Oven “fried” chicken

I am pretty certain that everyone loves fried food, whether they want to admit it out loud or not. I’m also certain that everyone loves fried chicken, even vegans who are in denial. Who could really resist the crunch, the juiciness, and the delicious scent of chicken fat? However, what most people do not like is a lot of oil used for frying… in their own kitchen. It’s a LOT of oil that is required for deep frying, and potentially a lot of waste if you do not reuse the oil. There is also a fine line between re-using that oil enough times to get a good ROI vs. using it one time too many and getting a stale, greasy “fry.” But the crispy skin juxtaposed with the juicy meat quite the temptation. So many home cooks have tried to replicate “frying” with techniques used in the oven for similar results.

I’d had Amanda Hesser’s “oven fried” chicken bookmarked for years now. I always said that at some point, I’d prioritize buying bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs just to make this recipe, but I got so sucked into my usual routine of just buying boneless, skinless thighs that I’d always forget. Once I got Butcherbox, though, I decided I would slightly go out of my comfort zone and finally make this happen. And I did today! I used this recipe, brined, coated in a light flour/parmesan/smoked paprika coating, and oven “fried” with just two tablespoons of butter, for about one hour. And the result was incredible: the skin was super crackly and crunchy. And the meat was juicy and tender.

I’m looking forward to using this recipe again and again in the future, with slight tweaks here and there for seasoning, like garlic or onion powder. This was a hit!


In the last few years since we moved into this building, on average, we probably have made a Costco trip about once every quarter. That’s usually when I stock up on things I know we use a lot, whether it’s spices in bulk, meat (usually chicken thighs, drum sticks, some type of beef, and lamb leg), seafood (shrimp, wild salmon usually), and household supplies (toilet paper, paper towels, baking soda, soap). But our last trip to Costco was in October during our mini trip to Delaware and Pennsylvania, and since, we haven’t really had a reason to go. And with rising costs for everything due to inflation, Chris said it didn’t make sense to rent a car just to go to Costco unless we were planning to go somewhere else instead. So last quarter, we did a Costco.com order, which didn’t really include any protein because I didn’t think the online prices were that great. Instead, to stock up on meat or seafood, I’ve either been buying small quantities at Trader Joe’s when the prices seem reasonable, or buying at Whole Foods during their occasional sales.

My friend had been subscribing to Butcherbox for quite some time, and though I was intrigued, I wasn’t really ready to commit to $170/box, even if the value did seem quite good given the quality and cuts of meat. She originally gave me a referral code for $50 off. You can set your own delivery schedule, but I wasn’t even sure that the max on the website of every eight weeks was long enough for us to actually finish that much meat/seafood, even with Pookster eating all solid meals now. She’s still a tiny human with a tiny belly! But then my friend told me I could push it off even longer, even if the site didn’t explicitly say that. In the end, I really got pushed over the edge when about two weeks ago, she told me there was a special referral that would give me an entire box for FREE. I would just have to pay for any “deal add-ons,” so i got an extra thick cut ribeye for $26. Essentially, I got $196 worth of protein for just $26, which sounded pretty good to me.

I was very impressed when the box came; it only took about three days to get delivered, and the boxing and packaging were immaculate. I haven’t defrosted any of the cuts yet to see the quality of the meat, but just from the looks of the beef, the marbling looks really good, and the thickness of the steaks are just as advertised on the site. This could be the new way we get the vast majority of our animal protein moving forward if the first batch of protein I defrost looks good. This definitely excited me. I was even happy to reorganize our freezer to make room for all these items yesterday so that I could easily see and identify what we had remaining, and I usually hate doing that.

Banh cuon in my new carbon steel pan

So after seasoning my two new carbon steel pans four times, I was finally ready today to use them. I buffed them four times with avocado oil, and then stuck them in the oven for 30 minutes at a time at 450 F. Of course, it made the whole main room smell, and the air purifier was not a fan, so twice when I did this, I had Chris take Kaia out walking to keep her away from the unpleasant fumes. I was originally aiming to season five times before using, but I figured that since they did say these pans were pre-seasoned, four times should be sufficient.

Well, after tweaking the temperature a few times to get it just right, the banh cuon overall were a success. The rice rolls didn’t stick much once I got the temperature and timing correct, and we had some delicious banh cuon to eat for dinner, even though Pookster wasn’t able to enjoy them as much since she’s still a little under the weather. After. I got the hang of a few rolls, I got into a rhythm and knew when they’d release cleanly and come out as one piece. I still need to get the batter thinner so it’s more translucent, but that was really because of the recipe: I ran out of a key ingredient, corn starch, to get the thinness correct, and I ended trying to compensate with more tapioca starch. But that ended up making my rice rolls too thick for my liking. I always have next time once I buy more cornstarch.

So far, I’m pretty happy with this purchase, but only time will tell if these carbon steel pans do last forever.

Carbon steel pans

After many years of using random “nonstick” pans, Scanpans, “ceramic” coated pans, and stainless steel, I’ve finally decided to give up on ceramic/Scanpan type pans and try carbon steel. Carbon steel is supposed to be a kitchen workhorse in that it’s basically got the power of cast iron without the crazy weight. It retains heat well, just like cast iron, and it’s also great for searing meat and browning. It can go from the stove to the oven and handle up to 600 F. However, the catch is that while they are generally cheaper than the average pan, they do require the same level of maintenance as a cast iron pan. That means… it needs to be seasoned again and again until it’s actually made “nonstick” with all the layers of oil/seasoning, and it needs to be re-seasoned often. The good thing is that because it is so much lighter than cast iron, it’s easier to maneuver and use every day. Unfortunately, in this house, Chris would never be caught seasoning any pan in any way because not only would he have no clue what to do, he has zero interest, so all that work is going to be on me to get us started, as well as to keep us going with these pans to ensure they really do last us a lifetime.

I was told that carbon steel is the material of choice for pans in a restaurant kitchen, and especially for delicate things like making banh cuon or banh xeo. So I’m excited to season my 8-inch and 10-inch pans and get this party started, and finally say goodbye to my crappy Scanpan, which was already replaced by the manufacturer once and is losing its “nonstick” quality. So much for being safer or better made. The quality of Scanpan has really declined over the years, which makes me sad when I think about how much money I paid for those two pans, one of which I already long discarded.

Steaks at home

I rarely buy steak to prepare at home because the idea of it never really entices me. The one time I got really excited about buying them was last year when Kaia started solids, and I really wanted her to gnaw on a big juicy hunk of steak herself. Of course, she really enjoyed it and got good iron out of it, and it also, as an added bonus, made for a good photo and video opportunity. We also were gifted a sous vide precision cooker for our wedding, but alas, I’ve only ever used it twice, both times to make steak, and I feel like I’ve found methods using both the oven and a cast iron pan that yield fairly similar, if not just similarly satisfying, results.

This time, I got sirloin steaks on sale at Whole Foods and marinated them Thai-style. I cooked them at a low temperature in the oven for about 25 minutes, then pulled them out and pan-seared them on my cast iron pan for about 90 seconds on each side. Then, I topped the steaks with a Thai tamarind sauce mixed with roasted and pounded ground sticky rice. It was definitely quite satisfying, and I think it’s also telling that Kaia saw the steaks right out of the oven and tried to grab one before they were finished searing. My baby’s appetite is slowly but surely coming back after this little sick spell, and it’s being helped along with homemade Thai style steak.

Thit kho and baby’s first pork ribs

It’s been at least 3-4 years since I last made thit kho — Vietnamese braised caramelized pork with eggs. The last time I made it, it was for a Lunar New Year friends’ gathering at home in our last apartment, and I remember using my Instant Pot to make this traditional Vietnamese new year dish, as well as using pork belly, which is traditional. This time, I got the idea from a food blogger I follow to use baby back pork ribs instead since pork ribs are quite a bit leaner than pork belly. Plus, with just two adults and a baby to feed, I really didn’t want to have that much pork belly in the house. So I waited for pork ribs to go on sale at Whole Foods before making this dish. I used my dutch oven to make it and braised it for just over two hours over the stove. It came together really easily with just a handful of ingredients. I also used two bottles of Harmless Harvest coconut water, so we can be certain the coconut juice requirement is legitimate and tasty. As soon as I tasted the braising liquid after a couple hours, I knew the flavor was right. I also knew Kaia Pookie would really enjoy these. Ribs are a great food for babies to eat because it provides chewing/gnawing skills, which help babies understand the “map” of their mouth. And since Kaia’s chewing and tearing skills are already so mature, I knew she’d enjoy the taste as well as the pure act of eating these.

Well, I was right. After dinner last night, our nanny reported that Kaia pretty much cleaned off her entire dinner plate; she gnawed every last bit of meat off both of her rib bones; she loved the ribs so much that when she realized she was done and had no more to eat, she started crying.

That made me so proud: my baby is appreciating traditional, authentic Vietnamese flavors, and at the same time, she’s also respecting her meat enough to get every last bit off the bones. That’s a good baby right there.

Change the shape, and the Pookster will eat it

I was determined to get Kaia to eat the sweet potato, lentil, and kale fritters I made. There was no way I was going to let her not eat any of them, especially after all the time and effort I put into making them. I figured the “finger” like shape wasn’t working, so this morning before the nanny came, I set Kaia up in her high chair and took the fritters apart, shaping them into tiny half domes and laying them all out in front of her. I told her what they were, and without any hesitation, she reached out and shoved one into her mouth, and then another, and then another, and bam! Suddenly, they were all gone except for crumbs (which, because I am frugal, I squished all together and had her eat, as well). The nanny arrived, and I told her that Kaia was finally eating the fritters.

“I knew she would eat it once the shape was changed!” the nanny exclaimed. She claims she tried to cut them up yesterday, but Kaia still refused to eat them. I guess we just have to do it when she’s not watching, otherwise she will know we are trying to “convert” her.

The best practice with trying to prevent picky eating is to constantly expose your child to different foods, even the ones they continually refuse just for the exposure. They cannot “dislike” food they are never shown. So regardless, even if it’s just one thing, I keep presenting them to Kaia in different ways so that even if she doesn’t touch the food, she will at least see it and know it exists. So far, this is working. It just takes… a LOT of time.

My baby, the true Chindian baby

Since Chris had his molar extracted on Monday, I decided to make some chicken jook/congee. While I would normally insist on making this with homemade stock, alas, I am not always that lucky to have it at home, so I got a quart of stock from Whole Foods and “Asianized” it. After 15 minutes in the Instant Pot on high pressure and a little simmering, it tasted pretty good, if I do say so myself. And not only that, Kaia has really enjoyed having it as part of her dinner the last couple of days. Even though she’s only been exposed to jook one other time, which was when we were in San Francisco last August, she still clearly loves her jook. She cleaned her bowl completely both nights she had it for dinner. Our nanny said she was extremely happy with dinner both times I had her serve it. I also made some masoor dal, and despite it being a bit on the spicy side, she has eaten that well today with red quinoa. So while she may be wavering on certain vegetables and “fritter” preparations I’ve been doing, it is very clear: she is still true to her Chinese and Indian roots.

Baby led weaning – baby recipe testing

Since Kaia turned 6 months old, I’ve mostly been doing baby led weaning (BLW) with all of her solid food eating. Although I have seen lots of articles, blogs, and social media posts about “BLW” food made specifically for babies (things like zucchini fritters, sweet potato/lentil fritters, etc., I wasn’t sure I really wanted to make any of them… because what if Kaia didn’t like these foods, and I ended getting stuck eating them, as Chris probably wouldn’t care for them? Plus, she would get more long term benefit just eating modified versions (no salt/sugar added) of what we’re already eating.

But then in the last month I figured, there wouldn’t be harm in trying to get different foods into her in different ways, and it would also be a little fun for me experiment with different recipes and how she could consume various vegetables or beans in fun ways. So I went a little nuts and I made three different things for her in the last couple of days: egg, cheddar, broccoli, red quinoa “muffins,” sweet potato, lentil, kale, and harissa fritters, and banana, chickpea, and peanut butter sugar-free “biscuits.” All of these recipes took quite some effort, especially since my food processor is quite small and not that strong (I’ve had it since I was 14, so that means this thing is 23 years strong!!). And when I was done making them, I felt quite proud at how they looked and came out. But the real test was: would she like eating these?

She took to the banana/chickpea/peanut butter “biscuits” right away. She’s happily eaten 3-4 of them every single day since Monday, as part of lunch and her afternoon snack. The egg bites she seemed fond of – she eats them but doesn’t seem to care when it runs out. And the sweet potato/lentil fritters? Well, she wants nothing to do with them. Two days in a row, and she just stares at them and swats them away. She will barely look at them, let alone touch them. Then she whines when it’s the only thing on her tray at meal time. What joy!

I might continue making the chickpea biscuits and will definitely keep making different combinations of mini egg muffins for her. But some of these recipes are just a bit too laborious to keep testing out to see if she’ll take to them. I’m way better off just giving her the exact food I’m making for Chris and me and seeing if she likes that. That will be far more sustainable in the long run, anyway.

Observations of food naming in Aus vs. US

Some interesting things I’ve picked up over the years shopping for produce and food in Australia vs. the U.S. in terms of what different food items are called:

Australia: capsicum; U.S.: bell peppers

Australia: rocket; U.S. arugula

Australia: coriander (well, most of the world); U.S.: cilantro

Australia: wombok; U.S.: Napa cabbage ** (I just learned this one during this trip!!)

Australia: (meat) mince; U.S.: ground (meat)

Australia: biscuits; U.S.: cookies

Australia: soft drink; U.S.: soda (apparently, the term “soda” is never used in Australia)

Australia: tomato sauce; U.S.: ketchup (what is ketchup in Australia…? :D)

Australia: silverbeet; U.S.: Swiss chard (new finding!)