Archive for March, 2010

Wild Rice Soup

March 31, 2010


Wild Rice Soup

Popular in Minnesota.  Northern wild rice is not a rice but actually a type of aquatic grass.  Native Americans harvested it in canoes by paddling to the stands of grass, bending them over their canoes and beating them to extract the grain. Traditionally the soup does not contain asparagus.  I added it because the stalks were sitting in the fridge crying out to be used.

  • 2 cups dried mushrooms (porcini, shitake, oyster, crimini, etc.)
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained
  • ½ pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 stalks of asparagus, tough ends removed, and cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 cup non fat half and half
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • Ground pepper and salt to taste
  • Chopped parsley for garnish.

In a large soup pot put the mushrooms and cover with 4 cups chicken broth.  Bring to boil.  Turn off the heat and let the mushrooms soak until soft (about 15 minutes).  Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl.   Add the remaining broth to the pot along with the wild rice and chicken.  Bring to a boil.  Skim the foam.  Add the onion, celery, thyme, and bay leaf.  When the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes or until grains begin to pop open.  When the mushrooms are cool enough to handle, Press them with the back of the slotted spoon to extract extra moisture.  Pour the liquid back into the soup.  Chop the mushrooms and return them to the pot.  When the wild rice is done, remove the chicken and chop it.  Blend the cornstarch with the half and half and add the chicken, asparagus and half and half to the soup.  Heat to thicken but do not boil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with parsley.  Serves 6-8.

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Stir-fried Seafood and Snow Peas

March 29, 2010

Stir-Fried Seafood and Snowpeas

  • Six dried Chinese mushrooms
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ pound snow peas, rinsed, tough ends and strings removed
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 2 green onions, bulbs removed and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 3 tsp canola oil
  • 1 pound mixed seafood (if frozen, defrosted), rinsed and drained
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp sherry
  • 2 tsp Chinese garlic-black bean sauce

In a small saucepan, put the mushrooms and water and bring to boil.  Boil for about fifteen minutes, or until mushrooms have softened.  (While mushrooms are boiling, prepare remaining ingredients)  Remove mushrooms from the pot.  Continue boiling the mushroom water until reduced to ¼ cup.  Cut and discard tough stems.  Slice caps into slices and set aside.

Turn of the heat under the mushroom water.  Mix cornstarch and sherry together until cornstarch is dissolved.  Stir sherry mixture into the mushroom water and add black bean sauce, stirring well.

Heat up ½ of the canola oil in a wok over high heat.  Add the ginger, green onions and snowpeas and stir fry for only about 1 minute.  Snow peas should be bright green but very crisp.  Turn vegetables into a bowl.  Heat the remaining canola oil over high heat.  Add the seafood and stir fry for two minutes or just until it starts to turn opaque.  Add snowpeas, mushrooms and mushroom sauce.  Stir well for one more minute.  Serve immediately over steamed rice.  Makes 4 servings.

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Italian Seafood Soup

March 26, 2010

Italian Seafood Soup

I was at the Asian Superstore last week and they sold mixed seafood in 14 oz bags in the freezer section for a ridiculous $1.79.  The bag contained shrimp, cooked mussels, periwinkles (sea snails), octopus, squid and surimi (imitation crab).  They also sold cod fillets at less than $3 a pound.  I bought them and figured out what to do later on with them.  I used a whole bag of mixed seafood (defrosted), defrosted one fish fillet and cut it up to add to the soup.  This recipe was based on rustic Seafood Soups we had while visiting the Amalfi coast.

  • ½ onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • ½ cup green pepper chopped
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 15oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups seafood stock or clam juice
  • 1 lb diced red potatoes
  • 1 cup red wine
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 pound mixed seafood (if frozen, defrosted)
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

In a soup pot, sauté vegetables in olive oil over medium high heat for about 10 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients except seafood and chopped parsley.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Add seafood and cook for only about five minutes or seafood will get tough.  Adjust seasoning, sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.  Makes about 6 servings.

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Spinach bread

March 23, 2010

Spinach Bread

Spinach bread is very popular in East Coast Italian-American neighborhoods.  I’ve changed the bread to whole grain to make it healthier and added chopped olives, sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese.  I decided I wasn’t generous enough with the stuffing, so I’ve doubled those quantities here.  In a way, this is like jelly-roll calzone, just easier to make.


  • ¾ cup warm water
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup oat bran
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast

Put ingredients in the above order in a bread machine set on “whole wheat dough” setting following your machine instructions.  Process and let dough sit until dough cycle is completed (about 2 ½ hours).


  • 1 lb prewashed packaged spinach leaves
  • ½ cup packed sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained
  • ½ cup pitted strong olives (e.g. Calamata)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup feta cheese crumbled
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp marjoram leaves
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp freshly ground pepper.

Place spinach in a microwave an microwave on high for about 3 minutes or until spinach is wilted.  When cool enough to handle, put it in a clean kitchen towel and wring excess moisture out.  Chop spinach, sundried tomatoes and olives and mix them with the remaining ingredients.

When dough is ready, roll it out into a rectangle on a lightly floured board.  Spread the filling on top up to 1 inch from each edge.  Starting on one of the shorter ends, roll the dough like a jelly roll to enclosed the filling.  Pinch the seams closed.  Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray and put the roll on the sheet.  Spray it with non-stick spray and set is aside in a warm spot until it has doubled in size (about ½ hour- 45 minutes).

Bake the roll in a preheated 375 oven for about 30 minutes or until brown and sounds hollow when thumped.  Cut into slices and serve.  Makes about a dozen slices.

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Buddha’s Fry (Jai)

March 20, 2010

Buddha’s Fry (Jai)

This vegetarian dish is one of my favorite parts of a Chinese banquet.  Traditionally, it contains 18 ingredients representing the eighteen Buddhas (Luohan).  In most restaurants, you will see fewer ingredients.  The ingredients with stars next to them may be hard to find except in Asian grocery stores.  The first three ingredients are also common in Chinese hot-and-sour soup, and therefore worth the trip and  purchase.  You can substitute fresh (firm) or baked tofu, tempeh, and other kinds of mushrooms (e.g. canned straw mushrooms, buttons), shelled edamame (soybeans)  for the harder to find ingredients.  You can also make your own deep fried fresh tofu by cutting it into bite-sized triangles and frying it over medium high heat in about ½ inch of oil and then draining it on paper towels.   A good jai will display a lot of variety in looks, tastes and textures and contain ample amounts of vegetable protein.

  • 4 Chinese dried mushrooms
  • ¼ cup dried tiger lily buds*
  • ½ oz dried wood-ear*
  • 1 oz dried bean-curd skin (sheets or knotted)*
  • 1 oz fried tofu*
  • ½ cup fried wheat gluten (comes in a can)*
  • 1/3 cup bamboo shots, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups mushroom or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 oz dried cellophane noodles, snipped into 2 inch lengths
  • 3 green onions cut into 2 inch lengths
  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • 1 cup dark green vegetable (e.g. broccoli, kale) cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 cups Napa cabbage cut into bite-size pieces
  • 6 baby corn cobs, cut into three pieces each
  • 1/3 cup sliced water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
  • About 1 dozen snow peas, strings removed
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • Up to 3 tbsp Chinese oyster sauce (real or vegetarian) (I’m not a true vegetarian so I use the real stuff)
  • 2 tsp Asian sesame oil


Put the mushrooms, lily buds, wood ears and bean curd skin in a bowl and cover them with boiling water.  Let them sit for about 15 minutes or until soft.  In a separate bowl, do the same with the cellophane noodles (it’s easier, and less messy to soak them first and then snip them in the bowl with kitchen scissors).  In the meanwhile, collect and prepare the remaining ingredients.  Make sure every can is opened, everything drained, portioned off, washed and/or chopped before you start stir frying, as things will go quite fast.

Drain the mushrooms, etc.  Slice the mushrooms, discarding the tough stems.  Slice the wood ears into pieces about the size of the mushroom slices and if using flat sheets of bean curd skin, tear it into small pieces about the size of the cut-up wood ears (If using knotted bean curd skin, leave it as is). 

In a pot, combine the mushrooms, lily buds, wood ears, bean curd skin, fried tofu, wheat gluten and bamboo shoots with the stock, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch, heat over medium high heat and cook for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to penetrate. Drain the cellophane noodles and set them aside.

In a wok over high heat, heat up the oil.  When oil is hot, add ginger, green onions, celery, carrots and stir fry for about one minute.  Add dark green vegetable, Napa cabbage and garlic.  Stir fry for another minute.  Add the corn cobs and water chestnuts and stir fry for another minute.  Add snow peas and bean sprouts and cook just till snow peas are heated through.  They should still be crisp and bright green.  Turn off the heat.  Stir in mushroom mixture and cellophane noodles.  Add half of the oyster sauce and taste.  If necessary add more until seasoning appears right.  Spoon into a serving bowl and squirt sesame oil over the mixture.  Serve at once with or without rice.  Makes 6-8 servings.

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St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

March 18, 2010

St. Patrick’s Day Dinner


My Irish friends (including a priest born and raised in Ireland) tell me that corned beef and cabbage is not the traditional Irish St. Patrick’s Day dinner.  It was popularized by Irish Americans in America, where beef was plentiful and affordable, and where salted meat was common in the days before refrigeration.  In Ireland, a family is more likely to serve seafood or lamb on Saint Patrick’s Day.  Incidentally, Patrick was not Irish.  He was English, though after he converted to Christianity, he dedicated his life to bringing Christianity to Ireland.  Also, he did not drive out any snakes from Ireland.  Ireland has never had any snakes in recorded history.  The story is more likely an allegory for driving “Satan and Sin” out of Ireland.  My St. Patrick’s Day dinner features salmon in an Irish whiskey sauce and Colcannon, a blend of potatoes and kale (or cabbage).  I prefer Kale for its dark green color, creating an appropriate dish for the “wearin’ o’ the green.”


  • 1 lbs potatoes scrubbed, unpeeled and diced into1” cubes
  • 3/4 cups nonfat milk
  • 1 cloves garlic peeled
  • 2 cups kale leaves coarsely chopped
  • 2 strips bacon, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh marjoram leaves
  • Ground pepper to taste


Put the potatoes, milk, and garlic in a medium pot over medium high heat.  Watch the mixture carefully to prevent boilovers.  When the mixture reaches a boil, add kale leaves, turn the heat down to medium, cover and cook for about 15 minutes until potatoes mash easily.  Turn off the heat.  Scoop the potatoes and kale out with a slotted spoon into a food processor.  Pour off the milk into a separate contained and reserve.  Rinse out the pot.  Add the chopped bacon and heat over medium high heat until bacon is crisp.  Scoop out bacon bits and pour off most of the fat, leaving just a light film on the bottom of the pot.  Turn off the heat.  Process potato mixture with marjoram, adding enough of the leftover milk to create a creamy mashed-potato consistency.  Discard the remaining milk.  Return the potato mixture to the pot and stir well to evenly distribute the bacon.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Keep warm while you prepare the cream sauce and salmon.

Mushroom cream sauce

  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 oz dried mixed gourmet mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 jigger Irish whiskey
  • Enough non-fat half and half added to the strained chicken broth to make 1 ½ cups liquid, blended with 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon jucie
  • salt and white pepper to taste

Put the broth in a large microwave-proof measuring cup and put it in the microwave on high power for 2 minutes until boiling.  Add the mushrooms and stir well.  Soak mushrooms for ten minutes.  Strain the broth from the mushrooms add enough non-fat half and half to the broth to make 1 ½ cups liquid. Add lemon juice and cornstarch.  Heat the butter in a flameproof sautee pan.  When the butter if foaming, add the mushrooms in a single layer.  Stir occasionally until they begin to brown.  Add the Irish whiskey and tipping the pan slightly, light it with a match.  When flames die down, whisk half and half  mixture to fully dissolve the cornstarch and tehn add it to the pan.  Whisk sauce until it thickens.  Add salt and pepper to taste.   Keep sauce warm while you prepare the salmon.

  • 2 lbs king salmon fillet, skin removed and cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 tsp each Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Mix salt, pepper and thyme leaves.  Rub mixture into both sides of the salmon fillets.  Heat a ridged grill pan or nonstick frying pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray over high heat.  Lay the salmon fillets on the grill and cook about 4 minutes on each side or until fish just begins to flake. 

Portion salmon pieces onto serving plates and top with the sauce.  Spoon colcannon on the side and add some sliced tomatoes.  Serves 4.

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Pacific Northwest Clam Chowder

March 17, 2010

Pacific Northwest Clam Chowder


There are many versions of clam chowder throughout the States (as a former expat that’s the term we used for the U.S.).  There’s the rich, creamy Boston Clam Chowder, clear, clammy Rhode Island Chowder, red Manhattan Chowder, and Italian Clam Soup with Pasta.  I love them all, but the version I make most frequently can best be described as Pacific Northwest Clam Chowder, a version found in many restaurants in Seattle, my old long-time hometown.  It’s milk based but lighter than Boston, has a pretty confetti of colorful vegetables, a touch spicy and with a nice sherry finish.

  • Four slices bacon, chopped
  • ½ onion chopped
  • 2 carrots peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 ½ pounds red potatoes, unpeeled and cubed
  • ½ cup chopped green pepper
  • 4  6-12 oz cans chopped clams, drained, save liquid
  • 1 12-oz bottle clam juice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Tabasco or other hot sauce (I used my favorite Sriracha Asian Chile sauce)
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 cups non fat half and half
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup sherry
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

In a large soup pot, stir bacon over medium high heat until crisp.  Remove bacon and drain it on paper towels.  Pour off and save all but 1 tbsp melted fat for other uses.  Add onion, carrots and celery and sauté four about five minutes.   Add garlic, potatoes and pepper and sauté, stirring occasionally until potatoes start to lightly brown (about ten minutes).  Add reserved clam liquid, clam juice, wine, Worcestershire, Tabasco and thyme.  Bring to a boil and then turn heat down and simmer about 10 minutes or until potatoes are cooked but still firm.  Dissolve cornstarch into the non-fat half and half.  Stir mixture into the soup and add clams.  Cook until it just starts to bubble, turn heat to low and cook for 2 minutes more to allow the mixture to thicken oh so slightly.  Add ground pepper to taste.  Ladle into shallow soup bowls.  Drizzle 2 tbsp sherry over each serving and garnish with bacon bits and parsley.  Serves about 6.

Note, you can also add fish, shrimp and/or scallops for a wonderful, thick main-dish seafood chowder

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Herbed chicken soup

March 16, 2010

Herbed Chicken Soup

For what ails you.  Even if you are not ailing, nothing beats homemade.  The perfect light meal before performing at a vocal concert.  I love fresh herbs so much I grow them in my courtyard.  They are easy to grow in California, either from seeds or seedlings in pots in a sunny spot.  Some (e.g. basil) won’t survive even mild California winters but can be raised in a sunny window in the winter if you have one.  They are also much cheaper than a bunch from the grocery section of your supermarket and much fresher.

  • 1 pound boneless chicken thighs
  • 10 cups chicken broth
  • ½ medium onion chopped
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 2 medium carrots peeled and sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves slivered
  • 2 tbsp fresh marjoram leaves, stripped from their woody stems (discard stems)
  • 2 tbsp thyme leaves stripped from their woody stems (discard stems)
  • 1 bay leave (fresh or dried)
  • 6 whole peppercorns
  • ½ cup orzo or other small pasta
  • Extra chopped parsley for garnish

Put chicken and broth in a large pot and bring to boil.  Skim off and discard the foamy protein scum that collects on the surface.  Add the remaining ingredients (except orzo and parsley garnish). When the mixture comes to a boil again, turn the heat down to medium low and cover. Simmer for about 45 minutes.  Remove and discard the bay leaf.   Remove the chicken to a cutting board.  Using a fork and sharp knife, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and return them to the pot.  Turn up the heat and add the orzo and cook for about 8 minutes more.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Ladle into bowls and sprinkle parsley on top.  Makes about 6 servings.

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Smoked salmon spread

March 13, 2010

Smoked salmon spread

We are opening our concert of Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem today.  I offered to bring something for the post-show reception.  This smoked salmon spread is easy to make and sounds and tastes a lot more expensive than it is.  If you’d like to make a salmon party ball, simply double the amount of drained salmon, chill the mixture, form it into a ball and roll it in the chopped parsley and double the amount of nuts, wrap in plastic wrap and chill an additional 1 hour before serving.

  • ¼ cup walnut meats
  • 2 cup parsley leaves only
  • 1 tbsp grated onion
  • 1 8-oz package of light cream cheese
  • ½ tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 6-oz can good quality salmon, drained

In a food processor, using the chopping blade, chop nuts and set them aside.  Chop parsley and set it aside,  Put onion, cream cheese, liquid smoke, Dijon mustard and lemon juice in the food processor and process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.  Add salmon and process again until just mixed in.  Scrape the contents into a serving bowl and top with chopped parsley and nuts.  Provide a knife for spreading.  Serve with crackers.

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Spicy rice vermicelli with shrimp

March 13, 2010

Spicy rice vermicelli with shrimp

Unlike wheat noodles, which often have to be boiled separately drained and added to your sauce, Asian rice vermicelli cook quickly so you can cook them with your other ingredients in a single pan.

  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • Half an onion, sliced
  • 1 carrot peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove peeled and minced
  • 2 oz fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tsp Asian chile sauce
  • 6 oz dried rice vermicelli, snipped into 2 inch lengths
  • 1 lb shelled shrimp
  • 4 oz fresh baby spinach leaves washed

Prepare all ingredients before cooking.  Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet or wok over medium high heat.  Add ginger, onion, carrot, garlic and mushrooms and stir fry for about a minute.  Add chicken broth and chile sauce and bring to roiling boil, add vermicelli and stir into the broth to make sure all noodles are moist.  Add shrimp and spinach leaves in that order creating layers. Turn heat to medium, cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until shrimp turn pink.  Stir ingredients together then portion into shallow soup bowls.  Makes 4 servings.

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