Sunday, November 28, 2010

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Greece

The eighth stop on my culinary adventure is Greece.  While Ethiopia may have been the birthplace of mankind, Greece is, in some ways, the birthplace of cooking.  In 320 B.C., Archestratos wrote the first cookbook.  Ancient Greek cuisine focused typically on wheat, olive oil and wine.  The use of meat was not common; instead, fish was the principal protein, which is to be expected given the large amount of coastlines and islands that are a part of Greece.  Oregano, parsley and dill are the principal herbs used in Greek cuisine.  Over time, more spices were introduced into Greek cooking, principally because of the country's geographic position between Europe and the Middle East.


Returning to the present day, my personal challenge requires me to prepare a main dish; however, I wanted to make a Greek meal.  I decided to begin with a mezze, which is an individual plate designed to each provide a different eating experience.  Normally, one would have a couple of mezzes; however, given I have to make a main dish for my personal challenge, I decided to make only one.  The mezze is Domatokeftedes, a dish from Santorini of fried tomato fritters.  

Adapted from
Serves 2-3 

1 to 1 1/2 cup of fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 bunch of parsley, chopped
1/4 bunch of mint, chopped
2 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
3/4 cup of flour
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper to taste,
Olive oil for frying

1.  Prepare the batter.  Mix the tomatoes, herbs, scallions, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Adjust seasoning to your tastes.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder together, then stir into the tomato mixture to make a batter.  If the batter is too thick, add a little water.  If it is too thin, add a little flour.

2.  Fry the Domatokeftedes.  Heat the olive oil on medium-high.  Drop small spoonfuls of the tomato mixture into the oil and flatten slightly. Watch for splattering.   Fry on one side until brown and then flip to brown on the other side.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve either immediately or at room temperature.

To accompany the Domatokeftedes, I decided to make some Tzatziki, which is a cucumber/yogurt sauce or meze that is typically identified with Greek cuisines (although there are variants of this sauce in Bulgarian, Turkish and Persian cuisines). The Tzatziki was a great dipping sauce for the Domatokeftedes.

Adapted from

1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 tablespoon of vinegar
1 clove garlic, diced finely
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of white pepper
1/2 cup of Greek yogurt, strained
1/2 cup of sour cream
1 cucumber, diced and seeded
1/2 teaspoon of fresh dill

1.  Combine the olive oil, salt, garlic, vinegar and pepper in a bowl.

2.  In a separate bowl, blend the yogurt and sour cream with a whisk.  Then add the olive oil mixture and stir well.

3.  Add the cucumber and dill.  Continue to stir and then refrigerate for at least two hours.


For the main dish, I decided to make Psari Spetsiotiko or Fish Baked with Tomatoes and Breadcrumbs.  This dish is supposed to have originated in Spetses, which is fishing town southwest of Athens.  It is a simple fishing village food consisting of fish baked with breadcrumbs and a tomato sauce that includes parsley, honey and a few other ingredients. 

Adapted from
Serves 2-3 

1 pound of fish fillets
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup of breadcrumbs
1/2 lemon, juice only
1-2 garlic cloves, diced finely
1 cup of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup white wine
1 teaspoon of honey
1/8 cup of chopped parsley
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1.  Prepare the fish.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread the half of the olive oil in a baking dish large enough to hold all of the fish in a single layer.  Sprinkle half of the breadcrumbs over the bottom of the dish.  Lay the fish over the breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle the lemon juice over the fish.

2.  Prepare the sauce.  Heat the remaining olive oil over medium.  And the garlic and saute briefly for one minute.  Add the tomatoes, honey, wine, parsley, salt and pepper and simmer for about 5 minutes.  

3.  Cook the fish.  Pour the tomato sauce over the fish and sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs.  Bake in the oven until the fish is cooked through, about fifteen to 20 minutes, and the breadcrumbs have formed a golden crust.


Finally , I decided to make a vegetable side dish to accompany the Psari Spetsiotiko.  I wanted to challenge myself with the side dish, so I decided to make something with artichokes.  Artichokes have their place in Italian cuisine and I have read a lot about the use of artichokes in recipes.  They also have their place in Greek cuisine.  So, for the side dish, I decided to make Aginares Latheres (pronounced ahg-kee-NAH-rehs lah-theh-RES) or αγκινάρες λαδερές. 

Adapted from
Serves 2-3 

1 carrot, cut in to thick slices
1-2 potatoes, cut into cubes
1 bunch of scallions (or 1 onion), chopped
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
1-2 tablespoons of fresh dill, finely chopped
1 1/2 lemons, juice only
1/2 tablespoon of flour
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 to 1 1/4 cups of water

1.  Prepare the artichokes.  Clean the artichokes by removing the outer leaves and the stems.  Cut off the top (down to just above the choke) and scoop out the choke with a spoon.  Trim off remaining leaves around the sides to leave just the pale colored heart.  Rub the artichoke hearts with lemon as soon as each is cleaned and immediately place the hearts in a bowl with water and half of the lemon juice.  This will prevent the artichoke hearts from turning black.
2.  Saute the vegetables.  In a soup pot, saute the scallions or onion until translucent.  Add the carrots and potatoes and continue to saute for about 5 minutes more.  Thereafter, add the artichoke hearts, dill, celery, salt, and pepper, continuing to stir.

3.  Add liquid and flour.  Add the remaining lemon juice to about 1/2 cup of water.  Add flour and continue to mix until smooth.  Add the mixture to the pot, stirring until it is mixed well with the vegetables.  Add the remaining water to cover the vegetables and bring to a boil.

4.  Finish cooking the vegetables.  Then reduce the heat so that the vegetables simmer.  Cover and let cook over low heat until the vegetables are done, after about one-half hour.

*     *     *

Overall, the Domatokeftedes (along with the Tzatziki) and the Psari Spetsiotiko were very good and I would definitely make these dishes again.  The Agineres Latheres did not turn out well, primarily because of my inexperience with cooking artichokes.  I did not include any pictures because I was not happy with the final product.  I included the recipe, which was reduced for two people, for anyone who wanted to try it.  You can also click on the link to get the full recipe. I definitely intend to try cooking with artichokes in the future, but I think I need to do more preparation before attempting this Agineres Latheres or any other dish featuring artichokes in the future.

In the end, this may not have been my best meal (although I have to say again that the Domatokeftedes were very good), I think that it was definitely a good experience.  Well, until next time....


To learn more on Greek cuisine, check out Wikipedia or Greek Food.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Couple of Quick Post-Thanksgiving Thoughts

When I wished everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, I did not expect to do any cooking.  But, as it turned out, I did quite a bit of cooking over the weekend.  It was no bother, as I love to cook.  And, whenever I cook, I try to take away some lessons or new ideas.  And, after a couple days of cooking on Thursday and Friday nights, I came away with two things that I will keep in mind for the next Thanksgiving.

First, on Thanksgiving night, Clare's father, Frank, had the great idea of using the neck of the turkey, along with the organs (gizzard, liver and heart) to make a quick turkey stock.  I think most people simply throw those parts of the turkey away during the preparation of the turkey for the oven.  However, Frank and I were able to create a great turkey stock that has a lot of potential uses.  We used it to give the stuffing a great turkey flavor, substituting part of the water required by the recipe with the stock, creating the impression that the stuffing had been cooked inside the turkey.


Turkey neck
Turkey innards (heart, liver, gizzard)
4 cups of water
1/2 cup of white wine
2 bay leaves
18 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
Salt, to taste

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan or pot and bring to a simmer. 

2.  Let the ingredients simmer for at least three or four hours, reducing the liquid by about half.

3.  Strain the liquid and set aside for use in the stuffing or other dishes.

One great benefit from this stock recipe that the meat from the neck, along with the organs, is very tasty, because they have been infused with the flavors from the stock.

Second, on Friday night, a couple of close family friends cooked a turkey for a large group of guests, who were also family and friends.  Their interesting twist to cooking the turkey was that they stuffed the cavity with grapefruit.  Generally, if you are not going to stuff a turkey with traditional stuffing, you need to add something in the cavity to prevent the turkey (especially the turkey breasts) from drying out during the cooking process.  I had heard of using oranges, lemons or limes to stuff the cavity, but never thought of using grapefruit.  What I can say is that the turkey was definitely moist.

Well, those are the quick culinary thoughts that I took from this past weekend.  I am very grateful to everyone who opened their homes for two great evenings, complete with delicious dinners and great times with family and friends. 


Friday, November 26, 2010

Risotto dell'Aragosto con Zafferano

I've been wanting to make Saffron Lobster Risotto for Clare for some time.  I've made the dish for Clare a couple times in the past, but I had the urge to make it for her again.  And, I had a great opportunity recently because a local supermarket has been having a sale on lobster tails, $5.99 per 6 ounce tail.  So, I bought four tails and went to work on making the risotto. 

Generally, when I make this risotto I try to draw my inspiration from Abruzzo, the region in Italy from where my mother's relatives emigrated to the United States.  Abruzzo is a truly interesting region in the culinary sense.  To the east, there is the Adriatic Sea, which is the source for a lot of seafood.  In the west, there are the mountains, where farming is limited but herding provides lamb and mutton.  And, in between, there are fields and valleys, where farmers grow wheat, olives, grapes and, for this recipe, saffron.

Crocus Sativus (Picture is from Wikipedia)
Saffron, which is the dried stem of the Crocus Sativus, grows on the Navelli plain in the province of L'Aquila in Abruzzo.  According to legend, a priest named Santucci brought saffron to Abruzzo from Spain during the height of the Inquisition.  Since then, farmers have cultivated and grown saffron in Abruzzo; however, they do not produce enough to export the spice outside of Italy.  When you see saffron in the stores, it is most likely from Kashmir or Spain, but its cultivation practically extends around the world, where farmers in Greece, Turkey, Iran, India, China and even the United States cultivate the flower for the precious stems that provide a truly unique flavor -- and its signature yellowish color -- to any dish.   

So, for me, the lobster represents the coastline of Abruzzo, the saffron represents the fields of the region and, for the hills and mountains, there is the wine.  The recipe calls for 1 cup of white wine and, in my nod to the Abruzzo region, I used a Trebbiano d'Abruzzo.

Finally, I decided to change how I made the risotto.  I made the rice and the lobster separately, combining the two at the end just before plating the dish.  The reason for the change is that I wanted to try to perfect the saffron risotto itself, without adding the flavors of the lobster into the risotto.  In other words, I wanted to be able to take a fork of risotto and just taste the risotto and the saffron, without the lobster. 

In the end, this dish is like two separate dishes -- lobster and saffron risotto.  Whether taken separately or together, lobster and risotto make for one great dish.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

Ingredients for the broth:
4 cups of seafood stock
2 cups of water
Several large basil leaves
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
A healthy pinch of saffron

Ingredients for the Risotto:

1 1/2 cups of arborio rice
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 sweet or Vidalia onion, minced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup of white wine
2-3 tablespoons of fresh flat leave parsley, finely chopped

Ingredients for the Lobster:
4 lobster tails
2 cloves of garlic, diced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Several basil leaves, chopped finely
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper.
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Take a pair of kitchen scissors (scissors that you use to cut food, like chicken or seafood) and cut down the back of the tail.  Cut down the middle and then open the tail.  Work your fingers in between the meat and the shell to separate them.  Pull the lobster meat out gently.  Cut into even size pieces and set aside in the refrigerator.

2.  Make the broth by combining the seafood stock and water in a pot.   Heat the broth until it is just about to boil, reduce the heat and allow it to simmer.  Add the basil and the saffron.  Let the broth simmer for about 15 to 30 minutes. 

3.  Add the olive oil in a separate pot and heat to medium.  Add the onions first and saute for several minutes until translucent.  After a couple of minutes of sauteing the onions, add the garlic and continue to saute.

4.  When the onions and garlic are translucent, add the arborio rice and stir to cover the rice with the olive oil, onions and garlic.  Then add the white wine and continue to stir until the wine is almost absorbed by the rice.

5.  When the wine is just about absorbed by the rice, add 1 cup of the broth and continue to stir.   Simmer slowly and stir often until the liquid is almost absorbed.  Adjust the heat of necessary so that the stock does not evaporate too quickly.  Once that cup of broth is almost absorbed by the rice, add another cup of the broth and continue to stir.

6.  Continue adding stock either by 1/2 cup or 1 cup amounts to the risotto, stirring continuously until the stock is absorbed.  Every once in a while, taste the rice.  Once the rice becomes creamy in consistency and is cooked al dente (firm to the bite), it is done. 

7.  When the rice is almost finished, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a saute pan on medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and saute for one minute.  Add the lobster and garlic.  Saute the lobster for about five minutes, until the lobster is translucent.  Stir often to ensure that all sides of the lobster are cooked through.


For more information about the history of saffron in Abruzzo, check out Delicious Italy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I don't have any recipes to post for Thanksgiving, as I have the opportunity to be a guest, rather than the cook. I have a lot of great ideas for cooking the turkey and for the various side dishes; however, I don't post recipes until after I have tried making them.  So, all of those ideas and recipes will have to wait.  (It will be a different case when it comes to Christmas, as I will be making feasts for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  I hope to have a lot of recipes to share at that time.)

Still, I wanted to take this moment to say that I am thankful for my family and my friends.  I am truly blessed to have such supportive people who take an interest in the dishes that I make (as well as my thoughts about beer and wine) and who support me even when I am uncertain about the results.  Your support has helped to motivate me in the pursuit of my hobby -- or, as I like to call it, my culinary adventures -- and have put me in a position that I never thought would be possible ... broadcasting my cooking to the entire world through a blog. Although I could say that my cooking abilities have been developed by the many books and Internet sites I read, or by simply cooking a lot, I think that the reason why I cook as well as I do is because of the support from people like you.  

In short, on this Thanksgiving day, I am thankful for all of you....

I hope you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dogfish Head -- Saison du Buff

One craft brewer can make some great beers.  When you get three craft brewers together, they can make some unbelievable beers.  Such is the case of the Saison du Buff, which is a collaboration between Dogfish Head, Stone and Victory Brewing.  The three brewmasters brewed a saison, but the ingredients they used are truly special because they are some of the flavors that I love to use in my cooking.  The ingredients ... parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

The beer pours like a saison, light gold in color with a good foam.  But the beer hardly tastes like a saison.  No banana or clove flavors.  It is primarily sage and rosemary, although the thyme and parsley can also be tasted.  The beer is fairly dry, which is also different than a typical saison.  The ABV is about 6.8%.

But one does not expect anything typical from breweries such as Dogfish Head, Stone or Victory.  Each brewery brewed this beer, using the same recipe.  The one I tasted is the one brewed by Dogfish Head although I also have a bottle of the one brewed by Stone.  Dogfish was the last to brew the beer, having brewed it in August of this year.  Victory brewed it in July and Stone brewed it in late April.

The beers are relatively cheap, about $3.50 for a twelve ounce bottle, but they are hard to find.  I bought the Stone version at Binny's in Chicago, Illinois and the Dogfish Head version at State Line Liquors in Elkton, Maryland.  If you can find a bottle, I strongly recommend that you buy it and try it!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Abita's SOS

A couple years ago, when we were visiting Clare's parents, her father bought a six pack of Abita Restoration Ale, which really got me interested in Abita beer.  Abita is one of a handful of breweries in New Orleans, Louisiana and, after Hurricane Katrina, it may be the only one left.  The troubles endured by New Orleans and Southern Louisiana have inspired Abita to produce some really good beers, like its Restoration Ale, which is dedicated to the restoration of the city after the hurricane.

More recently, while oil was spewing into the Gulf and devastating the environment, Abita used its beermaking prowess for good, brewing a beer called "Save our Shores," a charitable pilsner.  The SOS is a Weizen Pils that is brewed with pilsner and wheat malts. As you can see from the picture, the beer pours a nice golden color and is very carbonated, producing a thick foam at the top.  The beer is smooth, with just a hint of hoppiness from the Sterling and German Perle hops.  The beer has an ABV of 7.0%, which gives it a little more punch than your average pilsner. 

Abita dedicates seventy-five cents of every $4.99 bottle to the rescue and restoration of the environment and the the fishing industry, both of which have been devastated by the oil spill.  While I would normally encourage people to buy this beer for that fact alone, this little bit of charity has a good return, namely, a very good pilsner. 


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Atun Mojo y Poblanos que Estella con el Camaron y el Arroz

I was staring at the seafood counter at my local Whole Foods and I saw something I had not seen before ... fresh albacore tuna.  And that got me to thinking about how I could prepare this fish.  Personally, I like to use marinades or rubs, and a mojo was on my mind.  Mojo is a Cuban marinade usually made with sour orange juice, garlic, black peppercorns, and salt.  Some recipes add other ingredients.  If you don't have sour orange juice, most recipes suggest 2 parts orange juice, 1 part lemon juice and 1 part lime juice.  Lacking sour orange juice, I used the combo of orange, lemon and lime juice, buying fresh fruit and juicing them myself.

As I was walking through the produce section, I came across a pepper that I like but usually don't cook with ... poblanos.  Chile rellenos immediately came to mind, but you typically deep fry chile rellenos and I did not want to do that.  Instead, I decided that I would roast the peppers and saute the stuffing,  I would then create the effect of a burst chile relleno by having the stuffing of rice and shrimp coming out of the poblano. 

In the end, I have a dish that draws its inspiration from Cuban cuisine with the mojo and Mexican cuisine with the poblano rellenos.  And, although the tuna ended up being a little overcooked (I turned away while making the poblanos), the poblanos were excellent. 

ATUN MOJO (Tuna with a Mojo Marinade)
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

3/4 pound of tuna
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 parts orange juice
1 part lemon juice
1 part lime juice
6-8 black peppercorns
1 cup of diced onion
3 cloves of garlic, diced
Salt, to taste

 1.  Combine all of the ingredients in a zip lock bag or bowl.  Add the tuna and let marinate for one or two hours.  Make sure to check the tuna every once in a while to ensure that all sides are covered by the mojo.

2. Heat the oil on medium-high heat.  Add the tuna and saute for 3-4 minutes or until the tuna turns opaque.  Flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and plate.

(Poblanos Bursting with Shrimp and Rice)
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

2 poblano peppers
1/2 pound of shrimp, shelled and de-veined
2 chipotle peppers, diced with adobo sauce
2 cups of diced onion
2 cloves of garlic, diced
6 cherry or plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 handful of cilantro, diced
3 cups of jasmine rice
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons of canola oil

1.  Roast the peppers over a flame until the skin blackens on all sides.  Remove and let cool.  Under running water, remove the black skin from the peppers.  Cut the bottom part off of the pepper and remove the seeds.

2.  Make the jasmine rice according to the instructions.  When I made it, I added cilantro to the boiling water before adding the rice.  I also finished the rice by mixing in a tablespoon or two of butter.

3.  Cut the shrimp into even sized pieces.  

4. Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and let saute for five minutes.  Add the tomato, chipotle peppers with adobo, garlic and cilantro.  Saute for five to eight minutes more.  Add the shrimp and continue to saute until the shrimp is opaque, which should only take a couple of minutes.

5.  Plate by stuffing the poblano peppers about half way with rice and let the rice flow onto the plate.  Stuff the peppers with the shrimp mixture with more over the rice on the plate.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Iron Chef Night: MUSHROOMS!

Clare asked me to cook for a couple of her friends who were visiting here and she wanted me to do an "Iron Chef" night.  The question was what would be the secret ingredient.  Two out of the three people I would be cooking for were pescatarians, they ate only vegetables and fish.  I am not a big fan of the "seasonal" vegetables, such as squash and pumpkins, and I do not have enough experience cooking with them to make dishes comfortably. After whittling down the possible ingredients (all meats, seasonal vegetables, etc.), the secret ingredient was MUSHROOMS.


Fortunately, there are a wide variety of mushrooms out there.  I decided to go a little outside of the comfort zone with some of the dishes.  I made three dishes: one soup, one risotto, and one main dish.

For the soup, I saw a recipe for a Basque-style creamy mushroom soup.  I used the recipe as a guide but modified it to accommodate our guests.  The recipe calls for beef stock, which I could not use, so I substituted vegetable stock.  I also added the garnish of a basil leave and pink peppercorns, the latter of which provided a peppery taste that was not really there based on the recipe.

Recipe adapted from one submitted by Paul Chapin to the Linguist List Cookbook
Serves 4 

1/4 pound of butter
2 scallions (white part only)
1/2 pound of mushrooms (I used cremini and portabello), sliced
4 cups of unsalted vegetable stock
1 cup of heavy cream
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter on medium high in a pot.  Saute the mushrooms for about 10 minutes.   Add the scallions and saute for about two or three minutes more.  Reserve about 1/4 to 1/3 of the mushrooms for later.

2.  Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and let it cook for 20 minutes.

3.  Remove from the heat and let it cool.  Pour into a blender and liquefy it.  Return the liquefied mixture to the pot.

4.  Add the heavy cream and stir.  Add the remaining butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking the butter into the soup and making sure that each tablespoon is fully melted and blended in to the soup before adding another tablespoon.

5.  Divide the reserved mushrooms between the bowls. Pour in the soup and garnish with whatever you like.  I used a basil leaf and 5 pink peppercorns.


The next dish is a Wild Mushroom Risotto.  Once again, I had to make some substitutions.  Just like the soup calls for the use of beef stock, I would have used beef stock (or maybe chicken stock) to make this risotto.  I substituted vegetable stock in this recipe and the reserved liquid from re-hydrating the mushrooms.  And, as for the mushrooms, I used a couple of dried "wild mushroom" packs that had morels, chanterelles, oysters, and other mushrooms.  You can use any mushrooms, dried or fresh, although I like to use dried mushrooms so that I have the reserved liquid to flavor the stock used to make the risotto.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4  

1/2 ounce of dried mushrooms
4 cups of unsalted vegetable stock
Liquid from re-hydrating mushrooms (optional)
4 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of toasted onion
1 cup of white wine
Handful of basil leaves
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Parmigiano Reggiano

1.  In a pot, heat the vegetable stock and the reserved mushroom liquid to a simmer.  Add the toasted onion and three large basil leaves.  Salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat and keep the stock warm.

2.  In another pot, heat four tablespoons of butter on medium heat.  Saute the mushrooms for about ten minutes.  Add the rice and mix with the mushrooms and butter.  Add the wine and stir.  Cook until the wine is almost absorbed, stirring often.

3.  Add 1 cup of the stock to the rice and continue to stir until that cup is almost absorbed.  Add another cup of stock and repeat.  Once that cup is almost absorbed, add another.  You will have to add about four cups.  Everyone once in a while, taste the risotto to determine how much it is cooked.  Keep adding stock until the rice is almost al dente.

4.  Remove the risotto from the heat.  Portion the risotto in bowls and top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.


Finally, I decided to make a fish dish, inspired by a recipe from Morimoto, but with Italian influences rather than Japanese flavors.  The fish is basically steamed in the a covered saute pan with a broth made from the reserved liquid from the re-hydrated mushrooms and white wine.  Whenever I make a fish dish, I always try to buy sustainable fish.  A good guide is Seafood Watch, which is a program of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  Seafood Watch provides you with information about whether a particular fish has been over-fished or fished in a manner that harms the environment.  For example, I initially thought of using cod for this dish.  However, cod is very over-fished.  Seafood Watch recommends cobia or striped bass as alternatives.  I ultimately decided to use halibut, which is a fish that I love to eat. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

1 pound of halibut, sliced into four pieces
1/2 ounces of dried wild mushrooms
2 cups of white wine
3 large basil leaves, chopped
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1.  Rehydrate the mushrooms in warm water.  Strain the mushrooms using cheesecloth and keep the strained liquid.

2.  In a pot, add the reserved liquid and the wine. Add the basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Heat the liquid on medium high.
3.  Once the liquid is warmed, ladle some of the liquid into a saute pan.  Place the halibut pieces in the pan and cover it.  Heat the pan to medium high.  Once the liquid begins to boil and steam, ladle another cup over the fish and cover.  Add the mushrooms.  Cover.

4.  After a minute or two, ladle some more of the liquid over the fish and mushrooms and cover.  Repeat as necessary while the fish cooks, making sure that you don't add too much liquid. When the fish begins to flake, you are just about finished.  

5.  Remove from heat and plate the fish.  Top with some of the mushrooms.

For a side, I had a side of baby arugula, with some olive oil and ground pepper. 


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bucatini con L'Aragosta

I decided to make a special dinner for my Angel, Clare.  The dish is a favorite of ours and, coincidentally, Lidia Bastianich.  Back in June, we had dinner at Del Posto in New York City.  Del Posto is a new restaurant opened by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich.  Clare and I ordered the Chef's tasting menu, which included a spaghetti dish with lobster and jalapeno slices.  While we were eating the dish, which was incredible, Lidia herself walked by our table.  As Clare and I looked at Lidia, with both of our mouths agape at the sight of such a culinary celebrity, Lidia pointed to the dish and said, "that's my favorite."

So, I decided to create my own version of that favorite.  I have my own rule ... I don't buy spaghetti that I can make, so that ruled out linguine, fettuccine and most noodles for that matter.  However, I was short on time and could not make my own handmade pasta.  At the store, I came across bucatini, a pasta that is well known in Latium and Abruzzo.  Bucatini is a round noodle that is hollow in the middle, which provides a perfect opening for the sauce to penetrate throughout the noodle.  It is a pasta that, as of this moment, I cannot make by hand.

Turning to the recipe, I used lobster tails, which are easy to prep.  Take a pair of kitchen scissors (scissors that you use to cut food, like chicken or seafood) and cut down the back of the tail.  Cut down the middle and then open the tail.  Work your fingers in between the meat and the shell to separate them.  Pull the lobster meat out gently.  And you are ready to make the recipe.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

3 to 4 lobster tails, separated from the shell and cut into even sized pieces
1/2 package of bucatini
1 good size shallot, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced.
1 can of whole tomatoes
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced (2 peppers if you like it hot)
Lots of fresh basil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1.  After removing the lobster meat from the shell, cut the meat into even sized pieces. Salt and pepper the pieces generously, set aside in the refrigerator.

2.  Melt the butter in a pan on medium high heat.  Add the onions and saute until translucent.  Chiffonade three large leaves of basil.  Add the basil, shallot and garlic and saute for a couple of minutes.

3.  Add the tomatoes to the pan with the sauce from the can.  With a potato masher, mash the tomatoes and mix into the sauce.  Don't let the tomato sauce cook for more than thirty minutes.  If you don't have the pasta water boiling in time, just turn down the sauce and heat it up when you are ready to complete the dish.

4.  Heat a pot of water on high heat until it boils.  Add the pasta and let it cook for about five to eight minutes until soft.

5.  Add the lobster to the sauce and cook the lobster until done, about five to eight minutes.  While cooking the lobster, add the jalapeno peppers.  If you like it hot, add the peppers when you add the lobster and allow them to cook longer in the sauce.

6.  When the pasta and lobster is done, add the pasta to the pan with the sauce and lobster.  Stir the pasta into the sauce.

7.  Plate the pasta in a bowl, add the lobster and some of the sauce. Garnish with some grated Parmagiano Reggiano.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Democratic Republic of Congo

My next stop on my culinary adventure is truly a challenge.  I find myself with the goal of making a main dish from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The DRC is very large country in the heart of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a lot of resources.  Yet, very little of the land is farmed and whatever farming there may be is little more than subsistence farming.  I had a hard time finding recipes for main dishes in the Congo and the recipes that I could find differ with respect to how to make dishes.

The main dish is Chicken Moambe, which has been called the "National Dish of the Congo."  A Moambe is a stew that is generally made from the pericarp of palm nuts, which is the fruit of the African palm.  Recipes call for the use of palm butter or canned palm soup base; however, I was not able to find either ingredient.  Most recipes assume that you cannot find the pericarp of palm nuts, palm butter or canned palm soup base.  So, as an alternative, those recipes suggest peanut butter.  Yes, smooth and creamy peanut butter.

The challenge in making Chicken Moambe is that I could not find many recipes and those that I did find had completely different ways of making it.  One recipe called for boiling the chicken in water and tomato, while another called for browning the chicken and then adding water and tomato.  Moreover, none of the recipes have any pictures, so I'm cooking in the dark. So this recipe is definitely a work in progress.  It needs needs refinement, but it is a good try at a cuisine that I never knew anything about before this challenge. 

Serves 4

1 chicken (I used a package of chicken broken into 8 pieces)
1 large yellow onion, minced
10 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
8 ounces of tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper (or ground red pepper)
1 cup of peanut butter
Water, to cover
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste


1. Brown the chicken.  Heat about six tablespoons on high heat.  Brown the chicken, a couple of pieces at a time.  I bought a  chicken broken down into eight pieces -- 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs and 2 wings.  I browned all of the chicken, beginning with the larger pieces (breasts) down to the smallest pieces (wings).  Set the chicken aside.

2.  Prepare the sauce.  In a large pot, add the remaining oil and heat on medium or medium high.  Saute the onions until translucent.  Add the chicken and the tomato sauce.  Also add the tomato sauce, crushed red pepper, and nutmeg.  Add enough water to cover the chicken. Reduce the heat and simmer for about ten minutes. 

3.  Add the peanut butter.  After the stew has simmered for about ten minutes, add the peanut butter and mix until it is dissolved into the stew.  The peanut butter gives the Chicken Moambe a unique flavor and it serves to thicken the stew.  Let the stew simmer for about twenty to twenty-five minutes.  The dish is finished when the chicken is done and tender.

4.  Plate the dish.  Serve over rice.  Put a couple of pieces of chicken and pour some of the broth over the chicken.

*     *     *

Overall, this dish was good, although I think I would cook it for a little longer to thicken the stew a little more.  This dish represents a few firsts, most notably, the first time that I have ever cooked with peanut butter.  The peanut butter did give the the dish an interesting taste.  I want to try this dish again using palm butter, assuming that I can find it.  Although this dish was good, I think I need to make it a few times before I can really say that I can make the "National Dish of the Congo."  Well, till next time....