Thursday, December 9, 2010

Recipe: Thai Red Curry Shrimp Skewers

Looking for a quick recipe that you can prepare on your grill outside or on your broiler indoors? Something that will do well in a salad or nestled with a few grilled vegetables in a wrap? Thai Red Curry Shrimp Skewers are a healthy, easy-to-prepare and quick-cooking dish that are delicious, spicy and light. Be sure to make more that you think you need, they go quick!

Thai Red Curry Shrimp Skewers

1 lb. fresh medium-sized shrimp (shelled and deveined)
1 tsp white sugar
1 Tbs Thai red curry paste
1 Tbs coconut milk

Preheat your broiler.

Rinse the shrimp in cold water and blot dry. Place them in a bowl and sprinkle the sugar over them. Toss to distribute the sugar evenly over the shrimp. Allow to rest for 5 minutes then toss again.

Place the Thai red curry paste and the coconut milk in a small bowl and whisk until it is well-blended. You are looking for a loose and smooth paste. Add more coconut milk if necessary.

Pour the paste into the bowl with the shrimp and coat the shrimp evenly. Allow to rest for a few moments.

Thread the shrimp onto the skewers* and broil turning once (about 5 minutes per side). DO NOT OVERCOOK.

Allow the shrimp to cool a little and serve warm, (on a bed of cilantro and sliced green onions if you want to get fancy).

*Use two skewers per "skewer" so the shrimp is easier to turn in the broiler.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Recipe: Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri is a popular sauce in Argentina and Uruguay. It is as common a condiment on those countries' tables as ketchup is in the United States or soy sauce is in Japan.

My first experience with chimichurri came one evening while I was dining at El Gaucho a very popular Argentine steak house in Ornajstadt, Aruba. I've since been back a number of times. In fact my recipe for chimichurri is modeled on the one from El Gaucho and it is close if not dead on.

Chimichurri's ingredients are common, and its preparation is quick and easy. It also will keep in the fridge for quite awhile. It can be used on all meats and fish and is especially good when those meats are grilled, where it can serve as both a marinade and a condiment, (keep those portions separate when doing that). Chimichurri is also excellent when used for dressing steamed vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli as well as salads.

Try this versatile South American sauce and you won't be disappointed

Recipe: Chimichurri

1 large bunch of flat parsley
2-1/2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of white vinegar
1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
Coarse cracked black pepper
Kosher or sea salt

(Note: The ingredients can easily be adapted to personal tastes. Adjust the garlic and red pepper flakes to preference. The amount of vinegar can also be adjusted for the "brightness" of the sauce.)

Wash and drain the parsley.

Remove parsley leaves from stems, discard the stems and set leaves aside. You should have enough leaves to equal two cups, moderately packed in a measuring cup.

Place parsley, garlic, pepper flakes and vinegar in a food processor, or use a large mortar and pestle.
While adding the olive oil, chop contents in the food processor until parsley pieces are about 1/4" in size. The sauce should be thick and chunky and not pureed or smooth. Add remaining olive oil.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place in a covered contained for 2-4 hours before using, (store unused portion in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Recipe: Lobster, Shrimp & Scallop Scampi Pizza

We had a pizza night last Friday night. Pizza night is usually scheduled to mark some event of note, most often it is to welcome foreign guests on their inaugural visits to Hancock Hall. This last pizza night was in honor of my friend Meg who hails from Los Angeles. Sure, I wrote that we welcome "foreign" guests and Meg is from the US, but I've been in Los Angeles at times and felt like I was on another planet, let alone another country! Anyway, pizza night is neither a complicated nor formal affair. A bunch of good friends piled around my homemade, rough-hewn-planked, cut-nail-fastened, Viking hall-style feast table drinking too much wine and beer and shouting over each other while pizza after pizza after pizza pops out of the oven. It's a whole lot of fun. I've got references if you don't believe me!

The pizza of course is important and includes regular things like cheese, chourico and roasted red pepper. Over the years we've also created some "house specials" including smoked bbq chicken with caramelized onions, Coney Island hot dog pizza, and summer squash with tomatoes and black pepper just to name a few. There have been some alcohol-fueled Frankenpizzas as well. Memorable only for their absurdity including one "works pizza" that probably had about 2 pounds of chourico and $50 of saffron on it. ALCOHOL-INDUCED-FAIL!
One of the most popular of our house special pizzas is a shrimp or seafood scampi pizza. Living in New England and specifically on Narragansett Bay has its benefits. We have access to some great fresh native seafood including cold water lobsters and small sweet bay scallops, both of which feature in the pizza recipe below. If you can't get lobster or bay scallops, you can substitute similar shellfish (langoustines, etc.). If you can, try to get fresh seafood as it certainly makes a big difference.

Before we move on to constructing the delicious Lobster, Shrimp and Scallop Scampi Pizza below, allow me to address four primary ingredients that all but guarantee your home made pizza is as good or better than the average shop. Get used to seeing these important "ingredients" because I am going to add them to every pizza recipe I offer. They are critical to your success.

Cornmeal: Cornmeal's tiny grains act like little ball bearings between flat surfaces. Spread cornmeal on the surface of what you build your pizza on and you'll be able to slide your masterpiece right off it and into your oven. Speaking of what you stretch your dough on, go get yourself a...

Pizza peel: Buy one, construct your pizza on it, use it to put your pizza in the oven, use it to take your pizza out of the oven. Seems like a small thing right? Try it! By the way, when you're using your peel to slide your pizza into your oven make sure your oven contains a...

Pizza Stone: Nothing is going to make your home pizza match or exceed the quality of the pizzeria bought stuff more than a pizza stone. Get a thick one and get a big one. I park mine right on the lowest rack of my oven and that is where it stays. It makes all the difference in the world and in no time you'll be pulling pizzas out of your oven that will make the thought of a store-bought pie a less-than-ideal option. The pizza stone is not going to work optimally though unless you...

Preheat your oven: Flat out, no joke, crank her up to 500°F and do that a full 45 minutes before you plan to sprinkle that peel with cornmeal, stretch that dough and then slide that pie onto that stone.

Lobster, Shrimp & Scallop Scampi Pizza

Enough pizza dough for two 14" to 16" pizzas

For the scampi:

2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs sweet butter (unsalted)
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. raw shrimp (shelled and deveined)
1/2 lb. of raw bay scallops
1/2 lb. of cooked lobster (shelled and cut into bite-sized chunks)

Place a small sauce pan over a medium flame. Add the olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted, add the garlic and sauté until the garlic softens. Be careful not to brown or burn the garlic or it will become bitter.
Add the red pepper flakes and stir for a few moments. Add the shrimp and scallops and cook until half-done (just beginning to whiten).
Remove from heat, add the lobster pieces and be sure to stir the mix until everything is well coated. Strain the scampi sauce into a bowl, DO NOT DISCARD THE SCAMPI SAUCE! Place the lobster, shrimp and scallops in the fridge until needed. Allow the scampi sauce to cool while you prepare the other ingredients and wait for the oven to come to temperature.

For the pizza sauce:

2 cups grape tomatoes
The reserved scampi sauce
2 pinches of oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the grape tomatoes, scampi sauce and oregano in a food processor and chop until you have a moderately chunky sauce.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix it a little and adjust seasoning to your preference. Set aside while you prepare other ingredients and wait for the oven to come to temperature.

For the pizzas:

Cooking spray (Pam® or something similar)
1/4 cup parmigiano-reggianno cheese (grated)
Trader Joe's® Quattro Formaggio cheese blend (shredded parmesan, asiago, fontina and provolone)
1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil (for drizzling)

Stretch a dough ball to a 16" to 18" disc and place it on your cornmealed peel. I'm not going to go into dough stretching here because it is a learned thing and there are a variety of methods, each with its proponents, each for good reason. Do a little research and practice a bit. Don't plan on a perfectly round pizza all the time!

Spray a thin layer of cooking spray over the stretched dough.

Spread half of the pizza sauce mixture evenly over the stretched dough (if it seems like you don't need half, that's okay, just use what you need).
Sprinkle a little of the basil and parsley evenly over the pizza (reserve most of the basil and parsley for when the pizza comes out of the oven).

Sprinkle half the parmigiano-reggiano evenly over the the pizza.

Distribute half the lobster, shrimp and bay scallops on the pizza (try to avoid putting too much in the center of the pizza).

Distribute half the shredded cheese blend over the pizza. It is important to remember to keep most of the cheese out of the middle of the pizza. As it melts it will tend to gather toward the middle anyway.

Place the pizza in the oven until it is slightly browned on the bottom and the cheese is bubbly (8 to 12 minutes). Remove, add additional basil and parsley to taste, drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil, allow to cool for about 5 minutes, slice and serve.

Make a second pizza with the remaining ingredients.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: Dr. Gonzo's World Famous Peppermash

My good friend in the absurd, 4Rilla Neil Foisy popped in the other night with more products from his favorite condiment purveyor Dr. Gonzo's Uncommon Condiments. You may remember my enthusiastic reaction to my last experience with some of the good doctor's product. That was my review of his Jalapenomash which is very near and dear to my heart. It's just not Mexican, Tex-Mex or Southwestern food for me now without some Jalapenomash on the table or in the salsa. It's not a fish taco without Dr. Gonzo's Jalapenomash!

This time 4Rilla Foisy brought Peppermash which is one of Dr. Gonzo's best selling products. The good doctor describes his World Famous Peppermash thusly:

"Our seasonal best seller. Yep, this is our original all natural hot pepper relish with the patent pending three to six minute burn time... …using a fine blend of Jalapeno and Cherry peppers, this product has heat with a whole lot of taste. Since we add no fillers, fluff or any unnecessary stuff, what comes out of the fields goes straight into the jar."

I like that "no fillers, fluff or any unnecessary stuff" line, it is pretty appealing given the ever-growing list of nonsense that "food" companies are putting in their products. It's good to know the good doctor doesn't. I hope this trend continues!

So, what do I think of Dr. Gonzo's Uncommon Condiments Peppermash? I love it. What the Jalapenomash does for the Mexican and Tex-Mex food, the Peppermash does for Portuguese, Italian and other foods. By coincidence the night 4Rilla Foisy came over for dinner I was preparing some João Grandes which I usually add a little Tabasco Sauce to just before eating. Neil and I both thought the chourico and chip João Grande sandwiches were the perfect thing to try some Peppermash on. So we added generous amounts of it to our sandwiches. We were not disappointed! It was great! The next evening I added some Peppermash to a Thai Mango Curry I was preparing and the results were equally impressive. Straight up, every product I've tried of Dr. Gonzo's is quality stuff. I haven't even reviewed his Moose River Adirondack Blackfly Mustard which I also love on my turkey sandwiches!
Sometimes people mistake my passion for exaggeration, so I want to be clear. I am a fan of Dr. Gonzo's Uncommon Condiments. I use them and I think they are great. I am not paid to write these reviews and these products come from a friend who lives near the shop, not the good Doctor himself (which would be fine with me, by the way!). My only regret regarding Dr. Gonzo's products is that my dad passed away before I ever learned of them. My dad made a mean hot crushed pepper and he would have loved the good doctor's products.

All passion and no exaggeration: Buy them, try them, you will not be disappointed. If you are, I'll take the leftovers.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook: Big Recipes from the Smallest State

Linda Beaulieu, an award-winning food and travel writer does a hell of a good job with "The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook: Big Recipes from the Smallest State" (Globe Pequot). In the cookbook she tackles the multi-cultural masterpiece that is Rhode Island cuisine and she often does it wonderfully with great background stories and historical references. Any Southern New England resident or long-term visitor to the area will be very satisfied with the selection of recipes she has assembled here.

Within the generous 272 pages of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook you will find a host of regional delectables including: jonnycakes, quahog chowder, Italian wedding soup, grinders, Olneyville wiener sauce, caldo verde, creton, dynamites, strip pizza and many, many others. A homesick Rhode Islander could keep themselves busy all Autumn and Winter cooking and devouring the recipes in this book.

That's not to say The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook is perfect. There are no color photos and most of the recipes have no accompanying photographs at all. Also, folks in the communities of East Providence and other parts of East Bay will surely note the absence of many popular Portuguese dishes. You'll find no chourico and peppers or "Portuguese soup"* recipes in The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook. Also, one glaring error called for the addition of "chorizo" to give a quiche a "Portuguese flavor". Sorry, Mrs. Beaulieu but chorizo is Spanish and chourico is Portuguese and they are quite different. Local people will come to fisticuffs regarding that kind of inaccuracy!

None of those are deal breakers though. When considering the abundant information and recipes she does supply, Linda Beaulieu's The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook should be issued to all life-long Rhode Islanders leaving the state and all restaurant professionals and food service students entering it. If you're into the local flavor of not only Rhode Island but the Southcoast of Massachusetts as well, this book will not disappoint you.

*The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook includes a recipe for "caldo verde" which is a Portuguese soup, but should never be confused with the far more popular, rustic blend of chourico, meat and potatoes known ubiquitously as "Portuguese Soup".

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Recipe: João Grande (Chourico and Chip Sandwiches)

All cultures have fast food. Here in the USA we have more than our share. The selections are endless and the icons of the industry are omnipresent. Names like the "Big Mac" and "The Whopper" are synonymous with fast food around the world let alone just here in the states. That got me to thinking what our local Portuguese equivalents might be.

We have a decent variety of Portuguese fast foods, Principally among them are Portuguese-style steak sandwiches and chourico sandwiches. Having covered Portuguese steak sandwiches in previous posts I figured it was time to focus my attention on another local favorite: The chourico sandwich.

Chourico sandwiches come in many incarnations. There are ground chourico sandwiches, chourico and pepper sandwiches, chourico and sauce sandwiches, chourico and egg sandwiches, chourico hot dogs, chourico burgers, chourico EVERYTHING! Chourico is a ubiquitous part of our local food culture. Chourico is food religion in Southern New England. Why? Because EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH CHOURICO!

What I write three times is law:


One of my favorite types of chourico sandwiches comes from a great little hole-in-the-wall bar called "Billy's Cafe" in Fall River, Massachusetts. Billy's is one of those funky little places that doesn't change with the times, instead it just drags its time along with it. It is unpretentious and unrepentant. I ordered a glass of red wine there one night and I was asked if I wanted a small or a large! I can get behind that! Billy's is food and drinks their way, and their way is good.

They do a "chourico and chips" sandwich there that's great. Just good bread stuffed with fried chourico and french fries. It's just simple Portuguese fast food goodness. A couple of shots of Tabasco sauce on that and a LARGE wine or a cold beer and I'm in heaven. Check out Billy's if you're ever in the Riv. It's not for everyone, but it is certainly for ME!

I've made a few changes in my version of the chourico and chip sandwich. I butter and grill the bread a bit and I add some pimenta salgada and hot pepper rings to add a little more texture and a wider range of flavors. In keeping with the fast food motif, I've also named my version of the chourico and chip sandwich the "João Grande" (The Big John). I do that in honor of my Azorean great-grandfather: João de Lima da Ponte. As far as my Azorean Portuguese ancestors go, he was first to set foot on these shores and that at least merits naming a great Portuguese sandwich after him! It was also his daughter that introduced me to many Portuguese foods!

The "Big Mac" and "The Whopper" cannot compare to The João Grande!

João Grande (The Big John)

1-2 Tbs olive oil
1 package of chourico (cut into 1/4" disks)
Frozen french fries (enough to fill the desired number of rolls and some extra for sides).
2-3 soft torpedo sandwich rolls (sliced like hot dog buns)
2 Tbs sweet butter
1 pimenta salgada (rinsed well and cut into slices)
Hot pepper rings
Tabasco or Piri-piri sauce (optional)

There aren't many recipes this easy. If there is one trick to preparing a João Grande perfectly, it's timing! Try to have everything ready at relatively the same time. Keep that in mind when you're preparing the components!

Ready your fries for cooking. If you fry them (better-tasting) have your frying rig ready and hot. If you're baking them (healthier), preheat your oven. Time your fries to be ready just after the chourico and rolls are done.

Place two large skillets over medium heat. In skillet number one, add your olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer add the chourico and cook, stirring occasionally.

While the chourico is cooking. Butter the inside surfaces of the rolls and place them one at a time (buttered side down) on the second skillet grill until they are well toasted. You may want to use a small plate to push them down a bit on the hot skillet surface.

Continue cooking the chourico stirring occasionally until the edges of the chourico begin to brown or even blacken a little. Remove from heat, immediately add the french fries, pimenta salgada and hot pepper rings (to taste) and toss together well.

Overfill the buttered and toasted rolls with the chourico, french fries and pepper mixture and serve plated with the extra french fries. Offer the Tabasco Sauce or the Piri-piri as condiments.

Couple these with giant mugs of extra-cold beer and make some friends!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Morcella Especial

Morcella (say "muh-sal-uh") is the Portuguese version of the blood puddings or blood sausages that show up in just about every major cultural cuisine. "Boudin Noir" to the French, "Black Pudding" to our British friends, "Blutwurst" to the Germans, "Soondae" to the Koreans and known by many other names to people from many other cultures. The stuff is universal.

I'm not going to pull punches here. It's made from blood and that tends to put people off. Even people who'll eat the rarest of rare meat will pass on morcella and its international kin. It is kind of an acquired taste. Most people I know that eat it started doing so as children and ended up liking it long before they learned what it was. Some, once they learned what it was, stopped eating it. Bummahs for them!

My earliest memories of morcella are the sandwiches my dad and mom used to make, or how my Portuguese grandmother used to mix it with scrambled eggs for breakfast. The latter I enjoyed again for breakfast when I was in the Azores in 2004 and it was still damn good!

Recently, the good people at Mello's Chourico in Fall River, MA asked me to come up with some recipes for their fine line of Portuguese sausage products. While anyone who reads Chop Onions, Boil Water knows, doing anything with chourico is easy because EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH CHOURICO! Morcella presents a little more of a challenge.

So I did a little research on all the different international types of blood sausage (as evidenced in the introductory paragraph of this entry) and came up with a number of recipes to work from. For my first morcella recipe on Chop Onions, Boil Water I chose a traditional French preparation but of course used Portuguese blood sausage instead of boudin noir.

The result? It is delicious! That's not just my opinion but also my wife Michelle's. Prior to eating this dish, she was NOT a fan of morcella but Morcella Especial made a believer of her. She liked it a lot. So did my mom, who proclaimed it the "Best morcella ever!"

Why is it good? It's all about the green apples. They balance and harmonize with the flavor of the morcella to create something really delicious and different. In fact, if you're a little evil, you might even serve this without telling anyone what it is and fool more than a few people. In doing so, you could make some people angry, but hey that's a risk you take. One can have too many friends!

Try it friends, you'll be surprised!

Morcella Especial

1/2 morcella link (7 or 8 ozs.)
2 large tart green apples (cored, peeled and sliced into 12ths)
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and sliced thin)
4 tablespoons sweet butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup white wine
2 Tbs fresh parsley (chopped)

Place the morcella in the freezer at least an hour before you are going to need it. This allows it to harden and makes it much easier to peel and slice.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Place a cast iron (or suitable facsimile) 10" skillet on a medium-high flame. Add 1 tablespoon of the sweet butter, allow it to melt and spread it around the pan. Immediately add the apple slices and sauté, turning frequently, until the edges of the apples begin to caramelize. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until tender (about 15 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a second skillet melt the remaining 3 tablespoons sweet butter over medium-high heat. Add the potato slices and fry, turning frequently, until they are golden on both sides. Add salt and pepper to taste and pour them over the baking apples.

Quickly deglaze the potato pan with the 1/4 cup of wine. Stir continually until the liquid is almost completely reduced, then pour the resulting liquid over the potato and apple mixture. Place the apple and potato mixture back in the oven and continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes.

While the potatoes and apples are baking, remove the frozen morcella from the freezer. Slice the link shallowly along its length and peel off and discard the skin. Slice the morcella in 1/8" slices and set aside.

When the apple and potato mixture finishes baking remove the pan from the oven and cover the entire apple and potato mixture in a layer of sliced morcella.

Place the mixture back in the oven and bake until lightly browned, crumbly and crispy on top, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve at once to surprised people.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Michelle's Thai Red Curry-Peanut Butter Chicken

This is one of my favorite recipes at the moment. It is one of my wife Michelle's dishes, who is, as of late, flexing more and more culinary muscle in the kitchen. She is becoming a great cook and hasn't served up a clunker yet. I do of course appreciate it. Some evenings I'm just not up for cooking and she comes through like a champ. She started off using Chop Onions, Boil Water to prepare some of our favorites and is now improvising and vamping her way to original recipes. She's cool like that. She's an angel and a saint. Just ask anyone who knows me.

All her burgeoning prowess in the kitchen however will not change a fundamental agreement in our marriage quasi-contract: I do the cooking and she does the dishes. So, while her cooking skills and endeavors are increasing, I am making no such inroads with my dish washing skills. In fact you could say my dish washing skills have even declined since my marriage. While I support and appreciate Michelle's cooking adventures, I'm not going to dare and upset the delicate balance that is our marriage by messing around and doing the dishes. No matter how much I don't want to anyway (do you get that?).

So, Michelle's Thai Red Curry-Peanut Butter Chicken, what can I tell you? I'll tell you that I love peanut butter and peanut butter flavored things. More often than not however, many promised peanut butter dishes tend to disappoint. They're never peanut-buttery flavored enough for me. At worse they often exhibit the unpleasant aspects of peanut butter food: grainy, dry, etc. Not so with Michelle's recipe! The peanut butter is there! In fact you could say it is slap-you-in-the-face peanut buttery and that is a good thing.

That's not to say that this is a one note dish. It isn't! There's also some Thai red curry or Thai chili-garlic paste, ginger, coconut, lime juice and all those other things that make Thai food spicy and wonderfully complex. It all works and it is all good!

Two things of importance regarding this dish:

1.) It contains a lot of peanuts, if you're allergic to peanuts you may want to not eat too much or pass on it altogether.

2.) I'm not going to wash the dishes.
Michelle's Thai Red Curry-Peanut Butter Chicken

Chicken and Marinade

1-2 lbs. boneless chicken breast (trimmed and pounded slightly)
1/2 cup chicken stock
1-1/2 Tbs soy sauce
1 clove garlic (chopped)
1-1/2 tsp Thai fish sauce
1 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp fresh lime juice (there is no substitute)
1 Tbs fresh ginger (chopped)

Mix all the ingredients except the chicken in a large bowl. Add the chicken, cover the bowl and place it in the fridge. Allow it to marinate for 1 to 2 hours stirring occasionally to evenly distribute the marinade.

Red Curry-Peanut Sauce

2 Tbs peanut oil
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts (chopped)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup coconut milk
1/2  cup water
3 Tbs fresh lime juice (there is no substitute)
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs fish sauce
2 Tbs Thai chili garlic paste or Thai red curry paste (You want it spicier? Add more.)
1 Tbs fresh ginger (minced)
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
1 Tbs palm sugar

Place a skillet over medium heat, add the peanut oil.

When the oil begins to shimmer add the ginger and garlic and sauté for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn it.

Reduce heat to low and stir in all other ingredients except the cilantro. Bring to a medium simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is simmering, spray a grill pan with oil and preheat the pan over medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade.

Grill the chicken about 5 minutes per side or until just done. Remove the chicken from the pan and allow it to rest for a few minutes.

Cut the chicken into 1" strips and add it to the sauce mixture to coat well.

Add about half of the cilantro to the sauce just before serving and then use the rest as garnish on the plates.

Michelle says to "Serve it hot over Jasmine rice or your favorite pasta and enjoy! The kids like it on ramen noodles."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Recipe: The World's Best Favas

Favas be big beans-BIG BEANS! It's a dish that seems to be an acquired taste. Which basically means that cowards or the uninitiated don't care for it. I like it however. I like it quite a lot and the recipe below is responsible for more than a few converts to the dish. Most recently, my beautiful wife who LOVED them. It's one of those meals that can be had in as many variations as the number of families that make it. This is my version of course and I am telling you that these are the World's Best Favas. THE WORLD'S BEST FAVAS!

One little Portuguese cooking trick that I use in this dish may seem like it wouldn't make a big difference, but it really does help to create THE WORLD'S BEST FAVAS. That trick is sweating the onions and garlic instead of sauteing them. You'll notice how profound that difference is when you pop the cover off the pan at the end of that 20 minutes. The aroma is HEAVEN! HEAVEN PEOPLE! Which incidentally is where they probably serve a lot of these favas because if I haven't mentioned it yet: THESE ARE THE WORLD'S BEST FAVAS!

What else can I say about this recipe?

How about this: IT'S GOT CHOURICO IN IT!

Chourico, as in EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH CHOURICO. Including these favas which happen to be THE WORLD'S BEST FAVAS!

Pay attention to the details at the end, the bread, sweet butter and chilled Dao are MANDATORY!

'Nuff said on my part.

The World's Best Favas

1lb. of dry favas beans (soaked then simmered or pressure cooked to tenderness)
2 Tbs Portuguese olive oil
4 onions (halved and then thinly sliced)
8 cloves of garlic (minced)
3 sticks (about 20+ ozs.) of chourico (sliced in 1/4" disks)
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
3 tsp hot crushed red pepper (the wet stuff)
4 Tbs fresh parsley (chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a large saucepan over low heat.

Add olive oil and spread it around the pan. Add the onions and garlic and sweat them covered in the pan for 20 minutes. Don't open that cover. Keep the flame on low and don't burn it!

Add the chourico and mix in well. Raise the heat a little and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes and crushed red pepper and continue at a good medium simmer for about 45 minutes.

Add the fava beans and continue cooking for 30 more minutes or until the beans are tender and creamy inside.

Add all but 1 tablespoon of the parsley to the favas and mix throughout. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with the last tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley and serve with a good crusty peasant bread, sweet butter and some chilled red Dao wine (that's right I used "chilled" and "red wine" in the same sentence! DO IT!).

It's even better the second day!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Dr. Gonzo's "Free Range" Jalapenomash

One of the benefits of being a food blogger are the many products you get to try and write about. Some products you have used for some time and you love and want to share them with the world. Some come from the companies that create them and they're looking for your opinion and hopefully, the related exposure if you like their products. Other products come via family and friends who want you to try things they like or review their friends and families products. It's all good in the hood. As long as everyone knows: I don't lie in my reviews.

Case in point was my recent review of the Wicked Kickin Savory Cheesecake that my friend Matt Goulet brought over a while back - GOOD STUFF! Today's product for review similarly came from another friend. A week or so ago my long-time associate in rhythm and the absurd, Neil Foisy, turned up with several products from Dr. Gonzo's Uncommon Condiments that he was really excited about. He gave me the basic info, he told me his preferences and thoughts and then left me to my own designs. All he asked was that if I liked them that I please share them with my readers. That's probably not the exact language he used but the message and request were the same (Whaddup crackah!, I promised you I'd bang this wiki wiki out if it was all good and it was - BIG TIME!) I'll review the first product of Dr. Gonzo's that I tried today and enter subsequent reviews as I use and finish the rest and they meet my approval.

The first of the delectable delights from Dr. G's that I hit was the "Free Range Jalapenomash". Dr. G described this product thusly:

"Our "Free Range" Jalapenomash is an all-natural hot pepper relish… …using only the finest "Free Range" Jalapeno peppers procured in the great 2009 Jalapeno round up, this product comes in first with sweet flavor then hits you with delayed heat that dissipates quickly… … be warned, like all of our products, it just may be habit forming."

My take right off is that using the world "relish" in association with this product is kind of inaccurate. For me, relishes are always clunky and slightly syrupy affairs. I'm a fan of relishes but calling this "relish" puts one's mind in a state of anticipation that is misleading. My advice? Take that "peppermash" term and own it Dr. G. Take that term "peppermash" and define it, because you already have with me and let me tell you I am the only authority on the subject writing this sentence! Dr. G's Jalapenomash is a thing far apart from a relish. It is a peppermash (whatever that is). PEPPERMASH, understand?

I love jalapenos. Do you like jalapenos? If so, you're going to love Dr. Gonzo's Free Range Jalapenomash. It's jalapenoresplendent with jalapenoliciousness and that's no jalapenoxaggeration either! The first occasion I tried the stuff was the evening Neil was over. Neil hadn't told me what he was bringing but I had coincidentally prepared a Mexican fish and shrimp taco feast. So, my first bite of Dr. Gonzo's Free Range Jalapenomash came delivered on a very appropriate garlic-chipotle shrimp taco and let me tell you I was not disappointed! In fact I piled it on every taco I ate after that and I can eat a lot of shrimp or fish tacos, hombre!

What's to love about Dr. Gonzo's Free Range Jalapenomash? Right off, it's all-natural and easy to apply. This isn't a thick and chunky goop, it also isn't some pale, over-processed sluice spawn you haphazardly pour from a bottle. It is a fine mince of green peppery jalapenogoodness that is easy to spoon onto anything you care to (and my list is getting long!). Then there's the flavor, the distinct and wonderful SPICY flavor of JALAPENO PEPPERS. What make's Free Range Jalapenomash really good is that the spice and heat of the peppers have not been democratically dumbed down to cater to the docile and delicate palates of the average flavor and spice deprived denizen of the average American fast food counter or supermarket. You get that? Jalapenomash is NOT average. This stuff unapologetically kicks ass! Jalapenomash is spicy like God intended it to be and never lets you forget you wanted jalapeno!

Do I like it? I LOVE IT. Will I buy it? YES, I will buy it (or give Neil the money to buy it for me). There are products I like and that I buy occasionally and then there are products that I just have to have on hand because I like them so much. Dr. Gonzo's Free Range Jalapenomash is of the latter. I couldn't think of not having it around for when I prepare Mexican at home. Per Neil's instructions we also did a 50/50 mix of Jalapenomash and sour cream as a dip or taco dressing and that went astoundingly well. The flavor and burn of the jalapeno pepper in contrast to the slightly sour coolness of the cream was great! Even my wife, who can be a bit spice-shy when it comes to really spicy food enjoyed it while admitting it was hot. That's something! Hell, I'm already planning on adding Jalapenomash to my future Bloody Mary's and lots of other dishes as well. NO LIE!

Dr. Gonzo's Free Range Jalapenomash scores very high with me and if you're a fan of jalapeno flavor you need to get yourself some soon and you can do that by popping into Dr G's storefront at Dr. Gonzo's All-Natural Mega-Spicy Emporium, 122 Main St. Worcester, MA  01608 or you can order it online at:

I've been hitting heavily on the good Dr.'s Black Fly mustard lately, more to come...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Recipe: Broiled Chipotle-Garlic Shrimp

Tacos, like summertime pasta sauces in my house, come in a wide variety of types based on whatever ingredients may be on hand. We're so used to making impromptu fresh tacos in my home that it's become an improvisational process.

Predictably, that improvisational process over time begins to bring some constants to light. These are ingredients and factors that seem to be present in all of our best taco recipes. So, in the interest of helping you to create better tacos at home, I thought it important to share them with you here.

It should go without saying when preparing food at home in general, but you have to start with the freshest, quality ingredients. Nothing will increase the quality and the flavor of not only tacos but all your home cooked food like fresh quality ingredients.

Nowhere in your taco will this be more apparent than in the salsa you use. DO NOT EVER use salsa from a jar. Salsa is easy-to-make and there is no substitute for fresh salsa - NONE. It's the same with guacamole. Make them both fresh and give them some fridge time to chill down a little bit. The crisp coolness of the fresh salsa and guacamole add a nice contrast to the cooked components.

This one will bum you out if you're pressed for time (understandable) or lazy (unforgivable) but: make fresh tortillas. All it takes is a bag of Maseca, a little water, a little salt, an inexpensive tortilla press and a few minutes on a griddle and your tacos are already going to be better than almost any restaurant, almost anywhere in the country. Fresh tortillas have a flavor that cannot be found in those funky things in plastic bags at the grocer. If you really can't or don't want to make your own, see if you can buy fresh ones from a local commercial tortilla maker. You'll be glad you did.

Finally, you're going to want to keep those tortillas hot and flexible and nothing in my experience seems to do that better than La Tortilla Oven. We get lots of free products at Chop Onions and Boil Water to try and review and I'm always honest. I bought La Tortilla Oven with my own money and used it for a long time before I ever reviewed it. It's the real deal. It keeps the tortillas HOT. Alternatively, you can heat them as you need them. We'll do that on occasion if we have the time.

The recipe below is the first of a few taco recipes I'll be posting on Chop Onions, Boil Water. You'll see that it calls for fresh salsa, fresh guacamole and "white sauce". Don't skip the white sauce. Sure, mayonnaise and plain yogurt might seem an odd mix, but it's one of those things that transcends the simplicity of it's ingredients. Lots of people who love Rubio's fish tacos swear by it and it sure has become a staple in our Mexican seafood preparations! It always surprises the people who try it. Muey bueno! Si?

You'll also notice I call for 2 to 4 cloves of garlic. If you're right in your mind about food, use 4. If you're British, use 2.

Broiled Chipotle Garlic-Shrimp Tacos
Prepare the following before you begin making the tacos:

White Sauce: Mix together a 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and 1/2 cup of plain yogurt. Refrigerate until use.

Fresh Tomato Salsa (click here for recipe)

Chunky-style Guacamole (click here for recipe)

Broiled Chipotle Garlic-Shrimp Tacos:

12 corn tortillas
1 7 oz. can of chipotles in adobo
1 lb. shrimp (peeled and deveined)
2-4 cloves of garlic (chopped fine)
1 Tbs of peanut oil
1/2 Tbs sweet butter
3 Tbs fresh cilantro (chopped)
1-2 tsp Fresh lime juice (to taste)
Quesa fresco or your favorite Mexican cheese blend.

Be a trooper and get yourself a tortilla press and some Maseca and make your own tortillas, or buy them and microwave them in a "La Tortilla Oven" to keep them warm.

Set your oven to broil.

Place a small sauce pan over medium-low heat and add the peanut oil. Add the sweet butter, when it fully melts add the garlic and continue cooking for a while until the garlic softens but does not brown. Be sure not to burn the garlic. Keep warm.

Empty the can of chipotles in adobo into a food processor or mixer and blend until it is a smooth paste.

Take the shrimp and coat it well with 2-3 tablespoons of the chipotle paste. If you need less or more that is fine. If you like it spicier, add as much as you like. You're the taco king here. When finished, thread the shrimp onto dual skewers (this makes for easy turning in the oven).

Place the shrimp skewers on an oiled broiling pan and broil, turning often until done.

Remove from the oven and slide the shrimp off the skewers and into a bowl. Coat and toss with the garlic and oil mixture, sprinkle with lime juice to taste and then garnish with the chopped cilantro.

Serve immediately with hot tortillas and the white sauce, salsa, guacamole and cheese available as toppings.

Don't forget the cold beer!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: Wicked Kickin Savory Cheesecakes

Not long ago my friend, surf buddy, insurance entrepreneur and all-around-good-guy Matt Goulet came by Hancock Hall for dinner. Being the honorable sort and a dyed-in-his-skin-true-blood-stand-up-New-England-Yankee, he didn't come empty handed. Instead, Matt brought a fine bottle of Chardonnay and something I had never heard of before: a Wicked Kickin Savory Cheese Cake.

HUH? A savory cheesecake? Whaaaaaaaaaat?

"Savory" and "Cheesecake" are two words I've never associated with each other. Sweet offerings such as strawberries, cherries, blueberries and a host of other things I'm familiar with on cheesecake. Pepperoni, salmon, chicken, spinach or lobster as cheesecake ingredients? Not so much. To say I was intrigued by Matt's giant hockey puck of cheesy mystery is an understatement.

Matt explained that Wicked Kickin Savory Cheesecakes offer a variety of flavor combinations, each with their own unique name that is associated with people or places in Massachusetts (the company is located in Dartmouth, MA). Among their many offerings are seafood cheesecakes, Mexican cheesecake and even a barbecued pork cheesecake. For that evening's experiment he wisely chose the Portuguese-style "New Beige*", a savory cheesecake that listed amongst its ingredients: linguica (a spicy sausage), crushed red pepper, onions, peppers and cheddar cheese. Right off, we hit a snag. What, no Chourico? Don't they know that one of the mantras of Chop Onions, Boil Water is "EVERYTHING is BETTER with CHOURICO!"? I wouldn't let that huge disappointment kill my curiosity though so bravely and selflessly, I proceeded on.

My wife warmed the Wicked Kickin "New Beige" Cheesecake per Matt's instructions. Rather than trying it with crackers as he had also suggested, I instead tried a small "naked" slice to better sample and judge it for this review.

It was fragrant and smelled delicious, its aroma reminded me of pizza. Its consistency was much lighter than I had anticipated, slightly quiche-like but also its own thing. So I grabbed a forkful and the real test commenced. Warm and richly flavored but surprisingly light, a cheesy, velvety goodness punctuated, yet balanced by the big, bright flavors of the linguica, peppers and onions. There was no need to take time to process it, it was good right off. In fact it was delicious! DELICIOUS I TELL YOU! My wife agreed and subsequent samplings did not diminish our opinions.

In my opinion, Wicked Kickin Savory Cheesecakes are perfect as appetizers, hors d'oeuvres or as a "dip" (Matt was on target with his crackers). Could they be offered as a main dish? Certainly, and there are many sides that they could be interestingly coupled with.

I give the Wicked Kickin Savory Cheesecake "New Beige" the Chop Onions, Boil Water seal of approval. Would I buy one myself? Yes, they're perfect for entertaining! Pop one out on the table at a party and you are going to see a lot of pleasantly surprised guests! Thanks for introducing us to them Matt, we're fans.

All Wicked Kickin Savory Cheesecakes are made fresh to order at their Dartmouth, Massachusetts location. Out of state orders are shipped frozen. For a full menu, faq and other information or to order your own surprisingly delicious Wicked Kickin Savory Cheesecake visit their website at: You can also E-mail them at: info@wickedkickin.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or call: (508) 858-9923.

*"New Beige" is the nickname for the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts which has a large Portuguese community which also explains this cheesecakes ingredients.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Resources: Fish Taco Recipes

Hey folks, we've been doing a lot of Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking at the house lately. Last night we did a little bit of fusion with a fish taco recipe that used broiled mahi-mahi flavored with Indian tandoori spices served in blue corn tortillas with a pineapple salsa. It was great stuff and that recipe will eventually make its way to Chop Onions, Boil Water.

Recently, a few friends asked me for a fish taco recipe and while I make all manner of fish tacos at home, they are always just improvised affairs. They're great, but they're just not formal enough to necessarily turn into a recipe. So, I started thinking about the fish tacos I've had and some recipes I've run into so I could offer a good recipe to anyone who'd like to try their hand at preparing great fish tacos at home.

A good baseline to start with fish tacos are those created by Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill. Rubio's, (if you're not aware) is a regional chain that operates in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona and their fish tacos are historic. Type in "fish tacos" in Google and you don't get far before you run into people extolling the virtues and superiority of Rubio's fish tacos. The real secret to the popularity of Rubio's Fish Tacos seems to be in the white sauce that they are served with. Which is a little surprising when you finally see how simply it is made!

Fortunately, for those of us that do not live in the states where Rubio's operates, the recipe for their excellent tacos can be found many places online. Click here to get a Rubio's Fish Taco recipe from Rubio's Fish Tacos have lots of fans of which I am one. Are they the best fish tacos in the world? Hmmmmm, I don't know, I make a lot of great fish tacos and there is this little fish taco truck on Kauai that visits Anini Beach everyday that is... ah, that's a story for another day that will have one of my own fish taco recipes attached.

So, start with the Rubio's recipe and get experimental and adventurous from there! Here's a little hint once you get rolling: If you season and broil the fish, you've got delicious fish tacos ready in only 5 minutes! That's FAST!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Recipe: Porco com Ameijoas a Alentejana (Pork and Clams Alentejana-style)

Pork is the meat used in this recipe and a lot of other Portuguese cuisine. The pig is very important in Portuguese culture, and pork is the culinary center point of most of the feasts on the Portuguese mainland, her islands and many of the places where the Portuguese have settled. The slaughter of the pig is an important ritual in the local community. Also, in a fashion very reminiscent of the Native Americans and their relationship to the buffalo, the Portuguese make use of virtually every part of the animal.

They have mastered its preparation and dishes abound with pork as the main ingredient including many that appear here on Chop Onions, Boil Water. Among those I have included is this recipe for Porco com Ameijoas a Alentejana or "AH-lehn-jah-nah" as we call it on the South Coast of New England.

Along with Portuguese style steak, Alentejana is probably one of most popular dishes to be had in the local Azorean-Portuguese restaurants where I live. It is named for the region in Portugal where it was first created; there, it consists mainly of pork, spices and the hard-shelled clams known locally as "little necks". Here in the USA, I notice they add potatoes to it which doesn't harm it at all. I was first introduced to this dish as a teenager in the early 1980s. It is certainly one of my favorite Portuguese dishes and I have enjoyed it at many of the local restaurants. I've found that there is a little variation in the basic recipe and people seem to favor one establishment over another based on their personal preferences regarding the flavor and amount of sauce or the tenderness of the pork.

The real secret to good Alentejana is in the marinade and in the preparation of the pork and potatoes. If one pays attention to detail, it's not a difficult dish to master and prepared correctly it'll garner you nothing but smiles, oohs, ahs and respect in my neck of the woods. The local restaurants have even begun introducing a chicken version for people with restrictive diets which is equally delicious.

Locally, we use a special copper, two-sided, hinged pan called a "cataplana" that opens similarly to a clam to prepare this dish in. Being able to flip the pan over completely makes stirring unnecessary and aids in the perfect cooking of this dish. It's a nice addition to your kitchen but expensive and not necessary.

Porco com Ameijoas a Alentejana

2-1/2 lbs. of boneless pork loin (trimmed of most fat and cut into 1" cubes)
4 Tbs massa de pimentao   (can be purchased in Portuguese markets or use the recipe below)
2 cups of dry white wine
2 bay leaves (well crushed)
2 lbs. white potatoes (peeled and cut into 1" cubes)
2 Tbs Portuguese olive oil
2 Tbs lard
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (chopped)
2 Tbs tomato paste
2-5 tsp hot crushed pepper
20 littleneck clams or manilla clams (well scrubbed)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Pickled garden vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, pepper, etc.)

Day one:

Take the masa de pimento and rub it all over the pork cubes. Coat them well. Place them in a large bowl, add the wine and the crushed bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Place the cubed potatoes in a large bowl, cover with cold water and refrigerate overnight.

Day two:

Separate the pork from the marinade being sure to save the marinade.

Drain the water from the potatoes.

Place a large deep pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot add the oil and lard. When the oil is hot and just beginning to smoke, brown the pork cubes in several batches. As they finish transfer them to a bowl until needed.

When you are finished browning the pork, lower the heat and add the onions. Sauté until translucent being sure not to brown them.

Add the garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes. DO NOT BURN THE GARLIC it will get bitter.

Set the burner to low, cover the pan and continue sweating the onions and garlic for 15 to 20 minutes. This is a common Portuguese cooking technique and it really makes a difference. Again, be careful not to burn them.

Add the tomato sauce, the reserved pork marinade, hot crushed pepper (if desired) and reintroduce the pork. Adjust the heat so that the mix barely bubbles. Cover and continue cooking for one hour being sure the mixture never breaks even a low simmer. It must just barely bubble.

While the pork and sauce cook you have two options in preparing the potatoes (be sure to prepare the potatoes so they finish at around the same time as the pork and clams are ready to serve):

1. Deep fry the potatoes until cooked through and crispy on the outside. Strain, season with salt and pepper and set them aside.


2. Roast the potatoes in your oven until lightly browned and done. Season with salt and pepper and set them aside.

When the pork and sauce reach the hour mark, add the salt and pepper and stir well. Test for seasoning, adjust as necessary.

Raise the heat until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Lay the clams evenly on the top of the pork mixture and cover for an additional 30 minutes until the clams open.

Discard any clams that do not open, add the parsley, then stir the mix to blend the ingredients.

To serve, place some potatoes in a shallow bowl and generously ladle the pork, clams and sauce mixture over the potatoes.

Garnish with some fresh chopped parsley and a decent amount of pickled vegetables. Serve with a good crusty bread.

Massa de Pimentao (Portuguese Red Pepper Paste)

Prepare a good quantity of pimenta salgada several days before you need it. You are going to need about 3 cups of them for this recipe.
2 large garlic cloves (minced fine)
1/3 cup of olive oil

Rinse the pimenta salgada several times in cold water to remove some the excess salt. Blot dry.

Place the pimenta salgada, minced garlic and half the olive oil in a food processor and blend well for 30 seconds.

Scrape down the sides of the food processor and blend for another 30 seconds.

Now with the food processor running, slowly add the rest of the oil in a slow trickle until the mix is really smooth (about 60 seconds).

Keep refrigerated in an appropriately-sized glass jar, removing only what you need and allowing it to reach room temperature before use.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cookbook Review: The Tex Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh

I'm pretty lax when it comes to reviewing cookbooks on Chop Onions, Boil Water. I don't know why, it is surely easier than creating, tinkering, preparing, photographing and writing about new recipes. Even when I do get around to reviewing cookbooks I tend to be a little tardy. So tardy in fact, I think one of the most "recent" books I've reviewed here was out of print when I reviewed it. That doesn't change my opinion of it though, it was/is a great cookbook and I love and still use it (I could tell you what the title is and put a link here, but that gets me less click-throughs on my humble Google Adsense account and Chop Onions, Boil Water is, as of yet, a mostly non-paying endeavor. You'll find it easily enough if you look for it).

All that said, it should surprise no one that the cookbook I am about to review is six years old. I've been meaning to pick up The Tex-Mex Cookbook for some time since I first came across it. I've checked it out online, picked it up in the bookstore and gave it all the preliminary research I do with anything I buy, I've just been late in pulling the trigger on the purchase, well, until this past Sunday when I decided it was time to buy!

Before I offer you my review, let's see what the publisher has to say about The Tex-Mex Cookbook:

"Join Texas food writer Robb Walsh on a grand tour complete with larger-than-life characters, colorful yarns, rare archival photographs, and a savory assortment of crispy, crunchy Tex-Mex foods.

From the Mexican pioneers of the sixteenth century, who first brought horses and cattle to Texas, to the Spanish mission era when cumin and garlic were introduced, to the 1890s when the Chile Queens of San Antonio sold their peppery stews to gringos like O. Henry and Ambrose Bierce, and through the chili gravy, combination plates, crispy tacos, and frozen margaritas of the twentieth century, all the way to the nuevo fried oyster nachos and vegetarian chorizo of today, here is the history of Tex-Mex in more than 100 recipes and 150 photos.

Rolled, folded, and stacked enchiladas, old-fashioned puffy tacos, sizzling fajitas, truck-stop chili, frozen margaritas, Frito(TM) Pie, and much, much more, are all here in easy-to-follow recipes for home cooks.

The Tex-Mex Cookbook will delight chile heads, food history buffs, Mexican food fans, and anybody who has ever woken up in the middle of the night craving cheese enchiladas."

Dang, I wish I could write like that! I LOVE The Tex-Mex Cookbook for a number of reasons all of which I will tediously list below (in no particular order because that would take extra effort):

1.) Genre Defining: It clarifies exactly what Tex-Mex cuisine is. Walsh does this by delving into the history and cultures of the region and exploring how the food was influenced. He also cites literary instances in which Mexican authorities and authors draw culinary and cultural lines between Mexican cuisine and Tex-Mex cuisine (usually in derisive terms - Silly snobs!). All this is important because a lot of food that most people would consider their favorite "Mexican" dishes are in fact not Mexican at all but uniquely AMERICAN. This will no doubt irritate my foreign friends which always pleases me. Sorry guys but the Good 'Ol U$A has touched your lives yet again! Tee hee : )

2.) The Recipes: Considering that this is an historical overview AND a cookbook, there are still PLENTY of great recipes in here (over 100 genuine ones according to the cover!). Traditional ones, famous ones, standards and even a few new-fangled recipes to get your head into. You get yourself through most of the recipes in The Tex-Mex Cookbook and you're likely going to be your region's authority on the subject and pretty popular with your family and friends!

3.) Content, Design and Layout:
I like the way The Tex-Mex Cookbook is designed and laid out. Which is saying something because there really aren't any photos of the food from the recipes which is usually a deal-killer for me. When perusing cookbooks I'm more often inclined to immediately put a cookbook down if it doesn't offer full color images of most of the recipes. The Tex-Mex Cookbook however, has been designed and laid out in such a way that the editorial content, the recipes and the ancillary information and photos kind of pull you along or spur your imagination regarding the information and recipes in question. In this aspect The Tex-Mex Cookbook succeeds (at least for me) where just about every other cookbook of this type has failed in the past.

4.) The History: As someone who has to try and write interesting things about food, I often find myself delving into the history of many of the foods I prepare. The info is usually interesting and Robb Walsh does a great job handling the history of the cuisine itself using a plethora of era-relative photographs and a matter-of-fact writing style that gets right to the point and brings the history to life. Exactly the opposite approach of what I am doing with this review.

5.) The Canary Islands: Walsh explains how immigrants from the Canary Islands may have been instrumental in the evolution of Tex-Mex food. Especially in the development of chili and it's cumin-rich wonderfulness.

6.) Fried Pork Skin: I like the photo of that guy deep frying an entire pork skin on page 124.

7.) Go Tamales!: At one time tamales were more popular and more prevalent than hot dogs and hamburgers - ON THE STREETS OF CHICAGO!

8.) The Frito Bandito:
The real story of the scandal regarding the diminutive little gun-toting Mexican that topped my pencils when I was in grade school.

I could go on and on, but who's really going to read this? Hell, even if they start it, fewer still will finish the review to this point.

So, The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh? How do I rate it? Highly! I love it, it's great. It gets the Chop Onions, Boil Water seal of approval. If you are interested in Tex-Mex cuisine and "Mexican" food, this is at the very least your starting point. If you're creatively cuisine-errific, The Tex-Mex Cookbook may be the only book you may ever need on the subject. I love this book, buy it today, before it is out of print like the other one.

The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh (Softcover: 267 pages; Publisher: Broadway Books; ISBN: 9780767914888)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Recipe: Shrimp Mozambique (Camarao Mocambique)

So...just how does a recipe from Mozambique end up in the Portuguese section of Chop Onions, Boil Water? You probably don't care, but I'm going to tell you anyway because if I didn't, all the space below the period at the end of this sentence would be white and I just can't have that.
This recipe begins way back in 1498 when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama visited Mozambique. Apparently he liked what he saw, communicated it, and subsequent "explorers" visited the country and established settlements for trading and waging war against, and enslaving the uppity locals in a brutal feudalism that eventually evolved into a less-brutal-but-no-more-attractive colonial government. This of course led to conflicts for independence and fast forward to 1975 when the good people of Mozambique finally won their self-governance. So there's your Portugal-Mozambique connection.

Now lets make the Portugal-Mozambique-Recipe connection: Way back yonder when the Europeans were running around "discovering" people and cultures that already knew they were there, they started bringing back things they begged, bought or stole from the inhabitants of "THE NEW WORLD". Useful things like corn, potatoes, gold, captives, etc., and for the purposes of this story: chilies. Some of those chili seeds that were brought to Europe from the New World by European explorers, then made their way to Africa with Portuguese traders. There the peppers were spread by man and nature and flourished all over the continent and the local cuisine.

One small dried variety of these pepper pods called "Piri-Piri" by the local folks in Mozambique (sounds like "peedy-peedy" in Portuguese but means "pepper-pepper" in the African Swahili language), were used in making hot sauces and dishes, one of which would evolve into the recipe below. Portuguese, inhabitants, travelers, military men and mercenaries fell in love with the dish and brought it back with them to the homeland. Other Portuguese traveling abroad later would bring this dish to American shores, specifically the shores of Southeastern New England where the recipe is hugely popular. That's my story and I'm sticking to it until I learn otherwise.

See? Portugal-Mozambique-Recipe-America-Internet-The World.

This dish is great for group dining. It is rich, spicy and tangy. Be sure to have plenty of rice or a good crusty bread around because the resulting sauce is too good to pass up!

Incidentally, this is also prepared as a chicken dish using grilled tenders or breast meat sliced similarly.

Shrimp Mozambique

15 to 20 saffron threads
1/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of Portuguese olive oil
2 lbs. shrimp (uncooked, shell on)
10 cloves of garlic (coarsely chopped)
1/2 bottle dry white wine (Portuguese vinho verde is EXCELLENT for this dish)
1 tsp. colorau (colorau is Portuguese paprika. You can substitute sweet Spanish paprika or regular paprika in that order)
2 Tbs hot crushed pepper (the red wet kind)
How ever many dashes of Portuguese piri-piri you like (recipe below) or your favorite red hot sauce (Frank's© or Tabasco©).
2-3 Goya® seasoning packets (seafood type)
Juice from one lemon
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup fresh parsley (chopped, loosely packed)
Salt and pepper to taste
A good crusty bread or some rice

Put the saffron in the water and let steep overnight.

Place a deep saucepan on medium-high heat, when the pan warms, add the olive oil. When oil begins to shimmer add the shrimp and sauté until they just turn pink.

Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and keep the juices and oil in the pan. Put the shrimp aside and keep them warm.

Add the garlic to the pan and sauté for 2-3 minutes. DO NOT BROWN OR BURN THE GARLIC IT WILL GET BITTER.

Add the saffron and water, wine, paprika, crushed pepper, hot sauce, Goya seasoning and lemon juice. Bring this mixture to a boil, adjust to a lively simmer and allow it to reduce and thicken slightly.

Return the shrimp to the pan and continue simmering, stirring frequently for about 2-3 minutes.

Add the butter to the pan stirring frequently. Once butter melts, stir one more time, remove from heat and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish well with chopped parsley and serve over rice or by itself with a good crusty bread for dipping in the sauce which you will want to do again and again and again.

Piri-Piri Sauce

2 to 6 hot chili peppers (like Thai bird's eye or Szechuan peppers)*
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 tsp of coarse sea salt
1 cup Portuguese olive oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar

De-stem but do not de-seed the peppers and then chop them coarsely (Wash your hands afterward and be careful not to touch your eyes fool!).

Combine the chopped peppers, red pepper flakes, salt, oil and vinegar in a bowl and mix together well. Then transfer to a suitable vinegar dispenser jar and allow to steep for a day or two.

Shake well before use.

Piri-Piri is great on a lot of different foods. Even shrimp that has been simply sauteed, broiled or boiled.
*If you want a mild sauce use less, if you want a fiery sauce use more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Recipe: Shrimp Scampi

If you've ever watched the movie "Defending Your Life" by Albert Brook's you'll surely remember the restaurant scene? The movie is Brook's look at the afterlife and consequently (among many things) the restaurants and food to be found there. In that scene Brook's character, now deceased, dines in an afterlife restaurant, and the food, its calories and other health implications are meaningless and the waiter just indulges the patron's desires much to Brook's bewilderment. You can see the scene here on YouTube.

When I prepare shrimp scampi, that scene often comes to mind because overindulging in shrimp scampi with no health implications would surely be a little bit of heaven to me. I love shrimp scampi. Unfortunately, with my family's medical history, shrimp scampi is a cholesterol and saturated-fat-packed shotgun pointed right at my heart! So while this recipe is a huge personal favorite, I don't prepare it all that often. Yeah, way to bring down the enthusiasm for something that is so good!

You'll notice that I prepare the shrimp differently than other scampi recipes. Tossing them with some brown or turbinado sugar and then precooking them gives the shrimp a wonderful snap and good texture. This is not one of those depressing mushy scampi dishes! Also, I leave you a little margin in how much shrimp you want to put in and how spicy you like the dish. Personally, more shrimp is better for me, but I tend to stay on the low end of the amount of red pepper flakes written below. My wife and kids don't like it too spicy. If you like a little fire in your scampi, go for it.
Also, I have easily converted this to chicken scampi by substituting chicken for the shrimp (der!) and omitting tossing it with the sugar. Just sauté the chicken in the oil until it is just done and then proceed with the recipe as written.

Shrimp Scampi

1/4 cup olive oil
1 to 1-1/2 lbs. raw shrimp (peeled, deveined, rinsed and blotted dry)
2 tsp brown or turbinado sugar
4 large cloves of garlic (chopped)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp dried red-pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
5 Tbs sweet butter
1 lb. of your favorite long pasta (angel hair, linguini, etc.)
1-2 plum tomatoes (diced)
1/2 cup parsley (chopped)

Place a large pan filled with water on high heat and bring to a boil while you prepare the other ingredients. Cook pasta until it is al dente.

Toss the shrimp with the sugar until they are evenly coated. Set aside while you prepare your other ingredients.

When all the other ingredients are ready, place a deep heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil when it begins to shimmer and carefully cook the shrimp in small batches. Cooking about one minute per side. Remove the shrimp, set aside and keep warm while you continue to prepare the rest of the sauce.

Add the chopped garlic to the oil remaining in the skillet along with the red pepper flakes, wine, salt and pepper and cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally for about 1 minute.

Add the butter to skillet, stirring until melted, and stir in the shrimp, diced tomato and parsley. Remove the skillet from the heat.

As the pasta finishes cooking, reserve 1 cup pasta water. Drain the pasta and toss it well with shrimp, sauce and parsley in large serving bowl.

If the mix seems dry, add the reserved pasta water as needed.

Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan-reggiano cheese with a good crusty bread on the side.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Recipe: Michelle's Caribbean Fish and Lobster Stew

I cannot begin to list the culinary phobias that my wife Michelle had when we first met and began dating. Cooking for her or dining out was a potential mine field of cringing, picking at food and complicated cooking instructions to our poor server. Straight off, seafood was out, and so were more "exotic" options like Indian, Thai and Japanese. Even in Chinese restaurants she rarely got more adventurous than chicken fingers and chow mein. Simple ingredients like tomatoes, mushrooms, chickpeas, squash, hot peppers and broccoli were deal killers.

She also had subtle and not so subtle control issues where food was concerned. She often diligently prepared each and every bite of food she would take by arranging the components just so. I watched her nearly squeal with delight one afternoon in a Montreal pizzeria where she asked our server for a side of pizza sauce with her pizza and was not only served the side of sauce, but was presented with a paint brush with which to apply it.

She also committed what I would call "sins against cuisine" and amongst the most vulgar of these was her use of a copious amount of granulated white sugar with spaghetti and sauce. That's right, place a tasty plate of spaghetti and sauce in front of her and she would take a big bag of sugar and begin pouring it on and mixing it in to her spaghetti and sauce.

Can I get an "EEEEEEEEEEEK!" here?

All the above, is what makes all that follows so profound. You see, Michelle has come around since we met. My wife has spun a 180° on her culinary heels. Gone is the former food phobe and in her place is someone who will at least try almost anything once. She relishes things she once would have run from. Shrimp and fish are now part of her preferred ingredients. Curry, something she would have never eaten in million years just a few years ago is now her de facto, indisputable favorite food in the world! Broccoli and chickpeas, something she formerly abhorred are now things she requests regularly. All because she decided to just try things a couple of times. Rather than weenie out, she thugged up and opened herself up to a world of great food! I think of that now and it makes me proud. You see, I have a 38 year old, 200+ lb. male friend who is afraid of seafood, fruit and almost all vegetables! A banana makes him gag! You could rob him with a banana instead of a gun! He says "It's a texture issue". Michelle says "thug up pusswad!".

Michelle has also taken a liking to cooking, which I should appreciate, but it scares me. For years, I've always been the cook and she did dishes and we were both happy with that. Now she's cooking more often and liking it AND she's cooking well. I fear I may soon become redundant! So, I try to stay sharp and a few steps ahead of her. Thankfully, the children take up a good deal of her time!

Below is one of her personal recipes and one of my favorites that she cooks. If you told her years ago that she would create a fish and lobster stew recipe along with ingredients like jalapenos, tomatoes, chickpeas and saffron she would have laughed in your face! LOUDLY!

This is a GREAT Caribbean-style, tomato-based fish stew that is light and delicious and sparkles with accents of citrus and cilantro. There's a little spice in there too, but nothing to be afraid of. Of course, if you'd like it spicier, you know what to do. Michelle would also like you to know that you can put in clams, shrimp, conch and any other seafoods that you may like.

SHE USED SAFFRON! SAFFRON, I tell you! I'm so proud!

Michelle's Caribbean Fish and Lobster Stew

1 lb. Mahi Mahi fillets (cut into bite size pieces) *
4 oz Lobster meat (cooked, cut into bite size pieces) **
1/4 cup Olive oil
1/2 cup Onion (chopped)
1 Tbs Jalapeno pepper (chopped fine)
3 cloves Garlic (chopped fine)
1 cup Dry white wine
1 cup Orange juice
28 oz. can Diced tomatoes (do not drain)
8 oz. can Tomato sauce
16 oz. can Chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
Small pinch of Saffron threads (soaked in 1/4 cup hot water for about 1/2 hour)
1 Tbs Orange peel (grated)
1 tsp dried Basil
1/2 tsp dried Oregano
1/4 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Pinch of Red pepper flakes
1 Tbs Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
1 Tbs Corn starch
2 Tbs fresh Cilantro (chopped)

Place a dutch oven over medium high heat. When the pan gets hot add the olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion and jalapenos and cook, stirring frequently until translucent.

Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes being careful not to burn it.

Add all remaining ingredients except for the fish, lobster, cilantro and corn starch. Raise heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Carefully stir in the fish and lobster meat. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and continue simmering until the fish flakes easily with fork (about 4 to 5 minutes).

Mix the cornstarch with a little water and then add to the stew slowly, mixing it in. Continue simmering for 3 minutes as the stew thickens.

Stir in 1 Tbs of the chopped cilantro and simmer for 1 more minute.

Serve hot in a bowl garnished with the remaining cilantro and paired with your favorite crusty bread.

* You may substitute your favorite firm, flaky white meat fish.
** You may substitute crab meat or chopped shrimp if you like.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Recipe: Shrimp and Codfish Saganaki

Today's world food that you can prepare in your home comes at you straight outta Greece! It is called Shrimp and Codfish Saganaki and it is based on traditional saganaki which is an appetizer of pan-seared cheese. It is named for the single-serving fry pan that it is usually both prepared and served in. In addition to the cheese, today's recipe includes shrimp, codfish and a spicy tomato-based sauce. The result is a rich and delicious seafood dish that is best enjoyed along with a good crusty bread for dipping!

For a long time now, I've been meaning to prepare my own shrimp saganaki recipe. It's been caught up in the thought storm in my mind. Often dishes like that can slip out of memory, but shrimp recipes tend to stay in my mind longer, and well the name "saganaki" tends to instill images of a strange Japanese sex act that involves restraints and lots of white face paint in my mind, so this one was especially easy to remember!

Hey baby, you up for some saganaki?

It is not a difficult recipe to prepare and if you have your ingredients pre-measured and ready, shrimp and codfish saganaki comes together really easily. In fact you can easily omit the codfish or shrimp if you like. You can also substitute mussels, clams or even lobster and get equally amazing results. This one of my new favorites and I'll be preparing it quite a bit into the future. I'm pretty sure it is going to end up in the Chop Onions, Boil Water Hall of Fame! Try it!

Shrimp and Codfish Saganaki

4 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1/4 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
2 cups of tomatoes (chopped)
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp dill
1 shot of ouzo
1.5 lbs codfish loins (or similar white flaky fish)
1 lb. shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1 cup parsley (chopped)
1/3 cup Kalamata olives (pitted and chopped)
2 cups feta cheese (crumbled)
A loaf of your favorite crusty bread.

Preheat your oven to 425°F

Place a large oven-proof pan* over a medium-high flame.

Add the olive oil to the pan, when the oil begins to shimmer add the onions and sauté until translucent.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook stirring constantly for about 1 minute.

Add the tomato, oregano, dill and ouzo and stir well. Bring the sauce to a simmer and add the codfish loins until just cooked (turning once). Carefully remove the codfish and set aside.

Add the shrimp and cook for 30 seconds on each side.

Remove from heat, stir in 3/4 cup of the parsley (reserving some for a garnish) and the kalamata olives. Stir well.

Carefully reintroduce the codfish and cover it with the sauce.

Evenly top with the crumbled feta and place in the oven uncovered until almost all of the cheese melts and the sauce is hot and bubbly.

Distribute even portions in hot shallow bowls, garnished with the leftover 1/4 cup of parsley.

*I use a large cast iron fryer for this.