Stainless steel skillet

I’ve stopped buying any nonstick pans. The ones I do have are either Scanpans or hard anodized, which supposedly means they are better than traditional teflon pans. With our remaining wedding gift cards, I finally splurged and got my first All-Clad triply stainless steel skillet. And although I’ve had it for weeks now, I’ve been terrified of using it. It was exactly how I felt as when I first used my cast iron pan.

I used the method of heating the pan on medium heat, then waiting until a droplet of water would roll around easily. If the water sits on the pan, then the pan is too cold for food to be placed on top. If the water immediately evaporates and sizzles, then the pan is too hot and needs to have the temperature lowered. If the droplet rolls around, it means that it’s “non-stick” ready and you can add the oil. Then, once the oil is heated, you can add your food. It’s sort of like the Goldilocks approach.

I did this today and browned my Turkish-spiced turkey meatballs, and they came out very well. It’s one of those times when facing your fears is worth it. 🙂

Chicken fat splatter

I have a fear of deep frying. The idea of a large pot or wok filled with burning hot oil in my own kitchen makes me very uncomfortable. Part of it is about how wasteful it seems to use so much oil just for the mere act of deep frying. Then there’s also the idea of the splatter that bothers me when it comes to cleaning up. And we all know that oil stains on clothes are extremely unforgiving. Oil burns can also be unforgiving, as well.

So the idea of “oven-fried” chicken wings sound pretty tempting to me: the idea is to dry out the chicken wings completely in the fridge overnight with baking powder and a little salt, then crank up the heat very high in your oven so that the chicken wings’ own fat crisps them up. Then, you toss them in a homemade toasted spice mixture.

It was a great idea… until our fire detector went off because of the amount of smoke that came out of the oven due to the chicken fat dripping and burning, not to mention the amount of fat splatter that happened inside the oven. The splatter was so bad and literally all over every surface in the inside of the oven that I had to cover the entire inside of the oven in a thick baking soda-water paste overnight, and then remove all the oven racks and soak them in my bath tub. I never thought I’d have to wash dishes in my own bath tub before.

That $13 I spent on the 4.5 pounds of chicken wings seemed like a good deal. And then it wasn’t when I had to deal with this multi-day mess and cleaning.

Dumpling filling

Last night, I spent a good amount of time working on my dumpling filling, and I was so exacerbated by the frozen “shepherd’s purse” (qi cai) Chinese vegetable that I’d purchased from a Chinese market. The whole idea of buying them was to 1) try a vegetable I wasn’t familiar with, and 2) include it in a cooked and prepared form in the dumplings I was making. What I wasn’t anticipating after defrosting them was that these vegetables were not prepared at all; they were literally ripped out of the ground, roots and all, rinsed, and then frozen. I had to dig through every single strand of leaf to rip off the bottom roots. I couldn’t believe how poorly prepared these were.

It just goes to show how Chinese packaging from China works. They really don’t want to make your life easier the way you thought they would.

Chili oil

Tonight, I finally accomplished a kitchen feat I’d been wanting to try for a long time, but had just never dedicated the energy to do: make my own chili oil.

I always admired the dumpling shops I’d go to and how their chili oil always tasted infinitely better than the store-bought ones I’d been buying all these years. The ones in the dumpling shops always seemed multi-dimensional, tasting of more than just chili oil. It was as though they had a hint of salt, ginger, and some other spices and nuttiness that I couldn’t quite pin down.

So I started researching chili oil recipes and came to one that seemed like it had the right combination: ground chilies, ginger, sesame seeds, star anise, cardamom pods, salt, oil. The oil is cooked on a medium flame with the ginger and spices, and then once it reaches a certain temperature,  you pour it over the chilies and sesame seeds, “toasting” them and infusing them with their spiced flavors.

The result ended up being a lot more fiery than I was anticipating, so I had to temper it down with some extra plain oil. Even Chris found it a bit too hot, which is saying something. I’m never buying store-bought chili oil ever again.. especially now that I have so much Costco oil. 🙂

Thanksgiving cooking frenzy

Around this time of year, people around the U.S. are often spending time writing out their grocery lists, planning what they are going to make for Thanksgiving, which is oftentimes one of the only times of the year they actually cook. It’s actually a bit comical that some people choose this to be the one time of year when they not only cook, but for whatever reason feel compelled to showcase their culinary abilities that are otherwise not used the rest of the year. And thus, they feel like they need to impress their house guests.

The funniest thing about major eating/family gathering events like Thanksgiving and Christmas is that oftentimes, people will still go for the usual favorites that are not particularly impressive presentation-wise, but simply are reliable, comfortable, and rib-stickingly delicious. While we hosted our friends for our early Thanksgiving meal tonight, we noticed that what seemed to go the fastest of all the dishes was the roasted garlic mashed potatoes. You’d hardly consider mashed potatoes an impressive dish, nor is it particularly time consuming to make, but in general, people just love it.

The dark meat on the tandoori turkey also went much faster than the white meat. Even as we encouraged our friends to take leftover food home since we’ll be leaving for Europe tomorrow, the white meat was what we mostly had left over for ourselves to freezer for food when we come back the week after Thanksgiving. It’s further proof that dark meat is the best, and people know it whether they are willing to admit it out loud or not.

Tandoori turkey

This always seems to happen whenever I’m preparing food for a big event; something tends to go wrong, and I need to salvage what I have to make something edible. I was prepared to make this tandoori turkey recipe with this spiced yogurt marinade for the 12.66-pound organic turkey I got. The recipe calls for a roasting bag, which I’d never used before, so I ordered a pack and opened it up tonight, Well, just as I imagined, the oven-safe plastic seemed a bit flimsy, and I was worried about the weight of the turkey, in addition to the yogurt marinade, which is over four cups of liquid. Lo and behold, just as I am coating the turkey with the tandoori marinade, the bag breaks, and about a half cup of the marinade spills out onto my kitchen counter. What a mess.

Unless this turkey is the best turkey of my life, I’m never using this recipe again. Either that, or I need to get much sturdier roasting bags.

Grinding spices

I spent this morning gathering all the different spices I’d need to make two different spice mix powders, tandoori masala and garam masala. Probably no one I know has all the ingredients right in their pantry to make these items at home, but I’ve been gathering these things over the last year and keeping them fresh in the fridge. They even came with us on our move from the Upper East Side; not a single spice got tossed out. To freshen them up, I toasted them over the stove before grinding them to a pulp to then store in glass containers until I’m ready to use them for my long-awaited tandoori roasted turkey for our early Thanksgiving party.

The unfortunate part about grinding and toasting potent spices in your apartment is that… well, in smaller spaces, the odors tend to stick a lot more. We went out for the evening and came home to an entire house that smelled… Indian, and not necessarily in a good way. We enjoy Indian food and flavors and scents… but not on our walls and all over our living room. I ended up having to boil vinegar twice to get the smells to un-stick.

Papaya salad

Papaya salad is one of those much loved, Southeast Asian dishes that everyone seems to embrace, but no one ever actually makes at home. Why is that? The first reason is that when most people see papayas at the average grocery store, they are the yellow/orange, sweet variety, so they’re not the green, unripe ones that are used in Thai or Vietnamese papaya salad. I figured it couldn’t be that difficult, especially after I picked up the papaya shaver that seemed so nifty and useful in Thailand.

Well, I tried it on a green papaya that was just over two pounds, and… it took forever. It was one of those tasks that too so long that halfway through, I asked myself whether all this effort was really worth it. And that wasn’t even the end of it. It needed to be salted, then all the excess water squeezed out twice, before being refrigerated and finally served tomorrow. It’s no wonder that in Vietnam as I learned from my cookbook, papaya salad is considered a “special occasion salad” that is NOT an everyday starter.

No one is ever going to look at that salad and realize how much effort was put into that. And then it hit me as I was squeezing the excess liquid out… does anyone ever really look at anything homemade and genuinely appreciate it and realize how much time and energy went into it if they don’t cook themselves?


I never thought I’d be a granola person, nor did I think I’d ever make my own granola, but here I am, in April 2017, actually making my own granola. I’ve been enjoying the occasional homemade smoothie bowl at home, and granola always seemed like it would be a good addition for crunch. But when I bought a Nature Farms hemp granola box, I was so disappointed that I was driven to looking up granola recipes online to see how I could make this better. The ultimate granola recipe is crunchy, has a variety of nuts and seeds, and also has a dried fruit like cranberries or cherries in it. I used a certain base recipe I found online and added a number of additional ingredients, and it ended up totaling to about 16 different ingredients. It sounds a little crazy, but when I tasted it, it was seriously the best granola I’d ever had. The only issue is that I decreased the amount of oil, so there were less large crunchy bits, but the flavor was spot on. And given I used macadamia nuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, it wasn’t a cheap granola, but sometimes you really have to pay for things to make them worthwhile.


I get really annoyed when uppity publications like Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, or even Food52 (which I love to death) start getting classist by making inane generalizations like “the more expensive your spices are, the better the quality you can expect.” No, guys. No, no, no, no, NO. This article even made the argument that when we get excited buying “cheaper” spices abroad, we’re actually also getting crappier quality. As someone who bought a considerable bag of some of the most fragrant dried bay leaves in Valencia in November and compared them to my sad, expensive (and empty) bottle of bay leaves from Whole Foods, I know this is a sad generalization to get us all to spend more, and in this case even worse, to be a bit xenophobic and question quality of product in other countries! This really is just not true, and I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has purchased a number of spices abroad and compared them to the ones I have here.

If I buy a bottle of McCormick’s ground cardamom at Fairway and it cost me $3 less than the same brand and bottle at Whole Foods — no, it doesn’t mean that the bottle at Fairway was sitting on the shelf for longer. If I buy cinnamon or cloves in bulk at Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights for a dirt cheap cost (in an Indian / South Asian area where families and businesses are buying these in bulk constantly), it doesn’t mean my spices will be less fresh or fragrant than the ones I paid an arm and a leg for at a specialty spice shop like Kaluystan’s in Manhattan. Not everyone is cooking as a hobby and wants to spend $10 on a few pinches of a single spice; most of the people who are actually cooking (especially in Manhattan) are cooking for families that just need food on the table (and want that food to be good). More expensive does not always mean better quality. Sometimes it does, but in this case, it definitely does not.