Chicken and Egg Miso Ramen: Oiishi!

Chicken and Egg Miso Ramen: Oiishi!

Simple, easy, delicious chicken and miso ramen noodles

Simple, easy, delicious chicken and miso ramen noodles

When I posted a pic of my Chicken and Egg Miso Ramen on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, I was surprised by the response.  So many people wanted to talk about it: the ingredients, how I made it, and naturally, the recipe.  Jen (as in Jen’s Vegetable Lasagna featured in my cookbook) wanted to come over for a ramen filled afternoon.  Kipp and I decided that ramen beats pho any day (what a great hashtag #ramenbeatspho). Even picky eater Korey had to chime in about her thoughts on egg yolks.

So I’m using my website to share my recipe with you (I know, I know, I haven’t updated in FOREVER!  Forgive me, I’ve been busy).

Now, when I say ramen, I’m speaking of a delicious, savory, umami-filled bowl of noodles and protein, the kind of wonderful comfort-food goodness that makes noodle bars a worldwide sensation.  I know many people hear the word ramen and think of things like Top Ramen and Oodles of Noodles, but that’s instant ramen….. and while that’s quite good to a college kid or 20-something hipster, I’m speaking about a traditional Japanese food staple that has taken the world by storm.  If you haven’t been to a ramen noodle bar, you are truly missing out.  My favorites bowls are found at Momofuku in NYC, Slurping Turtle in Chicago and Sakuramen in Washington, D.C.  And if your town doesn’t yet have a noodle bar, I strongly encourage you to make ramen at home. In fact, when you realize how easy it is, you’ll wonder why you don’t do it more often!

To make ramen at home, I use two pots: one for the broth and one for all the other proteins.  A good ladle strainer, often called a “spider” is a great tool to use, but tongs or a slotted spoon will work just fine.  Everything will cook quickly — just give the ingredient a quick “bath” in hot water — then set it aside.  It really is that easy.

Miso, thank goodness, is available in most grocery stores and organic markets.  You just have to know where to look.  Fresh miso paste is refrigerated, so look for it in the dairy section or where organic foods are kept.  Shelved miso is usually in some sort of bottle and can be found in either the international foods section or even where salad dressings are kept.

Finally, a word on noodles.  You can certainly use instant ramen noodles if that’s all you can find (just remember to throw out those seasoning packets).  Chuka-mein, also known as “chinese noodles” are very good, as are fresh egg noodles and even buckwheat soba noodles.  For me, the longer the noodle, the better, because that means I can slurp up all of the savory goodness.

Proteins are easy — it’s whatever you want them to be.  Leftovers from last night, extra veggies in the fridge, hot or cold.  That’s the fun of ramen noodle bowls — you can experiment with ingredients every time.  Happy slurping!!

Chicken and Egg Miso Ramen
Serves 2

Simple, easy, delicious chicken and miso ramen noodles

Simple, easy, delicious chicken and miso ramen noodles

Ingredients:

1/2 lbs. ground chicken
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin
1 carton good chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes (if desired)
4 tablespoons yellow miso
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 package chuka-mein, “chinese noodles” or 2 packs instant ramen
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Additional protein ideas:
1 egg
1 cup fresh spinach leaves
sliced fresh cabbage or baby bok choy
firm tofu, diced
fresh green onions, chopped
shrimp

  1. With the first pot, heat a few tablespoons of oil (canola, vegetable or olive) over medium high heat.  Add the red chile flakes and cook for 1 minute.  Add all of the ground chicken along with the onion and grated ginger and saute until cooked, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the entire carton of chicken stock with the miso paste and 2 cups of water.  Stir to incorporate all the miso, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow to simmer gently, uncovered.  Add the sesame oil and soy sauce and season to taste.
  2. In a separate pot, bring cold water to a boil.  Add the ramen noodles and cook until just before done (do not let noodles go too soft, they should still have a bite, about 2 minutes in boiling water).  Using a spider, tongs, or slotted spoon, remove the noodles from the pot, strain and rinse under cold water (keep the water boiling on the stove).  Set noodles aside.  In the same pot with boiling water, cook the spinach leaves (about 1 minute) and again, use the strainer or a pair of tongs to remove and set aside.  Do this with all of your proteins (except green onions) but do not overcook them.  You may want to keep a large clean platter beside the stove or a bunch of small bowls for your cooked proteins.  Lastly, prepare the eggs.  Soft boil eggs in their shell or poach lightly in the simmering water.  Be sure to keep the yolk soft.  Remove egg from boiling water and set aside.
  3. To bring it all together, place the noodles in the bottom of a deep soup bowl, creating a cone-like mountain.  Using tongs or chopsticks, place small sections of proteins around the noodles (spinach, tofu, shrimp, etc). Using a slotted spoon, scoop the ground chicken meat from the broth, and section it around the noodles.  Place the poached egg or soft boiled egg (shelled and split into two pieces) at the very top of the noodles.  Ladle the hot broth over the entire bowl.  Garnish with a generous amount of chopped green onion.  Serve with a soup spoon and chopsticks. Enjoy immediately.
Slow Cooker Beef Brisket: Simple and Straightforward

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket: Simple and Straightforward

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket

Everyone needs a special roast recipe. It could be your favorite pot roast, rib roast or tenderloin, but I think every home cook needs a recipe where a massive piece of meat is ceremoniously pulled out of the oven and placed onto a special platter, giving you a reason to carve and serve with flair!

This is why I am sharing my tried and true Slow Cooker Beef Brisket recipe. Just imagine a plate of tender, juicy, savory slices of beef, paired with sweet onions, carrots and a delicious gravy, and you’ll know why this is one of my best and easiest recipes.

Unlike other recipes that call for barbecue or tomato sauce, my recipe is simpler and straightforward, allowing the beef’s natural flavors to shine. I use a flat cut brisket, between three to four pounds, with a nice one-inch layer of fat. A brisket of this size will serve a party easily, and is budget friendly too! If you have leftovers, sliced brisket makes for delicious sandwiches and most people think it tastes better overnight.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can prepare this in a conventional oven, going low and slow (just under 300 F). I would encourage you, however, to consider purchasing a slow cooker. The convenience factor along with the ease of cooking is really irresistible (and yes, we are having a sale on a very special slow cooker at HSN!) And, yes, before I forget, I always use a slow cooker liner. It makes clean-up so easy.

Once the brisket finishes cooking, remove it from the slow cooker and allow it to rest for a few minutes on a cutting board. Giving the meat a rest will ensure easy carving, while allowing the brisket to retain moisture and flavor. Using a sharp knife, cut against the grain (the opposite direction of the meat fibers) creating long, thin slices of delicious, tender meat. Spoon the gravy on top and serve with onions and carrots. Enjoy!

With a slow cooker, this recipe is simple, easy and delicious!

With a slow cooker, this recipe is simple, easy and delicious!

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket
Serves 4

Ingredients:

3-4 lbs. beef brisket, flat cut
2 large yellow onions, julienned
1 1/2 cup carrots, shredded
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup chicken stock (or water)
Ground cumin
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Rinse the brisket with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Season the meat generously on both sides, using the salt, pepper and cumin.
  2. Fill the bottom of the slow cooker with the onions, carrots and garlic. Pour the melted butter and chicken stock over the vegetables, and with tongs, mix well, coating the vegetables.
  3. Place the brisket on top of the vegetables, fat side facing up. Pour the balsamic vinegar evenly over the brisket, coating well.
  4. Cover the slow cooker with the lid and cook on HIGH for six hours.
  5. When the cooking has finished, remove the brisket and allow to rest for 10 minutes on a cutting board.
  6. Stir the chopped parsley into the cooked vegetables. Taste the gravy. If desired, add more chicken stock and adjust seasonings.
  7. Slice the brisket, cutting against the grain. Remove any fat. Ladle the gravy over the meat and serve with the cooked vegetables.
Slow Cooker Kalua Pork – Aloha!

Slow Cooker Kalua Pork – Aloha!

Kalua pork with chopped cabbage and chestnut rice

‘Tis the season for slow cookers — while I love stews, soups and all sorts of chili, I can’t help but start Crock-Pot Season with a little bit of the Aloha spirit.  Simply take a tender roast pork with a light hint of sea salt and great smokey flavor and you’ve got the mainstay of a Hawaiian luau: kalua pork.

When I say kalua, people assume I’m talking about the cordial.  Kalua is the Hawaiian word for a roasting technique that involves cooking underground with leaves and hot coals.  Kahlua, on the other hand, is a coffee liquer, and seems to play a role in every 20-something’s life (OMG I remember those B-52 shots).  But do keep your mudslides, White Russians and chocolate martini concoctions close-by, because this recipe is so easy, you’ll need something to pass the time.

Trader Joe’s Himalayan Pink Salt with built-in grinder

Like any slow cooker recipe, careful preparation and timing will yield fantastic results with very little work.  My advice is to simply prep the meat, stick it in the refrigerator, then start it in your crock-pot the night before, typically when you go to sleep.  Use a slow-cooker liner and you’ll have even less to clean-up.  The pork takes about 10 minutes to prepare, 16 hours to cook and plenty of forks to enjoy.

A couple of notes on the ingredients: first, there are only four.  Don’t try to add more or get fancy.  Simple and straightforward will give you the most authentic flavors.  Also, most grocery stores will carry banana leaves in the freezer section.  An Asian or Latin market will also have them.  If you can’t find them, you can omit from the recipe.  Hawaiian Sea Salt is the most authentic way to prepare the pork, but if you don’t have easy access to it, I recommend Himalayan Rock Salt or any coarse Sea Salt.  Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to turn the crystals into loose powder.  Some salts are bottled with a built in grinder, making it even easier to enjoy.

I use two forks and a deep baking dish to shred the pork

Once it’s ready, you can serve the kalua pork with rice and cabbage (as they do in Hawaii) or do it luau style, with sweet bread rolls and macaroni salad.  If you have a lot of leftovers, you can try your hand at making manapua.  Personally, I happen to love the pork on a sweet roll, with a combination of spicy sriracha and creamy mayonnaise, smashed together with sour dill pickles and a drizzle of teriyaki sauce.  Be as traditional or creative as you like.  I’ve even seen the pork grilled between tortillas and rolled up into quesadillas, or served on top of fried wonton chips and smothered in cheese and green onions for a Pacific twist on nachos.

‘Tis the season for good eating, right?  Enjoy this easy recipe.

Give the pork a generous coating of the salt and work it into the slits

Slow Cooker Kalua Pork
Yields: 8-10 servings
Cook Time: 16 hours

Ingredients:
4 pounds pork shoulder roast, also known as pork butt
4 teaspoons liquid smoke
Coarse Sea Salt or Hawaiian Rock Salt (lightly ground)
Banana Leaves, enough to wrap meat
Butcher’s twine
Water

Optional Serving Ideas: steamed rice, shredded cabbage, sweet rolls and macaroni salad

  1. Using a small knife, cut small slits in the roast.  Coat the roast generously with the salt, rubbing salt into the slits.  Sea salt is not pungent like table salt, so coat the meat well.

    The pork wrapped in banana leaf and secured with twine

  2. Place two banana leaves together so they are overlapping (you may need kitchen scissors to cut the leaves down to size).  Lay the roast in the center of the leaves.  Pour all four teaspoons of the liquid smoke over the meat.  Wrap the meat in the banana leaves and tie with butcher’s twine to secure.  Refrigerate until ready to cook.
  3. When ready to cook, place the meat in a slow cooker set on LOW.  Cook, covered and un-disturbed, for 16 hours.
  4. Remove meat from slow cooker and place in a dish or plate with a rim (I use a 13 x 9 rectangular baking dish).  Carefully unwrap the meat and allow to rest, 15 minutes.
  5. Pour all the juices from the slow cooker into a fat separator or similar shaped tool, such as a liquid measuring cup.  Skim off fat.  Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a pot.  Add the remaining juices and 1 teaspoon liquid smoke.  Taste and season as desired.
  6. With two forks, shred the pork.  Pour the juices from the slow cooker evenly over the pork.  Serve hot or cold.
Chicken Matzoh Meatball Soup

Chicken Matzoh Meatball Soup

My chicken matzoh meatball soup

I am the worst kind of lover.  When I have it, I take it for granted.  I love ’em, leave ’em and never look back.  However, when love is gone, I long for it — desperately, insatiably, craving just one more touch upon my tongue.  And this, my friends, sums up my true stomach-aching story:  I’ve had a long, tumultuous, heart-stopping love affair with soup.

Living on the East coast, I could walk to any deli, noodle shop or food truck and grab a bowl of steamy pleasure whenever I wanted.  I wouldn’t think twice about sipping, slurping or savoring hot broth, but I would always complain or grumble when drops of soup trickled off my face and onto my scarf or blouse.  Because soup was available everywhere, I took for granted how warm and comforting a savory cup of tomato and basil could be, how intriguing and fulfilling layers of beef pho with fresh veggies could fill my belly or how decadent and spoiled a seafood velouté would make me feel.  Oh  Soup, I never fully appreciated you and I’m sorry.  I miss you more than you know.

All smiles with a steaming bowl of pho

OK, I know I’m being dramatic, but allow me to explain.  I now live in Florida and there is no soup to be had – nothing, nada, nowhere.  There are no deli’s or diners with daily soup specials.  There are no ramen shops or noodle counters to speak of.  Curry houses and soup bars are non-exisistent.  And food trucks?  Forget it.

Yes, I know there are some restaurants here and there that offer soup.  But soup in Florida always seems to miss the mark.  Aside from the grab and go convenience that we love on the East Coast, there is a comfort factor that is absent.  Soup has to wake your tastebuds, coat your throat and fill your body with soothing energy.  I’ve found that in order to assuage my troubled soul and to quench my longings, I must turn to my own kitchen and rely on my own culinary abilities.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Emilio’s Caldo Gallego, a hearty and savory soup from the hills of Spain.  Today, I give you my rendition of chicken and matzoh ball soup, where both ingredients are combined into one.  I use ground chicken and matzoh meal to make moist little meatballs, all cooked in a vegetable and chicken broth.  It takes about 30 minutes to come together, and every delicious slurp reminds me of why it’s so important to appreciate good soup.  Soup is simple, easy, delicate and nutritious.  It’s comforting, soothing and warm, and something I promise to never take for granted again.

Chicken Matzoh Meatball Soup
Serves 4

I combine ground chicken with matzoh for moist, delicious, meatballs

Ingredients
1 lbs. ground chicken (I use white meat)
2 packets matzoh ball mix (I use Manischewitz)
2 eggs, gently scrambled
1/2 large onion, grated or finely minced
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
8 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
Additional oil for quick saute
Salt to taste (I recommend kosher)

  1. Heat a heavy stockpot over medium high heat with a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil.  Add the grated onion and stir frequently, do not allow onions to brown.  When onions are translucent, after 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and place in a bowl.  Allow onions to cool.
  2. Add the ground chicken, eggs, matzoh meal, 2 tablespoons of oil and chopped parsley to the onions.  Add a generous teaspoon of kosher salt.  Use your hands to combine well.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  3. With the same stockpot used for the onions, return to medium high heat.  Add a little more oil, then quickly saute the chopped celery and carrots.  After 1-2 minutes, when the vegetables begin to soften, add the chicken broth and water.  Lower the heat and allow to simmer 10-15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
  4. Raise the heat on the soup to high and bring to a rolling boil.  Using a small portion scoop, a spoon or your hands, form the meat mixture into small 1-inch balls. Drop the balls into the soup until the entire mixture is used.  Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.  The meatballs will expand and float to the top, so use a spoon to bob and turn the balls every 5 minutes or so.
  5. After 15 minutes, add the spinach and stir into the soup.  Adjust seasonings if needed.  Cover and allow to simmer for 5 minutes longer.
  6. Take the soup off the heat, remove the lid, and allow to rest 5-10 minutes.  Serve immediately following.
Cooking, Camp and Growing on the Golf Course

Cooking, Camp and Growing on the Golf Course

Sesame Noodle Salad as pictured in my cookbook

If there’s somewhere I don’t want to be, it’s caught in a rut.  A rut, by definition, is a “sunken, deep track.”  In a figurative sense, it’s simply being stuck — trapped, without inspiration, creativity and probably worst of all, without hope.  If I start to feel like I’m going into “stuck mode” I do everything I can to break out: I travel, I listen to music, read books and meet new people — and when all else fails, I step out of my comfort zone.

Recently, I decided to learn a new skill — nothing related to the kitchen or any of my current work.  My new skill would be golfing, and I was determined to learn how to play.

Now, I’ve never golfed in my life. I knew nothing about the sport (and I still don’t).  However, it was time to learn something new, so I picked the one sport I’ve never held any interest and went all in.  I signed up for a Golf Boot Camp and that was it.

On my first day of camp, I was lost.  Literally.  I couldn’t find the golf course, I didn’t know where I was headed and I found myself driving around aimlessly while my GPS was “re-calculating.”  (Geez, that has to be the most frustrating sound to hear when you’re lost).  When I finally found the camp, I had no idea how to swing or grip the club correctly.  I was lost, frustrated and angry.  I would swing for the ball and miss — like an un-coordinated idiot.  I kept wondering: “Why am I doing this?  What was I thinking?”

At the Golf Boot Camp with Cathy Schmidt

Instead of giving up, I put my head down, corrected my grip and started to swing for the ball.  I decided that no matter what, I was going to power through and complete the lesson.  I’m not sure what it was:  a spark of fight, a bitter streak of stubbornness, or a hard-headed sense of determination (I’ll never be able to shake these from my personality) but I knew I had to continue.  I was going to hit the ball – damnit!

My instructor, Cathy, was more than accommodating.  She kept a watchful eye on everything I did, making corrective steps and giving sound advice. By some miracle, I hit the ball.  Then I hit another and another.  Before I knew it, I was spending my afternoons on the golfing range, practicing, meeting new people and improving my swing.  It felt amazing!

My swing is starting to improve

As I look back, I am in awe with the amount of support and growth I have gained.  When I shared my golfing goals with my friends Jen and Dean, they instantly gave their approval.  Jen graciously allowed me to borrow her clubs and Dean shared great golfing advice.  It felt fantastic to have such encouragement.

Unexpectedly, I’ve also grown on my professional side.  Jen and Dean have a daughter named Lauren, and Cathy has a daughter named Lucky.  Both Lauren and Lucky are pre-teens, currently interested in learning their way around the kitchen. It is an absolute joy to know that both girls have my cookbook and are spending the summer cooking their way through the recipes.

Hearing these two young ladies are excited to learn from my work has inspired me to reach out to both of them.  Together, we share a love for knowledge and cooking.  In fact, while talking with the girls, I realized how much fun it is to teach young people, and how wonderful it is to discover new things at any age.

Pretty Lauren enjoys Chicken Sausage with Peppers and Penne – that she made!

Also, after spending days in the hot sun, I’ve created several new recipes that are “picnic-friendly” and can go in any cooler, basket, poolside table or even in the back of a golf cart.  I’ll post these recipes in the coming weeks, as soon as they are tested and perfected.

In the meantime, I am posting my Cold Sesame Noodle recipe, with a big shout-out to Lauren, Lucky, Cathy, Jen and Dean — and of course, to all of my friends who have pushed me and encouraged me to try something new.  I may not be a good golfer (yet) but I am truly grateful for such amazing friendships.  The next picnic we have together will be on the links — and I can’t wait!

Cold Sesame Noodles
Serves 6

* Author’s Note: When I published this recipe in my cookbook, I encouraged the use of Chinese egg noodles, to make it more authentic.  Now that I’m bringing this on the golf course, I’ve switched to buckwheat soba noodles which are full of fiber, and I’ve added shrimp for extra protein.

Ingredients

Sesame Noodle Salad as pictured in my cookbook

2 pounds buckwheat soba noodles
1 cup shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup fresh snowpeas
1 cup freshly grated carrots
1/2 cup green onions, sliced thin

1/2 cup dark sesame oil
1/2 cup soy sauce (you may use low sodium)
3 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sambal (chili paste)
Sesames seeds for garnish
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add the soba noodles and cook according to package directions.  In the last two minutes of cooking, add the shrimp and the snowpeas.
  2. Immediately rinse the noodles, shrimp and snowpeas under cold running water.  Drain well, cool and set aside.
  3. Make the dressing by mixing the sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sambal and sugar.  Adjust seasonings to taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
  4. Combine the noodles, shrimp, snowpeas, carrots and green onions with the dressing in a large bowl.  Use tongs or extra long chopsticks to coat well.  Chill in refrigerator for two hours, turning every 30 minutes.
  5. Garnish with sesame seeds and pack in picnic basket or serve immediately.
Linguine with Garlic and Clams: Slice and Dice

Linguine with Garlic and Clams: Slice and Dice

Linguine with Garlic and Clams

Stop the garlic abuse!  When it comes to garlic, it seems we have a dysfunctional relationship.  We say we love it, but we beat it, chop it, mince it and even pulverize it into paste.  I realize I’m exaggerating a bit, but honestly, is there any reason to smash garlic as much as we do?

I found myself wondering about this while making a plate of linguine with clams.  I stopped myself from mincing the garlic — instead, I opted to do long, thin, teardrop slices.  Because clams and garlic compliment each other so well, I decided it would be much better to slice the garlic then dice the clams.  The resulting dish was simply fantastic.

Sliced garlic

I have since re-named my recipe Linguine with Garlic and Clams.  The trick is to simply saute the garlic, to the point where it becomes fragrant and do no more.  Raw garlic is pungent and strong, so you do want to cook it.  The best technique is to sweat the garlic — simply stir it into a hot environment and keep stirring.  Don’t allow your garlic to brown or caramelize as this will result in a bitter taste.  When garlic sweats in a little bit of oil then simmers in white wine, it turns buttery, soft and rich, a perfect match for salty sea flavored clams.

If you need to chop something, chop the clams.  While clams in shell are lovely visuals, they don’t actually do much for me at home.  I suggest shucking the clams first and chopping the meat, then creating the creamy sauce.  If you only have access to canned clams, you may certainly use them, but I find fresh seafood to be the best.  Use a good, drinkable, dry white wine when cooking and serve the same chilled wine with the pasta.  Of course, you should have a glass (or two!) while cooking.

Linguine with Garlic and Clams
Serves 2

Littleneck clams in garlic, parsley and wine

1/2 pound linguine noodles (I like a trio of whole wheat, spinach and semolina)
1 cup chopped clams (I recommend littlenecks or razors)
1 tablespoon clam juice
1/2 cup diced pancetta
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 leek, white and light green parts only, sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 1/2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and White Pepper to taste

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the noodles.
  2. Cut the leek in half and wash thoroughly.   Slice into thin semi-circles and separate.  Do the same with the shallot.
  3. When the noodles go into the water, heat a large saute pan with the olive oil.  Over medium heat, add the pancetta and allow to brown and crisp, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the leek and shallots and allow to sweat, but do not brown.
  4. Add the garlic slices and chopped clams.  Stir frequently, until the garlic becomes fragrant, about one minute more.
  5. Lower the heat and add the white wine and clam juice.  Loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Stir in the creme fraiche until incorporated, then cover and allow to simmer over low heat, about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Using tongs, remove the linguine noodles from the boiling water and add to the pan.  Fold into the sauce until well incorporated.  If more sauce is needed, use some of the leftover salted pasta water.
Lesson 3: Molotes – My Mexican Comfort Food

Lesson 3: Molotes – My Mexican Comfort Food

Waiting in line at the molote stand

While strolling down the streets of Tlaxcala, I noticed a long line of people hovering around a certain street vendor.  A piece of paper, handwritten in magic marker, identified the goods: “Molotes.”   At first glance, I assumed I was approaching a taco vendor, but upon closer inspection, I realized that molotes were not tacos at all!  They look a lot like empanadas, golden hand pies plump with filling and aromas rich from savory goodness.  The vendor had an assortment of fillings, from tins of seasoned beef, chicken and pork, to bins of various grated cheeses and tubs of different salsas.  I ordered a molote stuffed with mashed potatoes and chipotle salsa.  After it left the deep fryer, it was topped with salsa verde and a squirt of crema.  It was heavenly!

Molotes are fresh tortilla dough stuffed with any kind of filling available.  They are then sealed into a half moon shaped and deep fried, creating a crispy, delicate and flaky crust.  These little hot pockets are then drizzled with salsa and crema, and they are so addictive, it’s common to see folks order one then get back in line to order another.

Molote frying in a pan

When I told Chef Estela about my new found favorite streetfood, she smiled and nodded and didn’t give it another thought.  But I kept going on and on about how much I loved these things. . . that today, she taught me how to make them.  As I should have known, her version was even better than what I had on the street.  I devoured the hot molote as soon as it came out of the pan.  My tastebuds were dancing with delight.  Crisp, flavorful and filled with cheese, Chef Estela told me to enjoy, then informed me that since I now know how to make them — I have no excuse to spend my money on the sidewalk.  Si, senora!

Molotes
Chef Estela Silva, Mexican Home Cooking School

Use plastic or wax paper to prevent sticking

Ingredients

2 cups masa harina
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup warm chile water (or you can use achiote seasoning)
Fillings as desired
Oil for frying

  1. Combine the masa harina, flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Slowly add the water and mix until a dough forms.  The dough should be sticky, not dry.
  3. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Gather a small handful and roll into balls.
  5. With your hands, a tortilla press, or even a rolling pin, flatten the balls into long ovals.
  6. Place the filling in the center of the tortilla, then fold tortilla over, creating a half-moon/semi-circle shape.  Press the ends together to create a seal.
  7. Pan fry in a small amount of oil.  The molote should be crisp and golden on all sides.  Serve with shredded lettuce, salsa verde or a drizzle of crema.
Lesson 2: Learn. . . then Love

Lesson 2: Learn. . . then Love

Tomatillos, onions and tomatoes

“Why do you like stupid men?”

I am toasting tomatillos on a tiny comal when Chef Estela bluntly asks me this question.  My eyes popped. “What?”

Chef Estela shakes her head.  She is preparing Pipian Verde (Oaxacan Green Mole).  “Look at what we did here,” she says, “we slowly sauteed the onions, then the tomatoes and finally added the garlic.  That’s because each of the ingredients need time to get to know each other, then they can love one another and create a great meal.”  She moves onto a pot of Chile Pasilla.  “Time,” she says, “women need to take their time with men.”

I’m now cooking in silence.  She nods and continues: “People need time to learn about each other, then they can love.”  She puts down the wooden spoon in her hand and looks at me.  “Has any man taken the time to get to know you?”  I shake my head.  “Then why do you like stupid men?”

Chef Estela gives me a visual

My eyes meet hers and she gives me a warm smile.  I start to giggle.  “Look,” she says, “you have a book, yes?”  I nodded.  Indeed, I have a cookbook.  “Good,” she responds, “you take your book and put it in between your legs.  And if any man wants to go there, they need to get to know you first!”

I have yet to stop laughing.

Chile Pasilla (Pasilla Sauce)
Chef Estela Silva, Mexican Home Cooking School

Ingredients
5 or 6 dried pasilla chilies
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 onion, left in tact
4 garlic cloves (2 cloves minced, 2 whole)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
3 or 4 roma tomatoes
6 tomatillos

  1. Bistec en Chile Pasilla

    Toast or broil the tomatoes, tomatillos, 1/2 whole onion and 2 whole garlic cloves until blackened. Set aside.

  2. Slice open the chiles and remove the stem and seeds.  Toast chiles until they blister then add to 1 cup of hot water with the charred onion.  Soak 5 minutes.
  3. In a blender, combine the charred tomatoes, all the onions, garlic cloves, chiles and tomatillos with 1/2 cup of water (if you want it spicy, use the chile water). Process until smooth, adding more water if needed.
  4. Use with beef, pork or chicken.  Add potatoes to make a stew.
Lesson 1: Forget the French

Lesson 1: Forget the French

Mushrooms, fresh cactus leaves and squash blossoms

Chef Estela Silva runs a tight kitchen.  There is no deviation from her recipes (which have been handed down exactly as they are for generations).  There are no shortcuts, no substitutions.  If you have questions, ask them.  And if you can follow these rules, you’ll find she is one of the warmest, knowledgable and interesting chefs to work with.  I am absolutely loving my time with her in the kitchen.

Estela told me to forget my French culinary training — I was in a cocina now.  When we made chicken stock, it was whole chicken, one onion, water and nothing more.  No celery, no carrots and certainly no bouquet garni.  As for skimming the fat, Estela said that wasn’t necessary if you use the stock the same day you make it. She is right, of course, as the fat provides a perfect full-mouth texture and boosts the flavor of the stock.

Chef Estela Silva

She also doesn’t believe in being a stickler with meticulous knife skills.  Just a few rough chops then throw everything into a processor.  Who has time for perfect julienned strips or squarely diced tomatoes?   When French recipes call for concasse, peeled and seeded tomatoes, she instead pan fries them whole — because the skin blisters nicely and the tomatoes break apart themselves. Finally, she also loves to use whole garlic cloves, peels and all, in her sauces.  It’s wonderful to watch it all come together.

Today we made Sopa de Hongo (Mushroom Soup) made with fresh cactus leaves and epazote sprigs, Ensalada de Nopalitos (Cactus Salad), Pato Almendrado (Almond Duck) and Tortas de Papas con Espinaca (Potato Pancakes with Spinach).  Judging by the happy faces and warm smiles from the guests staying at her bed and breakfast, the dishes were a hit!  I absolutely loved the tortas and my favorite was the soup.

Now, it’s time for cerveza and some homemade bunelos.  Buenos noche!

Sopa de Hongo (Mushroom Soup)
Chef Estela Silva, Mexican Home Cooking School

Serves 8

The beautiful and delicious mushroom soup

Ingredients
4 nopal leaves, cleaned
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 fresh poblano chiles, toasted or grilled until soft
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
10 white or yellow squash blossoms, stems removed
5 cups chicken stock
epazote sprigs

  1. Prepare the nopal leaves by cleaning, dicing and boiling in salted water with the baking soda.  Add a tomatillo or two to reduce the foam.  Boil for 25 minutes.
  2. Slit open the chiles, remove seeds and char the chiles until the skin blisters.  Wrap in plastic and allow to sweat for 10 minutes.
  3. Removed the charred skins from the peppers and slice into thin strips.
  4. Saute onion, garlic and chiles in oil for 2 minutes, add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes more.
  5. Add the squash blossoms and simmer for another minute.
  6. Add the chicken stock and epazote and simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Garnish with the cooked napoles and adjust seasonings as needed.

At home in the kitchen!

Cookbook Excerpt: I Love You Meals

Cookbook Excerpt: I Love You Meals

The following is an excerpt from Food With My Friends, the debut cookbook by Chris Kohatsu, now available in eBook, iBook and printed versions.  Photographs by Stephanie Cameron.  All rights reserved.

Special Occasions, Date Nights & I Love You Meals

I can’t help but giggle as I write this. I’ve never been lucky in love. I’ve dated a lot, and I’ve certainly had my fair share of short-term relationships, but when it comes to true love I always strike out as if I were up against the best baseball pitcher in the world.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to start a wonderful relationship with Ron, and while we are no longer romantically involved, we remain good friends. He and I have shared more dishes than I can count. When I told him I was writing a cookbook, he quickly rattled off his favorites from all of the foods I’ve made for him over the years. I narrowed his choices down to four meals that I happily share with you here.

A romantic meal has to be genuine and full of thought, with elements of fun. I like to keep it casual, unique and somewhat light. You’ll need your energy for other activities during the night (and a reason to have a good breakfast in the morning)!

The following meals have been portioned for two people, but can easily be adjusted to accommodate a double date or larger family gathering. I’ve also included steps to ensure that all of the elements come together perfectly, as timing is everything.

If you are lucky enough to be in the kitchen with a special someone, these meals will practically make themselves in no time. If you want to impress someone, you can easily make any of these on your own.

Alternatively, if you’re like me and love to wish and hope and pray for a magical moment—practice, practice, practice these recipes. You just never know when you’ll need to have an “I Love You” meal at the ready!

Balsamic Marinated Steak with Spinach & Strawberry Salad

Serves 2

For the Marinade:
⅔ cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, smashed

For the Steaks:
2 New York strip steaks
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Salad:

Follow Raspberry Vinaigrette recipe, substitute strawberry jam
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
4 small or 2 large fresh strawberries
¼ cup sliced almonds

1. Start the Marinade
In a non-reactive dish or re-sealable plastic bag, mix the vinegar, brown sugar and garlic cloves.

With a fork, prick the steaks all over. Place the steaks in the marinade and refrigerate for one hour. Thirty minutes prior to grilling, remove from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.

2. Light the Grill
Heat the grill to high heat. Brush and oil the grill as needed.

Remove steaks from marinade and allow excess marinade to run off. Salt and pepper the steaks then place on grill. A thin-cut steak should be turned after 1-2 minutes. Thicker cut steaks will need 3-4 minutes per side.

Once steaks are finished, remove from grill and tent with foil. Allow steaks to rest for five minutes.

3. Make the Dressing
In a glass jar or leak proof container, shake the ingredients to make the vinaigrette. Refrigerate or set aside. Can be made 1 day in advance.

On plate, assemble a handful of spinach. Slice 1 large or 2 medium strawberries on top of spinach. Drizzle with vinaigrette then sprinkle with almonds.

4. Slice and Serve
Slice steak into strips, holding your knife at an angle and slicing across the grain. Serve steak and salad and enjoy immediately.