Kasseler Mit Puree Und Kraut: German Smoked Pork Bliss

I used to think there was nothing better than waking up in the morning to the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen.

And then I woke up one afternoon from a deliciously languorous nap, having fallen asleep with a book on my chest, to the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen.

The bacon was just the first sign of a terrific meal ahead. What was on the menu? Kasseler mit puree und kraut — smoked cured pork neck with sweet buttery mashed potatoes and bacon-inflected sauerkraut …

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Pork Giniling: A Home-Spun Fix

One thing invariably happens when I find myself wading through illness — yes, it’s a cliche, but visions of the home cooking of my girlhood start invading my few conscious thoughts.

My mother’s watercress soup, the fish congees she would set out for breakfast, even her turmeric fried chicken wings, inappropriate as they are for the bedridden — these all start to haunt me.

So when I found myself mired in a rather sad state recently, it was no surprise that all I suddenly could think about was a dish of pork slices and potatoes — sometimes with peas tossed in — swimming in a sweet and tangy tomato gravy.

Like many of the dishes I grew up with, I had taken this one for granted and never observed its execution. How it had come to be or what it was called, I had never known — it simply appeared about once a week, part of the regular rotation at Chateau Tan.

In my dismal state, I latched onto this dish as something I simply had to have. I believed it would cure me. And after some browsing, I finally learned its name — a Filipino staple called pork giniling …

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Sweet Tomato-Egg Stir-Fry: Just Like Mom Made

On a spring afternoon 16 years ago, my dear friend Kelly invited me into her kitchen.

This might not seem particularly noteworthy, given all you read about fearless kitchen action on this blog — except that at the time, I was a tepid (and rather terrified) culinary novice whose oeuvre basically spanned charred fried rice and idiot-proof instant noodles. As interns at the Oregonian, however, we didn’t have much money to eat out at the time, so Kelly invited me over one day to sample a stir-fry that her mom always made in their Indiana home. At Kelly’s small stove in Portland, I watched intently as she heated up oil, stir-fried tomatoes with some sugar, poured in some beaten eggs and in a matter of minutes, the dish was done.

I’ve thought about that meal often — not just because the dish itself was delicious. The diced tomatoes, softened and watery from sloshing about the wok, mingled with hearty eggs and laced with sweetness, made for a combination that was heavenly scooped over hot rice.

Mainly, however, I remember how simple Kelly made it look — and how adult it seemed to be cooking an actual meal that didn’t involve ramen powder packets or crusty burned bits. I remember that I wanted to be Kelly.

Although we stayed in sporadic touch over the years, I never thought to bring up this meal to Kelly — until we caught up at my “A Tiger in the Kitchen” reading at Powell’s in Beaverton, Ore., last month. Over spicy Korean hand-pulled noodles and dumplings after, I finally asked. “Do you remember that tomato and egg dish you made?”

And oh yes, of course she did.

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Thistle (McMinnville, Oregon): The Best of Oregon

There have been many questions since the return to New York following a short book tour and road trip, idyllic and beautiful, along the lush green coast of the Pacific Northwest.

The burning question hasn’t been, “How did your readings go?” Mind you. Rather, the first question that slips out as soon as politely possible is: “OK, where did you eat?”

This being a somewhat book-centric trip — thank you Seattle and Portland for organizing such lovely A Tiger in the Kitchen soirees! — the time for restaurant-hopping wasn’t plenty. Among the several restaurants I did sample, though, one firmly sunk its chompers in me and hasn’t let go: Thistle, a deliciously charming little spot in McMinnville, Oregon, that manages to out-Brooklyn the wave of recent trendy Brooklyn restaurants branding themselves as farm-to-table havens.

After raving like a lunatic about this Oregon restaurant that that serves up amazing hyper-locavore Americana — all made with ingredients from neighboring farms (and a co-owner’s mom’s garden sometimes) — that could put many of its big-city counterparts to shame, I felt a little vindicated yesterday when I learned that The Oregonian had named Thistle its 2011 Restaurant of the Year (in the entire state of Oregon) this week. As soon as the smug joy subsided, however, I needed a Thistle fix.

So, out came the photos and the reverie began…

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Japanese Curry Pot Pie: Asian Comfort Food

June always has me thinking of the summer a few years ago that I devoted myself to conquering pies.

With a perpetually hungry Iowan in the house, pies are often in huge demand around here, no matter the season. But this craving fully rears its head when it’s warm and farmers markets start filling up with sturdy red sticks of rhubarb and berries, plump and bright. Having made enough pies to feel confident enough to try any filling combination, however, I recently set my sights on savory pies.

Having grown up in a former British colony, pies filled with steak and minced lamb have long been a favorite of mine. So when my Let’s Lunch group of bloggers suggested baking pies for our June virtual lunchdate, I immediately started plotting my version of a curried pot pie…

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Snack Dragon: Toothsome Taco Truck Fare

One of the great things about this recent book busyness has been the nudge it’s given me to venture into unfamiliar territory.

While it’s true that I have managed to eat my way through impressive swaths of New York City in my eight years as a New Yorker, there are some rather untouched spots in in my eating landscape. Based purely on subway inconveniences (and my great sloth) the gastronomically rich far East Village, sadly, is one of them.

So when I recently found myself in that neighborhood, still coming down from the high of having just met and read with the lovely Gabrielle Hamilton, chef of Prune and author of “Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef,” at KGB Bar and completely ravenous from our joint reading from our food memoirs, the stomach, naturally, started calling.

“Mmm … Snack Dragon,” my friend Noa said, her eyes getting so large I instantly could envision them popping out of their sockets. When she started smacking her lips at the thought of the place, I knew we had to go.

Despite the raves that this little taco stand has gotten in the five years it’s been around, I’d never been there. From Noa’s look of utter shock, clearly, this was something that needed to be remedied. Pronto.

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Taqueria Las Comadres (Oakland, Calif.): Our Little Secret

There are several things that set my stomach aflutter whenever I step off a plane in San Francisco: a simmering hot bowl of pho topped with bright pink thin slices of steak still gradually turning brown at Pho Tan Hoa in Union Square, the roast chicken at the always lovely Zuni Cafe.

Once these items have been checked off the eating list, however, a new craving inevitably sets in: Mexican. While New York does have any number of decent Mexican places, the tacos and enchiladas at California’s ubiquitous taquerias always seem — to me — far superior.

So, when a break in book events and book store visits recently led me to Oakland, where my friend Ann casually mentioned an excellent little Mexican joint nearby, I immediately said, Let’s Go …

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Winter Melon Soup: Comfort, Simple & Clear


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Among the many Cantonese-style soups of my Singaporean girlhood, the one I find myself craving once temperatures start heading south in fall is a simple one: Winter melon soup.

This broth, dotted with cubes of soft winter melon and bits of mushroom and pork, isn't an elaborate or fussy soup — it's what the Chinese call "cheng," or clear. The flavor is subtle; the experience is all about warmth and comfort.

So, when my Let's Lunch friends suggested doing a fall soup for November, I immediately started badgering my mother for her recipe

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Vino Rosina: The New Italian On The Block


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Years ago, I found myself creeping along the quiet streets of a swath near Baltimore's Little Italy, squinting through the darkness as I tried to find Charleston, a restaurant that had been highly recommended.

Even though this roughly eight-block area was flanked by the perennially packed and fratty Fells Point on one side and the touristy Inner Harbor on the other at the time, its streets were still largely undeveloped in the late 1990s. Charleston, a Southern-inflected French restaurant, was an early adopter in the neighborhood and once we'd located it, we were glad we went. The meal was phenomenal and it was thrilling to be at a place that felt like it was on the cusp of something larger.

The husband and I recently returned to Baltimore for a short visit and decided to trek to Charleston to take a look at the place where we'd had one of the first romantic dinners of our courtship. The restaurant, helmed by the talented Cindy Wolf in the kitchen, is still there and hopping but the area around it has since become unrecognizable. Now named Harbor East, the area has sprouted gleaming condiminium, office and hotel buildings and has become as packed with restaurants, cafes and bars as its nearby neighborhoods. (You can check out a piece I wrote for the New York Times Travel section this past weekend on Harbor East here.)

Amid the current hubbub, a new little place caught our eye: Vino Rosina, a modern Italian restaurant in the Bagby Furniture Company Building, a historic red-brick structure that used to be a factory. Outside on the street, we could hear laughter wafting out along with the intoxicating smells of oven-roasted meats. So of course, we decided to step in and give the place a whirl …

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Kitchen-Sink Stir-Fry: Spring Cleaning Your Fridge


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It’s hard to think about spring when there’s still snow on the ground in New York. But one must be optimistic — which we are over here in the Let’s Lunch crowd.

Fresh off our breathless postings on aphrodisiac-laced dishes in February, our thoughts immediately turned to warmer times as we debated what to make next for our monthly virtual lunch date.

How about “spring cleaning (the fridge?)” Stephanie over at The Cosmic Cowgirl suggested.

And so, kitchen-sink recipes to help you springclean your fridge it was.

Now, since I have several solid grocers (and one neat butcher) within a 2-minute walk of my Brooklyn apartment, I tend to buy as I cook. (I’ve never really been one to stock up my fridge like there’s no tomorrow, anyhow.)

Nonetheless, there are a few basics that I must always have in my fridge: Bacon, tofu and some sort of ground meat, usually pork or beef.

Bacon is a wonder that must be consumed on its own, in my book. (Or, in a bacon explosion. Or a BLT. Or … I digress.)

But what to do with tofu and ground pork? The possibilities are endless …

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