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It might be hard to believe, oh children of today, but there was a time in California and many other modern places with electricity and running water (bottled water was not yet invented) and telephones (landlines only) where your choice of Asian food was Chinese or Chinese, and by that I mean chow mein or chop suey, which the American diner poured soy sauce over lavishly. (I am loathe to admit we called soy sauce “bug juice.”) If you were really living it up you could also get Chinese BBQ ribs and egg foo yong and sweet and sour pork. A few very avant garde restaurants offered rumaki, though I have never known anyone to actually order it. I was a picky child so when we went to one of the three or four Chinese restaurants in town, I stayed safe with a hot roast beef sandwich.

Then sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s woks became the rage. It was impressed upon we aspiring Chinese chefs that the wok absolutely had to be made of carbon steel, seasoned properly with heat and oil, and used frequently in order to keep up the seasoning else it would rust. It was also absolutely essential that one had the right shovel (a shovel-shaped spatula with a long handle) and that the wok had to have a round bottom, or it was not authentic and your food would likewise be not authentic. This was at a time when electric stoves were pretty standard in most kitchens; round bottomed woks rolled and tilted dangerously on the flat burner.

Also, we had to learn to chop vegetables properly, preferably with a Chinese cleaver, or they wouldn’t cook correctly.  Something about cut-half-roll-cut on an angle. (See above about not authentic.)

We bought Chinese cookbooks that listed a new-to-us array of ingredients that were likewise absolutely essential to Chinese cooking, almost none of which were available in circa-1970 Safeway and Albertsons.  The standard supermarket soy sauce was La Choy (who had a catchy television commercial with a jingle, “La Choy makes Chinese food *swing* American!”). Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts were available in cans; people bought one of each and displayed them to show off their culinary chops. (You didn’t have to actually use them; just owning the cans was enough.) Tofu was  starting to become available but viewed with suspicion.  Garlic was available but ginger less so. It took a drive to a larger city to find sesame oil, five-spice powder,  oyster sauce, rice sticks, and bok choy. (This was before the internet.)

Even around 1980 I remember being served stir-fry dishes in Chinese restaurants that included crinkle-cut frozen French fries and gherkins.  It was indeed a strange time in America.

It took Americans a long time to relax and learn to make Chinese food; from there we segued into Thai and Korean and Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian (which, I have been assured by a Lao woman, are pretty similar), Japanese and Asian fusion. I don’t know just when the tide turned and we started appreciating and making decent Asian dishes, but even small-town grocers stock hoisin sauce and cilantro now.

We have a copy of Lucky Peach Presents 101 Asian Recipes which has a less structured approach to cooking and a what-the-hell punky approach to authenticity, while not ceding anything to white bread America. It’s been helpful in loosening up and having fun while making really good tasting Asian food. I used to have a carbon steel wok but I have no idea where it is now. I use either a cast iron frying pan or a nonstick Ikea flat-bottomed wok.

I bet you thought I would never get around to the recipe, right? This started as something else and became this. But it could become something else yet again if the cook made it so. Lots of possible variations. Much of it can be made ahead. Don’t be discouraged by the long list of ingredients – it’s really simple to make.

Note: This is clearly full of meat, but I suspect a vegetarian version could be made with the spices and some miso.


The Meat Part:

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder or pork butt, beef chuck roast, beef 7-bone roast, country-style spare ribs, chicken thighs, or a whole chicken


  • 1 head garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 fat slice onion
  • 2 quarts water (include some low-sodium broth if it’s on hand)
  • 1/2 cup low-salt soy sauce or tamari (I use Aloha soy sauce and/or San-J Tamari, both low-salt)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (I use Squid brand, available in Asian markets)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, Demarara sugar, turbinado sugar, or golden brown sugar (optional)
  • 2/3 cup Shaoxing rice wine, mirin, sake, or sherry (a generous splash of Madeira would not go amiss here as well)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, about 3″ long
  • 2 star anise
  • t teaspoon whole cloves
  • 4-5 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds or anise seeds
  • 10-12 whole peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1″ piece of ginger root, sliced
  • 1-4 dried hot peppers (optional)


  • 1 large bunch collards, kale, spinach, or other sturdy greens, hard stems removed, greens sliced thinly (roll them up like a cigar and then slice across)

Optional Vegetables:

  • shredded vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, daikon – about 1/4 cup of each
  • sliced mushrooms – 2 or more, depending on your fondness for mushrooms
  • snow peas – 1/4 pound ought to do it
  • green beans, cut into 2″ lengths -like the snow peas, about 1/4 pound


  • 8 – 16 ounces rice noodles, glass noodles, rice sticks, or other noodles, cooked according to package directions (I used the rice vermicelli pictured above, 14 ounces)

Optional Garnishes:

  • chopped green onions
  • chopped cilantro
  • chili-garlic sauce (Huy Fong Foods makes one version, much more garlicky than Sriracha) or sambal oelek
  • finely shredded cabbage
  • a raw egg yolk for the hardcore


Brown the meat in a little oil, flipping as necessary to brown all sides.  When the meat is almost brown enough, add the onion slice and let it get good and brown on both sides. Toss in the garlic to lightly brown for a few minutes, then the spices to lightly bloom in the oil.


Clockwise from top: star anise, whole cloves, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, whole peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds in the center


Pour in all liquid ingredients and scrape up any lovely browned bits from the bottom, bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover.


Let simmer until meat is falling-apart tender – about 1 1/2 hours for chicken thighs, 2 hours for country-style ribs or a whole chicken, 3 hours for pork butt, pork shoulder, or beef chuck/7-bone roast. Remove meat from pot and let cool, then remove bones/skin/fat and shred meat. (This can all be done ahead and put in the refrigerator for another day.)

Taste the broth and adjust seasoning – I like this on the sweet side so I usually add more brown sugar, but this is subjective. (My husband doesn’t like it sweet so for him I  keep it at 1/4 cup. Or skip the sugar altogether.) Strain broth and discard solids. Skim fat from broth (this is easier if made ahead and chilled). Reheat broth, add the thinly sliced greens, and cook until tender – could be 20 to 40 minutes for collards, 20 minutes for kale, almost instantly for spinach. When greens are almost tender, add any other vegetables.

Cook noodles separately, then add to broth with greens along with shredded meat. When soup is heated through, serve with optional garnishes.

Makes a lot.




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It’s Memorial Day weekend, which here in the US of A is considered the Unofficial Start to Summer, as well as being a three-day weekend. (I am glad my grandmother didn’t live to see this, as she would have disapproved of Decoration Day, as she always called it, being hijacked like that and not given proper respect.) It is also a huge weekend for outdoor  barbecuing, and tri-tip is going to feature on many grills around the country.

I don’t remember seeing tri-tip until about maybe 30 years ago when it suddenly became popular, and that’s because it wasn’t available. It was either made into ground beef or sometimes cut into steaks or stew meat (which is still how it’s treated in the rest of the world). But then in Santa Maria, California, a butcher took the bull by the horns (as it were) and created tri-tip roast – if you’re interested you can read all the details right here.

I wasn’t all that crazy about tri-tip for a long time because it was almost always overcooked and sinewy and tough. I did find a foolproof way to cook it in the oven, but when it’s a zillion degrees outside, turning the oven on is a last resort.

After beef being sky-high for months and maybe years due to the drought (no matter what Donald Trump says, THERE IS A DROUGHT), we suddenly noticed the prices tumbling, and especially the price of tri-tip. It was time to get some and figure out how to cook it on the grill, and that’s where the internet came in handy. I won’t pretend this is a method I dreamed up; it was blatantly stolen from The Tri-Tip Guy. It’s a good method and quite easy, though there are a few points that are really important to follow in order to not screw this up.

An instant-read meat thermometer is essential for this.


All tri-tips look about the same and weigh about the same. You can buy them “trimmed” of fat for a nominal fee, but get an untrimmed one and do it yourself.

They look like this….


…until you flip them over and find a huge slab of fat.


Get a sharp, long-bladed knife, and start at one end, pulling as you slice. The fat will peel off as you work. Don’t obsess over tiny bits of meat that may come off with the fat.






You can go back and trim off any remaining large pockets of fat, which usually cause flare-ups on the grill.

Once you have your tri-tip trimmed, you can leave it as is or marinate it. We put this one in a bowl and poured low-salt soy sauce over it and added garlic powder and freshly ground pepper, and let it sit and think about things about a couple of hours.

POINT 1: Let the tri-tip come to room temperature.

Now get your grill going. For a gas grill, bring it up to 350. For charcoal or wood, you want a medium fire (to judge this, put your hand just above the grate without touching and count how many seconds you can hold it there – figure 6-7 seconds for 350).


Point 2: Once the grill is up to temperature, put the tri-tip down and put the lid or cover on for 15 minutes.


After 15 minutes, uncover the trip-tip and flip it over.


Let it cook undisturbed for about 15 – 20 more, then start testing with the meat thermometer. Could take 20 minutes, could take 40 0r 50 minutes. Go with the thermometer reading. If you want, paint some barbecue sauce on the top when it’s almost done.

When the tri-tip is almost up to the temperature you prefer, remove it from the grill. (The temperature will continue to rise during the next step.)

Point 3: Wrap tri-tip in aluminum foil and let it sit 15 minutes. Do not skip this step.


When you’re ready to slice the tri-tip – stop! Do not slice it the way you’ve been slicing – that is, slicing off the narrow ends.

Point 4: Slice it against the grain, across the widest part, and slice it thinly.


Once you grill tri-tip this way, you’ll be converted to this method. It turns this tough cut of beef into a juicy and flavorful roast on the barbecue.





I don’t recall tri-tip being around when I was a kid. We certainly never had it when I was growing up; it only seemed to appear when I was an adult.  And apparently it wasn’t around, at least under that name and cut. According to good old Wikipedia:

In the United States, this cut was typically used for ground beef or sliced into steaks until the late 1950s… Shortly thereafter, it became a local specialty in Santa Maria, California… 

It has different names and cooking methods around the world. If you’re really interested – I don’t know why you would be, but if you are – you can look it up here.

About 20-25 years ago tri-tip suddenly started appearing at barbecues. It was something I always looked forward to and was nearly always bitterly disappointed by. It would have the shit cooked out of it and be grey and tough. You’d have to floss your teeth after eating it to get the stringy bits out. Great flavor but  like chewing on a dog’s tail, without the fur.

A few years ago I bought a tri-tip because it was on sale. I thought maybe it could be made into chili or carne asada.  On some long-forgotten website, I found directions for cooking tri-tip in the oven.  Thinking that even if it was a flop, I could still make the ruins into tacos, I tried it. I was instantly converted, yea verify the scales had fallen from my eyes and lo the voice of the turtle was heard in the land. Tri-tip CAN be modestly tender, juicy, and not overcooked. Done this way, it’s perfect every time. Big thanks and props to the person who posted this, whoever they are.

First: thoroughly preheat the oven to 450 degrees – let it preheat about 20 minutes.  If previously frozen, the tri-tip must be completely defrosted; then let sit at room temperature one to two hours. Don’t worry  – it won’t spoil.

Tri-tips don’t vary much in size. They’re about 3  to 4 pounds, not much bigger or smaller.


Sometimes they have lot of fat across one side. You can slice this off if you want. I usually leave it on to protect the meat while it’s cooking, and also I don’t mind some fat, but suit yourself.

Here I have coated the tri-tip with spicy brown mustard and herbs de Provence plus lots of freshly ground black pepper. You could also marinate the tri-tip for 24 hours in your choice of marinades.  A great marinade with Mexican flavors might be a combination of tequila, chopped cilantro, ground cumin seed, olive oil, salt, and a crumbled dried chipotle pepper (or one from a can of chipotles in adobo). For tastes more associated with a Greek lamb dish, try a combination of red wine and/or lemon juice, crushed garlic, olive oil, rosemary, and pepper. Or apply a dry rub, or just salt and pepper the meat. Your choice. What I would not do is  apply any sweet sauce like a commercial barbecue sauce, because it will burn like crazy.


Put the tri-tip on a baking sheet/cookie sheet and put in the 450 oven for 20 minutes.


After 30 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and roast the meat another 30 minutes.


Now: wrap the tri-tip completely in aluminum foil, and let sit 30 minutes.


After 30 minutes, place on a platter and unwrap, carefully letting any juices pour onto the platter.


This is great with horseradish and mustard. To go with, serve a tomato-based dish like lentils and salsa, stewed tomatoes, or a tomato salad, plus a starchy dish… mashed potatoes are always good with beef, but creamy polenta would be delicious too.

If you have leftovers, this makes great tacos, or is even better tucked into pita bread with chopped tomato-cucumber-lettuce-onion salad, plus a big spoonful of yogurt.


That’s my opinion, anyway. If I was offered a choice of prime rib, rib-eye steak, filet mignon, or short ribs… I’d go for the short ribs. Every. Time.

Short ribs have nothing to do with the beef ribs that are long on rib but pretty damn short on actual meat, which are usually barbecued. Well, other than that they’re both from bovines, and they are both ribs… but short ribs are meaty and taste a whole lot better.DSCN0870

Short ribs are also tough and need long, slow braising to tenderize them. My mother used to simply bake them in a covered casserole dish with nothing but salt and pepper, and they did become tender and flavorful, but I like this method better. (They can also be grilled or barbecued, and if cut VERY thinly they can be stir-fried… but again, I like to braise them.)

So, we had just over two pounds of short ribs, which I sprinkled with salt and pepper.  I sliced up two carrots and about two inches from the top of a whole bunch of celery (I hardly ever use just a stalk of celery; it’s so much easier to just cut straight across the entire bunch),  chopped an onion and a tomato.


I heated a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron Dutch oven. When it was hot, I carefully placed each rib in the Dutch oven, being careful not to crowd them. If  meat or poultry gets crowded in a pan – i.e. touching – they will be very reluctant to brown and instead will steam. Not so good for flavor.

Some recipes tell you to toss the ribs in flour before sauteing… I used to do that, but it seems unnecessary to me in terms of flavor. That is an extra step I’m happy to skip.



When all the ribs were brown on each side, I removed them to a plate and added the carrots, celery, and onion to the pan, along with some minced garlic and fresh ginger. Tossed in about 1 teaspoon each oregano and thyme, and a big pinch of rosemary, and sauteed everything together.



After the veggies had started to brown, the ribs went back into the Dutch oven, along with the chopped tomato, some au jus left from prime rib the other night,  three bay leaves, a good glug of Madeira and a good glug of Cabernet Sauvignon. I turned the heat way, way down, put the lid on the Dutch oven, and we went to a Christmas get-together for about an hour. (Alternatively, this could have gone into a 300 degree oven, or into a crock pot – though the crock pot would have taken longer for the ribs to get tender.)

It took about three hours for the ribs to get tender. You can’t rush them – increasing the heat or boiling them will just cause them to get stubborn and tough.

When they were falling off the bone, I took the ribs out of the pot and put them in a serving bowl.  I spooned as much fat as possible from the pan juices, then took a stick blender and pureed about half the veggies in the pot.


This creates a nice thick sauce with little effort.

Poured the sauce over the ribs and sprinkled some chopped chives on top.


We had this with baked sweet potatoes and chive cornbread. I have to have horseradish and mustard with short ribs too.



Christmas is when we gather up everything good in our life, all the warmth and the light and all the good memories, and draw it close and enjoy it as much as we are able to.  We gather up our children, make food, light the lights, sing the songs. We come as close as possible for as long as possible.  – Garrison Keillor, Now it is Christmas Again

I went grocery shopping Saturday morning at Winco. Normally it’s chaotic, loud, crowded. Saturday morning, it was subdued. But what I saw was this: people with their children, and they weren’t yelling at them. They were paying attention to them, talking with them instead of at them. A father helped his daughter – about seven years old – pick through a stack of jigsaw puzzles to help her find one with puppies. A mother wheeled her cart around with her small son riding in it, and they talked about what kind of cheese to buy. If there’s a good side to the horrors of Friday, maybe this was it.


Anyway. Recipes. Times like this call for comfort foods. No one turns to aspics and caviar when they’re experiencing the kinds of grief that we’ve had. What we want to eat: It has to be good, and filling, and you have to want it.

Here, then are two recipes that are variations on the same theme. They’re easy to make, budget-friendly, warming, filling, and can be varied according to what you have on hand. Nothing ground-breaking or earth-shattering here, but something just slightly out of the ordinary.

Pork chops are very often bargain-priced.  Recipes for Stuffed Pork Chops usually call for extra-thick-cut chops, but those are expensive! Instead, look for large “family-pack” trays of chops – those are usually thin-cut – and boneless, if possible (otherwise, just remove the bone at home with a sharp knife).

Stuffed Pork Chops

For each person you need two pork chops. Lay one chop in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then cover that chop with about 1/3 to 1/2 cup stuffing. Lay the other chop on top of the stuffing. Toothpick the two chops together (or use wooden skewers, broken into smaller lengths). Sprinkle more salt and pepper on top. When you have as many stuffed chops as needed, pour a little liquid into the baking dish, cover the dish, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Stuffing suggestions:

  • Dried fruit (apricots, raisins, dates, prunes, mangoes, etc.) chopped with some minced onion and diced cheese, and some bread cubes if you want
  • Canned green chiles and cheese
  • Cubed bread, chopped onion & celery, mixed with thyme & sage
  • Whole-berry cranberry sauce mixed with cheese cubes
  • Sauteed mushrooms
  • Chopped pears or apples mixed with cornbread cubes, chopped celery, chopped onion
  • Pineapple slices brushed with soy sauce
  • Sauteed & drained spinach with golden raisins

Vary the liquid added: broth, apple juice or other fruit juice, leftover gravy, tomato sauce, teriyaki sauce, etc.

This dish goes very well with baked cheesy cauliflower or broccoli, greens such as spinach, or baked sweet potatoes.

Stuffed Hamburgers

Same idea as the pork chops.  Ground beef is much cheaper if you can buy a large package, and you don’t need to buy the extra-lean.

Make two very thin patties for each person, seasoning each patty. Spread some delicious filling in the center of one patty, top with the other patty and crimp the edges. Broil or pan-fry (these tend to be a little delicate, so be careful transferring them in and out of the cooking vessel).

Suggested fillings:

  • Cheese, especially blue or feta
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Sauteed mushrooms and onions
  • Sauteed bell pepper strips
  • Cooked and drained spinach
  • Green chiles and cheese
  • Sour cream & green chiles
  • Cream cheese and chopped olives
  • Diced avocado & chiles
  • Salsa (drained a little)

These are very good with the same accompaniments as for the stuffed pork chops.

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