Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pad Thai with notes

Pad Thai is the signature dish of Thai cuisine.  My friends at the Thai Gardens in Milpitas California taught me how to cook this. This recipe is chili, tamarind, rice stick noodles with chicken, shrimp and fried tofu, Thai style.
Nimman Thai Cuisine - California
When my friends of the Thai Gardens first started out, they had a postage sized shop on the corner in a large shopping center. Mom and dad took turns cooking. My friend, Rory Babb introduced me to Thai. He had lived in country for four years while serving in the Air Force. He ordered for us in Thai and we always got exceptional friendly service. When he ordered for me he would say “Pad Thai pet pet mac, mac” and the dish would arrive fragrant and incredible spicy. It was hotter, in fact, than anything I had ever eaten but was so delicious that I finished every bite. Fifteen minutes later, the heat has dissipated completely. They did not speak English and when they saw me show up alone, they would say “pet pet mac, mac” smile and ask me where Rory was. Achieving the American dream, their success lead to the launch of a full scale restaurant, then two restaurants. By now, I was welcome in the kitchen, where their Americanized son would translate ingredients into English. I find now, when I need to make this for guests, the easiest place to get the ingredients is from the restaurant directly. The one exception is tamarind paste which I always have on hand in 4 inch bricks cakes. The Thai Gardens original recipe used a Thai tamarind drink concentrate.

If this is the first time you make Pad Thai, read the whole recipe first. There is nothing hard about it but there are many steps and quite a significant amount of preparation work. To use the French term, all should be “Mise en place”. You need to organize and arranging the ingredients and equipment that is required ahead of time. If not using fresh noodles, then start the noodles right away. Put the mung bean sprouts on ice water.  Make the Ajad Thai Cucumber Garnish ahead of time. Prepare garnish plates.

Garnish (Per Person)
(I prepare all the plates ½ hour ahead, cover with wrap, and place in cool spot in kitchen.)

1/2 cup mung bean sprouts per person, soak in ice water, pat dry
1/2 cup finely julienne Napa Cabbage per person (I use the white stalk portions only)
2-4 Slices of cucumber, per person
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts3 
2 Wedges of lime
1 Orange slice
Ajad Thai Cucumbers and Thai Chilies Garnish (See recipe below)


Banh pho1 - Thai Rice Noodles

If using dried “Rice stick noodles” soak noodles in a pot of warm water until are just firm, about 30-40 minutes. To hasten the process, pour in boiling water to raise the temperature to about the temperature of a hot bath (100 F). Taste the noodles periodically and remove to a strainer when they are still al dente, completely limp but not mushy. Use Chantaboon Rice Stick Noodle1, Size: M, 14 ounce pack   (3~4 persons) or the equivalent. These are also available fresh from the Asian Markets.


1/4 cup bean sprouts
Topping 2 green onions, julienned
3-4 ounces of diced Chicken Thigh meat per person (some chopped fine, some course)
6~8 peeled tiger prawns per person
1 clove crushed garlic per person
1/3- 1/2 cup firm tofu diced (cut in 1/8 by 1/8 thick pieces) 
1 tablespoons rice wine or Marin4
1 Teaspoon of fish sauce (Golden Boy or Tiparos)
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons sweet Paprika
1 level tablespoons MSG
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons Tamarind Sauce (see notes)
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste. (Use 1 teaspoon to start. I use 2 tablespoons in mine.)
Chopped cilantro
1 tablespoons of sugar (some places use orange honey)
Peanut Oil 
Salt - as required

Advanced Preparation:
Take a large brick of extra firm fried tofu. Cut away exterior surfaces and discard. Cut it into 1/8 layers and cut into stripes 1/4 wide and cross cut 1/4 inch long. Preheat frying pan with three tablespoons of peanut or canola oil. Bring oil to high heat, fry tofu until firm and it has taken on some color. (7-12 minutes) Set to drain on paper towels. Prepare medium wide (1/16th~3/32nds inch) rice noodles - May be done hours ahead and refrigerated. (The noodles will take on the flavor of whatever they are cook with the hence rice noodle is superior for this purpose). There are so many ingredients, it may be a good idea to load up cups or small dishes with the: sugar, garlic, rice wine, tamarind sauce, red pepper, salt, fish sauce, paprika, MSG. Prepare the peanuts. (Take inventory against the recipe.) I have found that I inadvertently have left one or more ingredients out until I started doing this in a more methodical way.

In a very hot wok, add peanut oil, and when it smokes, quickly cook the chicken. Repeat the process until all meat is cooked. Set aside. This step may be done ahead

Individual Preparation of Each Batch of Noodles

Individually prepare each portion. In a very hot wok, add peanut oil, and, when it smokes, quickly cook the shrimp, garlic, and add in the chicken. Then add paprika, msg, tamarind sauce, crushed red pepper, sugar or some honey for sweetness. Add fried tofu. Add garlic, rice wine and a few handfuls of noodles. Add in green onions and bean sprouts. Quickly heat. Add chopped cilantro toss and turn out on a plate, top noodles with a pile of chopped peanuts, accompanied noodles with bean sprouts, very fine julienned Napa cabbage, and sliced cucumbers garnish. Serve with lime wedges and a few slices of orange.

The bright red coloring of this dish derives from the ample amount of paprika. The choice of this sweet paprika is one without a lot of flavor of its own less it over power the plate due to the quantity in which it is used.


1.        Tamarind Sauce- is a critical ingredient in many Thai foods, and will be found in many steak sauces including mine. If using a package of tamarind paste, combine with hot orange juice and blend with a spoon. Sieve the sauce to remove any hard or stringy bits.  When fully ripe, the shells are brittle and easily broken. The pulp dehydrates to a sticky paste enclosed by a few coarse stands of fiber. The pods may contain from 1 to 12 large, flat, glossy brown seeds embedded in the brown edible pulp. If using fresh pods, shell pods like a peanut, pull off fiber stems along fruited seed pods and place in orange juice over a slow simmer to soften. When softened, cool, then rub paste off seeds, Discard seeds. Sieve and blend until smooth. Alternatively, you can scrape seeds with fingernail to remove raisin colored paste. Combine with orange juice, If making a large batch, and storing is desired, use lime juice and orange juice. Sieve the sauce to remove and hard parts. Store the sauce in refrigerator until ready to use.

  1. Import foods, on line, shows a picture of the Bahn Pho package in case you get lost in the sea of noodles your oriental market shelves. See
  2. Fish sauce is the single, most important flavoring ingredient in Thai cooking and is available in premium and standard editions - see for premium varieties. The common brand for this is the Tiparos brand. All of these contain a bit of sugar and salt and are made from anchovies.
  3. Unless you chopped the roasted peanut by hand with a knife, you may get them too fine. I use both 1/3rd salted and 2/3rds unsalted peanuts, place them in a plastic zip lock bag and roll over them slowly with a wooden rolling pin. I then sieve the results. The fine powder falls through the sieve so it may be discarded.
  4. Marin is Japanese sweet cooking wine. Since it is effective in masking the smell of fish, Mirin is often used for cooking seafood. The highest quality Mirin, referred to as 'Ajino-haha' in Japan is made from rice. Well-known Japanese brands for Mirin are Takara and Mitsukan, and the Aji-Mirin is also marketed by Kikkoman and is found on most supermarket shelves.

Notes on Noodles:

You can buy noodles fresh or dry, gluten flour, rice, or even buckwheat in large diameters, flat, vermicelli or round. The noodle isle at the Asian market I go to is 40 yards long - all noodles at that just the dry ones! If going “dry” not fresh, adjust cooking time according to package directions or cook ahead of time in water then drain and rinse in cold water when the noodles are “al dente” or a little under done. The next reheating will soften them some so keep that in mind. Fresh is much easier and less work.

Banh pho – Rice Sticks - Pad Thai Flat Shape Noodles

Ajad Thai Cucumber Garnish

Ajad Thai cucumber garnish is often served with Pad Thai and each guest should have their own serving.

1/3 cup cold water
1/3 cup white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
Salt to taste
1 peeled English cucumber, raked lengthwise with a fork, cored, then sliced thinly
4 shallots or red onion sliced
3-4 Thai Green and Red chili peppers, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to taste. The water should be sweet, a little sour, and just salty enough to balance the sweet sour. Soak cucumber and onions in a small bowl and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, in a small soy-sauce bowl, add fish sauce and a little water. Add sliced Thai Green and Red chili peppers per person. Place bowl on a slightly larger plate garnished with sweet and sour onions and cucumber slices drained.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Chinese Epiphany or Blunder?

A Sunday comic has Garfield waking from a nap suddenly overcome by the thought of "Canary Pizza". Many a culinary epiphany can be combing two of your favorite ingredients that make a new or surprising dish.

I was at Apple China a new ma and pa Chinese restaurant. I love these people but they both struggle with English. The husband, who is the chef, is very accommodating. He will cook anyway I ask. This week I ask him to repeat the preparation for Beef Chow Fun he made for me on my first visit, calling out spicy, fermented black beans, garlic, green pepper and plenty of ginger. When the dish arrived, immediately I noticed there were no green peppers. Upon tasting, I notice a pronounced taste of cumin but no ginger. I asked him "What is this?" After some discussion, we connected. He thought I had ordered "curry". I laughed and marveled at the distinctive flavor. Actually, I think as curries go, this was one on the most novel recipes for curry I ever tasted. The super wide rice noodle went really well with this spicy cumin laden curry.

Was cumin a part of historic Chinese? Researching, it was revealed that cumin appears in Chinese cuisine maybe a far back as 2000 years. Cumin (of the parsley family) was a silk-route traded spice indigenous to many areas including Iran, China, India, Northern Egypt, Turkestan, several other places in the Middle East. Some of the more popular Chinese dishes with cumin include Spicy Sichuan-Style Lamb and Hunan Beef. Cumin is one of those spices with a lot of bang for the buck. It is highly aromatic and a little goes a long way. Cumin combines well with red peppers; in fact, cumin is a major flavor in chili powder that "tex-Mex flavor."

Grace Young, a stir fry guru, in her cookbook "Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge" writes ancestral stories of how Chinese cooking in her family evolved. Regional influences and the availabilty of ingredients played major roles in the recipes of regional dishes. Cumin is part of several of her recipes.

dry-style beef chow fun- Photo by Mai Pham

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fettuccine Alfredo

Alfredo's Rome, Italy, 1962
The original owner of Rome’s Alfredo's Restaurant, Alfredo Di Lelio, is the originator of this 1914 delicious dish formulated for his pregnant wife who had to be enticed to eat.  

In 1950, with his son Armando, Alfredo Di Lelio reopened his restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30 "Il Vero Alfredo" (“Alfredo di Roma”), which is now managed by his nephew Ines Di Lelio, along with the famous “gold cutlery” donated in 1927 by the grateful American actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Fettuccine Alfredo is immensely popular all over the world and this is despite the fact that many recipes being used are not exact!  The original pasta contained neither cream nor eggs. My brother Michael (center) was a big fan of fettuccine as shown in this early photo.

This is my version of the famous plate. The inclusion of the beaten eggs yolks give the fettuccine the authentic mouth feel and fabulous sense of richness found in the original dish.  Because the pasta is so very hot (200+F), the eggs temperature quickly exceeds 145 degrees hence there is no risk of salmonella.  

All ingredients should be at room temperature.

1 Stick unsalted sweet butter (1/4 pound) (This was originally made with European butter)
1 Cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 Cup fresh finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese)
1/4 Teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 Pound egg Fettuccini
3 Organic natural raised farm-fresh egg yolks (These should be a very bright yellow)

Fresh egg pasta is required, and when rolled out, it should be processed on the thinnest setting of your pasta machine. Making your own pasta, has, in this case, three advantages, first it is fresh, has the prescribe number of eggs, and thirdly, it is thin enough to make this a delicate dish.

Bring to high boil 6 quarts of lightly salted water. Sample the water with a cold spoon. The water should be only mildly salty. As the pasta cooks, it absorbs water so using salted water, one insures the salt goes where it is needed. As you see from the ingredients, even the butter, up to this point, is unsalted. The cheese has quite a bit of salt so we will wait until the last moment to correct for seasoning,

Cut the butter into 10 pieces on a small plate. This will ensure when the butter is added it melts and is incorporated quickly. Beat the yellow egg yolks in a separate bowl until very creamy. Now drop pasta in the boiling water and cook approximately three minutes, stirring to prevent sticking and sampling until the pasta is al dente (just cooked but still has a bite, not soft.) Drain pasta in a colander but not bone dry. Allow a little of the starchy water to remain with the pasta. Pour the pasta into the hot pot. While the pasta is still steaming hot, immediately add butter, cream and the beaten eggs. Toss immediately. Add the cheese, white pepper and toss well (2 minutes is not too long). Correct for seasoning.  Serve immediately. (Note: When prepared at the “ristorante”, a hot platter and the “Golden ware” would be used to toss the noodle as patrons salivated.)

1.      Cooking the Roman Way : Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome by David Downie , the author claims that he has the real recipe straight from the "horse's mouth".
2.        See the web site: on how Alfredo originally made this recipe. If you use European butter and rich fresh homemade egg noodles, you may make this without cream or beaten eggs.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Making Homemade Vinegar

Home made vinegar tastes a lot better than store bought perhaps because is not made chemically but allowed to ferment naturally. My sister asked if it was difficult to do. I told her if was easy. You take four left over wine bottles each with a smidgen of left over wine, either white or red. Then you place them outside your house strategically on the four coordinates, north, south, east and west. Stuff a bit of cheesecloth in the necks to keep out bugs and forget them for two weeks while they blow in the breeze. Check them Tuesday afternoon (or anytime you want) by smelling the neck. If they smell sour, the fermentation of the alcohol to vinegar is underway. If your climate is hot, wait until fall when the temperatures are below 85 F during the days. (Mother of vinegar can only tolerate 60 ~ 90F.)

Actually, I lied. Place the bottles anywhere you like. Good to place them where they will not be accidentally kicked over. Once you have captured a starter, you may add any wine to the starter and store the fermenting bottle (crock or glassware) covered with cheesecloth in your cupboard. If you continual add wine white to a starter that was originally red wine, it will eventual pale to white. To keep the starter active, keep it fed.

Vinegar maybe further aged in toasted oak barrels to add more flavor. A typical 2 liter barrel is around $50, while a larger 5 liter may run $80~85. They will need treatment as well as a spigot to pour vinegar and a stand. Follow barrel maker’s instructions to cure the barrel, which is the process that makes the barrel hold content and not leak.

If you want to skip finding vinegar spores, you may purchase Living Mother Culture (MOV) some from a wine equipment store or oak barrel store or even

Monday, August 3, 2015

Kicking Up Bottled Spaghetti Sauce

What most commercial sauces (i.e. canned) lack is a foundation of good tomatoes. Mario Batali is being a definite exception. He uses only the finest San Marzano from Naples. That being said, the sauce is not readily available in many stores nor is it imminent affordable. Bertolli Marinara Sauce is in many stores and is one of my favorites because it is easy to kick it up and the tomatoes are good ones. Fundamentally, the sauce, just as is, is ok. This recipe is easy to do and will transform the store bought in 20 minutes to one with a “fata in casa” (homemade) flavor.

1 jar Bertolli Marinara Sauce
2 Ounces of salt pork, cubed (discard tough skin)
2 cloves minced garlic
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 Tablespoons flavorful extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed Italian oregano
1 small sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Italian sweet basil

Add olive oil, crushed red pepper and chopped salt pork to a wide frying pan on medium. Cook until salt pork begins to clear but do not brown. Add garlic stirring continuously for a minute. Add a jar of Marinara Sauce and all the herbs. Reduce to low and simmer 10 minutes. Correct the seasoning as required.

A sauce should have a hint of sweetness and hint of tart. A tad of balsamic could augment this if needed. Enjoy.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Crespelle alla Fiorentina

This is a Tuscan favorite dating back to the middle ages. The French claim the crepe's origin but the Tuscans claim that Catherine Medici introduced it to the French Court. This dish is often served on Christmas.

Crepe Batter
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons melted sweet butter
2/3 cup luke warm milk
Pinch of salt
Butter to grease the pan

1 1/2 pounds ricotta (sheep or buffalo preferred)
2 1/2 pounds stemmed spinach, wilted1
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
A pinch nutmeg
White pepper
Sea salt to taste

Italian White Sauce with Cheese

This sauce is especially used for crepes, cannelloni or lasagna.

8 tablespoons of unsalted butter
8 tablespoons “00” flour
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
1 cup on onion stock (see below)
1 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
White pepper

Onion Stock
Add one whole onion, cut up and one whole bay leaf to 2 ½ cups of cold water. Boil until onion is tender. Strain. Use this clear onion stock for this recipe.

Melt over low heat unsalted butter add and blend over low heat for 3 - 5 minutes flour. Slowly add cream, onion stock, chicken stock. Cook and whisk the sauce until it thickens. Season with white pepper. Add grated Parmesan cheese. Correct the seasoning. If the sauce has to stand for an extended period, it may be re-heated and strained through a medium strainer.

Passata di Pomodoro
3 ripe, peeled and seeded vine ripened tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
A small bunch of Italian sweet basil

Prepare a passata of tomatoes. Heat oil and simmer tomatoes with basil covered on medium low. Stir occasionally, mashing any parts that have not broken down. Cool and set aside until needed

Make the batter. Let batter rest in the refrigerator for an hour before using.

Make the crepes using either a well seasoned or a non-stick pan using a patty of butter for each crepe. Cook on both sides. No need to brown.  Hold cooked crepes layered between parchment papers until needed.

Prepare filling in a food processor. Taste it, add salt as needed. Crepes are delicate so the filling that is spread should not be too stiff. It may be softened by adding a bit of cream in the processor.

Assemble crepes each in its own 10 inch buttered oval Au Gratin pan. Roll cheese-spinach filling in crepe. Lay filled crepe lengthwise in pan, and then cover each crepe with white sauce. Top crepe with grated pecorino Romano cheese and a bit of passata.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake for 20 minutes until done.  Remove from oven and serve hot garnished with a sprig of fresh basil.


1.      You may use pasta to make these, and in that case, they would be called Cannelloni or manicotti. If using fresh pasta, there is no need to boil it. The moisture in the sauce will cook it in 20 minutes. Manicotti, however, need be pre-boiled.

Squash with Shallots and Garlic served with a Tarragon White Wine Sauce

2 yellow squash, end removed, cut into ¼ thick lengthwise strips
2 Cloves minced garlic
2 small shallots, diced
2 tablespoon butter

Béchamel sauce
3 Tablespoons butter
2 ½ Tablespoons flour
¼ cup dry white wine1
½ Cup Half and Half
Chiffonade of fresh tarragon
White pepper and sea salt to taste

Sauté squash in butter with shallots and garlic on medium. Until lightly browned. Drain pieces on paper towels then season with salt and pepper. Keep in warm oven.

Make Béchamel sauce by whisking over medium heat butter and flour. When roué is beginning to turn light tan. Remove from heat and whisk in wine. Return to heat, adding half and half or cream along with fresh tarragon. Correct seasoning when thickened.

Plate squash and garnished with béchamel sauce. Garnish with a sprig of basil.

  1. Wine choice is up to you. You may use part vermoth and part sherry or even a White Zinfandel. Add a pinch of sugar and a touch of vinegar or lemon can heighten the flavor of the sauce. Including finely chopped sorrel will add a lemony tinge.