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!


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.


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


Love Spinach? How about this So-Simple Spinach Recipe? Budget Meal # 8 April 5, 2010

Filed under: Budget Meals,Meals — sotsil @ 1:55 pm

And it is really so simple!

I buy spinach regularly, mostly to add to my favorite soup which also has green beans.  I feel clean after eating spinach – it’s like having your inside pipes cleared of all debris and grease.  One day I bought a bag of spinach and absent-mindedly shoved it into my shopping cart.  It was only when I was about to throw the bag away did I notice this tiny box at the back of the bag.  It said, "So Simple Spinach."  It had only four ingredients, and that already includes the bag of spinach.  The spinach is a product of the United States and it was by a company called Fresco (or Frisco?).


I made the dish.  On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, this recipe merits a score of 10 for nutritious and a score of 9.5 for delicious (usually anything nutritious in my book is NOT delicious).



I’m copying the recipe straight from the bag of spinach.  To make your so-simple spinach dish, you’ll need:



1 – 10 oz bag of spinach, rinsed once.  Do not dry, but do remove the long stems.

1 tbsp olive oil (I’d make it 2 tbsp)

1 medium size onion, finely chopped

1 – 8 oz store bought tomato bruschetta (about a 227-gram bottle).



Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté onion until soft.  Turn heat to low, add the bruschetta and let simmer for 5 minutes.  Add rinsed wet spinach and mix, until spinach shrinks in size.  The recipe says to cover the pan after adding the spinach for 3 minutes until wilted.  I did, but the spinach did not wilt.  The next time I make it, I would leave it uncovered, stirring it with the bruschetta.  The recipe also says it is great as a side dish with lamb or as an omelette filling.  Personally, I love spinach with white rice.


It was a large bag of spinach but there were no leftovers.  It was excellent.  That feeling of having clean pipes filled me…again.


How can anyone not love spinach?  I hear many kids don’t like it.  That’s probably because they never watched Popeye cartoons on TV – like I did!


Total cost:

bag of spinach:  1.60 (if it’s on sale, you can get it for 99 cents)

1 tomato:  20 cents

Bruschetta:  2.75

olive oil:  c’mon, you’re not going to ask me to cost this item, are you?


Smith’s Fish March 11, 2010

What’s in a name?  What’s the risk of having a common name like John James or Tom Jones?  Chances are you could be in a watch list of some sort or be mistaken for someone else.  People with common names have their share of identity troubles, but people with odd or rare names could very well have the same troubles too.  They have to spell or repeat it a few times, and probably get asked, "where are you from?"


The name Michael Smith is simple enough.  Straightforward, easy to pronounce, easy to spell.  How many Michael Smiths are there?  One web site says there are about 40,500 people in the United States with that name.  I suspect there are more than that.  I wonder how many there are in Canada?


If you add the word "chef" to the name "Michael Smith", I’m afraid there’s only one Michael Smith in Canada:  the Michael Smith.  He’s been called the roving culinary ambassador, an accomplished Canadian chef who lives in rustic Prince Edward Island with his wife and child.  His whitefish provençale which I made two weeks ago was one of many palate-teasing dishes in his book, Chef at Home, (Whitecap books 2009). 


I eat fish once a week and cook it in a number of ways, so I wanted to try something new.  Michael Smith’s whitefish provençale evoked images of a small Mediterranean family restaurant in a sleepy town that’s lost in the vastness of its shoreline. As I was making the dish, I imagined cooking for a few "accidental" tourists who were eager to sample a fresh catch from the salted seas – a whitefish smothered with  black and green olives and tangy capers.  Add to that a hint of Balsamic vinegar to spike the taste right before serving.



I wish I had cooked more than one bag of frozen cod (Michael Smith says you can use any whitefish for this recipe) because my brother and I wanted to have it again the next day.  The pieces of fish are "showered" with a blend of green and kalamata olives, capers, tomatoes and oregano, producing a sharp, arresting flavor.

This recipe for Whitefish Provençale was plucked out of page 127 of Mr. Smith’s book, Chef at Home:


You’ll need:   msmith2

a splash of extra virgin oil

4 pieces of fresh halibut (if you can’t get fresh fish, I would go ahead and use frozen)

a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 large ripe local tomatoes (or 1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes)  

1 large onion, minced

1/2 c of capers, drained

1/2 c of kalamata olives

1/2 cup of green olives

2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)


Here are the steps from Mr. Smith:

1.  Preheat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil – enough to cover pan with a thin film.

2.  Pat the pieces of fish dry and then season them lightly with salt and pepper.

3.  Put all of the fish in the oil and sear on both sides, patiently browning them until they are golden brown and beautiful.  They don’t have to cook all the way through at this point.

4.  Remove the fish from the pan and add the tomatoes, onion, garlic, capers, olives, vinegar and oregano.  Bring the mixture to a vigorous simmer, then return the halibut to the pan and lower the heat a bit. 

5.  Nestle the fillets into the tomato mixture and continue cooking until they are cooked through, just a few minutes longer.

6.  Serve the fish with several generous spoonfuls of the tomato mixture.



I will make this recipe again.  The capers and olives gave this dish a subtle oomph; I’m sure my fish-loving friends would ask me for the recipe.   Michael Smith’s book carries ISBN # 978-1-55285-984-1.  It’s available on Amazon and sells for US$30.00.


About Michael Smith

The chef’s credentials read like a Who’s Who.  He received the James Beard award for Cooking Show Excellence and hosts three shows on the Canada Food Network which are aired in 26 countries.


Smith graduated with honors from the tony CIA (no, not the Central Intelligence Agency but the Culinary Institute of America) – the institute that many aspiring chefs wish they could graduate from).  After he graduated, he joined The Inn at Bay Fortune (Prince Edward Island), one of Canada’s top ten restaurants.  He has since collected awards and honors for his creative cooking and television shows.  When he’s not cooking, he enjoys windsurfing and collecting maps. 


Visit Michael Smith’s web site at:  Be sure you read his journal about his trip to Egypt and the "ish baladi" – a flatbread that is popular in the country and how watching the bakery that makes it takes it to a back alley and sells it for a penny a loaf.  The flour that is used is subsidized by the government and after talking to the bakery staff, he realized how lucky we are out west to be able to enjoy so many bread varieties.  In the town that Michael visited, the bread plays a central role in the lives of the town folk. An engaging travelogue!  To read it, click here: