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Comfort Food

November 15, 2010

This blog has been lacking in recipes lately, for a few main reasons: first of all, I only got a new camera a few days ago, so my photos have consisted of blurry cell phone shots that refuse to upload with Bluetooth. Second of all, I never use a recipe, and how intimidating is it when I cook something and then go on a website like Smitten Kitchen or 101 Cookbooks? Or if you really want to feel bad about your so-called food “photography,” check out the psychedelic arrangements on Sprouted Kitchen— they bring tears to my eyes.

But when I don’t think about photos and concentrate on the specific dishes I’ve been cooking, things start looking up. As of now, I have had two “dinner parties” in my room– i.e. this doesn’t include the times when I either poke my head round my door and holler down the hallway, “Anyone want some bok choy?” Or when hungry sophomore boys ask if I have any food. “Thanks,” they tell me without a trace of sarcasm, “for making our hall always smell like garlic.”

Dinner party number one was typical Chinese home cooking: Stir-fried eggs and tomato, Bok choy with glass noodles, and Five spice eggplant, served with short-grain brown rice and chili paste on the side.

Dinner party number two involved more cooking time, but less work: I made an overflowing skillet of Moroccan tagine with chickpeas, carnival squash, eggplant, peppers, zucchini and dried apricots, as well as cinnamon almond couscous (Recipes for all these dishes will be posted soon enough).

Star anise eggplant has become my standard dish for potlucks and friends– it’s flavorful, filling, and cheap.

When I cook for myself, which is most of the time, I’ve been doing basic riffs on health-ified Asian dishes. The only ingredients I actually pay for are eggs and ginger– I typically sneak food from the dining hall salad bar and stir-fry them. However, last time I wasn’t exactly being subtle and got yelled at by the manager, who informed me that “this isn’t a grocery store.”

Simple is better. Think variations on chap chae and fried rice, Asparagus/ broccoli/ bok choy with ginger, Green beans with garlic, Sichuan peppercorn mung bean sprouts, and Steamed egg custard with sesame oil, soy sauce and scallions.

On the most basic level, I make omelets, paninis (PB and banana is where it’s at), and oatmeal. For a no-cook meal, I do pumpkin puree with spices, yogurt and granola stirred in or salads drizzled with pomegranate molasses and olive oil.

Last weekend in Boston, I got lost in a huge Asian supermarket, where I purchased chili paste, Asian pears, sichuan peppercorns, napa cabbage, bean sprouts, Korean rice, and kimchi. I made myself the most comforting meal I could think of: the above-mentioned steamed egg custard. Unfortunately, a dish that would be simple to make in a kitchen proved difficult in a dorm room, especially when I set off my smoke alarm. My rice cooker failed– it was only by borrowing my neighbor’s microwave that I was even able to approximate the dish, and even then the texture was all off.

This is what it should look like:

My version:

That being said, I still felt calmer after a bowl of egg custard, or ji dan geng. Each velvety bite of egg cloaked the chewy brown rice, fragrant from scallions and sesame oil. The asparagus I stir-fried was full of charred bits of spicy ginger, still slightly crunchy. Unorthodox as it was, I couldn’t resist opening my new jar of kimchi.

Not your idea of comfort food? Maybe you need to get out your comfort zone.

Steamed Egg Custard 鸡蛋羹


  • 2 eggs (per person)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Scallions, finely chopped
  • Soy sauce and sesame oil to taste


  • Add water (about 3/4 cup per egg) and salt and beat in a bowl with the eggs
  • Steam for about 20 minutes on high until the egg looks mostly solid, but is still soft in the center.
  • Take off the heat and drizzle with soy sauce, sesame oil, and chopped scallion.

Stir-fried asparagus with ginger


  • 2 bunches of asparagus (1 lb, whatever)
  • A knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 TBS peanut oil
  • 1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in water
  • Salt


  • Heat peanut oil in your wok on high until it starts to smoke (BUT DON’T SET OFF YOUR SMOKE DETECTOR)
  • Add ginger and stir-fry; it can burn slightly
  • Add asparagus, salt and a little bit of water and let it soften a little
  • Finally, stir in the cornstarch-water mixture and the sauce will thicken– it’s magic!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. fiz permalink
    November 15, 2010 3:41 am

    the new camera takes great pictures!! good to have you back on the blog again; and reading it sure beats trying to decipher an article in Catalan (gasp).

    • octopuscarwash permalink*
      November 15, 2010 3:48 am

      Actually, i should have been clearer– these photos were taken with my friends camera, before I got the new one.
      But still– the new camera takes good photos

  2. Ariel Zeitlin Cooke permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:02 am

    Yum. I’m getting hungry just looking at your food.

    • octopuscarwash permalink*
      November 15, 2010 6:53 pm

      Glad to hear it! 🙂

  3. Angela permalink
    November 21, 2010 2:04 am

    how do you actually steam the egg? i’m not really familiar with asian cooking at all and those instructions are kind of vague. would really like to this though

    • octopuscarwash permalink*
      November 23, 2010 3:40 am

      Hey, sorry for the vagueness. Basically, you set up a pot of boiling water, wait for it to boil, and submerge a smaller bowl with the egg-water mixture so that it’s floating in the other pot (think of it like a double-boiler). Cover the big pot and let it boil until the egg has congealed.


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