We all know when something is spicy, but few of us actually think about the nature of the spice. In fact, there are 3 categories of spices.

  1. The first is wasabi, mustard oil, and horseradish, which is volatile and the vapors travel up the to your nasal cavity. It first stings your tongue, then it clears your sinuses.
  2. The next is found in chili pepper. It contains capsaicin which causes a burning sensation like in tabasco.
  3. The third is found in things like black pepper and Schezuan peppercorns. It is less volatile and doesn't cause the burning sensation, rather a numbing sensation. I experience this at China Village.

All spices are not created equally. To create the most potent and deadly food, you could mix all 3 types. That way you get the burning and numbing experience while your nose hurts!

The receptors that are sensitive to spice cross paths with nerves that monitor temperature. As you eat spicy foods, the brain gets confused and interprets the signal as being heat related, that's why you "feel hot" even though you're at a normal temperature. The brain panics and releases sweat to cool down the body, even though you're not hot. In addition, it also causes the body to release adrenaline which increases your heart rate, dilates your eyes, and makes your brain focused and attentive.

So what can you do when it burns and you're all sweaty? Three common recommendations are ice, milk, and bread.

  • Ice should slow down the receptors (it lowers the free energy [delta G] in the receptors and there is less signal firing in the nerves).
  • Next is milk. Spicy ingredients are usually oil based (mustard oil, chili oil). The fat in milk dissolves the spicy compounds and carries it away from the tongue. I have not tested it, but skim milk should theoretically be less effective than 2% milk. If you know of any other drink that contains fat, that would work as well. Another benefit is that it is cold, which works in a similar way to ice.
  • Bread soaks up things through capillary action, like a sponge. It soaks up liquid with the spicy compounds and carries it off as you swallow it.

Another way to avoid spice is that since it is often dissolved in oil, you can remove the oily layer in spicy foods. You can skim the oil layer on top of beef noodle soup and most of the spice will go with it. The watery part contains some remnants, but is much less potent in general. You can take advantage of this by taking extra oil from the beef noodle soup if you want it spicier or add more chili oil.

If you don't remove the compounds, they accumulate on your tongue. That's why the burning feeling builds up as you eat more. After sustained firing, the nerves get depleted of neurotransmitters and the signal firing slows down. That's why after a critical threshold, you don't feel the spice and your tongue "becomes numb" and insensitive to spice. This is a common experience at China Village.

One final warning is that capsaicin can be absorbed through other tissues. It can be absorbed through skin and especially the eyes (like pepper spray). If you are cooking peppers and say you cut an onion for the dish and you tear up....DO NOT TOUCH/WIPE YOUR EYES. The eyes are particularly sensitive and it doesn't take much to get an intense burning feeling in your eyes.

Kalbi jjim

Quick Look_______________

Kalbi jiim is an easy Korean recipe when you want something special for small group. Safeway sells beef short ribs for $2.99 on sale. I went there one time and looked at it. It wasn't too meaty, but it could work. I would suggest using 2 inch cubes of beef chuck when it's on sale as a substitute. Otherwise, it's about $5-$6/lb at Korean markets!
  • Prep time: 10-20 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Labor Intensity: Could do by yourself.
  • 30 servings, adjust by 1.5x if your group tends to eat multiple servings.


  • 20 lbs beef short ribs or chuck (short ribs are $2.99/lb on sale at safeway, I would suggest using beef chuck when it's under $2/lb)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 8 bunches of fresh garlic (about $4 at safeway, much cheaper at Asian markets, don't use pre-peeled)
  • 3 cups soy sauce
  • 8 green onions
  • 1 cup corn syrup (about $2)
  • Total: $ 45-$65


  • Boil a large pot of water
  • Add meat and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Remove meat and drain liquid. Rinse off all the oil and brown, clotted blood.
  • Put the meat back into the pot and add 20 cups (1.25 gallons) water
  • Add 3 cups soy sauce and 1 cup brown sugar and heat on high until boiling, then reduce to gentle simmer.
  • Peel 8 bunches of garlic (it's a lot, I don't mean individual cloves, but bunches of cloves)
  • You can put the side of a knife on top of the garlic and press against the side of the knife to smash the garlic. It's easier to peel that way.
  • Chop the garlic into pieces, you can do coarse or fine cut pieces, just break it up
  • Add garlic to pot
  • Allow to cook at a gentle simmer for 2 hours with no lid. It should be gently bubbling still (the surface should not be still)
  • After 2 hours and when the meat is tender, pour 1/2 of the liquid into another pot and discard the rest. Remove excess oil with serving spoon or ladle. Boil the liquid until it reduces to half of it's original volume on high heat. It should be about 20-30 minutes.
  • If possible, pour liquid into multiple frying pans to increase surface area to speed up reduction.
  • Add chopped green onions and corn syrup to the reduced sauce.
  • Transfer the meat onto the reduced sauce.

Tom's Tips and Tricks_______________

It will be difficult to make this in 1 large pot. I would suggest 2-4 smaller pots to distribute all the food. The beef should be single rib bones about 2 inches long. If it is 2 or 3 bones, cut into 1 bone pieces.
Use fresh garlic. I wrote a post on why it is better than pre-processed garlic. If you use the pre-peeled garlic, use about 50% more. You can also add onions and ginger if you like.
It should be very tender after 2 hours of simmering. If you want it fall-apart-when-you-touch-it tender, let it simmer a bit longer until it reaches desired tenderness. I personally have let it simmer for 5+ hours.
If you cook meat with a gentle simmer, it will be much juicier than if you turn the heat all the way up and cook it for a shorter period. If you are a little below boiling temp, it is much more gentle on the meat and the fibers aren't destroyed so aggressively. Sometimes you can get fully cooked, tender meat that has just a hint of pink in the center (like medium to medium-well). That is actually the best way to cook the beef.
The way I like to do the last steps is to pour the liquid out to a few large pans/skillets and boil it until it reaches half volume. Using 3-4 burners will speed up the process. It should still be liquidy, but not watery. Check flavor. It shouldn't be too concentrated. I then pour this into the large pot and stir it around. I like slightly concentrated flavors in the sauce as opposed to the watery ones that naturally form.
[Possible side dish] rice and any Korean side dish...kimchi?

Ripe fruits

As fruits ripen, a gas called ethylene (C2H4) is released. The effect is amplified as this gas stimulates ripening (positive feedback loop) and more ethylene production. Additionally, it will promote ripening of fruit nearby. Bananas and apples tend to release alot of this gas. You can take advantage of this in 2 ways.

1. Take a ripe banana and place it in a bag with unripe fruit. It could be hard avacados, green bananas, or any other unripe fruit. The gas stimulates the conversion of starch to sugars, making the fruit softer and sweeter. Keeping it in a warm closed bag will cause build up of ethylene, which will ripen fruit and produce more ethylene.

2. To slow down ripening of fruit, say you want to use fresh bananas in a pie next week, you can keep it well ventilated and away from ripe fruit.

But don't expect miracles, it still takes a while to ripen fully green bananas, but it can help. Also remember that the faster it ripens, the faster it will spoil. Use it while ripe before it rots!

Kalbi Tang (Korean Short Rib Soup)

Quick Look_______________

This is an easy, cheap and flexible dish that can be used to win the hearts of Korean and Chinese alike (Koreans will comment on the good home-cooking and often times this is Chinese people's favorite Korean dish). The clean simplicity of unadulterated beef broth coupled with I'll go over how to make it the traditional Korean way (ironically, I've taught many Koreans how to make this soup), and I'll also offer some different options that may be easier. What's great about this dish is you can initially cook it the night before and finish it off the next day, or you can throw everything in the pot, let it cook, and start preparing other dishes or go away and come back after an hour. It's also great for storage to eat over the course of the week, or to present to someone in a large kim-chi jar as a care package (I've never done this, but I couldn't imagine something that says "I care" better than giving a jar of kalbi tang to a sick brother).


  • 1/3 lb./person: kalbi for soup (don't buy the expensive kind you use for bbq, usually these are rough cuts that are cheaper)
  • Water
  • 6 Peeled Garlic cloves
  • One large onion (optional)
  • 1 large Mu (daikon radish, optional)
  • Pepper
  • Coarse Salt (sea salt or kosher salt)
  • Diced green onion (for self-serve garnish)
  • 1-2 Jalapeno Peppers for a spicy kick
  • Egg
  • Clear Korean Vermicelli noodles


  • Soak the kalbi in water for a few hours. This is to drain out the blood so that when you cook it the blood doesn't come out and congeal into that gunky stuff that floats around and accumulates on the side of the pot. It tastes fine, but it just doesn't look as good. If you buy the kalbi when it is on sale, and then freeze it, you can defrost it by soaking it in water overnight so that it defrosts faster and drains blood too. You may need to pour out the water+blood and add more water a few times.
  • Start boiling water in the pot and add the kalbi. Some people would throw out the first batch of water when it starts boiling and rinse the meat and pot off because it will contain
    some of the initial oil and leftover blood, but I think it's not necessary. It's up to you, and if you didn't get a chance to drain the blood out of the kalbi (freshly bought) it might be good to do this.
  • When the water starts boiling (after you might have dumped the first batch of water) add the garlic cloves, the whole onion (peeled and with the ends cut off) and the jalapeno. Add some salt and pepper. It's better to under salt, and have people salt to taste later on.
  • Boil for about one hour.
  • Cool in order to remove the fat that has boiled off the kalbi. There are a number of ways to do this. One way would be to let it cool overnight, or to let it cool slightly so it isn't scalding hot, then put the whole pot into the refrigerator. Another way would be to put the whole pot into a sink half filled with cold water (changing the water when it gets warm),position a fan so it's blowing on it, and adding ice to the soup. When it cools enough you should start to see thick white chunks of lard floating around. Fish these out and discard.
    (Or save it for making carnitas!) If you let it cool in the refrigerator, it should be a thick white disc that you can easily take off (depending on how much kalbi you used, you will have more or less lard). What you end up with is a cool, fat-free (relatively), slightly viscous broth.
  • You can store this in a large kim-chi container to heat up and eat as you will, or you can start to reheat it for serving.
  • When you reheat it, add the Mu (should be cut up into half crescents about 1/3-inch thick) so that the Mu can cook, and you should heat that for roughly half an hour. If you are adding the vermicelli noodles, now is the time.
  • When you're going to serve it, add the egg to the soup and beat it so that it becomes stringy. Allow people to garnish with green onion and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve this with kim chi, kim (Korean roasted seaweed), other Korean side-dishes, and hot rice for a delicious, simple, healthy meal.2 inch steaks and grill or pan fry.

Josh's Tips_______________

If pressed for time, you can skim some of the fat off the top of the soup with a ladle instead of letting it cool overnight. Some people say that putting a piece of bread on top will soak up all the oil. I haven't tried this, but that sounds like a tasty piece of bread! You don't have to skim the fat off the top if it isn't too much. It really depends on how much fatis on the meat. It's ok if there are some oil bubbles on top. But if you don't see any oil bubbles, either there is zero fat, or there is a giant layer of oil on top. One thing you can do is cook beef ribs and turn the broth into kalbi tang. Do the same procedures except take the ribs out after an hour and prepare them to be baked or grilled. You'll wind up with two delicious dishes! You can also make a similar soup (slight taste difference, but it's still good) with different cuts of beef that are on sale. I would recommend 7 bone chuck roast or a chuck pot roast. Anything that either is close to the bone and has fat but is usually tough so that it is tasty and tender when boiled. Lean stringy cuts won't taste good, though the soup broth itself will be good as long as you use beef. Something that I haven't tried(probably due to the mad cow scare) but might be good would be to use a beef neck bone as it contains the gelatin that would make the soup more viscous and substantial. The actual amount of meat is variable, and it just depends on budget/ how much meat you want to eat with the broth.

Cutting boards: Wood vs Plastic

This debate comes up every now and then... is there a difference between wood and plastic and reason enough to choose one over the other?

Pros: Anti-microbial
Cons: Cost, weight, could damage knives

Pros: Cheaper, lighter
Cons: Wears down quicker, could trap bacteria and spread to other foods

The main difference in the two is that wood is porous so capillary action causes the microbes to be pulled into the wood, away from the surface and the bacteria gradually die inside rather than multiply. When you cut plastic boards, you may notice that after a while there will be slight grooves that form as you wear down the board and cut into the plastic. These areas aren't always thoroughly cleaned and bacteria are able to live and multiply there, especially in the microscopic cuts. This is especially a problem if you use the same cutting board for meat and vegetables where cross contamination could happen. What some people do is designate one side of the board for meat and the other for vegetables and flip it over.

You can clean wooden board and then microwave it to kill everything. Don't over heat it or it could damage it. Plastic boards can withstand cleaning chemicals better than wood so you can bleach these boards to kill everything.

Depending on the board and how hard it is compared to the knife blade, it could dull the knife over time. Very hard woods and glass boards could do this so be careful. Remember it has a finite life. If the plastic is badly damaged, throw it out.

Otherwise, they both get the job done. Just make sure you clean it thoroughly...... Unless you like salmonella

Dish-Gracepoint Kitchen tool of the month: Cutting board

The kitchen tool of the month for dish-gracepoint for the month of October is a cutting board to complement the chef's knife from last month. There are many good cutting boards out there and many of them can do the job adequately. Here are some things to consider:

1. Thickness - Many plastic boards tend to bend over time, a thick board will last longer
2. Weight - I generally like thick heavy boards, but you need to find a compromise between durability and convenience. A heavy board may be a hassle to take out and move around for smaller tasks. We also use a smaller one for those times.
3. Material - Wood vs plastic. I'm going to post on the differences later. Plastics tend to be cheaper and lighter. In addition, if the board is too hard, it can dull the knife and even damage it.
4. Size - Make sure it's big enough for whatever you need it for. Having an extra large cutting board makes food prep a lot easier.
5. Purpose - In a kitchen sometimes there are different cutting boards for different tasks: red for raw meat, tan for cooked meats, white for dairy, blue for seafood, green for fruits/vegetables and yellow for poultry so that cross-contamination could be prevented.

Spinach dip

Quick Look_______________

After Bible studies when a light snack is needed one easy dish that we do often is bread and spinach dip. It's fairly easy and people like it. You can buy premade spinach dip from Safeway or Costco or you can make your own!
  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: None
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Labor Intensity: You can do on your own very easily!
  • 30 servings, adjust by 1.5x if your group tends to eat multiple servings.


  • 6 packages frozen chopped spinach (8 oz each)
  • (3) 32-oz cartons of sour cream (about $3 each on sale) (smart and final should sell large cans for less)
  • 6 packages Knorr vegetable soup mix
  • 6 cans finely chopped water chestnuts
  • Total: $Not much


  • Thaw the spinach by taking it out of the package and soaking it in hot water in a bowl.
  • While spinach thaws, mix the Knorr vegetable soup mix and sour cream together.
  • Chop the water chestnuts and mix them into the sour cream mixture
  • Then strain spinach with a strainer. Press down on it with your hands so that you get as much of the water out as you can. The spinach should be pretty dry. Mix into the sour cream mixture.
  • Put it into a large bowl, and garnish with parsley if desired

Tom's Tips and Tricks_______________

You may want to allow it to chill it in the fridge before serving. You can make it thursday night and have it waiting in the fridge for friday post-Bible study activity.
One variation I like is to substitute the vegetable mix packets with (1.8 ounce) packages dry leek soup mix and/or onion soup mix. I just like the flavor of these and think it's better than the vegetable mix, but that's just personal preference.
If you want, you can also chop up a few cloves of fresh garlic and mix it in.
For a healthier alternative, you can use light sour cream and it will still give good results.
[Possible side dish] Serve with sliced baguettes, french bread, crackers...etc. I would estimate 5 people per pound of bread if it is a light snack. More if people are hungry.

Baking soda vs baking powder

Whenever I bake something and the recipe calls for baking soda or baking powder, I seem to have one or the other in the kitchen and seldom the right one. Is it really different and could you just substitute them?

Baking soda (like Arm and Hammer) is pure base and will raise the pH of the mixture. It will react to acidic ingredients and will produce CO2 which will cause the mixture to rise. On it's own, it is powerless. It will impart a bitter flavor to baked goods unless neutralized.

Baking powder is baking soda combined with an acid. There are 2 types: single acting and double acting. The single acting reacts as soon as it is hydrated and starts producing gas. You should start baking immediately after mixing this in. Double acting is delayed and will start when hydrated and continue reacting once heated up in the oven. Baking powder is more or less neutral and will not flavor the food so much. Remember: acid is sour and base is bitter.

Can you substitute them? You can use baking powder at any time, it may just end up with a little extra acid and be a bit sour. You can't substitute baking soda when you need baking powder, especially when the mixture is not acidic. So what does this mean? I personally would buy baking powder when shopping because it's more versatile, but in general get what you need and follow the recipe.

French Onion Soup

Quick Look_______________

This is a great, easy, cheap, flexible meal that can either be "enhanced" (with extra meat) enough for a main course (add a salad and some french bread or rolls), or a lighter soup to eat with another meal (without meat even!). In the past, I've boiled ribs in water to soften it up, then took out the ribs for another dish while using the broth for french onion.
  • Prep time: 20-30 minutes
  • Cook time: ~1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Labor Intensity: Easy enough to do by yourself.
  • 6-8 servings


  • 6 Onions (~3 lb. bag, cut into slices or diced)
  • Garlic (a few cloves, minced)
  • Butter (a few tablespoons)
  • Oil (just enough)
  • Cooking wine for deglazing (burgandy will be better) or you might be able to use some unsweetened grape juice, or something acidic.
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • French bread
  • Grated cheese (traditionally parmesan)
  • Crispy fried onion (optional, you can buy the canned french fried onion, or fry yourself)
  • Meat (7-Bone chuck roast, Pot Roast, Beef Ribs, Kalbi for stew, Just about any beef can be used for this, so the cheaper the better) OR, for a cheaper version without meat, Beef Bouillon or ~3 Cans of Beef Broth)
Equipment needed____________

Large Steel Pot (it will taste better/be easier with a sturdy steel pot for french cooking, but it's not necessary. if you only have a small one, you can cook the onions and deglaze it and then move it over to a bigger pot)


  • Start the butter and oil in the pot, you want about half butter/half oil, (traditional french cooking would probably use all butter, but half butter is just as good, and will be less prone to burning.
  • When butter has almost completely melted, add the onions and garlic. When it starts charring and caramelizing at the bottom, start deglazing the pot. This is what gives the french onion soup it's color and flavor. (see below for explanation on deglazing)
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add meat and water. Allow to boil for about an hour to tenderize the meat. It doesn't have to be a rapid boil.
  • Spoon out portions of soup with meat, sprinkle with cheese and eat with bread. Traditionally the bread is placed in the boil, sprinkled with cheese and then toasted on top. I find that eating the bread with the soup is good enough.

Josh's Tips_______________

For cutting mass amounts of onions: Use an "apple corer" these fit for smaller size onions. Once you cut off both ends and peel the onion, it's easy to use this to quickly cut massive amounts of onions. The only important thing is to buy small enough onions to fit the corer. Not much else to add here. I think you can use flour tortillas as well, but not sure.
Deglazing IS different from charring. Do not allow the bottom of your pot/pan to char, as it will give a burnt taste to the food/soup. Usually you deglaze when you have the leftover onion or meat that is looks like it is char. The difference is usually the taste or the amount of time it's been cooking. This comes from the sugar that is caramelized on the pot/pan. When onion starts to caramelize in french onion stew, it will form this darker substance at the bottom. The key is to use a wooden spoon to constantly "scrape" or rub the bottom of the pan after pouring in a bit of acidic liquid (many juices). If you start deglazing it before it's burning, it will be less painful and you won't need to scrape as hard. The acid helps remove the leftover bits, and you end up with a very rich, tasty broth.