everything muffin half

Everything muffins

1 March 2017

Eating well on a road trip is a whole lot easier than it was before iPhones. When my husband and I drove across the country from New York City to Silicon Valley in 2001, I mapped out our route every night using our fold-out paper maps and diligently cross-referenced them with my dog-eared copy of Roadfood, which was then the ultimate food guide for road warriors in America.

We ate well on that trip – pizza in Chicago, barbecue in Kansas City, fried chicken in Oklahoma City – but it took real planning. Now I can look up a good local restaurant on Yelp while we wait for the stoplight to turn green.

We took an overnight trip from Columbus, Ohio to Nashville this past Christmas to visit friends. We stopped in Kentucky midway for a quick lunch in Louisville, and after scanning a wealth of options (I need to go back!), we opted for an efficient and tasty visit to Wild Eggs, a Louisville brunch spot so popular that it is now quickly expanding into nearby cities and states.

We split a Southwestern-themed Benedict, with green chili corn cakes in place of English muffins, and a side of cheesy grits with sausage. The kitchen generously split the Benedict in two, giving us each full servings of potatoes and a golden muffin dotted with poppy seeds.

Poppy seeds made me think lemon, so when I broke the warm muffin open and took a bite I was surprised to find the deliciously moist muffin subversively savory instead. It was less like an everything bagel and more like a soft, savory scone. I’ve been wanting to make it since. read on…


slow cooked italian beef

Slow-cooked Italian beef

26 January 2017

Coming from a family of seven siblings, with 21 kids between them, my Ohio sister-in-law Michelle can feed a crowd like a boss. For New Year’s Eve in Columbus, we had 40 family and friends over to watch Ohio State play Clemson in the (disastrous for us) Fiesta Bowl playoff game. After Christmas, all I could manage were a couple giant salads, a sheet cake and a pizza order, but Michelle showed up, casually hauling in a few dozen Italian rolls and a seriously supersized electric roaster filled with 16 pounds of shredded beef. The girl is unflappable.

Italian beef is a Chicago specialty, created by some clever Italians in the early 1900s as a way to make cheap cuts of beef tender and flavorful. A rump roast or some lean but tough cut is roasted in beef broth with Italian spices, shaved thin on an electric deli slicer and piled back into warm cooking juices. Delicate sheets of beef are loaded into a crusty roll that’s sturdy enough to hold up to the jus-laden meat.

Because the industrial slicing is key to making the tough beef tender, it’s hard to get the same result at home. For home cooks, it’s more reliable to make a shredded version of Italian beef. If you patiently cook the beef long enough, low and slow, it will become fall-apart tender on its own, no slicer required.

This is made-for-Superbowl food. Meat, check. Crowd, check. Low effort, check. You can also keep it warm in a slow cooker for hours, and people can help themselves while you watch the game (or not). Easy.

East coasters can start their beef the morning of Superbowl Sunday and be done by game time. West coast folks should cook their beef the day before, or overnight, since Superbowl is an afternoon activity here.

If you’ve been sucked into the Instant Pot craze, or have another pressure cooker, you can take the express route and be done in an hour or so. read on…


holiday cookie factory

Holiday gift guide 2016

7 December 2016

For all the online fun kids have these days – musical.ly videos, Snapchat filters, YouTube channels, online gaming – it’s amusing to note that the hottest toy this year was the half-empty disposable water bottle. Water bottle flipping, a YouTube-inspired sensation, became such an obsessive craze it was covered in the New York Times. For parents, the soundtrack to the year was the repeated THUNK…gurgle…THUNK…gurgle…THUNK…gurgle…THUNK…occasionally interjected with a triumphant cheer when the flipped bottle finally stuck a Simone Biles-worthy landing.

Practical though it may be, the kids probably wouldn’t appreciate a case of Deer Park Spring Water bottles for Christmas (apparently they are the best for flipping). But I think it would be a funny stocking stuffer.

My kids have aged out of the intense toy years – hallelujah – but as always I’m here to share the ideas I have for this holiday season, mostly for school-aged kids and up. If you are looking for gift ideas for toddlers and preschool-aged kids, please check out my gift ideas from previous years, which have a ton of ideas for younger children. read on…


simplest mashed potatoes

Foolproof mashed potatoes

23 November 2016

I finally figured out the best way for a distracted cook to manage homemade mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. No peeler, no risk of overcooked spuds – just potatoes, butter and milk in the most fuss-free and relaxed method I’ve found.

Here’s the trick: quickly score each potato around the center before boiling them whole. You don’t need to worry much about overcooking potatoes this way; the skins will keep the flesh from getting waterlogged.

Then leave the cooked potatoes in the covered pot until just before you want them. They stay hot forever. Get on with your other cooking and come back when you’re ready. The scored peels slip easily slip off the cooked potatoes, and the mashing part is easy. read on…


This shredded kale and cabbage salad, coated in a sweet honey-mustard dressing and generously showered with crushed peanuts, has a cult following at Hillstone restaurants across the country, from Houston’s to Bandera to various Grill outposts, such as Cherry Creek, Bal Harbour, Palm Beach and Rutherford. You see it on almost every table, as starter, side dish, or tossed with rotisserie chicken as a main dish. And you think, all those people can’t be wrong.

They are not wrong. Next to sticky ribs, a loaded omelette or a fat cheeseburger, it’s a scene-stealing side that will leave you wanting more.

A salad fanatic, I got seriously obsessed with making this salad at home. How hard could it be?

I picked the brain of a really nice server at my local restaurant. Kale, cabbage and peanuts, clearly. She gave me a few hints: roasted peanut oil, both green and savoy cabbage, some reggiano cheese (presumably Parmigiano-Reggiano). I kept some salad to bring home. And she gave me a little container of dressing to go.

I tasted it at home and immediately identified honey mustard. Only the tiniest amount of vinegar. A lot of sweetness, which really works to offset the bitter edge of kale. Flecks of red – a dash of hot sauce. Flecks of green too – maybe parsley flakes. Finely minced something – I’m guessing shallot. All in all, subtler and more delicate that I would have come up with on my own.

For those who want some relief from heavier Thanksgiving dishes, this salad provides a great fresh contrast on your plate, and kale and cabbage both have a happy affinity with mashed potatoes. It’s also easy to make ahead – you can prep all the greens a day or two ahead, whisk together the dressing, crush the peanuts and store them all separately until you are ready to toss and serve. read on…


pumpkin loaves

Pumpkin bread with chocolate

16 November 2016

I have a beef with pumpkin breads that aren’t pumpkiny. A drier bread makes for easy cutting and tidy presentation, but the pumpkin bread I want to eat is a little soft, with big sticky crumbs, and super rich with pumpkin flavor.

In Ohio we live for pumpkin bread, from a little bakery called Beehive Bread. It’s a glistening, weighty loaf, dark orange inside and generously studded with chocolate. You can feel the moistness in its heft, even before you cut into it and bite into a fat slice of spiced pumpkin perfection. It’s so beloved that Beehive makes it year round, and we love it just as much in the thick heat of summer when our minds can’t even conjure the crisp chill of fall.

But fall is here now in California, and the pumpkin bread of our dreams is 2500 miles away. It took me a few different recipes to hone in on a recipe that fully lives up to our Beehive memories. And though I’m often weary of eating something after I’ve tested several batches, I’m still going strong on this one. Because pumpkin season is in the air, and this pumpkin bread is that good.

Even my non-chocolate daughter admits the chocolate in the Beehive loaf is hard to beat. But I also tried a version with a cinnamon-sugar topping instead of chocolate, and we loved that variation too. read on…


Comfort in pancakes (banana chocolate chip)

11 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Comfort in pancakes (banana chocolate chip)

When I’m stressed, I don’t want a beer, I want a bakery. Or to bake something. Science backs me up on this: sugar reduces the stress hormone cortisol in our systems (don’t try to substitute fake sugar, it doesn’t have the same effect). Even before eating, the warm olfactory combination of flour, butter and sugar […]

Full article →

The best yellow birthday cake

26 October 2016
Thumbnail image for The best yellow birthday cake

I’ve had a best chocolate cake recipe forever – easy and reliably fantastic – but it took years of trying before I finally found the perfect yellow cake. When we lived in Ohio with my husband’s side of the family, chocolate was the only cake we ever needed. But in California, my Chinese family likes […]

Full article →

Grand Canyon’s quieter east entrance

10 October 2016
Thumbnail image for Grand Canyon’s quieter east entrance

My parents avoided the crowds and tension of cities, so we rarely traveled to urban areas on family vacations, unless we did the Asian thing and stopped for a college tour. To their immigrant eyes, the wonders of America were not in cities but in the immense protected landscape of the country, unusual in a […]

Full article →

Sliced green bean and ground turkey stir fry

23 September 2016
Thumbnail image for Sliced green bean and ground turkey stir fry

One recipe, two ideas here: First, that you can use ground turkey in a stir fry. Second, that when you have older, thicker green beans, you can transform them by cutting steep diagonal slices that will absorb a fantastic amount of flavor. My mom has made green beans like this for years, so it always […]

Full article →