Monday, January 18, 2021

Yummy Cooking in Cancun

I haven’t written in a while because, guess why, there is not a lot happening especially since so many counties will not allow

Americans to visit.  When the weather was better I did travel within New York State. But, when I came to the realization that the United States was the least safe place covid-wise I decided to take a trip.  A little research led me to feel that Cancun was doing a great job in mitigating the spread of Covid so I booked a trip to Cancun staying at the InterContinental Presidente.  I was impressed.  Everyone was wearing masks, there was hand sanitizer in many, many places, when a guest left the hotel the room was cleaned and not occupied for another 72 hours, and articles like towels and silverware were sanitized and wrapped.  

I contacted Yum Cooking Workshop, (,, 52  99 8460 7371, Calle tres palos # 10, Supermanzana 30, Cancún, México. C.P. 77509) to see about a cooking demonstration. The usual class starts with Mayan coffee, traditional bread called plaque, and learning about preHispanic and colonial cuisine including trying some local fruits.  Visitors then move to the tasting room where the sommelier explains the types of tequila and mescal and how to taste them. Participants prepare and enjoy a six-course authentic Mayan meal that is paired with Mexican wines.

The class was more than I was interested in and told him I was only

interested in one traditional recipe. I quickly accepted chef, Andres Tejeida Vilches, offer to show me how to make a Mayan fish recipe.  He used a local sour orange, Naranja Agria, which was very juicy but said getting it may be difficult for many but said adding one-half cup of lime juice to one cup of orange juice makes a perfect substitute. Achiote comes in paste and liquid form
but Chef Andres said the paste provide a better flavor. Banana leaves are often brittle so Chef Andres
suggest passing the leaves over the heat for a few seconds and it will become soft. If banana leaves are not easy to come by then aluminum foil can be used.  When I was in Sri Lanka banana leaves were used as plates.  Dollops of food were placed on different part of the leaf.  Made for easy cleanup and eco-friendly. Chef Andres demonstrated how to make Tikin’xic Fish.

                        TIKIN'XIC FISH

½ (one-half) cup achiote paste

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1tsp dry oregano

1 cup orange juice

½ (one-half) cup lime juice

1 pd grouper or snapper filet

½ (one-half) cup fresh cilantro, diced

2 Roma tomatoes, sliced

1 bell pepper, Julianne

½ (one-half) red onion, sliced

2 banana leaves, remove spine creating two pieces

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt & pepper – to taste

In a blender add achiote paste, garlic, oregano, orange juice, lime juice, and 1 teaspoon of salt to create a marinade. Blend for at least 1.5 minutes so the paste is completely dissolved. Put fish in a bowl. Pour the marinade over the fish. Add the cilantro.  Let the fish sit for at least 1 hour. It will be red.  Place the fish on the banana leaves. On top of the fish place the sliced tomatoes, bell peppers and red onions, season with salt and pepper. Wrap the fish. Bake for 10 minutes 350° F. Serve with rice and fried plantain.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

When I was in Budapest, Hungary
I booked a cooking class with ChefParade,, Sas Street 21, 5th District, Budapest, Hungary, +36 203161876,,. Along with Chef Geri Hajas there was only one other participant.  The lesson included three recipes including goulash which, in America, has become a generic term for any one pot concoction but the word gulyás, commonly written goulash, means “cowboy” in Hungarian. The Great Hungarian Plain is home of the Hungarian cowboy who predate the American Cowboy. 

The original dish called borgácsgulyás was a stew, not a soup. Nowadays the dish served in Hungarian restaurants and homes alike is more like a soup. There are different variations of recipe. Originally made with beef, but often mixed meats are used. Typical cuts may include shank, leg or shoulder: as a result, goulash derives its thickness from tough muscles rich in collagen, which is converted to gelatin during the cooking process.

The class included sampling Hungarian alcoholic brewages
including Unicum, a Hungarian herbal liqueur or bitters, drunk as a digestif. The liqueur is today produced according to a secret formula of more than forty herbs; the drink is aged in oak casks. Dr Zwack, the royal physician, created a mixture in 1790 for Joseph II, the Habsburg ruler who had a digestion disorder, so the royal physician tried to cure him with the help of herbs. The emperor shouted after drinking it: “Dr. Zwack, this is unique!” Hence the name Unicum. However, the Hapsburg ruler died shortly thereafter. It has a bitter herbal taste and the best I can say is that it is an acquired taste.

Hungarian Goulash

2 tbsp lard or oil of your choice, animal fat is best
1 onion, minced
1 tbsp sweet paprika powder (optional - mix in some hot paprika)
1 tsp ground caraway seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp tbsp ground black pepper
3 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound beef – cut into bite-size pieces
1 tomato – cubed
1 Hungarian sweet yellow pepper, or yellow bell pepper, cubed
1 large carrot, cubed
1 parsnip, peal and cubed
½ (one-half) celeriac root, peeled and diced (or one-half cup diced celery, Celeriac is a root vegetable closely related to celery). 
2 large potatoes with skins, cubed
Water as needed
¼ (one-fourth) cup “csipetke” pasta which is dumpling-kind of pasta or the pasta of your choice.

Sauté onions in lard (pork fat) on medium heat until it starts getting soft but brown.
Remove the pot from the fire, wait one minute then add the paprika powder. Mix. Pour some water to it but just a little at a time. The goal is to make a base. Return to heat. Add and sauté the meat
along with the spices (salt, pepper, bay leaves, caraway seeds and the garlic). Sauté for about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and the sweet yellow pepper. Add enough water to cover ingredients. Cover and cook at a slow boil for 1.5 hours. When the meat is about half cooked, add the rest of the vegetables. Add more water as needed to get a soup-like
consistency, and keep cooking at a slow boil. When the meat is almost cooked, add potato cubes and more water if necessary. Continue cooking until potatoes are cooked. 

About 10 -15 minutes before it is finished, add the “csipetke” pasta or the pasta of your choice. Serve with fresh bread.

Tip of the day: If you add sparkling water the meat will cook in half the time!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Cooking with Sea Purslanes

Before I went to Bermuda I searched for a place to do a cooking experience and found a unique one offered by Doreen Williams-James.  She calls herself a forager, an expert in locating, eating, and preparing food that grows in the wild. Foraging runs in the family; she learned from her father who learned from his father.  Doreen does many Wild Edible tours, makes a variety of items from items she has forage, and does cooking demonstrations.  Mostly, she makes things on order so everything is fresh. 

Doreen showed me how to make Sea Purslane Fish Cakes.  I was not keen on the fish part but the finished product was excellent and didn’t contain fish but made use of sea purslanes which are a perennial found along the coast in many regions of the world.  They looked like small snap peas. Eaten plain they were excellent. Not at all fishy but a bit salty and crunchy with a delicate lemony taste with a mild peppery kick.  I think they would make an excellent snack and they are healthy because they are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and beta carotene along with many minerals.

Sea Purslane Fish Cakes

Olive oil as needed
1 can of drained and rinsed cannelloni beans
1 can of drained, rinsed chickpeas
6 peeled and boiled potatoes
1/2 cup chopped Parsley
1 cup chopped onions
2 tsp chopped thyme
4 sheets of dried seaweed
1 ½ tbsp. vegetable bouillon
Handful of sea purslane chopped finely
Flour as needed

Salute chopped onions in a tbsp of olive oil, add chopped thyme
and bullion. Mash cannelloni beans, chickpeas, and boiled peeled potatoes in a bowl, add sauteed onion, mix in parsley, crushed seaweed sheets, and chopped sea purslane.  Mixed thoroughly and roll into balls. Take balls and roll into flour.
Heat frying pan with enough olive oil to cover bottom of frying pan.  Place floured balls into the heated pan and fry till golden brown then turn over and fry other side. About two minutes on each side. Makes 12 - 15 fishcakes

St. George is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I met with Doreen at the World Heritage Centre in St. George where she often does the cooking classes and other programs. The World
Heritage Center is located in the heart of the town near where the ferry lands. The Centre is located in the Queen’s Warehouse, an 1860 historic building that was once a cotton warehouse. The pulley system used to raise the cotton imported from the southern states of the United States is still visible in the center of the building.  The multi-functional
building contains “Gateway to Bermuda” Orientation and Exhibit Gallery on the main floor with interpretive and interactive exhibits. There is also Second-Hand Rose Shoppe loaded with “gently-used” second-hand “treasures.” A great place to look for a unique memento of Bermuda to take home. The Age of Discovery, Bermuda’s historic links to Jamestown and the first settlers, the wreck of the “Sea Venture”,
and the story of Bermuda’s first forts are explained. Upstairs there are three Exhibition rooms including a short film "A Stroll Through St. George’s" which is helpful when planning a walking tour of the town. They also offer several brochures including a handy walking tour.  I missed the “Daily Dunking” that takes place in King’s Square and other things I’d like to do so, hopefully I will get a chance to return.  

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 (

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.