About Mastering and Enjoying Home Cooking. Drink, Cook, and Live Well!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Teriyaki Meat or Chicken

Create a marinade for chicken, duck, and pork ribs cut Chinese style, Mongolian style beef ribs, or English short ribs, or center cut beef ribs

1 Cup soy sauce1, low sodium
1 Cup water
1 Tablespoon lemon lime juice (taste)
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (taste)
Brown sugar or sugar and dark molasses (to taste)
2 Tablespoons ground ginger or minced fresh ginger
1 or 2 Cloves chopped garlic

Combine equal parts of water and soy. Add lemon and vinegar. Start with a cup or cup and a half of sugar to start with. Add ginger and garlic. Taste for degree of sweetness. The sauce should be sweet but not overly so. Pour over meat, marinate 24 hours. Turn meat once after 6 hours. Use enough marinade to completely cover one side of the meat. Reserve marinade.

Preheat grill to 300. Preheat oven to 300.

Barbecue meat on grill until well colored. Turn often to avoid burning sugar. Place in large oiled baking dish. Take a cup of the reserved marinade. Heat reserved marinade in Pyrex then microwave sauce until it is boiling. Baste over the meat. Cover with tin foil and place in center of the oven. Chicken cooks an hour. Ribs cook 1½ ~2 hours.

Meat may be glazed with Teriyaki Glaze (Kikkoman) upon serving. Garnish serving dish with fresh chopped cilantro.

  1. Soy sauce could be 1/3rd each mixture of mushroom soy, black soy, and tamari (Japanese tamari is thicker, richer, and less salty than most soy sauce.) Black soy is molasses flavored soy sauce; the best is from Thailand.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tom Yum Goong or Thai Shrimp Soup

This recipe is for two large bowls. This soup, like many dishes developed across centuries, has great medicinal properties. Lemongrass and ginger both have powerful antifungal properties and ginger is renowned for its anti- inflammatory properties.

Tom Yum Goong is a very popular Thai soup flavored with fresh lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and shrimps. This soup is wonderfully aromatic with a vibrant fresh flavor making it one of my all-time favorite Thai soups. The Thai chili, when put in whole, will not contribute much heat unless a guest breaks these up with their spoon on the side of the bowl to release more heat. The nam prik pao (hot sauce) may also be placed on the table so guest can add their own heat. Thai restaurants will often substitute sliced red jalapeños for the Thai chilies when the Thai chilies are not available. When preparing this dish, there are quite a few ingredients. It is handy, to pre-measure these and group them in little bowls in the order in which they go in, so one does not inadvertently forget one or more of the ingredients. 

4 2/3 cups of water (or use vegetable or 50-50 chicken and seafood stock)
3 stalks fresh lemon grass.
4 fresh kaffir lime leafs1 (or chopped zest from 1 1/2 limes – not quite the same)
1 Tablespoons tamarind paste3 (Asian or Thai market)
1  ¼ pounds of whole medium shrimps (buy with head on and use heads and shells for stock)
1 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon Marin
1 teaspoon sugar
3 thin slices fresh galangal2 or ginger root about thumb size (1 ½ inch long) chopped very fine
8 fresh Red and Green Thai chili peppers, whole (more for Garnish)
1/3 small white onion, cut 1/4 inch slices
2 Tablespoons Thai Chile Sauce optional (nam prik pao)
See recipe: Thai_Chile_Sauce
6~8 ounce can straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed
12 Cherry tomatoes, sweet and ripe, cut in halves
¼ cup sliced scallion greens
Few sprigs of Thai Basil
Few sprigs of cilantro
Several sprigs ngò gai culantro5 (aka Mexican Coriander, Vietnamese Coriander)) or use cilantro
Juice from a lime
½ teaspoon white pepper
Sea Salt
1 pound fresh rice stick noodles

On a per bowl basis:
Several sprigs fresh ngò gai culantro5 or cilantro
Several sprigs Thai basil
Several sprigs ngò gai culantro

Prepare in advance 6 quarts of unsalted water for cooking the noodles. Cover pot and set on stove to boil. As the noodles are done quickly, these will be done last.

Cut of heads and peel shrimp reserving heads and shells for building the initial shrimp stock. Use a very sharp small knife to make a shallow cut along the backs of the shrimps about 1/3 of the way up from the tail toward the thick end of the shrimp. Remove the black vein to be found there.

Trim off and discard tough root ends of the lemongrass. Hold all three lemongrass stalks and crush them somewhat with the spine of a cleaver or mallet; cut into 4 inch pieces, and half these with a sharp knife. Put these with shrimp shells.

Boil 4 2/3 cups of water in a sauce pan. Add lemon grass pieces, tamarind paste, bruise two of the kaffir lime leaves (or add half the Lime zest), and all of the shrimp trimmings to the pot and boil 5~6 minutes.

Sieve stock into a bowl pushing down on pulp with a wooden spoon to extract all the juices and discard pulp. Return stock to pot and bring to a boil.

When stock boiling again, add minced ginger, balance of the kaffir lime leaves (or the remaining half of the Lime zest), fish sauce, Marin, a teaspoon of sugar and the shrimp.

Cook 3 minutes. Add the sliced onion, straw mushrooms, and, optionally, to add heat, add nam prik pao.

Boil for another 4 minutes until the shrimp is cooked through. Add the Thai chile peppers, scallion greens, a little Thai basil, cilantro, ngò gai culantro, and tomatoes. Cook 1 minute. Turn off the heat. Add the lime juice.

Taste to adjust the seasonings with sea salt and white pepper. Place lid on soup until ready to prepare bowls.

Open vacuum bag of fresh noodles. Drop noodles in 4 quarts of boiling water for 5~ 10 seconds until they are just right. (As the soup is boiling, and the guest will take a while to gather to the table, the noodles can be firm going into the bowls.) Using a pasta hook, fetch some noodles allowing them to drain a bit then place the noodles at the bottom of each bowl.

Bowl the soup.
Add soup to bowls. Try to split shrimp evenly, and add several sprigs fresh cilantro per bowl, sprigs of ngò gai culantro, and sprigs of Thai basil. Cut a wedge of lime. Put a diagonal slice across the inside middle of the lime wedge to create a slit. Stick lime slice on bowl edge using slit created. (See picture)

On the side, provide a garnish with a small dish of nam prik pao and some chopped Thai chilies marinating in a bit of fish sauce. Provide additional Thai basil, cilantro and ngò gai culantro on a central plate so all can reach.
Fresh Rice Stick Noodles


  1. Kaffir Lime Leaves are often hard to find. These are not expensive ($3) and may be purchased and flown out by air delivery in 2 days from the http://grocerythai.com/

GroceryThai.com, 10929 Vanowen St. Suite 143, North Hollywood, CA 91605
Phone (818) 469 9407, Fax (310) 424 2914
Mon-Fri 9.00 to 16.00, Pacific Time

  1. galangal – white ginger - The flavor is more flowery and intense than regular ginger. The branched pieces of rhizome are from 1 1/2 to 3 inches in length, and seldom more than 3/4 inch thick. Use small amounts when starting out. Its flavor combines well with lemon grass, peppers and garlic in Thai cooking for seasoning fish, meat or poultry
  2. Tamarind paste is used to add a sour taste in many Thai recipes including Pad Thai. The paste provides orange sour/tart/sweetness. It is usualy available in a brick form. I cut off what I need and cover it with orange juice an microwave on high for a minute to soak to soften. (Add additional water as needed. Strain through a sieve.)
  3.  Head on shrimp in the soup stock is a traditional way in the Thai home of making this soup and yields an improved shrimp flavor. 
  4. Also known as Mexican coriander, thorny coriander, spiny coriander, fitweed, saw-leaf or saw-tooth herb, recao and Tabasco parsley, this herb has a similar flavor to cilantro although much stronger. Find this in your Asian produce section availble fresh.

Toasted Thai Chile Sauce – “Nam prik pao”

Commercially this is a roasted chile paste containing red chili, garlic, onion, palm sugar, oil, tamarind, salt and sometimes dried shrimp and fish sauce. These commercially preparations can be very hot.

As I often want a toasted chile flavor but want to control the proportion of other flavors, my version is made only with just whole chiles. In this recipe, New Mexico pods are much milder than arbor chiles so if you want a milder sauce use less arbor and more of these.  Ancho chiles are added for flavor and are relatively mild.

2 package of dried arbor chiles
1 package of dried New Mexico pods
1 package of dried ancho chiles

If you don’t have an outside grill with a side burner, I would recommend you buy this instead. The fumes are serious and having these fumes inside the house is not a good idea unless you have a great hood that you can run on high. When roasting any chiles, the fumes can permanent damage your eyes so keep your head away from the pan – don’t “take in” the aroma up close. Also, it may be useful to wear latex disposible gloves when handling this volume of peppers.

Break the stems off all the chiles, jiggle pods to discard as much of the seeds as possible. Crumple these in a bowl. Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron frying pan over high heat. Add chiles and toast these until fragrant, stirring contents frequently. Turn off heat. Allow chiles to cool somewhat. While pan is still somewhat warm, add a cup of warm water. Cover and let soak for an hour. Using a post blender, blend chiles into a paste. Add more water if too thick. Store paste in a jar in refrigerator for up to six months.

Mae Pranom Brands

Chilli Paste in Oil from Mae Pranom, known as "Nam prik pao", one of the premium quality from Thailand. Added in hot and sour soup, Tom yum, to enhance the flavor. Mingle with steamed rice, dip with fresh vegetables, pork cracking or rice crispy. Ingredients: Sugar, shallot, soya bean oil, garlic, dried chilli, fish sauce, dried shrimp. Net Weight: 8.0 oz. Product of Thailand, approx $4.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Notes on Chinese Hot Sauce

Many of the Chinese hot sauce ingredients are antibiotic if not also antimicrobial:
garlic, ginger and the capsaicin in the hot chilies. (The hotter the chilies the more capsaicin they contain)

My hot sauce uses arbor peppers, which are ten times hotter than jalapenos (CraigDremann's Pepper Hotness Scale). While I could not prove it empirically, nothing ever grows in the sauce though it is in the refrigerator of over 1½ years. Some commercially prepared sauces, like this, on the market have added ascorbic acid presumably as a preservative. Others do not list additional preservatives.   When serving the hot sauce, I additionally mix it with soy sauce and rice vinegar, which adds salt and lowers its PH.

From: J Ethnopharmacol. 1996 Jun;52(2):61-70.

The antimicrobial properties of chile peppers (Capsicum species) and their uses in Mayan medicine

A survey of the Mayan pharmacopoeia revealed that tissues of Capsicum species (Solanaceae) are included in a number of herbal remedies for a variety of ailments of probable microbial origin. Using a filter disk assay, plain and heated aqueous extracts from fresh Capsicum annuum, Capsicum baccatum, Capsicum Chinese, Capsicum frutescens, and Capsicum pubescens varieties were tested for their antimicrobial effects with fifteen bacterial species and one yeast species. Two pungent compounds found in Capsicum species (capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin) were also tested for their anti-microbial effects. The plain and heated extracts were found to exhibit varying degrees of inhibition against Bacillus cereus, Bacillus subtilis, Clostridium sporogenes, Clostridium tetani, and Streptococcus pyogenes.

Jennifer Billing and Paul W. Sherman report in the March 1998 issue of the journal Quarterly Review of Biology.

“Garlic, onion, allspice and oregano, for example, were found to be the best all-around bacteria killers (they kill everything), followed by thyme, cinnamon, tarragon and cumin (any of which kill up to 80 percent of bacteria). Capsicums, including chilies and other hot peppers, are in the middle of the antimicrobial pack (killing or inhibiting up to 75 percent of bacteria), while pepper of the white or black variety inhibits 25 percent of bacteria, as do ginger, anise seed, celery seed and the juices of lemons and limes.

The Cornell researchers report in the article, "Countries with hotter climates used spices more frequently than countries with cooler climates. Indeed, in hot countries nearly every meat-based recipe calls for at least one spice, and most include many spices, especially the potent spices, whereas in cooler counties substantial fractions of dishes are prepared without spices, or with just a few." As a result, the estimated fraction of food-spoilage bacteria inhibited by the spices in each recipe is greater in hot than in cold climate”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dim Sum Potstickers and Chili Garlic Black Bean Hot Sauce

There are as many recipes for pork dumplings as there are chefs and the ingredients are not sacred but traditionally, pork, sometimes chopped shrimp, garlic, ginger with a little sugar is present in the list of ingredients. These dumplings may be prepared ahead of time and frozen until ready to cook.

2 Cups ground pork
2 Cups chopped Chinese cabbage (also called Napa cabbage)
2Stalk green onion, finely chopped
Garlic chives, chopped (optional)
2 Teaspoon minced ginger
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 Teaspoon white pepper
1 Teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Peanut oil for cooking
Chicken stock as a release agent

Combine filling ingredients mixing well. Cover with plastic and allow to marinate for 15 minutes. Spoon 2 teaspoon of filling into center of a wonton wrapper. Wet ½ of the outside of one edge with a wet finger with water. Press the far edge into the wet edge at the center. Pleat one side of just the outside edge typically in six pleats. Do next potstickers until all are done. Bring a non-stick pan to hot. Add two tablespoon of oil to pan, press bottom of uncooked dumpling against bottom of pan. Cook several minutes on high until the dumplings take on color. Add a ¼ cup of chicken stock and cover with a lid to steam. Reduce heat to medium and cook covered for five minutes to steam well. Drain pan. Place cooked potstickers browned side up on a plate garnished with diagonally chopped scallion greens. Serve with a tasty dipping or hot sauce and soy for saltiness.

Dim Sum Dumpling Dough (Wonton Wrappers)

Asian wheat flour wrappers are traditionally made with hot water.
2 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 Cup hot water

Put the flour in food processor’s work bowl equipped with a pasta blade. Turn on processor and add 3/4 cup of hot water in a steady stream through the feed tube. As soon as all the water is added, stop the processor to inspect the dough. Pulse processor for another few bursts to knead and form a ball around the blade.
Bag the dough in a sealed plastic bag and allow to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. The dough-resting period will help make the dough more pliable. The dough can now be used to roll the wrappers or may be refrigerated overnight. Before rolling, return dough to room temperature

Don't want to make your own, buy the ready made in the freezer section of a good Asiam market. I like the Wei Chuan brand.


Chili Garlic Black Bean Hot Sauce

The recipe came from Chinese Garden Restaurant in Santa Clara California. I had been dining there for lunch for near 18 years. I would order the pot sticker just to have a good excuse to eat the hot sauce. Unsuccessful at gaining access to the recipe no matter what I tried, I finally succeeded only when the Mandarin chef and his wife retired and sold the restaurant. The recipe sounds very simple (because it is) but the sauce gets increasingly more complex and more delicious as it ages. My Chinese friends are as crazy about this sauce as I am.

1 cup peanut oil
1 cup crushed red pepper1
6 ounces of minced fresh crushed ginger
8 cloves minced crushed garlic
1/3 cup fermented black beans (douche), chopped a bit

Heat oil until hot (300 F)  Drop in all the crushed red pepper. (Avoid putting your face too close to the sauce pan as a breath of this could knock you flat out and require paramedics.) Heat to very hot again. Add all other ingredient. Stir once and cook for two minutes on high. (At this high temperature the moisture is driven off and is sterile.) Ladle into sterile jars and seal lid tight. Refrigerate and allow to age for a minimum of three months (is best six or more months). Once opened, keep refrigerated. Keeps at least a year. Especially great on pot stickers.

  1. How hot do you like your hot sauce? crushed red pepper could be a comination or New Mexico Pods (mild), California pods (very mild) and arbor peppers (very hot) or a mix of these.
  2. If you need some hot sauce for your potstickers in a hurry, use Black Bean Garlic sauce which replaces the black beans and garlic in the above recipe. This is available in many Asian markets or online like as in Amazon.com 
  3. The CDC suggests oils infused with garlic or herbs should be refrigerated. 
  4. The salt in  the black beans help preserve the sauce.
  5. see my notes on hot sauce for discussion of health concens

On Amazon

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Neck Bone Fricassee (Stew)

Fricassee is a traditional French stew made usually made with chicken steeped in a wine broth and usually ends up in a white sauce. This is not the case in this stew. An additional difference from the French approach is the neck bones are browned in olive oil

Meats - use 2 pounds of each:
Cut up shanks or veal neck bones
Pork neck bones
Lamb neck bones
Use 3 pounds of
Celery, carrots, white onion, and tomatoes chopped
½ cup red wine
¼ cup port
¼ cup dry sherry
3 Tablespoons concentrated Italian tomato paste
1 Teaspoon Colman's Dry Mustard Powder

Season with

4 bay leaves
Sprig of rosemary
4 cloves garlic
½ Teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper
2 teaspoon white pepper

As required

Beef stock
Olive oil
Wash the meat in cold water then dry well with paper towels. Use a large pot equipped with a tight fitting lid. Sauté meats in batches with a generous amount of olive oil over high heat turning the meat until sides are browned. Remove the browned meat to a bowl to drain on paper towels. Drain off the excess oils and deglaze pan with wine, port, and sherry. Add back the meat along with the seasoning and tomato paste, cover and simmer on low heat (braise) 2 hours. Periodically, add beef stock to replenish liquid in the pot. After two hours, add all the vegetables. Cover and continue to simmer another hour. Again adding beef stock as necessary. Start to reduce the liquid. Stir in a bit of wonder flour to thicken the sauce. Cook it well after adding at least 5 minutes. Adjust the seasonings. Add a bit of gremolata (combination of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley) Serve over a favorite white starch like rice or wide egg noodles.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Homemade Chicken Stock

Perhaps one of the most important ingredients for making any number of other preparations is the fundamental chicken stock. Incredibly easy only requires chicken and patience.

One 4 to 5 pound whole fresh young fryer chicken
5-6 Quarts cold water
1 Cup white dry wine
3 Ribs of celery, chopped very coarsely
4 Bay leaves
8 Black peppercorns
10 Whole coriander seeds
1 1/2 Onions including their skins, chopped coarsely
3 Cloves of garlic and their skins, chopped coarsely
4 Carrots, chopped very coarsely
2 Ribs of celery

Make a bag of cheese cloth. Chopped all vegetables, combine with bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander seeds and tie all in cheesecloth bag with string and save for later. 

Cut chicken in pieces. Wash chicken several times in cold water to remove all traces of blood. Broil chicken on high on each side to take on some color.

Add chicken pieces to large stock pot. Cover with cold water and simmer on low for 20 hours.  Skin scum as it rises to the top. When no longer producing scum, add a lid. After 20 hours, remove lid and add cheesecloth bag of vegetable. Cook another four hours . Stain broth. Discard vegetables in bag. Taste broth in a spoon seasoned with a little salt. If concentrated enough, you’re done, else reduce on low without a cover until concentrated enough.

Refrigerate overnight. Remove fat layer next day. (This flavored fat is good for flavoring cooked foods and it freezes well.)

A little salt is only added if needed as a preservative to extend storage or add it later at the point of the stock’s eventual use. When adding salt, consider using sea salt.

Japanese Soba Noodle Soup

In Japan, soba noodles are a popular inexpensive fast food.  When I was in Iwakuni, this was one of the cheapest meals in town. That being said, these buckwheat noodles in an aromatic and savory broth were delicious. Usually I had noodles with spinach. It was rare if a piece of chicken could be found in this steamy bowl.

6 Cups homemade chicken stock

6 Cremini mushrooms sautéed in butter - al dente

2 Teaspoons Mirin

1 Teaspoon dry sherry

1 Tablespoon soy sauce

½ Pound dried soba noodles


Sliced Japanese white radish1

Bunch of blanched spinach

2 Green scallions (sliced diagonally)

Add noodles to plenty of boiling water, separate and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Drain but do not rinse.

note 2 - from worldfortravel.com

Arrange noodles and spinach in each bowl. Ladle in hot soup stock and garnish with radish and scallions.







1.      An Asian root vegetable that is a long, white, carrot shaped radish that is crisp and juicy with a milder taste than red radishes.

2.      The bridge was built in 1673, spanning the Nishiki River in a series of five wooden arches. The bridge is located on the foot of Mt.Yokoyama, at the top of which lies Iwakuni Castle. The bridge is built without using nails that explains while it is still standing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Bright Yellow Garlic and Peppered Rice

The result looks like saffron rice. The method here is the least fastidious for cooking rice, and never burns the bottom of the rice. The problem with cooking rice on the stove top is that, as the rice absorbs all the water in the last throws of cooking, the single source of heat cannot be properly spread away from the bottom of the pan without the water. The bottom becomes too hot, and the rice in contact with the bottom of the pan then burns. The stove top formula was 5 minutes on high, 5 minutes on low, five minutes off which meant you had to be diligent about the timing. This method, however, is non critical. A little extra time will not reduce the rice to mush as long as the water content is on the lien side. This recipe may be scaled as required.
2 cup of Jasmine rice (premium long grain)
3 ½ - 3 ¾ cups of water
1 Teaspoon white pepper
1 Teaspoon sweet paprika
1 Teaspoon garlic powder

Bring water to a full boil stirring in spices and food coloring. Add rice without stirring; cover with a tight fitting lid. Heat to a boil. When boiling, place covered pot in 350 F oven for 45 minutes (convection is preferred).

When making flavored rice, some or all of the water maybe replaced by stock, wine, etc.

Garnish with fresh chopped chives

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) Good Mexican Food

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) has become increasingly popular in parts of the U.S. that have a high population of people with a Mexican heritage. In these areas, the holiday is a celebration of Mexican culture, of food, music, beverage and customs unique to Mexico. The holiday commemorates the victory over the French at The Battle of Puebla in 1862.

A great menu could include any of your favorite including guacamole, enchiladas, tostados, tamales, chimichanga, chilies rellenos, black beans, rice, homemade chips, and salsa. margaritas and finish off with a purchased Tre Leches Cake.

Have on hand
Can(s) of black beans (local Mexican store)
Tomato sauce for Spanish rice
Sweet Onions (enchiladas, rice, and guacamole)
Enchiladas sauce (local Mexican store or make your own)
Corn oil
Medium Casera sauce (local Mexican store)
Poblano Chilies for toasting (rellenos)
yellow bell pepper
Queso fresco (local Mexican store)
Corn tortillas (local Mexican store)
Flour tortillas (local Mexican store)
Tamales (local Mexican store)
Mexican Onions (local Mexican store)
Roasted chicken thigh meat for chimichanga and tostados
Tre Leches Cake (local Mexican store)
Salt and pepper           

Make a Pico de gallo

Chop tomato, sweet onion, minced garlic, cilantro, yellow bell pepper and chilis (generally jalapeños or serranos) and a little lime juice. Use this sauce as a topping.

These are deep-fried burritos that are popular in the Southwest, Tex-Mex and the Mexican states: Sinaloa and Sonora. The dish is typically prepared by filling a flautas-sized flour tortilla with marinated meat or shredded chicken with salsa. It is rolled like a spring roll then deep-fried. Top with salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and pico di gallo.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Preserving Ginger - No cook method

Ginger has been used as a natural remedy for many ailments for centuries. It helps treat cancer, migraines, morning sickness, morning or motion sickness and helps with diabetic nephropathy. Ginger is akin to a wonder drug in herbal medicine and is even supposed to good reducing flatulence.

I make Asian, Chinese, and Thai dishes often so I use a fair amount of ginger. It would be terrific to grow ginger but it is doubtful the plants would survive my boxer. She thinks of herself as the champion digger of North Carolina.

Health Benefits
Ginger stores in a dry dark space fairly well but I have found that preserving it sliced not only is effective but also insures a steady supply at the drop of a hat. I make syrup of sugar, water, and cider vinegar, which I refrigerate. When the acidulated mixture is cooled, simply slice the ginger with a very sharp knife and place them in a wide mouth mason jar. The amount of sugar does not matter. Some salt is ok, add it if you like only use kosher salt (without iodine). Fill the jar so all the ginger is covered. Store in the refrigerator and use when needed.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Combining Ingredients Cooked to Perfection

While a great stew is certainly wonderful especially on a cold winter’s night, it could be even better. Being brought up as a young man in Italy has had its effect. As I learned to cook at an early age, I was fascinated at how great everything tasted in Rome. One of the distinct differences I noticed was many dishes were combined at some stage in their preparation rather than being all cooked together. This was especially true of minestrone and stews. The ingredients did not all taste the same and each of them seemed fresher and al dente. So one would see a long braising of ox tail cooked slow and low until flawlessly tender then potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, each prepared separately, combined which was nothing short of amazing. The flavors were not homogeneous but rather more interesting. Wow a stew without soggy watery potatoes – how’d that happen.

Foto: Copyright © 2009 Toscanafantasy - Tutti i diritti riservati.
One of my mother’s boy friends was a rugged tall man over six feet, a doctor by profession, and one fabulous cook. He commanded the kitchen like the surgeon he was. When he made fish stew for us, every stage was executed in order, and with a stopwatch. The marinara sauce was made first, then a fish stock from the tailings and bones. The clams, mussels, squid, fish of six kinds, shrimp, and lobster each cooked at a different rate. While I was only 12 years old at that time, I remember the great Cacciucco (Ligurian Fish Stew) as if it was yesterday. The lesson certainly underlined the precept that when all the ingredients are cooked to perfection, the result would be perfection.

Speed forward another 55 years, time after time I noted in great restaurants or in my own kitchen, the method appears to the advantage of many fine preparations from soup, beans, salads, and even desserts.

Great Beans

Tuscany is the home of the “mangiafagioli”, or bean eaters.

Rinse the beans under running water. Put beans in a crock pot adding  4 parts water by weight for each weight of beans. For a pound of beans use 8 cups of water. Add a pinch of salt, 5 sage leaves, a sprig of
rosemary and 3 cloves of garlic. Bring to a low simmer the put in a 300F oven for about 3 ½  hours until beans are tender.  
Drain. When cool, serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, pepper, minced garlic, herbs and a great crusty Italian or sourdough bread.