happy thanksgiving!

i pondered what to post this week and sort of obsessed over which thanksgiving recipe i would dazzle all 9 of you with. then as time wore on, i realized that most people don't really experiment on thanksgiving. i mean, outside of frying the turkey or using fresh cranberries instead of the stuff in the can, most people have to have certain thanksgiving dishes. Mac and cheese is one. My Canadian sister-in-law couldn't believe we had Kraft dinner on Thanksgiving. I have to eat the pope's nose on the turkey (the tail). This will be the first year since 2000 I'll have to fight my brother for it. I make the best stuffing in the world, and my pies have garnered me more than one marriage proposal.

But y'all don't care about what I'm making for Thanksgiving, you're thinking about what YOU have to have. Your aunt's sweet potatoes. Your grandpa's turkey carving knife. Your weird cousin's awful ambrosia that nobody likes or eat but wouldn't DARE leave off the table.

So I'm not going to cook for you this week. This week I'm going express my thanks for some of the people and things that have made 2010 one of the best of my life so far...

this guy, for sure.

and these two, who are the parents of the next two.

these two.


and this.

and last but not least, this girl.


Steamed Buns with Pork Belly

When people find out that I used to cook for a living, they often say something like "Oh, you must eat so well!" And my response is usually to shrug and say "I guess." And we do, I guess. But just like everyone else, there are days when I'm exhausted or working late or just don't feel like going to a lot of trouble. Those days I ask Doodler to cook (he's no slouch, I'm here to tell you) or I kind of throw something together, like chili or mac and cheese.

But sometimes I want to play in the kitchen, and because I share my meals with a fellow adventurous eater, I know that if i create something out of the ordinary it's probably going to make him happy. And who wouldn't want to make this guy happy?

How cute is he? But I digress.

The food I miss most from my time in New York is good Chinese food. You can get pretty good Thai and Vietnamese close by, but to get good Chinese you have to drive kind of far. And while I'm not opposed to that, on a Tuesday night I'm not gonna get in the car and drive half an hour to eat dinner. So I make it myself.

Doodler has never really had food like you can get in Chinatown, so it's fun for me to get to introduce him to things like soy sauce chicken and char siu and steamed buns. It's one of the best things about Canal Street: you can walk into a bakery and get a delicious pork bun and a drink for like $3. It was a favorite lunch when I didn't have a whole lot of money but didn't have the wherewithal to pack a lunch.

I miss those buns, but I haven't had time lately to make them, because while they're not hard to make, you have to start them a few hours ahead so they can rise. And trying to work two jobs, start a business, and maintain relationships with friends and family (not to mention that dreamboat pictured above) kind of eats into your free time.

But for some reason today everything kind of fell into place. I was at Whole Foods early this morning and was able to procure a large piece of pork belly, which needed to brine for 6 hours. That was plenty of time to make the buns and also maybe do my job a little! Serendipity!

These are a little involved to make, I'm not gonna lie. But it's not difficult work; it just requires a little planning. And to get that smile on that face? It is so worth it.

Steamed Buns with Pork Belly*


1/4 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 (3-poundish) piece boneless pork belly


1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Heaping 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup vegetable shortening or rendered pork fat, plus more for shaping the buns

Hoisin sauce
Kim chee
Pickled cucumbers

Start the pork belly:
Mix the salt and sugar together. Place the pork belly in a roasting pan that just fits it, and pat the salt/sugar mixture all over it. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours, and up to 24 hours.

(Start the buns here.)

Heat the oven to 400F. Drain any liquid from the pan and roast the pork fat side up for 1 1/2 hours, or until the top has turned a beautiful mahogony color. Reduce the heat to 250 and roast about another hour until the meat is pillowy soft.

Make the buns! Combine the yeast and the water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitting with the dough hook. Add the remaining ingredients and mix on the lowest speed possible (just above "stir") until a smooth, slightly tacky dough forms. Lightly oil another bowl, place the dough in it, cover, and let stand in a warm place (like the oven with just the pilot light lit) for about an hour and a half or until the dough doubles in size.

(Put your pork in the oven at this point.)

Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a work surface. Using a bench scraper, cut the dough in half, then divide each half into 5 balls. Roll each of those into logs, then cut off ping-pong ball-sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then place on a baking sheet. Cover the balls loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut squares of parchment, one for each ball. Grease a chopstick with whatever fat you're using.

Flatten a ball with your hand into an oval, then fold it over the chopstick to form the bun. Remove the chopstick and place the bun on a square of parchment. Return to the plastic wrap and let them rest for about 40 minutes. They will rise a little more.

Set up a steamer on the stove (I used an upside-down cake pan set in the middle of my wok). Fill the bottom with about an inch of water. Bring the water to a boil, then working in batches, steam the buns for about 10 minutes each. Remove the parchment as the steam. You can hold them at room temp and reheat them in the steamer if necessary.

Remove the pork from the oven and slice it crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. To build a bun, open one up (you may need to cut it), slather it with hoisin sauce, then top with pork, scallions, kim chee, pickles, and sriracha.

Eat many of them. Bask in the glow of happy people at your table.

*If I didn't already have The Best Boyfriend in the World, I would totally ask David Chang if he wanted the job. This recipe is based on his from the Momofuku cookbook.


Just-Woke-Up-Must-Make-Dinner-with-What's-in-The-House Chili

I love a nap. it seems so decadent to SLEEP in the middle of the day. I rarely take them, though, because when I wake up I feel weird and groggy and am generally useless for several hours. (I used to take a nap after work so I could go out and drink at the State Bar. That was a loooong time ago.)


This morning I made a list, like I always do, of things that I wanted to accomplish today. Cut to 2 pm when I can barely keep my eyes open (did I mention I got up at 3:45 this morning for work?) so I decide, even though my list is not anywhere NEAR being checked off, to take a nap.

I wake up at 3:30 and realize that I'm not going to do anything else on the list, including going to the store to get food for dinner. A quick rifle through the pantry reveals spices, a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of hominy. The fridge contains a package of ground beef. Chili it is!

OK. I have to get something off my chest. Lately there's been all this blather about with-beans, no beans, is it real chili if you use (insert ingredient here) but leave out (insert ingredient here), blah blah blah.... and to this I would like to say:


here's the thing: I think my chili is the best, just like my mom thinks hers is the best, just like a million bazillion other people think theirs is the best. Just make it how you frigging like it, people, and stop worrying so much about this stupid debate. You can bet the men on the cattle drives or whatever didn't whine about beans or no beans or what kind of mean or adding coffee or any of that crap. They ate it, and were happy to have a hot meal after a long day.

To paraphrase a wiser person than myself: if it tastes good, just eat it.

Rant over .Thank you.

Now to the good part. I'm not going to say this is how i ALWAYS make chili. It ain't. this is how i made it TODAY. And if I made it tomorrow, it would be different again. (And I don't want any guff about using onion powder. It was what was in the house. Don't use it if you don't like it.) I'm not saying this should the ONLY chili you make, but it's a good one to add to your repertoire.

Just-Woke-Up-Must-Make-Dinner-with-What's-in-The-House Chili

Oil (or bacon fat)
1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder.
1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
1 jalapeno
1/4 cup unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 can hominy (you can substitute beans if you want, or use both)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the beef, season with salt, and brown. Add the spices, cilantro, and garlic and onion and cook until the spices are fragrant. Add the jalapeno and tomatoes and stir to mix. Add the chocolate and season with salt again.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until the liquid is thickened and the flavors have blended, about an hour. Stir in the cornmeal and then the hominy and cook 5 minutes more.


Pork Chops and Applesauce

There are some foods that I'm mildly embarrassed to admit I didn't appreciate until i was in my later 20s. Beets, for one. Brussels sprouts. Good tomatoes. And applesauce.

"Applesauce?" You might ask? "Doesn't every kid love applesauce?"

No. No, they don;t. Some kids hate the gritty, flavorless mush that passes for commercial applesauce. But then I had homemade applesauce. And like so many yummy foods that are not well-represented by their commercial versions, homemade applesauce? Is a whole nother thing.

Commercial applesauce is a waste reducer. All the apples deemed unworthy of your grocer's produce bins are made into applesauce. And that's why it's mealy, flavorless, watery mush that just doesn't do justice to the beautiful fruit from which it's made.

Homemade applesauce tastes like lovely ripe apples. It's smoother in texture and richer in color. It's perfect alongside pork chops (you can be DAMN sure Alice made hers from scratch). And how about topped with some toasted pecans and maybe, just maybe, a splash of brown butter? Sounds like an ideal fall meal to me.

Pork Chops and Homemade Applesauce

For 2

4 apples (I like Fuji, Gala, and Pink Lady apples best), cored and
chopped into 1-inch cubes (I don't peel mine, but you can if you want)
1/4 cup orange juice
Cardamom, to taste
Cayenne, to taste
Salt, to taste

Oil or clarified butter
2 thick pork chops
Salt and pepper
Thyme, to taste

2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted

Heat the oven to 400.

In a medium saucepan, combine the apples and orange juice. Add water just to the top of the apples. Stir in spices and heat over medium-high heat until the water boils, then reduce the heat and simmer until the apples are soft but not falling apart, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, in an ovenproof saute pan, brown the pork chops on both sides, then place in te oven to finish cooking, about 10 minutes.

Drain most of the liquid from the apples, then with a potato masher or immersion blender, mash the apples until they are mostly crushed. Don't go crazy--it won't be perfectly smooth, and a little apple-y texture is nice.

In a small saucepan or skillet, heat the butter until the solids have turned golden brown and the butter smells nutty. Remove from the heat immediately.

To plate, spoon a pile of applesauce at 12 o'clock on each plate. Remove the pork chops from the oven and rest the top edge of each one on the applesauce, but not completely covering it.

Drizzle brown butter over the plate and top with pecans.


Corn Muffins with Bacon and Jalapenos

People that have known me long time might be surprised to discover that I LOVE to go camping. I love everything about it: campfire, sleeping outside, waking up when there's still a chill in the air... we just went camping over Halloween weekend and I think I might want to spend EVERY Halloween this way! People decorated their campsites, and kids dressed up and went trick-or-treating... then we all got to hang out by a fire and grill and have s'mores. Some of us might have even enjoyed a little whiskey after dinner.

I love camping traditions, too. Some people go to the same place for the same weekend every year; some might have a camping shirt or hat that they wear only when they're roughing it. My camping traditions are - big surprise - centered around food.

  • When I go camping, I make a batch of chili to have the first night. It's one of my favorite traditions - such a satisfying way to begin a stretch of a few days outdoors.
These muffins are moist and studded with yummy corn and spicy chiles and smoky bacon, which makes them SUPER tasty.

Another tradition I've adopted is to make these corn muffins to toast in the morning while having coffee. I split them in half and toast the cut sides with butter. It's warm and a little sweet and a lovely way to start the day... even if you're at home! (These also go really well with pulled pork. Just saying.)

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed, drained
  • 6 slices cooked crispy bacon, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped

Heat the oven to 425°F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper or foil liners.

In a small bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients and whisk to mix. In a large bowl, stir together the sour cream, eggs, and butter until blended. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Fold in the corn, bacon, and jalapenos.

Divide the batter evenly among the cups and bake until the tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then let them cool completely on a rack.