Would that be clear?  And if I wanted to search for something in quotes, I could say, "Google "Penny Marshall is my friend"

UPDATE, 3/09: Google uses square brackets to describe what goes in the search field.  Thus:

     Google [gravlax recipe]

is different from

     Google ["gravlax recipe"]


BTW, "Penny Marshall is my friend" (in quotes) is a Googlenope.  Unfortunately for fun, Google no longer returns a nearly blank page for a Googlenope.  Instead, they return a "no result for phrase in quotes" message followed by results for the words not searched as a phrase.  Ah well.

****I know, I know, so do I. On a regular basis.  But at least here in blogland you can skim.  Or skip.  Or skip to my lou.

01:38 AM in Food, Recipes, Traveling | Permalink | Comments (5)

May 22, 2008

Vampiro at El Trapiche - Fun With Beets and Celery


I've already pointed to this pic at Emaya's blog, but I wanted to share it again for a different reason: the vampiro, shown above (the drink in the glass, not the woman at the table) at El Trapiche in Mérida, MX.

At El Trapiche, the vampiro is a straight-up juice made from freshly pressed oranges, carrots, beets, and celery. No sugar, ice, or alcohol -- just health and yumminess.  Drink one and you won't need your daily vitamin.

I'm not sure what proportions go into the mix.  On its best days (for me) the beetiness was noticeable but not dominant (i.e., you got the flavor but not the mouthfeel) and there was just enough celery to add some green sharpness, spiciness and "breadth" to the flavor.* 

As served, the vampiro was always too rich for me, so I'd order a bottle of sparkling mineral water and a glass for cutting each vampiro in two, which is why the bit of vampiro pictured above is a bright red instead of its naturally deep blood red.**

A few more things about El Trapiche.  First: the staff are nice and will take you dancing.  Second: do you notice how the chair in the foreground is opened out from the table just a little?  That's a nice touch at many Mexican restaurants: the chairs are all angled out as if to say, "please, have a seat."  Lastly: you can see the street view over here at Flickr.  The two women pictured are standing on the sidewalk just outside where Emaya was sitting. 


*OK, so you describe what celery tastes like.  I dare you.  I love celery in almost anything but I can't stand celery soda.

**blood red.  Thus the name "vampiro."  I didn't catch on until I'd had two or three.  As much as I like words and languages, I'm slow at noticing some things.  Didn't realize until reading Xta's blog four years ago that "Colorado" was named after "colored" in Spanish.  Didn't realize until my dad mentioned it that "Sanka" was derived from the French "sans caféine".  Didn't notice that the Singapore/Malaysian restaurant wasn't pronounced "MARE-lee-on" but was rather "Mer-lion" as in "sea lion" as in the mascot of Singapore.  Of course I sometimes go the other way.  At a steakhouse in ~1981, I thought "Dieter's delight" was some German dish, probably with bratwurst, instead of the low-calorie cottage cheese and lettuce thing that ended up on my plate.

12:14 AM in Food, Mexico, Recipes, Traveling | Permalink | Comments (6)

Apr 10, 2008

Taqueria El Paraiso (Durham)


Yesterday's lunch.  In the foreground: a pair of gorditas.  Farther back: an "open-face burrito".

By accident this week, I'm continuing a tour of restaurants mentioned in Gourmet Magazine's "Carolina Cocina" article.*  Years ago, I used to eat frequently at this Alston Ave. -- before it was named El Paraiso, I think.  In any case, I'm happy to have returned.

Four random notes on the restaurant and food:

El Paraiso's salsa verde is reason enough to go there.  It's served in a squirt bottle, and here are the essential ingredients, as told to me (in no particular order) by the cocinera:

  • avocado
  • garlic
  • onion
  • cilantro
  • tomatillo
  • jalapeño
  • salt

The salsa roja is also plenty yummy:

Gorditas have been described as "the pita bread of Mexico".  But yummier.  Made like a very thick, moderately greasy tortilla, the outside has a little crunch, and the inside is soft.  Most often, the gordita is split open from one side, stuffed with something yummy, then topped with a bit of lettuce and tomato, a splash of media crema, and a sprinkling of what I'm guessing is grated queso fresco.  El Paraiso's variation is to pile everything on top of the gordita instead of inside.  The nice thing about this method is that you know from the beginning that you can use a fork.**

Gringos are Welcome at El Paraiso.  At 12:30 this afternoon, there were three parties in the restaurant.  One pair of white businessmen with a laptop out.  One big table of white young professionals (or maybe grad students) in their late twenties.  And me plus my (white -- you guessed it) client.  I'm used to being the only non-white person in a place.  But not in East Durham. This was a happy moment.***

El Paraiso is on Alston Ave. between E. Main St. and Angier Ave.  This is an interesting and appealing neighborhood that has been written about several times at Endangered Durham.  I can't decide which of Endangered Durham's blogs to send you to, so I'll pick two: Alston Avenue Update (a pause on the road widening) and Commonwealth/Asbury/United Methodist Church

The folks at Uplift East Durham also write about this neighborhood that they live and work in.  I enjoyed my frequent drives through here back in 2005 when I was taking care of a friend who lived out on East Angier.  It's easy to imagine the area's healthier past, and a hoped-for good future.

ALSO: Chowhound's co-founder Jim Leff has many praising words and pictures of El Paraiso in this blog: North America Dispatch #18: Great 'Cue with Bob Garner, Two Pillars of Mexican Cooking, and a Deafening Honduran Pool Hall.


**Click for a scan of the Carolina Cocina article (.pdf 2MB)

**I had my first great gorditas in Mérida, Mexico.  After I apologized for using so many napkins, the cook said, "Yucatecan food is messy."  El Paraiso is run by folks from Oaxaca, where my gringo lunchmate has traveled.  His Spanish is better than mine.  While asking for the salsa recipes, I kept trying to verify the absence of some expected ingredients, "...y no vinagre? no limón?"  He said that better choices would be "nada de vinagre? nada de limón?" or even "...sin vinagre? sin limón?"  I will try to remember for next time.

***Back in 2001, my Rhode Island friend Sheila accepted an senior executive job at Duke, and I took her to dinner here on one of her first nights in Durham.  As we seated ourselves, she said, "my colleagues are taking me to dinner tomorrow and they asked where we'd be going tonight -- just to make sure they didn't pick the same restaurant.  I don't think they needed to worry."

12:35 AM in Food, Mexico, Recipes, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mar 11, 2008

Today, Instead -- the Jade City

So apparently this is "Durham bloggers go to communist countries month".  If my travels took me to the Emerald City, I guess that the Durham Foodie is off to the Jade City -- Beijing.  Yesterday Kelly had an interesting post on Chinese censorship:

The whole censorship thing really gets under my skin. Besides Google blogger, China censors the BBC Web site, parts of CNN web, and various other news outlets that do not reflect their party line. I was watching CCN on the TV this evening and there was a piece on about the alleged terrorist plot that China thwarted. About 2 minutes into the broadcast the TV went dead. A few minutes later it went live in the middle of another broadcast.

Nothing to report on food. I worked all day and am too tired to eat.

Go visit Durham Foodie this week for more from China, and for months and months of yet more food.  Be warned -- reading her blog can make you very hungry.

Two random bits on Chinese food:

1.  My new Australian friend Karen sometimes visits China where she does not speak the languages.  A paraphrase of her comment: "My best friend in China threatens me to stay on her good side.  'Don't piss me off or your next meal is dog.'  And yes, dog is on every menu."

2.  Calvin Trillin -- a big fan of Chinese food in New York and elsewhere -- supposedly carries a card in his wallet with these words: "I'll have what that guy over there is having."

I'm back in the US for a month or so, but I'll be continuing with posts on the Emerald City this week and next.

11:16 PM in Food, Links of Note, Recipes | Permalink | Comments (4)

Nov 06, 2007

Mmmm, Cholesterol


Cholesterol molecule from WorldOfMolecules.  Am I the only one who thinks this looks like a mirror of the Chili's Bar & Grill logo?

Election Night Dinner: scrambled eggs with shrimp.*  Mmm...  If only I'd thrown in some heavy cream and topped with parm, I'd really be cooking.  In my (cardiovascular system's) defense, I also had some steamed broccoli.


*Yes, this dinner does remind me of the subplot in Seinfeld's "shrinkage" episode (where George de-Kosherizes Jerry's girlfriend with scrambled eggs and lobster).  And while we're speaking of creamy things with shellfish, Piazza Italia at Brightleaf Square has an excellent seafood stuffed pasta in cream sauce with apples and maybe a little bit of ginger.  Holy cow. [Update: Lenore blogged this mezzaluna di pesce at her place.]  It's on their regular menu these days.  Unfortunately, their website has an out-of-date menu: else I'd give you the restaurant's full description.

10:54 PM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (3)

Nov 05, 2007

Something's In the Kitchen of Mine-a -- A List of 20


Well something's going around these days, and it's not just a cold.  Mr. Dependable's picked upon a thing from Maura (with Celeste* in her comments) and Joe (with Jenny in his comments) -- whatcha got in your kitchen?  Mind you, this time it's consumables, not hardware like Kelly had a couple of weeks ago.

For those who don't know, I don't have a regular home -- I wander around housesitting.  What this means, kitchenwise, is that I try not to buy lots of things I might only use on occasion.  This doesn't mean I succeed -- I've got stuff in my traveling bins that I've hauled through five or more households over the last year.  But I try.

Now all that silliness aside, here's my list of twenty essentials of desire or habit:

  1. Popcorn
  2. Olive oil
  3. Popcorn salt
  4. Cheap light beer
  5. Vegetable oil
  6. Dried chili peppers
  7. Penne or rotini
  8. Garlic
  9. Juice (often the Goya or Jumex nectars)
  10. Soy milk
  11. Unsweetened cereal
  12. Instant coffee or tea (for the caffeine)
  13. Raisins
  14. Fish sauce (brands without sugar, only!!! Several non-sugared brands are available at the amazing Food World at the corner of Lakewood Ave. and Fayetteville Rd.  Regarding the Tiparos fish sauce pictured here, I seem to recall that Tiparos has both sugared and unsugared varieties.  But I'm not sure.  Check the label.)
  15. Vegetable broth
  16. Rice
  17. Broccoli or prepped salad greens
  18. Bread
  19. Hummus
  20. Olives

I tend not to have much more than this, but rely on restaurants and family/friend meals for more interesting foods.  Of course I'm always happy to zip by the store for something special (goat cheese, rosemary, parm) or something fresh (fish, green onions, ginger) if they're needed.  I just hope that I can finish off all the ingredients before I head for the next housesitting gig.  Speaking of which -- I have an opening from mid-December through early January.  Anyone need?


Thanks to Mr. Dependable for the tag.

*OK, Celeste.  We've got you now :-)

10:28 PM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (4)

Aug 14, 2007

Shilla Oriental Food and Gifts

As a first-generation Asian food eater, I'm in that awkward class of people who (a) grew up eating Asian foods but (b) without being fully steeped in the Asian food marketplace.  Which is to say: I have lots of appetite for good Asian food, but I don't havee the trained-from-childhood intuition for how to find what I want "in the wild."

Immigrant Asians have ingredient hunting and gathering programmed into their DNA.  When they move to a new country, they find out where all the food sources are because they have to.  If they don't get their regular supply of whatever-it-is-dish-or-ingredient-they-need, they'll die.  So they make the effort to find out where to get what they need.

By contrast, first-generation folks commonly fall into an equilibrium defined by (a) catch-as-catch-can of what we love combined with (b) constant frustration that we don't get enough.

Maybe this is why I get more excited than most people whenever I get to know a new Asian restaurant or food store in the Triangle. 

Around here, the Grand Asia Market in Cary is hands down the biggest and best.  I love to cook what they sell me.  But of course, Grand Asia Market isn't the most convenient for folks in Durham and Orange Counties.

Last week in Durham, I was happy to run into Shilla Oriental Food & Gifts near the southeast corner of Highways 55 and 54.  Shilla has been in business for just over a year and I sure hope they'll stick around.  Korean items are at the core of their offerings, but they have plenty of goods from Japan, China, and elsewhere.

The store is small and crowded (count on backtracking at least once or twice when you find yourself sharing an aisle with another customer), but you may be surprised at just how comprehensive their selection is: with everything from cookbooks, to a half-dozen fish sauces (including my favorite: Rufina from the Philippines), to a five-pound container of chili paste.  Their are eight or ten doors worth of frozen goods with some items I haven't seen elsewhere and look forward to trying.  Unfortunately, their selection of fresh vegetables and other produce is very small, but hey -- you can't have everything.  The staff are friendly and English-friendly.  If you have questions, I suspect you'll get the advice you need.

Shilla Oriental Food & Gifts
2107 Allendown Dr.
Suite #102
Durham NC 27713

From the corner of 55 and 54 (aka "Indigestion Intersection") heading south, Allendown Dr. is the first road to your left.


photo from the Shilla website.

09:11 PM in Destination Durham, Recipes, Reviews | Permalink | Comments (6)

Jul 20, 2007

Blackberries -- The Analog-Only Kind

Urban blackberries!  Above, a few from the many bushes on the 1500 block of Pettigrew St. between Erwin Rd. and Swift Ave.  There are yet more on Erwin Rd., across from Sam's Quik Shop.  Sorry for the fuzzy pic -- I didn't realize I'd gotten a bunch of blackberry juice on half my lens.

My pal J and I picked a bit more than a quart last weekend.  I made my portion into way-too-thick preserves with the following recipe:

3 c. blackberries
3 c. sugar
3 tbsp. lemon juice.

Simmer until anything you spoon out onto a plate cools into a thick syrup.  Then heat a little longer.  Then discover that it cools down into something not quite spreadable.

Last summer on Vancouver Island, I made a different version using pectin, less sugar, and strained-out seeds.  That's an easier and prettier version that also benefits from less sugar.  Maybe I'll try that version with another round of Pettigrew St. berries.

01:56 AM in Destination Durham, Recipes | Permalink | Comments (2)

Jun 22, 2007

El Perro Interplanetario Va A La Taqueria

Now and then you get an authentic Mexican restaurant -- like Taqueria Lopez -- that also has an English language menu.  Most of the time, though, you're stuck unless you know Spanish.  Or unless you've got your handy dandy "Gringo's Guide to Mexican Food Terms", or "Everything You Need to Read a Taqueria Menu", by Dave at DogsInSpace.

Excerpt below.  En todo aquí:

  •      Cemita = sandwich on a fluffy, seeded egg roll  
  •      Chalupa - fried soft corn tortilla, stuffed with various  
  •      Chicharrones - deep fried pork rinds  
  •      Chilaquiles - Fried tortillas, topped with salsa or mole and cheese; typically a breakfast item  
  •      Chilorio - tender pork fried for a long time in chile sauce.


Related:  Calvin Trillin -- who loves Chinese food -- is reputed to carry a small card in his wallet that says, in Chinese, "I'll have what the gentleman at that table is having."

02:37 AM in Misc.Blog 2007, Recipes | Permalink | Comments (1)

Apr 27, 2007

Yellow Pike with Ginger Soy Dressing

Above, dinner with ingredients from Grand Asia Market in Cary: yellow pike with ginger soy dressing (see inset for dressing close-up),baby Shanghai greens, and enoki mushrooms.

Steamed Yellow Pike with Ginger Soy Dressing

Prep time: 15-20 min. (includes prep for greens)
Cook time: 15-20 min. (includes cooking time for greens)
Serves: 2 to 3


    1 yellow pike, boned and split into two fillets
    coarse salt
    3 tbsp. minced ginger
    1 tbsp. soy
    2 tbsp. vegetable oil
    4 tbsp. chopped green onions


  • Place fish skin side up in a steamer.
  • Dust fillets with salt
  • Steam (with greens alongside if convenient) until done (piercing liquid runs clear or flesh just barely opaque)
  • While fish is steaming, heat ginger in vegetable oil on medium or medium low heat (just enough to soften).
  • Add soy.
  • Add any white stalky parts of the green onion, and cook until these parts are warmed through.
  • Add green parts of the green onion and stir in.
  • Remove from heat.

Plate the fish, top with a little bit of the ginger dressing and a scattering of cilantro.

Variations to consider:

  • Substitute 1/3 sesame oil for vegetable oil.
  • Make more dressing and dress fish prior to cooking, and bake instead of steaming.

I love a good steamed fish, and one of the best I ever tasted was Lantern's steamed grouper with black bean sauce, which I had only a bite of (because it was somebody else's meal).  I tried imitating the recipe with frozen tilapia and black bean sauce from the jar.  Bleah.  I mean, it was OK.  But in comparison, bleah.  I had been meaning to retry the idea but hadn't gottten around to it until recently. 

For this meal, I told the folks at Grand Asia Market what I more or less wanted to do, and they suggested both the fish and the dressing.  Did you know that Grand Asia Market and its affiliated restaurant will sell you a fish (live or on ice) and cook it up for you right there and then? Holy cats -- that's cool.

01:00 PM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (1)

Apr 24, 2007

Rosemary, Goat Cheese and Tomato Sauce for Pasta


Above, a demonstration of why no one hires me to design cookbooks.  Sort-of-inset at upper left, the garlic and rosemary cooking in oil.  Main image, the same saucepan after all the other ingredients were added on top of the garlic and rosemary.

Rosemary, Goat Cheese and Tomato Sauce for Pasta

prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 10 minutes
yield: 6 to 8 servings a surprisingly large number of servings.  You don't need much.


1 large (15 oz.) can tomato sauce (lower-salt, if possible)
8 oz. goat cheese
1 tbs. honey
4 dried chili peppers
12 cloves garlic
1 tbs. rosemary
3 tbs. olive oil

Prep and Cook

  1. Chop rosemary and slice garlic.  Reserve 1/3 garlic.
  2. Cook rosemary and 2/3 garlic in olive oil on medium or medium-high heat until garlic starts to brown.
  3. Crack chili peppers and add the seeds and shredded skins to the sauce pan.
  4. Add all remaining ingredients except for reserved garlic.
  5. Stir until cheese is melted into sauce.
  6. Add the reserved garlic.
  7. Serve with pasta and grated parmesan or asiago.

Pasta note:  I like serving this with penne pasta and fresh baby spinach that I wilt with the pasta water.  I put a big big pile of baby spinach into a colander that I then dump the pasta pot through.  I find that the spinach cooks exactly the right amount in the time that it takes all the water to pass through (plus the amount of time the spinach sits next to the hot pasta).  Or if you have a really nice pasta pot with a built in strainer, then just toss the spinach into the pot and give it a stir before you pull the whole thing out.

This version is a little more substantial than the version from December.  Back then I was really pushing for simple -- trying to cook without automatically reaching for the garlic.  Well, the garlic's back.  Shout out to Sam for reminding me to add some raw garlic at the end.

01:46 AM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (3)

Dec 21, 2006

Pasta with Goat Cheese Pink Sauce

Pastawithgoatcheesepink Here's something easy, good, and distinctive:

Pasta with Goat Cheese Pink Sauce

Per serving:

~1/2 cup tomato sauce
~1 oz. soft goat cheese
~1 tsp. honey

+ grated parmesan, salt, pepper to taste.

I have enjoyed with both fusilli and farfalle

The version pictured here is something I made last week in San Francisco (aka land of ingredients and ideas) with a "let's see what's in the kitchen" recipe.  In the kitchen that day: some goat cheese, leftover tomato sauce, leftover sun-dried tomatoes in oil, fresh tomatoes, and olive oil.

The version I made last night with K was much simpler (and better, actually), with a can of organic tomato sauce and a round of local goat cheese* both from the Durham Food Coop.  I made the sauce with just those two ingredients, but thought that the sauce seemed a little tart. 

K suggested something sweet to smooth out the tart and to add a little "fullness".  We drizzled on a little bit of honey after the food was already on the plate, but it would probably make more sense to cook it in.  Sugar, of course, is another option.  And if you try a little molasses, I'd love to hear about it.


*Black River Farmestead, Ivanhoe NC.  910-669-3340.  Very nice.

10:11 PM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (4)

Nov 02, 2006

Make-Your-Own Aphorism

Sometimes it pays to remind people about little tasks that might have fallen through the cracks.  Even smart people forget, as remembered this evening after finally hearing from a usually-responsive person I'd emailed weeks ago.

When he told me, "feel free to remind me if you haven't heard from me," I suddenly heard an old grandpaw voice in my head saying, "I guess it's true that 'a gentle reminder, now and then, is welcomed by the brightest men.'"  I didn't say it out loud, though.  Even though someone quotable said something like that long ago, I was pretty sure that (a) I had just made it up and (b) it didn't need to be mentioned.

But in any case, it did point out that aphorisms, like some jokes, can be generated in a snap if you've got a formula.

So here's today's formula, in case you want to make up your own semi- or pseudo-aphorisms.  Who knows, you might come up with something that eventually gets quoted in the back of Forbes Magazine.

A little _____________, now and then,
is ____________-ed by the ___________-est men.

Feel free to tweak as needed, like "A little flossing, once in a while, is welcomed by a crocodile."  I just made that one up on the spot, too.  See how easy it is?  Seventh grade boys could have a field day with this if you changed one of the words to "Nantucket."

01:00 AM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (3)

Oct 31, 2006

Comfort Food 2.0

Brocpastacheese450 In the small bowl, squash soup with cinnamon and almond paste by K.  Very fine.  You can ask her for the recipe.

In the deep plate, orecchiette with goat cheese, clams, and garlic.  Plus some broccoli because -- why not?

The pasta dish was inspired by something crazy good I had last December at Pomelo in San Francisco: ~braised pork with savoy cabbage over orecchiette with gorgonzola.  At some point I may type up the recipe as best as I could recreate it.

But for two servings of a simpler dish, try this:

1.  Put pasta on to boil.

2.  Put broccoli on a steamer (and don't overcook like I did this batch).

3.  While the pasta and broccoli are cooking, start a skillet with olive oil and sliced garlic.

4.  Drain pasta and add to the sauteed garlic.  Enjoy the sizzly noises.

5.  Add chunks of goat cheese (total size ~3/4-stick butter).  Heat until it's mostly melted into a sauce.

6.  Add a can of minced clams, partially drained (or not) and heat through.

7.  Serve in deep dishes with salt, pepper, oregano, and grated romano.  Consider adding some chili peppers.  Pour a glass or tumbler of simple white wine for your drinking.

And if you think this is really just a fancy plate of macaroni and cheese accompanied by broccoli and cheese sauce, who would call you a liar?  Not me.

12:17 AM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (6)

Oct 27, 2006

Shrimp and Stuff


For as long as I can remember, I've made a broccoli and shrimp stir fry that includes broccoli, shrimp, sesame oil, pepper, and soy or fish sauce.  Nothing wrong with it.  Works every time.  Add a little garlic, a little onion, a little ginger, a little chili, whatever.  Serve over rice.  Works every time.

But I was clearly stuck.

So at a recent dinner with Grace, something a little different, with a focus on freshness and acidity instead of sesame and southeast Asia.


A bed of baked potatoes cut coarsely into chunks, mixed with chunks of mango and peaches.

A stir-fry of shrimp and broccoli cooked in canola oil, with apple cider vinegar and some sugar to zing it all up.

Adding at the end toasted sesame seeds and cracked black pepper.

Optional: more salt, some Bragg's amino acids, or some such.  And maybe an additional bed of rice.

Avoiding entirely: SE Asian standards like sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce, or fish sauce.

Result: something not at all bad.

Wash down with beer (if you're me), white wine (if you're someone else), or milk (if you're Grace).

12:54 AM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sep 18, 2006

Pick a Card, Any Card

Card300_2 Here's something I've been meaning to do for the last three years -- my Harris Teeter, Kroger, and Food Lion barcodes all on one card.  At some point I'll find my CVS card and fill in the middle slot.

Better yet, at some point I might find a good, free barcode generator online, print everything on a piece of paper and laminate it for durability.  That'll be the best space saver yet.  After all, should I want my butt any more lumpy than it has to be?

01:59 PM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (6)

Nov 27, 2004

Happiness is a Warm Rice Sock

RicesockSure, Charles Schultz sold a lot more books by putting "Happiness is a Warm Puppy" on the cover of his list of happies, but I'm telling you that "Happiness is a Warm Rice Sock" is what he should have called it.

This week I've been sick, with the stiff and cramped shoulders and back that always add insult to the injury of sinusitis and bronchitis.  But my doctor tipped me off about the ever-since-there-were-microwaves solution of a tube sock filled with uncooked white rice.

Oh man, it's awesome.

Just pour a couple of pounds uncooked white rice into a tube sock, tie off the end, nuke it for ~3 minutes, and


Add to the joy: it stays warm for 30+ minutes, it's apparently reusable a bajillion times (the first few uses give more "moist" heat, then it's just dry, so I'm told), and you can smush it around to fit whatever part of you needs warming.  Life is greatly improving.

09:17 PM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sep 17, 2004

Little Indulgences | recipe for a late night snack


Image yoinked from this page of the "For Antique Lovers: The Sovietski Collection"

On Wednesday night, I was reading an article in Morgan's Playboy about the Caviarteria caviar stores.

Oh damn, what a craving I got.

So I dropped by the Harris Teeter on my way home, to supply my late night snack: black lumpfish caviar with sour cream on white toast, accompanied by a Bud Light. Scuppernong grapes for dessert.

Mmm, mmm, good.

Thursday's plan is to buy a red onion, and maybe some vodka.

12:46 AM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (5)

Jun 11, 2004

Italian Sausage with Peppers and Onions | recipes


Last year I picked up The Godfather by Mario Puzo and could not put it down.* I think I was up until 3 a.m. two nights in a row just reading and reading. The images of power, character, masculinity, violence, and loyalty -- and yes, of course, Family, are exceptionally resonant, even as the book itself is no work of fine literature.

Mentions of cooking and eating repeat through the book, and for months I have been craving what I think the food must taste like. (A shame, indeed, that last summer I didn't attend the wedding of two friends in Sicily.)

Tonight for my dad's birthday, I grabbed a few of the ingredients I recalled being mentioned in the book, and put them together for dinner.

Here, the recipe:

Ingredients: 1-1/4 lbs. sweet Italian sausage (Premio brand from Costco is good and cheap); 2 red bell peppers, sliced (peppers ought be roasted beforehand, but I did not think of this until later); 1 yellow onion (cut into slices); olive oil; 2 tbs. dried basil; 2 tbs. dried parsley.

> In a large heavy skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil on medium high heat, and brown the sausage on all sides that you can.

> Add the onions and cook until translucent. The sausage will be nearly done by now.

> Add the dried basil and parsley.

> Add the red peppers at the center (near the heat), with sausage and onions to the side. Add more olive oil as you wish.

Soon enough you will have something that looks pretty much like the photo at top. We served with rice and the 2003 Woop Woop Shiraz. All were pretty damned satisfied, even though I forgot to add garlic. And even though I forgot that eggs were included with the peppers and sausage during lunch with Albert Neri

*Note: when I read the book, I had not yet seen the movie. But I had seen Goodfellas and had enjoyed the scene in which the mafiosi in prison are taking turns at cooking the fine Italian ingredients that come to them by package.

12:01 AM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (15)

Jun 02, 2004

Chickenbutt, Part II | recipes?


On the subject of Chicken Butts, here's a photo of the Beer Butt Chicken Cooker, courtesy of TheGadgetSource.

In last Sunday's News & Observer, food writer Debbie Moose says, "Beer-can chicken is not, nor should it ever become, cuisine." but she still loves the stuff. Her directions (for use on a covered grill) are as such: "Get a whole chicken (about 4 pounds), push an open can of beer (pour off about half, first) inside, perch it upright on the grill and cook until it is done or the rest of the 12-pack is gone, whichever comes first. Rubs, marinades and sauces, even additions, such as garlic, to the can of beer, are optional frills."

Options include using tomato juice, apple juice, soda, or some other liquid for the infusion.

When I was a kid, my Aunt Nell dated a Salvadoran chef who worked at one of the big DC hotels (the Hyatt, I think), and he made the best Thanksgiving Turkey we'd ever eaten, stuffing the bird with various vegetables that pushed tons of moisture and flavoring into the meat. What's more, he made an incredible white gravy that I've never tasted, since. It's a shame that he didn't stay in the family for longer. Damn.

12:01 AM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (8)

Dec 28, 2003

Green Beans with Ease


Photo credit: Better Homes and Gardens via MSN

This evening I had dinner with my friend Richard, his dog Anna Banana, and our friends Ron, Spencer, and Bill.  We made fun of many things but never the food.  As my Mom used to say, "complaints to the cook may be hazardous to your health."

Richard served chicken provencal with brown rice, and I added some green beans.  Everyone seemed pretty happy, especially after Richard started pouring the German whites.

Here's the easy recipe for green beans, as done by me:

Ingredients to serve 4:

2 small yellow onions; 6 large cloves garlic; 3 small chili peppers; ~4 cups green beans (4 cups after snapping the ends); sesame oil; fish sauce.

Cooking Directions (I know you don't need these, but I'm feeling the need to be complete):

Slice the onions, garlic, and chili peppers, not too coarsely.  I like slicing the garlic lengthwise into slivers.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil in a skillet on medium high.

Saute the onions to start.  Add the garlic after the onions have cooked a bit.  Then add the chili peppers when the garlic and onions have started to brown.

Reduce heat to medium or even medium low, then add the green beans and ~2 teaspoons of fish sauce.   

Cook for a while, stirring frequently.  When the beans are nearly done to your liking, taste a couple to see if they're rich and salty enough from the fish sauce.  If not, add more.  Much will depend on which brand you use, and how salty you like it.  Just remember not to add more than a teaspoon at a time (blending well to make sure it distributes throughout the beans) and you'll be in great shape.  I think I used ~5 teaspoons in this evening's dish.  For recommended brands and a great radio article on fish sauce, click over to The Splendid Table's fish sauce interview with food writer Bruce Cost.

Of course, you can readily modify this recipe to suit your tastes and needs.  Add shrimp or scallops to make it more substantial.  Add sesame seeds or cashews to make it more seedy or nutty.  But please, for my sake, serve it with rice nearby.

Bon appetit.

Chef Tappy Phil

11:25 PM in Recipes | Permalink | Comments (3)