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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Shrimp 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 fabulous dish. This recipe is chili, tamarind, cilantro, peanuts, rice stick noodles with chicken, shrimp and fried tofu, Thai style. This one is a ten!

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 first started out, the easiest place to get the ingredients is from the restaurant directly. Now, knowing my way around Asian markets, I can find most everything needed. 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. Just for fun, once I used fresh tamarinds but that is more work.

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 or back in the fridge.)

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. I usually 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 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 http://importfood.com/nogl4001.html
  2. Fish sauce is the single, most important flavoring ingredient in Thai cooking and is available in premium and standard editions - see http://importfood.com/gourmet_fish_sauce.html 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.
  5. Calamansi juice which is Phillipine lime, may be added to this disk as well as chopped Kaffir Lime leaves to give increased flavor to the dish.
  6. When making your own tamarind using the fresh pods, I use orange juice to loosing the fruit.
  7. 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 - these are 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. Wet your fingers with some oil and wipe the cooked noodles to prevent sticking. 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

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: http://www.alfredo-roma.it/ 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 Amazon.com

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
1/2 onion, chopped
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.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pear and Ginger Cake

Based on Penny Stephens What's Cooking Italian .

The taste is subtle. If you want to moderate the ginger, use 2 teaspoons. Pears are not a prominent flavor in this recipe. You may want to try adding vanilla or even orange extract. 

14 tablespoons Cup sweet butter softened
7/8 Cup white sugar
¾ Cup  flour
2 Teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
2~3 Teaspoons grated ginger
3 eggs, room temperature
3 pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar

Grease and line the base of a springform cake tin with buttered parchment. (If you like, line the sides of the pan with parchement as well. The cake shrinks when done so the side parchment is really not necessary.) Preheat the oven to 325 F*.
Cream together 12 Tablespoon of the butter with the white sugar on low speed. Wisk in eggs, one at a time. Sift baking powder and flour together. Add flour mixture, and ginger.Whisk mixture 2 minutes to a smooth consistency. Add a pinch of salt.
Sprinkle well buttered bottom parchment paper with brown sugar. Cover the bottom surface with uniformly thin pear slices. Use all of them; it does not matter if they are overlapping. Dot with butter.
Pour the mixture into the cake tin, making sure it is roughly level. Put a wrap of tin foil on the bottom of the springform to prevent butter leak from the topping.

Bake in a preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

This cake is delicious served warm with cream or vanilla ice cream. Best eaten within a day or two of baking.

1.       The baking temperature varies with the depth of the pan. Changing the pan size alters both the baking temperature and time. Larger, more shallow pans need increased heat; smaller, deeper pans need decreased heat. The size of a baking pan or dish is measured across the top of the container from the inside edge to inside edge. The depth also is measured on the inside of the pan or dish from the bottom to the top of the rim.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Gifts from the Sea Risotto (Frutta de Mare)

This is a Venetian dish and very often, it is made with mussels, clams, squid and shrimp. You can use what is on hand in your area. Normally, tomatoes and mushrooms are omitted. It does not take long to make, and, most chefs to take advantage of the seafood’s freshness, prepare this the day they shop the ingredients.  The better the seafood or Premium Fish Stock (see http://www.barharborfoods.com/stocks.php), the better the risotto. The Bar Harbor Seafood Stock is sold online at Amazon

4 Tablespoons very flavorful extra virgin olive oil
2 Shallots finely chopped
2 Carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small stock of peeled celery, chopped, optional
1 Mediterranean Bay leaf
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (Carnaroli rice)
1 cup Sauvignon Blanc
4 cups prepared seafood stock (boil shrimp shells to help flavor this stock)
2 Cup chicken stock
1 pound shelled white ocean shrimp
2 baby lobsters, 3 ounce, slit shells down lengthwise
1 pound diver scallops
Sea Salt
1 clove crushed garlic, minced
Crushed red pepper optional
White Ground Pepper
Pinch or Italian oregano
1 level teaspoon of sugar
Halved Sun Gold Tomatoes or other ripe baby tomatoes
Cremini mushrooms sliced thin
Garnish chiffonade of fresh basil and diced chives for

Keep the stock warm in a separate pan. Boil shrimp shells, a bay leaf, and some threads of saffron to help flavor this stock. Skim out bay leaf and shells before using stock.

In a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat, add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped shallots, optionally a pinch of red pepper, celery if you are adding it and chopped carrot. Cook just until shallots clear but do not brown. Add the rice. Stir and toast until all kernels are coated and fragrant about 2~3 minutes stir constantly.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Allow wine to cook down and then ladle in the stock to just cover the rice. Add crushed garlic, sliced mushrooms. Cook and stir ten minutes, stirring frequently, maintaining a level liquid by adding more stock.

Add the scallops, tomato halves, oregano, lobster tails, and continue cooking covered until rice is soft but still very al dente. If too dry, add more stock. Add the shrimp, cook for just two more minutes covered. Remove from heat. Season with sea salt and white pepper. Garnish with basil and chives. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mesquite and Chilies Seasoned Rub

A good rub is a combination of fresh spices, seasonings and herbs that add flavor to meats, fish or fowl. Fish needs only half an hour while meat and fowl benefit from longer treatments. Overnight is often convenient and the prep time is the same but the depth of flavor is more.

Brown sugar
Mesquite Smoke Flavoring
Sweet paprika
Merken1 Mapuche Chile
Ground Pasilla Chile
Chile chipotle
Garlic powder
Black and white pepper
Onion powder
Ground Makrut2 lime powder
Cascabel Chile

  1. Merken is a traditional Chilean seasoning created by the indigenous Mapuche people. The local version is made from Goat’s Horn chile (aji cacho de cabra), which is mildly spicy and smoky, but not nearly as strong as chipotle chile are.
  2. Makrut lime leaves are indigenous to Southeast Asia. Many of the trees now thrive in Hawaii. They have a citrus-like, floral aroma and impart a unique flavor.

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.