Zest for citrus

If you bake or cook with citrus flavors, you are often instructed to zest the lemon or lime or orange. This means you take off the colored part of the rind and leave the white pith. In past, you would use some kind of rasper. There are many designs. Box graters, small hand utensils with four small holes at then end or a microplane.

None of these is perfect: the microplane is about the best but the oily zest gathers underneath and you have to brush it out with a spoon or pastry brush.

Sabatier has taken some of the microplane technology and created a round-holed zester on a paddle that works a treat. I’ve never found anything better. It zests a lime in no time and the shreds are free of white pith and large enough to give great flavor to any dish you happen to make.

It’s available in mid-June and if you are a baker or cook, try it out. It really delivers.


Korean Street Egg Sandwich

Never been to Korea. I get around, I’ve been all over Asia, a good bit of South America, Europe, and even one country in Africa. But never to Korea. Not for lack of desire, though. Wouldn’t I just like a trip to Seoul? But long ago I had a few lessons in Korean cooking from a neighbor and I like Asian cuisine including Korean. I take guests to a Korean restaurant in the town where my office is located, mainly because it isn’t a chain and it is very easy to please most people with their menu. It’s not full-on Korean but it’s good.

There are several outstanding Korean vloggers on cooking. I’m not talking mukbang here (where people watch someone videoing themselves as they eat a massive meal. I’m not totally getting that. But it can be diverting. How do they eat all that? And not look gross. And keep talking while eating? And why? One theory is that lone eaters, such as myself, who mostly has meals alone, find it companionable. Maybe) Nor is it ASMR, where the sound of crunching gives people a tingly feeling. No, these are cooks who demonstrate how to make local cuisine with an authentic taste, as long as an Asian grocery or H-Mart is somewhere nearby. We have a Korean grocery around the corner from my office and I work in a sort of rural area, so it’s surprising we even have it.

My latest find is a gal named Seonkyoung Longest who is married to an American guy named Jacob and they have a passion for Korean food, especially street food. Seonkyoung hams it up while she recreates her favorite street dishes like “Army Stew” (noodles and hotdogs, and spam and whatnot in a spicy broth), fried shrimp complete with heads and Korean breakfast toast-u (toasted egg and ham sandwiches.)  Her recipe is without blame but I simplified it because I don’t particularly want ham and cheese. I’ll post a photo when I get around to it,

Joanna’s Take on Toast-u

2 slices toasting bread (it’s usually white, sorry) per person


1 egg per person

1/4 cup coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage & carrot) or do your own (better, by far but I was lazy and using up an entire cabbage is a long affair here.)  per serving

Wedge of regular yellow onion, sliced thinly

salt to taste

Brown sugar (I use raw sugar)


Kewpie Mayonnaise (Japanese in a squeeze bottle, you can sub American mayo)

Butter the bread lightly on both sides and toast in a dry non stick pan (like you do for grilled cheese.)

Mix the egg and slaw and onion. Season. Fry in the non stick pan (I add a drop of sesame oil for flavor.)

Turn the patty, fry other side. Cutting it in half it you are doing two is helpful and you need two pieces if doing two eggs.

Top toast with egg patty, sprinkle brown sugar on lightly, swirl on ketchup and mayo, top with other toast, cut in half. Eat.

If you use light spray of oil instead of butter on the bread and if you go lightly on the mayo, it’s a pretty reasonable breakfast compared to 2-eggs-toast because you are using one egg and adding veg. You wouldn’t think cabbage would taste great, but wow, does it ever taste good in an egg pancake.

Seonkyoung’s version has ham and American cheese and would please a guy who like breakfast meat or a more substantial sammidge. Go look at her videos. She’s terrific and a very enthusiastic cook. For another Korean video chef, try Maangchi. She’s the “Korean Julia Child” and lives in NYC. She is very accomplished at what she does and I find her explanations useful. She’s fun, too.

Pot Roast that works


Pot roast is a popular winter meal; the rich tender beef is warming and flavorful. This recipe was probably my husband’s absolute favorite. When I started it off in the cast iron enamel Dutch oven, he’d invariably sniff the air and say “Oh, that SMELLS so GOOD.” “It’s just onions, honey” but he wasn’t fooled. Pot roast was in prospect and he knew it. He was a very tall skinny guy who never felt “full” and pot roast was savory and satisfying. Unfortunately, a big eater will not leave leftovers, which are the bonus of this recipe. The roast is even better reheated. So plan accordingly. If you have a larger family and big eaters, the larger the roast, the better. I typically make 2 1/2 lbs to 3 lbs for two people, hoping for leftovers.

This recipe is also minimal but works as well, or better, I think, that the ones that use a packet of salad dressing mix, dried onion soup, a stick of butter and any other number of things I just don’t think are necessary. To make this an easier meal, include some small Yukon potatoes halfway through the cooking, but I actually prefer mine cooked separately.

Pot Roast My Way

One 2 1/2 to 3 lb chuck roast

Olive oil

Cup of red wine (I like Apothic Red as a cooking wine; it’s well balanced and the slight sweetness seems to work with many foods. And you can drink it, right enough. Most wine stores have it and it’s cheap. Otherwise, use a red like a Merlot or Cab or Shiraz, the cheap Aussie wines work fine.)

1/3 can of tomato paste (Organic is good.)

1 medium to large yellow onion, peeled and quartered

1 good sized spoon of beef “fond” or concentrated stock. I use “Better Than Bouillon”  

Water, about 1 cup.

1 bay leaf

salt, pepper as desired.

Heavy bottomed pot, such as a Le Creuset enamel dutch oven (but any heavy type Dutch oven with work.)

Optional: peeled medium Yukon potatoes.

Method: you can do this in the oven at 300 degrees, but I actually do mine on the stove top.

Season the meat. Brown meat on all sides in some olive oil. Add in the quartered onion and soften a bit. Add in the red wine and cook down somewhat, until it’s about half gone, reducing the alcohol and the volume. Add in the spoon of beef base and some water to come up to about half the height  of the beef. Toss in the bay leaf (you can use a thyme sprig or a rosemary sprig if you prefer) and cover. Cook on low heat, so that it’s simmering but not boiling for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until meat is tender and separating. About an hour and a half in, toss in your potatoes if you want, and check liquid to make sure it’s not drying out. If you are doing it in the oven, it will take about 4 hours. You can use a crock pot on high, but I find it does not thicken up the way it does on the stove top because crock pots are great at preserving moisture compared to stove cooking. But it will work. I typically do stove top for 2 3/4 hour for a 2 1/2 to 3 lb roast.

Slice and serve with the gravy. Nice with it: boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, blanched green beans or steamed Romanesque cauliflower or broccoli.

Re Tomato Paste:

Since American tomato paste comes in cans, and one rarely uses the entire can, take out the rest of it and  twist it into parchment paper, or a ziploc bag, even aluminum foil and freeze it. You can cut off another chunk without even thawing, the next time you need tomato paste. Tube tomato paste is convenient but expensive, you’d need about 2 1/2 Tbs here.  Organic paste in a can is pretty easy to find in any grocery store these days: Hunts, Nature’s Promise, Contadina all make organic paste.

Poring over coffee…



I have made pour-over coffee for years, but when my electric coffeemaker died after yeoman’s service of two decades, I decided not to replace it. I usually drink coffee by myself, so pour-over is just as handy. And the resulting cup is high quality. The Delonghi coffeemaker I did have is no longer made. It had the unique feature of steaming milk on the side of drip coffee but NOT making espresso. I assume this was aimed to the Latin market, because in a lot of South America, you get steamed milk with your filtered coffee in the morning. My sister introduced me to this marvel when she was staying in Brazil. I joined her at a hotel in San Paolo and she gave me a roguish smile and picked up the phone in the hotel room. “Dois cafés, faz favor!” she said and hung up. (She’d picked up Portuguese in a few weeks, staying with friends.)
What showed up was magic: a huge tray with two steaming silver pots, one of coffee, one of hot milk, two cups, and little sugared rolls, little biscuits, a bit of butter and cheese and cut fruits, papaya, orange, banana.  I was completely done in by my first 12 hour plane flight and this breakfast (at 2pm!) was just what I needed. I had never had hot milk before in coffee. It was fabulous.
It turns out this delicious coffee, made frequently during the day in Brazil and offered at any moment, when you walk into a house, or go shopping–walk into a shop and you are offered that tiny cup of cafezinho to be served with scoops of damp raw sugar.  But how is it made?
Turns out, the method is so simple, it’s laughable to us Americans who like the latest in electric appliances and gadgets. I peeked into my cousins’ kitchen some time later in the week. A ring stand, like in a chem lab. A sock. A glass vessel underneath. That was IT.
But this primitive system made great coffee. Of course, fresh beans from Santos didn’t hurt. Not from a can, fresh roasted and the quality Americans back then never saw (this was in the Seventies.) We had canned Maxwell, which my Brazilian friends dismissed as “the factory floor sweeping we won’t touch.”

Fast forward to 2017. Filtered coffee, “pour over” is a “thing.” Because the Japanese have taken to it. Whether it was a transplant from Brazil, where there are many Japanese emigrees, or just the fact that it is an efficient, energy saving and space saving way to make a great cup, I don’t know. But the Japanese have created a line of coffee filters with tweaks along the way. A pointed filter (not flat on the bottom like Melitta.) A gooseneck kettle to control the pour. It all works really well. There are various versions of the set including some with a scale, but the Hario basic set that comes in red or black with a glass vessel and a filter holder is a good deal.


You fit a cone filter into it (the set comes with some of the V60 size filters) and wet it down. Then you put in 25 grams of ground coffee per about 2 “cups” (one 8 oz mug, I figure) and pour boiling water down the center, wetting the grounds as they foam up. As it filters into the pot, you have fresh coffee. You can warm it up again in the microwave (this is microwavable) but I just prewarm the glass before making coffee and drink it right up.


The hot water kettle should have a gooseneck for optimal pouring out of hot water into the filter. It directs the flow and keeps it from going too quickly.  There are many versions of the gooseneck kettle, from stovetop to electric. I like the Oxo Gooseneck Kettle for its temperature control and keep-warm feature. And it doesn’t risk leaving it on a stove to boil dry.  It doubles as a tea kettle, so it’s very useful –if you don’t have an electric kettle, it’s a versatile choice.  As Japanese kitchens tend to be small, this system is suited to urban life or space constraints, and its energy efficient and makes a lot of sense.


I think pour-over when made correctly gives the best cup of coffee. I prefer it to French Press (which I find gives a woody note if the grounds are not prepared in just the right degree of coarseness.)

The Japanese took to this method some time ago, when coffee became a “thing” in Japan.  My mom, who liked coffee and had a trip to Japan commented on the coffee. “It’s the best in the world. I can’t stop drinking it. But…so expensive.”  Burr grinders (best way to grind beans, and there are manual ones) also, highly accurate scales to go with, so you get that perfect cup. The  Japanese have a philosophy “There is only ONE right way to do anything.” Is this the right way? Maybe…



How to survive children


I am the adopted grandmom of two kids, ages 10 and 12. They are the children of a colleague with whom I’m great friends and a while ago he and his wife asked if I’d stand in for a grandparent. The actual grandparents are far away in another land or not involved, so as I’m fairly nearby and the right age, I agreed to stand in. Besides, I like the kids. I sit in the back seat of the car on trips with them, though this will be ending, sadly, soon as they are getting as tall as me and I’m pretty tall. And they will be teens and that’s when independence and lots of activities take over.

One way to survive kids and their inevitable restlessness is to become adept and things that distract and amuse them. I have some skill in this despite my being childless. I was the oldest of three and my default job was keeping order among the troops. And my grandfather taught me one of his tricks–origami or paperfolding. We loved this as kids and it kept us quiet and fascinated for hours. I’ve used it for fretful kids on airplanes, too.

Always keep a supply of color paper squares in your wallet or purse and memorize some basic designs. This time, on the way to a big concert, I produced Japanese “kabuto” or Samurai helmets. The helmet (horned) can be converted to a goldfish with a flip of a fold and trimming one end with nail scissors.

The book I recommend most often is by master origamist Isao Honda. He often uses two parts to create zoo animals, but his methods are simple to understand and his models are lifelike and pleasing.


Has American Cuisine crossed the Rubicon of acceptabilty?

ewThis is a series of posts, the first, about American cuisine and the changes I’ve seen it it over the last two decades in particular.



Michael Ruhlman stated that what’s wrong with American Cuisine is chicken caesar salad, or more exactly, “...an emblem of the the mediocrity of American Cuisine!” That statement made in 2010 really rang true with me. I have felt now for 20 years that American cuisine has crossed the Rubicon into the realm of quasi-food, constructed for convenience and mass production, minimal preparation and barely edible, let alone nutritious. This is all against a backdrop of a vegan trend one-upping mere vegetarianism, “gluten free for me”, paleo and all the other dietary restrictions du jour. These, I feel, are a subconscious reaction of normally reasonable people to the terminal decline of American food.

If you live in an urban area with a diverse population and people with various backgrounds and refined tastes as well, you may not have experienced the sharp decline you find in flyover country or where I live, a pocket of rural backwater hidden in the great Northeast US megopolis of Bos-Wash.  You’ll have a vibrant Viet community making heavenly pho for next to nothing a bowl, Peruvian chicken places, Ethiopian wats and injera on every other corner. You can drive to a Brazilian steak joint, any number of microbrew places with gastropubs, Afghan restaurants, Syrian food, Indian, vegan, gluten free bakery, etc. Not so where I live.

Instead, when people like us go out, we see a chain restaurant (usually, sadly, your safest bet) and the food has been prepared by some large conglomerate, frozen in a bag and shipped to be cleverly microwaved and served to you lukewarm. None of this truthfully revealed  on the menu that offers “coastal soups” (canned clam chowder) and “fresh made lemon meringue pie” which was actually pressed dry crumbs, a yellow colored, gel-like substance apparently deposited by a giant plunger on top and a foamy layer with caramel color sprayed on to imitate egg white meringue. I dissected one of these “fresh made pies” “our top seller” and marveled at the engineering involved to recreate a lemon meringue pie with no lemon, meringue or even pie. I will say, they solved the issue of syneresis (the weeping of  such pies, water expelled from a gel during contraction–from dehydration that naturally occurs after you make a pudding) but that was a pretty steep price to pay. )

When the food is not actually served out of microwave bags, it tends now to be oversalted, over sugared, and often, unsanitary–made weeks ago and refrigerated. I’ve run into this time and again (you don’t need to pay overtime to staff when having a huge event, just have them batch the food and put it away in the cold room. For how long? Watch “Restaurant Nightmares” and you can get an idea. Or..you don’t WANT to know.) Several times, the food served to me was tainted, and only my nose, which is  like a French poodle’s has saved me from food poisoning. One sniff, and I’m sure I don’t want to risk a single bite.


The fad for “sous-vide” which is French for “boiled in bag” is even worse. Restaurants will boil a steak in its juices and then rewarm it on the grill to provide heat (maybe) and grill marks (possibly.) One steak served to me had charcoal dust grill marks impressed by the manufacturer. All the restaurant had to do was just boil it. I mistakenly ate some of it and coughed up charcoal dust all night. Analyzed what was left on my plate and discovered the ruse of painted-on grill. Rubbing the overly uniform grill mark yielded uniform powdery dust. A grill would have created a layer of charred film in the steak.

Or the restaurant staff, not trained in microbiology, puts the hot boiled meat into the cold room and of course, a sealed bag and warm food is a perfect incubator for anaerobic bacteria. This happened at a big place in our one urban center and after one sniff and a hasty retreat, I did a forensic analysis on the food. Potatoes, a blob of “mashed” scooped out and frozen, thawed. The broccoli was raw and “cooked” under the infra red lamp used to heat the entire dish back up. The steak was the sous-vide special and no extra charge for the ptomaine. The clue was the fact the steak was “we only have medium rare” and the plate under the food was ice cold.  So the entire thing except the steak was pre-plated in the cold room, the steak was in there and reheated in a pan (but already tainted) and the rest warmed up under the lights. The manager was “do you want anything else instead?” but if you would do that, I’m not risking “anything else.”  (I’m not even mentioning who serves steak on an icy plate. Waitstaff in the US do not like handling hot plates, so often food is plated on iced plates for convenience. And your food will come out heated if at all at the window and chilled by the time it makes its way to you.)

I also notice another phenomenon. If I eat out (increasingly rare) I often feel as if I haven’t eaten after a full meal. Yet I spent a week in Spain and ended up (due to a busy schedule) maybe only eating one meal a day plus a small breakfast. I felt…full. The food was so good, so fresh, so well made, that I felt nourished after a small quantity.

The body knows when it gets proper nutrients. And it knows when something is missing.

I see women half my age overweight, with spare tires, oddly heavy stomachs, and I don’t think it’s due to being captive in front of a video monitor. I think something is vastly wrong with American food.

Has American Cuisine crossed a Rubicon of acceptability? I think so. More in my next post.

In a vegetarian kitchen with Deborah Madison

Deborah Madison’s newest vegetarian cookbook In My Kitchen is pretty much accessible to most cooks. She  is well-known as a chef and author of vegetarian cuisine and this book has new recipes that are not terribly difficult and most don’t require unusual ingredients, although there are plenty of recipes with ingredients not to be found in our rural area such as posole (dried hominy), roasted green chile, berbere spice mix and nettles. But that doesn’t make up the bulk of the recipes and most are very accessible. And they are adjustable to gluten-free and vegan in most cases, with some simple alterations.bowl-red

Though watch out, you need to use your brain, a recipe for Lentil Minestrone with Kale has added pasta means you will be using GF pasta of course, but this is not specified in the ingredients. Or you leave it out. Likewise, the recipes indicate vegan (V) or if you can convert them, suggestions are given. As I sometimes entertain vegan family members, I’m familiar with the conversions (no milk, no honey, no cheese, no eggs, and there are standard substitutes to use, it’s not difficult.)

I liked a red lentil soup with “berbere” –a Northern African peppery spice mix I’ve come to enjoy. Also the breakfast porridges looked good–oatmeal with fruits, and a rice porridge with chia seeds. Brown rice porridge has some fiber, but chia seeds bump that up nicely.

The few desserts (the book is organized loosely as menus) are useful or not. A blood orange olive oil cake looked lovely but I’m allergic to almonds, sad to say, but it did look delicious. Nectarines in a verbena syrup would be a great finisher for a summer dinner.

Mostly, the book is useful for great vegetarian pasta sauces, polenta with mushroom ragout, lentils this way and that, and of course the inevitable quinoa these days, which I’m on the fence about. Sometimes I like it and other times I wish it had stayed in South America as I see too much of it.

Vegans will find probably there are too many recipes relying on cheese that can’t be substituted out by nutritional yeast so unless you have a vegan artisan cheese source, a lot of her recipes will be unusable for you. And for me, I have to leave out tree nuts which are a major protein in vegetarian cooking and provide some of that “umami” (protein or amino acid savory flavor) and there are few things that substitute for it (sometimes sesame or sunflower seeds but usually, nothing.) Even so, I liked the book and found many things I want to make, starting with the Red Lentil Soup with Berbere. You can buy Berbere online from spice houses but Madison gives you an easy mix to make up yourself and store in a jar.

Although I’m not a vegetarian or vegan, I mostly cook foods without meat or poultry as a matter of health. The older I get, the more that’s the kind of fare I prefer. This book by a reknown vegetarian chef has been praised by many, including restauranteur and author Yotam Ottolenghi and it deserves praise.