Friday, July 29, 2011

Red Boat Fish Sauce

Not all fish sauces are created equal...not by a long shot. Most of the crap you get in a supermarket comes from Thailand or Singapore and is made with water, sugar, MSG and anchovy extract. Pure garbage.

Enter Cuong Phan. He was a refugee from Saigon that settled in California in 1979. He really missed the flavor of the fish sauce made by his family in Vietnam. So he bought a small factory on Phu Quoc Island and started making his own fish sauce, Red Boat. It's made like wine. He draws the liquid from salted anchovies and ferments it in wood barrels for over a year.

There are only two ingredients in this stunning fish sauce: anchovies and sea salt. The sauce has a very rich and smooth complexity. It tastes unlike any fish sauce you have ever tasted. You really need to have this in your pantry. Let me re-phrase that: you absolutely must have this in your pantry. You can buy it here:

Thai Beef with Shallots and Chiles

This is a favorite dish of my oldest son, Sean. Don't get intimidated by the ingredient list....while there are a lot of ingredients, this is really easy recipe to prepare. And it is absolutely delicious. The beef by itself is incredible, but you add the heat of the chiles, the mild taste of the shallots and the incredible contrast of mint and cilantro along with peanuts...this is over the top! This stir fry recipe is from Cook's Illustrated (if you are serious about cooking, you should really subscribe: It serves 4. I recommend serving it with either basmati or jasmine rice.


2 pounds flank steak, cut into 1/4 inch thick strips and cut again into 2" lengths*
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon of Asian chili-garlic paste
3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
3 serrano or jalapeño chiles, halved, seeds and ribs removed, chiles cut crosswise 1/8 inch thick
3 shallots, trimmed of ends, peeled, quartered lengthwise and layers separated
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn into bite size pieces
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/3 cup chopped, roasted peanuts
lime wedges for serving


  1. For the beef and marinade: Combine coriander, white pepper, brown sugar and fish sauce in a large bowl. Add beef, toss well to combine, marinate 15 minutes.
  2. For the stir fry: In small bowl, stir together fish sauce, vinegar, water, brown sugar, and chili-garlic paste until sugar dissolves; set aside. 
  3. In small bowl, mix garlic with 1 teaspoon oil; set aside. 
  4. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking; add one-third of beef to skillet in even layer. Cook, without stirring, until well browned, about 2 minutes, then stir and continue cooking until beef is browned around edges and no longer pink in the center, about 30 seconds. Transfer beef to medium bowl. Repeat with additional oil and remaining meat in 2 more batches.
  5. After transferring last batch of beef to bowl, reduce heat to medium; add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to now-empty skillet and swirl to coat. Add chiles and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. 
  6. Push chile-shallot mixture to sides of skillet to clear center; add garlic to clearing and cook, mashing mixture with spoon, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir to combine garlic with chile-shallot mixture. 
  7. Add fish sauce mixture to skillet; increase heat to high and cook until slightly reduced and thickened, about 30 seconds. Return beef and any accumulated juices to skillet, toss well to combine and coat with sauce, stir in half of mint and cilantro; serve immediately, sprinkling individual servings with portion of peanuts and remaining herbs, and passing lime wedges separately.
Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

*Cut across the grain into quarter inch thick strips. Each strip will be approximately 6-8 inches long and a quarter inch thick. Slice the strip so that you end up with 3 or 4 pieces, each piece being 2 inches long (and a quarter inch thick)


Monday, July 18, 2011

Weapon of Choice: Non-Stick Cookware

I got sick and tired of Teflon pans and their short little lives. Bring them home and they were great...for a week or two. Then the surface would start to deteriorate and in a few months more the pan was in the garbage.

Ten years ago I did a lot of research on non-stick cookware and the name that kept rising to the top of the heap was Scanpan. Scanpan cookware is made in Denmark. The pans are made from aluminum and then they are coated with ceramic titanium. Talk about slippery....throw a little olive oil in the pan and that chicken breast will slide along the surface like a charging rhinoceros on a wet clay bank.

What I like is that these pans really last. I have about 7 of them and the oldest is 10 years old and still going strong. Judy and Sean swear by them for cooking eggs and omelettes. I even bought a Scanpan Dutch oven and use it to cook all my stir-fry meals in. Works a heckuva lot better than any wok I have ever tried. And Scanpan cookware is oven-safe up to 500 degrees!

Scanpan cookware is on the expensive side, but well worth it (every pan comes with a lifetime warranty). To preserve the cooking surface, always hand wash these pans and never use aerosol cooking sprays. The chemicals in those aerosol sprays are mortal enemies with all non-stick cooking surfaces. [Note: If those chemicals deteriorate ceramic titanium, do you really want them on your food?] Stick with liquid oils and butter. Scanpan cookware is available at most stores that carry fine cookware. I've found that Chefs has one of the largest selections online:

Friday, July 15, 2011


Minnesota is about to experience a week's worth of weather with temps in the upper 90's. Accordingly, I was planning  a week's worth of dinners that did not require use of my ovens. I had six of the seven nights all laid out, but was stumped for next Monday night's dinner. Low and behold, I get an email from an old family friend, Chip Myers, asking if I had a good recipe for gazpacho. As it happens, I did and thanks to Chip, gazpacho is on our menu for Monday night.

This recipe is from Rachel Ray and she calls it "Macho Gazpacho". The reason I love this recipe is because it is so stinkin' easy, it tastes incredible and it's 100% Paleo.

Her recipe calls for 64 ounces of canned tomatoes. The first time I made it I used 64 ounces of fresh tomatoes...that tasted good. The second time I made it I used canned tomatoes...that also tasted good, but it wasn't that much different from fresh. The third time I made it I used 64 ounces of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. That caused a huge bump in the flavor department. So do yourself a favor by using the Muir Glen Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. It is really worth it. This recipe serves 6 (large bowls) to 10 (small cups).

64 ounces canned diced tomatoes
1/4 cup Tabasco, or other hot sauce*
1/2 European seedless cucumber, cut in chunks
1 red onion, cut in chunks
2 jalapenos, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 large ribs of celery, cut into chunks
1 bunch of cilantro
1 lime, juiced
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
Lemon or lime wedges for garnish

*For mild heat, use 2 tablespoons


  1. Working in batches, pulse-grind all ingredients in a food processor until you have a thick soup. Put each batch into a ceramic bowl large enough to hold all ingredients (do not use a stainless steel bowl). Stir well when all batches have been processed.
  2. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Place bowl in refrigerator and let chill for at least 3 hours.
  4. Serve in chilled glasses or bowls and garnish with lime or lemon.
Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Spanish Rose, Vouvray

Note: If you would like protein to go with this soup, I will offer you a page from the Fisher Island Beach Club menu. Take 3 ounces of chilled, shredded Alaskan King Crab (per person) and sprinkle it on top of each bowl of soup just before you serve it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Grilled Italian Sausages with Peppers and Onions

I love Italian sausage. Not the sweet kind. Not the mild kind. I like hot Italian sausage. I want that delicious pork to have a lot of heat from red pepper flakes and the deep, robust licorice flavor of fennel seeds. And nothing pops the flavor like grilling these sausages.

Costco sells a sweet Italian sausage that does not do it for me. About once a year they carry hot Italian sausage, but I find it to be bland....more "pork forward" than a good Italian sausage should be. Byerly's, Lunds, Whole Foods and Cub sell their own private label Hot Italian Sausage and all are very good. Johnsonville Hot Italian Sausage is another excellent choice.

When you buy bell peppers, buy an orange, red and yellow will give this dish a real visual punch. These colored peppers also have a little more sweetness than the green ones. For onions, I strongly recommend wonderfully sweet Vidalia onions. They are in season right now and a real bargain if you buy them in the 10 pound bags at Costco. Keep them in a cool place and they will last 3+ weeks.

There are two ways to serve this dish. The preferred method at our house is naked (the food, not my family): toss a heap of sauteed onions and peppers on a plate, place two grilled sausages on top and serve with a small side of spaghetti and a nice glass of Zinfandel. You can also place the Italian sausage in a brat bun and then fill the bun with the peppers and onions, served with fries and and an ice cold beer. You choose, as either way you can't lose. This recipe serves 4 big appetites.

8 Hot Italian sausage links
3 bell peppers (red, yellow and orange)
2 medium Vidalia onions
3 tablespoons olive oil (use garlic olive oil if you have it)
1 teaspoon of Kosher salt


  1. Fire up your grill to high.*
  2. Cut each bell pepper from pole-to-pole. Remove stem and seeds. Cut each half into half-inch strips.
  3. Remove paper onion skin. Cut each onion from pole to pole. Cut each half into half-inch strips.
  4. In a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and turn heat to medium high. When oil shimmers, add onions and peppers. Sauté until they just begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add salt and continues to sauté until onions and peppers are limp. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
  5. Grill sausages until they are well browned, about 8 minutes, turning frequently. 
  6. Return skillet to  high heat, add one tablespoon of olive oil to onion/pepper mixture and stir (about 1 minute). When warm, divide among serving plates, top with two Italian sausages and serve with a side of spaghetti.  
* If you do not have a grill, sauté sausages in large skillet until well browned and cooked through.

Wine pairing: Zinfandel

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Caprese Salad

Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes
What'd life be without home grown tomatoes
Only two things that money can't buy
That's true love and home grown tomatoes.
-John Denver-

This salad is one of the true joys of summer as it is possible to source the various components at the height of their flavor. If you are fortunate enough to have a home garden, there is nothing quite as nice as plucking a few fresh basil leaves from your own plants and a fresh tomato right off the vine. But before we get to the sublimely simple recipe, let's pause for a brief discussion on ingredients.

TOMATO: It is early July in Minnesota and as you can see by the above photo of one of our tomato plants, it's going to be awhile before we can enjoy home grown tomatoes. So second choice for me would be a nice, big, juicy heirloom tomato. But we were out of luck yesterday at Costco and Cub. No heirlooms. Try a farmers market if you have one near by. Otherwise you can do as I did, just settle for a nicely ripened Roma tomato.

MOZZARELLA: Yesterday I had a "be still my heart" moment as I was walking through the Costco cheese department. It caught my eye no different than if it were a 12-headed hyena with the body of a rhinoceros, for this cheese is just as rare as said beast. It is Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. The real deal. From Italy. Here in the states, our supermarkets carry a cheese labeled as "fresh mozzarella", but it's made with cow's milk. In Italy, they make their mozzarella with water buffalo milk. It has a flavor and depth unlike anything made from a cow. But it is impossible to find. Until yesterday. At Costco. Seventeen point six ounces of heaven for just eleven ninety nine. Get off your ass, grab your car keys and drive there immediately. Ignore all stop lights and traffic laws. Do it now!

BASIL: The plant above is from our garden. Given the choice, I will always opt for homegrown because I know the plant has not been exposed to chemicals or pesticides. If you don't have your own garden, buy organic to get the same results. Pick the biggest leaves so that there is more to enjoy with each bite of your salad.

Ingredients to Make Four Salads
1 large tomato, thickly sliced into 4 slices
4 slices  fresh mozzarella
4 large basil leaves
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
Extra virgin olive oil


  1. Set out 4 small plates. Put a slice of tomato on the center of each plate.
  2. Top each tomato with a slice of mozzarella.
  3. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the mozzarella. Add a small sprinkle of Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.
  4. Top each with a basil leaf and serve.
Wine pairing: Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Camera Technology is About to Make a Quantum Leap: Welcome to Lytro

Being a good food blogger requires that you also be a good food photographer. While I strive to do a good job with the former, it is really tough with the latter. Basically, I do not have the patience to carefully compose the picture with the requisite lighting, lenses and camera settings. I'm in a hurry to write and move on. Ready. Fire. Aim.

I have the equipment....a Canon DSLR. But I hardly ever use it as it requires too much work on my part. So I opt for the iPhone or iPad, not exactly the Mount Olympus of picture quality, but they get the job done. Plus, it's so easy to email the photos to my blog from either of those devices. And with the "High Dynamic Range" option on my iPhone (which automatically brackets each photo with 3 different light settings), I can get some pretty darn good pictures.

However, photography is all about to change. There is a brand new technology out there called "Light Field Camera". This revolutionary camera allows you to shoot the picture without focusing. It records the complete and total image and then you can go in after the fact and change the many times as you want.

This technology will change everything and, as someone who has no patience for photographic minutiae, I can't wait. Check this new technology out at: