Category Archives: Pantry recipe

Cooking tips from the Real Housewives of HK.

Last week I shared some pictures and recipes from my day “cooking” with the real housewives of Hong Kong… I thought you might also enjoy two easy, take-away tips from our chats at break time.
(image from

1. You need to differentiate your types of oils. I suppose I have always known this just never done it, but you really need to have oil you cook with and oil you don’t. The head chef confirmed this; there is ZERO point in spending any money on olive oil, for example, that you saute with. It only makes sense to use the really special stuff in salad dressings or when you drizzle it over, say, already baked fish. The ladies said they often use less expensive oils than olive oil for cooking with, like peanut and palm oil. (But then again, they don’t actually cook… so maybe they are talking about what their helpers use.)

After taking the class I bought a big, inexpensive jug of grapeseed oil to saute with — it has a higher flash point than olive oil, a milder flavor profile, and yet still has lots of antioxidants. Up until this realization, I have to admit that I would just have one bottle of olive oil next to the stove… usually it would be an upper-middle of the road bottle and I would use it for everything, hoping that good ingredients would equal better food, but I realize now that I was just a victim of good marketing!

2. Try a diamond fry pan. I was not completely surprised when these bling-adorned ladies told me I needed to get a frying pan made out of real diamonds… but I was interested to learn after some googling that there might be something to it. You’ve probably heard about all of the health concerns related to nonstick pans… not only does the film eventually peel off, but when the Teflon nonstick covering is over-heated,  it releases a toxic gas. DuPont, the manufacturer of Teflon, says this doesn’t happen below 680 degrees… but scientists have found that a pan on high can reach 700 degrees in 3 minutes. So, word to the wise: if you do have nonstick pans keep them on medium!

Back to the bling: So it turns out that a synthetic diamond coating actually is a great alternative to non-stick coating. From the reviews I’ve read, the diamond non stick pans hold up a lot better than those by Calphalon and All Clad and they do a better job with browning, something many nonstick pans are horrible at.
The main manufacturer of these pans is called Swiss Diamond. There has been some debate about whether the diamond pans also contain Teflon or PFOA (the non-branded form of Teflon). From Swiss Diamond‘s site:

Do Swiss Diamond products contain PFOA?
NO! The inherent slippery, non-stick properties of Diamonds Crystals when amalgamated into a nano-composite (mixture of extremely thin particles), means we use a minor amount of PTFE in our products, much lesser than any other non-stick products. The reasons are that the amalgams of real Diamond Crystals require such high temperatures that any particle of PFOA which is contained in the PTFE will be totally burned out so that NO PFOA can be traced on Swiss Diamond products.”

So the debate rages on, but it does seem to me like a somewhat safer nonstick alternative. And it is much, much lighter than castiron — which I (and others, too) think is the best all around cooking pan. With a light slick of oil, Le Creuset can act nonstick all day long.  But you have to have a pan for eggs and when when my current nonstick gives out, I may give the diamonds a try for myself. In the meantime, if anyone has tried the diamond pans, what do you think??

Gourmand gifts: Balsamic barrel

So if money were no object, my own 16-year aged balsamic oak barrel is hands-down what I would want for Christmas.

Sydney Newsom (who is literally all over the Internet at any time of day or night and also happens to be the best friend I could ever imagine having not actually met in person) turned me on to Zingerman’s… and I think I will be a loyal customer for years to come. I couldn’t possibly write a better description than what is on their site:

The aging attics of La Vecchia Dispensa is Castelvetro, near Modena, are stuffed with barrels. Old barrels, new barrels. Small ones for precious cargo, large ones for just-cooked must. Made from chestnut, oak, and half a dozen other woods, each of them holds balsamic vinegar at some advanced age. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Want one for yourself? La Vecchia Dispensa’s cooper has fashioned a few small, seasoned oak barrels that we can send you filled with over a quart of our exclusive 16 year aged balsamic.

Use the glass dropper to rescue a bit of balsamic for salads or strawberries. Kept corked, it’ll last indefinitely and get better with time, just like you. Refill as needed. Keep in mind that in Italy, balsamic was a gift for grandchildren or important dowries. With the way social security is going it might be something sensible to consider.

I have always been obsessed with good balsamic vinegar… I have been known to make like an Italian and pour the good stuff over ice and drink it straight up. So delicious. But it was when we were in Italy on our honeymoon where I decided it was better than chocolate. We were visiting the Verranzano Castle and Winery (same family as the one that built the bridge) in Chianti and they had caves of really old wine and even more exciting: full of balsamic barrels… if you stuck your nose in through the bars you could just smell the intoxicating scent. It was the best thing I’ve ever smelled in my life.

The little barrels right above are the balsamic ones–aren’t they so sweet!!! They have a little glass cap that lets a certain portion of the boiled white grape juice to evaporate, called the “angels’ share.” Over the years, being in the wood barrel makes the juice more sweet and concentrated.

After our tour of the caves, we sat down and enjoyed a meal with some very nice strangers… after a few glasses of line we were like family. After some insanely good pasta, they served a piece of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano topped with aged balsamic on a spoon, and wow. Let me tell you: an incredible dessert!! We’ve done this after dinner parties and it’s been such a hit. If you’re ever planning a trip to Tuscany, the Verranzano tour with the meal afterward was really great (and I consider myself  pretty jaded about winery tours after living next door to Napa).

My other favorite use is just simple dressing that my Aunt Steph taught me to make. You simply take a little mustard and whisk it with balsamic. You must do this before adding the olive oil or the vinegar won’t emulsify. Then you simply add salt and pepper and voila, the best salad dressing ever! And so much cheaper and better than buying a bottle. You can toss in some scallions or Italian seasoning, but it’s also amazing on its own. When the Mr. is out of town, I like to take a whole head of lettuce, make some dressing, and just eat the whole thing for dinner. I just adore it.

Oh me oh my. I am already rationalizing this in my head… if this were a ten year supply of balsamic, then it would really only be $40 per year, which is not so bad. And every year it would get better and better. AMAZING! I love that balsamic barrels were dowries back in the day. I am already thinking about how the barrel could be a prominent decorating feature in either the kitchen or the dining room… Santa, are you listening?!

Okay, so if there is no Santa, then Sydney swears by this six-year-old balsamic, which I am dying to try and am going to send to my parents to bring back with me to HK… and at $19, it would also be an awesome stocking stuffer!

Gourmand gifts: Truffle salt

The Mr. planned our whole honeymoon to Italy — it was a surprise until I got to the airport. And one of the things that really blew me away was how delicious the food was! It’s amazing how the simplest ingredients can taste so good. While we were there, I stocked up on fun pastas, sauces, and splurged on some truffle salt after having truffled eggs for dinner at our favorite restaurant in Rome. Simply adding some to scrambled eggs is really incredible. The Mr. put them in our mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving and they were amazing. Really, it’s hard for me to think of something that isn’t better with truffle salt, but it’s a luxurious splurge–the kind you’re not likely to do for yourself so it makes a perfect stocking stuffer. Although, I will say we use ours often and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the little jar we bought on our honeymoon over a year ago — so a little goes a long way. I bought both white and black versions… wondering like me, about the differences?


  • Great for pasta (mac n cheese… mmmm!!!), salads and vegetables.
  • The more expensive truffle, hence the ‘white diamond’ nickname.
  • It comes from the Langhe area of the Piedmont region in northern Italy.
  • Most famous market: Alba, Italy
  • Season: October and November
  • The record price paid for a single white truffle was set in December 2007, when Macau casino owner Stanley Ho paid US$330,000 for a specimen weighing 3.3 lb, discovered by Luciano Savini and his dog Rocco. Check out my post about Mr. Ho here.


  • Ideal for egg dishes and red meat (Ruth Reichl has a great truffle fillet recipe here).
  • Less expensive than the white truffle.
  • It comes from the Périgord region in France and grows exclusively with oak.
  • Season: December and Janurary
  • Famous market: Lalbenque, France
  • Black truffles don’t grow as large as white truffles–they can reach up to 7 cm in diameter and weigh up to 100 g.
  • Production is almost exclusively European, with France accounting for 45%, Spain 35%, Italy 20%, and small amounts from Slovenia, Croatia and the Australian states of Tasmania and Western Australia.


  • Not surprisingly, China has come up with a cheaper version of the real thing! Chinese truffles are often exported to the West as an inferior-quality substitute.
  • Some truffle exporters or delicatessen shops sell Chinese truffles into which extracts of the real thing…

Here are my little guys all wrapped up…
I had wanted to write a little ode to truffle salt, like I did for my nutmeg grater gift, but I just didn’t have time for it. Luckily, the people I am giving it to likely will read this post… although of course I did just spoil their gift for them… sorry!

Make sure that the salt you buy has a high percentage of truffles. Dean and Deluca’s has great reviews and is a fair price from what I’ve seen given how many little truffle pieces I can see from the Internet pic!

Gourmand gifts: Red Pepper Jelly.

Last year I wanted to make something edible and homemade, so I tried my own Red Pepper Jelly. It was a huge hit and super easy so I made it again this year.
Last year I used red pepper flakes like the recipe says, but this year I happened to have some Thai chillies leftover from a Vietnamese salad attempt so I threw them in instead.
I recommend a food processor for chopping up the peppers–super easy and fast.
Don’t be intimidated by canning! It’s so easy… just make sure to read the instructional packet included with the pectin.
But basically you cook the peppers with vinegar. And while you’re doing that you can clean your jars.
Then drop your jars into boiling water to make sure they’re squeaky clean and safe.
Don’t you love our fifties stovetop?! After the peppers, vinegar and sugar are all cooked up… pour it into your jars and seal ’em up! I made little labels, too and added a coordinating Christmasy knife to make it acomplete gift!

Hotel life. Plus, Mustard Chicken.

So we’re going on a month in a hotel now… the first three weeks were in normal hotel rooms, but now we’re in corporate housing so we actually have a little kitchenette and a place to do laundry, other than the bathroom sink.

In our kitchen there is a crazy, tiny little washing machine and dryer in one. At first, I wondered why we don’t have these 2-in-1 machines in the States, but then I realized it’s because they don’t actually dry things. After many failed attempts, I concluded that you can really wash about one outfit at a time, meaning its capacity is literally one shirt, one pair of jeans, and socks.

If you put any more than that in there, or likely even if you put that few of things in there, the dryer really only works half way.

The Mr. really doesn’t appreciate this decorating. Also, notice what I like to call “laptop-gate” on top of the dish drying rack. Yep, that’s right we have, no exaggeration, five computing devices in this tiny little apt.

Also, check out our mini-dishwasher. Any idea what the point of a dishwasher you can’t put a full dinner plate in up-right is? Wouldn’t you rather just handwash it yourself and have the extra room, or an actual oven?

And here is what I thought was an oven.

Happy to finally have some homemade food, I ran out to the store to make Nick’s favorite dish: his mother’s mustard chicken. But, when I got home I realized that is actually a microwave disguised as an oven, so I ended up doing a sauteed variation as it would be hard to get bread crumbs to actually brown in a microwave. I also would feel guilty radiating the organic food that I had just paid a small fortune for. I seriously think eating out here is WAY cheaper than eating in… unless I guess you learn how to shop at the real markets, which I will work on in due time.

Here is our first homemade meal in Hong Kong. Steamed broccoli, caprese salad, and the beloved chicken.Quick recipe for you — what is so great about this is that it’s so simple and you can have all the ingredients in your pantry / freezer so you can whip it up in five minutes, on a moment’s notice.

Leila’s Mustard Chicken.

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