Japanese Crisp Choco Bites: Guilty Pleasure Morsels

My mother discouraged snacking when I was a child. (A policy I’m hugely thankful for now that I know just how little willpower I have.)

However, among the few tidbits allowed during my Singaporean girlhood — as just an occasional treat — were Japanese cookies and chocolate snacks.

These bite-sized morsels were adorable — panda-shaped cookies filled with oozy strawberry filling, thimble-sized chocolate “hamburgers,” tasty biscuit sticks I’d pretend were cigarettes as I held them between two fingers, slowly nibbling them down to nubs. But my favorite was something very basic: Crisp Choco, a milk-chocolate pizza-like pie made with compacted chocolate cornflakes.

In the grand scheme of things, this snack doesn’t seem terribly sinful — it’s not a rich molten chocolate cake or mound of bacon, after all. But it was a treat that we looked forward to — one I count as a guilty pleasure I now allow myself just a few times a year.

So when my Let’s Lunch bunch decided on sharing a guilty pleasure for our virtual lunch date this month, Crisp Choco it was …

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John Searles’ Lentil Soup: A Toast to “Help For The Haunted”

Few things make me happier than tasting my friends’ cooking — especially if it’s a situation in which I had absolutely no idea that they knew how to cook.

Recently, I had the pleasure of making one such discovery about a dear friend of mine, a person I adore and whom I know mostly as a writer (certainly not a cook) — the novelist John Searles.

I made this discovery one chilly evening this spring when John’s partner, Thomas (the chef in that family), wasn’t around. Instead of ordering in, John decided to cook up some soup instead. I remain grateful for this decision as this meant that I got to taste his lentil soup, which turned out to be so hearty and tasty that I distinctly remember the delicious sensation of its earthy goodness warming me up from within.

So when fall and all its coolness arrived last week, this soup immediately came to mind.

Besides, I had a very special reason to toast John this month — his third novel, a gripping literary thriller titled “Help For The Haunted” just hit book stores! It’s only been out for a week and it’s already gotten rave reviews everywhere — both Amazon and USA Today just named it one of the month’s best books.

So cheers to the book and to my dear friend John. And of course, let’s not forget his lovely lentil soup …

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Hemingway’s Hamburger: Papa’s Favorite

Earlier this year, I was perusing a Boston Globe story about some Ernest Hemingway papers from the writer’s years in Cuba that had just been donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

A book editor who’s on the board of the Finca Vigía Foundation in Boston, which has been working on preserving Hemingway’s Cuba documents and bringing them to the United States, had told me of the story and I could not wait to read it. I’ve long been a Hemingway fan — an admirer of not just his work but also his appetite for life, food and drink.

So it was unsurprising that one line in the story about what the new papers contained struck me: “And the more mundane, like his instructions to the household staff, including how to prepare his hamburgers: ground beef, onions, garlic, India relish, and capers, cooked so the edges were crispy but the center red and juicy.”

Hemingway’s ideal burger? I had to find out more.

Many weeks and a few burgers later, I wrote about my quest to recreate Hemingway’s hamburger in The Paris Review.

I won’t go into details — you can read more there. But for the recipe and another glimpse of the burger, click right here …

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Mexican Cottage Pie: A British Standard, Spiced Up

I have been in love with pie for as long as I can remember — crisp crust, hot filling … what’s not to adore?

My love extends far beyond traditional American apple and pumpkin pies, however — spicy (or sweet) empanadas, pot pies, shepherd’s pies, British pork pies, Singaporean fried curry puffs (which are, essentially, hand-pies) … you name it, I’ll worship it.

So I was thrilled when Lucy over at A Cook and Her Books suggested pie for this month’s theme for our Let’s Lunch virtual lunch date, which is a special one as we have a bunch of fabulous new bloggers joining our little group this month: Betty Ann at Asian in America, Margaret at Tea and Scones, Too, Naomi at The Gastro Gnome, Sara at Three Clever Sisters and Tammi at Insatiable Munchies.

What to make for this month’s lunch? I decided it had to be something pretty special to toast our new Lunchers …

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Korean Roast Beef Sandwich: Umami on a Bun

Among the problems to have, this was a good one: What to do with that tub of leftover ssamjang in the fridge?

After whipping up a batch of the sweet, spicy and garlicky Korean dipping sauce for a recent night of kalbi, the leftovers remained front and center in my fridge, nudging me to do something — anything.

Sure, marinating a few pounds of short ribs for another round of kalbi was tempting — perhaps when I have more time.

For now, however, I had other easier plans …

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Egg-Drop Broccoli in Ginger-Miso Gravy: A Giant’s Feast

Anyone who has eaten with me understands that I generally view vegetables the same way one would dentist appointments or exercise — they’re a necessary evil.

This has long held true, and is something that has exasperated my mother since I was a child. Back then, once it was clear that threats and bribery had absolutely no power in persuading me to eat any greens, my mother wisely appealed to a different side of me: The one that (perhaps not so) secretly enjoys the idea of a good conquest.

Think of broccoli as a little tree, she said.

And so, at the dinner table, I began to imagine myself as a giant, ripping out whole trees from the ground and snarfing down clumps of leaves, then branches, before finally devouring their trunks. Destruction, obliteration — all adrenaline-pumping stuff that finally got me to clean those plates of greens.

Perhaps this could have been seen as an early sign that I might grow up to be a serial killer but, no matter. I was eating vegetables. And that was good.

I was thinking of this story when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on doing “a dish that made me eat vegetables” for this month’s virtual lunch date toasting Joe Yonan’s new cookbook “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook,” which hit bookstores this week. Congrats, Joe!

What should I cook up? Why, broccoli, of course …

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Lemon-Garlic Yellow Beans: A Summery Side

I may not be the biggest fan of vegetables but summer, with its vibrant farmers markets, always manages to lure me to the green side.

Or, as this week had it, the yellow side.

A late-afternoon visit to my neighborhood market this week yielded a lovely surprise — bags of bright yellow string beans going for just 50 cents.

What to do with them? I decided to take them home and see …

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Soondubu Jjigae: Korean Silky Tofu with Beef & Seafood, A Quick WeeknightTake

Fiery foods are never far from my mind — but the summer months are when this yearning really consumes me.

Perhaps it’s because spicy food and sweltering weather are so intertwined in Singapore, where I grew up. Regardless, whenever the weather turns hot in New York, that’s when my hankering for mouth-numbing flavors truly rears its head.

This week, this led me to try my hand at a dish that I’ve adored for years in Korean restaurants but had never considered trying: Soondubu Jjigae …

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Spam Fries with Key Lime Dip: A Perfect Munchies Hit

A little bit of excitement occurred recently — I just had my first piece of fiction published in an anthology!

It’s a short story titled “Ganja Ghosts” — about, well, smoking the you know what in Singapore. And it’s appeared in a lovely book called “The Marijuana Chronicles,” edited by the brilliant artist and bestselling mystery writer Jonathan Santlofer.

In addition to Jonathan, there are stories in there by Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child and more. To say I’ve been thrilled would barely even begin to describe it. And yes, all of you should absolutely run right out now and buy a copy!

So, it seemed like a celebration was in order — and thankfully, my Let’s Lunch mates were on board. For this month’s lunch date, we decided to share our ideas for perfect “munchies” …

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Mango-Key Lime Pie: Tropical Cool

I’ve had mangoes on my mind recently. Living with a fertile mango tree in your backyard for a month in Key West will do that to you.

While I was there recently, mangoes came pelting down so frequently each day that I certainly took them for granted. There are only so many mango slices and salsas one can eat, after all.

Now that I’m back in New York City however, I’m come to rather miss that tree. So when I happened to see a display of beautiful mangoes in Brooklyn shortly after my Let’s Lunch group decided to share a “Too Hot To Cook” dish for our June virtual lunch gathering, I started thinking …

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