Caramel Garlic Chicken


One of the gifts Steve gave me for Christmas was a book called “The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs.” Unlike a cookbook, this is more of a reference book. Let’s say you found some sorrel in your local market and you’ve never cooked with it before. You don’t even know what it tastes like. A quick look at the book will tell you that sorrel goes with lentils, fish, and eggs but that it should be avoided in a salad. Or that sorrel, nutmeg, and ricotta cheese is a great combination.


I’d like to think that I have a really good appreciation for flavor combinations. Often when I cook without a recipe, I can actually imagine how different things will taste together and know what I should add to a dish to make it better without actually tasting it. Or at least I think I do. There are times when my flavor experiments fail, but others when they are really successful (like my broccoli, anchovy, black garlic concoction that ended up being incredibly addictive; I’m working on a recipe and will post soon).


So, when I saw a recipe for Caramel Chicken in Bon Appétit I was instantly intrigued and suspicious. I just couldn’t imagine those two flavors working together, which only made me more curious. So, I tried it and I was amazed at how well the recipe worked. Though, to be fair, the caramel here is very subtle. It’s more of a sour/salty sauce with caramel undertones. But it works. The problem with the original recipe was that it resulted in tough pieces of chicken covered in unappetizing fatty skin. So, I made a few changes and tried it again. This time, not only was the taste amazing, but the chicken was incredibly tender, with no fatty skin to distract from its caramel goodness. And I realized that the recipe name (Caramel Chicken) omitted a major component of the dish: the slow cooked garlic cloves that melt in your mouth and deliver the much needed depth to this dish. So, in addition to modifying the recipe, I adjusted its name.

Try it. You won’t be disappointed.


Caramel Garlic Chicken – Adapted from Bon Appétit

Makes 4 servings


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
8 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed with back of knife
⅓ cup (packed) light brown sugar
¼ cup (or more) unseasoned rice vinegar
3 slices ¼”-thick slices peeled ginger
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup soy sauce
black sesame seeds (optional)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Cooked white rice (for serving)


Preheat oven at 325° F.

Heat oil in a large wide oven-safe pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add three or four thighs in the pot. The thighs should not be crowded. Cook for 10-15 seconds on one side, turn and cook for another 10-15 seconds on second side (the thighs will not brown; they will just start to turn white). Remove thighs from pot and transfer to a plate. Don’t worry if a little bit of meat gets stuck at the bottom of the pot. Just leave it in there. Repeat the process for all the thighs.

Add garlic to pot and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 2 minutes; transfer to plate with chicken. Pour off fat from pot.

Return pot to medium-high heat and add ½ cup water, scraping up browned bits of chicken. Add brown sugar; stir to dissolve, then cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and turns a deep amber color, about 4 minutes. Carefully add vinegar (it may bubble up; sugar will crystallize); stir to dissolve sugar.

Add ginger, broth, and soy sauce, then add chicken and garlic. Bring to a boil, cover and place in oven. Cook for one hour, until thighs are fully cooked.

Remove thighs and garlic from the pot and transfer to a plate. Using two forks, separate thighs in bite-sized pieces. Discard ginger slices.

Place the pot on high heat and bring cooking liquid to a boil. Cook until slightly thickened, about 10-12 minutes. Return chicken and garlic to pot; turn to coat.

Serve over plain white rice and top with black sesame seeds (optional) and chopped scallions.

Spaghetti with Garlic, Lemon, and Parsley

The day after our wedding, I began to lose my ability to smell and taste. It happened gradually but quickly. I first noticed that I was having a hard time smelling some of the more nuanced notes in food. At the same time, I started experiencing a phantom smell and taste. It had a strange herbal, slightly toasted quality and I began to smell it in everything. While in Iceland, everything had this strange taste. At first I thought it was a local herb they used in most of their food. We even asked a waitress about it but she had no idea what we were talking about. Steve and I started joking that it was the taste of lamb that was permeating everything, since lamb was so common in Iceland.


By the end of the trip, things had gotten worse. When we got back to New York I pretty much lost the ability to smell anything but the strongest odors and I could only taste strong and basic flavors: sweet, salty, bitter. Some things, like coffee, now tasted and smelled exclusively of that weird toasted herbal phantom flavor. It was obvious something was wrong.

There are times when not being able to smell can be a blessing (yes, I am talking about you, mister I-don’t-wear-deodorant-at-the-gym). But those times are very few. Not being able to taste or smell food was devastating for me. I was trying not to panic but it was hard not to. Beyond the loss of pleasure from food, I started to feel a strange kind of isolation from everything around me. Like I was living in a plastic bubble. I realized how  much our sense of smell helps connect us to our surroundings, much like our sight and hearing.


A quick visit to Dr. Google was not very reassuring (is it ever?). There were lots of Greek words, like anosmia (complete loss of smell), parosmia (inability to correctly smell), and dysgeusia (distortion of sense of taste). The probable causes of my symptoms were many and some were very scary.

So, last Wednesday I went to a real doctor, an ENT. Within 5 minutes I was diagnosed. I had a “giant” (his word) polyp in each nostril which was blocking my olfactory nerves. Fortunately, nothing too serious. He recommended an aggressive treatment with Prednisone and antibiotics for a month, and Flonase “for the rest of my life” (his words again). Surgery would be the next step, if the polyps didn’t respond to the meds.


A quick visit to Dr. Google again (I know, I can’t resist) revealed that nasal polyps are common for people with chronic sinusitis and allergies (that would be me) and that they are especially common among men over the age of 40 (damn you 40s! You are so not the new 30s, no matter what anyone says).

I started the meds on Thursday morning. By Friday night, I was feeling much better. My sinuses were no longer clogged up and I was starting to smell and taste things again. Both Steve and I were immensely relieved. This spaghetti with garlic, lemon, and parsley is what I made and it was the first thing I was able to taste correctly in about 3 weeks. I’ve always liked this dish but on that night I thought it was the best thing I had ever tasted.


Spaghetti with Garlic, Lemon, and Parsley
Slightly adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook: More than 1000 recipes

Serves 4

1 lb spaghetti
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2-3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cook pasta in a 6-8 quart pot of boiling salted water (1 T salt for every 4 quarts water) until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain pasta.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12 inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 3 minutes.

Stir lemon zest into skillet, then stir in juice, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup reserved cooking water and bring to a simmer.

Toss pasta in sauce with parsley. Add more cooking water if pasta seems dry.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese on top.

Fried Egg with Ginger Fried Rice

When I was a kid, there was only one Chinese restaurant in our city and it was a nice one. I still remember its name: Pagoda. We went there only on very special occasions, maybe once a year, since it was expensive for my family. But we all just loved it. It was the closest thing we had to a vacation in an exotic land.


The food was so different than what we were used to: sweet and sour chicken, crispy spring rolls, pork with pineapple. These were unheard of flavor combinations and textures in our everyday diet. We kids loved the big round tables with the lazy susan center that allowed everyone to sample from the many dishes without getting up. And I still remember the nice waiter who taught me how to use chopsticks, a skill I proudly demonstrated every time we went back.


You can imagine my delight when I arrived in the U.S. to study and I found out that Chinese food was everywhere and dirt cheap. In Philadelphia, where I lived, there were even trucks selling it on every street corner! My still-new palate found every greasy, overcooked, laden with sugary sauce dish to be a culinary treasure. It took a few years to start relegating American Chinese food to the bottom of the list of my favorite foods.



Fortunately here in New York, along with the abundance of terrible Chinese food, there are also some great places from which we sometimes order food delivery. But every single dish comes with the obligatory box of rice, very little of which we eat. I’ve always hated throwing out the leftover rice until a couple of years ago, I saw Mark Bittman of the New York times introduce a recipe for using it up.


This is technically a recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and it’s really just a simple fried rice recipe. But its simplicity belies the incredibly satisfying combination of flavors and textures that is this dish. It takes just a little chopping and some quick sautéing and it uses things you most likely already have in your kitchen.


So if one night this week you order Chinese takeout (Thai takeout rice works as well. I don’t like to use the rice from Indian takeout because I find it’s too dry for this recipe), save a box or two of that fluffy white rice. A day or two later, when you are breaking the creamy yellow yolk over the richly flavored rice, scooping it up with bits of crispy garlic and ginger, you’ll be happy you didn’t throw the rice out along with the unopened fortune cookies and unused chopsticks.


Fried Egg with Ginger Fried Rice – Adapted from the New York Times

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic
2 tablespoons roughly chopped ginger
1 very thinly sliced large onion (alternatively you can use leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried, about 2 cups thinly sliced)
4 cups day-old cooked white rice (don’t worry if you have a little less or more; use what you have)*
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce

The rice has to be at least a day old (keep it in the fridge). Fresh rice is too moist to work for making fried rice.

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and golden brown. Immediately, with a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and set aside.

Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender and starting to brown at the edges. Add the rice. Cook, stirring well, until heated through, about 1-2 minutes. Divide the rice among four large soup bowls or plates.

Add the remaining oil in the skillet, and fry eggs sunny-side-up, until edges are set but yolk is still runny.

Top the rice in each bowl or plate with an egg and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Sprinkle crisped garlic and ginger over everything and serve immediately.

Makes: 4 servings

Garlic Lime Vinaigrette


Sometimes people ask me “Do you cook every night?” When I tell them yes, I cook almost every night, some shake their heads or widen their eyes in amazement. But it’s really not that impressive because most of the time, what I make takes less than 30 minutes of work. It’s often a protein that’s cooked simply (fish sautéed in olive oil for 5-6 minutes; pork chops roasted in the oven) along with some kind of vegetable, raw or cooked. What really helps, though, is having a number of tasty, simple sauces and dressings in my arsenal. That way, the same protein or veggie (say, chicken and brussel sprouts) can become different meals depending on what you pour over them after they’re cooked.


This recipe is one of those invaluable dressings. It takes minutes to make, it’s simple and healthy, and it perks up just about every roasted vegetable you can imagine (we especially love it over roasted cauliflower or acorn squash). It’s also great drizzled over grilled chicken breasts.


Garlic Lime Vinaigrette

You can double or triple the recipe if you want. This makes enough for two people.

1 1/2 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove pressed in garlic press or grated over microplane zester/grater
salt and pepper

Add lime juice, olive oil, and garlic in a small bowl and use a whisk or a fork to mix them until they come together. Garlic is a natural emulsifier so it will help bind the lime juice and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Taste the vinaigrette and add more oil or lime juice if you prefer.