Testing The Essential Wok Cookbook


Last week we tested and tasted recipes from the Essential Wok Cookbook by  Naomi Imatome-Yun.   Shrimp Fried Rice, Kung Pao Chicken and Wok Seared Broccoli. I learned that buying a bottle of Chinese cooking wine and Szechuan peppercorns are worth the very small investment. The recipes were easy to follow and offered substitutions for special ingredients like balsamic for Chinese black vinegar. We were happy with all the dishes. Kung Pao is one of my favorites and I was so happy to be able to make it at home. Maybe next time I’ll try it with Shrimp and mushrooms.  A few simple tricks surprised me, like orange juice in the broccoli.

Chocolate Fudge Pie

This is totally unrelated to the Wok Cook Book but still worth mentioning. I’ve tried this before and I think I may have cooked it too long in the past. This time, I took out the pie right at 30 minutes while still soft at the center and it was perfect. Once cooled and set, the chocolate was a perfectly melty- without falling apart. The recipe comes from Tricia’s Fantastic Fudge Pie. Definitely, add the chocolate chips that the recipe says are optional.

We also made Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberry jam, buttered egg noodles and green beans. No pictures. Totally forgot. The meatballs were held together by bread crumbs made from the ends of the bread used for  homeless shelter Sandwiches last week. The sauted and softened onions give the meatballs a gentle sweetness. The sourcream in the otherwise simple gravy adds tang and body. Here is the Swedish Meatball recipe. I have a whole bunch of bread crumbs left. Ideas?

Wishing you all a delicious week ahead,


Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Olives


This VERY simple recipe helped me use up leftover kalamata olives. Basically, it was roasting chicken, olives and potatoes on a sheet pan at 450 degrees.

The use of a ground bay leaf was surprising and new to me. The spice blend for the pan was: fennel seeds, bay leaf and red pepper flakes all ground together. Sweet, spicy and fragrant. Usually, I look at a bay leaf as a choking hazard. This recipe made me consider the leaf in a different way. Sometimes the most familiar and simplest recipes can still teach us something new and makes cooking so much more interesting.

Tonight the roast chicken has a second life as a chicken pot pie. Again trying to use up pie crust I made a while back. The potatoes could easily become a potato salad. This is a great dish for a weekend, hot one night, cold another. But, I left the soft and flavorful potatoes alone. If they don’t disappear in the next two days,  they can always find their way to a croquette, curry or bhaji.  It seems a lot of my cooking has to do with creative ways to honor what was extra or left behind. Tried to do the same with some chocolate bars from a night of smores end of last summer. We made chocolate chip cookies but took the cookies out of the oven too early. It will have to be covered in ice-cream and eaten as a cookie dough ice-cream dessert. I don’t imagine anyone complaining.

Remember that fancy pomagranate-chili sauce I made I while ago? Well, it is just as delicious on the chicken as it was on the duck. Again, appreciating and using left-overs. It is quite a cycle of using left-overs to make something new, to make more left-overs with…so on and so on. Depending on what we make, our creativity, skill and willingness, I suppose a tasty or a boring cycle.

Makes me wonder about what I do with “leftover” stuff from my day that is not culinary. Can I use the joy of a peaceful Sunday to make myself an enjoyable Monday? Now that I’m writing about our roast chicken dinner, I might be doing exactly that!! Hah….with that thought…

Hope you have delicious weekend leftovers to make your Monday tasty,





Daal Basics

IMG_2483I’ll be the first to admit that lentils, beans, chili are not the best-looking dishes. I’ll also admit that a well-prepared daal can be comforting, filling and satisfying enough to overlook the unfortunate  aesthetic challenge. Most uncooked beans are beautiful and vibrant in color. I found vibrant red azuki beans at my local ethnic grocery store and ironically lured by their beauty bought them without ever having cooked the beans before. It became my culinary experiment for the weekend. After an unsatisfying recipe search online, I decided to treat it like any other daal.

  1. First step, boil the lentils (red, split pea, yellow, azuki, kidney, urad etc.) until soft. Add atleast double amount of water…more water the bigger the bean. These azuki beans were soft within an hour over a low simmer. You want the water to cover the beans by atleast an inch.
  2. Add tumeric and salt. A teaspoon of each for every cup of lentils is usually enough.
  3. The next part is where you can get as fancy or keep as simple as you like.  Saute in ghee or the oil of your choice: onion slices for a basic daal….at this point you can also include: garlic, ginger, tomatoes, cumin seeds, garam masala, coriander leaves, dry chili peppers, bayleaves, depending on what you have. You can also add coconut milk or cream for the heavier beans like kidney or azuki to give the daal a heartiness. On the other end of the spectrum for a light summer daal you can boil and strain red or yellow small kernel daals, add lemon juice, cilantro and mint for a bright broth.
  4. Pour the flavored oil over the beans. Mix in or  leave the flavored oil and toasted spices floating above the rich soup. Enjoy as a soup or with rice or bread.

My failed search made me realize that I can make deshi dishes as simple or as complicated as I want. Let your pantry decide for you. If you have the spices use it, if you don’t, staples of onions, garlic, and chili flakes are enough. For the azuki soup,  I included almost everything mentioned above. I was happy with how it turned out. Smooth and luxurious because of the cream, spicy because of the peppers, sweetly warm because of the garam masala and cinnamon. Try your own version soon. Throw in your pantry of spices or don’t. Either way the beans will do most of the work.



Sunday Clean-Up Dinner

Like so many of us, Sunday, is the day for weekly groceries: A day of accounting for leftovers and unused fresh ingredients from the week before. Will I eat this? Can I still cook this? Does this smell? Can I transform this? It requires honesty and creativity.

Here’s how I did on the scale of efficient mindful eating:

  1. Two packs of chicken wings having waited in the fridge for two weeks, smelled and perished. [Thank you Jim for throwing the stinky chicken out] Yuck.
  2. Used this week’s leftover pumpkin curry to make vegetable koftas (veggieballs). Its a good way to use up any cooked leftover vegetables. Mix leftovers with mashed potatoes, bread crumbs and egg.  Add enough of each in order to form small balls. Fry or bake. Wednesday I’ll make a quick tomato cream curry sauce and simmer the koftas.
  3. A head of cabbage evolved into veggie egg rolls. A great way to use up any “shreddable” vegetable. I added the last three scrawny carrots in the bag, half a head of cabbage, onions, cilantro and mushrooms.
  4. With brown bananas: Bananas with Chinese five-spice Eggrolls. Froze the last brown banana for smoothies later this week.
  5.  Leftover fresh spinach became an easy spinach garlic saute.
  6. A package of skinless chicken thighs became Thai red curry [red curry paste, fish sauce, brown sugar, coconut milk and lemon grass]
  7. Leftover scrambled eggs from Tuesday’s winter weather two-hour school delay become Sunday’s toasted breakfast sandwiches with spinach, tomato and swiss cheese.
  8. I still have kale in the fridge. I trust it will make it to my plate this week. Kale is strong in so many ways.

So begins a new week with re-purposed leftovers, fresh veggies and a few lost items (sorry stinky chicken wings). On the whole, I’m glad to say I enjoyed more than I wasted. The redcurry, spinach and rice, although not much of a looker (few curries are) was filling, bright and gently spicy. The sweet banana eggroll was decadent drizzled with honey, crunchy and smoky sweet. I really liked the Chinese five-spice with the bananas. I might even make this when I don’t have to save bananas from the trash bin!

Now I have red curry, spinach and eggrolls in the fridge. The virtuous cycle of left-overs continues…

Hoping you had a mindful and delicious weekend too,




Examined Eating in Georgia

As the second image shows, Christmas dinner in Austell, Georgia was soothingly summer on a plate. The last stop during my holiday travels it represents how far my taste buds have traveled in place and time. Recipes for half of the plate begin with “grow your own okra, green beans, corn.” The other half of the plate with smoked turkey, dressing and gravy had all the longed-for familiar and savory holiday flavors. The magic of homegrown summer vegetables made the dinner extra special. Dennis and Rachel are most definitely blessed with green thumbs, patience and gardening knowledge. As the last image shows, dinner was greatly appreciated and enjoyed. Just simple, homey and delicious. Can’t get a more local dinner than what’s grown in the backyard!

Fried Okra

  1. Grow okra and pick at appropriate time.
  2. Slice 1/4″ thick pieces. 4 cups.
  3. In a colander pour 1/4 cup of buttermilk over sliced okra.
  4. 1/2 cup flour + 1/2 cup white corn meal. Place lid and shake until pieces are coated.
  5. Shallow fry in an inch of canola oil.
  6. Drain on paper towel and watch the okra disappear.

Creamed Corn

  1. Grow corn and pick at appropriate time.
  2. Shuck and silk.
  3. Soak in water.
  4. Cut off cobb, twice. Once, if big grains are desired.
  5. Scrape.
  6. Cook on stove over low heat, stirring constantly. Bring to boil.
  7. Salt and butter if needed.

Green Beans

  1. Grow Blue lake green beans.
  2. Take ends off, string them if needed.
  3. 4 cups broken into 2 inch pieces.
  4. Boulion cube + 2 cups water + black pepper.
  5. Boil until tender.


  1. 2 Tbs Olive Oil + 2 Tbs flour in pan. Stir until brown.
  2. Add 1 can chicken broth.
  3. Add 1 can cream of chicken soup.
  4. Add boiled and chopped turkey liver, neck meat, giblets and two boiled eggs.

Still need to add Patti’s dressing recipe and Dennis’ Smoked Turkey recipe. More to come.



4 Weekend Cooking Experiments

Hungryphil here, reporting on this weekend’s cooking experiments, the victories and defeats, the yummy and not so yummy.

First up, Friday’s Fried Eggplant with tahini, balsamic drizzle (and a sprinkling of salt, pepper and sumac) Good taste but could have been cooked more. You can see the uncooked piece by the watermark. Still worth trying again. I liked the nutty smoothness of the tahini with the acidity of the balsamic.

Saturday and second, I attempted to make Bangladeshi “hat roti” (like a tortilla but softer and without fat in the dough). It is made by pouring the flour into boiling water, cooking it enough to absorb and rolling it out without the addition of much extra flour. When done correctly, it is soft, delicate, pillowy, warm, and wraps around halwas (sweet grain, nut or fruit paste, bars) or bhajis (dry vegetables) perfectly. It is a craft and a skill. I failed :o(

I tried pouring boiling water into a food processor with flour in the bowl in order to avoid the whole kneading a ball of hot dough with my hands unpleasantness.  Didn’t work. This will have to be a regular practice of skills, like making a colorless french omelet.

But. I did make the best paratha (a flaky fried flat bread) with the dough. The layers were light and crispy because there was no fat in the dough itself, only between the layers. From now on, this is how I’m making paratha. Mix dough without fat in the food processor, roll out, ghee, fold, roll out again, fry.

So, this experiment was a tie between food fail and fantastic. Sorry no pictures, tried to hide the evidence of failure and then in my excitement ate the paratha too fast to snap a pic. Now I also have a blog excuse to try it again.

Third, Korean Japchae and Bulgogi.

Bulgogi (Korean Beef BBQ 불고기)


Delicious and surprisingly easy.Worth making again. Score for me.

Fourth, Pumpkin Bread (with Cranberries and with Crystallized Ginger) and Chocolate Chip Cookies for fall college care packages. Here are the recipes:



Both were great recipes! The chocolate chip cookies were decadent and flavorful. The texture was just perfect as it’s namesake, crispy on the edges and chewy in the center. Perfect as is. Would make it again and again.

The pumpkin bread was also wonderful. I added cranberries to a batch and crystallized ginger to another. Both had pecans. The ginger is a bit aggressive and takes getting used to. In small, finely chopped portions it might be just right. That will take some tweaking.

Hope the kids enjoy the fall treats! Next time, more cookies!

Busy weekend but thankfully there is a lot to snack on in the kitchen this week.

Hoping you had a delicious weekend too,


Tomato Red Pepper Shrimp with Creamy Oven Polenta


Super Easy Baked Polenta

1 cup polenta + 4 cups water + 350 degree oven + 40 minutes


+ shredded parmesan cheese + more liquid to make it the consistency you like (milk, cream, broth) + salt + pepper to taste.

Quick Tomato Red Pepper Shrimp Sautee

1/2 red pepper diced + 1/2 onion diced + saute in olive oil until roasted

+ 2 diced tomatoes (seeded) + 1/2 tsp ancho chili powder for smokiness (use old bay, cajun, chili, or any seasoning you like) + 1/2 tsp cumin powder  + salt + pepper + cilantro

+ 1/2 pound shrimp + cooked until no longer grey but pink.

Serve shrimp over polenta for a happy kid on a Wednesday fall evening.

Didn’t want to forget this super easy made up meal tonight. Love having a blog to store these random ideas. Thanks for enduring the fruits of my bad memory.  I really like this easy way to make polenta in the oven, grits should work the same way too, right? I’ll save that experiment for another day.

Wishing you happy eating,


Gateway Deshi Dishes – Three Levels

There is a fair amount of gastronomic seduction and education involved in inviting another to one’s native culinary tastes. This is particularly the case when two people from different culinary traditions fall in love and regularly dine together. Jim and I have been together for five years. Through each other and with each other we have discovered many new tastes. This blog is partly an account of our dinner conversations. It is quite possible that we shared every meal you see posted on this site.

In the past five years, I learned to bake (a technique I unknowingly under-utilized before), cakes, chicken, casseroles, vegetables and more. I learned to make a variety of sauces. I learned to appreciate biscuits and gravy, grits and cheese and a variety of sweets I didn’t know existed, like Ritz crackers with peanut butter dipped in chocolate. I appreciate steaks and burgers as worthy treats. Pastas and salads have become very familiar. My pantry is the most diverse and global it has ever been. It is rare for us to go a week without dining on at least three different cuisines. This week, for example, we had Cajun inspired, Japanese inspired and Indian inspired meals.

But, my culinary evolution is small compared to Jim’s. He went from a diet of burgers, salads and packaged Italian meals to willingly eating fried anchovies and spicy vegetable curries. Food is so much better shared. I’m glad Jim is my food buddy.

Here was my intuitive strategy to introduce him to Bengali (South Asian) food:

photo 1

Level 1: Comfort: Unfamiliar flavors with a familiar twist.

  • Add cream/ sugar. Dishes like chicken rezala (an earlier posted recipe) made with a yogurt, ginger, garlic sauce work well. [Quick note: The layer of floating oil is unappealing to unaccustomed eyes. The aggressive look of red thick spicy sauce with a film of oil should be avoided as much as possible.]
  • Cover with pastry: If I can’t see the unfamiliar filling then I can’t be too scared of it. Wrapping hides the unknown. Potato croquettes, samosas, vegetable koftas or fritters work well.
  • Fry or grill: anything fried or grill has an automatic familiarity. Example, chicken tandoori.


Level 2: Complexity: Building expertise and letting go of familiar level 1 culinary crutches.

  • Add more traditional ingredients: In stage one, I focused on familiar spices like ginger, garlic, onions, cinnamon, chili with the inclusion of no more than three unknown flavors, like turmeric, coriander, cumin etc. As familiarity builds, I felt okay adding saffron, cardamom, fennel seeds, mustard seeds etc,. For example, shrimp and pumpkin curry with coconut milk, coriander, cumin, garlic, onion, turmeric and chili.
  • Remake restaurant dishes: Somehow standardized restaurant food acquires a level of shared cultural currency. We know Indian restaurant food well (unlikely we cook it at home), sag paneer, butter chicken, karahi ghost and the famed chicken tikka masala. The process of trying something together at a restaurant and then trying to cook it at home, makes it a shared discovery. For example, easy fake out butter chicken (recipe posted previously).
  • Introduce traditional flavor combinations and progression. For example, a cucumber raita accompanies dry kabobs and biriyani dishes, not light currries, dal or vegetables. Or, rice flavored with curries is the main dish, not the meat curry.


Level 3: Comfort: Search for Variations

  • This is when floating oil, involved and complex sauces and whole spices in the curry become less intimidating. For example, the spicy Shrimp curry recipe posted last month. Or the plate above with shrimp, dal and cabbage bhaji. This is the phase of native familiarity without the childhood nostalgia.
  • Remake home cooking and regional variations. Now I feel comfortable making dishes I remember eating without worrying whether Jim will like it. His dislike at this point would be a personal taste preference instead of a quick reaction to the unknown.

As you can see, I thought about introducing Jim to flavors I love very consciously. I am thankful that Jim responded as well as he has. I am not alone in pondering these questions of cultural interpretation and translation. In the book, Food: The Key Concepts, Warren Belasco, writes about American preferences (for sweet and meat) and quotes culinary historian Laura Shapiro’s characterization of the Americanization of other culinary cultures by “blunting the flavors and dismantling the complications.” While the strategy of tempered flavors and complexities served well to introduce Jim to Bengali food, the continued discovery now makes it a shared adventure. For example, our first Michelin starred five-course dinner at San Francisco’s  Compton Place (more on that meal later).

Wishing you gateway dishes that take you far away and bring you closer together,


Honey Ginger Chicken with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

Honey Ginger Chicken: Marinate four chicken thighs with 3 tbs soy sauce, 3 tbs oil, 3 tbs honey (I was so close to finishing my honey bear bottle that I just emptied it into the marinade, making it more like 4 tbs honey), 1/2 tsp garlic crushed/paste/minced, whatever you have and 1/2 tsp garlic paste, salt, pepper. Marinated for three hours. I added a few sliced green chili peppers. Baked at 425 for 20-30 minutes.

Wasabi Mashed Potatoes:  Just regular mashed potatoes. Boil potatoes. Mash. Butter 2 tbs. 1/4 cup heavy cream or sour cream. Salt and pepper. Add 1 tsp of wasabi mustard. Top with green onions.

I can’t take credit for the vegetables. It was just a bag of Bird’s Eye Asian Vegetable Medley. But I have to say the baby corn with its metal flavor was NOT my favorite.

Good dinner. Caramelized skin, succulent warmly spiced chicken, creamy and spicy potatoes. Did I say it was super easy?

You can marinate the chicken things in a bag over the weekend and just bake on a weeknight for an easy no prep dinner. I imagine yummy with noodles and rice too. Let me know how it goes, if you try it.

Amani, I hope you try it in your college kitchen, its cheap, quick and neutral enough to suit many taste palates.

Wishing you delicious improvised and inauthentic dishes,


Sunday Slow Eats (Inauthentic Recipes)


Last weekend my newly braced child, not in pain, and asked for “deshi” or “home food.” I was only too happy to oblige and enjoy a day of savored chewing with her. It took two hours to slow roast the lamb shank in the oven. While that was cooking in a glaze of ginger, caramelized onions, spices, raisins and nuts, Jim and I cooked Dal (the thick kind my father likes), a spicy shrimp curry and a light vegetable curry.

In my chopped and blended family, Jim can now identify spices, stir until the oil separates from the roasted spices ( a strange and specific Asian cooking technique) and even anticipate when I’ll ask for another onion. Very impressive. He is officially trained in the deshi kitchen (he’s already quite a chef during Steak and Burgers, Southern, Italian and Mexican kitchen nights). Jim not only helps me cook but has also graduated from eating modified Bengali food to keeping up with my confessedly inauthentic taste. No coconut milk or cream was added, no heat removed, no vegetables or spices were denied yesterday.

It was reassuring to be able to share a meal that reminds me of my parents and larger family, with Jim. Cooking may have taken two hours but considering going to the stores and washing dishes afterwards, it was a whole day event. It was time well spent together. What a true luxury to have an open day to make something that invites thoughts of family whether present or not (you are missed and loved).

Here are loose directions for each of the dishes for Amani, my eldest at college (one of many missed yesterday) and you my patient readers:

Thick Split Chana Dal

  1. Cook the lentils in water until tender. I had about 1/2 cup of dal with 2 cups of water. Some kernels will start breaking apart. This takes a while (about an hour on medium heat).
  2. Add salt and tumeric.
  3. Saute cumin seeds until fragrant (about 30 secs), sliced onions, slivers of garlic ( a little later otherwise the garlic will burn and become bitter), chili peppers, in ghee. Add the mixture to the dal, stir and let simmer until desired consistency. Add water if needed.

Mixed Vegetables

This a super easy way to make a light vegetable curry.

  1. Cut vegetables ( I had eggplant, pumpkin, potatoes and a particular type of green large and long squash found in Indian markets, I have no idea what the English name might be) into equal sizes, about a 3/4 inch dice.
  2. Cook with a little water until tender.
  3. Add salt, tumeric to the cooked and soft vegetables.
  4. Repeat step three of the dal recipe. Here you can add 1/2 teaspoon of ginger or a spoon of any indian jarred pickle you might have.

Spicy Shrimp Curry

  1. Make a spice paste with 1 teaspoon tumeric, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1 teaspoon garlic paste, 1/2 garlic, 1/2 cup onion paste (just blend up an onion)  1/2 coriander powder, 1/2 cumin powder and salt. 
  2. saute spice mixture in oil
  3. add 1/2 can (or fresh) of diced tomatoes, saute spice mixture in oil until oil separates. You may have to add oil, until it does so.
  4. Add a bag of cleaned shrimp.
  5. Simmer until shrimp is cooked, add cilantro before serving.

Roasted Lamb Shank

  1. Rub lamb shank with salt, ginger and garlic paste and let rest. If you have any packaged spices or garam masala you like, you can rub that on as well. I’m guessing any spice rub would work.
  2. Brown shank on all sides. Set aside.
  3. In same pan, saute sliced onions, add 1/2 teaspoon each of  ginger and garlic paste, slivered almonds, raisins until roasted and brown. Place the shank (s) in the sauce. Add water to just cover the bottom.
  4. Cover and bake in a low heat oven (325) for about 1 hour-2 hours until meat almost falls off the bone.

We enjoyed these dishes with Pulao (Rice pilaf) and store bought naan. Left-overs are even better! I had a fantastic and fulfilling lunch of vegetables and rice today. Oreo, the dog, who turned 3 yesterday, is chewing on a lamb bone as I write. He is so happy.

That’s my food story for now.

Wishing all of you random days of shared cooking, eating and remembering,