Saturday, March 31, 2007

Food on the Move

Over five hundred years ago, an Italian named Christopher Columbus sailed west for the Spanish crown in search of a water route to the spice center of the then known world. The commodities he sought clove, mace and nutmeg were the highly prized aromatic treasures that came from the small islands of Ternate, Tidore, Ambon, and Banda Neira (The Spice Islands). Along with peppercorns from the Malabar Coast of India, these exotic spices prompted the European Age of Discovery and formed the backbone of the medieval western economy. The Portuguese, Spanish, and later, the Dutch and English found their way to the sparkling waters off the Moluccan archipelago.

Stretching overland from China to Africa, the Spice Trail was an ancient trading route, originally a caravan trail, which served to introduce more than just spices to the lands it traversed. It also carried oranges and peaches from China; bananas and ginger from Southeast Asia; rice and sugar cane from India; saffron and melon from Persia; cumin and coffee from Africa; coriander and olives from the Mediterranean basin. Over the years, these tastes converged with each other forever transforming world cuisine.

The discovery of the New World sprang upon us a whole new cornucopia of culinary offerings to revel in. America is the ultimate immigrant society, though prior to the establishment of the United States, food products were the first foreigners to cross boarders, set up shop and be assimilated into another culinary culture. Can we take the tomato away from the Italians; hot chilies from the Thai; chocolate from the Swiss; the potato from the Irish, or heaven forbid vanilla from the world’s ice cream supply? Yes, we all have a long and rich history of sharing from our pantries, and need look no further than our own kitchens to notice the effect of this cross-pollination on local foods.

Grilled Shrimp and Scallops marinated in Tequila and Cinnamon - yields 4 servings

1/2 cup orange juice
1 lime - juiced
2 garlic cloves – crushed to a paste
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 to 2 shots tequila
2 star anise
1/8 cup canola oil
32 shrimp - cleaned and de-veined
1/2 pound scallops
8" bamboo skewers

Mix the orange juice, limejuice, garlic, cinnamon, tequila, star anise and canola oil together well. Toss over the shrimp and scallops to thoroughly coat and refrigerate for no more than 3 hours. Submerge 8 bamboo skewers in water, and let them sit for a few hours or overnight. This will prevent the skewers from burning too quickly when cooking the shrimp skewers. Place four shrimp and scallops per skewer, and over a hot grilled cook the skewers for 5 minutes on one side than another 3 minutes on the other.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Star Fruit and Jicama Salad - serves 6

2 star fruit
1 pound jicama - peeled
2 bunch arugula- washed and chopped
3-tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2-teaspoon cumin seed - ground
1/2-cup canola oil
salt and pepper to taste

Slice the star fruit into 1/4 inch thick rounds, and the jicama into 1/4 inch thick julienne. Then toss with the cumin and vinegar. Just prior to serving add the arugula, oil and salt pepper to the star fruit and jicama. Toss well and serve immediately.

Friday, March 30, 2007

In the Pantry

What do you stock in the pantry? Are there essentials that one cannot just do without? Well yes and no. Firstly, and most importantly, it is a matter of taste and the flavors you like to work with. Though for me there are musts for my kitchen. I want to make sure that I can give my meal the Latin, Asian or Mediterranean characters I enjoy.

To keep my spices fresh and as pungent as possible I store them in my freezer. Heat and light are the killers of flavors so at a minimum keep you spices in a dark container away from the stove. I also buy them whole as grind them as I need them – this way they stay as aromatic for as long as possible. Buy an inexpensive coffee grinder and dedicate to your spices.

It is best to store any nut oils such as the sesame, walnut and the like in the refrigerator. They tend to go rancid quickly. While this is not toxic it is unpleasant on the tongue. Olive and canola has about a six-month shelf life though during the hot months I move them into the refrigerator too. Don’t worry if they thickened when chilled just let them sit at room temperature for five minutes and they will liquefy once again.

This guideline is really all about ensuring that you have within reach the basics you’ll need/want to work with when cooking.

Here is my always on-hand items:
Good quality olive oil
Canola oil
Toasted sesame seed oil
Soy sauce
Red wine vinegar
Rice wine vinegar
Sherry vinegar
Thai fish sauce
Basmati rice
Dried pasta
Canned beans
Pine nuts
Dijon-style mustard
Worcestershire sauce
Kecap manis
Sun dried Tomatoes
Canned whole tomato
Coconut milk
Whole black pepper
All-purpose flour
Vanilla beans or extract
Semi-sweet chocolate
White chocolate
Baking soda
Brown sugar
Palm sugar
Sea salt
Kosher salt
Cumin Whole
Star anise
Whole nutmeg
Dried chilies
Hot chili sauce

Thursday, March 29, 2007


I have to admit that after the olive the avocado is m favorite fruit. Yes, I said fruit. From a botanical classification this is a fruit for it has a seed surrounded by a flesh protected by a skin. We just think of it as a vegetable because we tend to only use it in savory applications. There are two main varieties in the United States the Haas and Fuerte. The former has a brownish/red skin that is rough and is eggish is shape coming from the west coast into South America. The Fuerte is a Floridian/Caribbean variety that is more oblong with a green smooth skin. The Hass variety is higher in fat and is less fiberous than its southeastern cousin.

When ripe the avocado should have a gentle give when squeezed. If it is hard let the avocado ripen on the counter - once it has ripened and you are not ready to use it you can refrigerate it. Never refrigerate an un-ripened one for it will never ripen for you. Also, the avocado does not take well to being heated. If I am ever to cook with an avocado it goes in at the very end just prior to serving. Too much exposure to heat and the sweetest avocadoes goes bitter...been there, done that.

Avocado Salsa - yields 2 cups

2 ripe avocados
2 plum tomatoes - seeds removed
4 scallions - chopped
1 jalapeno - diced, seeds removed to lower heat
1 small red onion - diced fine
1 lime - juiced
1/4-cup cilantro - leaves only; roughly chopped
1-teaspoon - ground coriander seed
1/2-teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Carefully cut the avocado in half to remove the skin and seed from the avocado. Dice the avocado. Dice the tomatoes, and gently toss all ingredients together. Refrigerate 30 minutes before using.

Minted Avocado Mousse - yields 8 servings

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups cream
6 mint stems - leaves reserved for garnish
3 large avocados - ripened
1 lime - juiced
1 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate - chopped up
1 teaspoon canola oil

In a sauce pan gently warm the cream, sugar and mint over a low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved. Strain the cream mixture, and let it cool. Place the lime juice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade or use a cake mixer with a whip attachment. Ad the avocado and process till very smooth. Add the cream to the avocado and blend till well incorporated. Dissolve the gelatin in1/4 cup of hot water. Mix into add to the avocado mixture, and incorporate thoroughly.

With a paper towel moistened with some oil, lightly grease a Charlotte mold, or use a bunt pan dish, and pour in the mousse mixture. Tap the mold lightly on the container to dislodge any air bubbles, and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight. To un-mold the mousse place in a pan of warm water for no more than a minute or two. Wipe the mold dry. Place your serving
dish on top of the mold, and turn it out. Tap on the mold to ensure the entire mousse releases at the same time. Once you have un-molded the mousse place it back in the refrigerator for a half hour to an hour to firm it back up.

To make the chocolate glaze place the chocolate and remaining oil in a stainless steel bowl, and melt completely over a double boiler. Alternatively, the chocolate can be melted in the microwave oven, just use a non-metallic bowl and heat for approximately 1 minute. Make sure the oil and chocolate is well combined, and let it cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the chocolate over the mousse.

Avocado Ice Cream – yields approx. 4 quarts

1-quart cream
1-quart whole milk
6 egg yolks
12 ounces chopped white chocolate
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 ripe avocadoes

In a 4-quart sauce pan bring the cream and milk to just below a boil over a medium heat. In the meanwhile, in a clean bowl whisk the egg yolks until they are pale yellow, and thickened. Slowly, add small amounts of the hot cream mixture to the eggs – whisking constantly and being careful not to scramble the eggs. Once the eggs are hot add the eggs to the remaining cream, and over a low flame stir the cream/eggs until just slightly thickened along with the white chocolate. Be sure to stir in the corners of the pot as some of the chocolate will stick to there.

Pour the cream mixture through a fine sieve into a clean container, and fully chill the mixture.

In a blender place the orange juice, vanilla and avocado. Puree the avocado to very smooth. Whisk the avocado mixture into the fully chilled cream to thoroughly distribute.
Place the cream mixture into an ice cream maker, and proceed according to manufactures directions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bali High

The flavors of Southeast Asia are explosive: big sweet, sour, salt, bitter and heat. Yet the collection is more restrained than its individual components would lead you to think. That sugary note is not just a saccharine lick but thickened by the use of palm sugar. The iconic pucker of a lemon or a lime is diffused by the aromatic assault of lemon grass and kefir lime leaves. Salt helps round up this herd of tastes on your tongue and acts wrangler keeping everything in place. All I can say about bitter is that it is cultural, and for those of us who did not meet a bitter melon until late in life we just have to slowly warm up to it. Finally, heat that fiery end to a bite that at times seems never to fade fast enough is really our reaction to pain receptors being stimulated at the back of throat. We have all been in relationships that were wrong, and yet we suffered through – chilies while, for me, are a great tasting spot for us is a relationship that you just have to grin and bear it. Though if a dish is too intense don’t go the water or beer. Have something dairy based – it will help extinguish the fire.

Spicy Roasted Chicken - yields 4 servings

1/3 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 medium onion - roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
4 star anise - ground
1 teaspoon ground clove
1 to 2 hot chili peppers
1 can coconut milk
3 pound chicken pieces

In a blender add the soy sauce, lemon juice, onion, garlic and fish sauce and process until very smooth. Then add in the black pepper, mustard seeds, mace, star anise, sambal, and coconut milk and process to combine well. Pour the mixture over the chicken pieces and let it marinate 30 minutes to overnight in the refrigerator.

Roast the chicken in a 375 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Or alternatively, grill the chicken pieces over a very hot grill for 20 minutes turning the pieces frequently.

Asian Inspired Sauce - yields approx. 1 cup

1 shallot – peeled and sliced very thinly
2 red small Thai chilies – sliced very thinly
1/4-cup Thai fish sauce
1/4-cup rice wine vinegar
1/4-cup fresh limejuice
1-inch piece ginger – peeled and sliced very fine julienne
1-tablespoon palm or light brown sugar

In a bowl mix all the ingredients together, and let it sit for 1 hour to a day (in the refrigerator) to allow the flavors to combine together.

Mango Salad - yields 6 servings

3 mangoes - under-ripe
2 red Asian chilies - finely diced
2 teaspoon salt
1 small red onion
1/8 cup chopped mint leaves
1 lime

Peel the mangoes, and then carefully remove the flesh from the pit. It is easiest to remove two large segments from either side of the pit. Mangoes have a huge pit that can be about half of the fruit. The pit becomes the cook’s treat.

Slice the mango flesh into thin strips and arrange them on a platter just slightly overlapping them. Distribute the salt and chilies over the mangoes. Slice the red onion into very thin julienne and sprinkle over the mangoes. Juice the lime over the fruit and let sit 1 hour before serving. Sprinkle with mint just prior to serving.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Going Bananas

Sometimes you walk into the kitchen and you're just bored. Staring at the open refrigerator door or peering into the cupboard hoping something will pop out and say, play with me! These are the days when my slightly more outrageous ideas are born.

It was during that culinary ebb, that is late winter and early spring, when desparation grabbed hold of me. This time of year is a culinary wasteland when nothing is peaking and I tend to succumb to a meal of rice and beans and perhaps frozen spinach. I guess I was particularly ornery on that day, and just was not feeling my typical stand-bys. What I had on my counter were some plantains just starting to ripen. So, I was off. I started manipulating plantains and its close relative bananas.

Green and yellow plantains should be used in a savory application as the sugars in them have not yet developed. Though if you wish to ripen them place them in a bowl with an apple. The apple gives off a gas called, ethelyne, that facilitates the ripening process. Conversely, take your regular bananas and don't let them sit amongst your fruits to prevent them from browning too quickly.

Sautéed and Stewed Plantains - yields 6 to 8 servings

5 green plantains - under-ripe bananas can be substituted
1/2 cup canola Oil
2 tablespoon Sesame Oil
1 habenero chili - seeds removed and diced
4 cans diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and black pepper to taste

Cut a slit down two side of the plantains, and place the plantains in a bowl of cold water to soak for a half hour. This helps to remove the skin of the green plantains. Peel the plantains, and slice on the angle into 1/4" pieces. In a large sauté pan heat the oil, and fry the plantains in a single layer until golden or both sides. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Smash the fried plantain with the bottom of a small sauté pan or mallet to flatten.

In a 2 quart sauce pan add the sesame oil, chilies, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper and cook for a minute. Be very careful not to let the spices burn. Immediately, pour the in the tomatoes, a 1 cup of water and plantains, and cook over a medium low heat covered for about 30 minutes. Watch the plantain as they may need some additional water depending on how dry they were. Correct seasoning and serve immediately.

Grilled Green Bananas - serves 6

3 under ripe bananas
3 teaspoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons curry powder
3 tablespoons sesame oil

Mix the vinegar, curry powder and oil together. Carefully peel the bananas down leaving the skin still attached at the base. Rub each banana with the curry paste, then carefully fold up the banana peel. Heat a grill pan to very hot, and cook the bananas about 10 minutes turning to blacken all sides. Serve hot.

Banana Pudding - yields approx 8 servings

1 can coconut
3 very ripe bananas - peeled and diced
1 pound firm tofu
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a 2 cup sauce pan boil the coconut milk to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Let the coconut cook down by half. Then add the the bananas, and cook for five minutes.

Drain the tofu and place a food processor or blender along with the reduced coconut/bananas, honey, orange zest, cinnamon and vanilla. Process the mixture until very smooth. Pour the pudding into 10 cups (approx. 1/2 cup per serving). Refrigerate the pudding for 4 plus hours.

Serve with fresh berries.

Monday, March 26, 2007

In the moment......

Cooking seasonally means developing a keen eye and sensitive nose as you traverse the aisles of nature’s store. The trimmings of each season is color-coded – spring’s plate is drenched with verdant green leaves, tender stalks and gentle herbs; summer is resplendent with myriad reds, oranges and yellows creating texture and bold redolent assaults; autumn’s quieting is rich with umber root vegetables and a second hurrah of green leaves. This rainbow presentation is an initial starting point for setting a menu.

I discovered the excitement of the green market while living in Australia. Through my weekly jaunts to Sydney’s Paddy’s Market I connected with nature’s rhythm and reveled in the great unknown with each culinary discovery the seasons offered. One spring day - no it was autumn (I never did get use to the reverse of the seasons down-under) – I went to the market yearning for something new and ripe. I roamed the aisles in hopes of being seduced by something that would plicate my out-of-season timing. There, in a quiet corner away from the hustle and bustle, squeezed between crates of oranges and shining green peppers, stood a farmer with fresh knobs of turmeric, bundles of cilantro, rows of chilies and fussy okra adorning his table. While his labor bore beautiful, healthy produce it was an odd, inhospitable looking thing that intrigued me. It was the size of a softball; had a mottled reptilian skin and was very dense to the touch. I had found it – something new, something that piqued my creative craving.

Besides the many farmers markets found throughout the country there is another alternative to getting seasonal foods – joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). These are local co-ops where you buy a share in the bounty of a local farmer, and get delivered a weekly largess of the land. Though don’t expect home delivery they are usually set-up in a central location in town. You will receive what is peaking that week, and only what the farmer grows. In this time, where food security is in question and how it is grown a relationship with the farmer seems like an answer to some of our needs to know where our foods come from.

The up side to belonging to a CSA is that you get fresh, flavorful, nutritious foods that is days from the earth. Not to mention encouraging and supporting local farming economies. The downside is that you will gorge on a selection of foods for a week or two at a time. Mother Nature does not allow everything to come to market at once…..

For further information go to:

Wild Mushroom Strudel - yields 6 to 8 servings

2 pounds assorted wild mushrooms such as shiitakes, oysters, hen of the woods
1/4 cup dried morel mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots - sliced thin
2 garlic cloves - diced
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup pine nuts - lightly toasted; roughly chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley - leaves only, chopped
1/8 cup thyme - leaves only, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/4 pound phyllo dough - at room temperature
1/2 pound Butter - melted

Clean the mushrooms with a damp kitchen towel and roughly chop them.

In a fine mesh colander rinse the morels under running water to rid them of any dirt and grit. Soak the morels in 1/2 cup of boiling water for 30 minutes. Roughly chop the morels and reserve its soaking liquid.

Heat a 10-inchsauté pan to hot and add the olive oil. Sauté the shallots until lightly golden and then add the garlic and, the fresh mushrooms and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add the brandy and morels along with the mushroom liquid. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the liquid has evaporated. Mix in the pine nuts, herbs and season with salt and pepper. Cool the mushroom mixture.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lay a sheet of phyllo out flat and using a pastry brush lightly paint the sheet with the melted butter. Always start brushing the phyllo with melted butter from the outer edges working your way inward as the phyllo starts to dry on the outer fringes first. Place an additional 5 sheets on top of this first one buttering each layer. You must hold the phyllo you are not working with spread out flat under a damp kitchen towel in order to prevent it from drying out. Spread half of the mushroom mixture along the length of the bottom third of the phyllo. Then carefully roll up the phyllo over the mushroom mixture and continue to roll the mixture completely up into a tight log. Once you have rolled the strudel half way you will have edges that you should fold in just like if you where wrapping a gift, and then continue to roll the strudel completely up. Transfer to a parchment lined baking tray. Cut three to four slashes in the top of strudel. These cuts allow steam to escape and helps prevent the strudel from bursting. Lightly brush the phyllo with some melted butter. Repeat this with the remaining mushroom mixture. Place the strudels in the oven and baked for 15 minutes or until golden and crisp. Slice the strudel on an angle while warm and serve.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Who are we...?

As a chef who has traveled and lived extensively around the world, I have come to realize that I never cooked anything but “modern American cuisine.” I am a child of parents with eastern European backgrounds, so we feasted on kasha with egg noodles, braised brisket of beef and blintzes filled with sour cream and cherries. These were served primarily on holidays and special occasions. On the other hand, my mother’s daily offerings included the best spaghetti and meatballs on the block; macaroni and cheese that I still make when I need comforting, and a pineapple and clove baked ham that was lifted right off the pages of LADIES HOME JOURNAL.

There was a clear sensibility in the dishes of my cultural heritage. It included copious amounts of garlic, a slick sheen of fat lacing the roast, and onions crisped from frying in rendered chicken fat. Even though the foods my mother made daily were “American,” I came to think of our ethnic foods, served on special occasions, as American traditions, despite their Eastern European roots. American food is a richly woven tapestry that will continue to unfold as long as new people arrive and thread in their tastes, techniques and textures into our culinary consciousness.

Middle Eastern Rice Pilaf - yields 6 to 8 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 pound angle hair pasta - broken into small pieces
2 shallots - minced
1 garlic clove - minced
2 teaspoon ground coriander
11/2 cups Basmati rice
1/8 cup currant
2 teaspoon lemon zest - finely minced
1/4 cup pine nuts - lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup white wine

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a 6 cup sauce pan and add the oil. Add in the pasta and sauté until a dark golden brown, not burnt. Add into shallots, the garlic rice and coriander into the pasta, and continue cooking for a few minutes – moving it constantly. Add in the rice, currants, zest, pine nuts, cayenne, black pepper, salt, parsley and cilantro. Mix to thoroughly incorporate. Pour in the white wine and cook until it has evaporated. Pour in 3 cups of water and bring to the boil. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, and place in the oven. Cook the rice mixture for 20 minutes. Shut off the heat of the oven and let the rice sit another 15 minutes.

Correct seasoning and serve.

Lamb Fillets with Sweet Soy Sauce - yields 4 servings

1 1/2 pound lamb loin fillets
2 to 3 garlic cloves -diced
3 shallots - diced
1/8-cup mint leaves - chopped
1/2-cup sake
3/4-cup ketcap manis (Indonesian Sweet Soy)
1-tablespoon sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Season the lamb with the pepper, and heat a grill pan. Seal the lamb on all sides cooking it for a total of 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, and place in a 200 degree oven keep warm. Heat a 10 inch sauté pan and add the oil and shallots. Brown lightly and then add the garlic cooking for a few minutes longer. Pour in the sake off the heat and then return to the flame and reduce by half. Add the mint and keptcap manis and cook for a few minutes to heat to through. Season with freshly ground pepper.

Remove the lamb from the oven and slice into thirds. Spoon over the sauce and serve.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The unusal

Have you ever wondered who eat the first pineapple or pumpkin? Did ancient man originally use these fruits and vegetables as weapons? Was someone being sacrificed during a pagan ritual, and made to eat the first pineapple? Afterall, they are not particularly inviting from their external presentation. Rather, they are frightening and would seem more apt as a tool for splitting bones or threatening others. Yet, all around the world man has overcome nature's defensive armor to discover the luscious, intoxicating taste of some seemingly impenetrable foods.

Take for example the range of fruits eaten throughout Asia; Durian a spiked football size fruit with the smell (when ripe) of overripe cheese. This fruit is loved throughout the warmer climes of Asia eaten fresh; made into ice cream; canned for out of season enjoyment. I was lucky enough, so all food guides said, to be in Southeast Asia during Durian season. I fought with myself trying desperately to convince myself to try this Asian specialty. The cards were stacked against a possible indulgence with this fruit: a subway sign in Singapore warning no "Durian" or else suffer penalty of a hefty fine; or, a boat trip I took that was shipping fresh durian from the Malay mainland to an outer island. During the entire trip I was wondering what was rotting on board. No, it seemed I was going to fail in expanding my culinary horizon this one time...maybe next time I can muster the strength to confront this Southeastern native.

Then there are rambutans a red and black golf ball size member of the lychee with willowy hairs; mangosteens with its purplish, leathery shell, and that oversized bald kiwi fruit from Vietnam dragon fruit all that did make onto my tongue. One would have thought with the pleasure I experienced from these less noxious fruits I would have built up the courage to take the plunge with durian...I failed I'm sorry to report, but then again, some things are for the more fearless.

Kiwi and Papaya Salsa - yields approx. 4 cups

1/2 grapefruit - juiced
1 small red onion - diced
2” piece ginger - peeled and finely diced
4 Kiwi fruit - under ripe, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 papaya - under ripe, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 lime - juiced
1/4 cup raspberry or red wine vinegar
4 scallions - diced
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoon of dry Mustard
salt and white pepper to taste

Set the red onion in the lime and grapefruit juices for 15 minutes along with the ginger. Gently combine all the ingredients together, and let sit a half hour before serving.

Margin Note: This salsa is particularly perishable, and it is recommended that it be used within 24 hour of its preparation. Try it with your favorite smoked fish or fowl.

Vietnamese –style Shrimp on Sugar Cane – yields 4 to 6 servings

1 pound shrimp – shelled and de-veined
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 to 2 Thai chilies – seeds removed to lessen the heat
1/8 cup cilantro
6 scallions – roots trimmed
1 shallot – minced
1 tablespoon palm sugar
2 stalk lemon grass – green portion discarded
1 inch piece ginger – peeled
24 ounce can of whole sugar cane

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roughly chopped all the ingredients, and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Blend the shrimp mixture to a smooth paste – making sure the lemon grass and shallots in particular are well broken down.

With moisten hands mold the shrimp mixture onto the sugar cane. Leaving an inch or so on the end in order to pick-up the sugar cane. Place the shrimp on an oiled baking tray and cook in the oven for 12 minutes.

Friday, March 23, 2007


In the pre-dawn hours on a blustery winter’s day my alarm screamed for me to wake. Such an early hour wake-up call for me is not unusual as a working chef, who heads to the market often, or when I find myself preparing a breckfast meeting. This particular morning I was not at home, but on holiday, and I was headed into the world of the nocturnal – the fish market.

There is no debating the quality and freshness of the catch as you watch the haul being loaded off the boats. But let's be honest, how often will you get that opportunity? When buying fish from a retail market make sure there is no great smell in the store; it should have a fresh, beach-like atmosphere. Then the fish itself should have a firm, moist skin, gills that are bright and well formed (if still whole) and the meat itself should be consistant in color. Once you get the fish home, unwrap it and re-wrap in fresh plastic wrap. Then store it sandwiched between two ice packs -- this will keep it fresh and firm for a couple of days. Though you should plan on using the fish as soon as possible. There is a standard cooking time for fish if it is filleted, and that is 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.

Whole Red Snapper with Hot and Sour Chili Dressing - yields 6 to 8

1 cup rice wine or white vinegar
2 cups honey
3 red small Thai chilies
3 green small Thai chilies
3” piece ginger - peeled and sliced thin
4 garlic cloves - roughly chopped
2 bunches of cilantro - washed
3 stalks of lemon grass - sliced thinly
2 whole red snappers (approx. 3 pounds each)
Salt to taste

Pierce the chilies a few times with the point of a knife. Pluck the leaves of cilantro and reserve. Rough chop the stem and root of the cilantro.

Place all ingredients in a heavy lined 1 quart sauce pan, save the reserved cilantro leaves, and bring to a slow boil. Allow the mixture to boil gently until the liquid turns a dark caramel color and syrupy. This should time approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Strain the dressing through a fine sieve. Chop the reserved cilantro and add the strained dressing, and allowing it to cool completely before refrigerating. This dressing will last one month in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Ready the red snapper by making three releif cuts on both sides of the fish, and season it with salt. Place the fish all a parchement lined bakig tray. Drizzle the fish with about a quarter of the hot and sour dressing. Place the fish in teh oven, and cook for 25 minutes. Carefully, allow the fish is stil hot transfer onto a serving platter. Serve with the additional hot and sour dressing on the side.

Salmon Fillet encrusted with Pistachio – yields 6 servings
6-4oz salmon fillets
1 cup ground pistachio nuts
2 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 egg whites

Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together all the dry ingredients.

In a bowl lightly beat the egg white to just frothy.

Dip the salmon fillets into the egg whites to completely wet the fillets. Then remove the fillets to the spiced pistachio mix, and roll the salmon in it.

Place the salmon a parchment lined baking tray that has been lightly greased with olive oil. Bake the salmon for 12 to15 min. Serve immediately.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Something to get us through

For the years I've lived in New York City I have always been one of the many loyal denizens of the Union Square Market -- Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday -- rain, shine, snow, and bitter winds. While I readily admit the market is one of the best shopping areas in the city year around, it's springtime when I race to get there.

On one particular visit a farmer spied my working through her large heap of potatoes and asked me what was wrong that I had to search so deeply. I explained that my expedition was not just for potatoes, but for the exclusive and elusive marble-sized ones. With a hearty laugh and a look like I was half cocked I found another pair of hands mining for those starchy nuggets. After we managed to retrieve about five pounds worth I thanked her dearly for the help and indulgence. Of course, the big question was what do I do with these special spuds. Well since it was the beginning of the season, and my desire to eat them great I gave her my simplest application. That is I just toss them with virgin olive oil and black pepper, and then roast them in a hot oven until they are crisp. Then I eat them like popcorn, I said. The following week she had already pulled five pounds waiting for my arrival ....and so it has been for the last few years.

Whipped Feta Potatoes - serves 6

2 pounds Russet Potato (approx. 3 large potato)
2 Garlic cloves - crushed to a pasted
1 Lemon - zest and juice
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1/2-pound Greek Feta
salt and pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and cook in boiling water until fork tender about 15 to 20 minutes. Place the potatoes on a baking tray and place in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes to evaporate off any excess moisture. Mash the potatoes to smooth and set aside.

Place the garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, feta, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until creamy. Mix the feta and potatoes together, by hand, to thoroughly incorporate. Correct seasoning. Serve warm.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Pecans – yields 6 to 8

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup pecans
2 pounds sweet potatoes – peeled and diced
3/4-cup coconut milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Lightly oil a baking tray and hold to the side. In a 1 quart sauce pan dissolve the sugar in the water taking care not to allow any sugar to stick to the walls of the pan. This could cause the re-crystallization of the sugar. Over a medium heat cook the sugar until to starts to brown lightly. Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the spices and pecans to thoroughly coat. Pour the nuts out onto the oiled baking tray, and allow them to completely cool. After the nuts have cooled break the nuts up into smaller pieces, and hold to the side.

Cook the sweet potatoes in boiling water until fork tender, and then drain. By hand mash the potatoes along with the coconut milk, salt and pepper to taste. Just prior to serving mix in the pecans. Hold in a 20 degree oven to keep warm.

Smashed New Potatoes- - yields 6 servings

2 1/2 -pounds small new potatoes - such as yukon gold, red bliss or purple Peruvian
3 garlic cloves - sliced paper thin
2 tablespoons chopped - summer savory, thyme or rosemary
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a 4 quart pot and cover with cold water. Bring the potatoes to the boil and cook the potatoes until fork tender, about 20 minutes.

In a work bowl, large enough to hold the potatoes, mix together the garlic, savory, oil, salt and pepper. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and then using a large spoon or a spatula lightly smash each potato to just have them split open. Place them in the work bowl and toss the hot potatoes with the oil mixture to coat well. Serve the potatoes immediately or serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


A quick definition: an herb is the leafy part of the plant. The stems, roots, seeds, or bark would be defined as a spice.

Fortunately, there are now a minimum of fresh herbs available all year round and we are no longer restricted to commercially dried herbs. Yes, herbs tend to be sandy and will be in need of washing. However, it is important to dry them well before chopping. I place mine in a salad spinner as a quick drying technique. I prefer to chop my herbs roughly. I find that chopping herbs fine releases too much flavor onto the cutting board and into the kitchen leaving very little left for the dish – and I love experiencing the full explosion of fresh herbs in my mouth.

I’ve found very few herbs freeze well. Most of them blacken and brake down with the chill. There are however, herbs such as bay laurel, verbena, and kaffir lime leaves that do tend to survive freezing for they have usually thicker, tougher leaves. In freezing these herbs make sure they are completely dry and just simply place them in a zip-lock bag or plastic container. To capture the fragrance of other herbs I puree them with either canola almond oil to create a kind of pesto. The pastes will survive six months in the freezer and may need to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so in order be able to easily scoop the paste out. Always remember to label the jars as one green paste looks very much like another! I then use the various pastes in marinades, sautés, soups and rubs for roasts.

You can dry your own herbs simply by tying loosely bound bunches to a rafter in the attic. If you live in an apartment, like myself, you can tie bunches to a hanger and place them in a closet for a week. Any cool, dark place will do. After you dry the herbs, place them in a sealed opaque container. Then, ideally, store them in the freezer as light and warmth are the destroyers of a dried herb’s flavor. Most dried herbs have about a three to four month shelf life. A dried herb’s flavor is slightly strong due to the evaporation of the water content, so the essential that create fragrance become more pronounced.

Finally, if you get herbs that have flowered, feel free to eat them. Any plant that offers an edible leaf also gives you its bloom to enjoy. Though be aware that once an herb has started to flower the energy in the plant give toward seeds production and the flavor in the leaf starts to fade.

Basil - Probably the king of herbs for its versatility and universal appeal. Basil fades quickly once cut, so it’s important to use it as soon as possible. Store the basil cut stem in water, as you would fresh flowers, making sure no leaves are submerged in the water. You will get about a three day shelf life depending how fresh the basil was when it was purchased. This herbs fades fast with cooking so I always add toward the end of the cooking process. Basil is one of the friendliest of herbs and marries to most other herbs. Try the many different varieties on the market such as Thai, Cinnamon, Lemon, Fino (a personal favorite) or Opal.

Bay Laurel - Commonly referred to as the bay leaf that ubiquitous soup perfumer. The flavor difference between fresh and dried is unbelievable and once you’ve used fresh it will be difficult to go back to dried. Fortunately, the bay laurel is a leaf that freezers well. I take right from the freezer to the pot.

Borage - The leaves and flowers of this herb has culinary usages. The leaves are best used fresh tossed into salads and it has a wonderful cucumber-like taste. The light purple flowers are wonder in iced teas, and as garnishes for salad greens and pastries.

Chamomile - A bushy green leaf plant with multiple yellow and white flowers. Best used steeped as a tea either hot or iced. Alternatively, fill your bath tub and add these gentle redolent sprigs and take a wonderfully relaxing bath.

Chervil - One of the herbs of spring. It has a very faint anise fragrance that fades easily with delicate small fern-like leaves. It is one of the herbs that makes up fines herbs along with parsley, chive and tarragon. As a garnish leaf this is superior given is light, feathery look. It is one of two herbs that whose stem has culinary uses…cilantro being the other.

Chives - The most mild of the onion family this grass-like herb has great versatility and pairs with almost any other herb. Filled with some water store in a container, cut end down, in the refrigerator. Or, better yet, grow your own – it does quite well in a window box and flourishes all summer long. The purplish flowers are edible and are delicious in salads or as a flavoring agent for a vinegar. Chinese Chives have flattened blades and are a bit more pungent. They make a prefect substitution anytime you find them. Another popular variety is garlic chive.

Cilantro - Also known as coriander or Chinese parsley. This herb is inextricably associated with Mexican cooking but is actually native to southern Europe. It is a plant that allows 100% usage. The stems of this plant is not very fibrous and I use them right along with the leaves. The roots, once washed well, are also edible chopped into stews, soups and marinades. Placed in water, especially if the roots are attached, this herb with survive a week in the refrigerator. If you are one of the many who find this herb “soapy” try pairing it with some mint or basil to help balance its experience.

Dill - Used extensively throughout European cooking this feathery leaf herb is found all-year-around. It wilts quickly, so expect a 3 to 4 day shelf. Dried dill loses it flavor dramatically. It’s a natural with fish and chicken or snipped into a potato salad. Make a dill vinegar using 1 part white wine vinegar and 1/4 part lemon juice.

Hyssop - A member of the mint family with strongly scent leaves that are slightly bitter. It makes a lovely iced tea use also to fragrance poaching liquids for fish or toss torn leaves into a green salad.

Kaffir Lime - A tough aromatic leaf that originated in eastern India. The leaves are found fresh, dried and frozen. They have a pungent lemony aroma and are much used in Asian cuisine as the bay leaf is used in the west. Make a paste of lemon grass, chilies, shallot and garlic to use as a marinade or curry base.

Lavender - This beautiful, aromatic flower is used sparingly for its fragrance. Too much can overpower and give a “soapy” taste. Choose lavender with buds that have not quite opened as there flavor is best. A suspicion of lavender goes into the mixture Herbs de Provence. When making a ratatouille add a pinch of lavender into this Provençal classic.

Lemon Balm - A heart shaped leaf with a subtle lemon scent that works wonderfully in teas, with fish, or tossed in a vegetable or fruit salad. Store in the refrigerator for a few days wrapped in some paper towel to keep it dry.

Lemon Grass - These long stalks (approximately 12 to 14 inches) have gained fame through the popularity of Southeast Asian Cooking. They can be found all year around in most Asian markets as well as better green markets, but are best during the heat of the summer months. They can be frozen wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to three months. They are not pleasant to eat due to their very fibrous nature, however, their aromatic offering is exquisite. Make a sun tea with sliced ginger root and lemon grass, or a paste with cilantro, mint, basil, green onion and chili to use in coconut stews or as a rub for meats and fish.

Loveage - An assertive celery flavored herb that shows up in the warming months of spring. Its hollow stem draws up water easily and placed in a container with some water in the refrigerator will give you about five days worth of green leaves. Its flavor holds up well in stew and soups, and marries well to the base aromatic collection of parsley, thyme, bay leaf and chives.

Marjoram -This herb can easily be replace with oregano though marjoram has a slightly less potent flavor. This herb when dried retain their flavor quite well and in Sicilian and Mexican dishes the dried variety preferred. Its potency comes through, so judicious additions is recommended. Classically, it’s paired with basil and parsley in tomato sauce or try it with rosemary, mint, garlic and lemon for a strong marinade for meats and chicken. Store in a container with water in the refrigerator for about a five day shelf life.

Mint - This cousin to basil represents a huge family of herbal possibilities: apple mint, black mint, Corsican mint, Chocolate mint, Peppermint, Spearmint…try them all. When you get to the market and are assailed with a slew of choices you must scratch and sniff each one for they each have a slightly different nose. Mint is recognized as the “dessert” herb but try and break it out of its box by pairing it with cilantro, basil or rosemary. In a container filled with some water the mint with last about a week under refrigeration.

Nasturtium - Known for its flower that garnishes plates and salads its young, tender leaves add a lovely peppery flavor to salads as well. Make a compound butter with the flowers for an elegant service – just soften unsalted butter, and mix in gingerly torn petals and then refrigerate.

Parsley - Flat leaf otherwise known as Italian, and the much maligned curly variety are the two players in this field. I will confess, a preference for the Italian variety as I find it more robust in flavor, and I like its texture better. However, they are interchangeable in any recipe. This is perhaps the most ubiquitous of herbs found in one of the two varieties throughout the country all year around. Stored in a jar filled with some water it will last a week in the refrigerator.

Rose - The image of beauty; the note from a lover but in the kitchen it has a sweet, floral note that use sparingly gives whimsy and elegance to many dishes. The if using fresh or dried make show the roses are organic and not prepared for decorative usage as it has been sparyed with chemicals that renders the flowers not suitable for the kitchen.

Rosemary - The friend of potatoes, chicken, and grilled meats this herb is readily found year-around though it dies back in the colder areas of the country. The long stems, if they are woody enough, act as a wonderful skewer for chicken, vegetable, or lamb kebobs. Strip away about two thirds of the needle shaped leaves before skewering. This is an herb that tends to want to overpower the other herbs it is paired with. Use with parsley, oregano, basil, thyme and chives but at a ratio that is about half of the other herbs in order to allow a more complex flavor to come through. Store in the refrigerator or dry.

Sage - One of the last herbs of the autumn. It has a strong aromatic, but marries well to a base of parsley, thyme and chives. It’s perfect for poultry, but try it torn into pasta with cherry tomatoes and olives oil. Store in the refrigerator wrapped in a paper towel for up to a week. For an incredible treat seek out Pineapple Sage that has a nose that is without compare. This sage makes a wonderful tea and is great with salmon, swordfish and chicken.

Savory - There are two varieties of this herb summer and winter. The winter variety is slightly less aromatic and has tougher leaves. It has a fragrance that seems like a combination of thyme, parsley and marjoram -- welcomes vegetables, meats and fish. It has needle-like leaves that that are attached to short stubby stems. This herb lasts a good week in the refrigerator kept in a container filled with some water or can be dried successfully. This is a “party herb” in so far as it pairs well with most other herbs. Try it with sage in your turkey stuffing.

Sorrel - Herb or green leaf vegetable? Well, it depends on how you are using it. It has a fantastic lemony taste with a slightly grassy quality that unfortunately fades quickly when cooked. The leaf looks like small smooth spinach leaf only a lighter shade of green. Use this puckering green leaf in salads, pestos and in salsas. It is found from spring through the autumn though as the season moves along the leaf become slightly tougher and if allowed to flower, loses some of it potency.

Tarragon - This is a licorice in the form of thin tapered green leaves –an essential of French flavor. This strong flavor when used in a smaller portion, marries well with other herbs such as Italian parsley, thyme, chives, chervil. It is one of the herbs in fines herbs along with parsley, chives and chervil. It naturally enhances fish, chicken and makes a tasty vinegar. Store in the refrigerator in a container filled with water for up to a week.

Texas Tarragon - also known as Mexican Mint which I just discovered on the east coast of few years back. It has a strong tarragon/mint flavor that should be used judiciously. It comes available in mid-summer and lasts through the waning season. Use it along with onion, garlic and thyme to and make green rice. Store in the refrigerator in a container of water for about five days.

Thyme - A cornerstone herb in the culinary pantry for this is one of the most versatile and friendly of herbs. It marries happily to other aromatics or shines through on its own. Store wrapped in paper towel in the refrigerator for a week, or longer. Look for other varieties such pepper thyme, lemon thyme and caraway thyme.

Verbena - This Mexican native sends me over the top. In cooler climates the plant gets about two feet high, but in the warmer areas it erupts in a bushy three foot high plant. Highly fragrant with one the best lemony scents in the herbal world it can be employed with fish, vegetables, chicken, desserts and teas. The leaves are tough but can be minced fine or pureed and then added to a dish. When used whole, they’re discarded, not unlike the bay leaf. This leaf freezes very well – leave on the stem and place it in a plastic bag for up to three months of heavenly enjoyment.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring's Arrival

The calendar alerts us to the first day of spring, however, is mother nature ready? These first few weeks are the hardest; waiting for tender aparagus stalks; hoping for herbs with a vibrant color and dynamic fragrance; and of course, the promise that no more snow will fall. The last of winter's canned goods are being used up readying the space for a new season's bounty. Try this bright fresh grain salad to whet your appetite...bring on the season.

Quinoa Tabbouleh
1/2 cup quinoa
2 celery stalks - minced
1 cucumber – peeled, seeds removed and minced
5 scallions – roots trimmed and minced
1 tomato – seeds removed and diced
1 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
1 lemon - juiced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Over a medium flame heat a 2-1/2 cup sauce pan, and add the quinoa. Toast the quinoa for a few minutes and then pour over 1-1/4 cup water. Cover with a tight fitting lid and lower the heat to a medium low. Cook the quinoa for 15 minutes. Shut off the heat and allow the quinoa sit for 10 minutes.

In a clean bowl toss all the ingredients together to thoroughly combine. Correct seasoning and serve.