Purple Potatoes, sufferin’ succotash!

Olfactory associations are a funny thing. I can barely tell you what I did during the Fall of 2009 (probably not much), but I distinctly remember roasting vegetables every week or so in my tiny Williamsburg apartment- I remember every ding and scar on the old roasting pan my roommate and I shared, and more potent in my memory are the smells that would fill our tiny windowless living room. When I think of Christmas Evening at my parents’ home, I can only imagine our kitchen windows steamy from the Hot Pot feast that we’ve cooked up indoors and the smell of that steamy, brothy, air. When I think of certain close friends, I reminisce about certain dinners and feasts that we’ve created together. Even with the DiploMan, with whom I have travelled the world, one of our favorite memories together involves a tiny restaurant under the G train called Moto and a neighboring bar called Trophy Bar– sights, flavors, sounds, and smells.

I’ve been reading and hearing about all you at home, enjoying your braises and roasted vegetables and stews and apple desserts. To me, this can only mean the true start of Fall . I expect leaves of epic rainbow proportions outside my window and replacing my summer dresses with thick wool coats in my closet. While summer brings plenty of outdoor parties and firework shows, Fall and Winter brings cozy familial gatherings and the sharing of food and drink. And the roasting of vegetables.

When I found purple potatoes at the market- local purple potatoes, imagine that!- and then soonafter a few butternut squash (for a hefty price I might add…), I knew that Fall would finally grace its presence in my own kitchen. I have yet to roast any vegetables on a pan this season, but that quickly changed after a trip to the market last week.

Combining purple potatoes, roasting potatoes, and one bright butternnut squash, along with maple bacon, sweet corn, and dijon mustard, I created a side dish that was part succotash, part potato salad- a mash up of great proportion. In struggling to find a name for my new creation, I settled on calling it a Potato Succotash.

Even with my knowledge of foods, I still always think succotash to be something other than it is- some sort of leather-soled footwear, or an expression of surprise, or something involving pumpkins.

I’ve seen succotash popping up in food magazines and menus over the last few years, making a resurgence from it’s 20th-century Depression-era roots. Usually a late summer/early fall fare, succotash is actually a sauteed corn and bean based dish that is often pumped with tomatoes or zucchini or peppers. Here, I’ve completely eliminated the beans and substituted potatoes in their place. Thanks to the prolonged Indian summer that has been cast in Guangzhou, I’ve found the perfect season for the dish.

Three Potato Succotash


  • 3 medium-sized purple potatoes, peel-on.
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and seeded.
  • 6 small roasting potatoes
  • 6 strips of thick-cut bacon
  • 3 Tbsp. real maple syrup
  • 1 large leek, both green and white parts, chopped
  • 2 ears of fresh, sweet corn (preferably multi-colored), with kernels cut off the ear.
  • 3 Tbsp. whole grain mustard


  1. Cut potatoes and squash into 1/2-inch cubes. Line a large roasting pan with foil, and scatter potatoes onto pan. Liberally season with salt and freshly ground pepper, a few Tbsp. of Olive Oil, and several dashes of whatever dried spices you find enticing in your pantry- I used rosemary, thyme, cumin, and sage.
  2. Preheat oven to 400. Roast potatoes for 40mins-1hr (depending on the temperament of your oven), checking every 20 minutes and shaking the pan to make sure the potatoes aren’t sticking to the foil. Potatoes are done once they are tender to the bite. Take out of the oven, and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. Line a nonstick baking sheet or silpat mat with your slices of bacon. Turn oven down to 375, and place bacon on the middle rack of the oven. After 15 minutes, slide pan out and brush bacon with syrup, flip over with a pair of tongs, and generously brush again with more maple syrup on the other side. Slide back into oven and turn up oven to broil for 3-5 minutes, watching carefully to make sure the bacon does not burn. Turn off oven and remove bacon to cool slightly.
  4. In a large saute pan, heat Olive Oil on high and sautee leeks for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Turn down heat to medium, and add corn. Sautee for another few minutes. Turn off range and take the pan off the stove.
  5. Cut slightly cooled bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. Add it into your pan (that is off the heat). Also add the potatoes, then add whole-grain mustard. Toss to thoroughly combine. Season with salt an pepper, if necessary.
  6. Transfer into a large bowl or serving dish. Serve warm or at room temperature.

yield: 6-8 servings as a side dish

Supermarket shock. English Muffins with Poached Egg and Chorizo.

You know you’ve been in China for too long when….

Living in China comes with its share of stories, jokes, and life lessons. Along with liberally spitting out the acronym TI(This Is China!), always said in part jest and part exasperation, the laowai��(directly translated: Old Outsider. Basically, Chinese slang for any expat/foreigner) are always making comments about life in China. I mean, you know you’ve been in China for too long when….

How would one go about finishing this sentence? Well, for example, when…

…the sound of subway doors sliding open elicits a natural response to stick out your elbows.

…Tiger Beer no longer gives you nasty hangovers

…grunting is language. “mmn” becomes synonymous with “yes” and “unhh” synonymous with “sure“.

…every other sentence out of your mouth starts with the clause, bu hao yi si, 不好意思. Part “oh sorry!” and part “oops”, here in China it is used without any thought, and precedes just about any comment- a suggestion, a question, a snarky remark, and an insult. It works. bu hao yi si, can I interrupt? bu hao yi si, but I have to step on all ten of your toes to get bybu hao yi si, but your baby is uglybu hao yi si, can I borrow three hundred bucks? It’s basically the email smiley face emoticon of China.

…Privacy? What’s that?

…on a trip home to America, you notice people are staring at you inside of a Macy’s because you are yelling into your cell phone. No problem honey, I’ll pick up your diarrhea medicine on the way to dinner. What?!

…you drink hot water out of a tall glass as if it were lemonade.

…frozen burritos in the aisle of the supermarket causes heart palpitations from sheer excitement.

I could go on, but I think you get it.

That last one, the one with the burrito, actually happened the other day. The DiploMan and I were marveling at the wonders of a Western supermarket that had been open for awhile, but that we had only recently gotten across town to visit. ‘Western’ supermarket, as in, stocked predominantly with imported goods- Duncan Hines cake mix, a real deli counter with cold cuts and cheeses, dishwashing liquid, tampons, etc. I believe Barrett’s first words were in the canned food aisle,

“uuuhmagawd, they have different kinds of olives

I’m actually still not sure if this quote came as a question or an exclamation.

And later, when the Amy’s burritos appeared in misty cases of the freezer aisle, it sent shockwaves down our spines. I almost dropped the bag of King Arthur’s Flour in my hands.

Needless to say, we easily spent the 1000RMB necessary to obtain a frequent buyer card. After a long cab ride home spent chatting about Kettle Chips and Greek Yogurt, we got home and emptied our groceries onto the kitchen counter. In truth, our 1000RMB didn’t get us very far, especially in comparison to the measly 30RMB I spent at the wet market earlier in the week. So we’re combining some local goods- eggs, spinach, cilantro, onions, etc., and rationing our treasured goodies, devouring breakfasts such as the one below with poached egg, Thomas’ English Muffins, chorizo and greek yogurt.

We might just die when we see Whole Foods again.

Poached Eggs and Chorizo on English Muffins


  • 2/3 cup chorizo, diced into small cubes
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • a few sprigs of cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
  • English Muffins
  • 2-4 eggs (depending on how hungry you are, or how many people you have)
  • 1 Tbsp. white distilled vinegar (for poaching eggs)
  • Greek Yogurt


  1. Saute onions on high for 3 minutes, add chorizo and saute for another two minutes. Add the remainder of the ingredients and turn down heat. Saute on med for another 5-7 minutes or until onions are thoroughly browned and chorizo is charred and crisp. Take off the burner and set aside.
  2. Toast English Muffins. Optional: Drizzle with olive oil or spread with butter.
  3. Poach Egg (see instructions below). Set the poached egg on top of one half of the English Muffin, and add a generous few spoonfuls of the chorizo-onion-tomato mixture over it and on the second half of the English Muffin. Top off with dollops of full-fat Greek yogurt.

yield: 2-3 servings

How to Poach An Egg:

  1. Crack each egg into one small prep bowl, one egg per bowl. In a small or medium saucepan, heat water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of white vinegar, and turn down heat to Medium.
  2. Lightly swirl the water with a fork, and drop one egg into the pan. Don’t touch it. After a minute, use a spatula or slotted spoon and make sure it hasn’t stuck to the bottom of the pan. Drop in a second egg at this time, if you dare.
  3. Let each egg cook for approx. 4 minutes. Or more, if you want the yolk to be slightly firmer.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, carefully fish the egg out of the water and set on a plate lined with paper towels. Carefully flip over to pat egg dry, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Carefully transfer to a plate. 
  5. Did I mention, to do all this carefully?

Local delicacies

I can get down with some of the local delights that are sold around here.

Ok, that’s a farce. I can totally get down with dim sum. Some other things, not so much.

Unfortunately, Canton cuisine doesn’t have the magnificent chili peppers of Szechuan, the crispy skin of roasted duck from Beijing, or the fragrant lamb skewers of Xi’an.

But apparently, as I see from my weekly strolls to the market, they do have scorpions. Lots of them.


Remember the days of AIM? When, Apple computers looked like space-aged jolly ranchers, and Google wasn’t yet a verb- let alone a real word. I think it meant something dirty, but I’m not sure.

I still remember downloading and signing onto AIM chat for the first time, at the family computer in my parents’ living room. In the awkward years of middle school (which, to me weren’t so awkard- I actually had a blast in the 7th and 8th grades) trivial matters were viewed with great gravity. As if your life depending on choosing the perfect length for your backpack straps (in the 90’s, the perfect length was until your backpack dragged to just about your knees). Or, the outfits you and your friends would wear for the first school dance. Every school dance, for that matter. Or perhaps more importantly to a middle schooler growing up in Silicon Valley in the mid-90’s, what to choose as your screen name.

While my fellow junior highschoolers had nicknames like aznboi1234 or kewlchk555 or drgn<3, beginning an era of perpetual abbrevs, I chose tofubrain13. It liked it because it was different, clever, unique, and dorky in the coolest possible way. I still like it, even if I am partially horrified if I ever have to exchange screen names with a new friend.

It was (and still is) an ode to my love of tofu- much like the recipe below. Tofu is versatile, it’s satisfying, and before the vegan community discovered it, I claimed it.

I shared this recipe online months ago on RecipeRelay, so it’s been out in the world for awhile. But on recent trips to the market I’ve been slowing to peruse the tofu options more than usual. Luckily the DiploMan shares my love of tofu (!), so I know this dish will make an appearance on the dinner table soon enough.

This tofu recipe is perfect as an appetizer paired with a chili-mayo dipping sauce, as a side dish with rice and spinach for Meatless Monday, or as I prefer, on top of a crisp and crunchy salad with a savory cilantro dressing. And if you think you don’t like tofu- well, this one comes out of the pan hot and crispy and savory and fried. I guarantee it will turn you into a tofubrain.

Panko Crusted Tofu


  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 lbs firm tofu (1-2 packages store-bought tofu)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp Tandori spice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • to taste – salt and pepper
  • 6 Tbs canola oil
  1. Drain and rinse the tofu. Slice into 1/2 inch slices. Using a tea towel or paper towel, pat each piece dry and set aside.
  2. Set up your breading station: in one medium-sized shallow bowl, beat eggs and add a pinch of salt and pepper. In a second medium-sized shallow bowl, mix flour with a pinch of salt and pepper. In a third bowl, combine panko crumbs with spices, and add another pinch of salt and pepper. This may seem like a lot of salt and pepper, but it’s not.
  3. Take your (patted dry) tofu steaks that you’ve set aside. One by one, bread the tofu: Using one hand, put the tofu in the flour and coat. Gently shake off excess flour, and set in the egg bath. Now using your other hand, bathe the tofu in the beaten egg, and transfer to the panko crumbs with the same hand. Finally using your original flour/non-eggy hand, completely coat tofu with the panko crumbs (warning: your hands will become slightly stained form the Tandoori spice!). Using this method of alternating hands, keeping one hand dry and one hand wet, makes for a less messy process.
  4. Continue breading all your tofu, setting aside on a plate as you finish each one.
  5. When you have finished breading, add 3 Tbs canola oil into a skillet and heat on high. When the oil is ho t- ideally just before it starts smoking – turn down the heat to med-high and begin to fry your tofu, dropping in 3-4 pieces at a time, depending on the size of your skillet. Cook tofu for 1-2 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
  6. Remove from the skillet onto paper towels or a rack to cool.
  7. Repeat with the remaining tofu, dumping out the oil and contents of the pan once you’ve completed half of the tofu. Wipe the skillet clean with a dry paper towel, and using the remainder of the oil (3 Tbs) to fry the rest of the breaded tofu.

When life hands you lemons…

I’m always unnerved by the lack of citrus (namely, lemons and limes) around this city. What’s one got to do around these parts to dress a salad?! So I’ve scoured my neighborhood to find my go-to citrus stops.

There’s my lime lady that operates out of a hole-in-the-wall who also sells things like shiso leaves, lemon grass, and bell peppers. She’s absolutely clutch over holidays such as Cinco de Mayo (or, if I ever decide to make a Thai curry). There’s lemons that are sold at my favorite fruit stand, but they’re imported, expensive, wrapped individually in saran wrap and as hard as stone. Preferably, I buy fresher and juicier lemons from the guy who posts himself in an alleyway on my way to my neighborhood wet market. He has woven bamboo baskets filled with lemons, but he’s unreliable because sometimes instead of lemons he brings weird chinese olives. And other times, he’s simply not there.

But for the most part I’ve finally solved my citrus crisis. But now the problem is, when you don’t get much of something and it becomes available, you feel the need to HOARDE. Every other week, I am guaranteed to come home with half a dozen lemons and a dozen limes, sometimes even more. Too many lemons aren’t usually a problem (unless, you are my friend Gillian), but there’s just not enough salad greens sold locally around here that call for a lemon-olive oil dressing.

A few weeks ago I found myself in front of the lemon man, frantically adding lemons to his hand-held steelyard scale. Before I knew it there were a dozen lemons sitting on my kitchen counter. A dozen lemons. Too many lemons. Instead of transforming lemons into the proverbial, and thus boring, lemonade, I decided to preserve them.

I’ve read all about preserved lemons. I’ve eaten preserved lemons. They seem fancy. But I can now attest, it’s quite possibly the easiest thing I’ve done in my kitchen to date- although I have a history of trying rather complicated recipes. But seriously, even your boyfriend/husband/partner/cat could do this.

In the course of two weeks, this salt-packed snow-capped jar of lemons….

…turned into this briny and flavorful, completely edible treat!!!

These preserved lemons are meant to be consumed whole- peel and all. The preservation process breaks down the once-bitter rind into a savory and tart garnish. It can be used on almost any main or side dish, and is particularly wonderful with the earthy flavors of fall vegetables and will bring out a little extra zing in your otherwise hearty, heavy winter braises. In addition to pairing extremely well with roasted fish or chicken, I’ve been unsparingly using the preseved quarters (rinsed, then thinly sliced) mixed into lentil and quinoa dishes. Toss it into sauteed spinach for a unique kick, or braised kale, or roasted potatoes.

Who said too many lemons were a bad thing?!

Preserved Lemons

adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen


  • 6-9 lemons
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cane sugar
  • 2 tsp. whole peppercorns


  1. Sterilize a glass jar by boiling in water for five minutes.
  2. Scrub lemons hard to remove dirt and, if purchased from a supermarket, the waxy surface on the skin.
  3. Slice ends off each lemon, and cut lengthwise into quarters. Remove as many seeds as possible.
  4. Salt the lemons on the cutting board with a few pinches of salt. Place about 2 Tbsp. of salt into the bottom of the glass jar, and place 3-4 lemon quarters on top. Using a wooden spoon, smush the lemons down.
  5. Add a couple more tablespoons of salt into the jar. Take another 3-4 lemon quarteres, squeeze their juices into the jar, and then toss them in.
  6. Repeat, adding layers of salt, lemon juice, and lemons. Halfway through, add one tablespoon of sugar.
  7. Leaving at least an inch of room at the top of the jar, add in the peppercorns last. Seal the jar with its lid, and leave at room temperature on a countertop for a few days, turning the jar each day.
  8. After three days, store in the fridge. Every few days or so, shake up and turn the jar again to mix the lemons and juices around. After two weeks the lemons are ready to use. They will keep for several months.

On a closely related note, I promised to make a lemon meringue pie next week for a pie party. Why? Because lemons are, not so surprisinly, actually easier to find than pecans and canned pumpkin around here. Plus I don’t like apple pie and thus refuse to make it. Let’s hope my lemon guy brings his lemons!