Shrimps, Scallions, Sun-Dried Tomatoes June 18, 2010

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 8:26 pm
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One day, my colleagues and I sat outside the office building with our lunch bags in tow.  As we unwrapped our sandwiches and got ready to eat, someone got the conversation going by asking us what food we could not live without.  One lady immediately said "cheese" and we all agreed.  When my turn came, I blurted "juicy, fat shrimps!"  They looked at me like I was either out to lunch or had just landed from Mars.


Let me explain.  When I was four or five years old, the doctor told my mother that I had an allergy to shrimps and that I’d probably never be able to eat them even as an adult.  We were colonized by Spain (before the Americans colonized us) and because they ruled our country for 300 years, they had introduced a lot of things Spanish.  The afternoon siesta was one.  The manana habit was another (there ought to be a tilde on the first "n").  As for food, they introduced us to  paella, arroz a la valenciana, chocolate con churros, chorizo de bilbao, and many, many others.  I loved paella, but could not really bury my nose into that colorful platter of "mariscos" for fear that I’d react violently to the shrimps.  I felt helplessly deprived.


But time heals, as they say, and I lucked out.  Over the years, my shrimp allergy slowly vanished into thin air and I was able to savor all the shrimp dishes that I missed in my childhood.  I’d beg my mother for paella, "rebosado" (shrimps coated in flour and deep-fried) and shrimps sauteed in pools of butter and fistfuls of garlic.  Other times, I would ask for skewered giant shrimps barbecued on the grill.  My mother also had a shrimp dish that she would cook slowly throughout the day in a thick tomato type sauce that was in between sweet and spicy.  What was remarkable about this dish was she didn’t remove the skin. By the end of the day, and the cooking was done, the skin was so tender that we ate it with the shrimp.  You didn’t even feel the sharp gills – it was like they melted on your mouth.  My mother’s culinary treats left me with fond memories.  She was one person who bubbled with creativity as soon as she put on that apron.  Funny, but I don’t think she ever cooked with a recipe on her hand.  She’d improvise – the way she improvised George Gershwin’s pieces on the piano.


I made this shrimp dish last month.  I never had the time to post it.  The sun-dried tomatoes give this dish that special flair and flavor.


shrimps with sun dried tomatoes2



15-20 shrimps

3 tbsp scallions (green onions – sliced as above)

2 tbsp garlic (mashed)

1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes (in oil), sliced into bits

dash of white wine

canola oil

salt and pepper to taste


Saute your garlic in the hot oil.  Add your sun-dried tomatoes.  Lower heat to medium and add your shrimps with their tails on.  When shrimps turn pink, sprinkle your wine.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Decorate with green onions before serving.


What would this world be like without shrimps?  I agree, cheese is indispensable.  Some will give pizza, bread or cheese cake a vote of confidence, but I’ll stick to my guns and give shrimps my vote!


Spread the Word, Not the Cookie! June 14, 2010

My food presentation and photography skills leave much to be desired.  You’ll probably agree with me after you see this picture:

chocolate chip cookies

Let’s forget about my photography skills in the meantime and focus instead on the cookies.


I was never a cookie lover in my younger days and not once did I feel the urge to make them.  I didn’t grow up like most 5 or 6 year olds who say, "mummy, mummy, can I help you make cookies", and then they turn the kitchen into a war zone when they’re done.  No, the kitchen was not a place to hang out.  When my mother would start puttering about with her pots and pans, I’d run away and hide, fearful that she’d ask me to help her. 


But people change.  Here I am – 4 decades later – discovering the joys of the kitchen.  And these cookies – I lust after them.  These are the only cookies that stir my five senses and sensuality.  A carnal affection – if we can say that about cookies. 


I have made them four times now.  They’re called – rather simply – chocolate oat cookies.  The first three times I made them, they exhibited "cookie spread" disease.  I would start with small mounds of cookie batter on the sheet, and exactly 9 minutes later end up with huge flat pancakes.  No matter though, they were still delicious, soft and chewy, and…un-sugary.  The best cookies I’ve ever had – that’s why I don’t buy the commercial variety anymore.  These are top of the line, folks.  On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, I’d give taste and texture a 12!


Back to cookie spread – before I made them last week, I was curious about how to prevent them from spreading.  I did a quick search on the Net and learned that there are at least 4 ways you can avoid cookie spread:

  • use less butter and more shortening
  • use less baking soda
  • add more flour (as much as 2 tbsp more than what the recipe calls for)
  • refrigerate them before baking (some said 15 minutes, some said half an hour and still others suggested an hour)

I like butter in baked foods so the first option was out.  I don’t buy shortening either.  I chose option # 4:  refrigeration.  I scooped individual mounds onto the cookie sheet, covered them with aluminum foil and then put them in the fridge for 45 minutes.  I took them out just as I was starting to pre-heat the oven.  I said to myself, if this will prevent the cookies from spreading, that’s good but…will I lose that delicious taste and texture?


Result:  it worked!  The cookies did not spread out – not even by a millimeter. And the best part – they had the same delicious flavor!


I’m not going to post the recipe – not because it’s a secret.  But I’m sure you all have a dearly beloved chocolate chip cookie recipe in your stash. Either grandma or the village baker gave it to you, or you clipped it from the back of a product label.  Chocolate chip cookie recipes are a-plenty.  I have no doubt that each baker believes his or hers is the BEST.  Posting a chocolate chip recipe here would be like blogging about something inane, talking about something that everyone has read umpteen times.  This is why even if I say these cookies are the "mostest", the best of the best, and the kind that the devil would try to snatch away from the angels, I know that you would say the same thing about your recipe.  But if you’ve been won over by my sales upmanship and you want it, just ask.  Email me at


These chocolate oat cookies practically melt in your mouth and they don’t clog your throat with sugar.  I think I’ll make extras next time and give them away.  Once they wake up your taste buds, you won’t want the supermarket kind…ever again.


First trivia:  Ruth Graves Wakefield was the accidental inventor of chocolate chip cookies.  Ever heard of Toll House cookies? 

Second trivia:  in 2001, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania declared the chocolate chip cookie as its official cookie.


Rice & Leftovers: Just "Bung" Them Together! June 11, 2010

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 11:15 am
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rice with leftovers1

When I lived in Washington DC, I had a British colleague who often spoiled us with her home cooking.  She would put food on a fancy platter lined with "paper lace" (a.k.a. paper doily) and then go around offering everyone a nibble or two.  There were meals that she’d go all out for and they were excellent; other days she’d come up with "quickie" meals.  I’d ask her, "Ushi, how did you make this?"  Her answer:  "oh I just bung them all together."


The word "bung" stayed with me.  Maybe she meant to say "bang" but I distinctly remember the "uh" sound when she’d say "I just BUNG them all together."


Here’s a not-very-fancy rice dish that I put together by scavenging for leftovers in my fridge:  green seedless olives, Hungarian hot salami, green bell peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes.  The rice I use is one day old rice.  It would be more difficult to make fried rice when it’s fresh from the pot.  What I do is I take the leftover rice and store it in the fridge overnight.  The next morning I separate them with a fork – hard manual labor you bet – but definitely worth it.  I’m just teasing.  Separating the rice with a fork or masher is a no-brainer.  Takes 2 minutes – depending of course on how much rice you have.


After all the rice is separated, I heat a bit of oil in my fryer and throw the rice in.  Make sure your other ingredients are all cut up and ready.  After two minutes of swishing the rice around at medium heat, throw in your olives, peppers, salami and sun-dried tomatoes.  If I had some sesame oil in the cupboard, I’d probably sprinkle a few drops on the dish right before serving.


You can make your own rice dish by using cut up sausages, green onions, and yellow/green bell peppers for color.  Kalamata olives are also a good bet.  Next time, I think I’ll crush some peanuts and sprinkle them over the rice before serving, including a handful of bean sprouts to give the dish that zingy crunch.


Love that Crunch (from Bean Sprouts) May 20, 2010

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 8:59 pm
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I don’t know that many people who like bean sprouts.  Asians buy them regularly to add to soups and to green salads.  They spell b-o-r-e-d-o-m to some, and their taste doesn’t tingle the taste buds.  But there’s one way to enjoy bean sprouts and that’s to dress them up with meat or shrimp with a handful of other crisp greens.  The trick is to saute them but not to the point that they start to wilt and get soggy.


bean sprouts with shrimps1


I also remember bean sprouts stuffed into egg rolls – we called them "lumpiang togue" back home and we used to douse them in spicy vinegar.  Heavenly taste!  I’d have a hard time getting any of my North American friends to enjoy it so I don’t really serve them to invited guests for dinner.  They would accuse me of serving rabbit food, or insulting their culinary sensibilities or something absurd like that, and that I’m sure would ruin my reputation. 


Food has a way of making or breaking friendships.  One upon a time I gave one of my French Canadian friends a box of six steamed buns, thinking she would enjoy them with gusto.  A few weeks later, after I had not heard anything from her, I had to ask her if she liked them.  Her face turned red and she confessed that she spit them out so violently and threw the whole box away.  She said the taste and appearance of the inside of the bun were revolting.  Oh dear, never again…


The lady is still my friend although that incident haunts me every now and then.  The only time we break bread together is to have scrambled eggs for breakfast when we meet twice a year four our birthdays.  I guess there are people who don’t like to get out of their comfort zone when it comes to food.  I wonder if she’ll drop me like a hot potato if I served her the dish above.


Anyway, if you do care to venture into bean sprouts, here’s the recipe:


1 supermarket bag of bean sprouts (maybe 1-2 pounds)

1 cup shrimps (medium size)

1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced

2 tbsp onions, chopped

1 tbsp of garlic (I dare you to put more!)

2 tbsp canola oil

4-5 tbsp of soy sauce

salt and pepper to taste



1.  Wash the bean sprouts thoroughly in cold running water.  Set aside.

2.  Heat some oil and saute your onions and garlic – about a minute.

3.  Add your green and red bell peppers.  Continue to saute until soft but not soggy.

4.  Add your shrimps.

5.  When shrimps are cooked (be careful not to overcook the shrimps), add your bean sprouts, lowering the heat.  Mix the bean sprouts with the ingredients vigorously – about 1-2 minutes.  Make sure they still have their crunch.  Once they get soft and have shed off lots of water, I’m afraid you’ve overdone it!

6.  Flavor with the soy sauce and salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.


Note:  a cup of fresh bean sprouts contains 31 calories.  They’re low in fat and cholesterol.  They’re very high in riboflavin and manganese.


Another star recipe from Folks at King Arthur Flour May 17, 2010

It’s good to be back!  I haven’t posted anything since mid-April.  I was knee-deep in work.  Wish I could say I was away, spending my days and nights basking in the flavors of Provence or Florence, but I was right here, banging away furiously at my computer.



When deadlines loom large, the kitchen gets a break.  Instead of churning butter and scalding milk, I was feverishly churning words and translating documents instead.  When the folks at King Arthur Flour in Vermont sent me their usual blog, I was charmed by the picture of their cinnapineapanana – try saying that without twisting your tongue!  This cinnapineapanana was inspired by Ricardo Neves Gonzalez’s Jewish Strudel.  The winning combination of cinnamon, dried pineapple and fresh bananas was a palate pleaser.  I’ve eaten a lot of strudles in my life and some of them leave that sticky, over-sugary feeling.  Not this one.



After I read the instructions and looked at the pictures, I was convinced that this was something I had to try.  I had never made a strudel before.  With my tired mind awash in words, I needed to get my hands on dough and this recipe came at about the right time.  Successful?  You bet!  Delicious recipe?  Yes, yes, yes!  It worked like a charm.  You too can learn to make it, KAF explains the steps in detail.  It may look complicated but I breezed through it.  Get it here.


 Here’s my version:


KAF's jewish challah1

I should have taken shots of the slices but after our first bite, I forgot about the camera.  The only changes I made to the recipe were:

  • replaced the honey with 1/4 cup white sugar
  • made my own cinnamon filling ) by mixing 1/4 cup of sugar with 1 tbsp of cinnamon, 3 tbsp of water and a knob of butter (as KAF suggested).  I’m sure KAF’s cinnamon filling would give this strudel that extra oomph taste-wise.
  • sprinkled a few almond slices on top


I think I will use the dough recipe as a master recipe for other sweet breads because the taste was perfect.  And in spite of the 45-minute baking time, it came out soft and chewy.  I was a tad apprehensive about the long baking time (as you can see some parts of it are too dark) so I’ll reduce baking time by 5 minutes the next time I make it. 


This was a jewel of a strudel.  Making it was also a stress-releaser.  After my first slice, I was ready to start banging away at my computer again!



Can’t Go Wrong with Chicken & Tarragon April 16, 2010

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 6:25 pm
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Ever tasted chicken with tarragon, cream and wine and blended with shallots?  This recipe is a keeper.  The taste was heavenly and I liked the fact that dried tarragon and canned mushrooms can be used.

chicken tarragon

This is a dish that can be your main meal and served with either rice, soft rolls or mashed potatoes.  You can pick up the sauce right off the plate with your roll or spoon it over your mashed potatoes.


I got this recipe from Canadian House and Home (H&H) Magazine (

Food editor Claire Tansey was kind enough to share it.  She says it’s one dish that magazine readers “can’t get enough of.”  Her recipe did not have mushrooms, but I added them anyway.

Creamy Tarragon Chicken



* 2 tbsp olive oil

* 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken supremes (mine were chicken breasts which I sliced into bite-size pieces so they would cook sooner.  I imagine chicken bones would enhance the flavor of this dish).

* 3 large shallots, sliced

* salt and pepper, to taste

* 1 small clove garlic, minced (I used 3-4 cloves – can’t stay away from fresh garlic!)

*  1/2 cup dry white wine

* 1 cup chicken broth

*1/2 cup 35% cream

*  1 tsp Dijon mustard (I used American mustard)

* 1 tbsp butter at room temperature

*  1 tbsp all-purpose flour

*  1 tbsp finely chopped fresh tarragon




1.  Preheat oven to 400F.  Heat oil in a large, wide skillet over medium high heat.  Pat chicken dry with paper towel; season with salt and pepper.  Add chicken to skillet skin-side down and cook 3-5 minutes, or until deep golden.  Flip and cook another 2 minutes.  Transfer to large baking pan and bake 20-25 minutes or until cooked through.  (Note:  if you’re slicing your chicken into pieces, reduce cooking and baking time).


2.  To make tarragon sauce: add shallots and garlic to skillet, reduce heat to medium and cook 4 minutes, or until shallots have softened.  Add wine and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half.  Add chicken broth, bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes.  Strain, reserving liquids and discarding solids.  Return liquids to skillet or a small pot, bring to boil and whisk in cream and Dijon.


3.  Mash butter and flour together in a small bowl.  Add 1/4 cup of hot chicken broth mixture and stir until combined (it will be very thick).  Add entire mixture back to hot chicken broth and stir until combined.


4.  Add chopped tarragon and season with more salt and pepper.  Spoon sauce over chicken to serve.  Serve with additional mustard, if desired.


Serves 6 people. 


Claire Tansey presented uncut chicken pieces and they looked appetizing, although I could tell from the picture that the sauce was almost gone.  My chicken pieces were chopped and I made sure there was a lot of sauce over the chicken (as in the picture above).  I figured, it would be nice to “mop off” the sauce with a soft texture well-baked roll (similar to Parker House rolls).  This sauce would also be a nice topping over mashed potatoes, with shallots and mushrooms dripping on the side.


Tarragon Trivia

Tarragon is also called dragon’s wort.  There are 2 kinds of tarragon used in cooking:  French and Russian.  The French variety is stronger in taste and is one of the 4 fine herbs used commonly in French cuisine:  complements fish, chicken, egg and lasagna dishes.  It is used also to make desserts – like Slovenia’s potica, a kind of nut bread with walnuts, eggs, cinnamon, lemon.




Pasta Bowties with Capers and Sun-Dried Tomatoes April 9, 2010

Two years ago I went home to visit my father who was ill with colon cancer (he has since passed away).  I was hesitant to stay with him and my stepmother because I did not want to invade their privacy, but my father insisted that I stay at his house. I’m glad he insisted because I had some of the best homemade meals cooked by my stepmother.


I loved everything she cooked, just the way I loved everything my own mother cooked.  When I left, my notebook must have been filled with a dozen recipes, including how to pickle green mangoes.  Did you know that raw mangoes soaked in vinegar, sugar and spices make great appetizers?


There was one dish that I liked especially – elbow pasta which she mixed in with capers, sun-dried tomatoes and basil.  You can make this dish with any kind of pasta.  The first time I made it I used penne, and other times I used macaroni or fusilli.  Last week when I made it again, I tried bowties.


My stepmother told me that she hardly makes pasta because my father wasn’t particularly fond of it.  So when I visited she said it would give her a good excuse to stop catering to the whims of my father. I remember those days when we’d beg my mother for spaghetti.  She always hesitated but gave in anyway, because she herself was craving it.  When the spaghetti was served, my father flinched, not making an effort to conceal his frown. I asked him why he had such a reaction to spaghetti.  I still couldn’t get over what he said.  "They look like a pile of worms."  Then he gave me that look as if to say, "why do you ask a question the answer of which is so obvious"?


Oh golly, what a way to spoil one’s appetite.  Dad was such a party-pooper sometimes.  His food preferences were the law.  He adored Chinese food (the best food in the world, he’d say).  When we’d go to a French restaurant back home, he’d say, "you go and enjoy yourselves.  Me?  I’d rather eat at home."


For all of my dad’s quirky tastes in food, I loved him dearly.  Fact is, I miss eating at his table.  And he could be right – Chinese food is hard to beat.  But once in awhile, Italian food is just as tempting!


My step mother’s recipe for pasta with capers and sun-dried tomatoes:

Half a box of elbow macaroni (or any kind of pasta you want – for this recipe I used bowties)

1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes (preferably the ones bottled in oil), cut into thin strips

1/2 cup of capers

salt and pepper

2 tbsp of basil pesto

a dash of extra virgin olive oil and raspberry vinegar

a dash of oregano


Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Run cold water over it and set it aside to completely drain.  Put drained pasta into large bowl and sprinkle oil and vinegar over it.  Add remaining ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Keep tasting as you’re mixing, until you’re satisfied that the taste "bites".  Refrigerate for a couple of hours so the ingredients have time to blend.  Serve with a green salad and garlic bread.


Maybe a chilled glass of sangria with that?


pasta bow ties with capers