Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nani’s Cioppino or Cacciucco alla Livornese

Nani, a family friend, was an Italian doctor and former paratrooper and under water demolition expert for the Allied forces in World War Two.  He taught me and my sister how to snorkel and deep free dive. He was a tremendous success anytime he entered a kitchen. I first met him on the Isle of Giglio off the coast of Pisa, Italy in 1960.

This is an expensive dish and it takes a while to prepare. It is well worth it and your guest will beg you for it over and over, once they have tried it. Use this for a big crowd. Serve with two loaves of the finest sourdough bread you can find. You need a very big stock pot (12-14 quart or larger) for this dish. I do not prepare this often due to the cost. See notes below for more advice.

In Italy, the Cacciucco alla Livornese (in the USA Cioppino) is made with Slipper lobster, mantis shrimp, Moscardini (little octopuses), Baby Cuttlefish, mussels, large clawed ocean prawns and the catch of the day which could include the varieties: branzino (striped Sea Bass), Scorfano (Scorpion fish), Orata (Gilthead Sea bream), Gallinella (tub gurnard) Triglia (Red Fish) and Monkfish. Cioppino  is not unlike bouillabaisse, a French seafood stew, but it does not include saffron or fennel. Said to have its origins from “ciuppin"- a fish stew from the Liguria region of Italy and is very similar to Cacciucco Livornese. The word Cioppino is more identified with San Francisco where the Italian fisherman introduced it.

This recipe is a thicker version than the watery offering served in many “so called” Italian fish resturants in San Francisco, more like a sauce than a soup.  If you want more liquid, do not reduce the fish stock as much, or add additional white wine and chicken stock.

1 1/2 large onions, sweet, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 pound finely diced salt pork
5 or more cloves garlic, chopped
1 tube triple concentrated Italian tomato paste
2 large cans of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 dry whole hot red pepper
3 Tablespoons chopped basil
1 Tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 Tablespoon chopped thyme
1 Tablespoon chopped sage
1 Tablespoon chopped oregano
2 Cups fish stock
6 Tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil in two portions, 3 tablespoons each
16~25 clams
16~25 black mussels
8~16 large sea scallops
8~16 large prawns
8~12 ounces monkfish, boned
8~12 ounces red snapper, boned
1/4 pound sweet butter
2~4 lobster tails, cut up
2~3 Large steamed Dungeness crabs, bodies, cut into chunks
1 ½ cups white wine
2 tablespoons sweet butter

Fish Stock
2 cups dry white wine
1 quart of unsalted chicken stock
1 rock cod head
Assorted fish carcasses and bones
12 Coriander seeds
1 onion chopped coarsely or 2 whites of leek
2 ribs of celery, chopped coarsely
1 large carrot, chopped
10 dried Mexican bay leaves
10 peppercorns crushed

Sprigs of fresh basil and chopped chives

Wash and rinse both the clams and mussels in cold water several times. Discard any dead or open clams or mussels. Cover them in a bowl with cold water, stir in a tablespoon of cornstarch. Set them on the counter for several hours untouched. The cornstarch will entice them to open, which may allow them to drop some sand and shed salt from the salted water they were raise in. Rewash in cold water before using.

Clean the cooked crab bodies. Discard small useless small leg joints, retain large leg pieces, crack these so their easier to eat, clean and cut up the crab main bodies into 4 main chunks per crab. You can have the butcher do this for you either for free or maybe an additional small incremental fee. Clean the lobster, cut off and retain the tail and large claws (if it has claws). Cut the lobster in half length wise. The cross cut the lobster tail meat into chunks. Remove and discard any loose shell bits. Place shellfish in the refrigerator until a half an hour before cooking. Now bring out shellfish and fish and allow them warm up some, a half an hour before the final cooking stage.
Fish Stock:
Prepare this 3-4 hours ahead of when it’s needed. Combine all fish stock ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil and cook on high covered for 5 minutes, remove lid, cook another 25 minutes. Cool, then strain first through a course sieve then again through a fine sieve. Discard all fish stock solids. Return all the liquid to the large stock pot, simmer on low, and reduce until half its volume. Next prepare tomato base.

Tomato Base:
Sauté onions, celery, carrots, salt pork and the red pepper in 3 tablespoons of your best olive oil on moderate heat in a sauce pan until onions are clear but do not brown. Add chopped spices. Add 5 cloves of chopped garlic; cook on high 1 minute. Add tomato paste and cook on high stirring constantly until the paste darkens which helps deepens its flavor. Stir in 1 cup white wine. Stir and cook uncovered on low for five minutes, then add chopped tomatoes. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add a ladle or two of fish stock as required as sauce thickens. Pour tomato base into the fish stock pot. If you are several hours ahead, cover stockpot and turn off heat.

To Finish the Cioppino:
Bring up heat under stock pot so it comes to a low boil.

Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and butter in a hot 12" skillet and add drained washed clams and mussels.  When the shellfish barely begin to open, deglaze with ½ cup white wine. Examine pan for sand from the shellfish. Strain pan to remove any sand. Taste the broth and note its salt content. If it super salty from the ocean salt water, you will need to add less salt to the cioppino later. Then add the filtered3 broth from the pan into the main stockpot.  Bring stock pot to a boil.

Add uncooked lobster pieces and cook 8 minutes with the lid on. (If you add the lobster whole (not recommended) they will take longer to cook, may cook unevenly, and be difficult to serve individual portions.) If you managed to find baby slipper lobsters, you may leave the tail shells on and cook them whole as long as they are 3 ounces or smaller.

(For more pronounced garlic taste, one could add more finely minced fresh garlic at this point.) Now add the crab, scallops and shrimp. Boil for exactly five minutes with the lid on then add all other fish into the liquid, boil for 4 minutes with the lid on. In the last two minutes, add back the clams and mussels pushing them into the stock. Turn off heat, leave lid on. Let the pot rest covered for five minutes. As the stock cools, fish will continue to cook. There is a lot of stored heat in the soup stock liquid. (Notice that the fish goes in whole which is ok as the process of serving and stirring the soup will break then fish up enough.)

Just before serving, check salt and add pepper to taste. 

Serving individual portions in a large soup bowl and garnish with a sprig of basil and finely chopped chives.

  1. A word about the lobster.
Pacific spiny lobsters ($$$) or slipper lobsters are preferred over all others but Maine lobsters, if bought live are ok. If you are squeamish, have the butcher tail and claw them for you. Keep them on ice (do not freeze) until ½ hour before ready to cook, then bring to room temperature. If you place too many really cold things in the pot, the temperature will drop too much. We are timing things so we avoid overcooking items hence we allow things to warm up a bit just before cooking them, which is just fine.
  1. Controlling quality and cost.  You need a good fish market. (Asian markets have a good assortment and are less expensive.) Prepare fish from whole fresh fish. Use the carcass and bones for stock. Fresh fish have clear eyes, bright red gills, and smell like the sea.
  2. Filtering removes any possible sand dropped from the clams or mussels.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Chiles Rellenos Burritos

This burrito is based on the Guadalajara Market Special burrito that is renown in San Jose for an extraordinarily good burrito. The perfect chili is the Poblano. It is a shiny dark green triangular shaped chile 3” to 4” long that varies in their hotness from mild to somewhat hot. These are always roasted and stuffed with their seeds and stems intact. The stem is only pulled off when assembling the burrito. The seeds and what cling to them have most of the heat and some more of the flavor. Pre-roasting the chilies insures a deep toasty flavor. This recipe also relies on Mexican rice, and refried pinto beans. (See recipes)


2 Poblano green chilies per person, fire roasted, peeled
A brick of queso fresco1
1 cup flour
Pinch salt
Pinch garlic powder
Pinch ground red pepper
Corn oil, to coat skillet
1 room temperature egg per relleno, beaten until super frothy

Turn broiler on high.

Line a shallow roasting pan with tin foil. Place Poblano chilies on their flattest side to broil and, later, turn once to cook the other side. This usually takes 5~10 minutes per side depending on the distance of the pan to the broiler head and the BTU output of the broiler.

After roasting Poblano chilies until they are black on both sides, remove from broiler and cover the chilies with newspaper or place in a brown paper bag to sweat. After 20 to 30 minutes you can start peeling away the black heavy paper like skin. Try to remove most of it. If needed, use a small paring knife to lift the edge of the skins. Don’t worry about the blacken surface; it’s fine. This chile is naturally dark to begin with.

Turn on oven to bake at 250 F. The oven is used to keep batches of cooked rellenos warm as they are batch fried 3 or 4 at a time.

Using some tin foil and cover a dinner plate to make cleanup easy. Put a cup of flour spread out on the tin-foiled-plate for dredging the chilies. Make a small slit in each chili and fill the chilies with a slug of cheese. Don’t worry if the cheese is a hump in the middle – it’s going to melt and fill the chilie’s cavity. Dredge each chili in the flour on both sides until well covered. Add room temperature eggs to a mixer with a pinch each of salt, red pepper, and garlic powder and beat eggs until super frothy and very pale.

Place a large frying pan on high heat. When the pan is hot (350 F) add a few tablespoons of oil.
Using your hand, dip each floured chili into the egg batter to cover it well then carefully lower it to the hot pan surface. Use a spatula to move some of the egg mixture back over the edges of the chilies. When rellenos are well browned on one side, turn gently over to brown the other side. Rellenos should be golden brown when done with the cheese well melted. Place rellenos on a platter and put them in the oven while finishing the next batch of chilies. When done, assemble the burritos with 2 rellenos per burrito. Pull off rellenos’s stems when assembling burritos.

Burrito ingredients per person

2 rellenos, while still warm
2 tablespoons refried beans per burrito, heated
2 tablespoons Spanish rice per burrito, heated
2 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco or Chihuahua
1 tablespoon fresh tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped green onions
1 tablespoons Guacamole or chunks of avacado
1 tablespoons hot sauce
1 large flour super burritos-size (13~14 inch) hot tortilla

The beans and rice are hot when you assemble the burritos. The flour tortillas may be heated in a direct flame on the stove top turning frequently until very warm on both sides.
Alternatively, heat each tortilla in the microwave on high for 25~30 seconds one at a time as they are needed.

  1. Queso fresco is the most widely used cheese in Mexican cooking. The firm-textured fresh white cheese (its name translates as "fresh cheese") is slightly salty, with a mild, tangy taste similar to farmer's cheese. It melts well and does not run.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Vicki’s Chuck Wagon Beans - a Huckleberry Above a Persimmon

During the long cattle drives, the chuck wagon was the headquarters of every cattle outfit along the trail. The cowboys ate their meals there and it was where a recounting of the day and the smell of over overcooked coffee. Skippy, the most popular man in camp cause he was cook did not take to a lot of back talk. When the trail boss mentioned almost under his breath, “Beans again” ?
Skippy took off and hit his side with his floppy hat.
“Shucks, you ain’t some kina granger is you? Maybe you don’t know why we got these beans? Why beans is an Ace in the Hole. Why, we was in Missouri, a surrounded by injuns. We done shot all our lead ‘til was agone. Did not pay it no never mind neither. We start just a loading beans instead til the hullabaloo settled down and them injuns just up and left.”
After that, no one said any more about beans.

1 ½ Pounds ground beef
1 Yellow onion, chopped
8 Ounces hickory smoked bacon, chopped
1 32-Ounce can Campbell’s Pork and Beans
2 15-Ounce cans Ranch Style Beans
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 yellow mustard
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Cup chicken stock
¾ ~ 1 cup Heinz Tomato ketchup
Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

In a oven-proof pot that has a good lid, cook bacon to its starts to render then add chopped onion and cook until onion has become tender but not brown. Now add the ground beef breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Stir frequently to turn meat to insure an even browning. Stir in sugar, mustard, and both types of beans, ketchup, garlic powder and chicken stock. Preheat oven to 300 F. Simmer beans on stove top on medium until they start to boil. Cover and cook in the oven for several hours. Taste and correct sweetness and seasoning as required.

It’s a Huckleberry Above a Persimmon

Friday, February 13, 2015

Chinese Salt and Pepper Shrimp (aka Salt-Baked Prawns)

In an authentic Chinese restaurant, the shrimp is cooked head-on with their shells until crispy so they eat like potato chips. This dish, from the south of China, is neither baked nor cooked with any large portion of salt. When eating these, the secret is to chew thoroughly.

1 ¼ Pound whole medium shrimp2 (pinch off feelers)
2 Teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 Thinly sliced jalapeno pepper (red is hotter than green)
4 Green onions, sliced
Salt for blanching water
Cornstarch enough to coat shrimp (2-3 Tablespoons)
½ Cup peanut oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Soak the shrimp1 lightly salted cold water for 30 minutes.

Bring a large pot of slightly salted water to a boil. Blanch shrimps for 10 seconds then quench in cold water. Blanching improves firmness. Drain and pat shrimps as dry as possible with paper towels.

Mince both garlic and ginger and set aside. Have ready cut up green onions and jalapeno. (Retaining the jalapeno‘s white-seed portion retains the hottest portion of the chile. I like hot so I leave it in.)

Heat wok on high. The secret of cooking these is to not excessively brown the coating otherwise they will be over done.

Lightly coat the shrimps with the cornstarch. When the wok is hot, add the oil. Shake off excess cornstarch, and, when the oil is very hot (385o F), stir fry the shrimp in batches. (Make sure the shrimp are completely covered with hot oil.)

Pour off the oil but retain. Turn out the shrimps onto a paper towel-covered plate. Reheat the wok; add back one tablespoon of oil. When oil is very hot, stir fry garlic, ginger, jalapeno, and green onions until fragrant. Add back the shrimps and toss well. Correct seasonings. Serve immediately on a pre-heated platter.

  1. Medium shrimp are younger the jumbo shrimp hence the shells are not as tuff.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Yellow Rice (Arroz Amarillo)

This is a dish of yellow fried rice and the ingredients other than rice (shown below) are anything you want. In my version, the rice is flavored with Peruvian Aji Amarillo chile powder, garlic, jalapeno, shallots (could be sweet onions) chicken stock, and chopped poblano chilies. Top the rice with your choice of protein to make a whole meal.

Rice Ingredients
Pinch of Turmeric
½ teaspoon American Spice Yellow food coloring (Colorante Amarillo) or Badia Yellow Coloring
Pinch saffron
Pinch Aji Amarillo
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 ½ Cup water
2 cups Thai jasmine long grain rice

Use a sauce pan equipped with a tight fitting oven safe lid. (If you do not have an oven safe lid, use three layers on tin foil making a tight seal.) Place water in sauce pan; bring it to a full boil. Add colorants, spices, and rice. Cover with tight fitting lid. Bring back to boil. When boiling, place pot in a 350 F preheated oven. Set timer for 35 minutes. After 35 minutes, remove from oven with oven mitts. Remove lid. Spill out rice on a half sheet pan with a lip. Cool then place uncovered in the refrigerator to get cold.

1 Teaspoon Aji Amarillo chile powder
1 chopped seeded jalapeno (red ones look good)
1/3 Cup homemade chicken stock or more as needed
1 chopped poblano chile
1 Clove chopped garlic
3 Chopped shallots
3 Scallion greens chopped
3 tablespoons corn oil
Correct seasoning with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Heat a wok until hot, add oil, jalapeno, poblano, shallots, and garlic and stir-fry briskly. Stir in cold rice; stir-fry flipping with spatula to separate rice grains. Add Aji Amarillo chile powder and chicken stock. Stir in scallions. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and correct seasonings as needed. Serve hot.

The yellow collorant is to be found in the Mexcian section of a Mexican market or online. To make this into a whole meal, top with broiled lobster, or large gulf shrimp, or broiled chicken.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Moo Goo Gai Pan - Chicken and Mushrooms

Moo goo mean mushroom, Gai means chicken and pan means sliced. When the chicken is cut so thin and cooked so quickly, it remains wonderfully tender.

1 Cup Chinese (Napa) cabbage, white portions, sliced ¼ wide, 2 inches long or substitute 2 inch long thin slices of celery
1 Can drained sliced water chestnuts
1 Cup snow peas, washed in cold water
2 Boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced in thin slices
1 Cup baby cremini mushrooms, stemmed, quartered
1 Clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 Tablespoons shallots, thinly sliced or substitute thinly sliced Vidalia onion
1 Carrot peeled, sliced into thin shreds (optional)
1+1 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 Pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
1 Pinch white pepper
1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Teaspoon white sugar (optional)
1 ½ Teaspoons soy sauce
1 Teaspoon fish sauce
1 Teaspoon Mirin
1 Tablespoon rice wine or sake
1 Teaspoon rice wine vinegar
¼ Cup chicken broth and a little more, later, if needed

In a small bowl, add cornstarch, sugar (optional) then mix in soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine, Mirin, vinegar, and ¼ cup of chicken broth. Set the cornstarch mixture aside until needed.
Heat wok over high heat. When hot, add a tablespoon of oil, garlic, ginger and the pepper. Stir fry the chicken slices until all traces of red are gone. (Save chicken in a bowl.)

Wipe out wok.
Heat wok over high heat. When hot, add a tablespoon of oil. Stir fry water chestnuts, shallots, snow peas, Carrots (optional), and cabbage or celery until all the vegetables are hot. Return the chicken to the wok and add mushrooms. Add cornstarch mixture and stir fry and toss until thickened. Correct seasoning adding more chicken stock as required. The suace will not achieve its full thickness until it has returned to a boil. Sauce should be thickened but slightly runny. Serve over steamed jasmine rice.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Vicki’s Crunchy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

 These make a tender delectible cookie with little chew and a little crunch.

1 Cup sweet butter
1 Cup packed brown sugar
3/4 Cup white sugar
1 Cup crunchy peanut butter
2 Eggs
1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
2 Teaspoons baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 Cup quick-cooking oats

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, white sugar, and peanut butter until smooth.
Beat in the eggs one at a time until well blended.
Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and stir the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture.
Mix in the oats until just combined.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until just light brown.

Do not over-bake. Cool and store in an airtight container.