Inspired Eggs

Let’s start off this week right. My new cast iron skillet will help!!

Remember a few weeks ago, when I told you how to take ordinary tomatoes and turn them into wonderful, flavorful, slow-roasted mouthfuls of joy? I hope you took my advice.

Breakfast has been an increasing occurence in this household, thanks to yours truly. Recently, over one of these said breakfasts, the DiploMan recalled to me the best baked eggs he’s ever had, which was on a trip to visit me in Brooklyn when we were first dating. I was living in Williamsburg at the time (I’m not a hipster!) and a little joint called Rye had opened up around the corner from my house. In addition to being a beautiful place to have lunch or cocktails, they served up a mean breakfast. The huevos rancheros that the DiploMan ordered that one morning have forever engrained themselves in his memory- and mine, though I was just a jealous bystander in their eggy romance.

More recently, I received Yottam Ottolenghi’s oft-praised book, Plenty, as a birthday present from a very good friend of mine (who I think was reading my mind at the time!). I  have flipped through the book plenty of times (no pun intended) since receiving the gift, but was waiting for the ample availability of yogurt, mediterranean spices, grains, and farm-fresh vegetables that the recipes call for before I dove in, headfirst. But when I came across the recipe for Shashuka (p.87) a couple weeks ago, it reminded me of the DiploMan’s dreams of being reunited with his tasty baked egg dish, and I mentally bookmarked the chalenge- er, recipe.

So, this morning, I decided to make these eggs. Inspiration can come from lots of places. From breakfast cravings, a new skillet, an unexpected revelation at brunch, or from a new favorite cookbook. Inspiration can also derive from a gluttonous nature, which is why the eggs are covered with a thick layer of cheese. And for me, inspiration often finds its way onto a plate. Sometimes on a computer screen in written word…but usually on a plate.

Where does your inspiration end up?

Inspired Baked Eggs


  • 1/4 tsp. saffron threads
  • 1/2 cup water (plus more for cooking)
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 small ear corn
  • 8-10 roasted tomato halves
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • at least 16 oz. (3 cups, loosely packed) spinach, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese, more or less depending on your preferences


  1. Soak saffron threads in 1/2 cup water. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet on high. When steaming, add onions and shallots and saute 5 minutes, stirring constantly until onions are wilted and translucent. Add cumin and paprika, then tomatoes. Smash tomatoes with a wooden spoon and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add corn, cayenne, salt and pepper, and the saffron threads along with their liquid. The skillet should sizzle and let off a good amount of steam.  Cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring and adding tiny amounts of water when the bottom of the pan is dry. The consistency should be like a chunky pasta sauce- more wet than dry. Add spinach leaves and cook for 2 more minutes.
  4. Turn heat to low. Make 2 small nests for the eggs in the middle of the pan (or one larger nest for both eggs to rest together, if that’s your style), making sure there is a good barrier of spinach, tomatoes, corn, etc. so the egg whites won’t run all over. Carefully crack eggs into the nests, and let them cook on the stovetop for 1 minute. Transfer into the hot oven and let the eggs cook for 3-4 more minutes (for a softer egg yolk), or 5+ minutes for a harder yolk.
  5. Serve right out of the skillet. Careful! It’s hot!!

Yield: Serves 2 for a hearty breakfast


Supermarket shock. English Muffins with Poached Egg and Chorizo.

You know you’ve been in China for too long when….

Living in China comes with its share of stories, jokes, and life lessons. Along with liberally spitting out the acronym TI(This Is China!), always said in part jest and part exasperation, the laowai (directly translated: Old Outsider. Basically, Chinese slang for any expat/foreigner) are always making comments about life in China. I mean, you know you’ve been in China for too long when….

How would one go about finishing this sentence? Well, for example, when…

…the sound of subway doors sliding open elicits a natural response to stick out your elbows.

…Tiger Beer no longer gives you nasty hangovers

…grunting is language. “mmn” becomes synonymous with “yes” and “unhh” synonymous with “sure“.

…every other sentence out of your mouth starts with the clause, bu hao yi si, 不好意思. Part “oh sorry!” and part “oops”, here in China it is used without any thought, and precedes just about any comment- a suggestion, a question, a snarky remark, and an insult. It works. bu hao yi si, can I interrupt? bu hao yi si, but I have to step on all ten of your toes to get bybu hao yi si, but your baby is uglybu hao yi si, can I borrow three hundred bucks? It’s basically the email smiley face emoticon of China.

…Privacy? What’s that?

…on a trip home to America, you notice people are staring at you inside of a Macy’s because you are yelling into your cell phone. No problem honey, I’ll pick up your diarrhea medicine on the way to dinner. What?!

…you drink hot water out of a tall glass as if it were lemonade.

…frozen burritos in the aisle of the supermarket causes heart palpitations from sheer excitement.

I could go on, but I think you get it.

That last one, the one with the burrito, actually happened the other day. The DiploMan and I were marveling at the wonders of a Western supermarket that had been open for awhile, but that we had only recently gotten across town to visit. ‘Western’ supermarket, as in, stocked predominantly with imported goods- Duncan Hines cake mix, a real deli counter with cold cuts and cheeses, dishwashing liquid, tampons, etc. I believe Barrett’s first words were in the canned food aisle,

“uuuhmagawd, they have different kinds of olives

I’m actually still not sure if this quote came as a question or an exclamation.

And later, when the Amy’s burritos appeared in misty cases of the freezer aisle, it sent shockwaves down our spines. I almost dropped the bag of King Arthur’s Flour in my hands.

Needless to say, we easily spent the 1000RMB necessary to obtain a frequent buyer card. After a long cab ride home spent chatting about Kettle Chips and Greek Yogurt, we got home and emptied our groceries onto the kitchen counter. In truth, our 1000RMB didn’t get us very far, especially in comparison to the measly 30RMB I spent at the wet market earlier in the week. So we’re combining some local goods- eggs, spinach, cilantro, onions, etc., and rationing our treasured goodies, devouring breakfasts such as the one below with poached egg, Thomas’ English Muffins, chorizo and greek yogurt.

We might just die when we see Whole Foods again.

Poached Eggs and Chorizo on English Muffins


  • 2/3 cup chorizo, diced into small cubes
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • a few sprigs of cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
  • English Muffins
  • 2-4 eggs (depending on how hungry you are, or how many people you have)
  • 1 Tbsp. white distilled vinegar (for poaching eggs)
  • Greek Yogurt


  1. Saute onions on high for 3 minutes, add chorizo and saute for another two minutes. Add the remainder of the ingredients and turn down heat. Saute on med for another 5-7 minutes or until onions are thoroughly browned and chorizo is charred and crisp. Take off the burner and set aside.
  2. Toast English Muffins. Optional: Drizzle with olive oil or spread with butter.
  3. Poach Egg (see instructions below). Set the poached egg on top of one half of the English Muffin, and add a generous few spoonfuls of the chorizo-onion-tomato mixture over it and on the second half of the English Muffin. Top off with dollops of full-fat Greek yogurt.

yield: 2-3 servings

How to Poach An Egg:

  1. Crack each egg into one small prep bowl, one egg per bowl. In a small or medium saucepan, heat water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of white vinegar, and turn down heat to Medium.
  2. Lightly swirl the water with a fork, and drop one egg into the pan. Don’t touch it. After a minute, use a spatula or slotted spoon and make sure it hasn’t stuck to the bottom of the pan. Drop in a second egg at this time, if you dare.
  3. Let each egg cook for approx. 4 minutes. Or more, if you want the yolk to be slightly firmer.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, carefully fish the egg out of the water and set on a plate lined with paper towels. Carefully flip over to pat egg dry, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Carefully transfer to a plate. 
  5. Did I mention, to do all this carefully?


I thought I knew Mexican food.

But I clearly have a lot to learn. Mexican cuisine has so much more than the my Tex-Mex, Baja California style burritos and enchiladas that I’m used to. This even goes beyond tacos al pastor, my friends.

Take molletes, for example.

I saw molletes on every menu in Mexico, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Finally the DiploMan entertained us and ordered a plate one morning, and much to our delight, something that resembled cheesy bread came out to the table accompanied with a side of salsa. But- what doesn’t come accompanied with salsas in Mexico? Just one more reason to love the country.

Molletes are probably just as much a cultural mash-up as nachos are, a European Spanish and Indigenous Local mash-up. The garlic bread of the South, if I dare to name it as such. On top of toasted baguette, is slathered a layer of black beans, cheese, and meat or vegetables of your choosing (through throughout the several plates of molletes we ended up ordering by the end of our vacation, chorizo seemed to rule supreme). And it tastes just as good as you would imagine bread and meat and cheese to taste. Why isn’t this stuff on the menus at home?!

**And just while we’re on the subject of ordering good food for breakfast, here’s a quick snapshot of huevos rancheros. Not made in what we typically see in cast iron skillets, but rather two simple fried runny eggs slathered with a tomatoe salsa and with a side of beans. Easy, classic, so good.


When I first moved to China, I thought that the pile of eggs stacked so neatly at the wet markets looked so naked without their egg crate packaging. Bringing home eggs in a small plastic baggie?! The idea seemed so outrageous, so crazy. What happened if they BROKE?!

But like many other things, the sights and sounds that were once so foreign and shocking are now a part of my daily life- a daily life that I have expectation of now, yearnings for, even. I am going back to the states for a couple of weeks in August, and have a feeling that reverse culture shock might take place. As insane as it may sound, I love the dirty alleyways, the open-air meat markets, the couples yelling on the subway, and the pushing and shoving in lines. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Most of all, I love my markets. I love the chicken lady who knows I usually buy whole chickens cut into quarters, the lady I buy most of my greens from and tells me what’s best to buy, I love the mangosteens and dragonfruit and huge watermelons that are piled on the fruitstands, I love having to walk to my local wet market every other day if I choose to cook, I love circling the vegetable stalls two or three times before I decide on what to lay my hands on. I even love having to run from store to store to store to find something as simple as AP flour.

At my local market, picking out a dozen eggs

And even though I don’t love to eat eggs, I love buying them. In fact, my newfound love of egg purchasing has almost gotten me to turn the corner as far as eating them. At the wet markets in China, egg vendors set up with mounds of egg pyramids piled layers deep- chicken eggs, duck eggs, salted eggs, large goose eggs. Of course the chicken egg pyramids are piled the highest, and though there are often more than one variety of chicken eggs, I do what I do in China when I have no idea what my choices actually are- just choose something in between. So I usually buy the chicken eggs that are in the middle, both in terms of price as well as color and size.

Now, all egg vendors also have a small ledge with holes in front of their stand, as if it were a ring toss booth at a county fair. Choose your eggs, flip on a switch under the ledge by your hips and a light bulb turns on inside the hold. Each egg can then be placed over the hole and examined to make sure there are no unlaid embryos looming within. It’s quite a meditative process to me now, carefully selecting each egg and setting them aglow to examine them.

Buying a dozen white eggs in their cartons from the supermarket now seems like a concept so wasteful, so removed, so forced. Sure there’s plenty of things that I miss about “home”, but like I said I’m getting used to how things are done around here- and some things really aren’t that bad at all.

We Are Family

Yes, I have been seeing a lot of my extended family lately.

No, this isn’t one of them.

This is someone who sat across from us while we were having a cold snack one afternoon. And if you haven’t believed in the availability and diversity of foods I’ve encountered on my trip to Taipei yet (combined with the sheer niceness of the people in Taiwan), maybe you’ll believe me now? Let me remind you, we were in a food court.

After graciously allowing me to take pictures of his plate, this young man also whipped out a camera from his bag, and happily said, “I might as well take a picture, too”. Inspiration abounds.

Egg Rolls: Same Same, but Different.

Same same, but different. This is an expression that everyone knows in Thailand, and one that is heard around Asia in general. It’s something that is silkscreened on many a t-shirt seen on the streets and the subways.  It also perfectly epitomizes how I feel about the egg roll.

In the Chinese language, the appetizer that Americans know as the fried egg roll is actually called a “spring roll”, stuffed with a light vegetarian filling comprised of vermicelli, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, Chinese celery, and green onions, then lightly fried and served piping hot. Rarely does the roll take the form of those large, fried, cold, meaty and chewy chimichanga-like foodstuffs I remember from my junior high school cafeteria.

I’m Chinese-American, and I can’t recall any instances when my family sat down and ate egg rolls as part of our meal (apart from my unfortunate and unplanned run-ins with the school lunch lady), regardless of whether we were dining out or sitting around our own dining room table. I wonder, since when did egg rolls, along with the likes of one completely fabricated dish named General Tso’s chicken, represent Chinese cuisine, both in the minds and tastes of America? Having seen the delineation of various regional foods and flavors possible in the Chinese cuisine, I bow my head in disgrace for the unfortunate miscommunication that happened somewhere across the Pacific.

Wait a minute though, I suppose we did have egg rolls growing up- or at least, a dish that when translated is literally “egg”+“roll”.

Mom would make these on special occasions, usually for dinner parties, but every once in a Blue Moon on those few occasions when there was nothing going on over the weekends- no soccer games/piano recitals/basketball practice/OM meetings/birthday parties/speed reading classes/sculpture/oboe lessons/tutoring sessions/drawing classes scheduled (Tiger Mom ain’t got nothin’ on my mother).

Her egg roll was just that, a thin crepe-like layer of egg griddled into a pancake, then rolled up with a fragrantly seasoned ground pork stuffing inside. Cut thinly into bite sized pieces, on our table the egg roll would be arranged among a heap of simmered napa cabbage and vermicelli noodles.

egg roll_process

Pork is the meat of choice in China – although nowadays the country’s interest in beef (not to mention dairy) is quickly gaining ground. Year-round availability of scallions, fresh mushrooms, and ginger gives the cuisine- and this dish in particular- its signature flavors. The chopsticks as lone utensil gives reason for the deliberate slicing into bite-sized pieces, and the laborious prep countered by a quick sauté/steam in a wok is exemplary throughout all Chinese dishes.

This is an egg roll that is much more representative of Chinese cookery than any egg roll you’ve encountered in the past. It is a distant cousin to its American counterpart- but really, the relation is so distant they’re practically not related. They just somehow happen to share the same name.

For the original posting of the article and a full recipe, head over to Honest Cooking, where I am one of their newest contributors!