Friday, September 28, 2007

A Simple Japanese Meal

Japanese food consists of simple ingredients, simple preparation, and impeccable presentation. This column will detail two simple dishes that don't take a lot of time to prepare to make a good Japanese meal.

This meal comes mostly from a recipe book that Sandra and I truly love: "Cooking With Mickey" (a collection of recipes from various restaurants at Disneyland and Walt Disney World). We have two volumes of this book—a first volume which has a light cardboard cover and plastic spiral binding, and the second volume which has a traditional "hard cover" with the same spiral binding.

In EPCOT's World Showcase, there is a tiny restaurant in the Japan pavilion called the Yakitori House. The specialty of this restaurant is, as you might guess, Chicken Yakitori. The cookbook has the recipe for the Yakitori Sauce, and the rest of the recipe is my recreation of the Chicken Yakitori.

Chicken Yakitori

Source:Cooking With Mickey, Gourmet Mickey Cookbook Volume II
Yield:4 Servings

Yakitori Sauce

¼ cup Sake wine*

1 cup Mirin wine

1 cup soy sauce

1 tbs sugar

2 tbs cornstarch

⅓ cup water

*Note: Like Sake, Mirin wine is a rice-based wine. Sake can be used instead for a total of 1 ¼ cups.

Chicken Skewers

1 lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into half-inch pieces

2 green onion, cut into half-inch pieces (optional)

bamboo skewers

Combine Sake and Mirin (if using both) in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil. Add soy sauce and sugar. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

Soak bamboo skewers in cold water for 30 minutes (to prevent burning during grilling).

Dissolve cornstarch in water and add to the sauce. Cook and stir until mixture thickens.

Heat grill to medium high, or preheat grill pan over a medium-high burner.

Thread chicken pieces onto skewers, optionally alternating with green onions, about 4-6 pieces of chicken per skewer.

Begin grilling the chicken skewers without the sauce, turning after five minutes. When the meat starts changing color, brush the sauce on both sides, and continue grilling, brushing onsauce about four times total, turning until done (about ten minutes total).

Serve hot over rice.

No Japanese meal would be complete without a fresh, crispy salad of iceberg lettuce, some shredded carrots, a bit of red cabbage, and this wonderful Ginger Dressing...

Ginger Dressing

Source:Cooking With Mickey, Gourmet Mickey Cookbook Volume II
Yield:2 quarts
This recipe comes from EPCOT's Mitsukoshi Restaurant, located in the Japan pavillion in the World Showcase.


2 ounces ginger root (about ½ cup)

1 medium onion, cut in quarters

3 cups vegetable oil

1 cup rice vinegar

1 ¾ cups soy sauce

1 ½ tbs tomato paste

½ lemon, juiced

1 ¾ cups water

Soak ginger root in cold water for a few minutes to make it easier to remove the outer skin with a peeler. Remove skin and cut into quarters.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor with a steel blade and blend until smooth. If blender will not handle entire recipe, divide in half and blend each half separately and then mix afterward.

Refrigerate and serve on salad.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Would You Like Fries With That?

Fries Draining, by Hayford PeirceIn the last few years, I've been mourning the loss of the great American "French fry." Regarding the apparent oxymoron in the previous sentence, I feel that while the fries may be French (Pommes Frites), it was America that made them great.

To me, the ultimate in fry perfection is the classic McDonald's fries, which were available in small (white paper) and large (red/yellow cardboard) sizes. They went through the Super-Size trend a few years back, and the recipe has changed slightly since their salad days back in the 1980s (they no longer add beef fat to the frying fat and use chemical tricks to make up for the differing taste), but they have mostly retained the taste that most Americans associate with what a fry is and should be.

Technically, the fries at McDonald's are "shoestrings," thinly cut and quickly fried. Variations on the theme include steak fries (a "meatier" fry cut very thick), potato wedges, and the crinkle cut. Curly fries are popular nowadays, and there are variations that do or do not leave the skin on. I'll leave out "home fries" and things like "Tater Tots" as interesting side trips. I'll also leave the British-style "chips" to some future article. I won't even bother with "Freedom Fries."

To my taste, fries should be cut potatoes that are fried in hot oil with some salt added for seasoning. Additional seasonings, such as black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika may be added to the salt, to give a more "seasoned" fry.

Lately, though, a monster has raised its ugly head. Some food distributors (Ore Ida, I'm looking at you, but you're not alone!) have decided to try to improve upon the simple French fry. Instead of the simple recipe I outlined above "as God intended French fries to be," they decided that fries, for some reason, need to be coated with a batter or breading and additional spices prior to frying. This may make a "crunchier" fry, but to my taste, these are an abomination! Apparently, the packagers decided that pre-cut potatoes weren't simple enough. "Let's add some crap to these things to make them taste better!" they might have said. Unfortunately, the person that added these horrid ingredients apparently had no sense of taste at all.

Unfortunately, I'm seeing more and more restaurants succumb to the "battered fry" syndrome, without giving their customers any choice on whether they want a real French fry or not. One of my favorite lunch spots, Chip Shots in Littleton, MA, serves these faux-fries, despite my entreaties to the three owners and the chef to serve real fries for a change. For whatever reason, they still serve the pre-breaded atrocities, and I, for my part, specifically make my orders "without fries unless they can serve the real thing." (Yeah, they put up with me, which is why I end up liking the place! They have good beer, too.)

I know that I'm probably not alone in my detestation of these phony fries, but I fear that people don't complain about the monstrosities when they get them. Perhaps people think that restaurant owners don't like feedback on their food servings.

To all you restauranteurs, I ask you: How much time and effort is saved by choosing a packaged, frozen, and pre-battered plague than it is to simple use a French fry press on some fresh potatoes? A single potato provides about a single serving... one press of the device and you'll never have your customers declaring your fries unfit for eating! If you want variety, use a mandolin slicer with a very thin blade to make some yummy "home made" potato chips... like T-Bones in Salem, NH. Not only does T-Bones have those wonderful chips, but they serve real French fries! (Kudos to T-Bones, and one word: yummy!).

Another restaurant chain with impeccable fries is—surprise!—Ruth's Chris Steak House. Now, the first thing you need to know about this place is that it's expensive. Aside from that, their menu shows that they are very serious about their food. One way that shows this is that they have a whole section of the menu dedicated just to potatoes to accompany your meal: Mashed, Baked, Au Gratin, Steak Fries, Julienne ("regular cut" French fries), Shoestring (very thinly cut), Lyonnaise (sauteéd with onions), and a "Sweet Potato Casserole." By far, my favorite is the Shoestring, which are cut very thin (like a real shoelace!), served very crispy, and seasoned lightly with salt. When I took Sandra to Ruth's Chris on our second honeymoon in Cancun, she loved the shoestrings as much as I did! Wonderful stuff! I don't believe that any of the potatoes served at this chain are pre-battered, and while the prices are higher at Ruth's Chris than most restaurants that I frequent, their attitude toward potatoes shows a wonderful "let's serve good food" feeling which is probably why people like going there on special occasions.

Don Quixote, Pablo Picasso, 1955So, although I know it's possible for a restaurant—even a chain!—to have real French fries, I realize that I'm probably on a useless crusade, like Don Quixote tilting at the windmills, but without Picasso around to draw my picture. Nevertheless, I'll continue it. McDonald's still has their classic-tasting fry (they use chemicals to get the near-classic taste, but at least they seem to care what they taste like). Burger King, on the other hand, uses the battered wickedness instead. If it comes to a decision between BK and McD's, my preference is usually Mickey D's, solely because of the fries. Yeah, the burgers aren't flame broiled, but their fries are at least edible!

Of course, my Cockney friends seem to feel as horrified at the American version of "chips" as I do about those pre-breaded imposters, but again... that's for a future article.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Breakfast Quesadilla

I'm not normally a person that enjoys breakfast. I'm not sure why I'm not such a big fan of that meal, and intellectually I know that breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day. Sandra and the kids, on the other hand, love breakfast, and I enjoy cooking eggs for them.

Over the last couple of weekends, I've been making a special breakfast for Sandra (and the kids last weekend when they came for a visit). It's breakfast quesadillas, and the family seems to love them.

This is basically an omelet put into a tortilla with some cheese and a few other ingredients.

Without any further fanfare, I'll pass along the recipe I came up with for this interesting meal.

Breakfast Quesadillas

Source:Larry Gensch
Prep Time:10 minutes
Cook Time:10 minutes

Breakfast quesadillas are, as the name implies, quesadillas that are meant to be eaten for breakfast. They can contain many breakfast food items, depending on your taste.

This recipe is one that Sandra and the kids seemed to enjoy over the past couple of weeks.


1 small cooked chorizo sausage

1 Tbs butter or margarine

1 egg (or equivalent in Egg Beaters), beaten

1 tsp parsley

1 tbs bacon bits (optional)

Salt and pepper

1 large flour tortilla

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

¼ cup green onions, sliced thin

1 Tbs chopped cilantro (optional)

Few drops of taco sauce (for garnish)

Sour cream (for garnish)

Cut the chorizo in half lengthwise, and then cut into very small diced pieces. Put chopped chorizo into a small frying pan on medium heat and allow chorizo to brown slightly, releasing some of its oils. Remove chorizo from pan and place on absorbent toweling.

Add butter or margarine to the frying pan, and melt, allowing the butter and oils to mix. Add the beaten egg and allow it to start to set. Sprinkle parsley, bacon bits, salt, and pepper into the egg mixture and continue cooking until the eggs set completely, omelet-style. Flip the omelet and cook for about three minutes more. Remove eggs from frying pan onto a plate, and carefully cut three parallel slices so you end up with four strips of eggs.

Warm a round grill pan on a burner at medium-high heat and then add the flour tortilla. After a couple of minutes, flip the tortilla so the warm side is now on top.

It is now time to prepare the quesadilla. You will only be covering one half the tortilla, using the other half to wrap over, taco-style. Add half the cheese, and arrange the strips of the omelet to cover the half of the tortilla. Sprinkle three quarters of the green onions over the cheese and egg, and then add the cooked chorizo and cilantro (if using) over the green onions, and then top with the remaining cheese. Fold the empty half of the tortilla over the filled portion, and place a weight (large frying pan, if you have one) to press the two halves together. Heat for two to three minutes, and then flip the tortilla over. Add the weight on the tortilla again and heat for another two minutes.

Remove quesadilla from grill pan and put on a cutting board. Cut the quesadilla into three or four pieces with a sharp knife. Arrange the quesadilla on a plate with pieces slightly overlapping. Add a few drops of taco sauce, and a dollop of sour cream, and then sprinkle the remaining green onions over everything.

Serve warm.

Other items can be put into these quesadillas, either within the omelet or sprinkled inside the quesadillas. Some suggestions are:
  • A couple of strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • A breakfast sausage, cooked and crumbled
  • Breakfast ham, cut into small cubes
  • A couple of cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped
  • Finely chopped red onion
  • Chopped jalapeno peppers
  • A small avocado, thinly sliced or chopped
  • Dash of chili powder or cumin
  • Minced fresh garlic
  • Dash of Tabasco or other hot sauce

Bon Appetit

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dreamin' (a ramble)

I crawl under the covers.
My head hits the pillow.
My eyes close.
Sleep comes quickly.

Some of my friends
tell me that I snore.
So I got me a bunch of new friends
that don't tell me that.
You can't do that with wives, of course.
Nor can you do that with children.

Anyway, one thing
that invariably happens afterward
is the subject of this ramble.

My dream starts out
innocently enough.

I'm running in slow motion
in a meadow.
Now, please note that
I have absolutely no bloody idea
where I could find a bloody meadow
anywhere near where I live.
I've viewing this
from a side shot.
I'm moving from the left
towards the right.
The meadow has large growths of clover,
which apparently do very little
to keep me from running
(albeit in slow motion, remember).

The point of view changes.
There's a vision of loveliness,
bouncing light brown hair,
gorgeous blue eyes.
She's wearing a white chiffon dress,
also running in slow motion.
This time, from right to left.

Yes, I know.
This is a movie cliché.
I guess that my brain hasn't graduated
from 1950's Hollywood.

The dream continues to unfold.

Switch to me,
still running in slow motion.
Switch back to the girl,
also still in slow motion.
Switch back to me,
looking down at my foot.
I must have stepped in something.
The expression on my face
is one of pure disgust.

Ahhh, we're going somewhere
different now.

Switch back to the girl;
She's still running in slow motion.
However, she has just
crossed a railroad track.
(What a railroad track is doing
in the middle of this bloody meadow
is never explained.
Pure Hollywood.)

Of course,
a train is bearing down on the girl,
moving toward the camera.
It's far away, so she might be safe.
But she's running in slow motion,
And the train is running at full speed.
The girl turns her head away from the train,
looking straight at the observer,
with a look of horror on her face.
H-O-O-N-N-N-K-K-K!!!! Splat!


End of dream?
Of course not.
That was just a teaser.

Block letters appear:
lar3ry presents...
Long pause.

A lar3ry dream.
Another pause.

Starring: lar3ry

(I admit it.
I watch too many movies.
However, this is always the good part:
I get to find out who is in my dream.)

Co-Starring: Carmen Electra

(Hey, I'm the one dreaming, right?
There's just a chance,
albeit small,
that she's probably having the same dream.
Except that I'm relegated to co-star status.
I wouldn't mind.)

Also Starring:

Freudians are probably drooling
over this dream now.
I'm ignoring them.
I promise.)

Now follows a list of names
Of other people that are in my dream.
Most names I don't recognize.
Bit players, probably,
That had good agents,
getting them billing above the title.

Soft music plays.
Vaguely familiar.
Oh yeah.
It's the James Bond theme.
You know, that four bar overture
That precedes every
James Bond movie theme song.

However, instead of a segue'
into a cool jazz/pop number,
the theme song segue's into
the Wedding March.

Scene opens.
I'm standing at an altar
in a black tuxedo.
In front of me is Jeremy Irons,
dressed as a preacher.

Go with me on this, OK?

Point of view changes.

I'm now looking down the aisle.
A woman in a wedding dress and veil
is coming up the aisle.

As I watch her slow approach,
I realize that everything seems
to move slow in my dreams.
Why is that?

I hear somebody cough lightly.
That's my cue
to get back to the dream.

I glance to the people in the pews.
I don't recognize any of them.
I realize that I'm looking at
the friends of the bride.
And to tell you the truth,
I don't know too many of
Carmen Electra's family.

On the other side,
I see familiar faces.
But I can only place some of them.
My Uncle Alan, for instance.
And Arnold in his Terminator outfit,
giving me a big "thumbs up."

The bride is approaching.
The old man accompanying her
removes her veil.

Big pause in the action.

You're probably gulping down
your popcorn.
You just KNOW that it's not
going to be Carmen.

Heck, with my luck,
it's probably not even
going to be Rosie O'Donnell.
Somewhere deep in my mind,
the name "Erma Bombeck" is floating around.
I make sure that I order
Dr. Ruth Westheimer off the set.

Back to the action.
The veil is lifted.
And it IS Carmen Electra.

(Cue: Trumpet fanfare)

Dustin Hoffman appears
at the back of the church,
crucifix in his hands,
calling "Elaine! Elaine!"

I sigh.
"Dustin, you're in the wrong dream."

Lord, these things can get pretty complicated.

Cut to...

Jeremy Irons,
the preacher,
is saying,
"You may now kiss the bride."

I move my face slowly toward Carmen.
She moves her face slowly toward me.
Again, with the slow motion, dammit.


I look around, confused.
Martin Scorcese is sitting in a director's chair
with a megaphone in his hand,
"One hour for lunch!"

What the heck?

"Union rules,"
he tells me with a shrug.

And then I wake up, with a start.
(Obviously it must be a start,
Since that dream didn't really have an end.)

It's been only fifteen minutes
since I got into bed.

Lord, I'm tired.
I fluff my pillow,
and close my eyes.

I'm alone again,
running in slow motion
in a meadow.
I've viewing this
from a side shot.
I'm moving from the left
towards the right.
The meadow has large growths of clover,
which apparently do very little
to keep me from running
(albeit in slow motion, remember).

Damned repeats.

Fade out...

Copyright © 2001, 2007
Larry Gensch (lar3ry)
All rights reserved

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Bar for Chili

When trying to describe a particular food, taste is always in the mind of the beholder. Whereas I may love spicy foods, other people may avoid them like the plaque. Some people like broccoli and cauliflower; I cannot stand them.

I've heard that there are as many recipes for chili as there are people that cook it, and that would probably be close to the truth. There are many "forms" of chili as well--Texas style, New Mexico style, Cincinnati style, etc. each obsessed with such questions as:

  • Do you add beans? (Although I like most beans, I don't think they really belong in chili; however, I'll never berate a chili just because it has beans.)
  • Do you add tomatoes? (Some chili aficionados insist that chili's red color should only come from the chili peppers)
  • What kind of meat? Beef (chile con carne)? Pork? Chicken ("White chili")?
  • What other accompaniments or ingredients are used?
The traditional chili con carne is, by translation from Spanish, "Chili with Meat," which is usually interpreted as with beef. I've read differing accounts of the history of chili in which the original recipes from way back simply have meat stewing with chiles and liquid and possibly a little salt. Other spices were probably added later for taste: garlic, onions, oregano, thyme, coriander, etc. Each of these spices has a subtle effect on the chili.

I've tried many recipes in search of a great "bowl of red." I've come to favor a mixture without beans with added tomato mostly as an extender. No doubt others have searched as much as I and came up with differing favorites.

One thing I've found is that if you are cooking chili for a bunch of people, it's best to let your guests decide what they want in their chili. If you keep to the basics (like my recipe), you can serve things "on the side" for people to add to taste.

A good chili bar is similar to a taco bar. Here are some things that I think would be nice to let people pick and choose from:
  • Cheese (of course!)
  • Saltines or tortilla chips
  • Heated kidney beans (for those that must have beans in their chili!)
  • Raw onions (red, green, yellow, or Vidalia)
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Green onions (I know I mentioned them with onions, but there's no reason you can't have scallions as well as other onions)
  • Hot sauce (Tabasco or whatever hot sauce tickles your fancy)
  • Cilantro (for that extra-fresh finish)
  • Spaghetti (believe it or not, chili on top of spaghetti is wonderful!)
I have no doubt that others can think of other things to add to a chili bar, but this is probably a good start. Having hot sauce available allows you to make your chili less spicy and allow your guests to "kick it up a notch" to their own tastes.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Trip to the Seacoast

For the second time in two weeks, Sandra and I ventured to the NH seacoast on Saturday, despite that fact that the forecast was for rain all day. We took exit 1 off I-95 in New Hampshire, preferring to take the back roads. We drove through Hampton Beach (now in its official "post season" look and feel after last week's shindig). As expected, a lot of the places are now closed, and driving through the dreary drizzle going north on 1-A, we didn't see anything worth stopping for.

Interestingly enough, by the time we reached North Hampton about 1:30pm, the drizzle had more or less stopped. We saw a number of surfboards at North Hampton Beach State Park, so we pulled into a parking space and took a look at about a couple score people (guys and girls) in dark wet suits trying to catch a wave. The waves weren't very high; the storm wasn't really that intense, but you had to give them credit for trying!

Driving further north, we made it to Portsmouth. There were signs for Sunday's Portsmouth Criterium bicycle race, which seems to be an annual event on Market Square, and parking was difficult to find in the city... we had a few places that Sandra and I agreed would be nice for lunch--Muddy River Smokehouse, Molly Malone's, and Rusty Hammer. After a five minute trek to find a parking spot, we found one on Market Street right across from the Hammer, so that's where we had lunch.

The Rusty Hammer has a rather unassuming menu, focusing on sandwiches and burgers (named "Wimpy's," after the old Popeye character that would pay you on Tuesday for a burger today). I had a bacon-cheddar burger, and Sandra had a turkey club. The food was good, as usual. One minor flaw was that I've always remembered the Hammer as having Bass Ale on tap, but when I ordered it, I got a bottle instead--apparently, it's no longer on draft. The waitress apologized for not warning me about the change in advance; I think she thought that the two of us were regulars and knew about it already.

After a very nice meal, Sandra and I proceeded to Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth's outdoor historical museum dedicated to the renovation and restoration of the historic buildings from one of America's oldest colonial settlements. I became a member of Strawbery Banke about ten years ago, and my membership allows me to visit the museum for free.

This past weekend, Strawbery Bank was having its Garden Harvest Festival Weekend--I received a notice about it in the mail on Friday, and it was one of the reasons that Sandra and I decided on the Seacoast again this weekend. It was a nice, relaxing visit (as always!), and we watched a presentation by Kathleen Wall, Foodways Historian from Plimouth Plantation (sigh; do you know how difficult it is to get spelling checkers to ignore quaint colonial spelling?) in Plymouth, MA. Her presentation was in character (first person narrative) regarding Colonial Harvest, specifically what a person coming from England would need to know about planting a vegetable garden in this newfangled place called New England in the mid-1600's.

Sandra and I noticed that the sun had finally come out around 3pm, so we walked around the different places at Strawbery Banke. We visited the Cotton Tenant House Potters—a family favorite location—listening to the potter explain about the life of a teenager in the 1800s and early 1900s to a seventeen-year-old, who apparently got a slightly better appreciation of enduring school! After that, Sandra had a chocolate chip cookie from Pitt's Tavern.

There was a Harvest Supper planned for 6pm, but Sandra and I didn't really want to stay that long. Instead, the two of us got back in the car and continued north up US-1 into Maine until we got to Cape Neddick. From there, we took route 1-A to another family favorite restaurant, Cape Neddick Lobster Pound.

The Lobster Pound was now in Autumn schedule (closed Tuesdays), and they had lobster specials (pound and pound and a quarter lobsters, available singly or by twin). Sandra chose a single pound and a quarter lobster with a small cup of clam chowder. Since I don't care much for lobster, I opted for their Friday and Saturday special of prime rib, with Buffalo wings as my appetizer.

As usual, Sandra's chowder was excellent--thick and creamy. My wings were very tasty (albeit messy with a huge amount of Buffalo sauce) as well. Our main courses arrived and we truly enjoyed our meals. The service was excellent, and our table was at a window with a nice view of the inland marshes next to the Pound.

There was still some daylight left at 6pm, so we continued to head north to Ogunquit (also in Maine). I could tell from the glimpses of shoreline on the way that we were at or near low tide, which is the best way to experience the beach at Ogunquit at dusk... the amount of beach you can walk on goes from a tiny strip at high tide to a rather large expanse at low tide. Sandra and I walked along the beach for about a half hour, and then we ended up sitting at the bar at Splash, which is located right on the beach with wonderful views of the beach and the ocean. Sandra had a Diet Coke, and I had a Sebago Red beer as we watched the Boston Red Sox doing well against the Yankees. When Sandra and I left Splash, the Sox were ahead 10-1.

We drove straight home from Ogunquit, and we learned that the Sox indeed beat the Yankees that day, ending their five game losing streak to the Bronx Bombers.

All in all, it was an enjoyable way to spend a day. Although the weather didn't look promising at the start, it actually turned out to be a nice day. We really hadn't anticipated the bonus of a romantic walk on the beach... isn't it great how things just work out sometimes?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Caesar Salad

I can remember the first time I enjoyed Caesar Salad.

I was at a rather nice restaurant called Island Squire in Middle Island, NY (on Long Island, just east of Coram on Middle Country Road—unfortunately, it's been out of business since the mid-1990s) with Sandra. This had to be after Sandra and I got married (1981) but before 1986. We've always known the Island Squire was better than average; it had great food, and on weekends, they had shows (comedy acts, singers, sometimes a play). Later on, the Island Squire would entrench itself in my wife's family's hearts when her brother Craig was hired there as head Chef.

Anyway, before Craig was chef there, I took Sandra out for a nice dinner. I saw in the menu that they had Caesar Salad that they would prepare table-side. I knew that Sandra loved salads, and that we'd both would enjoy watching them prepare the salad. Sandra was unsure, having never tried Caesar Salad before, but was game to have the experience. My only familiarity with Caesar Salad was that it had Romaine lettuce and was served with some sort of vinaigrette dressing.

Not long after we placed our order, the hostess arrived with a rolling table, and she prepared the salad in front of us. Sandra's reaction to the process was priceless. She watched in dismay when the hostess added a raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, and then--horror of horrors--anchovies and yellow mustard. I knew that none of the ingredients I mentioned are things that Sandra enjoys, so I was worried that I'd be eating a "salad for two" by myself. To be fair, there were other things added that we both would definitely enjoy, like garlic, Parmesan cheese, and croutons, but it was those "other ingredients" that had us worried.

When the hostess put generous portions of salad on Sandra's plate, my wife surprised me by trying a bit. Her face brightened up considerably, and in record time, she finished it. Sandra truly enjoyed it!

It was weird; all those things that Sandra didn't like, when mixed together, became a tasty salad!

Not long afterward, I took one of our wedding presents that we received but never used--a wooden salad bowl given to us by Don Verity, my boss when I got married--and reproduced the salad from memory using the same basic ingredients used by the hostess at the Island Squire. Wonder of wonder... my first attempt came out nicely!

I've read that the salad originated in Mexico, either at a hotel in Mexico City or by somebody named "Caesar," but it's now an American tradition. Today, Caesar Salad is one of the more popular salads you'll find on a restaurant menu. You won't find too many places that prepare it table-side like they did at the Island Squire (the only place in New England where we've had it prepared this way was the Prince Grotto, which was run by the now-closed Prince Spaghetti company in Lowell, MA), but you can find it augmented with grilled chicken, shrimp, or other bits of meat to make it into a single meal.

The following recipe is reproduced from one that appeared in the Nashua Telegraph by Marc Bouchon.

Caesar Salad

Source:Marc Bouchard, Nashua Telegraph, August 22, 2007

4 large garlic cloves

2 cups French baguette slices, cut up into ½-inch cubes

3 tablespoons , plus ⅓ cup virgin olive oil


2 flat anchovies packed in oil (save the oil)

3 tablespoons pasteurized eggs (or 1 large fresh egg)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Freshly ground pepper

2 medium heads Romaine lettuce, trimmed and washed

⅓ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush 2 garlic cloves with the side of a knife or with a garlic press. Slice up the baguette, and cut them into ½-inch cubes.

Combine the garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, a pinch of salt and the bread cubes in a bowl. Mix until cubes are coated evenly. Spread the coated cubes onto a baking sheet, and bake until the croutons are golden. This should take about 10 minutes.

Crush and mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves. Mince the anchovies to make 11/2 teaspoons paste.

Mix the minced garlic, anchovy paste, any reserved anchovy oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and mustard in a bowl. Add a healthy pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk until smooth.

Slowly add the remaining ⅓ cup olive oil in a steady stream while constantly whisking again until smooth. Taste the dressing, and add additional ingredients to suit your taste. (Taste hint: If the dressing needs a little extra acid, try 1 or 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar.)

Tear the romaine lettuce into 1- to 2-inch pieces and add them to a large bowl, wooden if you have one. Add half the dressing, toss, add remaining dressing, Parmesan cheese and croutons, and toss again. Serve on chilled plates.

OPTIONAL: Garnish the plates with slices of lemon, slivers of anchovies, extra croutons or toasted pieces of French baguette. Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese makes a nice finishing touch on top.

TIP: Make this dressing in larger batches and refrigerate it for later use. It will keep for up to a week if properly made.

Marc Bouchard of Hudson is executive chef at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown, Mass. Address comments or questions to him c/o Lifestyles, The Telegraph, P.O. Box 1008, Nashua, NH 03061.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ghee Rice

Ghee Rice

I mentioned in a previous blog about Ghee, which, according to the Wikipedia, is "made made by simmering unsalted butter in a large pot until all water has boiled off and protein has settled to the bottom. The clarified butter is then spooned off to avoid disturbing the milk solids on the bottom of the pan."

In the past, I've used ghee purchased at our local Indian grocery stores, but it's simple enough to make at home that I've been doing it "from scratch" in the past few years.

Simply melt half a stick of (preferably unsalted) butter in a small dish in a microwave oven for about two minutes, until a white froth appears at the top of the liquid. Remove from the oven and wait a few minutes for the solids to sink to the bottom. Spoon off the clear liquid (this is the ghee). You can save the ghee in the refrigerator for a month or so, assuming that it is stored in a container with a tight lid.

Ghee rice is a staple of many South Asian cuisines, consisting of aromatic basmati rice cooked with thinly sliced onions that have been sauteéd in Ghee. As an accompaniment, it was one of the first Indian foods that Sandra and I ever made, while I was making my first chicken curry from scratch. We've made it so many times that Sandra and the kids have it committed to memory (two cups rice, three cups stock, onions, cloves, cardomom seeds, cinnamon stick).

This goes very well with Chicken Tikka Masala, Butter Chicken, Curries, and most any other Indian or Sri Lankan dish.

Ghee Rice

Source:Savoring the Spice Coast of India
Fresh Flavors from Kerala
By Maya Kaimal
HarperCollins Publishers, 2000
Hardback, $ 27.50
ISBN: 0-06-019257-7
Prep Time:45 minutes
Yield:Serves: 6
Many Mappilas (Kerala Muslims) prefer their rice seasoned this way rather than plain. This buttery, slightly perfumed rice is good with Chicken Kurma, Chicken with Green Chilies and Tamarind, Spicy Chicken Liver Curry, or Lamb Vindaloo (see the book for recipes).


1 cups basmati rice

3 Tbs Ghee

1 cup thinly sliced onions

1 (2-inch) piece cinnamon, broken in two

4 whole cloves

4 cardamom pods, crushed

1 ½ cups water or chicken stock

In a large bowl wash the rice in many changes of water until the water no longer appears cloudy. Drain thoroughly.

In a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid heat the ghee. Add the onions, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. Fry until the onions brown along the edges. Put in the drained rice and sauté for about 2 minutes, or until the grains of rice begin to jump on the bottom of the pan.

Add water (or stock) and the salt and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and steam for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Bon Appetit

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hampton Beach Seafood Festival

I watched the weather forecast every day since Labor Day to see how the weather would be this past weekend.


The weekend after Labor Day is the annual Hampton Beach Seafood Festival!

The forecast initially showed good weather, but later in the week, it was warning about scattered thundershowers and rain.

We decided to go, anyway.

Hampton Beach is more or less New Hampsha's only ocean beach town (there are a couple of others, but Hampton is probably the most popular). If you check out the town, you'll mostly see your typical souvenir stands, fast food joints, arcade parlors, and a rather long expanse of beach that is meticulously "combed" every night. The water of the North Atlantic is pretty cold year round. During the off-season a lot of the stores are closed, although the town isn't dead by any means. Still, I'm not really a beach person, so I tend to avoid Hampton Beach, since it's usually very crowded in season.

The festival has been happening in Hampton since 1990, and I guess I've been going since 1999 or so. The idea is to showcase the various specialties of the restaurants on the seacoast. State Route 1A, also known as Ocean Avenue, is closed between H Street and the Memorial Statue and eleven tents are set up, housing crafts vendors, food vendors, a separate "beer tent" (Gladys and Louie's Pub), a culinary demonstration tent, souvenir and local vendors.

The Seafood Festival is also, without a doubt, the most crowded you'll ever see Hampton Beach: over a hundred thousand people attend the three day event!

So, what kind of food is available at the festival? Glad you asked!

One place that's a favorite of Sandra's and mine is called "Grater Tater," which is run by Casino Fast Food. A single potato is peeled and processed by a machine that looks like a drill press mounted sideways resulting in a single elongated spiral "potato chip," which is deep fried and served as a huge pile on a paper plate. According to one of the people that worked at the Grater Tater booth, this snack is only available at the festival; none of the Casino Fast Food sites serve it any other time of the year.

There is also standard New England seafood fare, such as seafood and clam chowders (some in bread bowl), lobster rolls, fried and BBQ shrimp, fish and chips, boiled lobster, steamers, and other tasty treats.

Sandra and I arrived in Hampton Beach around 10am on Saturday. Although there is free parking and shuttles in Hampton, we decided to park closer to the actual festival. We took Rt 101 into Hampton Beach, taking Brown Avenue to arrive on Ashworth near the Casino Ballroom. On the way, we passed a few parking lots that wanted ten and twenty dollars a day for parking, but since the Casino parking lot was only fifteen bucks and was pretty well centrally located, we decided to park there.

We wandered from one end of the tents to the other. One of our favorite food vendors, the Hampton Firefighters, had just stopped serving one of our traditional "first meals" of the festival--delicious omelet muffin sandwiches... apparently, they ran out of eggs. They promised that they'd have more on Sunday, but we were not going to be there that day. Sandra and I promised ourselves we'll arrive a bit earlier next year.

In the craft tents, we found a vendor selling some interesting sun catchers, and we purchased a special gift from a place called "Family Signs," where we visited a teacher from the kids' middle school, Mr. Cullen, who is usually working the craft tent. (He asked about the kids and told me to tell them he said "Hi!" and good luck in college!)

The "Beer Tent" is traditionally the most popular place in the festival, being that it not only serves beer, but has the only tables where you can sit and enjoy your purchases from the food tent. This tent fills up quickly when it opens at 11am, and Sandra and I managed to find a table that had a couple from Leominster, MA. The beers at the tent were Budweiser and Bud Lite, Widmer and Long Hammer IPA from Red Hook brewery, and a Bacardi cooler. The Red Hook brews probably appeal to beer snobs like me, whereas the Anheuser Busch beers are more universally enjoyed.

The heat was pretty oppressive on Saturday; I saw a Weather Channel update that said that nearby Portsmouth, NH reached a record 93 degrees. The humidity made it even more uncomfortable, and later in the afternoon, we could see the storm clouds in the sky. By mutual consent, Sandra and I left earlier that we originally planned, missing the fireworks, but we had a great time anyway.

Will we go again next year? You bet!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Column on Columns

Note: This will probably only appeal to the geek crowd... You've been forewarned!

People looking at the recipes on this blog may notice that I use some special formatting that most people may not be aware the can be achieved in HTML.

When I first started collecting recipes on the Internet, I used to just save a text file containing the recipe. After a while, I had a bunch of recipes that defied any sort of ability to classify. Some of my recipes were in "final form" (HTML or PDF); some were just collected off USENET and were in text form.

Being a person that likes to keep his information in order, I decided that I needed to put some semblance of order into my recipes. After looking at a lot of recipes, I decided that a good format would include the following:

  • Recipe Title
  • Summary: recipe yield, time to cook, where I found the recipe
  • A description of the recipe
  • Ingredients list
  • Directions
  • A few notes on the recipe

Since I've never considered HTML as a good way to store this information, I turned to XML, which is well suited to mark up just about any kind of textual information. I decided on a few good XML tags that should help me organize my existing recipe collection.

My markup tags included a header and a details section. The header basically contains the summary of the recipe--all information somebody would need without actually getting into the ingredients or preparation of the recipe itself. The details contains the ingredients list and the directions (sometimes more than one of each for recipes where there are multiple parts, such as spaghetti sauce and meatballs).

In the header, I allow the following tags:

  • recipe: Names the recipe
  • image: a pointer to a picture of the prepared recipe (this doesn't print on hardcopy versions of my recipes)
  • source: Where did I find this recipe? Food Network? Local paper? Usually contains a hyperlink to the site or the actual recipe.
  • time: Length of time it takes to prepare. There can be more than one of these tags, with the attribute "type" that can be, for example, Preparation, Totol, Cooking, etc.
  • yield: How much does this recipe make?
  • cdate: The date that I cataloged the recipe
  • desc: A short (or long) description of the recipe. It depends on the site from where I get a recipe. I happen to like the descriptions on Simply Recipes and Smitten Kitchen, so I usually include portions of them verbatim.

In the details section, I have two main sections, either of which can be repeated and in any order.
  • ingredients: A list of ingredients, enclosed in "item" tags for each item. The item contains a "qty" attribute to allow me to specify a particular quantity. Maybe in the future, I'll write a program that will allow me to "double" or increase a recipe; the "qty" attributes will make that easier. The ingredients usually appear first in the details section.
  • directions: A step by step list of directions for creating the recipe. Consists of "step" tags, although I have specialized "notes" tags that may appear as well ("nutrition" for nutritional information, "itemized" for itemized information within "item" tags, "hdr" for any kind of headers, etc.).

The tags within the details section also allow for a generic "notes" tag for superscript information (footnotes) or other information that may be noteworthy.

I have a Perl script that is rather clever at parsing most recipes I find into the proper tags (even determining where the recipe looks like it came from and properly adding the "source" tag). If it sees a reference to a picture, it downloads the image to my web server and adds an "image" tag as well.

Finally, I have an XSLT (a language for transforming XML documents into other XML documents, including HTML) to translate my XML recipes into HTML for easy reading using a web browser.

That XSLT has some clever code within it as well: It counts the number of items in my "ingredients" section, and divides them into two columns (the first half into the left column, and the second half into a right column). My transformation code also changes complex fractions (for example, "1/4") into HTML entities (for example, ¼).

The generated HTML is matched with one of two style sheets (one for display screens, one for printed copies) that provides the necessary formatting code to make my recipes appear consistent.

My recipe collection is stored on my home web server, accessible by myself and any member of my family. I copy them out of my recipe collection into the blog when I'm sharing them out.

And that, my dear readers (if you managed to get this far), is how and why my recipes appear the way they do on this blog.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Pumpkin Soup

On October 16th, 2002, I was driving somewhere for lunch and was listening to my car radio. On WBUR, the "Here and Now" show was on, and Kathy Gunst was discussing "Pumpkin Soup with Fried Sage Leaves."

Now, I will be the first to admit that I'm not your typical pumpkin soup aficionado. In fact, the mental image that it conjures up is more akin to something so sickeningly sweet that I'd avoid it just on principle. However, it was on the radio, and I thought it might be something that my wife, Sandra, and the kids might like.

I was more than a bit surprised that the soup that was described was savory, rather than sweet. They said the recipe would be available on the program's web site, so later that evening I went out and found it.

Unfortunately, that recipe is no longer on the site—their archives only go back to 2003. I still have the PDF file that contained the recipe, though, and it mentions that the recipe comes from Kathy Gunst's book Relax, Company's Coming! (note: hyperlink most likely contains WBUR's reference referrer link).

However, it's still an interesting dish, and in a month or so, we will be getting into Pumpkin Season up here in New Hampsha. It totally changed my mind about pumpkin soups. Imagine that.

Kathy Gunst's Pumpkin Soup with Fried Sage Leaves

Source:WBURs Here and Now on Wednesday October 16th, 2002, from the Book "Relax, Company's Coming!"
Yield:Serves 12.
Find a small sugar pumpkin that will be easy to cut and get ready for one of the most soothing, comforting and satisfying soups imaginable. The pale orange color is spectacular, particularly when topped with green fried sage leaves. The soup can be made 24 hours ahead of time and it can also be frozen if you have a bumper crop of pumpkins. You can make the soup and serve as is or make it more complex by topping it with fried sage leaves, croutons, and a swirl of heavy cream or crème fraîche.


2 pound sugar pumpkin

3 leeks cut into 1-inch pieces, about 2 cups

1-tablespoon olive oil

1-teaspoon butter

1-tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

1-tablespoon fresh sage, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

7 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

Sage And Croutons

1 bunch fresh sage

About 2 to 3 cups olive oil or safflower oil

2 cups croutons


Using a large, sharp knife cut the pumpkin into chunks. Remove the seeds and stringy sections of the pumpkin and place in a bowl. (You can separate the seeds and roast them or discard.) Carefully cut the rind off the pumpkin and cut the flesh into 1 to 2 inch pieces. You should have about 8 cups.

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and butter over moderate heat. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes. Add salt, pepper, thyme and sage. Add the pumpkin, stir and cook for 1 minute. Cover and cook 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer about 25 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender. Remove and let cool slightly.

Working in a blender or food processor, blend the soup. Taste for seasoning and warm over low heat. Makes about 12 cups.

To fry the sage leaves: heat the oil in a medium, heavy skillet over high heat until the oil is just beginning to smoke. Carefully clip off small bundles of sage leaves (about 3 to 4 leaves per bunch) and very carefully drop into the hot oil. Let fry about 30 seconds, Drain well on paper towels. Add a bunch of sage to each soup bowl. Don't make the sage more than one hour ahead of time or it will wilt.

Bon Appetit!