top of page

Steamed eggs, hidden treasures, and the heroism of Metro North employees

When travelling into the city this week I was reminded of an evening a few years ago when I got stranded in Manhattan. A windstorm resulted in so many downed trees that the New Haven line stopped running. (I would not be on-brand if I did not pause to rant about the Metro-North Railroad. Even at the best of times, the MNR does not place a particularly high priority on regular service or punctuality. 10 minutes late is, in the MNR space-time continuum, "on time." I am regularly amazed by the sorts of things that cause this train to come to an unscheduled halt. Leaves on the tracks and the Coast Guard are among my favorites. I have furthermore noted that while time seems to move faster the older one gets, the New Haven line trains keep on moving slower. All the same, I feel sorry for the MNR conductors, who are always so pleasant and professional, even when they have to remind passengers not to clip their toenails. And no less than twice have MNR employees saved the Decavore's clarinet, ensuring I could retrieve it at the Grand Central lost and found! Twice.)

That night it was not exactly the MNR's fault. Wandering the streets near Grand Central, looking to kill a few hours, I had the very good idea of stopping for dinner at a sake bar called Sakagura, located in the basement of a nondescript office building, at the bottom of a cinderblock stairwell. In Japan, the best bars and restaurants are splendid secrets, and frequently hidden underground. (Many years ago I visited a particularly memorable 8-seat Tokyo bar that was inside a buried fuel tank!)

One of my favorite things on the menu, which I ordered again that night, was chawanmushi, a savory steamed egg dish that is traditionally served in a teacup with a matching lid. At the bottom of dish, hidden underneath the silky custard, is usually some little surprise- a gingko nut, mushroom, a fish ball, a tiny shrimp. It reminded me of my favorite childhood cocoa mug that, if you drank its contents, revealed a little porcelain animal inside it.

I found a number of steamed egg recipes online, but most of them had sauces that, if used too liberally, were total salt bombs. I tried to create a (slightly) sweet-and- savory accompaniment to the eggs by using soy sauce seasoned with aromatics and then adding miso.

Please note that this is in no way supposed to be Japanese chawanmushi, or any other traditional steamed egg dishes, which, if you have never tasted, I urge you to try.

This recipe is very quick and easy (half a dozen basic ingredients, no special tools, and takes less than 30 minutes). I recommend you add your own little buried treasure to it.


For the sauce 1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 large shallot, thinly sliced 2 scallions, sliced 2/3 cup of water 1/4 cup soy sauce (or use tamari to make it gluten free) 1/4 cup of mirin or sweet rice wine, or 2 tablespoons of sugar 1 tbsp white miso

For eggs: 2 large eggs 1/2 cup of vegetable stock (I whisked 1/2 tsp of Better Than Bouillon into half a cup of hot water, and let it cool before adding to the eggs). If you want to use dashi, I have a great recipe for dashi here.

1 scallion sliced into 1/8th pieces, on a diagonal.


For sauce:

Heat sesame oil and fry shallots and scallion until fragrant. Add water and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 5 minutes until liquid reduces to about half. Add soy sauce, mirin or sugar, miso paste. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

For eggs:

In a microwaveable bowl, combine eggs and stock, and whisk until smooth (for extra smooth custard, you can strain it). Skim off bubbles with a spoon.

Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap; poke holes for steam. Microwave on 50% power for 4 minutes.

To serve, spoon some sauce over the eggs.. Top with scallion slices.

323 views0 comments

When I was growing up, my Irish family did not care for Irish food. I am now trying to have a greater appreciation for Irish cooking, since Ireland does have a culinary tradition something like a cucina povera, in which the same few humble ingredients are used with great ingenuity in many different combinations. Saint Patrick's Day menus, at least in North America, don't display the best of Irish food. They are generally meat-forward and rarely include my favorite Irish dishes.

I think the best meal I have had in Ireland was at a restaurant called The Winding Stair in Dublin, where, among other things, we were served boxty, the Irish potato pancake that combines mashed and grated potatoes.

I came up with my own recipe for boxty a few years ago, when Saint Patrick's Day coincided with the hard slog of Passover week, when I am forced to eat matzoh and ponder the intestinal blockage of my husband's fathers' affliction. Boxty came back into view as a possible source of desperately needed carbohydrates.

Passover is always the same at my house:

  • Pre-holiday housecleaning: wow, matzoh is good, how come we don't think to buy it to snack on during the year?

  • Day 1: matzoh is pretty good for breakfast with butter on it and some crunchy salt

  • Day 2: matzoh is pretty good with peanut butter on it

  • Day 3: matzoh is not so good

  • Day 5: your people ate nothing but potatoes. You can do this

  • Day 7: I can't believe I am still eating this

  • Day 8: I never want to see another piece of matzoh ever again!

Boxty in its traditional form is just potatoes and can always use some tarting up. I recalled that the Winding Stair used herbs and spring onion in their version.

I had some leftover Napa cabbage and red onions. I decided this boxty would have some vegetable crunch. I added some scallions as well. Earlier in the week I had made chana aloo (Indian chickpea and potato curry), so inspiration struck to do a fusion dish--a South Asian twist on boxty with some crunchy spiced vegetables. The result was a fluffy potato pancake over a crispy base of spiced onion and cabbage.

This is a culinary fusion long overdue. Matching plain but hearty Irish vegetable dishes to Indian spice is such an obvious idea. And who knew it could be kosher for Passover? This year I will try gussying up champ or colcannon with some great desi flavor.


3 Idaho potatoes (or any floury variety of potato)

1/4 cup flour (the first time I made this it was Passover, and I used potato starch)

3/4 cup of whole milk

1 egg

1/2 cup shredded Napa cabbage

1/2 medium red onion, finely minced

1/2 cup of sliced scallions

1 tbsp of serrano pepper, finely minced (more to taste)

1 tbsp grated ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp garam masala (if you don't have this, you could use other curry you may have, or add another 1/2 tsp of cumin and coriander to which you can add a 1/2 tsp of allspice) + more for dusting

fresh finely chopped coriander to garnish

salt and pepper


Peel and chop up 1 1/2 of the potatoes. Fill a saucepan with water enough to cover the potatoes, and bring to a boil. Turn down and simmer until potatoes are tender

Peel the remaining 1 1/2 of the potatoes, and grate using a box grater into a strainer. Put the strainer over a bowl and push out as much liquid as possible.

Grate and prep the remaining potato when the boiled potatoes are ready, because raw potato left too long will discolor. You can slow this process by sprinkling some vinegar on them, but best not to leave them hanging around.

Mash the boiled potatoes with 1/4 cup of the milk.

Add the grated potatoes, egg, and remaining milk. The resulting batter will look creamy with some texture.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Add a couple of tablespoons of neutral oil into a heated skillet (recommend a cast iron skillet for the best crisp browning).

Add shredded cabbage, diced red onion, diced pepper, and sliced scallions with salt to taste, and cook over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add spices to the vegetables and cook for a few more minutes, stirring until well mixed.

Turn off heat and spread out vegetables in the skillet until they cover the bottom evenly.

Add potato batter and spread evenly on top of the vegetables.

Drizzle some oil on top of the potato batter.

Put the skillet back on the heat for a minute or two before putting it in the oven.

Bake for ~45 minutes until a brown crust forms. Cooking time is approximate, and depends on the size and type of your skillet and thickness of the pancake. I suggest watching it closely the first time you try it.

Remove from oven and dust with garam masala and chopped coriander. Add some fresh ground pepper and flaky sea salt to taste.

The resulting potato pancake is crispy on the bottom and sides, and creamy in the middle. The onion and cabbage crust is golden and spiced without much heat. This is a good side dish, but I was happy to make this my entire meal.

The success of this dish seems fitting, as genealogical research and DNA analysis recently revealed that I too am an Irish-Indian fusion. My great-great grandfather, John Maguire, (born in India ~1830) was most likely half Indian. Wish I could have shared this boxty with him. I think he would have approved.

615 views0 comments

On this rainy day holiday weekend we went to the Hartford Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, an unjustly overlooked institution with an astounding number of Old Master paintings, sculpture, and antiquities, as well as an eye-popping collection of traditional and contemporary American art. The museum has an impressive collection of precious furniture, silver, ceramics, relics, and objets. Its curators have found the most ingenious way to display its extensive holdings of small objects (donated to the Wadsworth by J.P. Morgan in 1917) in a current exhibition Cabinet of Art and Curiosity, which explores the European tradition of the curio cabinet. The tiniest items, coins, ivories, jewelry, are laid out in drawers. The viewer is invited to create their own virtual curio cabinet, which is really fun.

I came home inspired to inventory my kitchen cabinet of curiosities. We all have them. The thermogenesis that is a jar of salsa we got on vacation and now terrified to open, or that Azerbaijani plum sauce found in an international food store. And the flax seeds we bought at that "health" store in town that smells like a warm shoe. These are a few selections from my cabinet of culinary curiosities. I did not include the many discolored, gelatinous substances I found in the back of the fridge in unlabeled containers, all of which I think may be duck fat.

I bought this rice in an Italian imported food shop at Atwater market in Montreal last summer. I don't want to share what I paid for this 500 g bag of rice, but it looked mysteriously delicious. I once bought black barley at Fairway in New York City. It was fantastic, but when I returned to Fairway to buy more, employees there said that not only did they not have any black barley, that the store had never carried this item, and that black barley actually did not exist. Impressive bit of gaslighting, Fairway.

I bought this black vinegar to make a dipping sauce for pot stickers. The pot stickers were a roaring success--we completely disgraced ourselves and ate way too many of them. I need to find some other dishes for this vinegar. This item has potential for alternate uses. I just wish I knew how to cook more Chinese food.

I am obsessed with ramps, and recently learned it is uncool to buy them. Ramps only grow wild and have been over-foraged in recent years. This ketchup looks very good, but I have yet to open it. I don't have many uses for ketchup, since I am not much of a hamburger eater. What should I try this on?

I thought this was malted milk and when I brought it home discovered it was an Indian almond milk drink mix. I think it could be good in smoothies or desserts. Buying things by mistake seems to be the primary means of stocking my pantry. I have three different bags of lentilles de Puy because they are hard to find and so I am always convinced I need them. I also have, inexplicably, several unopened bottles of corn syrup. Why? Why?

This is the dodgiest of my curiosities. How did this end up in my cupboard? Everyone HATES carob. How many of us who grew up in the 1970s were fooled into tasting it by being told "it tastes like chocolate"? And it requires another visit to that aforementioned store that smells like warm shoes. Carob syrup is a totally different thing. I went through a brief obsession with pomegranate molasses, and even made my own at home (it's just boiling down pomegranate juice) but have never mustered the same interest in carob molasses. It needs to find its purpose in my kitchen.

If anyone has any bright ideas for what to do with these items, please let me know in the comments.

In anticipation of Shrove Tuesday this week, I decided to try some new fillings for buckwheat crêpes. In France (and in Québec) these are known as crêpes de sarrasin, and typically have savory fillings. They are a great show-offy dish for weekend lunch guests and are easy to make. These crêpes are filled with leek jam and gruyère cheese. Leek jam was an idea that came to me when I saw a lot of leeks in the fridge that I had intended to make into soup and did not get around to it. Chopped leeks, sautéed in butter and balsamic vinegar, and cooked until they become soft and carmelized creates a salty-sweet plummy 'jam.'


For the crêpes:

1 cup buckwheat flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup whole milk (low fat milk would work, too)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1/2 to 3/4 cup water

For the jam:

4 large leeks

2 tablespoons butter or oil

2 tablespoons of sweet balsamico di Modena

1/4 tsp of salt

grated Gruyère cheese



Combine all the ingredients (except water) in a blender, and blend until smooth. If you don't want to use a blender, you can also whisk them together with a whisk.

Cover the batter and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When you're ready to make crêpes, thin the batter with water, using less water for thicker crêpes and more water for thinner ones.

Preheat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the pan with butter or oil, then pour in the batter. I do not have one of those nifty crêpe spreaders, so just swirl the batter around to thinly coat the bottom of the pan.

Cook the crêpe for 1 to 2 minutes on the first side, until it's golden and lifts from the pan easily. Flip and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes on the other side. Not gonna lie: this part frequently involves much storming around and cursing with the first couple off crêpes. Every time.

Transfer cooked crêpes to a plate, stacking them on top of one another with a bit of parchment paper between them. Or finish each crêpe for serving right away by going right to the next step and adding the filling.


Slice leeks into quarters and chop into 1/8 inch pieces.

Heat butter in non stick pan and add salt.

When leeks soften, add balsamic vinegar.

Cover and cook for a few minutes, until leeks release their moisture

Uncover and continue to cook until the leeks start to turn a deep color and break down, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes

Be sure to stir and scape up any fond on the bottom of pan.

To assemble:

Reheat skillet with a bit of butter or oil and place a crêpe in it. Add a few spoonfuls of jam and grated Gruyêre. Fold over and let cook until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

My crêpes taste great, but they are not camera-ready, so I have photos of the blinis I made with the left over batter. They are topped with a bit of crème fraiche, parsley, and pepper.

34 views0 comments
bottom of page