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Cheese and Onion Sandwiches

Cheese and onion sandwiches pair well with a cold beer.

I never thought my family had a food history. We don’t have a secret to crispy fried chicken, or a BBQ rib technique that has been passed down through the generations. We don’t even have a blue-ribbon pie recipe. Even though some of my most vivid food memories have happened with my family where we all started, the Midwest, my grandmother hasn’t bestowed upon me a greasy piece of paper scribbled with the secret to the world’s greatest anything.

As you can imagine I was feeling quite sorry for myself. But when I  started a list of the things I know (that didn’t come from an episode of Barefoot Contessa) I found some forgotten gems. So to kick things off, it’s my dad’s favorite sandwich that my Grandmother Mary used to make just for him.

She whipped up a spread of just three things: onions, cheddar and mayonnaise. He tells me, I swear with a glint in his eye, she used to slather pumpernickel bread (his favorite) with this pungent spread and cut the sandwiches into threes. He flew to Wales for his dental school residency on Laker Airways and she sent him off with a little piece of home in the form of 11 (yes) cheese and onion sandwiches stacked into a bread bag. They were gone when he landed.

I found them to be simple, but insanely addictive because of the sharpness of the spread. They went best with a pickle, a cold IPA and an episode of Mad Men.

Grandmother Mary’s Cheese and Onion Sandwiches


8 slices pumpernickel bread

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup mayonnaise

salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix chopped onion, mayonnaise and shredded cheese in a large mixing bowl. Chill for 15 minutes.

2. Spread on slices of pumpernickel bread. Enjoy!


Shred cheese yourself. Pre-shredded cheddar is always too dried out and lacks flavor.


Chop red onion into a small dice.

Pumpernickel bread was key because it countered the sharp flavors.

Pumpernickel bread was key because it countered the sharp flavors.


Monday night pizza


The last two Mondays I’ve come home and just before I ready myself to watch the latest jealously-inducing Bourdain travel excursion on TV, I’ve had one thought – pizza. Although the Dominos app is quite tempting (save the judgement), I thought it best to make one of my own custom creations. I found with a few simple things, primarily from Trader Joes, a heaping slice of homemade veggie/salami pizza and a glass of red wine really does the trick. Cheers to Monday.


1 package Trader Joes pizza dough (white or wheat)

1 can crushed tomatoes

garlic glove

basil, chopped

sliced salami (I used a picante variety for extra spice)

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

salt, pepper, crushed red pepper

Veggies (choose whatever you like, but here are my picks):


red pepper

1 can artichoke hearts


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Prep the dough by letting it sit on the counter when you get home from the store, so it can come closer to room temperature. Grease a baking sheet with olive oil. Place dough onto the greased sheet, and begin to work it so that it stretches to the size of the sheet. Once the dough is in a shape to your liking, brush with olive oil. Set aside.

Tip: For a more authentic feel, dust some semolina flour on one side of the dough before baking. It will create that distinct, restaurant quality pizza dough. Be sure to sprinkle it on the side facing up, because you will later flip the dough.

3. Prep the sauce. Add a clove of minced garlic to about 2 cups of crushed tomatoes in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Set aside.

4. Prep the veggies. Thinly slice half of a red onion. Cut artichokes into quarters. Slice zucchini very thin on a mandolin (or use a knife carefully). Slice red pepper into thin strips. Chop about half a cup of spinach.

5. Slice salami in half, so you have half-moon shaped pieces for layering.

6. Bake dough in the oven for about 8 minutes. The package says to only cook the dough for a total of 8-10 minutes, but I like mine on the thin and crispy side. Once the dough is starting to turn golden brown, take it out of the oven and use tongs to flip it over.

7. Now we layer the masterpiece. Spread the sauce evenly over the crust, leaving just a slightly naked edge all the way around. Lay down zucchini, onions, peppers, artichokes and salami in a random, yet orderly fashion. Sprinkle the whole pizza with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste.

8. Pop the pizza back in the over for 3-5 minutes. You the veggies to start to cook before you put the cheese on, since that will melt quickly.

Tip: I only use parmesan cheese on this pizza, because it has a great sharp flavor and you don’t need alot of it. The traditional mozzarella has it’s place, but often times I feel it’s a waste because it doesn’t add flavor.

9. Once the onions are looking a translucent and even a bit scorched, sprinkle the parmesan over the pizza. Stick it back in the oven, but stay close by to watch when the bubbling begins.

10. When the pizza just starts looking great, pull it out of the oven and let it cool for just a few minutes on a wood cutting board. Sprinkle with chopped spinach and basil (and a little extra parm if you are feeling it) and serve.

Steamy lunch in Chynna

Steam billows from the open kitchen at the Hilton Kuala Lumpur's Chynna.

After a couple days of hit or miss experiences eating in Kuala Lumpur, I still hadn’t found much luck finding some savory Malay fare. I scoured an online Frommer’s guide, with the help of my travel partner, and discovered rave reviews of a Dim Sum restaurant in the Hilton on the east side of town.

A short metro ride to the hotel, and we reached Chynna on the fifth level of a mini food court inside the hotel. The hostess promptly greeted us and whispered that we were slightly underdressed in our shorts, as the restaurant requires a more business-casual look. She took pity on us (probably because we had that food mission stare) and ushered us to our table where we sheepishly stuck our bare knees under the long tablecloth and draped our napkins as sarongs.

A look around and you were immediately transported into 1920s Shanghai with silk lanterns, crimson umbrellas, Oriental chairs and gold detailing. The open kitchen allows diners to see as a team of chefs toil behind pillars of steam. A wall of windows allows you to look out from your seat perched above a lush valley of trees.

A tea master dressed in traditional Chinese garb popped up at our table to pour fruity tea out of a roughly three-foot long tea kettle spout. The end of the spout reduces to an opening about the size of a pea and the hot liquid shoots out – with applause-worthy accuracy I might add – like a pressure washing hose.

Spicy Sichuan-style chicken and shrimp dumplings with chili oil.

We quickly ordered up four kinds of steamed and crispy dumplings that landed on the table in hot bamboo boxes. (Side note: The bamboo hat-like boxes really add to the experience of dim sum. Makes you feel like you are eating tiny presents.)  The spicy Sichuan-style chicken and shrimp dumplings were one of my favorites. The flavors were that classic salty soy with chilis and a crunch from the chopped scallions. The dumplings were heavy to lift out of their china dish with chopsticks but the combination of meats inside were so delicately steamed. No rubbery feel of overcooked shrimp here – a big no no if you as me.

The steamed chicken and shrimp dumplings with fragrant scallions and vegetables were also light and fell apart when you tried to bite the golf-ball sized bundles in half. A quick dunk in the vinegar chili sauce is all these curry-colored dumplings needed.

Steamed chicken and shrimp dumplings with scallions and spices.













Steamed is delicious, but you just can’t look past the fried page without salivating. We ordered up some crispy shrimp dumplings to pair with our healthy treats – and they didn’t disappoint. These puffed, golden wonton bundles had a tender filling with a blend of herbs I couldn’t quite distinguish. The real complement to the dish was a shallow stream of lime-infused mayo you could drag each bite through – a great pop of citrus with the dumplings.

Crispy shrimp dumplings with herbs.












A trio of mini egg tarts arrived on a white china plate draped with a bamboo leaf. One bite into these cheerful, toasted tart shells and I was hooked. The custard was velvety, like creme brulee without the rock sugar topping, without the rush of sweet. The egg yolk-laced center just hinted of vanilla, and combined with the flaky tart shell, was the perfect almost dessert. (Confession, I went right ahead and ate two of the three.)

Mini egg custard tarts.












Take advantage of the lunchtime dim sum at Chynna to avoid some of the pricer dinner options.  Most of the dumpling dishes, which came with three portions, totaled between 12 to 15 ringgit each (roughly $4-$5 USD). Some of the more upscale cod fish varieties increased up to 22 ringgit (about $7.50). Your bill really racks up though when you add in frosty Tiger beers (but why would you not?).


Hilton Kuala Lumpur

3 Jalan Stesen Sentral

Kuala Lumpur




Papaya Perfect

Spears of breakfast papaya in Malaysia.

I start this food-writing journey in Malaysia, of course, after having just left my steady reporting gig in search of a better fit in the journalism world. I packed a small Tumi roller suitcase and headed to Southeast Asia with my good friend Jesse, an Olympus SLR my dad gave me and many nights of scouring NY Times reviews of my destinations.

First stop: Kuala Lumpur.

First food lust: fresh papaya.

After a very late (errr early morning) arrival, I wake up to a breakfast buffet at the Hotel Equatorial in the downtown KLCC area. From the vast array of palm-sized pastries, scrambled eggs and even Indian fare, Jesse first nabs a plate of this deep salmon-colored fleshy fruit.

He hands me fork full, first squeezing a lime wedge on the fruit (an essential step that only elevates the flavor). The taste is so unreal in its mild, almost lacking in sweet, flavor. The papaya spears look dense like melon, but with the flick of your wrist a fork cuts right through.

By the end of the meal I find my small white plate shows a puddle of papaya juice that I almost think about slurping.

I come to find this is a staple in hotel breakfasts in Kuala Lumpur. I learn later Indonesia and China are two of the top ten producers of the fruit in the world.

I know it’s just papaya, but this was not a mundane continental breakfast option. It represented to me much of what I have come to learn from my short time here in Southeast Asia – simple, a bit luxurious and all together tasty.