It might be okay that I’ve discovered the perfect summer salad after summer fruit season is past its peak. When peaches are at their juicy prime, the kids devour them before I get a chance to cook with any. Now it’s my turn. I’ve had this salad five times in four days, and I can’t imagine tiring of it before peach season ends.

I first had a version of this salad at the Saveur event in May, and it was so deliciously fruity and creamy I wished I could have a giant portion as both dinner and dessert. I really loved it – and then, because I’m 40-plus, I forgot about it completely. Fortunately my awesome friend Cynthia, Manhattan laywer by day, Brooklyn blogger by night, posted her take on this salad last week. I’ve been thanking her every day since.

It’s hard to find burrata, an extra-creamy version of fresh mozzarella, in Ohio, so I’ve made this salad with both vacuumed-packed fresh mozzarella (fine) as well as mozzarella packed in water (better). Use the best, freshest mozzarella you can find, and don’t sweat it too much. The luscious presence of mozzarella in any form provides a quiet, creamy foil to the sweet softness of the peaches. read on…

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juicy honeydew

Melon divination

5 August 2014

A melon purchase is a commitment in a way that buying an apple, say, is not. A mealy apple can be philosophically tossed, but a mealy watermelon is a sloppy, head-shaking disposal project.

Summer is the season to practice melon-picking skills, since your risk of getting a total dud is low. Even so, shipments vary in quality, so the first thing to do is scan the melons to see if they look like a good batch. Even the best of a green or overripe batch is probably marginal, so you’ll want to find a good group first and then pick the best of the bunch.

Conventional melon wisdom – buy a heavy, hollow-sounding one – never helps me. Maybe I have a bad ear, but watermelon-thumping leaves me confused. And melons all seem pretty heavy, so gauging relative weight never gives me confidence either. I rely on visual clues for watermelons and a mix of look and scent for thinner-skinned melons like honeydew and cantaloupe.

Watermelon

  • Dull rind – Watermelons turn from shiny to dull as they ripen.
  • Field spot – A yellow or creamy underside indicates the watermelon ripened on the vine.
  • Rough tracks – My mom, melon-picker extraordinaire, swears that rough brown/tan scars on an otherwise smooth and firm melon indicate sweetness. I don’t know what causes them (they are sometimes called bee stings, though it would take some giant stinger to make it through a watermelon rind), but my mom’s record of supersweet, well-scarred melons has made me a believer.
  • read on…

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shucking corn

Discovery blogiversary

23 July 2014

I need to start thinking of my birthday the way I think of my blogiversary. Now that I’m on the scary road past 40, I’m not sure what it is I’m supposed to celebrate on birthdays anymore. But as I mark four years of this blog’s existence, the reasons to celebrate are happily clear: another gratifying year of exploring, sharing and growth at chinese grandma – and one more year with you, my kind readers, who cook, laugh, cry, wonder and learn with me here.

Four years! I created this blog in the spirit of giving, but I had no idea how much more I would get back. (There’s probably an enlightening Biblical reference there, but I don’t know what it is.)

To heck with the age thing, I want to see birthdays this way too: pausing to acknowledge the persistence and effort it took to get to this day, appreciating another year of connection and communion with this world, celebrating the relationships and personal joys that sustain us in this life. If we’ve done well, we’ve earned a few badges of maturity and wisdom. They don’t come easy, so it’s nice to take a day to polish them and be glad that we’ve made it as far as we have.

In the past, I’ve celebrated my blogiversary with an annual giveaway of some favorite item or other I’ve written about during the year. This year I can’t really think of any, so I’m just going to give away $25 Amazon gift cards: four winners, one for each year.

Leave a comment below – a favorite recipe or something you found interesting here, or a suggestion for improvement, or an idea of your own to share – and you will be entered to win. I’m on a road trip next week with the family, so I’ll pick winners a week from Sunday, August 3. It’s random selection, because I cannot pick favorites among you wonderful people.

Oh, and my fun discoveries for today…a hilarious app you gotta try, non-flopping Havaianas, summer reads, Apple tech tips, and a peek at food 4000 years ago. I waited too long again and have too many, but you guys know how to scan. read on…

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blondie bake-off

Blondie bake-off

15 July 2014

She looks normal, my friend Jenny – slim, medium height, blond and cheerfully energetic – but she’s the Takeru Kobayashi of sugar. I have a sweet tooth, as does my husband and all of my kids, but in a sugar-eating contest the six of us would be groaning with pain under the table while Jenny could keep putting away pies, cakes and cookies with contented ease.

Descended from a line of great bakers, Jenny’s been in training since birth on both the production and consumption of sweets. Her lovely mom Angie, the image of Mrs Claus with perfect snowy hair and twinkling blue eyes, was the kind of mom who had fresh-baked cookies waiting every day after school, and each Christmas she baked scores of caramel sticky buns to give out to friends and family. When having lunch out with friends, Jenny’s impish dad Bob would order two slices of pie and a pint of Guinness – and at home could eat a whole of Angie’s fresh pies in a single sitting.

Because of her unreliable oven at home, Jenny often bakes in my kitchen. She loves not only the double ovens but – bless her patient heart – the enthusiastic child labor as well. Her sons are grown, but she still rolls out decorated cookies for them every Hallmark holiday, and my kids love to create with her rainbow collection of edible confetti.

But blondies drive Jenny crazy. Every so often she attempts a batch, using an index card handwritten with her aunt’s recipe. Every time they are cakey, and she wants chewy. This has been going on for years.

I came to Ohio this summer waving a new blondie recipe for us to try: Cook’s Illustrated’s blondie recipe featured by Food 52 in its “genius recipes” column.

In the blogosphere, there are two leading blondie recipes: Mark Bittman’s from his 1998 classic, How to Cook Everything, popularized by Smitten Kitchen in 2006, and Cook’s Illustrated’s from 2005. The two recipes are similar – flour, brown sugar, melted butter, egg and vanilla – but Bittman uses only egg for leavening, while Cook’s Illustrated adds baking powder.

Someone has already done a side-by-side comparison of the two recipes (thanks, How to Eat a Cupcake!) and found them near identical, with Bittman’s recipe just a bit fudgier. But Jenny wants chewy, not fudgy, and since the Cook’s Illustrated recipe is sized at twice Bittman’s, it seems a better base for our crowd. read on…

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summer chopped (taco-ish) salad

Chopped taco salad

9 July 2014

At the end of our friends’ visit to Ohio last summer, Paul left wistful for more pie, and Venus dreamed of Jeni’s ice cream. This year they came again for a longer stay, and we indulged in so much pie and Jeni’s that by the end, the only food they wanted more of was this chopped taco salad.

Funny how it’s hard to find a good salad at a restaurant, but it’s easy to make a great one at home. A home cook is unlikely to match the skill of a trained chef, but as Nancy Silverton points out, the salad-maker in a restaurant kitchen is typically a less-than-enthused newbie. To do better at home simply takes a bit of care.

Taco salad is as comforting as salad gets. It’s a salad, but it’s also a meal. You can have a pile of spicy taco meat on top, or a scoop of guacamole. It’s easy to eat – no knife needed. You can even eat it with chips.

The heart of this salad is a big bowl of marinated veggies – cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers, olives and black beans – glossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and oregano, and topped with crumbly cheese. It’s a lovely summer chopped salad in its own right, ready to eat and wilt-free. And from here you’re only two steps – cold greens and warm taco meat – from an unbeatable taco salad.

marinating salad read on…

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standing henckels knife

Kitchen geekery

27 June 2014

The fact that I cannot buy anything casually is tied directly to my hard-knocks immigrant training not to throw useful things away. Anything I buy, I’m likely to keep forever – which means I’d better love it.

So the things I geek out over in the kitchen are multi-use, smartly designed items that are priced well for their quality. Whether it’s a can opener or a cooktop, I do my research to make sure I get the best one at the best price.

I know these are not the things that will matter on my deathbed. But I can’t help myself.

Stackable wine glasses

Take these glasses, for example. I’m not oenophile enough to stockpile multiple shapes of wine glasses, especially considering the impractability of tall-stemmed glassware around energetically gesticulating children. I like stemless glasses, but there’s something cooler about these casually squat stemmed glasses: they stack.

crate and barrel eddy glass

I love the efficiency of stacking, because my no-waste philosophy is to stock a quantity of durable, inexpensive dishware and glassware so that I can have a crowd of kids and adults over without buying and throwing away a bunch of disposables. Stackable glasses take up half the cabinet space of singletons.

stackable wine glasses

These short-stemmed cups are also stable enough for kids to use for drinks, or ice cream. They fit well in a dishwasher. And they’re just $3 each or $30 for 12 at Crate & Barrel. Sold! read on…

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Kitchen, the sequel

18 June 2014 Favorite gadgets
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Well, we did it. We finally moved into our new place, more than three years after we bought a leaky old house on a lot with potential. Funny how much can change in three years. Suddenly I’m not the mom loaded down with kids in her arms. My first child just graduated from elementary school, […]

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Getaway beef (hello Vegas)

2 June 2014 Food
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It’s never easy to get away when you have mouths to feed and people to care for, but it seems to me if you leave them with heaps of food, they notice you being gone a little less. I didn’t win the Saveur award or the free trip to the award dinner in Las Vegas […]

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Lemony potato and green bean salad

19 May 2014 Food
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I’m happy to pull out this reliable recipe again, like a favorite pair of checked shorts, for the warm-weather season. Paired with bright green beans, this fresh dish is both vegetable and starch in one generous bowl, only needing a bit of grilled chicken to complete the meal, or even some hard-boiled eggs for an […]

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Eggs over spinach, chickpeas and tomato sauce

9 May 2014 Breakfast
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As someone who cooks often, I am ridiculously appreciative when someone else cooks for me. At a recent brunch, I sampled this gorgeous dish – spinach and chickpeas in a spiced tomato sauce, with sunny-side-up eggs on top – and my memory of it was so glowing I wondered whether I had been overly biased […]

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