February 21, 2015 Chinese New Year Retrospective


I shouldn’t be home, I should be landing in sunny Florida about now but a snowstorm changed our plans. Since Chinese New Year was this past week, I thought I would share some pictures from our celebrations of previous years.

I make spicy gingerbread cookies with the appropriate cutter for each year.  The dragon (2012) is said to be vital, confident and gifted.
I make spicy gingerbread cookies with the appropriate cutter for each year. The dragon (2012) is said to be vital, confident and gifted.
A Chinese soup dumpling. Making and sharing dumplings is a New Year’s tradition that fosters family togetherness and cooperation of spirit. Since dumplings are shaped like gold ingots, eating these “golden nuggets” confers prosperity for the New Year.
Potstickers and dipping sauce.


Yu Sheng, the New Year’s salad that probably originated in Singapore. It is served on the seventh day of the celebration and brings diners prosperity and good fortune.
Combining the East with the West, adzuki bean ice cream.


Noodles symbolize longevity. Spicy Sichuan Noodles feature the unique flavor of Sichuan peppercorns, banned in the United States until a few years ago.
Ingredients ready for the Chinese Hot Pot, everyone gets in on the cooking with this one.


Lion's Head meatballs in a clay pot cooker.
Lion’s Head meatballs in a clay pot cooker.
Wontons and pork buns.



Menu for the Year of the Pig (Boar)
Menu for the Year of the Pig (Boar).


February 17, 2015 Stovetop Smoked Salmon with Kaffir Lime Sauce



I discovered my love of cooking in the early eighties and a good time for me meant a trip to the cookware store. In those years I was the proverbial gadget queen. Some of them were good purchases, a KitchenAid stand mixer, food processors in different sizes, a serious ice cream maker, all very useful when I was catering. One purchase I made that was a good investment was a stovetop smoker. Made by the Camerons company, the one I purchased thirty years ago looks exactly the same as the one they sell today, at about the same price. The smoker is made from dishwasher safe stainless steel. It is a rectangular box (15″x11″) fitted with a wire rack that sits over a drip tray with a lid that slides on for a snug fit. The handles fold out from the side of the box and stay relatively cool during the cooking time but I would still advise using a potholder. One source said it easily fits over a burner but I have always used it over two burners.

I confess I haven’t used this smoker as much as I probably should. I have smoked cheese, shrimp and, of course, salmon. The Camerons company sells wood chips in oak, alder, hickory and cherry that I have used in the past. This time I chose a different smoking medium, tea. I followed a smoking formula that I have used previously with tea smoked chicken. Brown sugar is used because when sugar caramelizes it forms volatile compounds that enter the air as smoke. This gives the salmon a bittersweet caramel flavor. Rice adds it’s own flavor and absorbs the moisture the sugar creates. This is important because the smoking mixture should be as dry as possible, the goal is to create smoke, not steam. I chose Lapsang souchong, a black tea from the Fujian province of China and Joe’s favorite. The tea is dried over a smoking pine fire that gives it a sweet, clean smoky flavor. I also used some orange peel to add some of it’s aromatics.

The smoking medium is placed on the base, lining the bottom with foil makes for the easiest clean up. Next is the drip tray, then the wire rack. If you spray the wire rack with a little non stick spray it will make the salmon easy to remove. Place the salmon on the middle of the rack so that the smoke can circulate freely around it. Slide on the lid and close it completely. I turn the burners on to medium high until I see the first puffs of smoke wafting out, then I back it down to a low simmer. The guide states that for every 6 ounces of fish, allow ten minutes cooking time, so the one pound piece of salmon cooked in less than a half hour.

The salmon can be served as an appetizer or a main course. Serve with an accompanying sauce.  Horseradish and sour cream or tzatziki would be good choices. I made a sauce that I found on the Martha Stewart website using both lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Since I would venture to guess most people don’t have a stovetop smoker, though it is a good investment, a heavy pot or wok lined with foil with a rack that suspends the food over the smoking mixture and a foil lid would be a reasonable substitute.

The booklet that came with the smoker gives recipes for fish, poultry, meat, sausages, cheese and even eggs! It is also suitable for outdoor use, either over a campfire or on the rack of a barbecue. Quoting directly from the booklet it is, “perfect for slimmers” that’s how dieters are referred to in the U.K..  It describes the smoking technique as one that is “widely used in Europe” and it “puts pleasure back into eating.” I must agree, it is a healthy way of cooking and the salmon turned out moist and quite delicious, just lightly scented with smoke. I won’t wait so long in between next time to use the stovetop smoker.

Stovetop Smoked Salmon

Makes 1 pound


  • 1 lb. salmon fillet, pin bones removed
  • Kosher salt and granulated sugar

Smoking medium

  • 1/3c loose tea (I used Lapsang souchong, other aromatic teas could substitute)
  • 1/3c rice (any type)
  • 1/3c brown sugar
  • Several strips of orange zest.


  1. Check the salmon for any pin bones and sprinkle the surface generously with sugar and kosher salt. Place in refrigerator uncovered for one hour.
  2. Set up the smoker and line the bottom with foil for the easiest cleanup.
  3. Scatter the smoking ingredients over the bottom of  the pan.
  4. Place the drip tray over the bottom.
  5. Spray the food rack with non stick spray for easy removal of the fish
  6. Center the salmon on the rack so that the smoke will circulate around the fish easily.
  7. Slide the lid on and turn the burners on to medium high. As soon as you see the first puff of smoke, turn the burners down to a simmer. You should still see some smoke escaping, if not, turn the burners up a little.
  8. Smoke the salmon for about 25 minutes or to your desired doneness.
Sprinkle the salmon with kosher salt and a little sugar to bring out the moisture in the fish.
Sprinkle the salmon with kosher salt and a little sugar to bring out the moisture in the fish.


I still keep the smoker in the original box.
I still keep the smoker in the original box.
The smoking mixture of brown sugar, rice, Lapshang souchong tea and orange peel.
The smoking mixture of brown sugar, rice, Lapshang souchong tea and orange peel.
Center the salmon on the rack over the smoking medium.
Center the salmon on the rack over the smoking medium.
Lapsang souchong tea has a smoky aroma.
Lapsang souchong tea has a smoky aroma.
Now we're smoking!
Now we’re smoking!
One pound of salmon will takes less than a half hour.
One pound of salmon will takes less than a half hour.


Kaffir Lime Sauce


  • 1T olive oil
  • 3 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 3-4 stalks lemongrass, cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried, cut into thirds
  • 1T chili paste (I used sambal oelek)
  • 1/4c red wine
  • 1c canned crushed tomatoes
  • 2T heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


Ingredients for the sauce.
Ingredients for the sauce.


  1. Heat olive oil in medium skillet over low heat. Add shallots and cook until soft and translucent, about 1 minute. Crush the lemongrass pieces and add to the skillet; cook for 30 seconds. Rub the lime leaves between your hands to bring out their aroma, add them to the skillet and cook 30 seconds more.
  2. Add chili paste and cook, stirring, until browned, about 15 seconds. Add wine and cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes and bring mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Strain mixture into a small saucepan through a fine mesh sieve; discard solids, I used a food mill for this step. Add cream to saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook sauce until liquid is reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

February 11, 2015 Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts


Magazine features come and go over the years and often reveal the trends of the time. In the first issue of Bon Appetit I purchased back in 1982 (!) readers could find a column featuring recipes created using a relatively new appliance, the food processor, “Bon Vivant”, a “who’s who and what’s new in the world of food, wine and spirits”, columns featuring cooking for two, wine and spirits, travel and “Too Busy to Cook”, time saving reader recipes.

One column that has lasted all these years is “R.S.V.P.”, reader’s requests of restaurant recipes. Back in 1982 you could find a baker’s dozen of recipes, everything from zucchini nut muffins to sole wellington with a recipe for homemade sausage thrown in for good measure.

In 2015, “R.S.V.P.” still graces the opening pages of the magazine in a paired down format. The February issue has just three recipes, one per page with an accompanying illustration. One recipe in particular caught my eye this month, Kung Pao Brussels sprouts. This recipe comes from Kevin Gillespie, Top Chef “cheftestant” season six and fan favorite. Kevin is presently the chef owner of Gunshow in Atlanta and the author of a best selling cookbook, Fire in My Belly.

I liked the idea of using the kung pao technique with a vegetable.  In the elevated role of the vegetable in today’s cuisine, the first real star was kale and recently that title has been handed over to cauliflower, I feel it’s only a matter of time that Brussels sprouts will take over the spotlight. Like it’s counterparts, kale and cauliflower, Brussels sprouts are a member of the brassica family with the same health benefits. They are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, folic acid and minerals such as potassium, iron and selenium. Their season is from about mid September to March, and as we have learned from other brassicas, those harvested after the first hard frost are the sweetest.

Kung Pao originates from the Szechuan province of China. The classic preparation involves two main ingredients, spicy chiles that contrast with the crunchy, fatty peanuts.  Several sources recount the origins of this dish in similar ways with slight variations. It was either created by or it was the favorite dish of the Gong Bao, a high government official in the nineteenth century. I will leave out the part about the chicken needing to be cut into small pieces because of his dental problems or that the name Kung Pao fell out of favor during the Cultural Revolution. Or maybe you like the alternate explanation, the name Kung Pao loosely translates as “hot firecrackers”. The recipe calls for chile de Arbol  but I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to use dried Kung Pao peppers with similar heat that were harvested from our garden.

Rinse the sprouts well and trim the bottoms. Slice in half lengthwise and remove any yellowed or damaged leaves. Toss the sprouts with oil, kosher salt and a generous grind of pepper. At the halfway point I take them out, toss them around a bit and flip the baking sheet in the opposite direction. I took my sprouts out about five minutes sooner than the original recipe called for because I was baking in convection mode.  Adjust the heat of the dish to your own comfort level. The dish is supposed to be hot but remember you can always add a little more sambal oelek or another chili pepper, but you can’t take them away.

Assemble the sauce ingredients while the sprouts are baking. Cook the garlic and ginger until deliciously fragrant. Add sambal oelek, chilis and remaining ingredients, thicken with cornstarch and simmer.  I found that using half the amount of sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons, gave the right amount of hot to sweet balance in the dish.

Would I make this again? Definitely and Joe agrees, this sauce could be used with other vegetables, eggplant, green beans or in a stir fry using several vegetables. And that September 1982 issue of Bon Appetit? There’s a recipe for Red Snapper Szechuan, with surprisingly similar ingredients to the Brussels sprouts  that looks pretty good to me.



Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts


Serves 6

  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  •  Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  •  2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled ginger
  •  2 tablespoons hot chili paste (sambal oelek)
  •  6 dried chiles de árbol, lightly crushed (I used Kung Pao chilies)
  •  ½ cup soy sauce
  •  3 tablespoons sugar
  •  2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  •  ⅓ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss brussels sprouts and 4 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing once, until softened (but not soft) and browned, 20–25 minutes. Set aside.
  2.  Meanwhile, mix cornstarch and 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl until smooth.
  3. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, until garlic is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add chili paste and cook, stirring, until darkened, about 2 minutes. Add chiles, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and ½ cup water and bring to a boil; stir in cornstarch slurry. Simmer, stirring, until sauce coats spoon, about 2 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  5. Toss brussels sprouts with sauce and serve topped with peanuts.
Dried Kung Pao peppers from our garden.



February 10, 2015 Thai Lettuce Wraps



If I told you, “we’re having meatballs” you might conjure up a vision of succulent, tender meatballs in a garlicky fragrant tomato sauce, or maybe you are imagining nutmeg scented  Swedish meatballs in a creamy gravy. But the meatball is not confined to the West, the Chinese have the Lion’s Head, oversized pork meatballs traditionally cooked in a clay pot and southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia enjoy the street food of seasoned ground meat wrapped in crispy lettuce leaves.

Our love of Thai food has led Joe to grow some of the ingredients that haven’t always been that common in the local supermarket. We have a lemongrass plant that gets large and bushy in the garden every summer. We harvest a large portion of the stalks and freeze them for recipes like this. The significantly cut back plant is brought indoors to winter over. The greatest danger the lemongrass plant meets inside is our Golden Retriever, Cody, who when given the chance, loves to nibble on the leaves. We have three kaffir lime trees that have never produced a lime. That’s okay though, they are grown for their leaves that when crushed produce an intense citrus aroma. We also grow Thai chiles and basil, Vietnamese mint and the herb that no one is on the fence about, coriander.

The dish this is loosely based on larb, a southeast Asian favorite.  This recipe makes a do it yourself appetizer or a light lunch . Set out all of your ingredients and let everyone assemble their own wrap. To eat, take a lettuce leaf, top with several meatballs, add some julienned vegetables, an herb leaf or two, a spoonful of sauce and a sprinkling of chopped peanuts. Roll it up and dig in!

Lemongrass plant in early summer. It will become many times this size by the Fall.


Thai Lettuce Wraps with Meatballs

Make about 2 dozen meatballs

Dipping sauce


  • 1/4c fish sauce, I am partial to the Three Crabs brand
  • 1/4c fresh lime juice
  • 1T Asian sesame oil
  • 2t minced Thai chilis, substitute red pepper flakes if necessary
  • 1t brown sugar
  • 1T minced cilantro


  1. Combine fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, chili, brown sugar and cilantro in a small bowl. Let the flavors blend while you make the meatballs.



  • 1lb ground pork or turkey
  • 1t finely minced garlic
  • 1T finely minced lemongrass, bulb end only
  • 1T finely minced ginger
  • 2T finely minced shallots
  • 1t rice vinegar (the type with no sugar added)
  • 1T Asian sesame oil
  • 1-2t low sodium soy sauce
  • Peanut or grape seed oil to fry the meatballs


  1. Combine the garlic, lemongrass, ginger, shallots, vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce in a medium bowl. Add pork and use your hands to combine ingredients thoroughly. If you have time, chill the mixture for about a half hour, this will  make it easier to roll the meatballs.
  2. Use a tablespoon sized scoop to make the balls, you should have about two dozen. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Cover and chill for at least an hour.
  3. Heat several tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook in two batches so you don’t crowd the skillet. Cook, turning occasionally to brown all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and keep warm.

For final assembly


  • Lettuce leaves, Romaine or Bibb work best here
  • Finely julienned cucumber, carrot and daikon radish
  • Coriander and mint leaves
  • Finely chopped unsalted peanuts.


  1. Separate lettuce leaves as carefully as possible not to tear them. The inside leaves work the best as wrappers.  Wash and spin dry in a salad spinner.
  2. Julienne the cucumber, radish and carrot by hand or with a julienne tool.
  3. Wash herb leaves and separate into individual leaves.
  4. Chop peanuts.
  5. Place all the above items on a large serving dish.
  6. Serve with meatballs and sauce.
Lemongrass stalks. The bulb end is used in cooking.


Though not used in this recipe,  this is what the Kaffir Lime looks like. The distinct double leaf has a pointed point and a rounded bottom section.
Though not used in this recipe, this is what the Kaffir Lime looks like. The distinct double leaf has a pointed point and a rounded bottom section.

February 6, 2015 Mediterranean Style Pan Seared Chicken Breasts

DSC_1136aMy yearly “pantry purge” brought to my attention some items that would expire in the next few months and needed to be used sooner rather than later.  The jar of marinated artichoke hearts I bought at Trader Joe’s last year would reach it’s expiration date in a month.  Not wanting to waste them, I started with the artichoke hearts as a foundation. I looked for other items on the shelf that would add some complimentary Mediterranean flavors.  Also in the pantry I found jarred sun dried tomatoes and roasted peppers. In the refrigerator I found a container of olives, a previously opened  jar of capers and some fresh parsley. I was set to put together an improvised combination that would work well as a topping for the chicken breasts I planned on cooking that evening. I was calling it a “salsa” though Joe pointed out there was nothing sauce-like about it.

To make this dish I started with the marinated artichoke quarters, draining and reserving the marinade in case I needed to add some to the finished dish. The sun dried tomatoes were next, and even though I drained some of the oil off,  they retained enough to give the right balance.  Capers add a salty element to the dish so I made sure to rinse them well before adding them to the dish. I used Kalamata olives and Castelvetrano, an olive with a mild buttery flavor and one of my favorites. The red and yellow roasted peppers,  just needed to be drained and chopped. Combining all of the ingredients in a medium bowl I tasted for seasoning and in this case, a little bit of lemon juice and  a splash of balsamic vinegar was the right addition.

So what should I call this? It’s not quite a sauce, but is a versatile topping for fish, chicken, pasta, it could also be used as an omelet filling or even as a topping for a flatbread pizza.  The ingredients are interchangable as well. Petite diced canned tomatoes could be substituted for the sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms for the artichoke hearts, a little pesto would be a good addition, you can see what I mean. It’s just important to taste as you go to achieve the right balance of flavors.

This would have been great over the poached chicken breasts I made from the last post but I decided to learn another method.  In this recipe, also from Cooks Illustrated, boneless chicken breasts are lightly salted, then parcooked in a covered casserole in the oven. The chicken is then pan seared in a moderately hot skillet and kept moist with a slurry of flour, butter and cornstarch that is brushed on at the end. It gives a nice coating to the chicken and helps it stay moist. As with all meat, poultry and fish recipes, an instant read thermometer takes away the guesswork  and is essential for the best results.

The ingredients for the topping.

Mediterranean Topping

Makes about 4 cups


  • 2c marinated, quartered artichoke hearts from a 12oz jar, drained (save liquid)
  • 2T capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2c sun dried tomatoes, drained, chopped and lightly patted dry
  • 1/2c olives, combination of green and black, pitted and chopped
  • 1/3c chopped roasted peppers
  • 1/4c chopped fresh parsley
  • Balsamic vinegar and lemon juice to taste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. In a medium bowl combine the artichoke hearts, capers, sun dried tomatoes, olives, roasted peppers and parsley.
  2. Add balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.



Pan Seared Chicken Breasts

From Cooks Illustrated March 2010

Serves 4


  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, 6-8 ounces each, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2t kosher salt (1t regular salt)
  • 1T canola oil
  • 2T unsalted butter melted
  • 1T all purpose flour
  • 1t cornstarch
  • 1/2t freshly ground black pepper


  1. Place oven rack in the lowest position and heat to 275°F. Poke the thicker end of the chicken breast with a fork five to six times and sprinkle evenly with the salt. Place the chicken, smooth side down in a 9×13″ baking dish. Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake until the thickest part of the breast registers 145-150°F on an instant read thermometer, start checking at the 30 minute mark, it could take as long as 40 minutes.
  2. Remove pan from the oven and transfer the chicken with tongs to a towel-lined plate and pat dry. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat until smoking. While you are waiting for the pan to heat up, whisk the melted butter, cornstarch and flour together. Brush the top of the chicken with half of the butter mixture. Place the chicken in the skillet, coated side down and cook until browned, 3-4 minutes. While the chicken is browning, coat the other side of the chicken with the remaining mixture. Flip the chicken over with tongs, reduce heat to medium and cook until the second side is browned and the thickest part of the breast registers 160°F, another 3-4 minutes. Transfer chicken to a serving plate.
  3. Serve chicken with Mediterranean topping.