Not So Simple Roasted Vegetables

The recipe I shared in the last post IS indeed the quick and easy version. To develop far more complex tastes, you can make something like Verdure a Scapece, as presented by Mario Batali in Molto Italiano. In that version you lay salted eggplants and zucchini between layers of paper towels, then use weighted pans to press out the liquids for a few hours. Then each vegetable (along with peppers and mushrooms) is roasted or grilled individually, so that they each cook to perfect doneness. The vegetables are then marinated in a viniagrette along with olives, capers and herbs overnight or longer.

The point is, for everyday cooking, use roasting and well-chosen vegetables for a quick treatment. For an impressive marinated vegtable dish, be prepared to expend some energy. I'll admit, though, that those marinated vegetables are worth the effort. They're AWESOME.

Roasted Mixed Vegetables

This simple recipe requires a little prep time with fresh vegetables, which can be done well in advance. After that, this is a "pop it in the oven while you do something else" dish.

1 head cauliflower
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 medium eggplant
3 cloves garlic, sliced or choppped
Red pepper flakes (optional)
olive oil, S&P

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

  2. Lay the eggplant on a cutting board lengthwise, and trim the purple skin off one long side of the eggplant. Trim again on the opposite side. Rotate the eggplant onto a cut side and trim the remaining two sides. You are trying to just get the wide skin section off, so don't cut too deeply into the eggplant. You will leave a few sections of purple skin at each end. That's OK.

  3. Cut the eggplant into 1/2" thick slices, then slice again into 1/2" strips. Cut the strips crosswise into 1/2" cubes. Put the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle on 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Let sit for 10-20 minutes while you prepare other vegetables.

  4. Tear away all the green outer leaves of the cauliflower. Cut the head in half, then in half again. Attacking it from a diagonal angle, cut the thick stalk / stem away from each quarter head. Now use the tip of your knife to cut florets (trees) away from the stalk. The florets should be 1 inch or less. Some will naturally be that size. For the larger florets, simply cut them in half or quarters.

  5. Stand the red pepper upright, with the green stalk facing up. Slice one-quarter of the pepper away, by cutting downward. Repeat for the other three sides of the pepper, so you are left with only the seeds and stem in the center. Trim any white ribs from the inside of the pepper pieces. Then chop the pepper into 1/2" or 3/4" squares. Repeat with the yellow pepper.

  6. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets or roasting pans with aluminum foil, Put half the vegetables into each. Drizzle with olive oil and half the garlic. Add plenty of salt and pepper. Add a few dashed of red pepper flakes, if desired.

  7. Roast at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes. The eggplants will be very soft, the cauliflower will be slightly browned. Combine all the cooked vegetables in a bowl and toss with more olive oil and herbs, if desired.

Using two pans give the vegetables plenty of room so they'll brown nicely. If the vegetables are crowded together, they'll steam in their neighbor's released juices.

    Stir Fry Isn't Quick and Easy

    Last week I shared a quite lengthy diatribe that could have been summed up in two sentences.

    "Good cooking is based on solid fundamentals - in terms of ingredients, recipes, tools and techniques. There are no short cuts to great taste."

    This week I'd like to stick with that message and offer a few thoughts about what is or isn't easy to cook.

    I've got a recollection that Stir Fry was considered a quick and easy dinner. Toss together some random vegetables, some meat and a few seasonings and dinner was done in no time. A stir-fry dinner is very quick and easy to make......if you're willing to settle for a random mix of ingredients, cooked unevenly, and seasoned with whatever happens to come into your head at the time.

    A really good stir fry requires:

    • A lot of prep time cleaning and chopping multiple vegetables

    • Blanching or otherwise pre-cooking the long-cooking vegetables, so they'll be cooked evenly with the quick cooking vegetables.

    • A marinade or other pre-seasoning for the meat/fish

    • Preparing aromatics such as garlic, ginger and a few spices

    • A sauce that can be added at the end for flavor and slight thickening

    • A well composed balance of ingredients that complement each other in taste, but contrast in texture and color

    .....and then finally......just a few minutes of quick cooking to bring all those parts together.

    I'm not knocking stir-fry at all. Cooks Illustrated has published several excellent recipes over the years with great combinations of ingredients and delicious sauces. I'm simply saying that what is perceived as a quick and easy dish is not at all quick an easy if you are expecting a really top-notch result.

    Does that mean that ALL cooking requires a lot of time to be good? Not at all. However, you can't disregard that you need good ingredients, a good recipes and good fundamental techniques to get a good result.

    Here's something that is good, quick and easy - Roasted Mixed Vegetables. If you choose the right vegtables to combine with each other and cut them into the proper size so that all the vegetables cook evenly, there's little else to this dish. Just some chopped garlic, lots of salt and pepper and some olive oil. By cooking them at high heat (450 degrees), you'll get just a little bit of browning by the time that the vegetables are completely cooked (15 minures or less). Here are a couple combinations to consider:

    • Brocolli, red and yellow peppers and eggplant

    • Cauliflower, red and yellow peppers and eggplant

    • Zucchini and yellow squash with red peppers (cooks much faster)

    Many other combinations, some much more exotic, can be created.....but keep in mind that you want to be able to throw all these vegetables onto one baking sheet and have them all cook at the same time. That's why there are no carrots, for example, as they would have to cook a lot longer. You can add fresh herbs, a dash of cayenne or red pepper flakes for extra flavor. Or add some olives and a little minced anchovy.....OK - I'm taking this further than I should now.

    The idea is simple, though. Add a little flavoring to vegetables that WILL cook evenly together. That's it.

    Since these vegetables require little or no attention while cooking, you can saute some chicken or fish, or cook a steak while they cook, making for a great balanced meal. Try it this weekend while there's still a chill in the air. Springtime and outdoor cooking is fast approaching.

    Warm Regards,


    Frittata with Potatoes, Ham and Gruyere

    This is a long time favorite frittata in our house. The keys to success are to cook the potatoes long enough and to use a very good Gruyere cheese. Of course any cheese will work, but ham and Gruyere make a very good pairing.

    Frittata with Potatoes, Ham and Gruyere

    Adapted from Cuisine Rapide, Pierre Franey

    4 small red potatoes, approximately 3/4 pound
    1 red pepper
    1 yellow pepper
    1/2 cup red onion
    1/3 pound ham
    10 eggs
    1/4 pound Gruyere cheese
    2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
    1 tablespoon fresh basil, cut into thin strips
    2 tablespoons butter
    One or two 12" oven-proof skillets, preferably non-stick
    1. Preheat the broiler.

    2. Cut the peppers and onion into 1/4" cubes. Cut the ham into cubes, about 1/2" or smaller. Shred the Gruyere or cut into cubes. Peel the potatoes, then cut thin slices.

    3. Over medium heat, add about 2 tablespoons olive oil, then the potato slices. Shake the pan back and forth every minute to keep potatoes from sticking. Cook 5 minutes. Add the peppers and onion and cook 5 minutes more, also shaking the pan.

    4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a large bowl with salt, pepper and basil. If fresh basil is not available, use 1/2 teaspoon dried, or use Herbs de Provence or other herbs. Add the cheese cubes and stir to combine.

    5. Add the ham to the pan and cook one minute. Remove from heat.

    6. If using one pan, tranfer the ham and vegetables to a bowl, and wipe out the pan with paper towel.

    7. Melt the butter and add the vegetable mixture to the pan. Add the egg mixutre and cook over medium heat about 3-4 minutes, tilting the pan and lifting the edges of the eggs as they set to let loose egg mixture run under the set eggs.

    8. If the eggs are not all cooked through, turn the heat to low and cover for 2 minutes.

    9. Sprinkle parmesan cheese (and more fresh herbs if you wish) atop the frittata and place under the broiler for up to 1 minute. The pan should be as close to the broiler element as possible, to quickly brown the frittata, and not overcook the eggs.

    You may be temped to use higher heat to cook the eggs faster. This will result in flat, dried out eggs. All the cooking times are approximate, depending on your stove, pans, and preference for how set you like your eggs. I prefer eggs to be a little moist, and will reduce these cooking times as much as I can get away with.

    Featured Technique - Making a Frittata

    Hurricane Ike Frittata with Asparagus and Goat Cheese

    (we needed to use up the eggs and cheese after the power went out)

    A frittata is simply an omelet that's not been folded and has been browned on both top and bottom sides. The word frittata is attributed to the Italians. In Spain the same dish is made, often for lunch or dinner, and is called - of all things - a tortilla.

    The beauty of a frittata is that any combination of ingredients can be added to a simple egg mixture, with near flawless results.

    • Potatoes, cheeses, ham, chicken, and leftovers of all manner make great ingredients

    • Recently, I made a frittata using left over wild mushrooms that were cooked with bacon and shallots, then finished with maple syrup, lime juice and cayenne pepper. It was an incredible sweet-sour-hot compliment to eggs and cheese.

    • Another recent success was using slices of quickly browned garlic along with potato cubes and grape tomatoes.

    • My friend Jan used leftovers from my One-Pot Sausage, Potato and Fish recipe as a filling for a frittata earlier this week.

    The point is that frittata variations are endless, and the cooking process takes not much more skill than making scrambled eggs. Here are several ways it can work:

    • One method for making a frittata calls for flipping the entire egg concoction over in a skillet partway through cooking process. The eggs are slid onto a plate to facilitate the flipping.

    • A recent development is the frittata pan, which is two skillets that fit together, one atop the other, to allow the flipping to be done. This to me, is a colossal waste of money that could be spent on more important kitchen tools, or better yet, spent on actual FOOD.

    • My method for cooking a frittata eliminates the drama of flipping 6-10 eggs in a pan. I recommend using the broiler to lightly brown the top. This is to be done with a very hot broiler, placing the pan as close to the heating element as possible - so it quickly browns the top, but does have enough time to cook the rest of the eggs much further.

    The basic formula for any frittata is to cook some vegetables and/or meats first. Add a mixture of eggs which have been whisked, along with cheeses or herbs. Let the eggs set, tipping the pan and lifting the edges of the set eggs, to allow un-set eggs to run underneath. Once the eggs are almost completely set (they'll still be a little wet on top), transfer the pan to the broiler to complete cooking and lightly brown the top. A spinkle of good parmesan during the browning step is a tasty addition.

    You may be temped to use high heat to cook the eggs faster. This will result in flat, dried out eggs. Use medium to medium-low heat to set the eggs and you'll get a fluffier and moister result. As the frittata comes out of the broiler, it will be beautifully puffed up and golden. Make sure your family or guests see it straight out of the oven - because within a minute, it will settle down and flatten. Show off your prize early.

    Any cooking time in a frittata recipe is approximate. Your stove, pans, and preference for how set you like your eggs will vary greatly. But the overall fomula for frittata will stay constant once you establish your cooking times with your equipment. I prefer eggs to be a little moist, and reduce the cooking times as much as I can get away with.

    Insights from Preparing for Reality TV Cooking

    To prepare for a reality TV cooking show, I read a long list of relevant books, cooked (a lot), studied, cooked more, and challenged myself in some ways I expect might occur on TV. Along the way I had some solid insights that will help my cooking in the future and should help you too.

    I'll boil it down to 4 things:

    1. Fundamentals
    2. Recipes
    3. Flavors
    4. Presentation

    The first thing I took away is that very advanced cooking, with exotic ingredients
    and elaborate presentations, still always starts with fundamentals. The quality
    of ingredients selected is key for every kind of cooking. A chef's knife (and other good tools) should be every cook's best friend, because every dish starts with simple prep work on vegetables, fruits, meats and fish. Even the most advanced cooking is simply built upon basic techniques that at their core are individually quite straight forward.

    I seemed to be getting caught up in the competition aspect of all this. Such as,
    "Your challenge today, Master Chefs, is to make a three course meal using only butter, a rutabaga and this shoe. You have 30 minutes, starting.....NOW". So I sat back and thought about recipes and restaurants. While the most talented chefs in the world can come up with ingenious combinations of flavors spur of the moment, and have the skill to combine everything in perfect proportions. We don't have that skill (for the most part), and we don't need it.

    Even restaurants don't cook by the seat of their chef's pants. They spend days and weeks perfecting a recipe, then try to make it exactly the same way every night for months. So while improvisation is fun, it may also be too pressure packed for most of us in the kitchen. So grab a few good cookbooks, find some really reliable recipes and USE THEM.

    Flavor gets built up in a good dish in many ways:

    • High quality ingredients (there it is again)

    • The combination of one ingredient with a complementary or contrasting ingredient

    • Techniques that add (browning) or coax (sauteing) flavors out of ingredients

    • Concentrations - cooking something down (reducing) or heightening the presence of an ingredient by using it in different forms (e.g. lemon zest and lemon juice)

    • Proper seasoning along the way (pretty much, I just mean salt here).

    • Last, and only now, will I mention herbs, spices and specialty ingredients.

    I get so disheartened when I see the latest flavored olive oil (make it at home) or trendy product of the year (e.g., pomegranate juice) sold at super premium prices in our markets. If you look at my personal list of what makes for good flavor - notice that there are no true short cuts. You can't buy a bottle or package of good flavor. That doesn't mean it has be to complicated and time consuming to create flavors - but you're gonna hafta put a little effort into it. And the right recipes that create flavor naturally, with good ingredients, well, there I go again....

    The icing on the cake is presentation. I swear these puns just fly out of my fingers without forethought. There is no doubt that good presentation heightens the anticipation of a dish. If you've put effort and care into a dish, make it look good. You don't need to be that creative - just don't be sloppy. Look at the shapes of the food and put them in some sort of order. Last week I served whole carrots (orange) and parsnips (white) - so I put them on a plate in alternated rows of orange and white. It just made sense. Anything more creative that that - well, good for you. But just a little order from the chaos will make a plate more appealing. Try it.

    So I'll wrap up this week with a recipe that allows you to use very basic skills and ingredients, but will allow you to create a lot of flavor. It's just and extension of scrambled eggs, easier than an omelet, and packed with multiple types of flavor - the Frittata.

    See the next post for Frittata techniques and recipes.

    Preparing To Be A Master Chef

    I've spent a lot of time and energy in the past two weeks preparing for the possibility of being on a new reality TV cooking show called Master Chef. In the process I've had some revelations about cooking that are equally applicable to everyday cooking as they are to more advanced cookery.

    First, let me share with you a few of my preparation steps, which ends up being mostly a recommended reading list.

    • Read Roasting in Hell's Kitchen a biography of Gordon Ramsey, who will be the star of Master Chef: A fascinating story of a man quite different than the impressions people develop from watching him on TV. He was raised destitute, in a highly abusive family situation. I recommend reading this book on it's own merit.

    • Acquired 3 Gordon Ramsey cookbooks and made several recipes. One book on seasonal cooking: A Chef For All Seasons; his "star chef" brag-book: Three Star Chef; and one with recipes from one of his proteges, Jason Atherton, from a restaurant they co-own called Maze.

    • Read Michael Rulhman's, The Elements of Cooking. This book has a series of essays about cooking fundamentals and the finesse needed to cook at the highest levels.

    • Made dishes from scratch using random ingredients - like they do on Chopped and other cooking competitions.

    • Tasted different foods blind folded. It's as hard as you'd think, and a great party game.

    • Scanned every recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook and Gourmet Today to identify all the recipes I've made. Pulled a number of recipes from other sources.

    • Created a shortcut sheet for all these recipes, giving key proportions, unexpected ingredients and important techniques or cooking times. 200+ recipes are condensed down to a 5 page spreadsheet.

    • Made authentic Sichuan dishes that I've not previously attempted. My audition used authentic Sichuan foods, so I want to be able to bring that skill out again when needed.

    • Studied Sharon Tyler Herbst's, A Food Lover's Companion, looking for cooking terms and ingredients I couldn't instantly define. This is a cooking "dictionary", which is also available free online at - look for "food glossary" - it's a handy resource.

    • I also began working with an excellent personal trainer - Penny Kelly. Please consider how hard it is to lose some extra weight prior to being on TV, while reading and cooking every day to be sure you're prepared in that area. A challenging dichotomy.

    So what did I learn that can help you cook better at home? The next post will cover my revelations.

    Potstickers - Pan Fried Pork Dumplings

    The only thing you need for this recipe that you may not already have are won-ton wrappers. They are found in every grocery store, and for some odd reason they are usually by the tofu, salad dressing or pre-packaged/pre-cut vegetables in the produce section. I guarantee that even if you have to ask someone, they are there.

    They might not be round, as small and large squares are the most commonly sold version. If you have a biscuit cutter or simply a knife, you can quickly cut 3-4 of the squares at a time into circles.

    Pork Stuffed Potstickers
    Makes 25-30 dumplings

    One package fresh won-ton wrappers, round shape
    A 1 inch piece of ginger, left unpeeled
    1 green onion, white part only
    1/4 cup water
    1/2 pound of ground pork
    1 1/2 teaspoons Shao Xing rice wine or Sherry
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon pepper (preferably white)
    1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
    1/4 cup chicken stock - at room temperature
    1. Smash the ginger and scallion with the flat side of a chef's knife or other heavy object. Add to water and let sit for 10-15 minutes.
    2. Remove the ginger and scallion and add the ground pork. combine the pork and water with your fingers until the meat absorbs it all.
    3. Add the wine, salt, pepper and oil and incorporate into the pork.
    4. Add the stock a little at a time and imcorporate it into the pork. Try to get all of it to soak in, but you can stop short of using the whole quarter cup. The mixture will be loose and liquidy.
    Assembling Potsticker Dumplings

    You'll need a pastry brush (or your index finger - really) and a small bowl of water.
    1. Lay out 6, 8 or 10 circles of won-ton dough on your cutting board, however many will fit.
    2. Place about a teaspoon of pork mixture in the center of each round.
    3. Brush a little water on the edge of one half of each circle.
    4. Fold the un-watered edge over the top of the meat and press it into the water-brushed edge. Starting from one end, squeeze the two layers of dough together, trying to press out any major air pockets inside the dumpling.
    5. Repeat.
    To cook, follow the Steam / Pan Fry Procedure and serve with good quality soy sauce (I use Pearl River Bridge brand). Season the soy sauce with ginger, scallions, lime juice and/or sesame oil if you wish.

    If you prepare the dumplings in adavance, use a layer of wax paper dusted with plenty of flour to keep them from sticking after they are made. Since the filling is moist, it's best to cook them right away. 

    Steam and Pan Frying the Chinese Way

    Many Chinese restaurants that serve what we call Potstickers may describe them as pan-fried dumplings. That's only part of the story, though.  

    Potstickers (and several other types of dumplings) are cooked with a unique technique that combines both steaming and pan frying over high heat. This is an unusual technique, rather specific to Asian cuisine. Though there may be something similar in the Western repetoire, I can't think of anything very close.

    To make it even more interesting, you can steam first then fry, or fry first, then steam. That's really weird. I can't imagine any technique that can be reversed like that.

    It's really simple to do, and only two things can go wrong. The same technique is used for store-bought or homemade dumplings. Here's how to do it:
    1. Heat a wok or skillet over medium high heat for about 3-4 minutes. If your heat is too high and you leave the dumplings in for too long, you can over brown them (that's the first thing that could go wrong).
    2. Add a small amount of oil to the pan, about 1 teaspoon for 5 dumplings.
    3. Then add the dumplings, and let them brown for 1-2 minutes, until they are an attractive color (to you).
    4. While holding a close fitting lid for the pan in your left hand (or right, you know what I mean), add 2-3 tablespoons of water to the pan and QUICKLY place the lid on the pan. The pan will sizzle and roar in a most dramatic fashion. It's actually pretty cool.
    5. Turn the heat down a little, and let the dumplings cook for 1-2 minutes.

    OK - there's really only one thing that can go wrong, not two. That's how simple this really is. It wll be a little intimidating the first time you put water into such a hot pan, but it's not hard to do. Well, you could wait too long to put the lid on and splatter yourself with oil. So maybe two things could go wrong. But if you're quick, that won't happen.

    As I mentioned, you can steam them first for 1-2 minutes then drizzle oil into the pan and fry. However, I think you can get a better browned surface by doing it my way. 

    Real Chinese Food in America - and Your Home

    One dish that you can find in most Chinese restaurants that IS quite authentic is steamed or pan-friend dumplings. Most are commerically made, and suffer a bit in taste as a result. And most restuarants obtain their dumplings from only a couple wholesalers, so there are only a few varieties to choose from locally.

    Yet, homemade dumplings are very easy to make. All you need is ground pork, won-ton wrappers and a few seasonings.

    The dumplings known here as Potstickers are cooked in an unusual manner that combines both pan frying and steaming, which happens very quickly. Sounds like something you probably already knew about real Chinese cooking, right? They conserve precious fuel through quick cooking techniques. It's not hard to do, just different.

    Dumplings are one of the most prominent foods served in China during the two-week long New Year celebration. With two of my three children having been born in China, we like to keep some cultural connections intact, despite our non-Chinese-ness. Food and cooking are a natural bridge, as are occasional visits to Chinatown for shopping and festivals.

    By the way, this year is the Year of the Tiger. In China, New Years traditions are closer to our American Christmas traditions, in that people return to their families and hometowns for the celebration in very large numbers. Factories and offices close down for up to two weeks to account for this migration. One of our adoption trips was scheduled around this break, as no one would be working during the New Year period.

    Up Next - Pan Frying Technique and Potsticker Recipe

    Let's Order Some Chinese

    Almost as mind boggling to me as the Super Bowl phenomenon is the prevasiveness of Chinese restaurants in our country. My town of 70,000 has 6 that I can think of. With the end of the Chinese New Year celebration falling on this upcoming Sunday, let me share a few thoughts.

    Having been to China a good number of times, I'm disappointed by how little the "American" Chinese food resembles authentic Chinese food. Margie and I found authentic Chinese food to have many subtle flavors, combined with rich earthiness from cooked meats and unusual preparations of vegetables, many of them pickled. American Chinese food, to me, can be described in one word:  sweet.

    Two weeks ago we were in Houston's Chinatown and wanted some lunch, so picked out a small storefront restaurant that we'd never tried (there are about 100 restaurants there to choose from).  I asked the owner for a Chinese menu, and she got all huffy with me. "We only serve authentic Chinese food here". Well, I didn't mean to insult her, but a prior quick look at the menu showed USA-suburbia entrees through and through.

    So I engaged her further, and got her to point me to things that she deemed their specialties, which she called  "very authentic". By this time she admitted that their food was "80% authentic". (That's a common Chinese characteristic - applying a number to a subjective statement. Chairman Mao is now considered to have done 60% good for the country - down from 80% a few decades ago).

    We were served Salt and Pepper Beef and Onion, as well as Double Squid with Pickled Vegetable. Now Margie and I know a little bit about pickled vegetables, since our daughter Amy's orphanage was in a city known for Zha Cai - pickled mustard tuber. We were very much looking forward to these dishes.

    And we were very much disappointed. The beef was tasty, but was unlike anything we'd ever found in China. The squid was poorly cooked, but well, this wasn't a gourmet restaurant. The pickled vegetables were.....SWEET. I can attest that the Chinese have so little sweetness in their cuisine that even the desserts tend to not be sweet. For entrees and appetizers,  it's almost unheard of (exceptions tend to include sweet potato, which is naturally sweet).

    I asked Miss-huffy-owner-from-China (who has been in the US for 30 years) why the pickles were sweet, so she went on to explain that "We have to make it that way, because that's what people in Houston like to eat". Authentic factor, now 5%. Frankly, this place was not different than the 6 places in my town. What a disappointment.

    So far, you just have my opinion and a story, but.....

    Up Next: Real Chinese Food You Can Cook

    Recipe: Shrimp and Crab Cakes with Roasted Garlic Aoili

    Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise
    1 head garlic
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    2/3 cup light mayonnaise
    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    2. Turn garlic onto its side, and slice about 1/4 inch off the top (pointy end) of the garlic, to expose the tops of the cloves inside.
    3. Place garlic atop a sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle olive oil over garlic, then S&P. Wrap foil over top of garlic and place in oven proof dish (optional) and bake for 45 minutes.
    4. Unwrap foil, then squeeze garlic cloves out of papery skins. Combine with mayonnaise and S&P to taste.
    Note: Light mayonnaise is my favorite. Low-fat is not good, regular is a little rich. I find "light" just right.
    Shrimp and Crab Cakes
    1/4 cup onion, chopped finely
    1/4 cup celery, chopped finely
    1/2 pound shrimp, coarsely chopped
    1/2 pound crabmeat, drained, shell pieces removed
    1/4 cup (1 oz) grated parmesan
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 egg whites and 1 whole egg beaten
    1 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs, or substitute un-seasoned bread crumbs.
    1. Add a small amount of olive oil to a pan and saute onion and celery for 2-3 minutes. Remove and cool.
    2. Combine shrimp, crab, cheese, salt, eggs and vegetables. Stir, then add breadcrumbs.
    3. Form patties, either large (about 4 cakes) or bite-sized (up to 10-12) cakes.
    4. Add a small drizzle of oil to pan, and saute cakes until lightly browned, turning once. 3-4 minutes for small cakes; 5-6 minutes for large.

    African Chicken Wings

    4 large garlic cloves
    3 medium shallots
    2 teaspoons salt
    4 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
    2 teaspoons paprika
    2 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    4 pounds chicken wings
    1. Trim the root ends of garlic cloves, then crush with the side of a chefs knife to loosen skins.
    2. Trim ends and peel the shallots (cut off root ends, cut in half, peel, then slice).
    3. Chop the shallot and garlic finely, then add the salt and mash them together with the tines of a dinner fork, pressing the fork flat against the cutting board. You can create a paste as coarse or as fine as you care to.
    4. Put garlic in a mixing bowl, large enough to hold all the chicken. Add spices and oil, then stir to combine. Add chicken wings and stir to coat.
    5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (or transfer wings to a large zip loc bag) and refrigerate for 2-4 hours. If necessary, this step can be omitted.
    6. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cook wings on a foil-lined jelly-roll pan for 20 minutes, or slightly more, until wings are nicely browned.

    Optional Dipping Sauce
    1/3 cup peanut butter, any style
    1/4 cup canned cream of coconut
    2 garlic cloves, chopped
    1/4 cup water
    1/4 cup chopped red pepper
    1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
    1 teaspoon soy sauce

    Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor.

    It's About the Appetizers....Oops, I Meant Ads

    1986: Bears 46 - Patriots 10

    It's mind boggling to consider what the Super Bowl has become in our culture, especially since it didn't exist when many of us were born. But oh what a party it is now!

    So many people cook for Super Bowl that there is a huge spike in avocado sales at this time of year. How has guacamole risen to these heights in parallel with the Super Bowl? Maybe it's because guacamole is approachable for non-cooks - just mash up some avocado and toss in onion, peppers and spice. That must be it.

    Well, this week we're going to do some mashing too, except with garlic. I'm sharing a recipe for chicken wings that is one of the most requested dishes I make - African Chicken wings. The recipe is based on flavors found in Macanese cooking - that is, from the territory of Macau, on the southern coast of China. Macau is inhabited by Portuguese settlers who were extensive traders ranging from Europe to Africa and the Far East. This recipe is influenced by all those regions.

    The key technique is mashing garlic and shallots (you'll find them near the onions in every grocery store) with a little salt. Then simply add oil and a few dried spices and let them sit for a few hours or overnight in the fridge. Roast them in the oven - and that's it.

    You might not have Chinese five-spice powder in your pantry, and it is the secret ingredient in this dish. You can find it at any grocery store easily, and after you make this recipe once, you'll want to use five-spice again. It's a blend of several (not especially five) spices, usually cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns. It's used in both savory and sweet dishes. I once made a rich chocolate torte that included five-spice.

    The second dish is a variation on crab cakes. Using 50-50 shrimp and crab give these cakes a little more texture and cuts down the cost. No secrets here, it's just a good, straightforward recipe. A key to good crabcakes, or seafood cakes in this case, is having a nice sauce to drizzle over them, or dip them into. We'll stick with our garlic theme and add roasted garlic to some mayonnaise to create a sauce with tons of flavor with almost no effort at all. If you've never roasted garlic you won't believe how easy it is and how great the taste is (and the smell while it roasts, too).

    Have a great Super Bowl Sunday, and hope for scores of 14-14, or 24-14, or 24-24....yes, I've got 4-4 in a big pool.

    Warm Regards,

    Many of you were interested in my audition for the Master Chef TV show. Thank you for all that love. I'm afraid I can't tell you any more about what's going on, due to confidentiality agreements. I've had a lot of fun with the audition process so far and hope it continues to go well. We'll see.

    Kitchen Tool of the Week: Cutting Boards

    In yet another discussion of cooking subjects which seem to be too simple to discuss, I present: cutting boards. Outside of pots and pans, cutting boards are one of the few items in the kitchen where it makes sense to have several different sizes of essentially the same product. I'm somewhat challenged to make a specific recommendation for a cutting board, especially once I saw that offers over 3500 cutting boards. Who would've guessed that?

    Here are a few things to consider when considering cutting boards:
    • There's only one mistake you can make in buying a cutting board: getting a glass one. My mother-in-law had one built into her 1970's era kitchen countertop. Not only was it ineffective, it was almost dangerous. A knife blade could easily slide sideways once it reached the hard glass surface. At a minimum such a board will make a sharp knife dull more quickly than plastic or wood.
    • What people know of as 'butcher block" style boards are made of end-grain, instead of the long grain dimension of a piece of wood. End grain is very durable, and will better resist warping, but at a price. Expect to pay 2-3 times or more for an end grain board.
    • I have seen boards for sale made of ironwood. It's a dramatically figured, very dark grained wood. However, serious woodworkers tend to avoid working with it because it dulls tools so quickly (it's called ironwood with good reason). So I'd avoid it in the kitchen, as it will likely dull you knife more quickly than other woods or plastics.
    • Bamboo has become popular and is usually inexpensive. Depending on the quality of the brand, bamboo boards may need to be rubbed with vegetable oil during the first few months, to keep the board for getting brittle and splintering slightly.
    • Acacia and Sheesam (Indian Rosewood) are sustainable woods now being used for cutting boards. Each has a rich brown color with very attractive contrasting light brown grain pattern.
    • Studies have shown plastic and wood cutting boards to be roughly equivalent in regard to retaining bacteria. Far more important is how well you clean up your boards and avoiding cross contamination while actively cooking. Multiple boards are the best option. For example, prepare poultry on one board, reserving a different board for vegetable prep. There are sets of multi-colored boards in which you reserve board for different food types. An excellent choice for the anal-retentive cooks out there.
    • Only a few wood boards are diswasher safe.
    • A number of cutting boards now come with non-slip grips of some sort. I think the grips wear out before the board does. I have one, we'll see. A damp paper towel placed under a cutting board will anchor it in place nicely, and helps clean up your counter when you're done cooking.
    I recommend having about 3-4 sizes on hand, and a few more of the mid-sized ones for times when you might be "cooking up a storm". Here are what I think every kitchen should have:

    1. One or two everyday cutting boards that range around 10x16 to 18x24 (inches)
    2. I really like having a bar board, about 5x7 or 6x9 for quick jobs (and, of course, the bar).
    3. A huge pastry board is needed, unless you have stone countertops which work even better
    4. One good sized board with channels around the edges to collect meat juices. Instrumental for carving.
    You can spend over $150 for a high end butcher block style board, or $1000+ for a free standing butcher block. Functionally, I've only had one "cheap" board ever disappoint me (slight warping). So the price tag is primarily related to aesthetics.
    As for me....wood or plastic? I have some of each. I use them interchangeably. I use the plastic more, only because of it's shape and size.

    Technique of the Week: Wrestling with Garlic

    I chuckle to myself each time I begin to write about something that at first seems so simple, such as the recent post about cooking pasta. Let me stress the point that many techniques are indeed simple, with the right tools and a little practice. And even the harder processes get easier over time.

    Yet, related to techniques that at their core are quite simple, there often are tips, tricks, or some key fact that you should know that will help you get a better end results, or speed up the process.

    So as you'd expect, I have a few thoughts about garlic and how to peel and chop it. Let's also clarify:

    Head of Garlic = The thing you buy in the store.
    Clove of Garlic = The thing you break away from the thing you bought in the store.

    • The easiest garlic to peel has thick papery skins that peel away easily. Bad news: the skins are often thick and papery because these garlic heads are SO OLD. The freshest garlic has very thin outer skins, which want to cling to the garlic clove. *** See Note.
    • To prep garlic, break away the number of cloves you think you'll need. Trim the root end. Place the flat side of your knife on top of the garlic clove and pound it a bit with the side of your fist. The skin will break away from the clove, and will peel off easily.
    • Once skinned, the garlic clove can be left whole, sliced, diced or mashed.
    • I use my large chef's knife to slice or dice garlic. Paring knives seem to slow down the process to me.
    • To dice: make one cut through the clove parallel to your cutting board. Holding the clove between your thumb and forefinger, make perpendicular lengthwise cuts, but do not cut through the entire clove. Start the tip of your knife just short of the far (left) end of your clove, and cut through to the close end (right, if you're right handed). Slice across these slivers to create a coarse or fine dice.
    • To mash, if your recipe calls for salt, add some to diced garlic. Using a dinner fork, press the tines repeatedly into the garlic salt mixture. The can create as course or fine mash as you'd like, even down to nearly all liquid if you stay at this task long enough.
    • Throw away your garlic press. It's hard to clean.
    More about that garlic press comment. Garlic can range from mild, to intense and almost spicy depending on how you prepare it. The more oils (liquid) that are released from the clove will determine the strength of the flavor. If you use a garlic press, you are guaranteed to have just about the most intense flavor of all.

    My recommendation to gently smash the clove is the best of both worlds - it speeds up getting the skin off, but depending on how hard you smash the clove, you control how much of the oil you release. For the mildest garlic flavor, don't crush the clove much, or peel it without crushing.

    *** Note: Rural Chinese routinely eat raw garlic, much the way we might eat an apple. In all I've seen written about that practice, I've never seen reference to the skins. So, my claim that the freshest and best garlic is thin skinned seems to hold. That, and buying about 3000 heads of garlic in my life.

    Another note: China leads the world in garlic production - accounting for nearly 80% of all garlic grown. The US is 5th, with just 1.5%.


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