City of Light. City of romance. Men with no sense of boundaries. Amazing food. Overrated food. Rude waiters. Museum queues for blocks. Fabulous shopping. Snobby Parisians. I’d heard the raves as well as the complaints. Honestly, the first time I visited Paris in 2006, I was prepared to hate everything about it but instead I fell completely in love – and not just the “I like spending time with you” kind of feeling. This was the, “I can’t stop fantasizing about you” kind of attraction. Read more…
You know it’s going to be a good vacation when the taxi driver from the airport inquires about your tropical drink of choice, then promptly calls your hotel to place an order. Seven minutes later a friendly staff member greets us in an airy lobby with two pink Bahama Mama’s in frosty tumblers. Thick slices of juicy pineapple hang from the rims waiting to be dunked into the rum cocktail.
Every now and then even the most die-hard workaholic appreciates a few days of doing absolutely nothing. And absolutely nothing is exactly what I did over the July 4th weekend on the dreamy island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas where the water is the definition of turquoise blue and the sand is as soft as sifted flour, warm and white from the sun. Read more…
I consider myself fairly good at controlling emotions, thoughts, desires, and cravings. As a methodical and emotionally conservative individual I equate obsession with weakness. Unfortunately, as an avid food lover I am no stranger to it.
Someone once told me that cravings only last for a set period of time and if you manage to deny yourself the craving it will eventually go away. That person was a liar! My cravings don’t dissipate until satisfied. My ridiculously gorgeous, man-eating, sister once told me that if she ever finds herself obsessing over a boy she recalls a single flaw of his that irked her, and then replays that over and over in her mind until she’s rid of her infatuation. While this method may work for getting over crushes, I haven’t been able to come up with a single flaw to cure me of my obsession with French fries or hay smoked salmon belly. Read more…
The first time I went apple picking was at a tiny orchard outside Matsumoto, a city in Nagano prefecture in the northeastern part of Japan. I distinctly remember how the Japanese farmer had carefully laid aluminum foil underneath his well-trimmed apple trees so that the sunlight bounced onto the underside of the ripening apples, giving them a uniformly red hue. In a country where grocery stores wrap each apple in a soft Styrofoam net, and customers buy a single apple for the price of a full meal at a decent restaurant, I suppose it makes sense that farmers would be concerned that each apple’s underside had been properly warmed by the sun’s rays.
I don’t know if it’s due to the experience of growing up near farms as a kid or just my incessant desire for the freshest produce, but I plan weekend trips to nearby Virginia farms at the start of every growing season: strawberries in early spring, cherries in late spring-early summer, and peaches and blueberries in the summer. Each season offers incredible fruit, but with the crisp air and brilliantly colored foliage in the low mountains surrounding the orchards, apple season is by far my favorite. Read more…
Jennifer, Jenny or Jen Ju (as in the popular Taiwanese bubble tea) is the baby in our little army. Ask Jenny where she was born, and she will excitedly tell you the true story of how she popped out on the foyer of my family’s Taiwanese apartment. She may be 12, but in my mind she’s still a tiny three-year-old sneaking into my room at 6 a.m., dragging her favorite book and hoping for story-time.
Adventurous and curious about food, Jenny is the kid that chefs and food lovers wish for. Jenny always claims the seat next to me when we go out for dinner, not because I’m such pleasant company, but because—as she once explained—I always order the most interesting food. My husband is convinced that she is actually mine. I swear she’s not.
Except for January, my monstrous family celebrates a birthday every month. That means a whole lot of birthday cake. Before Vanessa came around, all the older sisters dabbled with the world of careful measurements, timing and temperatures. We had a few successes, but many more failures. I can recall two crowning moments of my own. Once I forgot to add baking powder to a cake—you can imagine the outcome. Another time I added liquid dish soap instead of oil to a recipe. Now before you get all judgy, you should know that our dish soap and vegetable oil came in identical 18-liter aluminum cans. Once the labels identifying the products got wet and peeled off, chances were pretty high that you would at best have to rewash all the dishes, or at worst be serving a diarrhea-inducing dessert.
That’s what my youngest brother Brandon (Sibling #8) contributed to our discussion on favorite childhood food. Ah, life in Canada must be good! When we were living in Asia the only steak we ever tasted were the bites we stole off our pregnant mom’s special dinner plate (yes, we were monsters). When it came to beef, we were more familiar with what are politely called “inexpensive cuts”. I’ve had liver every way possible, from fairly tasty—coated in cracked wheat and pan-fried, to the truly inedible—boiled. There was even a period where my parents tried, with modest success, to get us to like tongue.
Like the rest of the Stirlings Brandon eats practically anything served to him, but I have an inkling that he perceives starch and vegetables as squatters on real estate best occupied by succulent slabs of beef. Brandon is what I would call a “scrapper”. Quiet and rather small for his age but with a quick wit and an alertness that makes me think he’s simply counting the moments until his height catches up to his mind. A few more of these juicy steaks and it’s just a matter of time before I show up at my family’s front door and am greeted by a tall, gravely voiced young man with one arm swung lazily over a stacked hottie.
This simple method of cooking a steak is something I picked up from watching the meat cook at the restaurant where I worked. Although Brandon likes his steaks rare I timed this one to be about medium-rare. Simply shave off a minute in the oven if—like him—you prefer things bloody.
While writing this post I realized that the youngest Stirlings may have missed out of some key character building experiences such as trying to masticate an incorrectly cooked beef tongue. No worries. That can be easily rectified. On my next visit I will serve up some of the retro-Stirling culinary delights with my very best “back in my day” speech.
1 Ribeye steak (about 1-1½ inches thick) *See Cook’s Note
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed—papery skins left on
2 sprigs of thyme
1 Tbs. butter
- Preheat the oven to 350°
- Dry the steak with paper towels. Season generously with salt and cracked black pepper
- Heat a skillet over high-heat until lightly smoking. Add a good bit of oil (about 2 Tbs.) Once the oil is hot add the seasoned steak to the skillet. Sear the first side for a minute and a half.
- Turn the steak over & sear for 1 minute. Add the crushed garlic, thyme & pat of butter to the pan (I like to place the butter directly on top of the steak).
- Place in the oven, on the center rack, for 3 minutes.
- Remove. Return the skillet to the stovetop over medium high heat and tilting the skillet towards you, baste the steak (spoon the butter & pan juices over the top) for 30 seconds.
- Remove the steak from the pan & let it rest for 5 minutes.
* Cook’s Note: It’s very important that you remember to take the steaks out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before you’re ready to throw them on the stove.
I’m horrible with diets. Tell me I can’t eat something and I’ll crave it ferociously. Earlier this year my husband and I decided we would give up meat for Lent. I lasted five days.
I dieted seriously only once before. It was after a six-month stint in Mexico, where I ate tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner and made monthly pilgrimages to Texas to devour the delights of Whataburger. So upon returning home to Taiwan I ate only fruit for breakfast, half a whole-wheat tuna sandwich and raw vegetables for lunch—followed by the exact same thing for dinner. It took a month of that diet combined with daily weighted runs up the eleven flights of stairs to our apartment to erase the damage. But that was when I was 18, intensely motivated by my severe lack of self-confidence and the desire to quiet the snarky comments about my ass.
Now that I’m just a smidge older (ahem) my priorities have changed. I don’t care what bitchy women think of my size, or whether or not a guy finds me attractive (my hubby is locked into thinking it… or at least lying about it FOREVER) but now I’ve got new issues to deal with, namely my health.
Sadly, what our parents threatened is in fact true: as you get older you can’t eat like you did as a teenager without negative consequences. But the other side of the spectrum—only eating turkey breast, brown rice & steamed vegetables is no way to live either. So I’m attempting to mitigate the damage my favorite foods might be doing by throwing them together with “super foods”.
This autumn I’ve been particularly enamored with kale. Raw, sautéed, or added to soup—I love it all. On a recent Sunday after yet another afternoon spent at FedEx field watching disappointing Redskins football we returned home heads hung low & arms cradling a bucket of leftover Popeyes fried chicken. Ten years ago I would’ve devoured the leftover chicken while watching the late night game (who am I kidding, two years ago I would’ve done that) but my newly accepted reality inspired me to throw together this healthy salad which turned out to be a surprisingly delicious compromise.
I am hopeful that the combined vitamin power from a kale, almonds, flax and chia seeds turn this dinner into a super meal capable of undoing (almost) any damage from the fried chicken.
5 kale leaves (any variety)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 Tbs. champagne vinegar
1 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. honey
4 Tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
2 pieces leftover fried chicken
1 Tbs. almond slivers
2 tsp. flax seeds*
2 tsp. chia seeds*
½ Fuji apple (a handful of dried cranberries would also work beautifully)
- Remove the thick stem from the kale leaves. You can cut it out or simply tear it out. Stack the stem-free leaves and cut into thin strips.
- Mix the garlic, vinegar, mustard and honey in a bowl. Add the oil and mix to incorporate. Taste and adjust the vinaigrette to your liking. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper.
- Dress the kale, mixing the salad with your hands so that it is evenly dressed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
- If you are using cold leftover chicken reheat it in an oven set to 350° until warmed through. Remove and tear the meat and skin up into bite size chunks.
- Put the almonds, chia and flax seeds in a skillet over medium heat. Toast gently, tossing frequently until the almonds are fragrant and golden. Set aside
- Cut the apple half into 4 pieces. Remove the core and peel (if desired). Slice thinly.
- Assemble the salad by tossing all the ingredients together in a large salad bowl.
*Flax and chia seeds can be found in the bulk section of Whole Foods grocery stores.
Oliver, or sibling number seven, was my first “baby”. His wasn’t the first live birth I saw, (that distinction belongs to Elaine—sibling #6 for those keeping track at home) but one’s level of awareness is far more acute at twelve than it is at ten. Oliver wasn’t weaned yet when mom found out that she was pregnant with #8, so Oli was booted from mom’s bed & came to stay with me in my Harry Potter-esque room under the stairs. I would wake up every couple of hours to give him a bottle, sing lullabies, and rock him back to sleep in the 2sq. feet of available standing room.
By the time Oliver was a toddler the kitchen was my well-established domain. He would often patter in, stare up at me with his big brown eyes and beg for lumps of brown sugar (the closest thing we had to candy). I could never refuse. I’d sneak him into the pantry where the massive 50lb. sacks of dark brown sugar were stored & together we’d dig out a few choice lumps. Back in the kitchen I’d set him on the countertop & listen to him giggle as he sucked on one and played with the others in his chubby little hands. Once or twice I even slipped him a taste of whatever wine I was cooking with. He’d pucker his little face, smack his lips and ask for more. Don’t judge. I was fourteen.
I’d like to think that our kitchen escapades had something to do with Oli’s current love of food and comfort around the stove, but the more likely driving force is his veracious appetite. Like most male 18-year olds Oliver eats like an unbridled horse after a race.
My sisters (my usual accomplices in the kitchen) & I figured out early that fried noodles are a perfect meal to whip up when you’re short on time & surrounded by ravenous teenagers. It’s a “kitchen-sink” type dish—as in “throw in everything but”. Honestly we could pull everything out of our fridge, cut it up uniformly, boil some noodles, throw together a good sauce & 15min later the hoards would be chowing down on a delicious meal.
Occasionally, if Oli’s hungry enough, he’ll pause from figuring out his current favorite song on the piano or texting his multiple lady friends & cook up his own wicked version of fried noodles… sometimes, if you’re lucky, he’ll even share.
8 oz. spaghetti *Cooks note I
½ lb. skirt steak
5 shiitake mushrooms
2 celery ribs
2 handfuls of Chinese greens (bok choy, tat soi, Chinese broccoli)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled & minced
2 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. oyster sauce
¼ tsp. sugar
1½ tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. chili garlic sauce (optional)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
- Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Season generously with salt.
- Slice the beef, against the grain, into thin strips. *Cooks note II. Season with ½ tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside while you prep the other ingredients
- Slice the mushroom caps. Julienne (thin long sticks) the carrots and celery. Slice the Chinese greens lengthwise.
- Heat a skillet and 2 tsp. of neutral oil over high heat. When the oil is lightly smoking throw in the carrots, celery & a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Remove.
- Add the shiitake caps to the pan. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook for 1 min. Remove.
- Add 2 tsp. neutral oil to the pan. Immediately add the minced garlic and ginger. As soon as it becomes fragrant (you don’t want any color) add the beef to the pan. Let the beef sear gently for a few seconds before adding 1 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. oyster sauce, ¼ tsp. sugar & 1tsp. sesame oil to the skillet (and the chili garlic sauce if desired). Turn the heat to high & cook for 30 seconds. Remove & set aside until the noodles are finished cooking
- Once the water comes to a boil add the noodles. Cook until al dente. Drain.
- Return the skillet to stove. Turn the heat to medium-high. Add whatever Chinese greens you’ve chosen plus a splash of chicken stock or water. Cook for 30 seconds-1minute, stirring frequently. Add the cooked carrots, celery, shiitakes & beef. Stir. Add the remaining 1 tsp. of soy sauce and 1 tsp. oyster sauce. Add the noodles. Stir-fry over medium-high heat. (If the noodles begin to stick to the skillet add a little chicken stock or water)
- Cook stirring frequently for 2-3 minutes. Finish with a final drizzle of sesame oil. Divide between two plates. Top with sliced scallions (and Sriracha for those who want extra heat)
Cooks Note I: The recipe calls for spaghetti because that’s most likely the type of noodles everyone has on hand. Sometimes I’ll use an Asian egg noodles or rice noodles but most of the time I just use good ol’ spaghetti.
Cooks Note II: Look closely at the beef, with skirt steak it should be fairly apparent which way the fibers are running… lay the steak down so the fibers are running horizontally, slice vertically. You are now cutting against the grain!
I’m not a huge sandwich lover. I’ll take a bowl of noodles or rice over bread any day. Occasionally if I’m in a hurry I’ll grab one for lunch, but absolutely not for dinner. In my opinion bread and cold cuts just don’t meet the qualifications to be served as the final meal of the day. But last week at the end of a busy day I opened the refrigerator door and began cursing myself for not going grocery shopping. There were the usual residents: milk, cream, & cheese. I spotted a head of cauliflower, an apple in the bottom drawer & a lone smoked turkey leg (I had recently used the other limb to flavor a broth, but hadn’t gotten around to using this one yet). I then remembered that I also had a gorgeous loaf of fresh challah bread sitting on the kitchen counter. In my exhaustion the simplicity of throwing together a warm soup and buttery sandwich suddenly became a tantalizing dinner option.
The soup is one I’d made many times before: cream of cauliflower soup from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home cookbook. It’s ridiculously simple & satisfying. My favorite part is the fact that there’s no need to strain the soup. Which means I don’t have to spend 10 agonizing minutes willing the thick soup though the tiny openings of a fine mesh sieve.
I wanted the sandwich to take the place of both the croutons and beet chips that Thomas Keller’s recipe calls for. I layered Havarti cheese, thin slices of apple and smoked turkey atop thickly sliced challah bread. The bread was smeared with whole grain mustard on the inside and a generous amount of Irish butter on the outside.
There wasn’t anything about the crunchy bread, gooey cheese & salty, smoky meat that I didn’t love. Finally, the tartness from the apple paired beautifully with the hint of curry in the velvety cauliflower soup. Perhaps a sandwich can be a satisfying dinner after all.
(adapted from Ad Hoc At Home)
1 head of cauliflower
3 Tbs. butter
½ medium onion, diced
1 small leek, sliced (white and light green parts only)
¼ tsp. curry powder
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups water
- Remove the leaves & core from the cauliflower. Cut the stem and florets into 1-inch sized pieces.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks and curry powder. Cook, stirring frequently for 3 minutes. Add the cauliflower & 2 tsp. of salt
- Cover with a cocked lid and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Increase the heat. Add the milk, cream and water. When the liquid comes to a hard simmer turn the heat down to medium and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the cauliflower is very soft.
- Remove from the heat. Blend the mixture in batches in a Vita-Mix or regular blender. Start on low and finish by blending on high for a few moments. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. *This soup is quite thick so feel free to add a touch more water if you prefer a thinner soup.
- Drizzle with olive oil, & sprinkle a pinch of fleur de sel over the top right before serving
Havarti or cheddar cheese
1 Fuji apple, peeled & thinly sliced
Smoked turkey breast, thinly sliced
Whole grain mustard
- Spread the whole grain mustard on the insides of the bread. (Full disclosure: I add a touch of mayo to my sandwich as well… hubby prefers his sandwich not tarnished by Canada’s favorite condiment)
- Layer with cheese, apple slices and smoked turkey
- Close the sandwich and butter the outside.
- Grill in a pan over medium high heat for 1-2 minutes per side.
- Finish in a 350° toaster or oven. The sandwich is ready when the cheese is gooey and melted!