Quick and Useful Chopstick Rest

There are many instructions on the web on how to fold chopstick rests from a paper wrapper of restaurant chopsticks. Someone taught me a quick and easy way, though, that I haven’t seen described elsewhere, so here it is.


Grasp the top of the paper chopstick wrapper between the thumb and forefinger of each hand on either side of the chopsticks. Slowly, gently, and firmly press in and down on the shaft of the chopsticks; try to keep the sealed edge of the wrapper from separating. Press firmly down once you reach the tabletop. Remove the chopsticks from the wrapper and gently and evenly pull the scrunched paper open to about 2″ width. Lay it on the table and rest your chopsticks on it.

This chopstick stand, while not as pretty as the beautifully folded origami rests you might see, provides an elevated surface that won’t let your chopsticks roll off and has the advantage of being quickly formed – so you can start eating right away, much to the awe and envy of your fellow diners. Enjoy!

Roasted Brine-soaked Chicken

Chicken on Vertical Roaster

Brining is essential for a juicy, flavorful roast chicken. Brining is simple to do, and with a vertical chicken roaster and digital cooking thermometer with probe, roasting requires little work and is fairly foolproof. The result is so tasty, unless you don’t have time to do the brining or roasting, there’s no reason to ever buy a supermarket-roasted chicken again.


1 4 to 5 pound whole chicken, thoroughly washed
1/4 c kosher salt
1/4 c sugar
2 T black peppercorns, freshly cracked
2 T minced or crushed garlic

Dissolve the kosher salt and sugar in about 2 cups of boiling water. After thoroughly dissolved, add about 1 quart ice cubes with water to cool the hot brine. Stir in the crushed peppercorns and garlic.

Stand the chicken, vent side up, in a 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag, in a tall stockpot. (I use an 8 qt. Calphalon stockpot; it makes the bagged chicken easier to handle, catches any overflow or leaked brine, and fits nicely in my refrigerator.) Pour the brine into the bag, aiming at the vent to concentrate the pepper and garlic inside the chicken. (If you wish, add the neck piece and gizzards; don’t brine the liver or heart – clean, lightly flour and gently pan fry these separately as a snack.) Zip the bag closed, squeezing out all the air, adding cold water, as needed, so the bag is completely filled with brine when zipped closed. (This will ensure all parts of the chicken are brined. Having put the bag in the pot, any overflow will be caught by the pot, preventing a mess.) Soak the chicken from 4 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

Remove the chicken from the brine. Strain the brine through a fine sieve to preserve the pepper and garlic and put it into the cavity; discard the brine. Stand the chicken on a vertical chicken roaster on a small pan to catch the juices. Insert the neck piece and gizzards under a flap of the neck skin. (If you’d like a crisper skin on the roast chicken, pour boiling water over the chicken skin to firm it up and let the chicken air dry for about an hour before roasting.) Roast the chicken in a 350° oven until the thigh meat (away from the bone) reaches 175-180°. Remove from oven and let the roasted chicken rest at least 20 minutes before slicing. Reserve and de-fat the pan juices for making a sauce. Because of the brining, even the white meat will still be moist and it will all be very flavorful.

VARIATIONS. Add herbs, spices, soy sauce, or Japanese mirin to the brine. Use brown sugar, honey or molasses in place of the sugar (some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart). Use apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, stock, tea, or other liquids to replace some or all of the water.

The same method can be used for roast turkey (soak 1-2 days; use a jumbo 2 to 3 gallon freezer bag and vertical turkey roaster), roast pork loin, or pork chops. Also check out http://whatscookingamerica.net/Poultry/BriningPoultry.htm

Dan Dan Noodles

My British-born foodie friend, Bethia Woolf, sent me a link to an article by noted British Chinese-food writer Fuchsia Dunlop on Classic Dan Dan Noodles. As a Sichuan dish, Dan Dan Noodles is not something I grew up with, but have enjoyed a few times in restaurants. I’ve made versions at home using sauce from jars, so when I saw the recipe, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did!

Photograph: Jean Cazals from The Guardian articleThe recipe provided looked simple enough. I had most of the items in my pantry or freezer. The two of concern, though, were Chinese Alkali Noodles and Sweet Fermented Sauce. I did a little research and headed out to one of my local Asian supermarkets where I managed to find just one example of each.

I scanned the store’s noodle shelves for yellow colored noodles and found one with sodium carbonate – an alkali – as an ingredient. Okay, that was easy.

Then I searched for the sauce. I had cruised the Internet and found it’s called Tian Mian Jiang, also called Sweet Bean Sauce, and is used for Peking Duck (not Hoisin Sauce, as I’ve always believed). It’s made from fermented flour and soybeans. I found this jar with flour and soybeans listed as the only ingredients (hard to read and impossible to photograph, since it’s black type on a clear label against the black sauce).

Missing ingredients in hand, I converted Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe to American measures, made a few other adjustments, and tried it. The alkali noodles really do make a difference: They keep their nice chewy texture. It was delicious – and simple! No more need for the sauce from a jar! I’m adding it to my standard repertoire.

Classic Dan Dan Noodles – adapted from a recipe by Fuchsia Dunlop
Serves 2

3 T cooking oil
4 oz minced pork
1 T Shaoxing wine
1 t sweet bean sauce
1 t light soy sauce
7 oz Chinese alkali wheat flour noodles

For the sauce:
1 c
 chicken stock (or noodle cooking water)
2 t light soy sauce
¼ t salt
1 t Chinkiang vinegar
2 T chili oil with pepper flakes, or more to taste
4 T scallion greens, sliced across the stalk into small rings
5 T Tianjin preserved vegetables, diced

Stir fry the pork in oil in a skillet or pot until it loses its red color, pressing the meat against the pan with a cooking spatula or spoon to separate out into small, but still juicy pieces. Add the wine, stir a few times, then add the sweet bean sauce and stir-fry until you can smell it. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Pour cooked pork into a plate to hold.

Boil water in a pot to cook the noodles. In a separate pot, heat the stock. Boil the noodles according to suggested time on the package (mine said 3-4 minutes). While they are cooking, place all the sauce ingredients except for the stock in a serving bowl.

When the noodles are ready, drain them in a colander (reserving some of the cooking water if you are not using stock). Add the stock or noodle cooking water to the sauce in the serving bowl. Place the noodles in the bowl, top with the pork and serve. Before eating, give the noodles a good stir until the sauce and meat are evenly distributed.

How to Peel a Banana

Having learned a different way to peel an orange from my sister after 50 years of doing it the wrong way, I stumbled upon another fruit I had been peeling incorrectly for decades: bananas.

Lifehacker’s post Open a Banana like a Monkey opened my eyes as well. The basic lesson: Instead of peeling from the stem end, imitate monkeys and peel from the bottom end, pinching the end to separate a skin section. Much easier! (By the way, my clever sister said she’s always done it this way too!)


Having learned new ways to shuck corn, peel oranges, and now, peel bananas, I wonder how may other techniques I’ve been doing wrong for all these years! Well, at least I’ve proved that this old dog can learn new tricks!

How to Peel an Orange

I grew up peeling oranges the way my father taught me: With a knife, cut through the skin and pith down from the stem end to the bottom, with 4 cuts. Pierce the little scar where the stem was with the tip of a knife and peel down each of the 4 quarters of skin. I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and thought this was the only way to peel an orange.

Then a few years ago, my sister showed me that she peeled an orange differently. She did the same scoring, but started peeling from the navel end towards the stem. I tried it and found my sister was brilliant! On most types of orange, the skin comes off much more easily that way!

I was looking through You Tube for videos illustrating the difference for this blog and I discovered those aren’t the only ways to peel an orange. Here’s one that’s a variant of the method my father taught me, slicing off the top and bottom of the orange and scoring the peel into 6 or more pieces instead of 4:

How to peel an orange – the easy and clean way


Then I found yet another, totally different method:

How to Peel an Orange the Russian Way!


This looks messier, but you get a half of a skin to use as an orange oil candle – or to fill with sherbet and freeze as a self-contained dessert. Others videos show a variant of this method, massaging the skin to loosen it from the fruit before scoring and peeling.

Looking through You Tube there are even more ways including a nice way of cutting to make pieces of cut orange for a fruit salad:


After so many decades of peeling oranges one way, I’ll now keep looking and trying other methods. So far, though, I think I’ll end up using the “cut off the top and bottom and score into 6 sections” method but peel from the bottom end to the top.

A Better Way to Shuck Corn!

I have to share this new discovery while we’re at the peak of fresh corn season on a remarkable way to shuck corn!

I love fresh corn on the cob – enough to put up with the time and hassle of peeling off the husks and fastidiously pulling off the silk so it doesn’t get caught between my teeth. Then, just a week ago, I saw a  posting about a better way to cook and shuck corn – so interesting that I especially looked forward to visiting my local farmers market.

Fresh corn in hand, I simply placed them into the oven to convection roast at 350º for 30 minutes. Remove the corn from the oven and let them sit until they’re just cool enough to handle (several minutes) – or use gloves while they’re still hot. Some of the recipes on this process say the de-husking must be done while the corn is still warm.

Cut each ear with a serrated knife just past the point where the stem connects to the corn cob, cutting off the first ring or two of kernels. This will leave enough room for the ear to slide out of the husk.

Grasp the top of the corn with the silk and shake the ear. The corn will start to emerge and will come out easily, leaving the silk in the husk.

Voila! A clean ear of corn with almost no time shucking and a very easy cleanup!

Now talk about coincidences, just today I was listening to a book on tape: Jonah Burger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On. In it, he describes a YouTube video that went viral: Shucking Corn — Clean Ears Everytime. It was posted in Sep. 2011 and shows the same process, except for microwaving for 4 minutes per ear instead of oven roasting. Here’s the video:


I tried the microwaving for 4 minutes per ear, for 2 ears at a time in my microwave oven. I had to cut off part of the long stems to fit on my microwave’s turntable, but the corn turned out fine. It slipped out of the husks easier than the oven roasted ears did and they taste the same. I also tried cutting the ends off the cooked ears with a heavy Chinese cleaver instead of a heavy serrated knife and it cut easily as well.

After so many years of shucking corn the old fashioned way, peeling away the husk leaves and silk, then picking at the remaining pieces of silk, then cleaning up the loose corn silk that has scattered around the kitchen, this is really a remarkable discovery! It even makes the shucking chore fun!

As to taste, the corn seems to be as fresh and sweet as by using the usual shuck and steam method. I’ve seen some recipes recommend washing the corn and cutting off the top silk to remove dirt that would impart a bad taste to the corn. My hand-picked farm corn is very clean, so I didn’t bother to do so and it tasted fine.

From an early age, I learned that the sugar in fresh corn starts turning to starch the moment it’s picked. So I try to find corn that has been picked just before I buy it. That seemed to be easier out east than here in Ohio, but this fast way of cooking and shucking corn means there’s little excuse not to cook it the minute I get them home, so they should be as sweet as possible.

Give it a try – and have fun!

Hellwig Farm Market

I found a farm market run by a wonderful person just 10 minutes from my home in New Albany, OH: Hellwig Farm. As a member of Slow Food Columbus, I’m learning how to connect more directly to the food and farms that feeds us. This visit helped feed my mind and soul as well as my body.

DSC00432 DSC00431

I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Bell Bowen at this year’s Fête en Blanc Columbus. She took a terrific photo of me at the event and I drove out to get a digital copy of that photo from her. I was surprised to find that her farm is as close to my home as my local Wal-Mart.

Jennifer is from a farming family and she is as charming and friendly as she is beautiful. A recent article in Edible Columbus provides a nice write-up on Jennifer and her work to provide free food for needy families in the area, so I won’t repeat that story here, but it’s heartwarming to know that there are people like Jennifer who care so much about her neighbors to help meet their needs with dignity. It’s wonderful that the proceeds from this year’s Fête help support these efforts.

We chatted while I copied Jennifer’s photos and she boxed up some produce. Then I started selecting various items for myself to take home, piling them on her counter. She gave me a  price for the lot. I don’t recall what the total was, but it was very little. Jennifer explained that she wasn’t looking to make a lot of money on her produce and that she doesn’t participate in the local farmers markets because she doesn’t want to undercut the prices of others there.

Only after I got home did I realize how much I had bought for so little money! And it was so healthy and delicious! Fresh sweet corn; young kale leaves (so tender that I just quickly stir-fried them like spinach); local honey made in New Albany (that should help ward off my hay fever allergy); raspberries (for only $2 for the pint!); mildly hot peppers; and heirloom tomatoes (so beautiful and delicious!). This load kept me eating fresh food for a week!

Two weeks later, I went back for more. I made a note of what I got this time: 6 ears of corn; 2 3/4 pounds of heirloom tomatoes; 1 1/2 pounds of beets; a 2 pound butternut squash; a 4 3/4 pound cabbage; 10 oz of fresh garlic. The cost: less than what I would have paid for the tomatoes alone at my local farmers market!

I’m a big supporter of the New Albany Farmers Market – it’s one of the best in central Ohio, with a wide variety of local offerings and friendly vendors. But while the season lasts, I’ll be heading out to Hellwig Farm first to see what Jennifer has to offer. And I’ll be eating very healthy for about the same price as supermarket food.

Hellwig Farm is open Wednesday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm until August 31st. “Friend” Hellwig Farm on Facebook to be informed of her limited opening hours after that.

Stuffed Bitter Melon

Photo from Felicia Friesema LA Weekly Many have written on the health benefits of Chinese bitter melon. I grew up enjoying them – my father prepared them at home Cantonese-style and we often ordered them in Cantonese restaurants – despite their fairly intense bitter taste. Pop always said eating bitter melon was good because they made everything after that taste sweet.

I was delighted to find them offered in my local farmers market. I bought a couple, but then had to find a recipe for them, having never cooked them myself. I had just prepared a batch of wontons and had some ground pork mixture left over, so I found a recipe for stuffed bitter melon – often offered in dim sum restaurants. I modified it a bit, to use what I had on hand.

Stuffed bitter melon

Braising stuffed bitter melon

The stuffed bitter melon were absolutely delicious! They were, appropriately, a little bitter, but what came through was a sweetness, with light saltiness and umami – everything except sour, beautifully balanced and subtle.

Cooked bitter melonCooked bitter melon

The pieces were quite pretty, and when cut open, showed the mushroom-shaped pork mixture, reflecting the mushrooms in the stuffing and sauce. They tasted far more delicate than those I’ve had in restaurants, perhaps because of the really fresh, locally grown bitter melons I used. Given the delicate taste of the melon, I don’t think it will take much for my friends to acquire a taste for these lovely little gems!

Stuffed Bitter Melon (adapted from Yi Reservation’s recipe)

1lb bitter melon (2 melons)
½ lb ground pork mixture (from Wonton recipe)
3 dried large Chinese mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 1/2 hour to soften

Braising Sauce

1tsp Chinese black bean sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 cup mushroom soaking water
½ tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp of water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the bitter melon cross-wise into 1 inch thick pieces. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain.

2. Combine the ground pork with minced Chinese mushroom stems and 1 minced mushroom cap.

3. Use a small spoon to carve out the seeds and some soft flesh in the middle of the melon.

4. Stuff the melon with meat stuffing until it forms a small dome.

5. Over low heat, pan-fry the stuffed bitter melon in some cooking oil until the bottom part is browned – about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.

6. In the frypan, mix the black bean sauce, garlic, stock or water, sugar, pepper. Bring the sauce to boil.

7. Add the pan-fried melon and 2 sliced shiitake mushroom caps. Braise it over low heat with lid on until translucent – about 25 minutes. Add sesame oil and cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Add salt, if needed.


Pan-fried wontonsI’ve enjoyed making homemade wontons with family and friends throughout the years, using my father’s recipe. Here’s the recipe:

Norton Chu’s Wontons


1 lb            thin wonton skins (Westlake)
– or –
2 lbs          thick wonton skins (Canton)

1 ½ lbs      pork

1 lb            shrimp

4                Chinese sausages

8                fresh water chestnuts, peeled
– or –
2 stalks      Chinese celery

2 T             light soy sauce

1                egg

1 t              sesame oil

2 T             cornstarch


  1. Chop/grind pork, sausage, water chestnuts or Chinese celery. (I use the chopping blade in a Cuisinart food processor).
  2. Peel and hand cut each shrimp into 3-5 pieces, depending on size.
  3. Mix all ingredients – except shrimp – together with an egg beater.
  4. Fold in shrimp pieces.
  5. Wrap wontons (I’ll add the wrapping technique after I find my photos of each wrapping step).
  6. Boil wontons in a large pot of salted water until they float; cool cooked wontons in a pot of cold water; strain in a colander.
  7. Put cooked wontons in a large baggie; mix in some olive oil to keep them from  sticking together.
  8. Use in soup
    – or –
    Pan fry until nicely browned on one or two sides over medium heat in hot peanut or olive oil; serve with Worcestershire sauce and sweet chili sauce
    – or –
    Deep fry
    – or –
    Freeze for later use.

Deep-fried wontonsI modified the recipe to make a pot luck dish for a locavore dinner by using meats from Thurn’s Specialty Meats in Columbus. Of course, I was stuck using wonton skins and condiments from the local Asian stores (I wasn’t going to prepare my own wonton wrappers), but all the other ingredients were from local Ohio providers.

Locavore Wontons

Ingredients: (meats from Thurn’s; produce from local farmers market)

1 lb            thin wonton skins (Westlake)
– or –
2 lbs          thick wonton skins (Canton)

1 3/4 lbs    pork

3                Landjadger sausages (5 oz)

5 oz           double-smoked bacon

2 stalks      celery

2 T             light soy sauce

1                egg

1 t              sesame oil

2 T             cornstarch

Preparation, as above.

The taste was intriguingly smoky, as intended. The filling was a little less juicy than the original, but they met the locavore requirements of the dinner.

Knife Sharpener in New Albany

New Albany Farmers Market

Our little community of New Albany, Ohio has a wonderful farmers market every Thursday afternoon during the summer. I’ve gotten quite spoiled being able to get grass-fed beef, chicken feet, pork tongues, local wildflower honey, vegetables, corn, and wonderful peaches from local farmers and have been awaiting its season opening, June 27th. I was delighted to find a new truck there on Thursday: a knife and tool sharpener!

Knife-sharpener's truckAny chef will tell you how important it is to have really good, sharp knives. I have a Chef’s Choice Diamond Hone Electric Knife Sharpener, but I put it away a couple of years ago and haven’t taken the time to find it. Meanwhile, my knives have been losing their edge. But also, my decades-old curved Cuisinart chopping blades have never been sharpened and they are noticeably duller than they were.

So I popped my head into the open rear door of the sharpening truck and asked the woman there – Rebecca Lyon – if she could sharpen a curved Cuisinart chopping blade. I told her it was not removable from its plastic hub and had been told by a knife sharpening service I had called on the west side of Columbus that they couldn’t sharpen it. She said she might, so I drove the 3/4 mile home, picked up the 2 chopping blades I have, and drove them back to show her.

Belt sander, on the leftRebecca took one look and said she could sharpen them. Using a small vertical belt sander – one of several machines she had on counters around the inside of her truck – she delicately hand guided the curved blade edges along the sanding belt a few times on each blade. Then she reached into one of the many storage drawers in her truck, pulled out a finishing stone, and deburred the back edges. I was impressed. I asked how much I owed her and she said it would be $5 for the two blades. When I asked her why it was so little she replied that I had been her first customer of the day. I told her I had more knives to be sharpened and she said she’d be back at the New Albany Farmers Market the 4th Thursday of every month. I told her I’d see her next month.

Recalling how dull my cooking knives had gotten, I decided I could be late to our little neighborhood cocktail party and gathered up some of my main kitchen knives and took them back for sharpening, rather than suffering for another month with dull knives.

Rebecca sharpeningRebecca got right to work, using a dual-headed blade sharpening machine. She made several passes with each blade and tested the sharpness by cutting a paper towel that she had folded over several times and sprayed with water. She adjusted the speed and separation of the sharpening discs as she sharpened each blade.

My chef’s knife was in pretty bad shape, with some dings in the edge and a blunted tip, having been dropped on the floor. She sharpened up the tip with the belt sander and took several more passes with the sharpening machine to get it into shape.

It took about 15 minutes for her to sharpen the 4 knives. When Rebecca told me it would be $13, I complained “What??! That’s too little!” She was a little startled. I told her I’d be back again next month so she could take care of more of my knives.

Sharpened blades

So here are my sharpened blades. They work beautifully. Nicely honed blades have a special feel to them: As they cut, they are much more precisely controllable, and hence, much safer to use!

If you’re in the Columbus area, do yourself a favor and get your knives, scissors, and tools sharpened! The Sharpening on Site website has a schedule of the various farmers markets and other sites at which they’ll appear. I’ll see you next month, Rebecca!