Sunday, December 26, 2010


I love spicy hot foods! Hence my attraction to foods such as kim chi, curries and the like. This, however, may seem strange. While I love heat in my food, I really do not like hot sauce! Sure, when I make buffalo wings (I'll post my recipe) I have to use hot sauce. But apart from that, you'll never, ever see me use hot sauce on my food.

So what do I do? I use sambals and hot pepper-based concoctions. You see, I like texture! Hot sauce is just a liquid. I want crunch and bite! That's why I love hot sauces that are thick and flavorful -- made of pieces of onions or shallots, various kinds of hot peppers and sometimes fruit! They're so much more interesting and flavorful to me than boring hot sauces.

I was in Tanzania in November. I was absolutely thrilled that the restaurant featured Indian hot mango pickle! It was made of unripe mangoes, vinegar, garlic and hot peppers. I single-handedly (I think, anyway) ate most of it. I put it on my stews, on the veggies, on rice -- on everything! It woke the food up, deepened (but didn't mask) the flavors and added a nice layer of texture.

I have been to Malaysia a few times and love the food. The sambals, which are chilli-based sauces, are wonderful! I bought a cookbook of Malaysian sambals, dips and sauces and made one.

I warn you now -- I found the process to be long, arduous, time-consuming and literally exhausting. But my, oh my -- the finished product was delightful. It was a delightful combination of dried prawns, fresh and dried chillies and lemongrass. The resulting sambal was highly aromatic and I warn you -- very, very hot!!!! But it perked up food and make the eating experience a worthwhile challenge.

Some of the ingredients, such as tamarind pulp, galangal and belachan, may be unfamiliar to many Western cooks. But I've been able to find them in Super 88 and other Asian supermarkets in my neighborhood.


Special Kampung Prawn Sambal

1/2 cup dried prawns, rinsed and soaked for 15 minutes
4 tablespoons oil
2 medium ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 1/2 tablespoons tamarind pulp mashed with 1 cup water, strained to obtain juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Spice Paste
2 stalks lemongrass, thick bottom part only, outer layers removed, inner part sliced
1 inch fresh galangal root, sliced
1 1/2 inch fresh tumeric root, sliced or 1 tsp ground tumeric
20 dried chillies, soaked in water to soften, then deseeded and cut into lengths
8 fresh red chillies, deseeded and sliced
15 shallots, peeled
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon belachan (dried shrimp paste)
1/2 cup water

1. To make the Spice Paste, grind all the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth, adding a little oil if necessary to keep the blades turning.

2. Drain the dried prawns and grind them coarsely in a mortar or blender.

3. Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the dried prawns over medium heat for 3 minutes until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and onion, and stir-fry for another 3 minutes until the mixture softens.

4. Add the Spice Paste, reduce the heat to low and stir-fry for 8 - 10 minutes until the oil separates from the mixture. Add the tamarind juice, sugar and salt. Increase the heat to medium and stiry-fry for 5 minutes until the sambal thickens and the oil separates from it.

This sambal keeps in the refrigerator for 3 months.

Yields 2 1/2 cups

Gingerbread for the holiday season

I was talking to my sister the other day about the Christmas season. Sherri reminded me of one of her favorite memories: the scent of sweet, fragrant gingerbread baking the oven. Mommy always made gingerbread this time of year. I had actually forgotten that -- at least consciously. Over the past few weeks, I have found myself in the kitchen, opening molasses and measuring out heaps of ginger to make gingerbread. I guess some memories become so internalized that they become part of you.

The holiday season is a very busy time, too. There are parties, out-of-school children to attend to, cards to write, and friends and family to visit. So, while we all love a homemade treat at this time of year, we generally want to enjoy it with minimal effort.

I have tried my share of gingerbread recipes, and have managed to find a one-bowl version that I like that is super easy and fast. It's moist, sweet and full of gingery flavor. Enjoy!



* 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/3 cup granulated sugar
* 1 cup molasses
* 3/4 cup hot water
* 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
* 1 large egg
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
* 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Grease and flour a 9-inch square baking pan or spray with a baking spray with flour. Heat oven to 325°.

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl; beat on low speed of electric mixer until ingredients are combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl and increase mixer speed to medium; beat for about 3 minutes longer. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cut into squares and serve with freshly whipped cream. To serve leftover gingerbread, warm slightly in the microwave for about 15 to 20 seconds.

This gingerbread freezes well: cut into squares and wrap individually. Thaw and warm in the microwave just before serving.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lemon Yogurt Cake

You know by now that I am big fan of lemons, and even devoted an entire post to it! I was glancing through the Saveur website and saw a recipe for a lemon yogurt cake. That recipe called for limoncello, which I did not have. (I intend to buy it, and try that recipe.) And I was determined to make the cake on the same day that I came across that recipe. So I started looking for other versions lemon yogurt cake. I figured any cake that combined both fresh squeezed lemon juice with whole-milk yogurt had to be good! It called to mind the lemon pound cakes that my mother used to make.

The recipe that I ended up using is Ina Garten's. It was very, very easy to make and quite light and tasty.


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 ½ x 4 ¼ x 2 ½-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into one bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cake.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


As many of you foodies may be aware, last week was National Cheesecake Week. Dessert junkies celebrated cheesecake, which is usually anchored by cream cheese with crust made of graham crackers, or perhaps, vanilla wafers.

I grew up in New York City, which is arguably the cheesecake mecca. After all, we have Junior's in Brooklyn. Good cheesecake could be had not just at the famous Junior's, but in my house! Yep, my mother made a mean pineapple cheesecake that she routinely served for her semi-formal dinner parties.

I was always fascinated by what seemed to be a complicated process. She would make the graham cracker crust with the assistance of her beloved Kitchen Aid mixer. I can still see the speckled pan (this was before the days of microwave ovens) that she used to melt the butter that was combined with the crushed graham crackers and sugar. This was baked in the oven in the 9-inch springform pan.

While the crust cooled, Mommy made the pineapple mixture that was spread on top of the graham cracker crust. Atop this was a rich, creamy dairy-rich mixture anchored by full-fat cream cheese. Needless to say, it took only a slim piece of this cheesecake to be satisfying! I also remember, though, that the cheesecake did not stay in the refrigerator for very long.

We're now in the 21st century. Concerns about cholesterol, sugar and fat make Mommy's pineapple cheesecake seem downright dangerous. Hence, the proliferation of low-fat cheesecake recipes.

I was very skeptical about making a low-fat cheesecake, but I disciplined myself to try. I found a few recipes from Cooking Light that I put together into one. This magazine has reliably tasty recipes for cooking classics. Still, seeing a recipe that called for 1 package of low-fat cream cheese plus 1 package of FAT-FREE cream cheese made me very, very nervous.

I made the cheesecake about a week-and-a-half ago. I must be an honest blogger. I found it just ok; certainly not great. And not -- in my humble opinion-- good enough to warrant a second attempt. I found that I needed to add more butter to the graham cracker crumb crust, as the paltry amount called for in the recipe generated a very dry crust that simply did not hold together. The cheesecake itself tasted as if 1/2 the flavor had been sucked out. And when you think about the actual recipe, that's basically what happened. I knew better when I saw fat-free cream cheese as an ingredient. IT HAS NO TASTE!!!!! I started to use all low-fat cream cheese, and I should have followed my gut instinct.

The cheesecake was topped with a strawberry sauce that was ok. But again, just ok. There was no covering up the lack of creamy richness. This brings me to my last problem with the low-fat cheesecake. The texture was off. It wasn't soft-yet-firm and creamy. It was something unappealing that I'm not even certain how to describe.

So here's what I'll do. I'll post the Cooking Light low-fat cheesecake recipe. And I'll post a recipe for pineapple cheesecake that I can stand by. You be the judge! In my view, some foods are just not made to be low-fat. Cheesecake (at least for me) is one of those foods!!!

Low-Fat Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce

1 cup reduced-fat graham cracker crumbs (about 10 cookie sheets)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, melted
Cooking spray

2 large egg whites
Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 (8-ounce) blocks 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 large eggs
4 cups sliced strawberries (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare the crust, combine the first 3 ingredients in a bowl. Firmly press the crumb mixture into the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes, and cool the crust on a wire rack.

Reduce oven to 300°.

Combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and remaining dash salt in a large bowl. Add cheeses; beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until smooth. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add vanilla and 1 teaspoon juice; beat just until combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition just until incorporated. Add remaining 2 egg whites; beat just until incorporated.

Pour cheese mixture into prepared pan. Bake at 300° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a 3-inch circle in the center of the cheesecake barely jiggles when the side of the pan is tapped. Turn oven off. Leave cheesecake in oven with the door open for 30 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven; run a knife around outside edge. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Cover and chill at least 8 hours. Garnish cake with strawberries, if desired.

To prepare sauce, combine sliced strawberries, 1/2 cup water, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl, pressing lightly with a spatula; discard solids. Return mixture to pan. Combine 1 tablespoon water and 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add cornstarch mixture to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Transfer mixture to a bowl; cool to room temperature. Stir in 2 teaspoons juice.

Pineapple Cheesecake Made with Real Cream Cheese :-)

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter, melted

Mix the ingredients well and pat into the bottom of a non-stick, 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. Cool.

Pineapple Base
1 small can crushed pineapple, with 1/3 cup juice reserved
2 1/2 tsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a saucepan over a low-medium flame, mix the pineapple and reserved juice with the cornstarch. Stir constantly until the mixture is thickened. Cool to room temperature and carefully spread over the graham cracker crust.

1 1/2 lbs. cream cheese
1 c. sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pt. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Cream the cream cheese in a large bowl until mixed. Gradually add the sugar. Beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time. Gradually beat in the sour cream. Mix in the vanilla extract. Pour over the pineapple mixture.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for one hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the center is just dry. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in with the door cracked for about 5-6 hours. This keeps the top from cracking. Chill in the refrigerator overnight. Serve.


A great day of veggie picking and cool markets that cater to immigrant communities!

There is nothing like fresh fruit and vegetables, is there? The quick way to secure them is to head to the local supermarket. Given my Southern, farming roots, I like to go to farm stands. Or even better -- pick my own produce.

Summers are great for visits to local farms. The large ones in the Boston area, such as Russell's Orchard in Ipswich (, are great for berry picking. I've been there for each harvest -- strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc. I'll be back for apples in the fall. I haven't picked too many vegetables this summer, though.

Until yesterday. My friend and colleague, Nancy, has a lovely garden in her backyard in Framingham, MA. I discovered this delicious fact while we were sitting next to each other at a board meeting. I told Nancy that I had started a cooking/food blog and she invited me to raid her garden.

Who could pass up such an offer?? So yesterday, I drove to Framingham. Nancy's garden was absolutely delightful. I loaded up on Thai basil, mint, curly-leafed parsley, sage, rhubarb, Swiss chard, tomatoes, squash and pole beans. Cooking will be so much fun over the coming days!

Raiding Nancy's garden was just the beginning. Nancy invited me to accompany her to an Uzbeki-owned market that opened late in 2009. We drove a short distance from Nancy's house to Fresh Choice Market, located at 855 Worcester Road, in Framingham ( The owner is Tommy Schneider, a real entrepreneur!

There was lots of fresh produce. What really caught my eye was the extensive variety of smoked fish (herring, paddlefish, salmon, mackerel and trout), keffir, farmer's cheese, and cold cuts. I was in heaven!! I absolutely love smoked fish. After all, I grew up in New York City, and ate bagels and some variety of smoked fish (lox, herring, etc.) on a regular basis. I was tickled pink by the labels on the smoked fish, which were printed in Russian Cyrillic. I always associate smoked fish with the Nordic countries. But think about it -- Finland and Russia share a border. Smoked fish is central to the cultures of countries that border the sea. I had a hard time deciding between the smoked trout and the smoked herring. I ended up with the trout. I also debated about buying keffir, a dairy drink that has the consistency of yogurt. I opted for farmer's cheese.

My excitement grew as Nancy guided me to the bakery section. Omygosh!!!! There were several types of homemade Russian bread. I picked out a loaf of rich, dark brown rye bread.

Nancy and I got in the check-out line. I looked at my basket of smoked trout, farmer's cheese, and Russian bread. What was missing? A red onion, of course. While Nancy held our place in line, I ran to the produce section and picked out two -- one for Nancy and one for me.

The icing on the cake was the fact that Nancy gets a 10% senior citizen's discount on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Farmer's Choice. The total for my basket of goodies was a whopping $10!!! I was most struck by how inexpensive the trout was. I picked out a 10-oz piece that was priced at just $3.77. Try finding smoked trout for that price at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Not happening!!

That brings me to my next observation, and the subject of my car chat with Nancy as we drove back to her house. Markets that serve immigrant communities tend to be more inexpensive than ones that serve the general community. Given the fact that I love to cook cuisines from the Americas, Africa and Asia, this insight has saved me hundreds of dollars. I love going to the Vietnamese-owned supermarket on Dorchester Avenue. Where else could I get a quart of strawberries for under $1.00?? Or several stalks of lemongrass for under $2.00. The same amount of lemongrass would cost me nearly twice as much at Shaw's or Stop and Shop. Same thing with the smoked trout that I found at the Uzbeki market.

I patronize a South Asian market in Coolidge Corner, Brookline. I had searched -- in vain-- for years for curry leaves. I had noticed the shop on trips to Coolidge Corner to meet friends for lunch. One day, I decided to check the store out. I went in and timidly asked the shopkeeper whether he carried curry leaves. He smiled, walked to a refrigerator and handed me a bag. I've been guarding those leaves with my life. I also picked up huge containers of cardamon seeds, coriander seeds, cloves (I enjoy making my own curry powder by heating the spices in a non-stick pan, cooling them, grinding them in the coffee grinder and then mixing them. Amazing!!), and garam masala (which I use frequently in everyday cooking). I didn't pay more than $3.00 per container. Stop and Shop doesn't even carry spices in containers that large and charges upward of $4.00 for tiny jars of spices and seasonings.

Regular supermarkets are great for staple items. But for my fun dishes, I find my way to the markets with the ingredients that I need. In addition to being more inexpensive, they're just fun to shop in. The cacophony of different languages, the smells, the bustle-- they make me feel right at home!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Best Chocolate Cake Ever. Seriously.

I can think of very few people who don't like chocolate cake. And certainly, there are tens of thousands of recipes for chocolate cake. Central to the flavor is the kind of chocolate used. Some recipes call for unsweetened cocoa, which is usually sifted together with the other dry ingredients before combined with the wet ones (butter, eggs, milk and often some kind of flavoring). I have always tended to gravitate toward recipes that use squares of chocolate, which are usually melted in a double-boiler (By the way, there is no need to go out and spend good money on a double-boiler. My mother improvised and so do I. All you have to do is use a large saucepan for the water and put a smaller one with the ingredients on top. Voila!)

I have experimented with my fair share of chocolate cakes. But I came across one that I really think takes the cake. I know, I know -- that was bad. But I couldn't --or rather, chose not to-- resist.

One day I became determined to make a chocolate cake, and decided that I wanted something "different." I had no idea what that really meant. But I sat patiently on the floor near the bookcase and pulled out a number of cookbooks. Cookbook by cookbook, page by page, I painstaking went through at least 7 or 8 cookbooks.

One of my mother's oldest cookbooks is Julia Child's seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My mom's copy was published in 1971; it was one of her cooking bibles. I picked up the cookbook last and looked for a recipe for chocolate cake; Julia did not let me down. There, on pages 677 and 678, was her recipe for an "extremely good chocolate cake" as she referred to it.

I read through the recipe and immediately noticed two things that made it different from most other chocolate cake recipes with which I was intimately familiar. First, there was no baking powder or baking soda, which are typical leavening agents. Rather, the recipe called for egg whites beaten into stiff peaks. I was immediately intrigued!!! Not only do beaten egg whites make batters rise; they also make them light and fluffy. Immediately, I could see and taste feather-light chocolate cake. The second thing that struck me about the recipe was the use of pulverized almonds. I was hooked. Chocolate and nuts pair naturally. I could picture almonds mixed into a rich chocolate mixture, lightened by egg whites.

Surely, this recipe was a winner! It absolutely was. I have made it with and without icing. It's so rich that it really does not need the icing, but I'm providing the recipe for the Chocolate-Butter Icing. I like to garnish the iced cake with whole almonds in a design. It adds a nice extra touch.

Make sure that you don't overbake the cake. The center should be slightly underdone.

I have made this recipe at least 4 times and each time, I receive rave reviews. It is rich, moist, flavorful, attractive to look at, and elegant served on nice china. I love it served with tea as it balances the richness of the cake nicely.


Reine Be Saba (Chocolate and Almond Cake)

A round cake pan 8 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches deep
4 ounces or squares semi-sweet chocolate melted with 2 Tb rum of coffee
A 3-quart mixing bowl
A wooden spoon or an electric beater
1/4 lb. or 1 stick softened butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1Tb granulated sugar
A rubber spatula
1/3 cup pulverized almonds (I use a blender to do this.)
1/4 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup sifted cake flour returned to sifter

Butter and flour the cake pan. Melt the chocolate over almost simmering water. Measure out the rest of the ingredients.

Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture.

Beat in the egg yolks until well blended.

Beat the egg whites and salt in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in the almonds, and almond extract. Immediately stir in one-fourth of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Delicately fold in a third of the remaining whites and when partially blended, sift on one third of the flour and continue folding. Alternate rapidly with more egg whites and more flour until all egg whites and flour are incorporated.

Turn the batter in to the cake pan, pushing the batter up to its rim with a rubber spatula. Bake in middle level of preheated oven for about 25 minutes. Cake is done with it has puffed, and 2 1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a needle plunged into that area comes out clean; the center should move slightly if the pan is shaken, and a need comes out oily.

Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack. Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced.

Glacage Au Chocolat (Chocolate-Butter Icing)

For an 8-inch cake
A wooden spoon
1 ounce (1 square)semi-sweet baking chocolate
1 Tb rum or coffee
A small saucepan set over not-quite-simmering water
3 Tb unsalted butter
A bowl of cold water
A small, flexible blade-spatula, or a table knife

Stir the chocolate and rum or coffee in the saucepan over the hot water until chocolate has melted into a very smooth cream. Remove saucepan from hot water, and beat the butter into the chocolate, a tablespoon at a time. Then beat over cold water until chocolate mixture is cool and of spreading consistency. At once spread it over your cake with the spatula or knife.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Soup in the summer

With the exception of gazpacho, many Americans don't really think about soup as a summer option. Soups conjure up images of wool sweaters, scarves and cold, snowy days. What could be better on a winter day than a flavorful, hot liquid filled with chunks of vegetables or meat? Soup is the ultimate comfort food on those days when all we can think about is getting inside to a warm house.

But soups are great meal options during the summer. I can hear you thinking: Who wants to eat hot soup during the summer? I just returned from East Asia, where slurping down a big bowl of steaming hot soup is very common. I ate hot soup every day that I was in Malaysia. I even ate it on the plane! Yep, Korean Air serves hot miso soup as part of the meal service. For East Asia, hot soups are just the right thing to eat during the hot weather season. (It's the same idea in many developing countries, such as Jamaica, where hot tea on a daily basis is common, despite the tropical climate.)

Don't worry -- I'm not going to post a hot soup recipe. I just wanted to discuss what different cultures believe about the subject. I have a wonderful cold soup recipe to share. I served sparkling berry soup as a first course during a hot summer day for several friends whom I had invited over for dinner. It was refreshing and quite good.

I can not stress enough how crucial it is to use only freshly squeezed juices. Sure it's more time-consuming, but the difference in taste between fresh and bottled juice is noticeable. As you remember if you read my earlier blog on lemons, I love their taste. I added a little more than the recipe's indicated 1/4 cup. It's a matter of personal taste, I suppose. I used Asti Spumante, which worked fine. Given the ingredients in the soup, I thought that ice cream would be too much. Instead, I used a frozen vanilla yogurt. It was light and also provided a contrast in color. I was so pressed getting dinner ready, that I didn't even bother trying to track down the flowers for the garnish. I used fresh mint, which worked quite nicely.


Sparkling Berry Soup

6 cups stemmed ripe berries such as strawberries, raspberries or blackberries (one kind or an assortment)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
2 cups Asti Spumante, Champagne, or other sparkling wine
Berry sorbet, frozen vanilla yogurt or rich vanilla ice cream
whole fresh berries for garmish
Pesticide-free non-toxic flowers such as borage, forget-me-nots, violas or violets for garnish (optional)

Serves 6 as a soup course or dessert.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Food Notes from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Greetings from Malaysia!

I am in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, delivering a corporate training. Doing so keeps me occupied from about 7:30am until 5:30pm. What's always on my mind is food! I've written a few posts on the glories of South East Asian cooking. It's quite a treat to actually be in the country that has developed one of my favorite cuisines! The best way to describe it, is China-meets-India. Typical ingredients include dried shrimp, cilantro, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, chilies of all kinds, and coconut milk. How can you go wrong with those ingredients? You can't! Malaysian food is also hearty. Breakfast consists of rice dishes, sambals, and noodles with fish, chicken and seafood.

This is not my first trip to Malaysia. I had the privilege of coming here two years ago, around the same time of year. As I walked the streets, I remembered my first experience with food here two years ago. I vividly remember asking the hotel concierge for a restaurant recommendation. My specific charge was, "I want to go to a local Malaysian restaurant. I don't want to eat where the Westerners do." I don't have anything against Westerners. I, myself, am from the West! But I am a bit of a food purist. When I go to a foreign country, I want to enjoy the full benefit and pleasure of immersing myself in the local culture. I don't want to eat McDonald's, Pizza Hut or a cheeseburger when I go abroad. I want to experience local cuisine!

The concierge gave me the name of a restaurant, which was walking distance from the hotel. He assured me with a smile that I would be delighted with the Malaysian food at this place. Needless to say, I was suspicious. Sadly, I was right to doubt my friend at the concierge desk. I set out midday (it took a full night's sleep plus the next morning to overcome jet lag from the 23-hour flight) in search of this authentic Malaysia restaurant. I knew I was in trouble when I entered an upscale high-rise building that was full of Westerners. Surely I was in the wrong place! Upon asking people emerging from the elevator whether the restaurant was in the building, I was told to go to the top floor. I became more suspicious.

I knew instinctively that I was in the wrong place. But i had to confirm my suspicions. I exited the elevator and entered the restaurant. A cursory look at the diners suggested that this was not a local restaurant at all, but one that catered to a Western palette. The host handed me a menu, which featured more continental dishes than Malaysian ones. To add insult to injury, the price for eating at this fine establishment was not cheap! Dinner for 1 would have cost about $40. There was no way that I was going to pay that for non-Malaysian food.
Disgusted, I handed the menu back to the host and took the elevator to the ground floor.

My mission remained unchanged: find a good-quality, local, Malaysian restaurant. How hard could that be? I asked the Westerners whom I found chatting on the ground floor. They looked at me oddly and told me that they couldn't help. Oh, well. I was not deterred. My experience with foreign travel kicked in and my strategy crystallized. I walked over to a section of the street where construction workers were repairing the road. I asked the guys (all local Malaysians) for a recommendation: "Where do you guys eat lunch?" They immediately responded with two suggestions, one of which was walking distance from where I was standing. I should have asked these folks and not bothered with the concierge. At least I got some exercise out of it.

Anyway, I made my way to Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, affectionately known as KLCC. I followed the guys' instructions and took the escalator to the 4th floor and walked to the far end to the food court. This is not a food court filled with chain restaurants. It has about 20 local small restaurants that sell Malaysian, Thai, Singaporean, Chinese and Vietnamese food. I looked at the diners and smiled as I noticed that I was the only foreigner. I breathed a sigh of relief and knew that I was in the right place. I went to one of the stalls on the right and ordered from a menu that had not one English word on it! I pointed, nodded and smiled my way through my order and was thrilled with the experience.

First of all, a huge bowl of curry mee and several little appetizers cost about $3.00!!!! I sat down with my chopsticks and spoon and dug in. The curry mee was rich with coconut milk and a range of spices typical to Malaysian cuisine (cumin, coriander, cardamon, chili powder, etc.). In the soup were prawns, bean sprouts, tiny green beans, fish balls and noodles. It was perfectly seasoned and deeply satisfying.

On this trip, I was armed with this memory. So after I got over jet lag, I made my way to KLCC once again. The experience was the same -- fun, rewarding and very inexpensive. I'm a sucker for curry mee, so I ordered another bowl. I also ordered deep fried wontons filled with a chicken-shrimp mixture and served with a duck sauce. Delicious!!!!!

After I finish writing this post, I'm heading over to KLCC to eat. This time, I'll order something different. Then I'll go to the bookstore and pick out a Malaysian cookbook.

Keep your eyes peeled for posts of recipes from Malaysia.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grand Diplome Cooking Course!!!

OK, I'm dancing a jig. If you read my introductory post, you'll remember the central role that the 20-volume Grand Diplome Cooking Course played in my development as a cook. My mother used it as a guide to help me navigate the intricacies of various skills such as: making flaky dough; properly folding in egg whites; making souffle; and braising meats correctly. As I wrote that post, images of the colorful pages of the cookbooks danced in my mind's eye, accompanied by a rush of happy, fragrant memories.

I felt so nostalgic about that 20-volume set that I looked online for it. What on Earth did we do before eBay? I typed Grand Diplome Cooking Courseinto the magical search engine and lo and behold, several auctions came up for it!!! After taking a deep breath, I put in my bid. I fully expected that at least 100 other cooking fanatics would be cutthroat bidders, determined to keep me from my beloved cookbooks.

Um, it didn't happen that way. I bid the minimum and much to my shock (and slight disappointment that other people weren't breaking their necks as I was to get their hot, grubby hands on these fabulous cookbooks), I won! I secured the 20-volume collection-- in excellent shape -- for a mere $40 (about)including shipping and handling.

They arrived yesterday and I raced to the post office to pick them up. The heft of the box put a smile on my face as I schlepped them to my car. I had to focus on driving under the speed limit; I was super excited to get home! Fortunately, I didn't crash into anything or anyone. As soon as I walked in the house, I raced to the kitchen, snatched the kitchen shears and quickly cut the thick tape off the box.

I saw those book spines with the volume numbers on them. I double-checked to make sure all 20 volumes were there. I breathed a sigh of relief after ensuring that the full collection was there. Volumes 1-4 found their way into my hands first. I looked at the covers, which are basically food pornography. Those covers sell those cookbooks very effectively. Who can resist knowing how to make food look that good? Obviously my mother and I couldn't. Many of the recipes for her semi-formal dinners came from those volumes.

My commitment is to make the recipes in those cookbooks. I never made all of them, but maybe that would be an interesting goal. We'll see.


How many of you like rice??? Much of the world does, including me. I used to love rice as a child. I enjoyed eating it by itself as a snack. My mother would heat it on the stove (this was the pre-microwave oven era), put it in a cup and hand me a spoon. I was happy!

Fortunately for me as a cook, rice is cooked in a wonderful variety of ways across the world. There are pilafs, puddings (I will post my mother's recipe for rice pudding), gumbos, paellas, stews, etc.

In the course of falling in love with Indonesian cuisine, I came across a recipe for rice that is so tasty that it stands alone quite nicely. I have used it accompany other dishes that I made but truth be told, it's so flavorful that I could eat it by itself. It's quick and easy to make and the pay-off in terms of flavorful is fabulous.


Fragrant Coconut and Spice Rice
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts, shelled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups water
stem of lemon grass, 4 inches long
8 curry leaves (You can find these at South Asian food markets.)
2 green onions, cut in 1/8 inch slices
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 1/2 cups long grain rice

1. Heat oil in pan. Add nuts, stir until golden; sir in coconut.
2. Add coconut milk and water to pan. Stir in lemon grass, curry leaves and green onions, bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 2 minutes. Add cumin, cardamon and turmeric, bring to the boil. Remove lemon grass and rice, cook uncovered until steam holes appear at the surface.
3. Cover pan with a tight fitting lid, reduce heat to very low, cook for 10 minutes. Lift lid, check if rice is cooked, continue cooking if required.

NOTE: Basmati and jasmine rice can be used instead of long grain rice, if liked. Avoid lifting the lid of the pan while rice is cooking, as all the steam will escape, resulting in thick, starchy rice.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

summer cobblers

As I've mentioned before, my mother's side of the family is from Roanoke, Virginia. My mother grew up on a farm and understood the difference between fresh fruits and vegetables and those found in the supermarket. She always complained about "cold storage" produce. As a child, what she was talking about didn't totally register -- at least intellectually. But I could taste the difference between tomatoes picked from the garden near my grandparents' house, and the not-really-red, scentless tomatoes from Kroger.

My mother was not the only amazing cook in the family. Her sister-- and my favorite aunt-- could cook like nobody's business. Aunt Avis loved to talk about how her "house has been a stop for weary, hungry travelers for years." She took pride in her culinary skills -- with reason.

We often visited Aunt Avis (along with relatives living on The Hill, the family homestead) during the summer months. That meant looking forward to a table laden with Southern delights. Aunt Avis made a dessert that always stopped the show: deep dish peach cobbler.

Aunt Avis used farm-fresh peaches. You know-- the sweet, juicy, brightly colored peaches that almost taste like honey. You bite into one and the juice from the peach starts to drip down your fingers and arm. But you don't care! I remember Aunt Avis peeling the peaches (or having her nieces, nephews or whomever was nearby, help peel them). And I remember the long rectangular pan that she used to bake the cobbler in. But more than anything, I remember the taste of that cobbler, with the lattice crust on top. Aunt Avis' cobbler, along with vanilla ice cream, was always the best ending to the many meals my family ate at her house on Pittsfield Avenue.

Now, all that taste came at a price. The recipe obviously called for lots of sugar and butter. Back then, Aunt Avis didn't care; and neither did we! Those days are kinda behind me. I'm trying my best to get a grip on the calories that I consume. But it's still summer, and I still like cobblers. Must I be denied and deprived? Not according to Cooking Light, one of my favorite cooking magazines.

I made the berry-peach cobbler (below) a few days ago. I admit that it did not have the richness of Aunt Avis's peach cobbler, but it was quite tasty! The only thing I would do differently next time is use more lemon juice. As you may recall from an earlier post, I love lemon. And 3 tablespoons just didn't seem to be enough. Otherwise, I was very pleased with how it turned out.


Berry-Peach Cobbler
Yield: 12 servings (serving size: 1 cup cobbler and 1/3 cup ice cream)

3 (6-ounce) packages fresh blueberries
3 (5.6-ounce) packages fresh blackberries
3 medium peaches, peeled and sliced
Cooking spray
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

4.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/3 cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar (marketed as Sugar in the Raw)
1 tablespoon egg white

Remaining ingredient:
4 cups vanilla fat-free ice cream


1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. To prepare filling, combine blueberries, blackberries, and peaches in a 13 x 9–inch baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, juice, and 1/8 teaspoon salt over fruit; toss gently to combine.

3. To prepare topping, weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, baking powder, and 1/8 teaspoon salt, stirring well. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add half-and-half; gently knead dough just until moistened. Drop dough by spoonfuls evenly over top of filling. Combine almonds, turbinado sugar, and egg white; sprinkle over top. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until topping is browned. Let stand 10 minutes. Serve with ice cream.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yeast Breads!!!

A friend of my sister commented that my blog was about carboliciousness. I do admit, I am a carbs gal. I like rice, love pasta/noodles and could not live without breads. Living in Boston means having access to all sorts of hip, cool, funky bakeries that make fresh, delicious breads --both quick and yeast-- any time! But there is something particularly satisfying about making bread from scratch.

My mother introduced me to the art of making bread. To build my confidence, she started me on quick breads. At the age of 6, I was not yet ready to deal with the ins and outs of dissolving yeast in warm water, kneading the dough just enough, waiting for it to rise, punching it down, only to let it rise again, etc. But by the time I was 10 or so, it was time for me to learn. I loved watching Mommy make yeast bread. She had a big oven-proof brown bowl that she used to let the bread rise. She would oil it with Wesson oil, put the beautifully kneaded dough in it, turn it upside down, cover it with one of her many 100% cotton tea towels (Mommy believed only in natural fibers, even for her tea towels!), and let it rise inside the top oven (turned off). The only experience that was better than learning to make yeast bread with Mommy was eating the end-product -- especially with butter and a shmear of one of our homemade jams or preserves.

Making yeast bread does take time. It's great fun to do on a rainy weekend day when you don't feel like going outside. Or when you're having guests for dinner. Homemade yeast bread makes the meal a little more special than normal. And let's face it -- filling up the house with the scent of fresh-baked bread is pretty cool!

There are two yeast bread recipes that I have made frequently. They have something in common -- fresh rosemary!! One is a recipe for garlic and rosemary cloverleaf rolls (which freeze well, by the way). The roasted garlic really makes these rolls come alive. The other is for walnut and rosemary loaves. How can you beat that combination-- walnuts and fresh rosemary? You can't! I enjoy eating a slice (or two . . . ) with soup. I also use it for sandwiches.


Garlic and Rosemary Cloverleaf Rolls

Yield: 12 servings (serving size: 1 roll)


1 whole garlic head
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup warm 2% reduced-fat milk (100° to 110°)
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon butter, melted


Preheat oven to 350°.

Remove white papery skin from garlic head (do not peel or separate the cloves). Wrap head in foil. Bake at 350° for 1 hour; cool slightly. Separate cloves; squeeze to extract garlic pulp. Discard skins.

Dissolve yeast in milk in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add garlic pulp. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons butter, sugar, salt, egg, and rosemary; beat with a mixer at medium speed until combined. Add 2 cups flour, and beat until smooth. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel tacky).

Place the dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)

Punch dough down. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Divide each portion into 3 pieces, and shape each piece into a ball. Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray; place 3 dough balls in each muffin cup. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400°.

Uncover dough, and brush tops with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Bake at 400° for 12 minutes or until browned. Remove from pans; serve warm.

Walnut and Rosemary Loaves

Yield: 2 loaves, 12 servings per loaf (serving size: 1 slice)

2 cups warm 1% low-fat milk (100° to 110°)
1/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages dry yeast (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon 1% low-fat milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten


Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add yeast, stirring with a whisk; let stand 5 minutes. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 2 cups flour to yeast mixture, stirring with a whisk. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 15 minutes.

Add 2 1/2 cups flour, walnuts, rosemary, and 1 egg, stirring with a whisk. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes), adding enough of remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Lightly press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)

Preheat oven to 400°.

Punch dough down; turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half, shaping each portion into a round. Place loaves on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Cover and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Combine 1 tablespoon milk and 1 egg, stirring with a whisk; brush over loaves. Make 3 diagonal cuts 1/4-inch deep across top of each loaf using a sharp knife.

Place loaves in oven; reduce oven temperature to 375°, and bake 40 minutes or until bottom of each loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Let stand 20 minutes before slicing.

Eating in London

London is one of my favorite cities. I first went when I was 17. That was more than 25 years ago! Back then, it was commonplace to talk about how the city was great, but the food, lousy. I don't remember the food being that bad when I was 17. But I do remember that restaurant choices were nothing compared to what you can find in London now. It has become a world-class destination for even the most discriminating foodie!!

I am very, very fortunate that I go to London several times per year. This has given me a better feel and appreciation for how far the city has come in terms of diversity of cuisines. On one street near Paddington Station (I love staying at the tiny, but hip boutique Stylotel,, there are several steak houses, a Moroccan place (where I always stop and get an obscenely big plate of curry and rice, which costs all of $7.00), several Indian restaurants (And a variety of Indian cuisines. Remember, the country has about 1 billion people and has distinct regional cuisines. South Indian cooking is different from Punjabi cooking, for example.), and a KFC. I always skip KFC when I walk down that street. What's the point in eating something that I can find on every other block in the US?

The second area that I frequent is the touristy Bayswater section of West London. It's not far from Marble Arch and the beautiful Hyde Park, so it's a fun and walkable area. Whenever I go to London, I always stop at Kiasu, located at 48 Queensway ( It's on the end of Queensway that is closest to the Bayswater and Queensway tube stations.

Now, I have had my share of good food in London over the years, but Kiasu has become my favorite spot. The restaurant's website explains that "the word 'Kiasu' in the Chinese Hokkien dialect means ‘afraid to be second best’." This means that the menu features popular dishes from several Straits of Malacca countries: Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

It's a very unassuming place. It's pretty compact, with maybe 12 tables that seat 30 people, maximum. The first thing I notice whenever I go there (I've been at least 4 times by now) is the smell. The air is fragrant with the smell of dried and fresh chilies, cilantro, garlic and pungent spices. I relax as soon as I cross the restaurant's threshold. Those scents are a harbinger of good things!

Then menu is heavy on Malaysian and Singaporean dishes, with a decent number of Thai curries and a few representative dishes from Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. It's really hard for me not to get the gado gado, an Indonesian warm salad made with hard-boiled egg, tofu, and a variety of vegetables. What makes the salad is the to-die-for peanut dressing. Choosing a main dish is also tough. That's probably why I keep going back! My goal is to work my way through the entire menu. I tend to find myself drawn to the soups -- especially the coconut milk-based ones. It's hard to beat coconut milk and curry bases with noodles, veggies and seafood or meat. The seafood sambals, which are stir-fried in complex sauces made of various chilies, garlic, shallots and spices, can set your mouth on fire, but trust me-- you won't complain!

The service is efficient and friendly. And I always suffer reverse sticker shock when I have the pleasure of dining at Kiasu. It's obscenely cheap, especially given the generous portions and the high quality of the food. I don't think my bill has ever gone above $15 or so. I wonder whether they're charging enough, frankly.

The next time you go to London, make an effort to take the tube to Bayswater/Queensway. Find Kiasu and tell them I sent you. You'll be happy you did!


Thai Cabbage Slaw

When summer rolls around, it's time to pull out the patio furniture and the grill. What's more fun than a backyard cook-out? Summer meals bring to mind all the bounty of the season: grilled meats, seafood and poultry; colorful, fragrant fruit; and a bumper crop of crisp, flavorful vegetables that lend themselves to all sorts of fun and healthy summer salad creations.

You can never go wrong with a basic garden salad. You know the kind: the one with all sorts of lettuces (not including iceberg), cucumbers, carrots, peppers, radish, parsley, etc. I always, always have a variation on this salad on hand in my refrigerator. I enjoy it by itself, with chicken on top, or as a side dish.

But as you can tell from my blog, I like variety. There is more to salad than Romaine lettuce, and there is certainly more to dressings than vinaigrette or ranch. The summer is the season for cole slaw! I am most decidedly not talking about the one made with shredded cabbage, carrots and mayonnaise. Forgive me -- I don't meant to knock it-- but I can not bring myself to eat it. Maybe it's the fact that store-bought mayonnaise rarely, if ever, passes my lips. Not kidding. No, I don't use it to make tuna salad or chicken salad. That's for another blog.

Back to cole slaw . . . If I don't eat traditional cole slaw, then what do I eat? My favorites are those that use ingredients found in SE Asian cooking: lime juice, fish sauce, mint and cilantro. The dressing for the Thai Cabbage Slaw that follows is packed with flavor and it's much lighter than the mayonnaise-based dressing on traditional slaw. And, the lighter sauce also allows you to actually see the pretty vegetables, which the heavy mayo dressing can cover up. I have one more plug for this recipe: it's pretty light on calories.

There was a time when I made this slaw 2-3 times per month! Sometimes I would eat it by itself as a meal. Other times, I'd put shrimp, cubed chicken or sliced beef on top. Enjoy!

Thai Cabbage Slaw

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon chile paste with garlic
1 garlic clove, minced
6 cups shredded napa (Chinese) cabbage
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1 cup red bell pepper strips
1 cup shredded carrot
2 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until blended. Add cabbages, bell pepper, and carrot, and toss gently to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator 1 hour. Stir in the peanuts, cilantro, and mint just before serving. Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 3/4 cup).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Indonesian cusine!

I have always loved East Asian cuisines. I was very familiar with Chinese and Japanese food, and fell in love with Korean food when I arrived at college. It quickly became one of my favorites, probably in part because of my Korean roommate. She taught me a few phrases in Korean, which came in handy when going to Korean restaurants. Don't get me wrong -- it's not as if I could order a meal in Korean. but I could say enough to curry favor with the waiter or waitress to get extra kimchee or soup for free!

I also remember a trip that my college small group took to Central Square in Cambridge. Our group leader, David Lee, was an aficionado of East Asian cuisines and wanted to us all to go to Kabuki for dinner. I remember David buying all of us bus tokens and having us line up, single-file, outside the bus. As we boarded, he handed us a token. I'm not kidding. Yes, we were all 18, and yes, David really did this. Kabuki used to be located on Pearl Street and was run by an older Japanese woman who enjoyed cooking. Despite the Japanese name, the restaurant also served Korean food. Kabuki became my go-to restaurant my freshman year when I craved Korean cuisine. Going there was like visiting your friend's mom, who cooked a big dinner just for you. Sadly, it went out of business many years ago, but the fond memories linger.

East Asia is bigger than Korea or Japan, obviously. It also encompasses countries to the south, such as Indonesia. I had always been curious about Indonesian cuisine, but never found a restaurant in the Boston area. It was while I was on vacation in Curacao in the spring of 1997 that I encountered and fell in love with Indonesian food. I no longer remember the name of the restaurant, but could probably find it in the travel journal that I keep while on vacation. But I do vividly recall that it served rijstafel, which is the Indonesian version of a smorgasbord. I remember numerous plates of delicious dishes, made flavorful by all kinds of chilies, coconut milk and curries. These were accompanied by cooling rice. What a feast!

I found a nice cookbook of Indonesian dishes several years later and really committed myself to getting to know the food. I'm in love! I've made a number of the dishes and will feature more in future blogs. For now, I'd like to start with soup that I've made at least 5 times: seafood laksa, a seafood and rice noodle dish seasoned with lemon grass, shrimp paste and other pungent spices. This dish is easy and pretty fast to make.

The ingredients can be found at Super 88 or other Asian supermarket.


Seafood Laksa

1 lb. medium-sized raw shrimp
1 lb boneless white fish
5 oz rice vermicelli
6 cups fish stock (you can also use chicken stock)
4 green onions, chopped
stem of lemon grass, 4 inches long
1 tablespoon curry paste
1 teaspoon sambal ulek (You can use bottled varieties. It's just a chili sauce. Or you can make your own. See the recipe below.)
1 teaspoon shrimp paste (I actually use 2 teaspoons, because I like the strong taste. Make sure you toast it before using. Doing so brings out the flavor.)
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cup finely shredded lettuce
2 tablespoons mint

1. Peel and devein shrimp, cut fish fillets into 3/4 inch cubes.
2. Place rice vermicelli in large bowl. Pour over hot water to over. Stand 10 minutes; drain.
3. Combine fish stock in a pan with green onions, lemon grass, curry paste, sambal ulek, shrimp paste and tumeric; bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low, simmer for 3 minutes.
4. Add shrimp, fish and coconut milk, simmer for 3 minutes. Remove lemon grass.
5. To serve, put lettuce and rice vermicelli into bowls, add soup, sprinkle with mint.

Sambal Ulek

6 1/2 oz. small red chilies
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbl vinegar
1 tbl oil

1. Remove stalks from chilies, chop chilies roughly. Combine in a a pan with water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Pour chilies into a food processor, add salt, sugar, vinegar and oil, blend until finely chopped. Store sambal ulek in a small glass jar (with a non-metallic lid) in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Wear rubber gloves when handling chilies to avoid any contact with your skin.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Quick and Easy Shrimp Fried Rice

I have had a number of conversations with people -- both live and virtually-- about posting recipes that are quick, easy, and tasty. As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, the original premise for a cooking/food blog was the following: I'm a busy professional woman who loves to cook, but is short on time. What kind of dishes can I make? Many of the blogs have featured recipes that require some effort and time -- especially the homemade pasta recipe.

The recipe below is one that I literally just finished cooking and eating. The preparation time was about 15 minutes; the cooking time was probably 8 -10 minutes. Bear in mind that quick recipes will usually depend on what you have in your cupboard and kitchen, or at most -- a very quick trip to the store.

I invested pretty heavily in stocking my kitchen and larder with foods, spices, and condiments found in East and South East Asian cuisines. Still, you can make the featured recipe, Shrimp Fried Rice, without lots of heavy shopping.

The dish was very good. Make sure you use cold rice and not rice that you've just cooked. I used cooked shrimp, per the recipe, but I think it would have been even better had I used raw shrimp (you can buy them peeled and deveined at most supermarkets). If you use cooked shrimp, make sure you don't overheat them, otherwise they will become tough.


Quick and Easy Shrimp Fried Rice


1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup bean sprouts
3 cups cooked rice
1/2 pound cooked medium shrimp
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 eggs
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce


1. In a wok, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil on medium-high. Add mushrooms; stir to coat. Add bean sprouts, rice, and shrimp; stir-fry until hot.

2. Remove from heat. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil and 2 eggs; scramble and return rice mixture to wok. Stir in 3 tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce; serve

.Lodge Pro-Logic 14-Inch Cast-Iron Wok with Loop Handles

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Who has time to cook the stuff she posts? I'm glad you asked!

I have been receiving excellent feedback on my blog and want to respond. A few people have commented that they enjoy reading the blog, but lack lots of time to make involved meals with long processes. That feedback confirms what I had in mind a few years back when I contemplated doing something with my passion for cooking and food. The question was: As a busy, professional woman who likes good food, how do I prepare tasty meals that won't have me in the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove for hours? The truth of the matter is that I've had free time over the past several days to do things like make homemade lasagna noodles. But generally, I am very busy with a range of commitments. So over the next several blogs, I will be posting recipes that are not time-consuming, but taste great.

Monday, June 14, 2010

China makes everything taste better- especially pound cake

My mother was serious not just about food, but about all the props that accompany it. What does that mean? For Mommy, it meant beautiful linen table clothes that she bought when she traveled across Europe on her way back from her year abroad in Turkey. (Mom was hip. She moved to Turkey in the early 1950s to teach at a girls' school. She lived on the Asian side of Istanbul and taught on the European side of the city. She even learned Turkish!) We have table clothes from Belgium, Spain, and I believe, France (need to double-check that one with my sister, Sherri). She added to her collection when we were children, buying a gorgeous Chinese, hand-embroidered silk table cloth that looks like huge, translucent butterfly wings. And several, gorgeous, intricately designed table cloths.

On top of the table cloths went bone china. Mommy and Daddy were hard core about good dishes and glasses. We always set the table with the Crystal D'Arc glasses. And we used Aunt Mill's antique Rosenthal service for the holiday parties. For other gatherings, there were the Spode Royal Windsor the Princess Grace services, both completed by tea cups and saucers. That brings me to the focus of this blog: my mom's afternoon teas.

Mommy always made sure that there was something sweet and delicious on the sideboard. (I should point out that my mother looked in various furniture stores for the right sideboard to hold her china, but couldn't find anything she liked. So she told Daddy what she wanted and he designed and built one for her.) Very often, the sideboard held some kind of cake. I remember vividly how Mommy would come home from work with a few of her friends, whom she had invited for tea. While the water for tea boiled, Mommy (or my sister and I) would set the table. I can see Mommy putting two knives in the china teapot as she added the boiling water, to make sure it didn't shatter. She and her friends would enjoy her homemade cake along with the tea and good conversation. As a little girl, I loved sitting with them and eating from pretty plates. It made me feel grown-up and important. Good china made that cake taste even better! Seriously.

Mommy came by this kind of hospitality honestly. On The Hill in Roanoke, Nonny (my maternal grandmother) ALWAYS had cake on hand. Always. Right now, there's a nice spice cake with a 7-minute frosting at my house.

But I think I'd like to post a pound cake recipe. Traditionally, pound cake is made with a pound of butter, eggs (usually between 8 and 10), flour and sugar. It does not rely on any leavening agents or milk. Don't think about your cholesterol level if you plan to make this rich cake.

Enjoy your afternoon tea!


3 c. sugar
1 lb. butter, softened
10 eggs
4 c. plain flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Measure and sift flour, baking powder and dash of salt. Add flour to mixture only until well blended. Put in 10 inch tube pan that has been greased and floured. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Cool in pan for a few minutes before removing.Rosenthal: Dining Services, Figurines, Ornaments and Art Objects (Schiffer Book for Collectors)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

fluffy pancakes/waffles

One of my fondest memories growing up is of weekend breakfast. The school week was hectic, so our family usually didn't eat breakfast together (but family dinners every night were sacred). The weekends were different. There was time to sit together as a family around a table laden with all sorts of breakfast treats. My favorite was Mom's homemade pancakes. She never used a mix, although I do vaguely recall seeing Bisquick in the cupboard. I can not quite remember what she used it for. Anyway, Mommy's pancake recipe came from her old, green Good Housekeeping Cookbook. She used to double it so that it would make enough for our family of five. I always remember the black speckled pan that she used to melt the butter. There was a whole lot of butter in that recipe! The pancakes were rich and delicious.

When we visited family on The Hill (as we called the old homestead) in Roanoke, Virgina, Mommy would make pancakes for all of us. And there was always fresh sausage and bacon, courtesy of the pigs that my Uncle Herman kept on the farm. Eating pancakes in Virginia was a different experience from eating them in New York. In Virginia, we didn't use syrup. We used Karo Dark Corn Syrup!

I still love pancakes, but I no longer use Mom's recipe. I try from time to time to save calories. I found a great recipe a few years back in Cooking Light that has become a trusted easy-to-make favorite. I use the recipe for both pancakes and waffles and serve it with maple syrup. I make it every 3 days or so and keep it on hand in the refrigerator. I add mashed, ripe bananas when I have them on hand.

You can get about 10 waffles out of it.

Light AND Delicious Pancakes
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup low-fat milk
1 tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Sift the dry ingredients together.

Beat the egg in a separate bowl. Add the milk, oil and extract. Stir. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients. Stir just until mixed.

Cook on either a pancake griddle or waffle iron. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

On homemade pasta

I am not totally certain when or why I became obsessed with the idea of making homemade pasta. I've always made good homemade sauces for lasagna and various pastas. But I never made pasta from scratch. Dried pastas tasted fine. Of course I could taste the difference when I went to Boston's North End and ate fresh pasta. But I never thought about making it myself.

This past week, I volunteered to cook for my son's end-of-year Thunderbird (as the pre-schooler crowd is called) party. I didn't realize that I needed to work 20 hours at the center where he goes in the afternoon. It was actually just 10 hours since he goes only half-time. Howie, the director, told me about the cooking that had to be done. "What's on the menu?" I asked. "Spaghetti with either Alfredo sauce or red sauce." Howie went on to explain that he had already bought the spaghetti (dried, of course) and the bottled sauces. He asked me if I would be willing to "doctor" them. We've all done this with bottled sauces. You saute some onion, garlic and maybe some vegetables, season them well, and then pour on the bottled sauce. The idea is to give the bottled sauce a much-needed boost. I was happy to help.

Friday morning, I starting the doctoring process. The red sauce was first. Children often don't like to see "stuff" in their pasta sauce, so I took great care to chop the onion very finely. Then it was time to do the same for the bottled Alfredo sauce. The first thing that struck me was the odd texture of the sauce. It offended me. It was globby. I was even more horrified when my son sampled some and pronounced it to be "delicious." Then I tasted it. It was very salty, while being tasteless (at least to me) at the same time. It was then that I formed a desperate resolution: to make homemade lasagna with a decent Alfredo sauce.

No, I have never made homemade pasta before. I did buy a pasta machine, but did not feel like taking the time to figure out how to use it. Pasta could be made with elbow grease and a sturdy rolling pin. I found a recipe for fresh pasta from The Essential Pasta Cookbook. The hardest part of making the pasta was rolling it sufficiently thin.

The Alfredo sauce was not difficult. I took a basic recipe and decided to make it sturdier by adding portabella mushrooms, curly-leaf parsley, spinach, sweet Italian sausage (vegetarians, leave this out and double up on the spinach and mushrooms) onion, garlic and fresh herbs. I mixed this into the cream and cheese mixture.

The result?? Let's just say that I don't know if I can bring myself to eat dried pasta again. The homemade lasagna was soft and flavorful, despite the fact that I used only flour, eggs, olive oil and a pinch of salt. The sauce was not globby and salty, but smooth, creamy and flavorful! I can hardly wait to experiment with other kinds of pasta and fresh sauces!

Alfredo Sauce (with spinach, mushroom and sweet Italian sausage)

1/2 cup sweet butter, melted
1 1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella and Asiago cheeses, mixed

Mix all the ingredients, EXCEPT FOR THE MOZZARELLA/ASIAGO CHEESE together and heat until warm.

For the spinach/mushroom/sweet Italian sausage part
1 tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
8 oz sweet Italian sausage
3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1/4 cup curly leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tbs fresh oregano, chopped
1 tbs fresh basil, chopped

Saute the sausage over a medium flame until cooked. Drain and set aside. Put olive oil in pan with garlic and heat slowly. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the onion. Saute until the onion is soft. Add the spinach, mushrooms, parsley and fresh herbs. Saute until soft. Mix with the sausage. Then combine with the sauce.

Fresh Pasta for Lasagna
10 oz of plain flour
3 large eggs
1 fl. oz of olive oil
a pinch of salt

1. To mix the dough by hand, mound the plain flour on a work surface or in a large ceramic bowl and then make a well in the center.
2. Break the eggs into the well and add the oil, if using, and a large pinch of salt. Using a fork, begin to whisk the eggs and oil together, incorporating a little of the flour as you do so.
3. Gradually blend d the flour with the eggs, working from the center out. Use your free hand to hold the mound in place and stop leakage if any of the egg escapes. 4. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface with smooth, light strokes, turning it as you fold and press. It should be soft and pliable, but dry to the touch. If it is sticky, knead in a little flour.
5. It will take at least 6 minutes kneading to achieve a smooth and elastic texture with a slightly glossy appearance. If durum wheat semolina is used, the kneading will take a little longer, at least 8 minutes. Put the dough in a plastic bag without sealing, or cover with a tea towel or an upturned bowl. Allow to rest for 30 minutes. The dough can be made in a food processor.

Rolling and cutting by hand
1. Divide the dough into three or four manageable portions and cover them.
2. Lightly flour a large work surface. Flatten one portion of dough onto the surface and using a long, floured rolling pin, roll out the dough from the center to the outer edge.
3. Continue rolling, always from the front of you outward, and rotating the dough often. Keep the work surface dusted with just enough flour to prevent sticking. When you have rolled a well-shaped circle, fold the dough in half and roll it out again. Continue in this way seven or eight times to give a smooth circle of pasta about 1/4 inch) thick.
4. Roll the sheet quickly and smoothly to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Patch any tears with a piece of dough from the edge and a little water to help it stick.
5. As each sheet is one, transfer it to dry tea towel. If the pasta is to be used to make filled pasta keep it covered, but if they are to be cut into lengths or shapes, leave them uncovered while the others are being rolled, so that the surface moisture will dry slightly.
6. For lasagna sheets, simply cut the pasta into the sizes required. The best way to cut lengths.

Boil in lightly salted water (with a little olive oil thrown into the pot to prevent sticking) until underdone (about 5-8 minutes, depending upon how thick the sheets are). Put in colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.

Assembling the lasagna
Oil the pan. Put a layer of lasagna noodles on the bottom. Add the sauce. Top with some of the grated mozzarella/Asiago cheese mixture. Repeat. End with sauce and additional cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees until it bubbles.


Don't Throw Nana (or her Jiffy cornbread) under the bus

Ok, so this blog is a follow up to the one that I wrote about cornbread. I saw Nanna at church today and immediately felt convicted. "Nanna, I threw you under the bus." She looked at me and asked, "What??" "I wrote about you and your betrayal of your Southern roots on my blog. I talked about your Jiffy cornbread." Nanna laughed. Then we had a good conversation about the issue.

Nanna reminded me that she had been a serious cornbread maker -- no Jiffy mixes for her! But she moved from Alabama to Boston. Nanna and her family were uprooted from the South. The younger generation became uprooted from homemade cornbread. Nanna talked about how she would make real cornbread, only to have it sit in its pan, uneaten. Nanna didn't much see the point in swimming against the current, so she gave in to the box, the mix, to Jiffy. With an appropriately disappointed voice, she told me that even her very own brother no longer ate homemade cornbread, but preferred Jiffy! Only Nanna and a few of her siblings (all in their 70s and 80s) have maintained their loyalty to the real deal.

I apologized to Nanna for throwing her under the bus and told her that I would correct my mistake. Nanna had not given up on real cornbread; she adjusted to the demands of those around her.

Here's to real cornbread loyalty!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Pay Macy's Good Money For Watermelon Rind Pickle When You Can Make It Yourself?

My mother was a cook's cook. She thoroughly enjoyed the process of mixing, slicing, pureeing, creating and tasting. Mommy always sought out the hard-to-find, the best quality, and the off-beat.

She used to make a cake that required cake flour. I remember going from supermarket to supermarket with her, hunting down cake flour (it's lighter than all-purpose flour). One day, the search for the holy grail paid off and we found it. I can not remember the name of the supermarket, but I do remember that we had looked for cake flour there before. Mommy bought several boxes of Swan's Down Cake Flour. She used it for that cake recipe, and nothing else.

I remember the day that her former student's boyfriend came by to visit our house. John saw the cake four on the counter and asked Mommy about it. John liked to cook certain Italian dishes, so he was naturally interested. Mommy told him the saga of finding the cake flour. "I'd never give up this this cake flour," said my mother. I'll never forget how John responded. He picked up a box of cake flour and put a $50 bill on the counter. My mother laughed and said, "Give me back my cake flour. I wouldn't sell it to you for anything!" John laughed and gave the cake flour back. Yes, yes, this is a true story. All this happened before she discovered that McCall's Cookbook had a section that showed you how to do things such as make cake flour out of all-purpose flour, or make buttermilk from regular milk.

I also remember Mommy talking about the glories of watermelon rind pickle. She grew up eating it in Virginia. Of course, her family made it. We never found it in the supermarkets of New York. Macy's Cellar changed all that. Mommy used to go there to find her gourmet delicacies. One Saturday we went there and lo and behold, there was watermelon rind pickle! My mother was excited -- until she picked up the small jar and saw that the price was $18!! And this was in the early 1980s. My mother was insulted. "I used to make this and I can do it again." You see where this is going.

We went to the Brooklyn Terminal Market. Mommy painstakingly tapped all the watermelons to find the right ones. She wanted thick rinds. She bought two or three and encouraged us to eat them as quickly as possible. During hot New York summers, we were more than happy to help her out. We saved the rind, which Mommy stored in a container with water and alum. When there was enough rind, it was time to pickle it! I can still see the huge pot full of rind. And I can smell the cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and vinegar. It was a labor of love, but was it ever worth it! The end result was sublime. I can still see my father putting the pickles in the Waterford crystal bowl before guests arrived for our Christmas holiday party. They were always a novelty and a showstopper!

Here is a recipe. We used to put a cinnamon stick and a few cloves in the jar to make the pickles look even prettier.

Watermelon Rind Pickle

About 4 qts. cubed watermelon rind
3 tbsp. salt
3 1/2 c. vinegar + 1/2 c. water
6 c. sugar
4 sticks whole cinnamon
1 tbsp. whole cloves

Pare outer green peel from the firm white inner rind of 1 small watermelon, discarding any pink flesh. Cut in 1-inch cubes. Cover with cold water, add the salt and let stand overnight. Drain, rinse with fresh water and drain again. Cover again with fresh water and bring to boiling. Simmer over low heat until cubes are just barely tender: DON'T OVERCOOK. Drain.

Combine the vinegar with the 1/2 cup water; add sugar; tie the spices in a small cloth bag and add. Bring to boiling and cook 5 minutes. Pour over the rind cubes and let stand 24 hours. Drain off the syrup and bring it to boiling, then pour it again over the cubes. Let stand 24 hours. Bring all to boiling and simmer 5 minutes. Fill hot sterilized jars and seal. Makes about 7 pints.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


There are yogurts, and then there are yogurts. I've tried a wide variety of them --non-fat, low-fat, whole-milk, plain, vanilla, fruit flavored, etc.

I like creamy, rich, flavorful yogurt. So, non-fat yogurt just doesn't do it for me. Stop reading now if you're a die-hard non- or low-fat yogurt fan. This entry is for those who actually still eat the super creamy yogurt that's full of milk fat!

I have fallen in love with plain yogurt. Ah, but which one? I have experimented with several. I've tried Stonyfield, Brown Cow, Fage, and Chobani. Stonyfield is perfectly serviceable and I buy it -- usually when the other brands are unavailable. Going up the yogurt ladder is Brown Cow. I started out eating the fruit-flavored yogurts. With the cream top, they are rich and very flavorful without being cloyingly sweet. I use Brown Cow plain yogurt in my smoothies frequently (we'll get to the smoothie recipe shortly.)

But let's face it. The Greek whole-milk plain yogurts are in a class all by themselves. The first one I tried was Fage Total Classic Yogurt ( Then I tried Chobani ( O my goodness! Both these yogurts are very, very thick -- almost as thick as sour cream. And are they rich!!!! They are both so flavorful that they don't require any fruit or sweeteners. It's almost like eating ice cream!

I love plain, whole-milk yogurt by itself. And it's fabulous in smoothies. Here's the one I use most often:


5 ice cubes
1 very ripe banana
3 cups of berries (I like a combination of strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries)
1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 cups whole-milk, plain yogurt
a squeeze of honey or agarve nectar

Put everything in the blender and mix until smooth.

shabu shabu

I love foods from Asia. Curry mee from Malaysia, tom yam soups from Thailand, and of course, Japan's shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a variation on a hot pot. A heated soup base becomes the repository for all sorts of additions. For the vegetarians corn, carrots, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, etc., along with tofu, make up the dish. For others, paper-thin slices of beef, salmon, shrimp, and scallops are used, along with the vegetables. Shabu-shabu translates as "swish swish." You put the item in the soup base and swish it around until it's cooked. Then you dip it in ponzu or sesame seed sauce before eating. Shabu-shabu is served with a bowl of steamed white rice or noodles. Once the meat and vegetables have been eaten, you mix the broth from the pot with the remaining rice.

Assuming that the restaurant is using high-quality, super fresh ingredients, the basis on which to judge shabu-shabu has to be the broth. The shabu-shabu restaurants with which I am familiar give several options for the soup base. As I thought about shabu-shabu, I realized that I have visited four shabu-shabu restaurants in the greater Boston area.

My first shabu-shabu experience was at Kaze Shabu Shabu Restaurant, located in Boston's Chinatown ( I went with my good friend, Aimee Thompson. I remember the feeling of excitement as I looked around and saw fellow diners with massive plates of artistically arranged strips of salmon and scallops, with handsomely arranged vegetables nearby. Steam rose from heated bowls of fragrant soups that the waiters and waitresses periodically refilled. I knew that I was in for a treat.

I ordered No.2, which featured: shrimp, scallop, salmon, white fish, squid, clam, fried fish cake & beef (you could also choose lamb, chicken or pork). Aimee ordered the vegetarian shabu-shabu. I chose Thai tomyum broth. If memory serves me, Aimee chose the Japanese miso.

I was expecting a moderate portion of food and was utterly shocked when the waitress came back with a huge platter of seafood, meat and vegetables. I was convinced that it would be too much. Ha! It wasn't. I ate every morsel on the plate, along with the noodles. And I drank most of the broth. I remember feeling as though I was swimming in broth. Literally. It was not an unpleasant feeling. Just unfamiliar.

I should have eaten less, obviously. But the freshness of the food dipped into a very flavorful broth, then dipped into concentrated, intense sauces, overcame my better sense. I chose not to stop eating, even though hunger had long been vanquished. The flavors were just delightful!

There are three other shabu-shabu restaurants that I can recommend with confidence.

Head down to to Quincy, which is about 20 minutes south of Boston. There are a number of very good Asian restaurants that have opened in Quincy in recent years. Shabu Restaurant on Hancock Street ( is small, but has a hip, chic, modern look. In Cambridge, go to Harvard Square. There is a delightful woman who designed and runs Shabu-Ya on JFK Street ( For all you foodies, this restaurant is where Penang, the Malaysian restaurant (there's still one located in Chinatown) used to be. The owner and I always chat when I go there. The place is very spacious and has a hip diner vibe to it. Finally, ShabuZen ( on Tyler Street in Chinatown, is another hit. It's not fancy, but it delivers on the food.



This past spring, I suddenly became hell-bent on making risottos. I hate to admit this, but I think I was inspired by Gordon Ramsay and "Hell's Kitchen." I probably should not admit publicly that I watch that show, but I do. It's not clear what draws me in more -- the way Chef Ramsay abuses the cooks, or the way the shell-shocked, hapless cooks respond. It can't possibly be the actual cooking. The focus is less on cooking and more on the kitchen disasters that inspire the title of the show.

I can not recall which season it was, but risotto was on the menu. What stuck in my mind was Chef Ramsay at the pass, waiting for an order of risotto. He barked at the poor line cook, "I need one risotto urgently." Why did that stick in my mind? Who knows, but it did. Risotto became the dish to watch. What I found strange was how it was prepared on "Hell's Kitchen." The rice was pre-cooked and then mixed with the stock and seasonings. It was probably because everything was supposed to be made-to-order. While I knew little about preparing risotto, I did know that using partially cooked rice was not the authentic way. Far be it from me to argue with the great and combative Gordon Ramsay.

But, you're supposed to stand over the stove, sweating (but not in the rice, of course) and wearing your arms out with stirring the stock into the rice until it's cooked. By the time that process finishes, you're probably too exhausted to enjoy the fruit of your labor. I was undaunted. So I set about looking in my cookbooks to find a good risotto recipe.

I found one that featured Swiss chard and mushroom. That one came out well. Then I became bold. I looked in my refrigerator and suddenly felt inspired to be creative. I saw portabella mushrooms, spinach, thick Primrose brand bacon, heavy cream, butter and gorgonzola cheese. Can you smell that combination of ingredients?? I thought that I had died and gone to risotto heaven.

My cousin, Wanda, emailed about my blog. She said that she could do without the pork. So, cuz -- you can make this risotto (on Sunday, when you cook for your family, assuming that you still do that) without the bacon. For you meat eaters, I strongly recommend Primrose brand bacon. It's thick and flavorful and doesn't disappear when you cook it, unlike weaker, thinner brands.

Let me add one more point. I've made several risotto recipes now and I find that they they all underestimate the amount of chicken stock needed. Most recipes call for between 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of arborio (short grain) rice and between 4 to 6 cups of chicken stock. I've used at least 7 -9 cups of chicken stock each time I've made risotto, so be sure to have at least that amount on hand.

Spinach-Mushroom Risotto with Gorgonzola Cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4-5 pieces of thick bacon (I am a fan of Primrose)
2-3 cups of spinach
1 1/2 cups of portabella mushrooms, sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
7-9 cups of chicken stock
1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese (more if you're really into it)
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
fresh rosemary
fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the bacon until it's crisp. Cut into small pieces and set aside. Saute the spinach, mushrooms and shallot in the a little of the bacon drippings (To me,this adds more flavor. Vegetarians, use olive oil.) until soft. Don't add salt, as the cheese and stock may be salty enough. You can add a little black pepper, though. Set aside.

Put the chicken stock in a large sauce pan and heat over low-medium heat. I like to infuse it with fresh rosemary. Put one long piece in the stock. Let the stock become hot, but don't boil it.

Heat the olive oil over a low flame in a large pan. Add the arborio rice and mix until the oil coats the rice. Add the white wine and stir until it is absorbed. Add the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir constantly until the stock is absorbed. Keep doing this. Make sure you taste the rice periodically to see whether it's tender. Add the stock until the rice reaches the desired degree of softness.

Add the butter, heavy cream and cheese. Stir until combined. Now add the vegetable mixture. Depending on whether you used salted stock, you may need little to no salt at all. Add fresh thyme and fresh ground pepper.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What do the Phillippines and New Orleans have in common? You guessed it: great oxtail stews!

I like meat. I did go through a phase when I didn't eat red meat, but that passed. I have had my share of expensive, high-powered cuts of beef and lamb. But I must confess that nothing moves me quite the way that more humble cuts of meat do. Meats that are tough and require stewing for long periods of time are actually my favorites! They hold seasonings well and are absolutely delicious if made properly.

Take oxtails, for example. Yes -- the tail of the ox! Oxtails are bony and tough and require patience and care. But the finished product can be quite spectacular. They are one of my favorite cuts of meat. And I'm not alone, either. No less a personage than the great Nelson Mandela names oxtails as his favorite meal. So there!

I should add that there is a personal connection to oxtails. You guessed it - my mother used to make oxtail stew. I vaguely remember when she made it once and I asked what it was. She said, "I made it for your father and me. You won't like it." Obviously, she didn't want to share. I was determined, though. I remember rich, reddish-brown stew cooking in her sturdy reddish-orange Dutch oven. The fragrance of bay leaf-ladened stew filled up the entire house. I was not going to be deprived! The stew was very good. Mommy didn't make oxtail stew often, but I never forgot it. I wish that I had written down her recipe, which came from her head, as did many of the delightful dishes she prepared.

There are two recipes that I make quite frequently. One is Emeril Lagasse's New Orleans-style of oxtail stew, which my mother used to make frequently when we were children. And -- as you'll find out in future blogs -- I love the various cuisines of Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, etc.). I found a fabulous recipe for oxtail stew that hails from the Philippines. It's got a delightful name -- Kari-Kari.

In both recipes, the oxtails are seasoned and browned in oil. Then other ingredients (vegetables, additional seasonings, liquid, etc.) are added and the oxtails are left to simmer over low heat until they are tender. They're served over rice, and in the case of Emeril's excellent recipe, cheddar cheese biscuits.

When I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa last July and again this past April, I made my way to the V & A Waterfront. While it catered to tourists, I was hopeful of finding a restaurant that cooked some semblance of local cuisine. Karibu did not disappoint! I ordered several stews there, including a delicious lamb stew made with curry and raisins, and a very good oxtail stew served over rice.

To me, oxtail stew is comfort food. It's hearty and sticks to your ribs. And every good ingredient that you put in the stew is absorbed by all that slow cooking. Can you beat that? I think not.

I add cubed potatoes to Emeril's recipe during the last 15 minutes or so of cooking. I like lots of stuff in my stew! And I make the biscuits often. They're great with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Enjoy these two recipes!

Emeril Lagasse's Oxtail Stew

* 1 tablespoon Essence, recipe follows
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 4 pounds oxtails
* 10 bacon slices, chopped
* 2 large onions, chopped
* 2 large carrots, chopped
* 2 large celery stalks, chopped
* 6 garlic cloves, chopped
* 1/4 cup tomato paste
* 4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
* 1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine
* 1 (28-ounce) can chopped Italian tomatoes
* 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can beef broth
* Cheddar Drop Biscuits, recipe follows


In a zip-top bag, combine Essence, flour, and salt and pepper. Add oxtails, seal bag, and shake to coat. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add bacon and cook until fat is rendered. Remove bacon, using slotted spoon and reserve. Increase heat to high. Add oxtails and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer oxtails to plate.

Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic to Dutch oven, reduce heat to medium and cook until tender. Mix in tomato paste and thyme. Add wine and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Boil until liquid is reduced by half. Add tomatoes and broth. Return oxtails with any juices and bacon to Dutch oven. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Uncover and simmer until liquid is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Serve with homemade Cheddar Drop Biscuits.

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup

Recipe from "New New Orleans Cooking", by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch, published by William Morrow, 1993.

Cheddar Drop Biscuits:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon solid vegetable shortening

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

1 cup shredded Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a pie tin.

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. The dough will be slightly sticky.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and drop into the pie tin. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve right from the oven.

Yield: 4 biscuits

Kari-Kari (braised oxtails in peanut sauce)

3.5 - 4 lb. oxtails, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon salt
1 tsp ground pepper
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon annatto seeds (You can find these in a Caribbean market. Goya makes them, too.)
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, quartered
6-8 cups water (I always want more flavor, so I use beef broth instead.)
1/3 cup long-grain white rice
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
3/4 lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 large Asian eggplant, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
fish sauce to taste

Sprinkle the oxtails with the salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add a few oxtail pieces and brown well on all sides, turning frequently Transfer to oxtails to a plate and repeat with the remaining oxtails. Pour off the oil from teh pot and discard. Set the pot aside.

Meanwhile, in a small frying pan over medium-low heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil with the annatto seeds. Fry the seeds until the oil takes on a red stain, just a few minutes. Remove from the heat and let the oil cool. With the back of a spoon, press the seeds and allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve held over the reserved pot Discard the contents of the sieve.

Place the pot with the oil over medium heat, add the onions and garlic, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Return the oxtails to the pot and add the water (or beef broth) just to cover the meat. Bring to a oil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium, cover partially, and cook at a gentle boil until the oxtails are nearly tender, about 2 hours.

In small, dry frying pan over medium heat, toast the rice, shaking the pan and stirring often, until the rice turns golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Pour the rice into a blender, process to a fine powder, and transfer to a bowl; set aside. Add the peanuts to the blender and process to finely mince.

When the oxtails are nearly done, uncover and add the ground rice and peanuts, the green beans, and the eggplant. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender, the vegetables are fully cooked, and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. The meat is done when it pulls away from the bone easily.

Transfer the oxtails and vegetables to as serving dish and serve. Pass the fish sauce at the table.