Let the Hunt Begin!: Part One

Teachers in the NYC Department of Education — and I imagine in general — are not allowed to accept gifts from individual students unless they are of sentimental or small financial value.  (I wonder if teachers can create a SuperPAC?) And I admit that I occasionally lust after the idea of a yearly bonus or even a decent bottle of champagne as a you-survived-another-year-gesture from the Chancellor.  But I also wish that 100% of my students would submit their work 100% of the time after giving 100% of their effort.  As a teacher, I’ve learned I can’t always get what I want.

But last week I did.

Let me first back up to early fall, when I was tutoring my student, Roger*.  In addition to having him in my senior English class, I met with him to work on his college applications and like many of my tutoring sessions, ours often ended with discussions about food.  Roger and his family come from China and his dad cooks in a restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown so we talked often about how well he must eat at home.  I often asked him what he brought for lunch or what he looked forward to for dinner. I hounded him for tips on secret spices or the best grocers. I bugged him for the names of dishes they serve only to Chinese-speaking customers at his father’s restaurant.  I wanted poor Roger to unlock the secrets to our city’s Chinatown, the one that is only accessible to those in the know.  I stood with my nose pressed up to the window of a great meal and I wanted in.

But Roger was far more interested in fixing his essay, not feeding his teacher, so I relented and talked narrative structure and tension instead.  (Not surprisingly, and no thanks to my distractions, Roger got in to a very good school.  Congrats!)

Last week my seniors submitted the final drafts of their research papers and though Roger had already added his to the class pile, I noticed him scribbling at his desk. With my best Larry David stare, I caught his attention and he approached my desk with a piece of paper in his hand.  In the top right corner it said, “Ms. Boylan’s Food Adventure” and below was a list written entirely in Chinese characters.  Some were highlighted and some were starred.  I was giddy with intrigue.

“My dad wrote his recommendations for you,” he said. “The highlighted characters are the names of the restaurants and the stars are the dishes that are not on the menus.”
“Thank you so much.  This is great,” I replied. “But how will I know where to go, Rog?”
“Just go to Chinatown and point to the list.”

And there it is.  The best gift a teacher could receive is a treasure map! Maybe I’ll take my EatNYC kids on the adventure with me.  But only one question remains:  how will I write the DOE permission slip?

*The name of the student is changed.

The Kid Stays in the Kitchen: Zhi Ming Caramelizes Ribs!

1Bay Leaves
2Black Pepper
3Brown sugar
5Dried Tangerine Skin
6Ginger, Garlic, and Scallion Stalk
7Hondashi Fish stock
9Raw Pork Ribs
91Sesame Oil
92Soy Sauce
93Spicy Pepper
94Star Anise
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Welcome back to “The Kid Stays in the Kitchen.” Each week throughout the semester, a student is assigned to cook a traditional dish with a friend or family member and document the experience in photos and words.  This post features Zhi Ming who decided to take the reigns from his dad and cook his favorite dish: caramelized ribs.  Here’s Zhi Ming’s take:

“The main ingredient in this dish is the rib, but the method involved in cooking this dish can also be applied to many other forms of meat. My grandmother passed this recipe down using eggs or chicken feet. But it also works extremely well with potatoes and since it really sucks in all the flavors the outcome is phenomenal. This dish originates from southern China, where my family is from, and the tradition of cooking is largely influenced by the variety of spices and herbs that inhabit that part of southern China.

My father cooks this dish often and I love it. Initially, he experimented with the dish and I volunteered to try it, which I enjoyed, so from that my father cooked it almost every day of the week. Luckily I haven’t gotten sick of it and still find it terribly delicious.   In this case, the ribs will have a citrus and burnt sugary taste that permeates the flesh. The flesh can also be easily peeled off the bone if it is cooked for an even longer time. This is exceptionally nice because it takes the work out of having to chew off the meat!”


  • 1.5 teaspoons Hondashi® Fish stock
  • Two pieces of dried tangerine peels
  • Five grams of cinnamon
  • Ten grams sucrose/brown sugar
  • Three bay leaves
  • Two teaspoons of honey
  • Three teaspoons of soy sauce
  • A stalk of scallion
  • Two flat cut pieces of ginger
  • ¼ of a garlic
  • One teaspoon of sesame oil
  • A pinch of black pepper
  • Three pieces of star anise
  • Five pork ribs

1. First add sesame oil to the heat pan set to low then add all of the ingredients listed above, except for the ribs.
2. Place the ribs in a separate pan, fill with water, and boil until the flesh becomes white.
3. Slowly cook the ingredients in the pan until the sucrose, or bar of brown sugar, begins to dissolve into a viscous liquid, as well as all the other ingredients begin to permeate and mix with the dissolved sugar.
4. Once the ingredients meet the criteria in step three, slowly pick the boiled ribs and place it in the pan with all the other ingredients, slowly and individually, each rib one at a time. Then keep adding water into the pan, until the water level is to that of the meat. Do not submerge the ribs!
5. Keep cooking the meat until almost all of the water is evaporated, the meat should turn to a light golden brown color. Once the water in the pan is mostly evaporated, the meat is pretty much ready to go. The bottom of the pan should, if done correctly, have a puddle of liquid sucrose, which can also act as sauce.

Check Vis Out!

Vis Harbor

Hey Kids,

I have a story to tell you.

Two years ago I went to Vis, Croatia, a sleepy, sun-drenched island about thirty miles off the coast of Split. It’s the furthest of the Dalmatian islands and my only regret in going there was that we didn’t stay longer. We slowly scootered around — reaching a blistering 30 km per hour (I have little need for speed) — taking in many of the prerequisites that make this an Adriatic dream: rolling vineyards and olive groves, quiet whitewashed lanes, netfuls of fresh fish, quiet, oh! the quiet! … and lemon marmalade.

My mom always loved marmalade and as a kid, I could never figure out why. I remember the time I snagged a bite of her toast spread thick with the orange variety and blech! the bitter snagged back. And while I have grown up and acquired a taste for bitter, I prefer my mornings with butter and a dose of sweet instead.

But in that summer of 2011, on that very lovely island of Vis, I purchased a small glass pot of lemon sunshine, rolled it in a pair of socks and brought it back to New York where my breakfasts would never be the same. This marmalade was the perfect morning companion: bright, cheerful, even sweet; it coddled me in my first minutes of the day. But it offered tough love, too. It was acidic, tart and yes, bitter. It woke me up with a punch. I either spread too little of it hoping that small pot would last forever, or too much, making up for the other mornings. And on one sad day, it was gone.

I wrote an email to the store’s proprietor hoping to buy a case of this yellow gold and weeks later, I received a message back in Croatian. Google Translate only confused matters more so I resigned myself to the memory of it and set out to find my next great pot of sunshine. I tried some of NYC’s best food groceries and specialty shops. Every time I traveled, I picked up another darling glass jar, rolled it in my socks and dragged it back to the States with great expectations. But they never compared. The back of my refrigerator is a testament to my persistence. Finally I abandoned the cause.

And then this past September, two years after my visit to Vis, I received an email from a friendly traveler:

I am on Vis in Croatia, and they have your email from 2011 posted in their shop. I live in Manhattan, and I thought I could check and see
if you still wanted marmalade and are in NYC. They are open for another hour (til 4pm NY time) if you do. No lemon in stock, but they have lemon orange mix. Let me know, if you get this in time. 🙂

Whaat? It was 3:50pm NY time and my thumbs typed back. Yes! I want marmalade! This lovely traveler instantly became a sensation in my little world and I couldn’t wait to meet her. Two weeks later we sat in a tea shop on University Place exchanging stories of Croatia: of figs, Vis, the long drive down the coast and of course, marmalade.

I waited five days before I opened the jar. I had built up the expectations to such heights I couldn’t bear a letdown. Ridiculous, I know. It was a fruit spread. But I wondered if some of these simple, precious travel memories are best left exalted in our daydreams. After all, I not only had the memory of Vis and that marmelada, but also of the search for its replacement and now, a new friend.

So kids, I never opened the jar.

Nah, I’m just kidding. Of course I opened it! And it was FANTASTIC. Turns out their lemon-orange mix is just as good. Just as punchy and kind. And I practiced no restraint. I polished that puppy off in just three days.

The Kid Stays in the Kitchen: Taieesa Conquers the Sticky Bun!

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Welcome back to “The Kid Stays in the Kitchen.” Each week throughout the semester, a student is assigned to cook a traditional dish with a friend or family member and document the experience in photos and words.  This post features Taieesa who made sticky buns with her mom.

If I had to pick a traditional dish from my family I would have to pick up a shelf of cookbooks because I don’t think that my mom ever cooked anything more than twice. Her cooking expeditions have ranged from sushi to paella and from habichuela con dulce to lobster with coconut. Her comfort food is freshly baked bread.

The rest of the cooks in my family bring in highly contrasting Russian, American, Dominican, and Argentinean cultures that have widened my world, but failed to provide me with a traditional dish that defines me and my family. However, a spontaneous decision on what to eat that night (no matter if the cookbook needs to be translated), as well as cooking side by side with my mother, is something that I can say is my family’s tradition.

Cooking with my mother brings back memories of early childhood when I would put both hands in the flour container or move the electric beater through the batter in spiraling patterns. It also reminds me of how even though one half of my family can not communicate with the other, the food that we’re eating makes us a collective unit.

To cook a traditional dish from my family background I grabbed my mother and we made the impromptu decision to make delicious sticky buns.” – Taieesa

Sticky Buns (Recipe from Rose Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, 1988)


Brioche Dough:

  • 2.5 tablespoons of water
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups of unsifted bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large cold eggs
  • 10 tablespoons soft unsalted butter

Sticky Bun Filling:

  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 2 tablespoons of dark rum
  • ¼ cup of boiling water
  • ¼ cup of light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Sticky Bun Topping:

  • ¼ cup of soft unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves

Sticky Bun Glaze:

  • reserved raisin-soaking liquid
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter


Brioche Dough

1. In a small bowl combine the 2 ½ tbsp of water, ½ tsp of the sugar, and the yeast. Set aside in a draft-free spot for 10 to 20 minutes, or until mixture is full of bubbles.

2. Place 1/3 cup of the flour and 1 egg in the food processor (using dough blade) and process a few seconds until mixed.

3. Add the yeast mixture and stir with a rubber scraper until smooth.

4. Sprinkle the remaining flour over the mixture, but do not mix it in. Cover and let stand for 1 ½ to 2 hours.

5. Add the remaining sugar, salt, and remaining two cold eggs.

6. Process 1 ½ minutes, or until the dough is smooth, shiny, and cleans the bowl.

7. Let rest for 5 minutes with the feed tube open.

8. Add the butter in 2 batches and process for 20 seconds after each addition.

9. Scrape the dough into a lightly buttered bowl. Sprinkle lightly with flour to prevent crust from forming.

10. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours in a warm place. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

11. Deflate dough by gently stirring it and refrigerate for another hour.

12. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently press into a rectangle.

13. Fold the dough into thirds and again press it into a rectangle. Fold it once more into thirds and dust it lightly on all sides.

14. Wrap loosely in plastic wrap and then foil and refrigerate for 6 hours.

 Sticky Buns Filling

15. Place raisins and rum in a small bowl. Add boiling water, cover, and let stand for at least an hour. In another bowl combine the sugars and the cinnamon.

16. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface into a 14in by 12in rectangle.

17. Brush with 2 tbsp melted butter and sprinkle with sugar mixture and raisins. Roll up from short end.

18. Using a very sharp knife cut the roll into 4 pieces, and then cut each piece into thirds.

 Sticky Buns Topping

19.  In a small bowl stir together the butter and the sugar until well mixed. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Top with pecan halves, top sides down.

20. Place each dough piece in the prepared pan.

21. Cover with well-buttered plastic wrap and let rise for about two hours.

Sticky Buns Glaze

22. In a small saucepan over high heat reduce the raisin socking liquid to 1 tbsp. Add the butter and stir until melted.

23. Brush the buns with the glaze.

24. Preheat oven to 425°F and bake 10 minutes. Lower heat to 375°F and bake 15 minutes.

25. Let bus cool for 3 minutes and unmold onto a serving plate.

26. Enjoy!!