Tuesday, September 11, 2018

How to make Amatriciana Pasta

Rome, Italy may be called the “Eternal City” but Rome actually
started several miles southwest of present-day Rome in a place called Ostia.  Today Ostia Antica is an archeological site near the modern resort town of Ostia. Two thousand years ago Ostia Antica was located at the mouth of the Tiber River making it an important commercial city with a population of around 60,000. It declined as the harbor silted up eliminating its place in the trading market and making way for the growth of what is Rome today. Ostia, today, is a beach resort. 

I think, we Americans, think that we have the most advanced culture that ever existed and in many ways that’s true but often we don’t appreciate the high level of culture and lifestyle a thousand or more years ago. There are frescos that have survived in homes. The frescos served the same function as wallpaper does today.  In the early 1800s itinerant painters would travel around the United States and stencil designs on the walls of people’s homes in exchange for room and board and/or a pittance in pay. 

In the Ostia Antica Museum there are statuaries representing
religions of foreign land.  Being a port town, Ostia welcomed people from all over the world and tried to meet their religious needs.  The theater is one of the oldest brick theaters anywhere and concerts are still held there today. The three rows of marble steps near the orchestra was for the rich. Today orchestra seats are still the most expensive.

It was fun walking down the main thoroughfare past the stores. Mosaics advertised their wares. The hub of life centered around the government-subsidized, easy affordable baths. There were marble steps for lounging and doing business. They led to the pools. Olive oil was used instead of soap so the water was skimmed periodically by servants.  

It was the end of the beach season in Ostia so many restaurants
were closed but we found a small, family-owned restaurant near our hotel called, Officina Cusinia. I am often puzzled how people identify us as Americans even before we speak. While we were eating, the owner, Giovannit Ciaravola said he knew we were Americans because we twirled our spaghetti on our spoon.  The correct way, he said was to just twirl the fork or put the tines on the plate and twirl it.  I said we probably don’t make the sauce the Italian way.  He agreed and said he would be making sauce the next day about noon and if we wanted we could return and learn the way to make traditional Amatriciana Italian sauce – the “right way” to make it.  We did.  

Amatriciana Pasta

3 to 5 quarter-inch slices of guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl); or uncooked fatty bacon 
1 can of plum tomatoes in sauce
Salt pinch
Pepper pinch 
Olive oil couple of drops
one-half box of  spaghetti pasta
2 ounces pecorino cheese

Cook pork jowl over medium heat so the fat cooks out and the pork jowl is slightly crispy. Add tomatoes, cover (it will lose some red and become more orangey), stir occasionally until it thickens – about 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Mix. Add a couple drops of oil to make it look shiny. Mix, Boil water then add pasta cook; until el dente. If the sauce is too thick add some pasta water. Drain pasta. Add to the cooking pan. Toss. Sprinkle cheese on top. Ready to enjoy. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Seafood Soup ala Chuy's in San Felipe, Mexico

In December 2017 several members of our family decided to spend Christmas in San Felipe where my oldest son has a vacation house. San Felipe is a small, sleepy fishing village on the east coast of the Baja Peninsula 125 miles south of Calexico. The area had changed from the one and only other time John and I visited San Felipe twenty years ago. At that time we stayed at the only motel in the area.  Interestingly, there was a sign in our room that said, “Do not build a fire on the floor.” I guess someone must have tried that or there would be no need for the sign. 

It was obvious that in the intervening twenty years there had been a period of time when there was a building boom as evidenced by the unfinished buildings. All that changed when the housing bubble burst. Vacation homes in San Felipe are now reasonable.  Besides fishing and water activities there is a unique place called Valley of the Giants where there is a forest of cardon cacti, the tallest cacti in the world found only on the Baja and Sonora Deserts. The slow growing plants can reach a height of 60 feet or more and weigh up to 25 tons. 

When the tide was out in front of the vacation
home family members went out on the sand to gather clams for dinner.  The clams, while small, made an excellent dinner. On another day the male members of the family went fishing in the Gulf of California (aka Sea of Cortez). My son said his favorite dinner while in San Felipe was
Seven Seas Soup.  Since we only had clams and fresh fish we went to Chuy’s in the village to try the soup.  Chuy’s is a small family restaurant owned by Jesus Lozana and Maria Luisa Guzman.  One of their three sons, Gabriel Lozano, is the chef, another one waits on table, and the other is the bookkeeper. We were welcomed in the kitchen to watch the soup being prepared. Maria Luisa Guzman also explained how to make fish balls.

Fish ball recipe

2 cups boneless white fish, cooked and flaked
2 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
1 tsp. diced cilantro
1 beaten egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Form into 1 inch balls.  Set aside

Seven Seas Soup

1 Tbsp. butter or cooking oil
½ cup tomato, diced
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup celery, diced
½ green pepper, diced
½ cup carrot, sliced
8 cups fish or chicken broth
Tsp garlic
Tsp cilantro  (save a little for garnish)
Chili pepper, minced, to taste
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp. salt
1 cup baby octopus cut into one inch pieces  
1 cup squid, sliced
2 lbs. white fish cut into 2 inch pieces
6 clams
2 crabs cut in half
6 fish balls  
4 or 5 large shrimp

In a deep frying pan, add oil, when warm sauté tomato, onion, celery, pepper and carrots for about one minute. Add broth. To the broth add garlic, cilantro, chili pepper, lemon juice, oyster sauce, and salt.  When boiling add all seafood except shrimp.  Boil about 10 minutes. Add shrimp, boil until shrimp is pink. To serve remove seafood with a slotted spoon, place in bowl. Pour broth with veggies over it.  Garnish and serve.

Monday, December 18, 2017

making Ozoni

The last days of 2016 John and I had a 24-hour stopover in Narita, Japan so I booked a stay at the Crowne Plaza Narita, which offers free airport transfers. A flyer in our room stated that the hotel offered several New Year’s events, one of which was an “osechi” breakfast. When I asked what it was Ayaka Ohara, the public relations director, explained that according to tradition nothing should be cooked on New Year’s
Day. Osechi is a variety of colorful dishes in a bento box that is part of a traditional New Year’s morning meal that also includes ozoni.  The bento box (a box with single serving compartments) includes a variety of artistically prepared pieces of fish and vegetables. Ms. Ohara said that the next morning, New Year’s Eve morning, the chef would be making ozoni and he would be happy to show us how it is made. Ozoni is a
soup containing a rice cake and vegetables – a traditional New Year’s dish that is said to provide strength and prosperity in the coming year. On the first day of the New Year a dream that includes either Mt Fuji, a hawk, an eggplant, or all three portends a prosperous and happy New Year. 

The Japanese Chef Shimada Ikuhou said that in order to make osoni it was necessary to make dashi, a Japanese soup stock used in many recipes.


Dashi: Japanese soup stock
5 ½ quarts water
1 piece Konbu (dried seasoned kelp)
2 oz dried bonito shavings

Ozoni (for two serving)
2 prawns or large shrimp
Dash of salt
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin (rice wine)
½ oz thinly cut white meat chicken
2 Kamaboko (1 pink and 1 white) slice each color in 1/8 in strips and tie in a knot 
6 slices of carrot (rosette cut)
2 snow peas (cooked)
2 thin slices yuzu (citrus rind)
1 Mochi (rice cake) baked

To make Dashi place water in a stock pot, add konbu, bring to a boil and cook for five minutes. Remove konbu and discard. Add bonito bring it to boil. Boil for five minutes. Drain, return to pot and allow to simmer.

In dashi broth cook prawns three to five minutes until pink. Remove. In a new pot add one cup of dashi for each serving. Add salt, soy sauce and simmer for five minutes (season to taste). Add mirin, bring to boil. Add chicken, snow peas, kamaboko, and carrots cook over medium heat until chicken is cooked and vegetables are tender. 

To make mochi: Preheat oven. Bake at 345 degrees for five minutes. Put mochi under the broiler for 30 seconds. Mochi should be soft with light brown top. 

Presentation: Put one mochi in a serving bowl, arrange prawn, carrots, snow peas, chicken, and kamaboko artfully around mochi. Cover with Dashi. Garnish with yuzu.

Around the world there are different ways to wish people good luck.  In Japan making origami cranes and string them together is a way to wish people good luck. John and I were in Japan few weeks after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Our hotel, the Peninsula, had many origami cranes adorning the artwork in the lobby in the hope of wishing the people good luck in the future. A thousand cranes are said to bring good luck to newlyweds. On the first day of the new year a dream that includes Mt Fuji, a hawk, an eggplant, or all three means that one will be happy. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Making Maltese Rabbit Pie

Malta is a group of islands in the Mediterranean between Sicily and
North Africa that it has been influenced by a variety of cultures including the Roman, Moors, French, and British. While in Malta during October 2016 John and I stayed at the luxurious Corinthia Palace Hotel and Spa (www.corinthia.com/en/hotels/palace-hotel-and-spa).

The hotel was once the luxury villa of the founder of Corinthia Hotels and many of the villa’s architect remains. It is located near the Presidential Palace and the botanical gardens in a quiet gentrified area of the capital. 

Rabbit Pit is considered one of Malta’s national dishes. Rabbits were most likely brought to the island by the Romans or
Phoenicians from the Iberian Peninsula. One of the items on the hotel’s menu was Maltese-style Rabbit and Mushroom Pie which, Stefan Hogan, the Executive Head Chef, agreed to let me watch him make. Rabbit is not a common food in New York State but there is a meat market near us that sells rabbit and a wide variety of unique meats.  I think any meat could be used if rabbit wasn’t available. The pie was very savory. 


Maltese Style Rabbit & Mushroom Pie (Torta Tal-fenek)

Olive oil as needed 
3 lbs rabbits ready to cook 
2 celery sticks, cut into cubes
2 carrots, cut into cubes
1 leek, sliced
6 garlic cloves
Bay leaf
Sprig of rosemary
1 cup red wine
4 cups chicken stock
8 shallots 
1/2 cup mushrooms
1/2 cup peas
2 Pie crusts  
Flour for dusting
Egg wash for brushing & glazing (one egg blended with 1 to 3 tsp milk and a dash of salt.)

Put oil in pan. Add rabbit pieces. Fry until golden brown, transfer to an oven dish.  In a separate pan put some oil; sauté half the celery, half the carrots and the leeks with two garlic cloves until lightly brown, Add to the oven dish with the rabbit. In the oven dish add the bay leaf and the rosemary. Deglaze the rabbit pan with the red wine, add to the oven dish. Cover with the chicken stock. Cover with aluminum foil and place in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 1.5 hours. Remove from the oven. Cool. Remove the rabbit pieces from the stock and pick the meat off the bone – try and leave the meat in large chunks. Strain the liquid and reduce by half.

In a clean pan heat add some oil and lightly brown the remaining garlic, celery, shallots and carrots, drain off excess oil, and add to the rabbit meat. Sauté the mushrooms in a little oil until golden brown and add to the rabbit mixture; add the peas. Allow to cool completely. Lightly brush a circular baking dish with oil and dust with flour. Line the baking dish with the rolled-out pastry leaving half an inch of the pastry hanging over the sides, fill with the rabbit mixture. Fold the overhanging dough over mixture then cover with the remaining dough. Seal edges of dough. Brush
liberally with the egg wash. Prick the pastry with a fork. Bake in an oven at 400 degrees for the first 15 minutes then lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Continue to cook for approximately 30 to 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven. Allow it to cool before taking it out of the pan. Let it rest 15 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Stay at The Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport Le Club

The trip between the United States and SE Asia is long no matter how the flights are booked and the best airfares are usually ones that begin and end in Bangkok.  We spend a fair amount of time in SE Asia and, at first, I dreaded the flight; well, I still do, but I have turned it into something I look forward to – not the flight but the Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport at the end of the flight.  For those heading into the city of Bangkok keep in mind that it is an hour by taxi and who, after flying for twenty or more hours, wants to take a flight to another destination. Not me. I book a night (sometimes two) at the Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Hotel.
After collecting my baggage I walk to Gate 4 where a gentleman the Novotel Greeter’s Desk takes my bags and leads me to the complimentary shuttle. In a few minutes I am at the Novotel, someone takes my luggage, tags it, and tells me it will be delivered to my room. Just walking into the bright, airy, elegant atrium I feel better – no longer cramped in a metal tube.

There is a lot to like about the Novotel.  Guests can arrive anytime and check-out 24 hours later. The choice of five restaurants and bars off the lobby make dining a pleasure.  The hotel has one of the nicest roof top swimming pools I have had the pleasure to enjoy. It breaks the mold of airport swimming pool with its Thai design and plenty of trees.  Adjacent to the pool is a workout room.  The spa is also wonderful with special massages designed to relieve jet lag.  When I arrive after a long flight I like to spend a day getting adjusted to the time change, going to the pool, and getting a spa treatment.  The hotel also
has an open-air “garden room” where it is possible to relax surrounded by greenery; a wonderful place to chill out with a book. I usually book a night or two at the same Novotel when it is time to return to the States so that I feel ready to endure the long flights.
I am a fan of the Novotel’s Le Club Level and find it value-laden. Checking in at Le Club is a sit-down experience and swift.  The accommodations are large and Le Club includes complimentary internet, breakfast in Le Club or at The Square’s massive buffet. We prefer breakfast in the serenity of the Le Club at “our” table by the window.  Le Club bookings also include discounts at the spa and other benefits.
We like the friendliness of Le Club and have come to know some of the staff and they often remember us. A nice touch.  On our last visit we noticed the chef checking out Le Club’s evening offerings. When I complimented him on the delicious selections and mentioned my husband’s favorite was the Thai Fish Cakes  Executive Chef Maximilian Schwaighofer offered to have his Thai sous chef, Banyon Malalek, show me how to make them.  Amazed, I accepted.

Thai Fish Cakes Recipe

7 ounces white fish meat similar to Tilapia
10 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 egg
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
10 fresh coriander leaves, minced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp pepper
3 kaffir lime leaves
7 ounces cowpeas trimmed, diced (or string beans)
1 cup vegetable oil for deep frying

Dipping Sauce
2 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tbsp roasted peanuts pounded
1/2 cup diced cucumbers

In a bowl mix thoroughly the fish meat with chili paste, egg, soy sauce, sugar, coriander leaves,
garlic, ginger, and pepper. Add cowpeas and kaffir leaves, mix. Take one handful at a time and slap it down on the mix, grab a different handful and repeat. It will make it stickier. Put some oil on hands (gloves) and shape the mix into balls or rolls; the fish can be formed into various shapes using a cookie cutter dipped in oil; only pack the form halfway full. Drop into hot oil for about five minutes.  They will rise to the top and when toasty brown remove, and drain.  Lightly mix chili sauce, cucumbers and peanuts.  Serve with dipping sauce on the side.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Learning about Vietnamese food on a Pandaw cruise

While in Vietnam John and I enjoyed Pandaw’s 10-day Halong Bay and Red River cruise. Pandaw is value-laden because everything is included. Halong Bay is the highlight of northern Vietnam and of the cruise; and, yes, it is beautiful, but I really enjoyed the shore trips along the Red
River and its tributaries because we visited places not frequented by most tourists.  Many small villages are noted for one specific product. In Gia Thanh village I marveled at an 80-year-old lady threading a needle (no glasses) and sewing palm leaves on a traditional Vietnamese conical hat.  

In a village in Hai Duong province villagers were making Green
Bean Cake, a specialty food of the area, and wrapping them up for sale. The sugar-cube size cake is made of green beans, sugar, vegetable oil, essence of coconut, and grapefruit flower. Years ago King Bao Dai visited the province and was offered the green bean cake to enjoy with his green tea. He liked the flavor so much he allowed the Golden Dragon, a symbol of royal power, to be used on the package. I should have tried the green bean cake with some green tea because I found it too dry and with very little flavor. 

In Ninh Giang I tried Banh Gai, sticky rice cakes, made from glutinous rice flower, gai leaf, sugar, mung beans, and wrapped in a banana leaf. I found this much more palatable.  Rice noodles are common part of many Vietnamese recipes. In one village I saw rows of rice noodles hung out to dry.

An on-board event included how to make Vietnamese spring rolls.
All the guests got to try making their own spring roll. Assembling the ingredients was easy but I need a little more practice to make my spring roll look as neat and as perfect as Chef Rotha’s.  The spring rolls are healthy and a variety of ingredients can be used. Chef Rotha, the cold chef, suggested using two rice papers to prevent the ingredients from breaking through. The rolls can be dipped in a variety of sauces but Chef Rotha was Cambodian and shared the recipe for his Khmer dipping sauce.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
14 round rice paper wrappers 
Several springs of fresh mint leaves
7 oz chicken, cooked, cut in 4 inch long, one-half inch wide strips (cooked shrimp, peeled, and sliced in half lengthwise can also be used) 
7 lettuce leaves
1 cup cooked rice vermicelli, cold
1 carrot, julienned
1 cup fresh bean sprouts

Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip two rice papers (or one) in water for about 1 minute, until soft. Lay the rice papers on wax paper. Start layering, making sure to keep the ingredients an inch from the sides.  Place four mint leaves on the rice paper. Add 2 or 3 pieces of chicken. Top with a lettuce leaf, a small portion of vermicelli, several pieces of carrots, and then several bean sprouts Add additional mint leaves (or cilantro). To roll, fold side inward, the tightly roll the rice paper. 

Khmer dipping sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 medium red chilies, seeded and minced
2 tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1cup water
3 tbsps fish sauce
3 tsp ground peanuts
Blend garlic, chilies, juice, sugar and water. Add the fish sauce and stir. Stir in the ground peanuts. Recipe can be adjusted to taste by adding more water and/or fish sauce or chilies. For more information log on to www.pandaw.com.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Making Jingha Masala in the Holiday Inn in Penang

The Malaysian island of Penang is on several lists of great places
people should visit during their lifetime; and, it is second on CNN’s list of “The 17 Best Places to Visit in 2017.”  It is easy to see why. The island has a myriad of different things to do from exploring the UNESCO Heritage City of Georgetown to a walking tour through the new Entopia Butterfly Farm to parasailing over the Straits of Malacca.  

I find the island’s heterogeneous population which is highly diverse in ethnicity, culture, language and religion fascinating. In 1786 Captain Francis Light landed on the shore of Penang making it Britain’s first settlement in SE Asia.  English is a compulsory subject in Malaysian schools. Today the island is about 40% Malay, 40% Chinese and 10% Indian with a variety of other groups
making up the rest.  We were at the Holiday Inn Resort for Chinese New Year which the hotel celebrated with firecrackers, Lion Dance, and the traditional Prosperity Toss. A Prosperity Toss is a plate of colorful veggies, fish, and noodles that people, using their chopsticks, toss in the air while shouting “Loh Hey” which literally means to 'move upwards'. It is symbolic of the wish for fortunes to grow during the coming year.

Penang is a honeymoon destination for Saudi couples and a winter getaway for Europeans.  There are Europeans in itsy-bitsy bikinis and Arab women in swimsuits that covered them completely except for face, hands and feet; some are very colorful. There are women in abayas, some with face veils, mixed with guests clad in a variety of other outfits including saris and hijabs. Usually it is only the women who are so attired but there is an occasional male in a dishsdasha.

With such a diverse clientele the chefs need to prepare food to suit all their guests.  All the food is halal. The breakfast is impressive: eggs, pancakes, grilled tomatoes, cheese, soups, salads, fruits, bread pudding, curries, rice, and even a fava bean dish called foul which was very good. Every Wednesday the Holiday Inn Resort offers a free cooking demonstration in the garden. In the class Chef Laxman, the hotel’s Indian chef, showed us how to make an Indian dish – Jingha Masala.   An Englishman standing next to me said, “I don’t usually like seafood but this is delicious.” I agreed.

Jingha Masala

1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped onion
15 curry leaves
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp garlic paste
½ cup tomato puree or finely chopped fresh tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tbs red chili powder
2 tsp turmeric powder
25 pcs prawn or shrimp (cleaned and washed)
one-half green pepper diced
2 tbs cream (light)
1 tsp kastoori mathi powder (fenugreek)
Fresh coriander leaves chopped for garnish

Heat oil in wok or frying pan. Add garlic, onions, and curry leaves. Sauté for a few seconds. Add ginger and garlic paste. Sauté for one minute. Add tomato puree, salt, red chili powder and turmeric. Cook for five minutes stirring frequently. Add prawns and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add green pepper. Cook for one minute. Add cream and kastoori mathi. Stir and remove from heat. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.  Serve with naan bread.