Monthly Archives: May 2008



I had a rash of bad days recently, and I kept stomping into the kitchen in hopes that food would make me feel better. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I have a moderate sweet tooth, but my reasoning was that when people feel lousy and turn to food for succor, they don’t go for carrots or lettuce. They go for chocolate. Or ice cream. Or both.

I pulled a recipe for chocolate cake from Food & Wine that’s actually quite fabulous when made in its entirety – it’s very much like a large Snickers or Whatchamacallit candy bar. It’s a bit too tricked out for a weeknight, but would be the perfect thing for a child’s birthday party. Anyway, the cake bit itself is perfection. Please don’t laugh, but in the same way that the Colonel’s KFC biscuits were the role models for my own, so is chocolate cake from a box, be it Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker, the muse for all my chocolate cakes. I’ve tried many a recipe throughout the years, all promising to be The Best. Some had mayo, some had espresso powder, others had full cups of coffee, and yet others combined cocoa powder and melted chocolate. None of them ever tasted like Betty’s or Duncan’s. Until this one.

I made half the amount posted below and divided the batter into cupcakes because it would be easier to freeze the leftovers, but aesthetically, it’s not the best decision. The results are squat with square tops and in dire need of some cover-up (ice cream, anyone?), but looks aside, the cake is moist and dark and quite possibly the very cake that Ole Golly used to make for Harriet.

If I like box cake so much, why don’t I buy it, you wonder? Because it’s full of preservatives and unpronounceable additives, silly. Also, this made-from-scratch cake can be pulled together in the amount of time it takes your oven to preheat. You can’t beat that.

This is the adapted version, but for the whole shebang, visit Food & Wine.

Makes one 9”x13” cake or 24 cupcakes.

2 C. plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 C. all-purpose flour
3/4 C. plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 C. whole milk
1/2 C. vegetable oil
1 TBSP. pure vanilla extract
3/4 C. plus 2 TBSP. boiling water

-Preheat the oven to 350°F.

-Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch cake pan or two 12-tin muffin pans – or line with paper cupcake liners and spray with Pam.

-In a large bowl, whisk together sugar + flour + cocoa + baking powder + baking soda + salt.

-In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs + milk + oil + vanilla.

-Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Whisk in the boiling water. Pour the batter (it will be thin) into the prepared pan or muffin tins and bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool.



I had a hankering for chocolate chip cookies the other day so I went online and jotted down the first recipe I came across. The usual ingredients were all present and it looked pretty standard and straightforward, thus giving me no reason to worry. Alas, my blind trustworthiness bit me in the posterior. The cookies were neither chewy nor crunchy, but spongy instead, resembling madeleines more than chocolate chips. Searching for crispness, they went back in the oven, but all I got were cookies that tasted overcooked.

I revisited chocolate chips a few days after the above-mentioned flop, but this time I proceeded with caution and sought a recipe from a more reliable source, Dorie Greenspan, a.k.a. Queen of All Things Baked. For those of you unacquainted with Ms. Greenspan’s work, please, acquaint yourselves! She authored “Baking with Julia” (as in Julia Child), as well as “Baking: From My Home to Yours,” from where I extracted “My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies.”

Following please find the adapted version. I opted to use peanuts in lieu of the more traditional walnuts or pecans because A) I’ve never had a chocolate chip cookie with peanuts, B) I had a can sitting in my pantry begging to make itself useful, and C) when I’m really desperate for an after dinner treat, I fill a teacup with bittersweet chocolate chips and peanuts (following a ratio of about 3 chips per peanut), a sort of deconstructed Mr. Goodbar if you will – and decided it would be great in cookie format.

Anyhow, without further ado, here are Dorie’s just-right cookies.

Adapted from “Baking: From My Home to Yours” by Dorie Greenspan

2 C. all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 C. granulated sugar
2/3 C. light brown sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks
1 C. chopped walnuts or pecans (*or peanuts!)

-Preheat oven to 375˚F. Place rack in center.

-Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper (not wax paper!).

-Whisk together flour + salt + baking soda.

-In the bowl of a stand mixer beat butter on medium speed one minute till smooth, then add both sugars and beat an additional two minutes, till well blended.

-Beat in vanilla extract, followed by the eggs, one at a time, beating approximately one minute after each addition to ensure complete incorporation.

-Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in three portions.

-Mix in chocolate and nuts.

-Spoon the dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls on the baking sheets, leaving about 2” between them.

-Bake one sheet at a time, rotating halfway through baking, 10 – 12 minutes.

-Cool on rack.
NOTE: Always start cookies on a completely cool baking sheet. I know, it can be time-consuming if you don’t have stacks of sheets, but c’est la vie.

If you don’t want to bake everything at once, put your bowl of dough into the fridge for about half an hour, then plop it onto a piece of Saran wrap. Shape the dough into a log (à la Pillsbury supermarket cookie dough) and wrap tightly. Next time you want a cookie, simply cut inch-thick slices and bake.
DSC_0008Save extra dough for a rainy day.



enchiladasEnchiladas rojas at ¡Lotería!

I like to eat Mexican whenever possible. I lived in D.F. as a child and I have many a fond memory of life and food there. Classmates at Instituto Irlandés, my all-girl, plaid-green-jumper Catholic school, quickly taught me to train my taste buds to accept and in most cases like, a wide array of picante foods. Soon, I too was bringing chile piquín-dusted cucumber slices bathed in lime juice in Hello Kitty Tupperware to recreo and sprinkling the vibrant red dust on oranges and mangos. I also learned to appreciate Mexican counterparts to American candy bars and other sweets: Pulparindo, a chewy tamarind and chile bar; mazapán, a peanut-based marzipan; and Duvalín, vanilla and hazelnut cream that came in tiny packages with a plastic stick for an eating utensil.

I came to know Mexico through its flavors and to understand that it was made up of a vast and complex array of ingredients, textures, and colors that distinguished it from everything else I’d ever eaten. To this day I am shocked when people equate Mexican with Taco Bell or when that fine cuisine is reduced to an overstuffed burrito. Happily, though, there is some authenticity and variety to be found. I had the opportunity to experience Mexico all over again at two spots in LA:
sign¡Lotería!: Grab a table in the center of the LA Farmer’s Market or hop on a bright red stool and eat right at the counter. Eager to try everything on the menu, I ordered a sampler platter containing miniature versions of the twelve different taco fillings available, including, nopalitos (cactus salad), mole poblano con pollo (chicken with mole sauce), papa con rajas (potatoes with roasted poblano peppers), and chicharrones en salsa verde (pork rinds in tomatillo sauce). I can’t say I had a single favorite, but surprisingly for carnivorous me, the vegetarian nopalitos made a lasting impression.
De todo un poco.
aguasThe colorful aguas.

Luckily, I had a few people in tow and was able to taste enchiladas in hot and spicy red chile guajillo sauce that was eagerly mixed into the accompanying rice so as not to waste a drop; crunchy, crispy, corn tortilla tacos; and a mountain of chilaquiles verdes (fried corn tortilla strips sautéed in house-made sauces – either green tomatillo, chile guajillo, or mole) topped with eggs and dressed with queso fresco, crema, chopped onions and cilantro. Oh, and of course, no meal is complete without an agua fresca, fresh fruit drinks in a variety of seasonal flavors. My pick: agua de jamaica, the refreshing, floral, bougainvillea-hued hibiscus tonic.
tacosCrispy tacos.

As fate would have it, owner Jimmy Shaw happened by and we got to talking in English at first until we realized he was Mexican himself. We talked about food, of course, and childhood memories revolving around food…of course. It was a lovely encounter and made us feel like we’d just dined at a dear friend’s home.
stoolsEat right at the counter.

Monte Albán, Mexican eatery with Oaxacan roots, was also a big crowd pleaser. Señor O and I headed there for breakfast with my little brother, and, quite embarrassingly, I was presented with a colorfully sprinkled bun and cup of hot chocolate…because it as Mother’s Day and the hostess took me for my sibling’s mom. I was going to play along, but vanity took over and I just had to clear up that I was not old enough to be this 11-year-old’s mother. Well, technically I am, but still.

…I digress. The food: I had enfrijoladas, with eggs naturally. Enfrijoladas are similar to chilaquiles, only these corn tortilla triangles are smothered in thick black bean sauce. Señor O had a large plate of eggs scrambled with chorizo, and little brother opted for salsa de queso, melted cheese in a pool of spicy tomato sauce, a sticky mess that can be neatly folded into a slender and pliable corn tortilla.
tamalconmoleTamal con mole.
quesadillaZucchini blossom quesadilla.
moloteChorizo and potato molote.

We made a return visit later that very same evening with family members who’d missed out on breakfast and had tamales with black mole, dense and chocolaty, zucchini blossom quesadillas, potato-and-chorizo molotes, deep-fried and crisp, as well as another round of enfrijoladas, this time with a side of cesina, thinly sliced, salted beef. For dessert: ripe plantains, sliced and fried, then topped with condensed milk. As we like to say, barriga llena, corazón contento. (Full belly, happy heart).



hotdogI was in LA for a few days, and, despite the fact that I spent my nights sleeping in my brother’s bachelor pad from hell – sorry, Charlie, but it’s true: the place was a wreck, a combination opossum refuge and crack den – it was a good time. I absolutely love LA, especially the heretofore unexplored food scene. In the span of a week I had Thai, Korean, Spanish, Mexican, French, Italian, and good ol’ American – a veritable “It’s a Small World” for gluttons. I’m no food critic, but some of my eat-outs must be described.

At the top of my list: Honey Pig Korean BBQ. Up until my journey to Koreatown, my experience with Korean cuisine had been limited to the Momofuku Ssäm and Noodle Bars in New York. Don’t misread – the Momofukus happen to be among my favorite NY spots, but Honey Pig is a whole other animal, and I was completely unprepared for what I encountered there.
honeypigsignLike a beacon in the night…

We asked to be seated, at which point the waiter whirled around our appointed table like a dervish-meets-Chinese-plate-balancing-act, dropping little plates and saucers and bowls and then more plates and saucers and bowls with sauces and oils and lettuces (oh my!) all around, till there is not an inch of tabletop visible. In the middle, rising like cupola from a crowded city center, The Inverted Wok Thing. Our awed foursome sat, giggling and gawking as the waiter zeroed in on a tiny dial in the tabletop (Gadzooks! You yourself can control the heat!) and started throwing kimchi-covered cabbage and bean sprouts on the base of Wok Thing.

wokWok Thing.
saucesThe accoutrements…

We stared, stupidly, not knowing at all what to do with the food. Were we supposed to eat it? How long did we have to wait for it to cook? Were we allowed to touch it? Desperately, we looked around at the other tables attempting to discern the how-tos of KBBQ. I try to make eye contact with any of the passing waiters, but my silent SOS went unnoticed. I flailed my arms and a harried-looking man finally come over. “Uh, I’m sorry, excuse me,” I muttered, unintelligibly and in near-whisper, “Umm, we’re, like, new to this whole BBQ thing,” nervous giggle, “umm, uhh, how do we order?” More vexed looks from the waiter who instructed in a few terse fragments to order four portions of pork belly and one of beef. Now, novice though I was, I thought four portions of pork belly sounded a bit piggish, so I ordered two and one sliced beef. The waiter scurried away.

I’d forgotten to order drinks, so once again, I started casting frantic looks at the wait staff while they continued to ignore me. I began to feel unwelcome, out of place. I hung my head, pouting, and that’s when I realized I was not being ignored; I was just not following protocol: there was a doorbell on my table, hidden under a tiny bowl of pungent red sauce. One is meant to press down on it if and when one needs service. I pushed down, and, wouldn’t you know it, my finger was still on the button when someone materialized at my side. Mercifully, this lady was kind and took pity on us lost sheep. She started snipping the cabbage into bite-size pieces with the aid of slender tongs and shears, and piled them up on the highest part of the dome. “OOOhhhhh,” we mouthed. Next, she lay the pork belly on the wok and it started to sizzle. Once cooked, she, with a deft hand, natch, picked up a piece with a pair of shiny metal chopsticks and quickly dipped it in one of the small bowls, this one containing sesame oil, salt and pepper. The now-seasoned belly, some cabbage, bean sprouts, and thinly sliced green onion were piled on a large and crisp lettuce leaf, which she wrapped. We understood! We got it! We could finally eat!

We were congratulating ourselves on our powers of international comprehension until we started trying to imitate her maneuvers. Turns out metal chopsticks are not for neophytes– they’re slippery and food kept dropping on the way to the plate. We longed for forks, but were too embarrassed to ask. We would eat with slippery sticks even if it took us hours. Someone spotted wooden ones though, and once we had those in hand, things went rather smoothly.

We’d eaten through most of our pork belly and were feeling pretty full when a waiter ran by and without even glancing at us tossed an octopus tentacle on Wok Thing. “We didn’t ask for this!” we yelped, but he only said, “It’s free!” and continued on his way. Meanwhile, another waiter restocked our cabbage and sprouts. We began to get nervous every time someone neared the table, worried more food would appear unannounced. Besides, we still had a mound of thinly sliced beef waiting to be cooked.

tentacleRandom tentacle.

After the deliciousness of pork belly, I worried the beef would be a letdown. But it was actually my favorite. Our kindly waitress plopped it on the heat and said, “Very delicious with rice.” I just nodded, defeated, and heaved a deep sigh. I would just have to create more space for the rice. It was orange, and in a bowl, mixed with bits of lettuce and seaweed. She plopped it on top of the beef and started raking up the remaining cabbage and sprouts, mixing it all together. It was my favorite part of the meal. Everything had just enough spice and salt, and at the base of it all, a gentle sweetness that gently played with the underlying heat. I’ve added Korean BBQ to the list of foods I crave, and wish I could install a Wok Thing at my table – it’s one-pot cooking at its best.
riceVery delicious with rice.

Next up: BACON-WRAPPED HOT DOGS. Months ago, New York Magazine wrote about Crif Dogs, an East Village spot selling deep-fired wieners. Apparently, some genius there decided to give David Chang (creator/chef of the above-mentioned Momofukus) a namesake dog and thus came about the bacon-wrapped-deep-fried-kimchi-topped-hot-dog. I haven’t had the chance to sample this delightful monstrosity, but have spent ample time drooling over its photo. How happy was I then to learn that you can get a bacon-wrapped hot dog in LA? Naturally, I had to have one. Little brother and cute girlfriend took me downtown where we walked through blocks of knock-off bags and tight, neon-colored clothes looking for a… let’s say artisanal hot dog cart. Cute GF instructed us to bypass brick-and-mortar stands because what we wanted was true-blue street food. For a while it looked like it wasn’t going to happen for us and that all we were going to get out of this trip were some snazzy $4 “designer” shades, when we saw (and smelled!) it: a teeny vehicle, no bigger than a golf cart, equipped with a glassed-in flattop and Coleman cooler stocked with Jarritos – Mexican soda pop – and a bowl of coarsely chopped avocado and pico de gallo.

standjarritosThe bacon dogs sizzled alongside sliced onions, green peppers, and jalapeños. I’m sorry Gray’s Papaya, but you’ve been dethroned! The vendor tucked the sausage into a bun and drizzled it with yellow mustard, ketchup, and mayo (!), then topped it with everything in his reach, including the chunky guacamole. It was absolute bliss, and 100% worth the gut-wrenching heartburn that followed.
hotdogcookingOn a sad note, it seems bacon-wrapped hot dog purveyors are being persecuted by the health department. It’s an outrage! Check out Drew Carey’s inspired report on Potentially harmful food? Puh-lease. Let’s not get started on the Golden Arches, et al.
DSC_0327Save the dogs!

More mouth-watering to come,




If the title of this blog hasn’t made it abundantly clear, I adore shoes. I actually detest shopping for clothes and hate stores and malls; I get all panic attack-y and claustrophobic, and am convinced there is not sufficient oxygen. But, get me past the perfume spritzers and racks of clothing into the shoe department and it is as if I’ve entered a realm of cherubs and melodious harps.

Grocery shopping releases about the same amount of endorphins and my trips to market are rarely perfunctory outings. I like to slowly zigzag my through, stopping to stare glassy-eyed at the products. Oftentimes I do this purely as research – if I’m reading a recipe I can immediately recall where a particular ingredient is available for purchase, down to it’s location on a shelf.

I like to plan menus and make lists ahead of time so I can purchase all elemental foodstuffs at one go – and also to reduce the risk of becoming distracted and returning home with items I did not in effect, need. Sometimes, though, I venture out there and wander, glassy-eyed and almost dazed, puzzling over what the heck to make for dinner.

It was in this uncertain state of mind that I hooked a basket on my arm at Whole Foods on Saturday. I was there for unsweetened vanilla soy milk, but also to forage for Sunday brunch. There were fiddlehead ferns, bright green and tightly curled like storybook worms (tempura?), tiny artichokes (fried? Steamed and sauced?), leeks (vichyssoise?), but nothing was calling out to me as much as…lettuce. Yes, lettuce, which I consider much less poetic than many of its produce section siblings, was what was beckoning because I remembered that the “L” in BLT stands for LETTUCE. My mind cleared, the torpor vanished, and thoughts raced. I was going to make no ordinary BLT with flimsy bread, bland tomatoes, and waifish bacon strips. I was going to make a sandwich that would require a side of five napkins.

I gathered ripe plum tomatoes, a soft-to-the-touch avocado, a handful of salad greens, and a few slabs of thick-cut bacon from the butcher’s case and ran home to triumphantly announce that tomorrow was going to be no ordinary day.

Sunday morning I set to: I roasted my tomatoes for an hour, doused in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, well-seasoned with kosher salt, fresh-ground pepper, and tossed with a few cloves of smashed garlic. They emerged soft and wrinkled, fragrant and sweet.
The bacon, to avoid a mess in my Lilliputian kitchen, was also baked in the oven, the rendered fat brushed on pain de mie slices.

While the baking was going on, I whipped together some mayonnaise and was ready to assemble: a generous schmear of mayo, avocado slices, bacon, roasted tomatoes, and lettuce. And there it was, a BLT to the –nth power – the baconator.

For 2

1 egg yolk
2 tsps. Dijon mustard
salt + pepper to taste
lemon juice to taste
150 mL (about 2/3 C.) vegetable oil

-Whisk together egg yolk, mustard, and a pinch each salt and pepper.
-In a very slow, steady stream, pour in oil while whisking quickly and vigorously, until all oil in incorporated.
-Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.

5 – 6 slices thick-cut bacon (about ½ lb.)

-Preheat oven to 375˚F.
-Cover a rimmed baking sheet (rims will keep the rendered fat from leaking out) with parchment paper (no wax paper, unless you want to cause a fire) and lay out bacon slices in a single layer.
-Cover with a second sheet of parchment and weigh down with another cookie sheet, Pyrex, or other oven-proof cookware.
-Cook 30 – 45 minutes until bacon fat is rendered and bacon is cooked.
-Set bacon slices on a paper towel-lined dish and pour fat into a bowl. Reserve the baking sheet and first sheet of parchment.


6 ripe plum tomatoes
¼ C. olive oil
3 TBSP. balsamic vinegar
salt + pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed into large chunks

-Preheat oven to 375˚F.
-Core tomatoes and cut in half lengthwise.
-In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes with salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar, and garlic.
-Spread tomatoes, cut-side up, on a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet or Pyrex and stud with garlic.
-Roast 60 – 75 minutes, till tomatoes are soft to the touch.


4 slices good bread, white or whole wheat
1 ripe avocado
large handful of salad greens
salt and pepper

-Arrange bread slices on reserved bacon baking sheet and brush each with reserved fat. If not sufficient, spread slices with softened butter.
-Toast in a 350˚F until golden.
-Thinly slice avocado and squirt with lemon juice to prevent browning. Season with salt and pepper.
-Wash and spin-dry greens and sprinkle with salt.
-Spread a generous amount of mayo on two of toast slice and top each with avocado slices, bacon, roasted tomatoes, and lettuce. Cover with remaining toast, press down gently, and cut in half before serving.



cakeChinese frijoles?!

I took Señor O to Gitlo’s last week, where he was properly inducted: we ordered daikon cakes and pork buns – reruns for me, but just as tasty as the first time – as well as chicken dumplings, crunchy taro spring rolls filled with pork, shrimp, and black mushrooms, and a second order of dumplings, because they were that good; soft purses stuffed with savory chicken and tender cabbage, gently sautéed to yield a slight crunchy exterior.

Too full to order any more food but eager to plow through the menu in its entirety, I settled on a drink: milk tea with boba. The tiny and swift-moving waitress Wendy explained boba was tapioca, and though this cat is not quite a fan, curiosity often overcomes it. The first thing that struck me was not the blueberry-looking orbs sitting at the bottom of the glass, but rather the electric blue, ultra-wide straw that was stuck in there. I could fit my pinky in it! Clearly, the straw was designed to comfortably suck up the boba balls – clever, clever. The milk tea was black tea with milk, sweetened and iced; refreshing, but less interesting than the boba. I started sipping, trying to control the suction as I was worried the boba would zoom up and dart to the back of my throat, like a hockey puck about to score. I held it in my mouth and finally bit down, and…it was utterly bland. I was perplexed. Why add an ingredient that does nothing to complement or enhance taste?

Gitlo shed some light. He said people get bored of drinking the same old thing all the time and that adding something like boba would add an element of fun. I remained perplexed; I drink eight glasses of water a day and though flavorless and odorless, it’s never occurred to me to plop tapioca in it. However, I will say this: upon reflection, I did fool around with the straw a bit. I was very tempted to use it as a boba shooter.

The reasoning behind boba’s inclusion in tea was likely lost in translation, nevertheless, further chatting revealed that Gitlo and I have some things in common which are happily interpreted in both Chino and Latino.

Red beans were in both of our native menus, but in surprising ways that were novel to each of us. Gitlo presented Señor O and I with a red bean cake. The beans were suspended in a lavender gelatin that had been sliced into 2-inch-thich slabs resembling custom soap or a slab of marble. The gelatin was actually water chestnut flour which once set is a firm edition of Jell-O. It was cool, lightly sweet, and very odd, my palate being accustomed to tasting beans exclusively in savory preparations. I pointed this out, explaining that my beans are boiled with garlic and salt and then either fried, mashed, mixed with rice, or served as soup. Gitlo has only ever cooked a bean for dessert.

We next had an animated and exclamation-studded discussion about nacatamales and their relatives in China. Regrettably, I can neither pronounce nor spell their name – my lame attempt at mimicry came out like saying “Joan” while sneezing. While the Nica breed is corn masa, pork, rice, potato, tomato, prunes, and a hunk of lard wrapped in a plantain leaf, Gitlo’s version contains sticky rice, peanuts, a variety of bean, sausage, Chinese five-spice powder, and bacon wrapped in bamboo leaves. Apparently, this buffet-in-a-bundle was once on the menu, but Gitlo’s ma wouldn’t listen to him when he said the hunk of fat in there would frighten the customers. I sympathized with his ma – when I was a kid I was horrified by the piece of jiggly lard in the nacatamal, but I learned better. If you mash the lard into the masa, it melts and infuses the whole thing with an inimitable porky flavor. The fat must stay. I’ve been promised a Chinese tamal next time I visit and am very excited at the prospect.