Saturday, April 30, 2011


Here’s a spicy vegetable dish that does Creole food proud. You could substitute vegetable broth for the ham broth and make it totally vegetarian.  It is the classic Gumbo Z’herbes  (sounds like gumbo zaab).  You can use the frozen vegetables for ease of preparation.

  • 10 ounces fresh or frozen spinach, thawed
  • 10 ounces fresh or frozen mustard greens, thawed
  • 10 ounces fresh or frozen turnip greens, thawed
  • 10 ounces fresh or frozen collard greens, thawed
  • 3 quarts of ham broth, or vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon each of thyme, basil and oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon each of black and red pepper
  • 1 bunch of green onions (scallions), chopped
  • 2 whole cloves and 2 whole allspice

  • Gently boil the greens with the bay leaves for two hours.
  • Strain the greens, reserve the water
  • Chop the greens finely and reserve.
  • Meanwhile, make a dark roux of the flour and oil, stirring constantly.
  • Put in the onion, bell pepper and celery and cook 5 minutes.
  • Add half of the chopped parsley, half of the green onions, and cook 5 minutes.
  • Add in the cooking water, the greens, herbs and spices, and seasonings.
  • Simmer on low heat 30 minutes, taste for salt.

Put a little rice in each bowl and ladle on the gumbo. Garnish with the remaining parsley and green onions.

This is one more delightful, full of flavour Creole gumbo.  You should try it soon.  Traditionally it was served on Good Friday in Catholic Louisiana, but you don’t have to wait till then.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Now that summer is almost here, people will soon be heating up their charcoal braziers.  Some people barbecue the same thing all the time, and I want to show them something new and easy to put on the grill.

If you barbecue steaks, burgers or sausage every time you barbecue, get to know yakitori, an ancient Japanese grilled marinated chicken on skewers that goes back to the 17th century.

When grilled, yakitori is usually served either of two ways, with salt alone or with a rich dark basting sauce (called tare) similar to teriyaki sauce.

While many parts of chicken may be used, the most convenient are boneless, skinless chicken breasts. After a proper marination they can be charcoal grilled to perfection.

You can do your usual barbecue regimen, but get some chicken and make this yakitori too. Your guests will be pleasantly surprised and you may decide to feature it.

Yakitori Ingredients:                    serves 4
2-2 ½ lbs (1kg) boneless skinless chicken, cut into mouth-sized chunks
1 bunch of green onions (scallions) cut into 2-inch lengths
2 green peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 2 inch chunks

½ cup of soy sauce
½ cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon of peeled and grated fresh gingerroot
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 dozen wooden skewers soaked in cold water for 20 minutes
1 tablespoon of sugar
½ cup teriyaki sauce

Combine the soy sauce with the sherry,ginger and sugar. Put this in a resealable plastic bag, add the chicken and let marinate in the refrigerator for about one hour.

Combine the sugar and teriyaki and heat. This will be for dipping.

Preheat the charcoal brazier or the broiler in your kitchen. Remove the chicken from the marinade and thread onto the skewers, alternating with the scallions and bell pepper.

Either dip the skewers into the marinade or brush with marinade thoroughly and place on hot grill or under broiler.

Cook about 4 minutes, turn and cook other side dipping into or brushing with the marinade. Do not overcook. Constantly brushing the marinade on the chicken helps to keep it tender.

Remove from grill or broiler and serve with ½ cup of hot soy sauce for dipping

Thursday, April 28, 2011


In case your Mandarin is a little rusty, this is a Chinese crab omelet. Okay?

What?  You think the letter X is easy?  Maybe, like if you’re a xenophobic xylophone player with xanthoma looking for a Xerox machine to make copies of an X-chromosome X ray at Xmas time.  Otherwise, forget about it. I don’t want the A-Z blogger challenge officials to disqualify me, but I didn’t want to cop out and use “X-Treme This” or “X-alted That”. So if you’ll indulge me, this crab omelet is excellent.  Exercise your right to an exceptional, exciting oriental dish.

X ierou Chao Dan          serves 2

2 scallions
4 eggs, beaten
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons oil
2 slices of fresh gingerroot, minced
6 ounces (175g) crabmeat, canned or frozen, picked through
1-tablespoon sherry or Scotch whisky
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

Cut the white part of the scallions into 1-inch (2.5cm) lengths.
Chop the green scallions finely and beat into the eggs with salt.

Heat a wok or skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil.
Add the white scallions and the ginger, then the crab and sherry or whisky.

Stir-fry for a few seconds and then add the soy sauce and sugar. Now lower the heat, pour in the egg mixture and cook for about a minute.  Stir gently until done. This type of omelet is more akin to a scrambled egg rather than a frittata or eggs foo yung.

 Transfer to plates and serve at once. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


During the gilded age, the maitre d’hotel of the Waldorf Hotel in New York, Oscar Tschirky, created the Waldorf salad. In 1896 the recipe appeared in a cookbook and the salad proved to be a classic through the years. Waldorf salad became so famous it was featured in the Cole Porter song “You’re the Top” in 1928.

For classics, simplicity is key, whether it’s Mozart in music or Goya on canvas. Classic implies balance, clarity of form, objectivity and emotional restraint, ancient Greek Apollonian standards. 

When Oscar of the Waldorf invented the salad, it was comprised of only apples, celery and mayonnaise on a bed of lettuce. Not long after, walnuts were added. This deceptively simple salad has been a favourite side or light entrée for over one hundred years.

Naturally, when you have a simple classic, some smart-alecks will come along and add something or change something.  That’s okay, if it is really good, perhaps it could get it’s own name. People add chicken, turkey, confit, grapes, raisins etc. etc. to it. Others (or maybe even them) will season the mayo or suggest yoghurt.  That’s okay, but will it stand the test of time? Well that doesn’t concern us here. We just want to know if it tastes good.

I see an updated Waldorf salad recipe in a delightful cookbook by Deirdre Davis a contributor to Bon Appetit magazine. Entitled:  Side Dishes Creative and Simple, it has a Waldorf salad that employs Bulgur. I love bulgur and cook it like rice pilaf. 

Forty years ago I could hardly find bulgur except in ethnic markets in big cities. A health food store clerk looks puzzled and asks what bulgur is. I say it is cracked wheat that is par-boiled and dried. She looks at me strangely.  But now, bulgur is commonly available.

Although this is not the classic Waldorf salad, it’s really terrific. I have changed her recipe a little, because I’m really interested in the bulgur.  You can enjoy this vegetarian dish on meatless Monday or some other day you eschew meat; or add meats to it if you prefer.             WALDORF BULGUR SALAD is a light, clean, refreshingly delicious dish, which of course can be freely varied.

Serves about six
1 cup of medium granulation bulgur
4 tablespoons of good olive oil, or walnut oil, divided
1 cup of hot water

2 large stalks of celery, chopped
1 large green apple, chopped, peeled if you wish
½ cup of broken walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons lemon juice, more if desired
Romaine or red leaf lettuce or your choice

Put 1 tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and turn on the heat. Add the bulgur and stir until thoroughly coated. Add the water, bring to a boil and then cover and let stand a few minutes to cook tender. If necessary add more water Taste it to see if it is soft. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Add the celery, apple, walnuts, ½ teaspoon salt and some pepper and 3 tablespoons of oil. Mix thoroughly. Marinate in the refrigerator at least one hour to blend flavours.

When ready to serve, toss the salad and taste for salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve over chopped lettuce.

This is a little like Tabouli of course, but I think it is a wonderful chilled dish and I hope you’ll try it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I’m always very keen on chicken dishes at Chinese restaurants, because the chicken is always especially tender and moist, thanks to the Chinese technique of “velveting”, which makes the chicken so sublime.
You can make a batch of velvet chicken beforehand, and then when you finally prepare the stir-fry, the chicken is ready to go. Velveting prevents the chicken from overcooking and gives it a smooth satiny texture. You cook everything else and then add the velveted chicken near the end.  The heat of the food heats the velveted chicken gently. It is a wonderful preparation for boneless, skinless chicken.
I remember making a batch of Jambalaya with smoked sausage, ham and velveted chicken for some friends and the comments were specifically about how splendid the chicken was and nothing else, telling me that velveting is indeed an important cookery tool.
Use the velveting technique and you will want chicken more often. Velveting is not difficult, try it once and you’ll use it often.

Velvet chicken
1.     Have a large bowl of ice-water ready.
  1. Bring 2 quarts of water to boiling in a large saucepan.

  1. 2 lbs of raw chicken skinned and boned or use 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts. Cut into dice.
  2. Pinch of salt
  3. 1-teaspoon soy sauce *
  4. 1 egg white
  5. 2 tablespoons cornstarch
Mix all the ingredients except ice water and boiling water together in a bowl and stir to coat the poultry.  Put the chicken mixture in the boiling water, it will be stuck together at first; stir gently to separate.
When the water returns to boiling, remove from heat and let sit for only one minute.
Drain the meat and put into the ice water to cool, and then remove chicken from the ice water and drain it dry. Refrigerate if not using right away.
When making a chicken stir-fry, add the chicken last, the heat will warm up the cooked chicken.  Never again will you be subjected to the misery of hard, dry chicken from frying raw boneless, skinless chicken.  Using the velvet chicken technique improves any dish it is used in.

* Omit the soy sauce when using chicken in non-Asian recipes.

Monday, April 25, 2011


When Florence, Italy native Catherine de Medici married the future Henry II of France in 1533, she brought her household staff with her to France. Some of the foods her cooks prepared were unfamiliar to the French at the time.  So when her cook introduced spinach to the French nobility the dish was called alla Fiorentina, (in the style of Florence).

I always have a box of frozen spinach in my freezer, to conveniently prepare Eggs Florentine at breakfast, brunch or dinner. I found a recipe in a Weight Watchers International Cookbook back in the 1970’s, and I’ve changed it plenty of times. I like to use an English muffin when I do it. I’ve tried using creamed spinach and different cheeses in it. But I’ll tell you one thing; it’s good groceries 24 hours a day, and quick.

EGGS FLORENTINE                          serves 4

10 ounces (283gm) frozen chopped spinach

4 ounces (115gm) grated cheese, such as mozzarella, asiago or provolone; reserve 2 tablespoons or add a little more for final topping.
½ cup milk or cream
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon black pepper

4 eggs
4 toasted English muffins (or 8 slices of regular bread toast if you prefer)

Cook the spinach minimally and drain. A microwave is fast and easy. Put in a warm saucepan to dry it out briefly. Add all (except the reserved) cheese, milk, salt, basil, nutmeg and pepper. Heat up blending well.

Poach the eggs in near boiling water with a little vinegar until set, about 4 minutes. Alternately, you could instead fry the eggs briefly over medium heat in butter or olive oil, add a couple of drops of water to the skillet and then cover and shut the heat off and let sit for about 3 minutes.

Divide the spinach mixture on each toasted muffin half or bread toast slice. 

Either remove the poached eggs from the water with a slotted spoon or from the frying pan. Place one egg atop each piece.

Evenly divide the reserved cheese over the eggs. You could put under a broiler for a minute to melt the cheese or not.  You could put a cheese sauce (Sauce Mornay) over it but that would require a little more effort. I like it; it’s easier than a Hollandaise.

If you’re having it for supper, a green salad goes well.  And a nice cream soup.  I hope you will try this recipe; its ease of preparation belies the fact that it is a tasty wholesome meal.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


My first introduction to Japanese food was at a charming restaurant in Manhattan. The atmosphere was very enchanting; you sat on cushions on the floor at a very low table. My host ordered in Japanese and I didn’t know what I was getting. When it arrived I was truly amazed at the platter.  Tempura that was exquisite in appearance, absolutely breathtaking; thinly sliced vegetables and shrimp, each encapsulated in a clean, crisp, transparent breading that was all so beautifully arranged on the platter to be appealing as a lover’s friendship.

I remember that first encounter with tempura to this day. The tempura technique, first brought to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, would surely delight anyone who enjoys “fish and chips” or “fritto misto” and such

  I think the simple flour, egg and liquid batter makes a good tempura.  Unlike when making bread, tempura batter requires minimal gluten, so the batter is mixed quickly, leaving lumps in the mixture. The very cold, lumpy batter ensures a peerless, crisp, absolutely delectable tempura. Thinly sliced vegetables or calamari rings; it’s all good when cooked tempura style.

Since crisp is the name of the game with tempura, people often fiddle with the batter recipe trying to “improve “ it.  Some people make use of “rice flour” and a multitude of other starches, but the most interesting concept I have seen is a technique first made known by the Japanese first lady, Miyuki Hatoyama, wife of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Madam first lady has employed a whisky batter that worked quite well for that very crisp tempura. That’s right, no other liquid was used, just whisky. It did indeed produce a crisp product, but still, there was that “whisky” aftertaste. Some culinary scientist experimented with vodka and voila; ultra-crisp tempura with a slight, almost absent vodka taste was born. Alcohol reportedly dissolves portions of the gluten proteins to keep the crust from getting chewy, and since it boils off faster than water, the batter crisps up better.

But you can make a great tempura without alcohol by remembering:
  • Use ice cold water or sparkling water and mix the batter right before serving
  • Stir briefly to barely incorporate the blend, lumps are perfectly fine

Let’s make a Shrimp Tempura with a nice dipping sauce to compliment the crispy coating. You can omit the shrimp and cook any vegetable you desire.

1 lb (500g) shelled and deveined large shrimp
1 medium sized sweet potato, peeled and sliced thinly (about ¼ inch or 5mm thick)
1 small tender eggplant, sliced thinly length-wise as for sweet potato
10 tender snow peas
10 mushrooms, sliced as for sweet potato
1 onion, sliced into rings
10 tender green beans (string beans) cut into 2” or 5cm lengths
Clean vegetable oil for deep-frying

You can butterfly the shrimp or not, leave the tails on. Please make sure the shrimp and the vegetables are DRY before you batter and fry them. You can put all on a platter and refrigerate covered to keep cold while you get ready.

You can make a simple dipping sauce with soy sauce, mirin or sherry wine and horseradish mixed together.

1 egg
1-cup (8 fluid ounces, 250ml) ice water (very important)
1 cup (2 ounces, 60g) all purpose flour, sifted
Heat your frying oil to 350F (180C)

Have your oil hot and ready firstly, because you want to be frying as soon as the batter is mixed.

Have a draining rack or paper towel in place. As soon as the tempuras are cooked they should be drained and than consumed, you can’t hold them long.

Put the ice water into a bowl. Add the egg and beat. Add the sifted flour and stir with a fork just to combine, don’t worry about lumps. You do not want to over mix. If you run out of batter make more the same way. Do not store batter, as soon as it settles you must discard it.

With the frying oil ready, dip shrimp and/or vegetables into batter one at a time and fry a few pieces until golden, about 3 minutes (don’t overcrowd the oil). Although you want to be cautious with hot oil, the batter on your fingertips will help to insulate the skin from burns as you place the food atop the oil, in the event you get too close.

Drain and serve immediately. A deep fryer with a basket is good. The basket should be in the fryer, and then add the vegetables singly. When the food is golden lift out.

All diners get a small bowl of sauce.  I’ve seen many people forego the dipping sauce and just salt their tempura.

Frying is very quick and very satisfying, and done right, does not inordinately make the meal unhealthy. Try it, especially when you have a crowd over, as the cooking is quick.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Dating from the 12th century, “Panforte di Siena”, a cross between a fruitcake and candy, is probably one of the oldest and best-known Italian Christmas treats, and it can easily be made at home.

Called Panforte (pronounced pan FORE tay), which means “strong bread” in Italy, Siena cake is associated with a strong spicy flavour. Thin little wedges are served after dinner with a port, tea or coffee.

Siena cake is very chewy. But unlike the fruit cake that seems to get re-gifted, Siena cake is made with fruit, nuts, spices, a little flour and a boiled sugar and honey syrup; and then melted chocolate and cocoa are added, which gives the cake a confection-like texture that is universally enjoyed.

If you have a candy thermometer and a pastry brush, this recipe is a piece of cake. You already have the 8-inch round cake pan and most of the ingredients so give it a go, this is better than any fruitcake.

This recipe is one I tweaked from a link:

SIENA CAKE                serves 16

¾ cup (180ml) whole almonds, blanched
¾ cup (180ml) hazelnuts
1/3 cup (80ml) chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup (80ml) chopped candied pineapple
3 tablespoons (45ml) EACH, candied orange and lemon peel

2/3-cup (160ml) plain flour
2 tablespoons (30ml) unsweetened cocoa
11/2 teaspoons (7ml) ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon (2ml) ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon (1ml) ground coriander

2 ounces (60g) semisweet chocolate

½ cup (125ml) honey
1/3 cup (80ml) granulated sugar
Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350F (180C). Place almonds and hazelnuts in two separate baking pans. Bake until brown; take out almonds after about 8 minutes and hazelnuts after about 12 minutes. Lower oven to 325F (160C). Let the nuts cool off and rub the hazelnuts to remove the skins.

Chop the almonds and hazelnuts coarsely.

Combine the nuts with the apricots, pineapple and orange and lemon peels in a large bowl.

Sift the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander together over the nut mixture and mix well.

Grease an 8-inch (20cm) round cake pan. Line the bottom with a circle of wax paper cut to fit. Also line the sides of the pan with strip of paper cut to fit. Grease paper.

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Remove the pan and let cool to room temperature.

Put the honey and granulated sugar in a small heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat to dissolve sugar. Use a wet pastry brush to swipe the sides and dissolve sugar crystals.

Heat syrup to boiling and then reduce heat to low again. Now simmer, uncovered, until the syrup reads 240F (115C) on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Take off the heat.

Pour the syrup, and then the chocolate to the nut mixture. Now stir the mixture well.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread the top evenly. Bake 35 minutes.

Put cake pan on wire rack for 20 minutes.

Carefully remove the cake from the pan; remove the paper. Cool the cake completely on wire rack. Wrap the cake tightly in aluminum foil. Let the cake stand at least 24 hours before cutting.

To serve, sift powdered sugar over cake and slice into thin wedges.

Siena cake is over 800 years old. If it’s new to you ,try it soon. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Some years ago I am stocking up on spices at a Pakistani grocery.  On my way out I see some envelope packets like the ones you normally see in supermarkets, the ones for chili or gravies and such.

 One I notice had an unusual name: “Rendang”. I’d never heard of it and pick it up.  It says Beef chili with coconut, which interested me, so I purchased the packet.  The directions were a little strange, like – cook for two whistles.  I later realized it referred to a pressure cooker that makes a whistling sound every so often.

But I cooked that Rendang and it tasted wonderful.  I learned that Rendang is an important dish in Indonesia; they have that rice table down there, I love rice.

An American oil worker gave me this recipe back in the 1980’s.  He got it from a family in Jakarta. Let’s make some of this exotic, tasty Rendang.        Serves 8

3 lb (1.5Kg) chuck steak, cut into 1- inch cubes
4- 13.5 ounce cans (1.75 litres) coconut milk
3 medium onions, cut into quarters and sliced
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon of minced gingerroot
4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1-teaspoon galangal, chopped (if unavailable, omit)
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 bay leaves
1-teaspoon salt

Put every ingredient in a big deep skillet or heavy pot.  Simmer uncovered for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally during the first hour, and a little more frequently towards the end, tasting for salt. The remaining liquid should be mostly absorbed into the meat.

This delicious Sumatran stew is good served atop steamed rice.  Join the millions who love it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Quenelles (ka nell) are small, usually oval dumplings made of minced seafood, although meat or poultry are also used.  They are poached in stock and served with a sauce or used in soups. Quenelles are a classic food technique that goes way back.

Quenelles are made with egg and cream, which gives this specialty its velvety texture.

The mild flavour of Quenelles agrees with a creamy white sauce such as Mornay, but you can experiment with different sauces if you like.

I’ve adapted this recipe from a 1980 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook: “Gourmet Recipes”.  I remember first making it back then and it has been popular ever since.

Let’s make some Codfish Quenelles           serves 4

1-pound (500g) boneless skinless cod fillets

½ cup water
¼ cup butter

½ cup plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/8-teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of white pepper

2 eggs
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons light cream

3 cups of hot water
¾ teaspoon salt
Parsley for garnish

Put the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to boiling. Add the next four ingredients all together at once and stir vigorously until well blended.

Cook and stir over low flame until the mixture forms a ball that does not separate.
Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.

Beat in the eggs and then the egg whites. Set the mixture aside.

Make sure the fish is dry. Chop the fish in a food processor, stopping frequently to scrape down the sides. You could do this in an electric blender; add some cream to keep it from sticking.  Beat fish and cream into flour mixture, cover and chill well.

Grease a 12-inch skillet. Using 2 soupspoons for medium quenelles or teaspoons for smaller, take two spoons worth and mold into oval shape with the spoons. As each quenelle is molded place in the skillet.  Combine the hot water with salt and carefully pour down the side of the skillet. Bring to simmering, cover and simmer gently about 10 minutes for small and 15 minutes for the medium quenelles.

Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper toweling.

 Quenelles goes good with SAUCE MORNAY:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup boiling hot milk
Small pinch of nutmeg
½ cup grated Swiss cheese or any cheese you might prefer.

Heat the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour; keep whisking over low heat until the butter and flour are combined. Whisk a few moments to cook out the floury taste.  Now add the very hot milk all at once and keep whisking until the sauce is thickened.

This is a white or simple béchamel sauce.  Now gradually add the cheese to it and blend in.  That’s a Mornay and it’s quite okay.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


A long time ago there was a comedian who used to do a recurring skit where he would exuberantly mention a little known food at the time called Pasta Fazool and the audience would roar with laughter.  Years later I learned it was the Neapolitan pronunciation for Pasta e Fagioli, a wonderful, stick to your ribs, thick soupy dish with tons of flavour. Fagioli (beans) sounds like ” fa Zhole” so it’s easy to see how the slang fazool came about.  But any way you look at it, its good to eat.

There are a lot of ways to make pasta fazool, but I think closest to the original way is best.  Since it was a peasant dish, it didn’t often have meat in it unless it was some leftover scraps.  Not everybody used tomato in it, although many people used leftover Sunday sauce as a base.  You could cut down on the celery, use more carrot, and even put ham or other meats in it if you choose to. It is very good without any meat.
Pasta Fazool is a very simple, hearty dish, soupy enough to be served in bowls rather than on plates.

Serves 6
4 ounces diced bacon (you can omit this, will still be great)
¼ cup of olive oil IF omitting bacon

1 small onion chopped finely, about ½ a cup
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional but nice

1 cup of canned tomatoes, diced or pureed
8 ounces of white beans (Great Northern, Michigan Whites or Cannelini) soaked overnight or quick soaked by boiling for two minutes and letting sit in water 1 hour. Drain prior to using
1-quart chicken stock
1 ½ tablespoon fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 cup of small pasta, I use ditalini
salt and pepper to taste
Grated parmesan cheese to sprinkle over filled bowls

Fry the bacon, stirring occasionally until nicely browned in a dutch oven or soup pot. Remove the fried bacon and reserve 2 tablespoons of the fat. Add I tablespoon olive oil to the pot. If not using bacon add the ¼ cup of olive oil now instead. Add the next four or five ingredients and fry gently till tender, 5 to 10 minutes.

Put in the next four ingredients and simmer for about 40 minutes. (Taste a bean for tenderness). Check liquid levels and add water as needed.

Now put in the pasta and cook until it is just slightly firm, called al dente. Taste to test.

When it is cooked, take off the heat and put in the parsley. Let it sit a minute while you get ready.

Dish it out and let the diners put plenty of parmesan atop their bowls. Offer a little olive oil to each bowl as well.

Come on paisano give it a try; you’ll be saying “Mangia Mangia” right away.

Monday, April 18, 2011


When Franklin D. Roosevelt visited New Orleans, he and his entourage dined at the fabled Antoine’s restaurant and ordered their specialty dish “Oysters Rockefeller”.  The mayor reportedly said to FDR: “How ya like dem ersters?”  Before Antoine’s proprietor Jules Alciatore invented this dish, oysters were usually eaten raw on the half-shell.
They were named after John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in the world at the time.  They are green like money so the “rich” theme is extended.

People in the Crescent city sometimes debate the “Oyster Rockefeller” ingredients; nowadays the green vegetable is invariably spinach.  Before J. Alciatore passed away, he said spinach was not the secret ingredient in “Oysters Rockefeller”, and would not disclose what he used.  People have from time to time tried other green vegetables and many have come close, suggesting Florence fennel or tarragon etc.

I haven’t baked “Oysters Rockefeller” in awhile, they are not available where I reside, but I recall the recipe and can link to one.

If you like mollusks and have access to oysters, try this recipe, you will see why it is among the most praised dishes around.

Thanks to Christopher Hebert for this wonderful recipe

OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER                    serves 4-6
  • Two dozen fresh oysters on the half shell, oyster liquor reserved
  • 4 sprigs flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 4 green onions (including the green part)
  • A handful of fresh celery leaves
  • At least 6 fresh tarragon leaves
  • At least 6 fresh chervil leaves
  • 1/2 cup dried fresh French bread crumbs (homemade, not out of a can)
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (hey, it's supposed to be "rich enough for Rockefeller"!)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons Herbsaint or Pernod (optional)
  • Rock salt or kosher salt
Mince together the parsley, green onions, celery leaves, tarragon and chervil as finely as you possibly can. Take as much time as you need. Mince them more finely than anything you've ever minced in your life. Mix this together with the breadcrumbs and the softened butter into a mortar and mix the whole thing together into a smooth paste, but do leave a little texture to it. (You can do this in a blender or food processor, but you'll leave a lot of it behind, stuck to the inside, and it'll be just easier to do it by hand in a mortar; you'll have an easier time getting it all out, and you'll have the satisfaction of serving something truly hand-made.) Season to taste with salt and pepper, Tabasco or Crystal and, if you like, the Herbsaint.

Preheat your broiler. Lower the top rack to the middle of the oven. Spread the rock salt (preferable) or kosher salt over a large baking sheet; this will keep the oysters level under the broiler, so that they won't tip over. Moisten the salt very slightly. Plant the shells in the salt, making sure they're level. Place one oyster in each shell, plus a little bit of oyster liquor. Spoon an equal amount of the prepared herb/butter mixture over each oyster.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack and broil until the edges of the oysters have curled and the herb butter is bubbling, about five minutes. Watch carefully to make sure you don't overdo it. Serve immediately.

If you cannot obtain fresh chervil or tarragon try to substitute with watercress. In this case, try to use the anise- flavoured cordial in this.

If you can get fresh oysters already shucked but no shells you could use small ovenproof dishes or ramekins.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


If you’ve ever eaten kimchee in a Korean restaurant, it was probably made with napa. In Korea, they take this appetizer item very seriously, packing it with salt and chili peppers in ceramic jars and storing it underground for months, until fermentation is complete.

But napa is good to use in many ways. Use it in stir-frys, with salad greens and cole slaws.

Also known as Chinese cabbage or celery cabbage, napa is similar to bok choy.  Napa is mild and sweet, almost like a celery-lettuce and can be eaten raw. It seems to have an affinity for garlic and ginger, or maybe that’s just me.

Here is a great introduction to napa: a quick and easy to prepare chicken stir- fry using napa.

Sweet and Sour Chicken                 serves 4

2 cups of steamed rice
1 Tablespoon oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cubed
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
4 green onions, sliced OR 1 onion, sliced
1 bell pepper, any colour, chopped
4 cups napa cabbage, shredded, or sliced very thinly
1 can of sliced water chestnuts, drained (8 ounce can)
2/3 cup sweet and sour sauce
2 teaspoons of cornstarch ONLY IF using commercial sweet and sour sauce

Take the chicken and wipe dry and put in a bowl. Sprinkle a tablespoon of cornstarch all over the cubes and massage in with your hands. This will insure tenderness.

Use commercial sweet and sour sauce OR make your own:
1/3 cup of vinegar
4 tablespoons of brown sugar
1-tablespoon ketchup
1-teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch stirred into 4 teaspoons of cold water

Mix everything but the cornstarch and water to the boil.  Stir up the cornstarch and cold water and add to the boiling mixture stirring. When thick is done.

While the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a skillet or wok to medium hot.  Add the chicken and shake the pan.  Stir to separate the chicken and throw in the carrots, bell pepper and onion.  Stir about 5 minutes until the chicken is cooked.

Now put in the napa and water chestnuts. Cook 1 minute. Add your thickened sweet and sour sauce to the skillet. Cook and stir for a few moments.

Serve over rice. How easy is that, yet good groceries with that leafy green vegetable. So try it already.

Friday, April 15, 2011


If there was a pie chart of popular pies, I’m sure meringue pies would not be the largest portions.  I think that’s because of the mystery of the meringue, since many home bakers get confused about  “ dry meringue”, “hard meringue” even “Italian meringue”, and just forget about it.  But wait, the typical Lemon Meringue Pie is easy as pie to make.
Meringues originated in the town of Meiringen Switzerland, which explains the name. You can make one almost anywhere, and if you keep in mind a couple of precautions, yours will be just as fabulous as the ones you get when dining out. The eggs should be a couple of days old, and your equipment must be very clean.  Other than that a meringue pie is not difficult to make.  Come on, let’s make one.
1 large lemon, the juice and the grated rind
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of water
½ cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of cornstarch
3 eggs, separated, the whites for the meringue

Wax paper

9 inch pie shell


3 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar
For the filling:
In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of water, ½ cup of sugar, the butter, the lemon rind and lemon juice.
Bring this to the boil.
Meanwhile, in a clean mixing bowl (glass is good), dissolve the cornstarch in the tablespoon of water.  Stir in the egg yolks.
Add the egg yolk mixture to the lemon mixture and bring back to boiling, whisking constantly just until the mixture thickens.
Cover the surface with wax paper and let cool.  This will prevent a skin from forming.
For the Meringue:
With an electric mixer, start slowly and beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar.  After a few moments, increase the speed of the mixer and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
Add the sugar and beat it until it becomes glossy.
Assemble the pie:
Preheat the oven to 400F (200C)
Spoon the lemon mixture into the shell and smooth evenly.  Spoon the meringue on top of the lemon mixture and smooth it out to the edge of the crust to seal.
Bake 10 to 15 minutes, until top is golden.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Italian dishes cooked al forno are often too heavily laden with cheese or sauce and are not very interesting.  I got a little weary of eating lasagna after awhile, the predictable ground beef, tomato sauce, and plethora of cheese became tiresome.  But baked pastas don’t have to be this way. 
So when my BW wants to have a group of neighbours from the block over, and says to make Lasagna, I make my personal vegetable lasagna along with focaccia.  Everyone loved it.  There is a little detail involved, but all in all, preparing vegetable lasagna is not tedious, and can be a welcome change from the typical lasagna you so often encounter. The clean taste and lovely texture of the vegetables is very appealing along with the light, almost delicate, cheese and sauce. Each time I make this dish with these particular vegetables, everyone is satisfied. I think you will be as well.
VEGETABLE LASAGNA        serves 8
12 Lasagne noodles
½ cup dry marsala wine
1 onion, chopped finely
3 cups mushrooms, sliced (about 8 ounces)
2 large Zucchini, shredded (about 4 cups)
2 red bell peppers, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh tender spinach, chopped
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lb. (500 grams) fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup of cottage cheese
1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup of marinara sauce
1 cup of shredded provolone or asiago cheese
  • Heat oven to 425F (220C). Grease lightly or spray with nonstick spray a 3-quart (13x9 inch) baking dish.
  • Cook lasagne noodles as package directs. Then drain.
  • While noodles cook, bring Marsala to the boil in a large saucepan and put in the onion.
  • Cook onion for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add the mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers and salt and cook for 5 minutes. Stir thoroughly and check liquid level, adding water if necessary.
  • Add spinach, basil and oregano and cook 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain.
  • Thoroughly combine the ricotta, parmesan and cottage cheeses in a bowl.
  • Install 3 noodles in the bottom of the prepared dish.
  • Top with1/3rd of the cheese mixture and 1/3rd of the vegetable mixture.
  • Repeat this layering twice more.
  • Top with the remaining noodles, the marinara sauce and the shredded cheese.  Get some aluminum foil, spray one side and cover the dish tightly.
  • Bake at 425F (220C) for 25 minutes.
  • Uncover the dish and bake 5 minutes more, making the top golden brown.
Let rest for 5 minutes, and then serve. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


If you aren’t of eastern European heritage, you may not be familiar with Kasha, roasted buckwheat kernels that are available in different granulations, from coarse to fine.  Kasha has a wonderful nutty flavour that stands on its own.  You may want to substitute it for rice once in awhile.  It can be used in stuffing, soups and as a delicious breakfast cereal.   A simple way to serve it is as a pilaf with onions and mushrooms.  I’ve had it countless times with farfalle in it, but you can omit the pasta and make this pilaf as a side dish.  With one egg in it, which magically disappears before it is finished, you get the protein equivalent of two eggs in a ¾ cup serving.  Let’s make some delicious kasha pilaf:
2 cups (16 fluid ounces, ½ litre) beef consommé or broth
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of butter
1 cup Kasha (Buckwheat groats)
1 egg
1 chopped onion
½ cup sliced mushrooms

 Bring to boiling the broth, salt and pepper.
Meanwhile lightly beat the egg in a bowl with a fork. Add the Kasha and stir to mix with the egg.
In a skillet, fry the onion and mushrooms in the butter until softened.
Put the egg-coated kasha in a warmed, dry (no butter), separate skillet or saucepan. Turn heat high and keep stirring until the egg has dried and the kernels are separate. Reduce heat.
Stir in the boiling broth mixture, the vegetables, cover well and simmer about six minutes, till the liquid is absorbed.  Taste for tenderness, may need another minute.
Makes about four cups of pilaf.
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