Sunday, April 29, 2007

Shred it

No, bar-b-que, picnic or deli sandwich would be complete without that shredded salad called, coleslaw. Using cabbage as its foundation this side dish is an American staple with European roots -- the name comes from the Dutch for cold cabbage. Western Europeans brought their cold cabbage salad preparations with them to the new world forever informing our weekend causal gatherings. Though now with the tastes and techniques of Asian and Latin communities’ Kim Chee or a Spicy Slaw can just as easily find its way into a picnic basket.

As a matter of fact, it is a better idea to serve a slaw during the warm months that are not slathered in a mayonnaise dressing, as they will not go off in the heat of the day. Though never fear, if that mayonnaise-drenched concoction is your desire, go for it, just put out small amounts at a time refreshing it every 30 minutes or so.

Latin White Cabbage Slaw - yeilds 12 servings
1 head white cabbage
5 scallions – thinly sliced
2 tablespoons oregano leaves - chopped
4 clove garlic – thinly sliced
2 poblano chilies – sliced julienne
1 jalapeno – sliced julienne
1 serrano – sliced julienne
1 white onion – thinly sliced
1 medium carrot – peeled, and sliced julienne
1/2-cup cider vinegar
1/4-cup olive oil
2-teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the cabbage in quarters, and cut out the tough core. Then slice the cabbage very thinly. And place in a large, clean work bowl with the scallions and oregano.

In a 2-1/2 quart saucepan place the garlic, chilies, onion, carrot and cider vinegar. Bring to the boil, and then remove from the heat and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Then pour the vinegar mixture over the cabbage. Toss the cabbage along with the oil, salt and pepper. Correct seasoning. Chill.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ramps are Up

We are all familiar with a family of plants called alliums – we just are probably not so formal as to refer to by their botanical classification. They are so common, you’ll go of course: onions, garlic, lilies, leeks, chives, and shallots…these are just some of the edible ones. However, I am waiting and hungry for the ramp or wild onion. This cross between garlic, onion and spring onion has a short, elusive window of opportunity is found throughout the eastern corridor of North America-- truly, a sign of spring’s plate.

It has a broad green leaf very reminiscent of Lily of the Valley (its toxic cousin) and a root base just like spring onion. Ah, but its nose tends to reek like very pungent garlic. What a combination.

They need to be well washed as they usually are caked with dirt, and the root hairs trimmed away. After that, the ramp is 100% edible. Use the green leaves raw in salads, or anywhere scallions or chives maybe called for. Try grilling the entire ramps, for a minute or two, then dressing it with a mustard dressing. For a few short weeks the ramp replaces most onions, chives or shallots in my recipes, and why not I don’t get to enjoy them for too long.

Sautéed Ramps- serves 6
24 ramps
1/2-cup olive oil
1/2 cup Champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
Salt and pepper

To clean the ramps cut off the root base and under running water wash to dislodge any dirt – particularly where all the leaves gather toward the bottom.

Heat a 12 inch sauté pan to very hot, and add a tablespoon of oil. Place the ramps in the pan in a single layer and sauté to lightly color. Reduce the heat to a medium low. Pour over the Champagne vinegar and 1/4 cup of water, and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the ramps to a platter. In the sauté pan whisk in the mustard, salt and pepper, and then remove the pan from the heat whisking in the remaining oil. Then drizzle the warm sauce over the ramps. Serve either hot or room temperature.

Cockles with Wild Ramps - yields 6 to 8 servings
70 cockle clams - washed to discard any sand clinging to the shells
12 ramps (or substitute with young leeks or scallions)
1-cup white wine
1/8-teaspoon chili flakes
2-tablespoons olive oil
2-tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper tot taste

Trim the root base from the ramps and wash them well as there tends to be a fair amount of dirt clinging to the base. Cut the green top from the white base. Roughly chop both, but keep them separate.

In a high-sided 10-inch pan large enough to comfortably accommodate all the clams, and still have a lid snugly fit, place the white wine, ramps whites and chili flakes. Cover the pan and simmer on a low flame for 15 minutes. Add the steamers, ramp greens, oil, butter, salt and black pepper. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes, or until the clams have opened. Serve immediately with crusty peasant bread slices for dipping in the cooking liquid.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Going Green

Spring’s table is draped with a verdant cloth. It is the time of year when the foods I make are all green: asparagus, fiddleheads, artichokes, but there are all those leafy greens as well. If you don’t like the bitterness of broccoli rabe, I ask you if you have eaten them prior to the development of their yellow flowers? That is when they are the least bitter, most tender and require very little prep (no need to peel the stalk). Of course, young salad greens have pushed through the recently thawed earth and are just begging to be tossed around.

Realize that when cooking greens the adage a little goes a long way is flipped on its ear. When cooked they wilt down dramatically and a pound of spinach cluttering your countertop feeds two once it is cooked. If you are looking for leaves that will give you some mileage go for collard, mustard, kale, broccoli rabe as they hold their own a bit better then most when cooked.

Always wash greens very well in a few changes of cold water as their proximity to the earth makes them always sandy. And, I tend to remove the center rib from the greens before cooking, as it is the most fibrous part of the leaf. Hey, after long, cold, dark months living on frozen spinach and dried fruits I’ll deal with something sandy –

Wilted Greens with Coconut - yields 4 servings

2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 pounds greens - such as spinach or Chinese broccoli washed well
1/8-cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4-cup soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a pan or wok, and add the oil. Cook the greens until just wilted (about 4 minutes) then toss with the coconut, soy sauce and pepper. Serve immediately.

Cork Screw Pasta with Sun.Dried Tomato and Greens - yields 6 servings

3 ounces sun.dried tomatoes - dry packed
2 garlic cloves – crushed to paste
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
1 pound fussili pasta - cooked and drained
1/4-cup olive oil
2 bunches spinach or arugula, young mustard greens - washed well
1/4-cup pine nuts (optional)
3 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a 1-1/2 sauce pan bring 2 cups of water to the boil, and then add the sun.dried tomatoes. Remove from the heat, and let the tomatoes soak for 20 minutes. Drain the tomatoes, but reserve the soaking liquid. Squeeze any excess water from the tomatoes back into the soaking liquid. Roughly chop the tomatoes and hold to the side. Return the sun. dried tomato soaking liquid to the boil, and reduce by half. Add the garlic and Balsamic vinegar, and continue to boil the liquid for until it is about 1-cup. Then whisk in the mustard over the high heat, and once fully incorporated remove from the heat.

Cook off the pasta and drain. Immediately in a bowl toss the pasta with the olive oil, spinach, chopped sun.dried tomato and pine nuts and pour the sauce over the pasta while the sauce is still hot. Toss and season with black pepper and salt. Serve this dish either hot or cold.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dressing it

I get many strange food cravings: crispy whole roasted suckling pig, intensely sweet mangosteens, farmer’s cheese speckled with lavender that I enjoyed in Australia, or, the brunt tips of bar-b-que brisket Texas style all call to me from to time to time. But if I can’t fulfill a moment I always can rely on the one craving I have had since childhood -- salad. I know, a salad how simple so bland. I beg to differ – the easy crunch of the vegetables; the bittersweet flavor of young green leaves; the complete satisfaction of a meal in a bowl. Simple yes, but how it can complete my hunger.

Subsequently it may come as no surprise that I love dressings. After all, they are the bow on the box. I grew up finessing green goddess with a bit more sour cream, Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Then I was taught how to make vinaigrettes and my salad days really came alive. Now, I can play out my leafy desires to new heights not yet bottled.

Knowing how to make a basic vinaigrette is a foundation concept and something that everyone should be able to pull off – they are so easy, and quickly take on whatever flavor you want. It is helpful to have a flavorful olive oil in your pantry and a few different vinegars to choose from. All basic vinaigrettes are the same: vinegar, Dijon-style mustard, oil, salt and pepper. Do not get scared off by a name as you usually call a vinaigrette by a dominant or unique flavor contained within the formula. Once you master making salads dressing those bottles waiting to be purchased just won’t cut muster.

Basic Vinaigrette - yields approx. 1 cup

1/4 cup vinegar
1/8 cup chives - chopped
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup canola or olive oil

In a bowl mix together the vinegar, chives, mustard, salt and pepper. Then slowly whisk in the olive to thoroughly incorporate and emulsify the vinaigrette. In the refrigerator, store in the vinaigrette for up to one month.

Tomato/Tahini Dressing

1/2 pound beefsteak tomato
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon tahini paste
2 teaspoons roughly chopped dill leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Cut the tomato in half through its circumference in order to fully expose its seed pocket. Tease out the seeds and discard. Roughly chop the tomato and place in the blender or food processor. Add all other ingredients into the blender and process until completely smooth. Add additional water if the dressing is too thick. Serve over salad greens, grilled vegetable or grilled fish.

Body, Heart and Soul

Cooking has always come instinctively for me. I recall one of my first memories; I am five years old standing on the open oven door scrambling my morning eggs...And so began my involvement with being fed and feeding. When I think back on my first successful soufflé or chocolate mousse I am flooded with the faces, smiles and emotions of the people I care about as well as an art form I love.

What has come to pass though over the intervening years is that it is not only important I instill love and magic into what I create, but also a sense of health. For we all want to continue to gather around the table for years to come. I found myself creating meals that utilized healthy fats and flavors beyond salt for my own prevention and well being. Many books have been written dedicated to this topic. While I have read these books and incorporated their messages into my life they left me somewhat confused. Since, I am not in a state of health crisis how long do I deprive myself? Should I feel riddled with guilt when I consume a bowl of Swiss vanilla almond or a rich coconut curry? My conclusion is there has to be a balance, and a conscious awareness of the foods that we choose to eat.

Striking the cord of balance meant two things. Firstly, working with the information I garnered as a culinary student and the practical knowledge gathered as an Executive Chef. Though the occasional indulgence is not an absolute taboo that will bring down the wrath of the gods. Secondly, I started experimenting with other cuisines and their flavor profiles. I found the tastes, textures and healthiness I was looking for. With all the other flavor bases available in this country satisfying and exciting choices are just a fork full away.

Baked Halibut with Spicy Tomato Marinade - yields 6 servings

6 four ounce Halibut fillets
1/2-tablespoon sambol (chili paste)
14 ounce stewed-diced tomatoes - salt free
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
3 Scallions – diced
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a bowl mix all the ingredients together, coating the fish well. Let the fish marinate for 20 to 30 minutes refrigerated. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the fish on a baking pan in a single layer and season with salt. Pour any remaining marinade over the fish. Bake the fish in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the fish is done. Serve immediately. Serve over rice.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

For the delight of it

I am always stopping and smelling the roses....In one of many daydreams I fancy myself a farmer of edible flowers and herbs. Maybe because at harvest time I am not breaking my back hauling 15 pound watermelons from the fields or, maybe because most of these plants grow upright a gentle tilt on my part is all it takes to capture them. Though in truth, it is their seductive allure, both visually and aromatically that has me standing in acres of redolent tender plants.

An herb or flower immediately adds to a dish -- the peppery bite of a nasturtium blossom is quite a surprise; the rose acts like a siren on my plate with its come-thither stance; or, lemon verbena's one-two lemony punch.

Beware that not all herbs and flowers are treated equally. I insist on on organically processed accompaniments, and you should never use flowers grown for decorative purposes. The latter have been sprayed with pesticides and color retainers which render them rather harmful.

Beyond that never fear to throw a fist-ful of herbs in a dish or simply glorify a salad with their presence.

Since flowers are so difficult to come by, and in the cooler climes we wait till springs nudging rays to enjoy them -- preserve them. I like to bury rose petals, johnny jump-ups and hibiscus in layers of sugar to be use in some later confection or iced-tea. Bury nasturtium, arugula and borage in layers of salt. Stuff any herb or flower into a bottle of vinegar to make a wonderfully scented addition to a dressing. Also, remeber that any herb leaf you eat its flower is also edible.

Not to take food off a bee's plate, but go ahead and eat a flower.

Carrot Salad – yields 6 to 8 servings
1/2 teaspoon lavender blossoms, bruised
1/2 teaspoon dried rose petals, crushed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice (white or red wine vinegar could be used)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil
4 large carrots - peeled & grated
1 small red onion, - diced
4 scallions – roots discard and minced
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup pine nuts -toasted
1/4 cup cilantro - rough chop
1/4 cup Italian parsley - rough chop
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the lavender, rose, cayenne, coriander, fennel seed and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Make the vinaigrette by combining the mustard, orange juice, lemon juice, spice mix, and slowly whisk in the oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, combine the carrots, onion, scallions, currants, pine nuts, cilantro, and parsley. Toss with the vinaigrette. Chill, if desired and serve.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


High in the Andes Mountains thrives a species of plant so alluring and tenacious that it has crept into, and in some cases taken over the cuisine. My familiarity with them was so intimate; I rejected the sweet variety loudly as a child; watched my nephew pile heaps of them on his plate to the exclusion of anything else; until the day a purple one showed up.

Yes, the adoptable potato has conquered more lands than the British Empire could have ever hoped. I decided t was time to make a pilgrimage to the land of its origin to hunt the wild potato. I knew the Russet and Idaho, and was very knowledge, from my childhood, with canned baby potatoes but once the purple Peruvian showed I realized I knew nothing. Visiting markets throughout the Andes I saw red, purple, black and white skinned spuds with textures that ran from chalky to buttery. I managed to smile my way into a kitchen and with my pigeon Spanish I cooked up my dirt covered treasures.

It is sad to me how limited the varieties in North America are in our supermarkets. However, in my local farmers market I am able to secure one of my favorites – papas amarilla. This particular potato is creamy with a taste of chicken – yes, I said chicken. It is my ideal potato for making a soup and all it needs to accompany it are onions, garlic, salt, pepper and water. Though there is another variety coming from the Caribbean that draws my attention – batata. This tuber has a mottled reddish skin that I always peel, and a seductively sweet white flesh.

Store potatoes in a cool, dark place uncovered. A quick guide as to how to cook a particular potato is that if the skin is smooth roast, sauté; if the skin is rough the potato is most likely best boiled, baked or steamed.

Whipped Feta Potatoes - serves 6 to 8

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, juice, 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.

Batata Mash with Cumin - yields 6 servings

2 pounds batata potatoes
1/4 pound butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1-teaspoon ground cumin
2-tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and bring to a boil in pot of cold water. Cook the potatoes until tender about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let sit for 10 minutes to drain any excess water. Mash the potatoes by hand or in a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix in the butter, oil, cumin, lime juice, salt and pepper. Keep warm until serving.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Food Stuffs

Cooking is an ever-expanding landscape, and living in this wealthy culinary nation, we are constantly offered the opportunity to be inspired, reinvent and play with new ideas. “Food stuffs” were the first foreigners to cross borders, set up shop and assimilate into a brave, new culinary world.

Today, we do not have to wait for an intrepid explorer/merchant to cross the world in the hopes of bringing back some prized treasure. It is as easy as signing the delivery slip or walking into a grocery store to simply make a purchase.

If you have only one recipe that uses, for instance, star anise, what becomes of the jar? Are you using the Thai fish sauce you bought only when you crave a coconut curry? Give it a try in a puttanesca sauce instead of pasted anchovy filets. Or how about, moving that avocado out of its guacamole rut and experience a minted avocado mousse or a rich and delicious avocado soup. Have you ever thought that the dreamy nose of lavender could gently scent a ratatouille or take a cheesecake in a whole new direction? In this way very item in the pantry will have multiple usages – no longer to be seen as a specialty ingredient, but rather allowing it take its place along side the now ubiquitous peppercorns, bananas and balsamic vinegar.

Over the years, all these unusual tastes have converged on plates around the globe, forever transforming world cuisine. Can we think of Thai food without the intense fire of the chili pepper or ask the Italians to give back the tomato? “Food stuffs” were the first foreigners to cross borders, set up shop and be absorbed into a new culture.

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-tablespoon Thai fish sauce
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 vinegar, fish sauce and cumin. Just prior to serving add the arugula, oil and salt pepper to the star fruit and jicama. Toss well and serve immediately.

Puttanesca Sauce - yields appox. 4 cups

1-tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
4 cans (13.5 ounces each) - stewed tomatoes, crushed
2 garlic cloves - chopped
2-teaspoons thyme leaves – chopped
1-teaspoon oregano leaves - chopped
1-teaspoon lemon zest
2-teaspons honey
1/4-cup Thai fish sauce
1/4-cup Kalamata olives – pitted and chopped
1-tablespoon capers
1/4-teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 basil leaves - roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dice the onions. In a saucepan heat the oil and add the onions. Sauté until translucent then add the tomatoes, garlic, thyme and oregano. Cook for 20 minutes and then add the lemon zest, honey and fish sauce. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes with a lid placed slightly askew. Then add in the olives, capers, chili flakes and basil leaves. Correct seasoning. Simmer an additional 15 minutes.

Friday, April 13, 2007 good

Soy foods have been touted as a wonder food full of phyto-hormones. I for one fell in love with this bean due to its versatility and willingness to take on whatever flavor I chose to give it. It doesn’t hurt they say it is good for us, or, that it is one of a few complete proteins coming from the vegetable kingdom.

There are a few incarnations of soy that I will readily incorporate into my daily life: tofu, tempeh, and edamame.

Tofu: comes in two main types to most of us firm and soft (or silken). Firm tofu has less water in it and has it’s name implies to it is denser than the former. I drain the tofu from the water bath it came in, and then I let it sit in a colander for 30 minutes to dip out some the excess liquid. Another great technique is to slice the tofu into slabs and place it on a towel lined plate. Place another towel on top and then another plate. Put the tofu in the refrigerator for 5 to 6 hours. This really pushed out a lot of the moisture creating an even firmer, chewier piece of tofu. If I am going o stir-fry the tofu this is the process I use – then the tofu does not break up as much when I cook it. Silken tofu has far greater water content and the texture of custard. I love to use this version when making dressings, desserts and soups. Neither version freezes and defrosts successfully. A block of tofu will have about a month shelf life if left unopened – then about 3 to 4 days after you open the packet under refrigeration.

Tempeh: the pre-cursor to tofu this soy product is considered a whole food. Meaning that the entire bean makes up the tempeh. Used throughout Malay and Indonesian cooking tempeh can be a bit more difficult. It requires not only flavor but also liquid – otherwise, it can be dry. Though it makes a fabulous replacement for ground meats and freezes and defrosts quite well.

Edamame: those green, fuzzy pods we all eat prior to spring onto a plate of sushi is yet another soy variety. Not only do I eat them boiled and tossed with salt as a quick snack I will use them anytime I require a bean.

Tomato Bolognese Sauce - yields approx. 4 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion – diced
1 small carrot – peeled and diced
1/2 pound tempeh – grated
2 garlic cloves - peeled and crushed to a paste
1/2 cup red wine
1 teaspoon tomato paste
32 ounces canned peel tomatoes
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup Italian parsley - leaves only, chopped
1 yellow pepper - roasted, skinned, seeded and cut into 1/2” diced
10 basil leaves - roughly torn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a 2-quart saucepan over a medium high heat, and add the oil and onion. Cook the onion until it is translucent, and then mix in the grated tempeh. Stir the mixture to combine well. Mix in the carrot and garlic. Cook for a few minutes stirring occasionally, and then pour in the red wine. Season the sauce with some salt and pepper. Reduce the wine to a glaze, and then mix in the tomato paste, canned tomatoes and honey. Bring the mixture to the boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 30 minutes. Then add the parsley, zucchini, yellow pepper and simmer for 15 minutes longer. Then add the basil, and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

Serve over pasta dusted with some grated cheese.

Tofu Dressing - yields approx. 2 cups

1/8 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 pound silken style tofu - drained of excess water
3 scallions - root end discarded and washed
1 garlic clove - chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves
1/8 cup oregano leaves
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor place all the ingredients and blend until smooth. Correct seasoning.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Far from anywhere

In the South China Sea, east of the Malaysian mainland, where the dolphins offer escort to boats negotiating these tropical waters, lies Tioman Island a stretch of volcanic outcropping approximately 25 miles long and 7 miles wide.

Not much has changed on this island over the years – clouds loiter around the mountaintops and the dense jungle’s tendrils ends just short of the coast. Developers and American Express have missed this pot and that was the kind of solitude I was seeking.

I had befriended two couples on the ferry over, and as we strolled along we realized we were a large group for the tiny seaside hamlet. Though we sought accommodations together in spite of that fact. Coming upon simple, sand worn cluster of bungalows we hoped for three vacancies -- hot and cranky wanting to put our bags away, and cool off in that alluring surf. There were only two vacancies, and fortunately there was no issue -- I passed, not because of cleanliness, but the front doors faced north not east, and I was determined to see the sun rise from my bed. The owner, a Dutch woman, took momentary offense, and then realized it is probably better to have the “weird one” stay somewhere else -- she offered to get me a room next door. For me, I had to forego only electricity, and a breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs and homemade bread. My heart sank. I had no concern about doing my nightly writing by kerosene lamp, but the lose of fresh daily bread that was too much to bear. Though I made my bed, so I guess I would have to lie in it.

In spite of my initial rejection, she and I became fast friends, and I was expected for breakfast every morning -- for a small charge of course. Over bread and jam thanking her for the umpteenth time I mentioned I was a chef. I seemed to have said the magic word for the next thing I knew we were planning a dinner for the following evening. The meal would be determined by what the sea gave up to her husband, and what I could find in the garden -- really the start of the jungle behind the house.

I managed to gather unripe papayas, onion, coconuts, chilies, and cilantro. I decided to make a curried papaya soup with coconut based upon what I found out back. Seated on the floor we scrapped and scrapped the coconut flesh against a serrated blade, and then took the shaved coconut to soak in water. After about a half hour we wrapped the drenched coconut in a towel, and rung out the freshly made coconut milk. It was delicious, but canned is far easier. Using the coconut milk as my stock base I made a sublime soup. Her husband brought more fish then I expected. We built a fire in a pit in the sand, and wrapped the fish in banana leaves, and left them to cook. Of course, no meal is complete without a serving of rice.

When we sat down to dinner, one American, two Englishman, 5 Dutch, and 3 Malaysians. To my amusement I discovered that the Malays do not eat soup as we do in the west. It was immediately poured over their rice to accompany the fish. Trying not to be insulted, I mused at the cultural difference savored this wonderful meal and gathering of new friends.

Curried Papaya and Coconut Soup - yields 4 to 6 servings
1 teaspoon Sesame oil
1 medium onion - peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves - crushed
1 to 2 small red chilies - seeds remove if you want to lower the heat
1-tablespoon curry powder
1 large papaya - unripe, peeled and diced (seeds discarded)
I can coconut milk
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock 1/2 bunch cilantro leaves - roughly chopped
1 lime – juiced (approx. 1/3 cup)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a stock pot heat the scant amount of oil, and add the onions. Sauté the onions till translucent, and then add the garlic, curry and chilies. Sauté for a few minutes longer. Add the diced papaya. Pour in the stock and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, and immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Blend the soup in a food processor till smooth and creamy. Return to the stock pot, and simmer another 15 minutes. Season with the limejuice, salt and pepper. Add the cilantro leaves just prior to serving.

Monday, April 9, 2007


The artichoke that strange Mediterranean thistle that gives us its flower bud to ponder.

Artichokes are one of the foods when you see it makes you wonder - thick, fibrous leaves (they are really petals) with prickly thorns that can be annoying. Who would have ever thought to try one and how did they not bore by the time they reached its heart. Ah, the heart blanketed with a bed of choking hairs hiding it from us. The plant itself makes me think of a pray mantis – it looks like one to my eye.

It is import to buy artichokes that are tightly packed buds with unblemished petals. I always squeeze the artichoke before I purchase it to make sure it is tight and dense to the touch. The looser it is and the more the petals have started to spread open the more likely the “choke” is going to be well developed. I love the tiny three-bite-little-buds that I find off and on during the season. These small artichokes have a very meager choke that barely gets in my way, so all I have to do is trim their tops for the thorns have yet to show themselves.

Regardless of the size of your artichoke always have a lemon, halved, by your side. Whenever I make a cut in an artichoke I immediately rub the area down with the cut lemon to prevent it from browning. Continuing along that line when I cook the artichoke I always put lemon juice or white vinegar in the water from the same reason. A useful tip is to use a lid from a pot smaller than the one the artichokes are in to keep the artichoke submerged in its cooking liquid. The artichoke will take between ten 10 to 20 minutes to cook.

Roasted Artichokes - yields 4 servings

16 to 20 baby artichokes
2 lemons - zested and juiced (1 lemon just cut in half for rubbing on the artichoke)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small red onion - sliced julienne
1 small carrot - diced
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup pine nuts - lightly toasted
1 bunch Italian parsley - leaves only, chopped (approx. 1/2 cup)
Salt and black pepper to taste

Prepare the baby artichokeby peeling away the bottom leaves, and trimming the base to expose the whitish flesh. Rub all places where you have made a cut with some lemon to prevent browning. Cut off the top of the artichokes to remove the thorny leaves and then rub with lemon. In a four quart pot filled with enough water to cover the artichokes, and the juice of a lemon place the artichokes, and bring to a boil. Lay a plate over the artichokes to keep them submerged in the water, once again, this will help prevent them artichokes from browning. Simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Coat a roasting tray with the oil, and spread the artichokes in a single layer out onto the tray. Put in the oven, and roast for 10 minutes. Add the onions and carrots and roast for another 10 minutes. Remove the roasting tray from the oven, and immediately transfer the artichokes and onions to a mixing bowl. While it is still hot pour over the Balsamic vinegar, carrot, pine nuts, parsley, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, and serve either hot or cold.

Stuffed Artichokes – yields 8 servings

1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
4 garlic cloves – peeled and finely minced
3 plum tomatoes – seeded and diced
1/4 cup basil leaves – chopped
2 tablespoons mint leaves – chopped
2 tablespoon Italian Parsley leaves – chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
8 artichokes
2 lemons – cut in half
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a clean work bowl mix the bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, tomatoes, basil, mint, parsley, salt and pepper together to mix thoroughly.

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Trim the stem base of the artichokes so it will sit upright. Every time you make a cut on the raw artichoke you want to rub it with the lemon. This will prevent the artichoke from browning.
With a pair of scissors cut the carefully cut the thorny tips of the artichokes. Remove the first layer or two of the much tougher out petals of the artichokes. Again, rub the artichokes with the cut lemon.
Gently, tease apart the petals of the artichokes, and divide the bread crumb mixture among them.
Place the artichokes in a shallow baking pan, and drizzle each artichoke with a tablespoon of olive oil. Pour 2 cups of water in the baking pan, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake the artichokes for 1 hour.
Serve with lemons wedges.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Managing It

Kitchen management is probably the most difficult aspect of cooking and entertaining to get a handle on. I am a firm believer in reading a recipe and then re-reading it, and even reviewing it a third time before you ever start cooking. The more you know the recipe, and its path, the less chaotic the kitchen will be.

Organize the recipes in foods that can be done ahead and held one or two days – this usually will include any sauces, marinades, baked goods, salad elements (though I don’t advise dressing them as they will wilt) soups and stews. The day of should be dedicated to quick cooking items; roasts that tend to dry out and over-cooked if held or, anything that might need to be re-heated. As any who has spent time with me in kitchen will attest to that I am very strict about cleanliness. If you keep you work area free of clutter and garbage the task does not look as daunting. Attack a recipe at a time – mise en place (all thing in place) then start cooking. There is nothing worst then realizing you missed an element in the recipe, and then you are dancing as fast as you can to catch up.

Definitely design a menu that is a mix of hot and cold foods. There is no reason to unduly stress out and find you working like a line-cook. I always do at least a third of my recipes at room temperature to cold. Make your cocktail time easy on yourself – an array of cheeses (I like to do a firm such as Manchego, goat cheese and triple cream such as a St. Andre) with pita chips, olives and nuts to keep everyone nibbling. And of course, a drink that is poured from a martini shaker is automatically fun. Though also consider the fact that a bottle of wine will give you 4 to 6 servings and a bottle of champagne will go into 4 to 5 glasses.

Though the most important thing is that the host is having fun, and enjoying the idea of sharing their passion and home with family and friends.

Friday, April 6, 2007

What's in Season -- SPRING

The region of the country where you live and the severity of the winter past will determine when spring will start pushing forth its tight tender buds. That is if Mother Nature does not drop a spring snow strom on you. I start watching the local markets in late March and by late April I am reaping the rewards of the season of renewal.

The market fills up…
…and so do I

Broccoli Rabe
Fava Beans
Fiddlehead Ferns
Green Onions
Garlic Sprouts
Lettuce Greens
Peas Sprouts
Ramps (Wild Leeks)
Snow Peas
Swiss Chard



Thursday, April 5, 2007

Why are they doing that?

When did they change the gram weight of a pound to 14 ounces? Have you noticed that most canned goods are 13.5 ounces which is not cleanly divisible by 8? You know, like in 8 ounces in a cup. Have we gone metric and no you told me?

Are the producers of prepared foods thinking they are tricking us? Or, is it their mission to make us buy two of everything? Not every manufacturer has gone to this off weight volume but those who have… This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. If recipes calls for 2 cups of canned tomatoes do they think I am going to buy 3 cans just because I will be missing an ounce. No, way!

It is important to know that any recipe will succeed with a dash less of this or that. Of course, if I don’t need the full can of something, and it does not seem appropriate to add the entire can store the extra amount in a plastic container. The only time you have to hold on to the exact measure of a recipe is when you are baking. It is the reaction within the formula that helps guarantee outcome. Curiously, milk and cream are sold in containers that harken back to the time when foods came in pint, quart and full pounds.

Tomato Sauce - yields 4 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion
2 garlic cloves - split in half
2 cans of stewed chopped tomatoes
2 strips lemon zest - about 1/2-inch thick and 1-inch long
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup basil leaves - roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dice the onions and tomatoes. In a 2 quart saucepan heat the oil and add the onions and garlic. Sauté the onions until translucent then add the tomatoes, and thyme. Cook for 20 minutes over a medium low heat, and then add the lemon zest and honey. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Place in the bowl of the food processor, and blend until smooth. Correct seasoning. Return the sauce to the pan along with the basil and simmer an additional 10 minutes.

Rice and Peas - yields 8 servings

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion - diced
1 jalapeno chili - seeds discarded and minced
3 garlic cloves - minced
2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 can pigeon pea (black-eyed peas) – drained and rinsed
2 cups white rice
3 cups tomato juice

Heat a heavy bottom 3 quart pot over a high heat, and add the oil and onions and cook until the onions start to brown. Add the chili, garlic, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper, pigeon peas and rice. Cook over for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Pour over 3 cups of tomato juice and 1 cup water. Cover the pot and cook over a medium-low heat for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

America tastes

Cooking is a dynamic experience: influenced by the hand that is guiding the knife, the land that the food was grown on, the culture that the surrounds the cook. So, why do we constantly try to make it static?

I am a product of an American experience raised here, trained here, and informed by life here -- though I have also lived on two other continents and a total of ten cities around the globe. Influences, I have many but at the end of the day I perceive the food I create as modern American through and through – regardless of the Italian, Japanese, Thai or Latin flavors that offer shading to my ideas.

I have great respect and curiosity for the techniques and foods employed by every culture though I cannot be bound to their traditions – only inspired. Venture into a pizza joint in Naples and see if you can get a slice. The year I spent in Tokyo and lived on sushi (it was the easiest food to order) I never saw a California Roll. So, lets break from this need to find “authentic” foods here in this rich culinary land of ours, and realize we are all affected by desire, taste and availability. Pay homage to a cuisine by using their techniques, flavor profiles and presentation, and then go on and play freely – And, pronounce your creation as Modern American.

Almond Sauce – yields approx. 3 cups

1/4-cup sherry vinegar
1/2-cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup blanched almonds
1 garlic clove - peeled
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1-teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley leaves
1 yellow pepper – seeds and inner membrane removed
1/8-teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a blender place all ingredients, and process to smooth. Use some water to thin out the sauce as necessary.

Excellent over blanched green beans and asparagus. Or, poached fish.

Lime Drenched Black Beans - yields 6 to 8 servings

2 cups black beans - soaked 8 hours or overnight
2 inch piece ginger - sliced
1 small onion - diced
2 garlic cloves – crushed to paste
2 limes - zest and juiced
1/8 cup cider or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup cilantro - chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

Drain the beans of its soaking liquid, and place them in a 2 quart pot. Cover the beans with 6 cups of water along with a have of the sliced ginger. Bring to a boil and cook until the beans are tender to the bite – approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

Drain the beans discarding the pieces of ginger; reserving 11/2 cups of the cooking liquid. Return the beans along with the onion and garlic as well the reserved liquid to the pot. Simmer the beans for 15 to 20 minutes covered, and then add the zest of the lime and vinegar. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Finish the beans with the lime juice, salt, pepper and chopped cilantro. Serve hot.

Miso Fried Chicken – yields 6 servings

1/4-cup white miso paste
2 garlic cloves crushed to paste
1-tablespoon Dijon mustard
2-tablespoons red wine or cider vinegar 3 chicken drumsticks
3 chicken thighs - on the bone
2-cups all-purpose flour
1/4-teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2-teaspoon salt
Oil for frying

In a bowl mix together the miso paste, garlic, mustard, and vinegar. Toss the chicken in the miso mixture and allow it to sit for an hour at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator.

Combine the flour, cayenne and salt together. Remove the chicken from the miso mixture, and dredge it in the flour. Shake off any excess flour.

Heat the oil in a large fry pan (it should be about an inch or two deep with oil) to about 350 degrees. Carefully lay the chicken in the oil, being sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook the chicken, turning them a few times for 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer onto a towel lined baking tray, and hold in a 200-degree oven while you finish the remaining chicken. Serve immediately.

Me-so Happy

Miso is that strong, musty, salty paste that is used throughout Japanese cooking. And of course, there would be no smoothing soup without it.

This ubiquitous paste is made from fermenting soybeans with either rice, red beans, barley all which offer their own distinctive flavor profile. The easiest version to work with is Shiro Miso (otherwise called: White or Mellow). It is the mildest with the lowest salt content of the various miso pastes available to us. It takes me from soup to marinades to vinaigrettes. The shiro miso is a mix of soybeans and rice, and will last up to 6 to 9 months in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Miso is like yogurt chock-full of friendly bacteria that are so good for our digestive and immune systems. Though it should be noted that high exposure to heat kills the bacteria so certain dishes won’t delivery any health benefits but its flavor won’t fail you. Perhaps a bowl of miso soup will become the new chicken soup – it is a lot easier to make.

Miso Soup – yields 6 servings

1-1/2 chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/4-cup plus 2 tablespoons shiro miso paste
8 ounces silken tofu – cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 scallions – very thinly sliced

In a 3 quart sauce pan pour in 1-1/2 cup of chicken stock to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook the stock for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the miso paste to thoroughly dissolve.

Place some tofu and scallions in each bowl, and pur over the miso soup. Serve immediately.

Salmon marinated in Miso - yields 6 servings

2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup white wine or sake
1/3 cup dark miso paste
6 four ounce salmon fillets

In a mortar and pestle grind the garlic, sesame seeds, red chili flakes, black peppercorns and cumin seeds to a paste. Mix in the honey, white wine, and miso thoroughly combine. Spread the miso mixture over the salmon fillets to coat well. Place the salmon in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove all but a thin coating of the miso mixture from the salmon fillets, and place the fish on a parchment lined baking tray. Cook in the oven for 10 minutes and serve immediately.

Miso Vinaigrette - yields approx. 1-1/4 cup

1/2 cup white miso
2 tablespoons tahini paste
1 garlic clove - crushed to a paste
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup water (plus additional if the dressing is too thick)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sesame oil

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together until smooth and well combined.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Food Lessons, 1

The usage of terms established by those French cooking pioneers has completely seeped into our culinary lexicon and commands like chiffonnade(a julienne of a leafy green) and coulis (a pureed and strained fruit sauce) are thrown about at will. As descriptive verbiage on a menu these words offer fanciful hope, but as a home cook looking to find success they can become intimidating. The art of cooking of is the marriage of concrete actions that supports a creative expression.

How many times has your chicken left tread marks on the bottom of the sauté pan when you flipped it? Even the idea of using a wok is closely related to the action of a sauté pan. Hasn't anyone ever mentioned that sauté comes from the French "to jump," and in order to have that chicken breast flip successfully, a hot surface is required? When sautéing either in a pan or wok it is paramount you heat the pan first for a few minutes then add a small quantity of oil. Immediately, upon adding the oil you add in whatever you are going to be cooking. It is important to have everything at the ready as once you add the oil it is hot. Then let whatever you are sautéing sit for a minute or two before moving it. When you sauté a food it is implied that it will brown, and the more you move it the more difficult it is to have it brown.

Has your mashed potato or yucca ever tasted more like mush than mash? Did you know you should put root vegetables in cold water and bring them gently to a boil to ensure even cooking? The reason behind this has to do with the density of the vegetable, and in order to have an even penetration of the heat you start with cold water that you bring up to the boil. Otherwise, if you place the root vegetable in boiling water the outside overcooks before the interior has had a chance to finish cooking.

Does anyone know the difference between roasting and baking? Is there even a difference since they both happen in that heated box we call an oven? Well, there is. When you roast something it is always browned and crisp – if that is done to a baked item it is considered burned. They both can occur in a 350-degree oven, however, it is duration that will change. Though to ensure a good roast start at a higher temperature of 425-degrees for 15 minutes, and turn the oven temperature down to 350 to finish cooking.

Understanding some these basic concepts the home cook can begin to build meals that bring smiles to all that have gathered.

Cornmeal Encrusted Sole - serves 6

6-four (4) ounce sole fillet or talapia
2 cups cornmeal
1-cup Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4-cup canola oil
1lime – cut into 6th’s

Pat the fillet of sole dry. Season the cornmeal with salt and pepper. Paint each sole fillet generously with the mustard and then dredge in the seasoned cornmeal.

Heat a 10-inch sauté and then add the oil. Lay the sole in the pan and cook approximately 3 minutes on each side. Serve immediately with a wedge of lime.

Chicken Fillet with Roasted Peppers, Rosemary and Chili - yields 4 servings

1 pound Chicken Breast - boneless and skinless
2 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (2 teaspoons dried rosemary)
4 red peppers - roasted and sliced into 1/4" strips
1/8 teaspoon chili flakes
5 scallions - sliced on an angle
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
salt and black pepper to taste

Cut the chicken breasts into 1/3's. Heat the oil in a 10-inch sauté pan and add the chicken and chili, and sauté until golden brown. Add the rosemary, peppers and chili flakes, and toss to incorporate with the chicken. Continue cooking until the chicken is done (approximately 10 minutes), and immediately add the balsamic vinegar, rosemary and scallions. Season with black pepper and serve.