Friday, August 07, 2015

A Tale of Two Chilis

Mom smoked like a Texas BBQ joint, and in so doing figured a way or two to take advantage. She entered a Marlboro chili contest,  and low and behold, won. First prize. Well, really my brother won. Mom entered using his name. She often did stuff like that for her kids. Lots of prizes were delivered including a propane gas grill, Boombox and CDs, and a lifetime year's supply of fillet Mignon.  Ironically, neither could afford to pay the taxes on the winnings so started selling off what they could. I grabbed the boom box and some CDs, my Uncle got the BBQ. Mom ate the steaks. Unfortunately I can't publish this recipe or even use its title, until Marlboro goes out of business. So instead I am going to share a recipe I acquired from my friends in California.


8 medium (about 4 ounces total) dried chiles

(I like using a combo of mostly New Mexico, California, Negro, with maybe a few Ancho or smoked chilis such as Moritas.. Habaneros for heat. Sometimes I’ll use arbols, cayennes, or cascabels. Cascabels have a wonderful nutty unique flavor though that I don’t like to mix with other chiles.)

4-8 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, whole or freshly ground
1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds, whole or freshly ground (optional)
1 cup  broth chicken or meat
Salt, about 1 teaspoon

Set a heavy ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat. Lay the unpeeled garlic on the hot surface and let it roast to a sweet mellowness, turning occasionally, until soft when pressed between your fingers it will blacken in a few spots, about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.

While the garlic is roasting, break off the stems of the chiles, tear the chiles open and shake and/or pick out all the seeds. For less heat, remove all the interior light-colored veins. Next, toast the chiles (to give them a richer flavor) a few at a time on your medium-hot skillet or griddle: Carefully, don’t let them burn. Flip them so you do both sides. Transfer the toasted chiles to a bowl, and either hot hot or near boiling water (or a light broth, I sometimes use a little chicken broth or drippings from a cooked pork roast) just until covered, or add cold water and bring to almost a boil, then turn off heat, to rehydrate for 30 minutes, make sure chiles are covered.

Then transfer chiles to a food processor or blender, along with the and the garlic. If you’re using a blender and the mixture just won’t move through the blades, add more water or broth, a little at a time, until everything is moving, but still as thick as possible. Avoid watery. With a rubber spatula, work the puree through a medium-mesh strainer into a the pot you will finish the chili in, you may need to do in batches. Discard or compost the skins and seeds that remain behind in the strainer. This is the essence of the chili, and this really can be altered in many ways to create a infinite number of flavor combinations. You will then add the meat and cook it down. At this point I like to add a little Mexican oregano, epazote, cumin, or maybe even some anise seed and adjust the flavors as it cooks. If it’s too watery cook uncovered until cooked down some, if gets too thick add a little more broth or water. If using beans I either use can and add later near when the meat is done. If using dried beans I cook them separate, strain then add and simmer together for little while to flavor meld.

That is my chili. Very similar to how you’ll find Rick Bayless doing it, except I was doing it this way long before he ever was a celebrity, I am not a copy of him. This also makes a base for a wonderful enchilada sauce sans the meat. On occasion I’ll add a little tomato paste to this to thicken or extend the amount up, but personally I don’t favor this. I’ll add some stewed or dice tomatoes to the chili though. This basic technique is the basis for making mole, mole of course having usually many more ingredients, nuts, raisins, etc. and really should be done with a real molcajete, outside, by an open fire. Truly.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

3 Salmon for Jake

Salmon is a wonderful fish, beyond words an amazing wild food resource. Especially when you get the best freshest quality. But that isn't easy, even for me living in salmon world. As soon as salmon begin to enter the rivers and lakes to spawn they begin to die. They stop eating and start converting all their body reserves towards reproduction. The females form eggs and the energy to build redds to deposit their eggs. The males of course develop their contribution and expend tremendous amounts of energy in competition, to make sure THEY are the ones passing along the genes.

The best quality salmon are caught in the ocean or just prior their journey up river to spawn. At this point their stored fat reserves are going towards egg or sperm development. 
 I highly recommend avoiding “fresh” fish if you live anywhere beyond a few miles from the boat catching the fish and don't know or you aren't the fisherman. Fish deteriorates so rapidly that finding high quality fresh fish is very difficult (I think). Go for products that are "individually quick frozen" (or blast frozen; usually at 40 to 60 below zero F) soon after being caught. That fish you see thawed and raw in the store is always a crap-shoot in quality. Most of the time, it is a previously frozen product, and you have no idea how long it has been thawed. Farm raised fish though has the advantage of being anywhere in the world within 24 hours of being bonked on the head and bled. If farmed is all you can get, it's worth a try especially if you know it to be reputable (or certified sustainable). Most Alaskans will bonk me on the head for saying that though. When you buy frozen fish, you CAN cook it frozen without much trouble. First run it under water to thorughly rinse off the ice glaze, this stuff sometimes had sodium phosphate or other preservatives in it, and its the least sterile anyways. Cook normally, just add a few minutes. 

If you prefer to thaw it, always thaw in fridge and eat as soon as thaw, usually takes about 24 hours.  Each species of salmon and even each species among regions have a spectrum of eating qualities. Some of these qualities dictate how they are best cooked. For baking, because that's what this is about, I would go for sockeye first then, coho, and Atlantic salmon or Pacific steelhead. Chum salmon can be awesome but are highly variable in location and timing of catch and honestly I don't eat chum that much because they are not often available for whatever reason. Pink salmon are low in fat and oil and have a more trout-like flesh. Generally they do not retain quality frozen and are best eaten fresh or canned. I don't dis the pink, I think it has its place in life, but I don't fill the freezer with them either. I think kings  or Chinook salmon (and Copper River sockeye) are best for the grill, or smoked. They tend to be a relatively oily and muscular fish. They can be a bit big for fillet in which case they are better steaked. f you do happen upon some king, I would shoot straight for recipe 3 and maybe even raise the temperature a bit. 
So here's the Big 3. I want to say the top 3 but I don't have that much confidence. In my household, these are the 3 most BAKED styles of salmon though. I also love grilled, and poached and will throw some of my faves of those up too. Someday.  
Whenever I BAKE salmon, I fillet the skin off. Its not necessary, but I think it reduces fishyness, and makes it easier to deal with on the plate. I like crispy grilled skin, but not baked skin.  A I'm sure there's a Youtube video that shows this fairly easy process, like filleting but your basically getting the knife between flesh and skin (flesh up, skin against the board) and filleting off the flesh.
I also pluck the pin bones out. Its time consuming but so worth it. I use fingers, pliers or now I have these tweezers  Again, Youtube.
My Asian-Style Salmon
I don't have these quantities quite worked out so had to poach a similiar recipe from the web. You may have to adjust the amounts for amount of fish, but this should be about enough for two 6-8 oz
·        3-4 tbsp tamari (I now prefer, but not bc its gluten free; or low-sodium soy sauce, or reg soy diluted with water)
·        1-2 tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine, optional, you can put sugar or honey too or in lieu)
·        Dash or two of rice vinegar.
·        Or sub the above for your favorite teriyaki sauce, like Soy Vay or Yoshidas.
·        1 tsp of toasted sesame oil
·        Some chopped cilantro
sometimes I'll add a bit of oyster sauce (very salty) or a touch of hoisan sauce, or sambal paste just to add some flavor complexity.
Mix together and put in zip lock or glass baking dish about the size of salmon pieces, and soak for a few hours or for the day. Flip the pieces over at mid point if they aren't  totally immersed. Or if you just don’t have time, just cook the fish in this mixture (in which case you just want a shallow layer of marinade, not totally covering the fish).
 Cook covered 350F for about 15-20 depends on thickness or how much you want done. Susie likes hers done and I like mine a litte rare in the middle. I cover it because it will wickedly burn to the baking dish if not, but the appearance isn’t nicely caramelize. You could just throw the broiler on for a few minutes or take a cooking torch (really) to it if you want it prettier, but before you do baste it with some of the juices.
Salmon Supreme – a rich dilly cream sauce
(especially good for not the highest quality fish)
Mix together:
·        1/3 cup plain non-fat or greek yogurt and/or  sour cream, or mixture of both
·        2 tbsp mayonnaise (yeah, don’t freak, this combo works)
·        Lots of finely chopped fresh dill. Or dried dill.
·        1 tsp or so Lemon zest
·        1 tsp or so Lemon pepper.
·        1 med clove of pressed garlic (optional)
·        Lightly oil bottom of baking dish, lay in salmon fillets, top salmon mixture and bake uncovered at 350 F.
This also helps keep salmon moist. Of course all that fat from mayo and milk products helps..
YOUR Favorite Spices Salmon
Salmon is so good just as is, especially the really high quality rich stuff, like King, or Copper River Red or anything that is well taken care of and hasn’t been in the freezer for very long. Some of the best salmon I have had is just salt and pepper, or a just a couple like sprinkles of a savory spice, like lemon pepper, dried dill, paprika, I have even used middle eastern stuff Zaatar and Sumac. I really like Sumac on fish. Chef Paul Prudhomne makes a good spice blend called Fish Magic.
Put a little oil on the bottom of the baking dish and sprinkle skinned and pin-boned fish fish pieces with some oil (or clarified butter) and then sprinkle with spice and bake UNCOVERED at 400F. This will help caramelize the top as does a little bit of sugar mixed in with your spices. There’s always the broiler or torch trick too if you want some brownedness.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Aloo Gobi

I eschew trends, fads, crazes, popularity and buzz. But as always, exceptions occur. Such is the case with this recipe. After watching the sensation movie "Bend It Like Beckham" on DVD there's a bonus track of the director making a traditional dish, Aloo Gobi with her aged auntie and mum. Very endearing. You can Google the recipe, but I'll put it here, not verbatim but as I now do it.

The dish is very very basic and there's nothing to fear where the words Indian and Curry come together. As a Weight Watchers participant, this became an almost weekly menu rotation. Its like the best Vegan recipe ever, not just low on Points+ but also cause I love flavor, spice and everything nice. Plus I get to add some Thai bird chilies to something. Nowadays, not as strict on WW as I was, I like to garnish this with a dollop of dairy, either Greek yogurt, Daisy sour cream, or just a plain ol slice of sharp cheddar cheese -very complimentary.  A little Sriracha never hurts either (which I have loved  for 35 years, long before the Internet, so no trend follower me)  I also on occasion add some cubed chicken breast for a dosage of animal protein, but it is certainly not missed when without.

  •  Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ~1/3 - 1/2 cup chopped cilantro stems (save some leafs for garnish)
  • optional: bit of fresh ginger 
  • fresh garlic to taste, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons salt2-3  Thai bird chilies, whole (so they heat can be plucked)
  • 1 average size head cauliflower broken into florets (Romanesca works too, as in photo)
  • 3 medium red, white, or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into about in 1/4" disks, halve larger slices
(NOTE: the two veggies need to be cut in equally cooking time parts, which can be somewhat difficult, and you have to know your produce. Fresh spuds are amazingly quicker cooking than ones that have been in storage for several months.  This takes some xperimenting, to get perfect) but try 3/8" slices of potatoes and break the cauliflower down to individual florets and slice up whatever stem is left same as potatoes.}
  • 1 28 oz (or 2 14.5 oz) can of diced or stewed tomatoes with juice or whole tomatoes crushed with hands, masher, blender or food processor, or what have you.
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 8-12 oz of chopped chicken breast
Heat oil in dutch with lid. Saute chopped onions & cumin seeds until turning translucent and soft.
Add to cilantro stalks, turmeric let the turmeric heat up a bit, then add chilies.
Add in ginger & garlic, mix

Now your ready for the main ingredients, the potatoes & the cauliflower, sprinkle with your favorite salt, and a few tablespoons of water or chicken stock at this time, but keep in mind that aloo gobi is supposed to be a dry dish, not a saucy one, watery aloo gobi is no no.

Cover and cook on low or medium low for about 20 min or until the veggies are starting to get tender. Stir and check frequently, I'm lucky the burners on my stove will almost melt chocolate chips on a paper plate, other stove tops will burn the crap out of water. You could put this pup in the over too and do it that way, I haven't though.

Then add tomatoes, (and chicken breast if using) the important reason for doing this, that I have found is the the citric acid in the canned tomatoes (varies by brand) PREVENTS the veggies from tenderizing. I've cooked this stuff or over an hour several times. But after reading Rhulman's book, last year The Making of a Chef (1997) I think I figured it out. Acid increases cooking time or keeps veggies firm, that's why its in the chopped tomatoes.  This is now a weekday meal. Maybe the 'tinned' tomatoes in Europe have less citric acid added, whole tomatoes also typically do not have as much if any citric acid added.

Then cover & simmer for a while longer, until veggies AND chicken (if using..) are done, hopefully synchronistically. When done stir in garam masala, turn off the heat and let rest until you can't stand it any more for flavor melding and juices assimilation. Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves and or other stuff mentioned..

Monday, September 09, 2013


If anyone ever reads this they should understand I'm not trying to reinvent or be definitive on anything, my recipe posts are just how I do them and how they have been handed down to me, and perhaps how I've incorporated my own personality and taste on them. In other words, please don't comment back with a know-it-all attitude like this guy:  
I'm plenty aware of the recipe context, and usually have Googled and read many other versions of what I do, and often try to hunt down a recipe origin. Its my hobby.

Here's my family's carbonarra recipe. Its not the original or the true Italian type, its just how we do it. Rachel Ray has a great recipe as does Food and Wine,  and if you use Google, you can find how it was originally made. My favorite pasta for this is the traditional bucatini or perciatelli; this recipe refers to fettucini. That's ok too. You want something that grips the creamy goodness. I'm not a huge fan of pepperon so I  just dice chunks of ham or bacon (cooked first, removed, re-added)  but its best if you use high quality nicely cured Italian pork product, like gunicale or pancetta (as opposed to bacon- fry remove re-add). Also, I personally like pecorino-romano better than parm. Use both or whatever. Tallegio or even mascarpone might work as a creamy cheesy subsitute, but I have not tried those. Peas and mushrooms would compliment this dish. Lots of calories here folks, it tends to be a special day dish.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shrimp Tacos

Two or three times a year I have the good fortune of getting a very good price on fresh trawl-caught Alaska side-stripe shrimp. Although smaller and a little more work to peel than the big juicy spot sprawns, they are delicious - sweet and tender. One of my favorite uses is simply tacos, with a little mexicany cabbage slaw and always whole black beans on the side. I simply add the shrimp to boiling water for a few minutes (just till they float and turn pale color), drain and cool, peel them,  then briefly throw them in a hot cast-iron skillet with some oil and/butter (sometimes saute some onions  with a little garlic first).
My cabbage slaw is simply some shredded cabbage, lime, cilantro, tomato, minced garlic, salt and pepper, and maybe some chili powder like my favorite piquin, but I don't use chipotle or pasilla due to the shrimp's delicate flavor.You can of course add other things like shredded or julienned jicama, radish, carrots, serrano or jalapeno peppers, etc.   Layer shrimp and slaw onto hot or fried (tostada-style) corn tortillas and garnish with cilantro and favorite MEXICAN hot sauce such as Cholula (NOT Tabasco!), and maybe a tad bit of sour cream, or greek yogurt.

Another thing I'll do is make what I call "tostaditas"or simply oven baked tostadas. I'll put tortillas on a sheet pan grate on some cheese, put in oven 400 or so, and bake until they are crispy, just starting to brown. Then top with whatever. You can put them back in the oven with the toppings for an extra blast of heat and caramelization. Try it.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tom's Smoked Salmon Dip/Spread

 I think the essential ingredient that really gets the salivary glands going and makes you want more and more is a light addition of piquin (or pequin) chili powder. I've tried it with other chilis, and I think there is something magical about this variety. Hard to find in the stores though, but mail order should be no problem.
  • One 8 oz package of cream cheese ( I like the lower fat or Neufatchel for a thinner dip)
  • One 6.5 to 8 oz can or jar of Tom’s killer smoked Cordova coho or Bristol Bay red salmon
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of minced red pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup minced (or grated) red onion
  • 1-2 tsp to taste lemon pepper
  • 1/2 tsp to taste of pequin chili powder
  •  fresh parsely (either) or dill for garnish

Optionals that can be added to taste:
Diced jalpenos, either pickled or fresh
Green/black olives
Grated Colby, longhorn, or other cheddar type cheese



Sunday, March 10, 2013

Linguine and Clams

This is a family recipe (FR). My dad has made this a thousand times and has long been one of his signature dishes to serve visitors. It has become one my signature dishes as well. For many years, I stuck to a rather simple preparation and set of ingredients. Over the last few years, I've strayed, tossing in  this and that for exploration. The recipe is fairly conducive and robust to tweaking. I almost always use linguine though, and use fettucine the rare times that I don't. Never spaghetti or angel hair or any shaped pasta. No, got to go with linguine on this one. Its best with a combo of fresh and canned whole baby clams. I often use just use canned chopped or whole (not minced).

The following recipe is for about 4 servings or for two-three people with good appetites.
(lets get real here, who eats only 2 oz dry of pasta for dinner? Even on WeightWatchers I do  3 oz)

Double recipe for 4-6 people.


  • 8 oz (dry) linguine
  • 2-4 tbsp olive oil (save some for finishing)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, halved
  • 1 medium or so choppped yellow onion (I like onion, so I may use a whole large)
  • ~ 6 oz sliced mushrooms,( I like them noticeable, but not too mushroomy, wild milds like oyster, chantrelle or hedgehogs are good too).
  • ~1 cup white wine
  • pinch oregano
  • salt
  • 1-  6 oz can chopped clams with juice (use only USA brands like Snow's)
  •       + optional ~1/2 lb of hardshell clams
  • ~1/3 cup sliced black olives (the blacks really tie this dish in both in color and flavor accents)
  • chopped parsley (either type but I go light on Italian and like the curly leaf a better in this recipe)
chopped zuchini
thinly sliced peices of red bell pepper
 grape or cherry tomatoes halved
maybe a few chopped sun-dried tomatoes
lemon pepper
tab of butter (mmm!)

Garnish with:
Fresh grated Pecorino Romano (because I like it better than padana or reggiano)
Crushed red-pepper (adds the perfect spicy zing)
Dashes of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Use a big enough non-reactive saute or sautoir pan on medium heat, add oil, when oil is warm add garlic halves, saute gently until just beggining to brown, remove. Add onions sweat down a bit, (at this point add optional veggies, if you are using such as zuchini, you'll have make a call on when and how long they'll need to cook) add mushrooms cook down some more (some shrooms tend to dry out the pan a bit until they release, so go easy on the heat at this point, but I add then at this point only because I don't like overcooked to nothing mushrooms).  Add the parsely/herbs.  Add wine and bring to boil, let off some of the alcohol, then add the clams, juice and olives.  Bring just up to boil then reduce to light simmer, cover. At this point you really don't need to cook this anymore, let it sit just at simmer or lower for awhile to flavor meld. If using hardshell clams throw those in with the wine so the steaming wine cooks them a bit or cook separate and add at end. You can also add the cooked (al dente) and drained pasta to the whole deal and cook it some more to give the pasta a bit of extra flavor. Its how the experts do it. 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

One of my fondest childhood treats. I was the happiest little kid on the planet when my mom made these during my  spoiled-only-child era. Reese's mini Peanut butter cups are still my favorite candy at Halloween and Christmas. Use of the paraffin wax is optional, and the only thing I can find on that is that it is used for aesthics and firmness.  

1 cup butter
1 lb powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
12 oz peanut butter (probably smooth) 

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4-1/2 cake paraffin wax (optional)

Crush cracker crumbs with rolling pin between two sheets of waxed paper. Put in largest bowl, add rest of ingredients, mix with hands. roll into balls a bit smaller than walnuts. Put on waxpaper covered baking sheets. 

Melt the chocolate chips (and grated wax, if using) into top of double boiler and melt together over low heat (gently boiling water). Drop balls into chocolate about five at a time. Roll to coat well, remove carefully and put back on wax paper-covered baking sheet  (go slow let them slip off the fork by themselves for a more professional coating appearances). 

Put in refrigerator to harden. Store in freezer or refrigerator but may be stored at room temperature.

Later in life, when I was working at the Armin F. Koernig hatchery in 1987, a coworker figured out how to make a really good knock-off peanut butter cup in the microwave. Will post that some other time.