Dad’s cooking

Comfort Food

On a dark weekend like this, it was impossible to tell whether my persistent stomach ache was physical or emotional. It doesn’t matter. We hunkered down at home, needing to be within arms’ reach of each other. And when I could finally eat, I ate brown rice and an egg poached in Tony’s hot and sour soup.

It doesn’t make everything better, but it’s a tiny step in the right direction.

Banh Mi Summer

by Caroline

Within two blocks of my family’s San Francisco home, we have two taquerias plus a Mexican restaurant, one burger place, one salad and sandwich place, one seafood restaurant, three sushi restaurants, two Thai restaurants, two Indian restaurants, one Peruvian restaurant, one Ethiopian restaurant, one place for gyros, three pubs, three pizza places, three Asian-vegetarian restaurants, a Vietnamese restaurant, a couple greasy spoon diners, a donut shop, two ice cream parlors, and several bars and cafes.

It’s a wonder we cook at all, really.

But we do, and Tony often takes inspiration from the local restaurants to make something new at home. He’s made the shiitake mushroom dumplings from the now-sadly-closed Eos, a roasted tomato and pumpkin seed salsa from a nearby taqueria, and a lemon and chard pasta dish from the Italian place near the boys’ school. His latest homemade version of a local dish is vegetarian banh mi, from the Vietnamese place I didn’t even know we had (maybe because there’s nothing in the name to indicate it’s Vietnamese food?) Their version has some glass noodles and shiitake mushrooms and I have to say, I prefer Tony’s, which we’ve all been eating a lot this summer. It takes a few make-ahead steps, but once you’ve done them, you can be eating banh mi quickly. Here’s how he does it.

First, make a batch of roasted chili paste.

Next, shred a few carrots into matchsticks and toss them into a bowl. Cover with a simple pickling liquid of equal parts rice wine vinegar and sugar. Add a sprinkle of salt, stir, and let sit for 30 minutes. If you like cucumber or radish, go ahead and add them in matchsticks, too, and just increase the amount of pickling liquid to cover.

Then, make a batch of caramelized golden tofu, cutting the tofu into long fingers. If you like, cook some sliced shallots with the tofu.

The pickled vegetables and chili paste will keep indefinitely in the fridge; a batch of tofu will keep a couple days.

Once you have those three basic elements in place, all you need is a soft roll and some cilantro. You might also want some fresh mint, jalapenos, and a squeeze of lime juice. Spread some chili paste on the roll, stack the tofu, vegetables and cilantro on your roll in proportions to taste, and eat.

Maple Roasted Nuts

by Caroline


Lots of people make some version of a sweet or spicy roasted nut during the holidays; this is what Tony makes every year. We give bags to all our teachers and then snack on them all season long.

1 pound nuts
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the nuts. Add the nuts and toss until well coated. Pour into a large roasting pan and spread into a single layer. Bake for 8-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are golden and filling the kitchen with a delicious maple scent. Let cool in the pan, so that the glaze hardens into a crispy shell on the nuts, before serving or storing.

In Which the Husband Saves the Day

by Caroline

I had a little meltdown the other day.

It had been a day in which various bad things and mistakes piled up, and when my kind, dinner-cooking husband asked if I wanted a stir fry for dinner, I didn’t take it well. We’ve been eating a lot of stir fry lately, but that wasn’t the problem so much as that I suddenly couldn’t make a decision at all. Lisa and I are making dozens of decisions, big and small, every day about the book as we ready it for the press; Tony and I are making even more as we read foundation applications. My kids haven’t stopped being their clamorous, questioning, fabulous 6 and 9 year-old selves just because I have two big deadlines. I shut down.

“I want dinner,” I said, “And I don’t want to cook or make a decision about it, and I know this is totally selfish, but I want something new, too.”

Half an hour later, Tony was back from the market, chopping and stirring, while I ignored supervised the kids’ homework and emailed with writers. “Everything is cooking,” Tony announced, “but I don’t know what I’m making.”

An hour later, we were sitting down to dinner. Nothing fancy — steamed green beans with lemon and sliced almonds; jasmine rice; lentils with caramelized shallots — but it was tasty and different, and I didn’t cook it. Tony even had it in him to set the boys a challenge (to eat their rice without soy sauce), so the boys accessorized with squeezes of lemon and lime juice. Eli declared it “definitely probably the best dinner I’ve had this month and the last month.” I’d have to agree.

Roasted Tomato and Pumpkin Seed Salsa

by Caroline

Really, this is Tony’s post, as he is the only one in our family who will enjoy something in a restaurant and then try to recreate it at home. He’s done it with Eos’ shitake mushroom dumplings, Jackson Filmore’s gnocchi with chard in lemon broth, and now taqueria Papalote’s delicious salsa. His is a simplified version of this recipe, and it was such a hit at our recent dinner party that I don’t have a picture!

Tony writes, “I use canned, fire-roasted tomatoes, because it’s so much faster and the difference is hard to notice. It also means I can make the salsa year-round. I also forgo the dried chiles, and just use two different kinds of chile powder. Simpler and faster. You could certainly substitute different kinds of chile powder to good effect. I also added the onion and garlic to give it a little more sweetness and overall richness. I’m definitely not trying to copy Papalote at this point… I’d just call it an homage!”

1 15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen and Trader Joes both make them)
[Or you can simply halve some roma tomatoes and put them
under the broiler for 7-8 minutes until slightly blackened.] 1 small onion
4-5 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried ancho chile powder
1 tsp dried pasilla chile powder
4 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup cilantro
2 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 cup water

Coarsely chop the onion into big chunks. Leave the garlic cloves unpeeled. Pan roast the onions and garlic with no oil for 7-8 minutes until they are slightly blackened. (You could also do this under a broiler or on the grill) … you’re just trying to get a little color and roasted/charred flavor.

Peel the garlic and transfer onions and garlic to a saucepan with the tomatoes, dried chile powders, sugar, salt, and water. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. If it feels too thick feel free to add a little more water.

Add the vinegar and cook for one minute more.

Let cool a bit. (Or not, if you’re impatient like me!)

Transfer tomato mixture to a blender. Add the pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Blend until smooth.