Category Archives: Recommendations

Cold Peanut Noodle Salad Perfected

I can’t believe I’ve done it.IMG_3075

I’ve spent the past 35 years in search of the perfect recipe for cold peanut/sesame noodle salad.  I’ve tried recipes from restaurants, cookbooks, friends, enemies, the Internet…you name it, I’ve tried it.  I’ve experimented with numerous methods and techniques, different types of noodles, flavor combinations native to different nationalities–Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Burmese. I’ve tried different levels of spice and heat. I’ve experimented with the participants in cooking classes I’ve taught.

And each time there seemed to be some element of the recipe missing.  I always thought: good, but not just perfect.

Until now.

I think I’ve done it.

Recognizing, of course, that each of you has your own version of what’s perfect in this classic–it’s one of those recipes that you use to gauge how good an Asian restaurant is. This is one of mine.

I started my quest with my long-time friend Vicki (are you still with me, Vicki Corey?  I bow in your general direction), who shared with me the basic concept of “threes.” Three tablespoons of this, that, and the other, three teaspoons of this and that. And this recipe, which I still have and which is reproduced way back in the early pages of this blog (here’s the link:, or search on Vicki’s Noodles), has served me extremely well. No matter where or which recipe I tried I kept coming back to this one as being as close to perfect as I had found. It even once won me a “Philly’s Best” award when I was making it for a small gourmet shop in Ardmore, PA, a place known for good food.

It’s (in my view) just the right amount of spicy/hot for everyone, but if you like it spicier/hotter, add more chili oil or some Sriracha to suit yourself.  In this version of the recipe I’ll recommend specific ingredient brands, most of which are available at your local Asian grocery store.

Also, when you read my recommendation for the noodles to use, you’ll holler, “WHAT??? THAT’S NOT ASIAN!”  Okay, I know that. But what are you expecting? Authentic or perfect?  I’ll opt for perfect.

Try it.  You’ll like it. Guaranteed!

Spicy Sesame Peanut-Noodle Salad


1 box (13.25 oz) rotini or fusilli whole wheat noodles, cooked al dente’

3 Tablespoons premium dark soy sauce

3 Tablespoons brown rice vinegar

1 Tablespoon fish sauce

2 Tablespoons toasted dark sesame seed oil

2 teaspoons sesame chili oil

3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar

3 Tablespoons Crazy Richard’s crunchy peanut butter

1/3 cup chopped red cabbage

1 medium carrot, shredded fine

1/3 cup chopped green onion, divided

1/3 cup chopped peanuts, divided

½ cup FRESH(!) bean sprouts


  1. Whisk the next seven ingredients (soy sauce through peanut butter) until they are completely blended.
  2. Cook the noodles per package, 1 minute LESS than the recommended al dente’ time; drain 5-10 minutes, but DO NOT RINSE.
  3. Place the noodles in a large bowl, add the sauce and toss to coat all the noodles well.
  4. Add the cabbage, carrot, ¼ cup green onion, ¼ cup peanuts, and bean sprouts and toss again to coat all the ingredients. If you wish a more Thai flavor, add ¼ cup shredded fresh Thai basil or chopped cilantro.
  5. If you wish to add a protein—slices of grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, or tofu, do it now.
  6. Allow to stand until the salad reaches room temperature.

Garnish with the remaining peanuts and green onion and serve at room temperature or refrigerate for later, but allow to return to room temperature for serving (garnish when serving).

And by the way, if you’re truly interested in an authentic Sesame Noodle salad or if you’re allergic to nuts, replace the peanut butter with tahini. And for an authentic noodle, you can use either 8 ounces medium rice noodles, or Soba or Udon noodles.


One-Pot Spicy Thai Noodles

I came across an intriguing recipe the other day, and it looked about halfway unbelievable. I thought I might be able to improve it, and improve it I did. I changed it up from the original because A) doing so here would approximate plagiarism; B) I think my version came out way better than the original; and C) I’m not the biggest fan of zucchini in one-pot dishes–I find it to be mushy and I don’t think it adds significantly to the flavor layers in the dish. In most Asian cuisines there are layers of complex flavor and texture, and to me, zucchini doesn’t contribute enough to the dish to make it into the final product. I will, however, provide you with a link to the original at the end of the post.

The recipe as presented is vegetarian, but if you so desire, please try it with chicken, shrimp, pork, beef, or tofu for a jolt of protein and additional body. If you wish to add chicken, beef, or pork, cut into 1-2-inch strips and pound them flat (cut tofu into 1-inch cubes); marinate them 30-60 minutes in 2 Tbsp light soy sauce and 2 Tbsp rice vinegar; add them to the pot after the eggs are cooked; stir-fry them until just barely done; then set aside and continue on, and add them back just before adding the sauce. I am also presenting you options for oils, mushrooms, and leafy herbs based on your preferences. Any will work, in any combination–that’s the beauty of Thai cooking: options abound, while techniques remain the same.

This is a very tasty and simple-to-make one-pot noodle dish, and I highly recommend you try it when you need something quick, tasty, and different. 

Spicy Thai Noodles


1 8-ounce package medium-width rice noodles 

2 Tbsp peanut, coconut, or vegetable oil, divided

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 head bok choi, chopped, largest leaves chopped into strips

8 ounces mushroom (preferably shiitake, but white will do), chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce

2 tsp fish sauce (optional)

1.5 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce (or more if you wish, up to 1.5 Tbsp–you know what you like)

2 inches fresh ginger, grated

1/4 cup fresh Thai basil (or sweet basil or cilantro–whichever you prefer), chopped

4 green onions, chopped

1/4 cup peanuts, chopped


1. In a large heavy pot, fill halfway with water, salt, and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl combine brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce if you are using it, sriracha, and ginger; whisk well to combine; set aside.

3. Return the pot to the stove, heat over medium heat, and add 1 Tbsp oil. Add beaten eggs and red pepper flakes and stir to scramble the eggs. Once cooked, set aside with pasta.

4. Return the pot to stove, heat remaining 1 TBS oil over medium heat. Add the bok choi, mushrooms, and garlic. Saute over medium high heat for 5-6 minutes or until veggies are cooked through but the white stalks are still crisp.

5. Turn heat down to low, add pasta and eggs back to pot, then pour the sauce mixture over the top. Using a wooden spoon, stir well to coat pasta and vegetables with sauce. Remove from heat, add peanuts, green onions, and basil or cilantro; stir to combine, then garnish with additional chopped peanuts and chopped green onions.

6. Serve immediately.

Notes: Serve warm or cold – it’s great both ways! If you choose shrimp as your protein, add that when there is about 2-3 minutes left with for the veggies to cook.

Also, if you wish to see the original recipe from which this is adapted, you can find it here:

Cauliflower, Red Lentil, and Sweet Potato Stew

I can’t believe how good this is. I also can’t believe that I can cook Indian food this good.

Curried cauliflower and sweet potatoes and lentils?lentils All that, and it’s low fat, almost zero carbs, lots of fiber and protein–it’s just about a perfect food.

We do meatless Monday around here, and I’m always trying to find ways to overcome the meat chromosome in my DNA.  It’s tough sledding, but I’m getting better at it.

So red lentils form the foundation of this wonderful vegan stew, and it’s so easy to do and so good that it has, after one attempt, moved into regular rotation.

Even the kids liked it. It’s fragrant and delicious, and if you’re into vegan or vegetarian, I urge you to try this one.  You’ll like if for sure.

Curried Cauliflower, Red Lentil, and Sweet Potato Stew


2 tablespoons coconut or extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 large sweet onion, diced

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed

6 cups vegetable stock

Chopped fresh cilantro


1.  Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add cumin, turmeric, and curry powder and stir until fragrant, 2-3 minutes.  Add onion and a few pinches of salt, and cook, stirring, until tender, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until tender, 1-2 minutes. Add sweet potatoes, bell pepper, and cauliflower and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

2.  Add lentils and stock.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 25-30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Top with chopped cilantro before serving.

French Onion Soup — Restaurant Good, Home Made Easy


I’m a sucker for French onion soup.img_2910
Rich and fragrant, ooey-gooey cheesy, intensely flavored, and most of all, familiar. I try it whenever I find it on a menu, every single time. About half the time I’m disappointed. I’ve tried several times to create a good-as-a-restaurant French onion soup, with mixed results. I’ve made some pretty good ones and some pretty bad ones. Alas, the good ones are so labor intensive that I just don’t have the time, or the inclination, to repeat them. Complicating the problem is that we don’t eat beef around here, so making this pot-o-gold has become a real challenge.

So did I give up? You know better. I decided to create my own recipe. Trial and error usually works, so long as I’m willing to be patient. And dogged.

My rules were simple. It had to be good–restaurant good. It had to be vegetarian. And it had to be easy to make. Did I mention that it had to be good?

The trick is to layer lots of flavors in perfect balance, and know what flavors work well together. It turns out I know these things; I learned them from my cooking mentor Martin Betonio, the Filipino kitchen magician from Miami Beach.

And I make it in a slow cooker.

So here then, is my vegetarian easy-to-make, restaurant-good French onion soup.


6 Tablespoons unsalted butter

4 large sweet onions, halved and sliced

2 tablespoons sweet paprika

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 large cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

2 Knorr-Swiss vegetable bouillon cubes (Do not substitute other brands!)

6 ounces dry sherry

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

7 cups vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Freshly ground black pepper

1 baguette, sliced into ¾-inch slices and toasted under the broiler on both sides

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

Fresh parsley, coarsely minced, for garnish

Melt the butter in a large, heavy stock pot over medium-high heat; add the onions and paprika and saute, stirring occasionally, until transparent. It’s okay if they brown, but don’t let them burn. Add the sugar and mash the bouillon cubes into the onions, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the sherry and stir, scraping any brown bits from the bottom, until the pot is deglazed.

Pour the onion mixture into a crockpot. Add the stock, soy sauce, bay leaf, thyme, and black pepper, cover and cook on high for six hours, then low for two more, or eight -10 hours on low. Remove the bay leaf and adjust for salt and pepper, and add a bit of sherry, if desired.

To serve, ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls, place 2 toasted rounds on the soup, then top with 2 tablespoons each of mozzarella and then Gruyere, and place under the broiler until brown and bubbly. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and serve immediately.

Sicilian Spaghetti and Gravy

Do you slave over a hot stove for hours perfecting your generations-old spaghetti sauce? The one your grandmother made, the one your mother made, the one your aunt across town made and to whom you traveled on Sundays because “her Romagravy was THE ONE!”

I don’t.  At least not any more.

Blame it on Nino.

He is Nino Elia.  He’s a chef of note here in the Lancaster PA area, who specializes in-home dinner parties, small events, and private cooking classes. Ellen and I met him doing a cooking-class presentation at my new favorite gourmet shop in the area, Zest!  They called it Date Night with Nino!, and boy was it ever.  Sixteen (mostly) cooking enthusiasts who love to get together and have a good time.  This particular event was all about cooking Sicilian.

Nino presented pan-fried Kalamata olives with rosemary and ricotta salata, pollo alla vucciria–which he called Chicken Chaos (aptly named!), and spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno, which basically is spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes and basil.  It was all amazing.

When I was single and living in Olde City Philadelphia I used to make the spaghetti dish almost every night, because it is filling, healthy, cheap, and simple.  But I didn’t know it had a name–to me it was spaghetti with a quick, fresh tomato and basil condiment.

Nino has raised this dish to an art form, taking it to a place beyond what I knew of Sicilian cuisine.  It isn’t actually very far from what I used to make, but far enough to have awakened in me a new appreciation for what gets made for dinner in Sicily.  I can imagine this dish being served nightly at homes all over the Italian island, and no one ever tiring of it–in fact, one can imagine alterations from time to time to keep the idea fresh.

So no more long, loving hours in the kitchen with red gravy (save that for some other recipe).  Don’t cook your sauce to death.  This one reeks of fresh ingredients.  But also, it is so quick and simple that you will likely want to make this one of your go-to “dinners in a hurry.”  That’s the way it ought to be.Sicilian Spaghetti

Spaghetti con pomodoro arrosto al forno


12 ripe Roma tomatoes

5-8 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 bunch fresh basil, divided

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

kosher salt and pepper to taste

Parmesano Reggiano


For the sauce:  Cut the tomatoes in half and place on an olive-oiled baking sheet, skin side down.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic, chopped basil, and olive oil.  Bake for 20 minutes in a pre-heated 400-degree oven.  After 20 minutes turn the tomatoes cut side down an bake for another 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and set aside until just before the pasta is finished.  Pick off the skins and half the sauce in a large saute pan over low heat. Chop or mash the tomatoes into chunks, taste for salt and pepper and adjust the flavor.

For the pasta:  Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.  When the tomatoes come out of the oven, add a tablespoon salt to the boiling water and stir once. Then add a box of spaghetti, stir once or twice, and cook for 2 minutes less than the recommended time on the package for al-dente pasta (the timing is important–the pasta will continue to cook after you remove it from the water).  With a slotted spoon, remove the pasta from the water and place it in the pan with the sauce.  Toss lightly to coat the pasta with the sauce.

Serve the pasta topped with the remaining sauce, garnished with more freshly chopped basil, freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Want to see more of Nino?  Check him out at:


Cold sesame noodles: the quest continues

I think that this is becoming one of my life’s passions.sesame noodles Perhaps my single favorite bring-along dish when we go avisitin’ in the summertime is cold Asian sesame noodles–peanut noodles, for those of you who have been following along or catching the occasional posts I jam into this space.  It’s also my favorite food, one that I am in constant movement toward the perfect version of this well-known and highly popular dish.

Sesame noodles.  Just the words themselves send me into paroxysms of joy.  Thinking about them make me quiver and want to try yet another version.

I won a local cooking prize once with my original version, which is not really my version, but rather a gift recipe given to me by a friend more than 30 years ago.  Since then I have tweaked and twirled the recipe, made it twice weekly for a late, lamented gourmet shop in Ardmore, PA (where the chef gave me wonderful input for moving the recipe closer toward perfect), produced at least two dozen different versions for my own edification–always in the service of finding one single blend that might become my “always” recipe.

The difference in the recipes is always the sauce (duh!).  There are as many different versions of the sauce as there are versions of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust.  At least.

I took a stab at a recipe I found courtesy of the New York Times that was touted as “authentic,” one that stated the opinion that if it contained peanut butter it’s not sesame noodles (to that I retort:  Bosh!!).  That recipe was good–great, actually, but it wasn’t “The One.”

So on goes the search.

I found another recipe I decided to try that seems more authentic, and I made that, twice, the first time exactly as the recipe was written and then with a couple of tiny tweaks that I have found actually made my own version better.

So, because I understand that cold sesame noodle salad is entirely a personal preference thing, I’m going to present you with my latest attempt at perfection, one I got from a Vietnamese cook who swears that this is the true authentic cold sesame-noodle salad.  Try this one on for size:



8 ounces flat rice noodles

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 large carrot, julienne cut

8 ounces fresh bean sprouts


3 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (acceptable substitution is 2½ tablespoons tahini and 1½ teaspoon toasted sesame-seed oil)

2 tablespoons Chinese brown-rice vinegar

2½ tablespoons regular soy sauce

1½ teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon Chinese chili paste (or more, or less, as you prefer)

1 heaping teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle

To finish:

2 tablespoons toasted sesame-seed oil

12 ounces poached chicken breast, hand shredded

2 scallions, green parts only, cut into thin rounds

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds


Cook the noodles according to the package instructions, always using the minimum recommended cooking time.  Add the celery and carrot, cook one minute more, then plunge the noodles into cold water.  Important tip: Do not overcook the noodles, they become mushy very quickly. Flush with cold water twice, until the water runs clear, and drain well.  Toss with one tablespoon toasted sesame-seed oil and set aside.

Stir together all the sauce ingredients except the toasted peppers until smooth and well mixed. Taste and tweak the flavors with the sauce ingredients to find the blend of tangy, spicy, salty, and sweet that suits your taste. It should be slightly more pungent than you want, because the other ingredients will dilute the flavor a bit.  When you are happy with the flavor, add the toasted peppercorns and mix well.  Allow to rest about 10 minutes before mixing into the sauce (the sauce can be held in the refrigerator up to 3 days; allow it to come to room temperature and stir well before using).

To serve, toss the noodles, bean sprouts, and the chicken in a large bowl, add the remaining sesame-seed oil, pour the sauce over the top, toss once gently, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and green onions.

You can also consider other optional ingredients to add:  shredded red cabbage, julienned broccoli stems, dried tofu cubes, coarsely chopped peanuts, sliced water chestnuts, chopped fresh basil or cilantro.

Perfect? Pretty darn close. This version of the recipe allows you to adjust the flavors for yourself to find the blend that pleases you.

Isn’t that the essence of cooking?





Ira’s Favorite Chicken

I call this dish Ira’s Favorite Chicken.  I don’t know what else to call it.  It has its roots in the Epicure Market on South Beach, where I cooked for several years. unnamed

This is NOT the Epicure’s recipe–that actual recipe is, to date, unrepeatable. I made it in food-grade 39-gallon plastic tubs, and it took four tubs to make a batch. Also it was forty years ago, and the nuances of the recipe escape me now.  But I’ve come pretty close to getting it right.

I call it Ira’s Favorite Chicken, because one of my favorite cousins–the erstwhile Ira, a physician and magnificent human being in the Philly suburbs–has been bugging me for years to come up with this recipe, and to pass it on to him.  I’ve actually been trying to duplicate it for others since I moved away from Florida, and I think I’ve finally gotten close.  It’s sweet, salty, peppery, pungent, and most of all, tastes like home.

WARNING:  this recipe is complicated, but it’s waaaaay worth the effort.

So Ira, this one’s for you.  It’s not the original, but it’s pretty damn close.  Let me know what you think.  (Wendy, this is a challenge!)



1 3½ to 4-pound chicken

5 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, finely minced

1 tablespoon honey

½ cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup pineapple juice

1½ tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame-seed oil

1 teaspoon red chili oil

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon pickling spice

3 hefty shakes fine-ground white pepper (NOT black pepper)

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely minced

2 pieces scallion (green onion), green parts only, chopped into small pieces


The day before:

  1. Remove the backbone, and cut the chicken into 12 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 pieces wings, breasts cut in half across the breast (discard the backs and wing tips, or freeze and save for a stock).
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the well the garlic and ginger; place the chicken pieces in the bowl and toss well to coat with the garlic and ginger. Place the chicken by hand into a 1-gallon zipper-close bag–leaving the remaining garlic and ginger in the bowl–and refrigerate for 1 hour.  In the same bowl, mix the remaining ingredients; cover and refrigerate. An hour later, pour the marinade into the bag with the chicken.

Cooking day:

  1. Preheat a convection oven to 375ºF.  (If you don’t have a convection oven, read the note at the end).
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the chicken, skin side up on the sheet, leaving some space between the pieces. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover with aluminum foil, and rest for 15 minutes.

If you want to be really authentic to the Epicure recipe, while the chicken is baking, make a glaze of ½ cup apricot jam, 2 tablespoons orange marmalade, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce and ½ teaspoon fish sauce; simmer for 30 minutes, and baste the finished chicken with the glaze just before serving.  Garnish with minced cilantro and chopped scallion.

Serve with fried rice.  You can buy pork fried rice at your favorite Chinese restaurant, buy a fried-rice product in the grocery store (I do like P.F. Chang’s fried rice), or you can make your own, using a fabulous recipe called “Classic Pork Fried Rice” on my Pinterest page (Jeff Thal, on the board called “Chinese New Year.”).

NOTE:  If you don’t have a convection oven, turn the broiler on high for the last five minutes and watch the chicken closely so that it doesn’t burn.  It should blacken just a tiny little bit. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with aluminum foil for 15 minutes.



Penne Pasta with Vodka Sauce

So today I’m faced with a challenge.  We went to a new Italian restaurant for supper the other night, and it was wonderful—Salt & Pepper in the new Worthington shopping plaza on Oregon Pike, about halfway between Roseville Road and Landis Valley Road in Manheim Township.  The best Italian food we have had since we moved here, other than homemade.penne

I had delicious linguine and clams in red sauce, E. had an excellent chicken Parmesan and spaghetti, and M. had spaghetti in vodka sauce, a light and creamy red sauce.  It was an excellent meal.

The challenge, then, is to recreate the spaghetti in vodka sauce and make it even better than the restaurant’s version.  I liked it, but I wished it had had a bit more of a spicy bite. I like my red sauces to have a little punch.  Vodka sauce, on the other hand, is not particularly robust, relying on subtle but complex flavors mixed to perfection.

So what to do?

What I’ve done is replaced black pepper with white pepper, minced shallots instead of garlic, caramelized red onions instead of minced yellow ones, and a bit of sweet paprika and more red-pepper flakes than what most recipes call for. These changes add complexity to the dish.  One further adjustment is that I use Absolut Peppar as the vodka in the recipe, but that is a personal vanity.  Most any good vodka will do, but I truly like the layer of black pepper flavor it imparts.  My favorite vodka is Blair and Brown, a true potato vodka made right here in Pennsylvania, but I’d rather savor that on the rocks with a bit of tonic and lime. Perhaps together?

Try this recipe at home.  Use penne or linguine instead of spaghetti, and whole-wheat pastas will add a bit more bite to the dish.  I’m certain you’ll like it, and will serve it to guests.  It’s a true winner, sure to garner oohs and ahs from your friends and naysayers who think that vodka sauce is a bridge too far.  That’s a bridge I willingly cross.

Penne with Vodka Sauce


1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) , drained, liquid reserved
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, minced (about 1/4 cup)

1  tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium shallots, minced

1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
kosher salt and freshly ground WHITE pepper (much better than store-bought fine-ground)
1/3 cup vodka (try it with Absolut Peppar)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
2 whole sprigs fresh basil, plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Puree half of tomatoes until smooth. Dice remaining tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine pureed and diced tomatoes in liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1 2/3 cups). Add reserved liquid to equal 2 cups.
2. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. To caramelize the onion, add onion and brown sugar and cook over a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are light golden brown and soft, about 15 minutes. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring constantly about three minutes; add shallots, paprika, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove pan from heat and add vodka. Return pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until the alcohol is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower heat to medium if simmering becomes too vigorous. Remove the basil sprigs and stir in cream and cook until hot, about 1 minute.
4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven. Add sauce to pasta and toss over medium heat until pasta absorbs some of sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in the minced basil and adjust seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls, garnish with chopped basil, and serve immediately.

Cedar-Plank Grilled Salmon

Summer season.  Grilling.  pacific-rim-cedar-plank-salmon-ssDon’t want to heat up the kitchen any more than is necessary.  So, when company is coming to town and dinner for ten is in order, and half of the guests don’t eat meat (but will eat fish), what’s the imperative?

Why grilled salmon, of course!

Have you ever grilled a big piece of salmon on a cedar plank?  No?  You haven’t lived.  Juicy, smoky, crispy, full of flavor, and just rocking with Omega 3s (I just point that out because at my age I have to be careful just what I put in my body (LOL).

The reality is, I don’t much like fish, any fish.  Can’t say why; I never did like seafood beyond shellfish, but over the years I have learned to like salmon enough to find recipes that I can make and like.  Like my friend Jim Coleman’s Mustard-crusted salmon with shallots and white wine.  And wild salmon gently poached in white wine, pickling spices and black pepper with dill-yogurt sauce.

And now, after experimenting with recipes and techniques, I’ve finally come up with a version of Seattle’s famous cedar-planked grilled salmon that I can say is worthy of my posting here (thanks, of course, to Cooks’ Illustrated, which, if you’ve read this space, know is my bible of cooking technique).

Cedar-plank grilled salmon on the barbecue. I think it has changed my mind about fish.  This is the best piece of fish I’ve ever eaten, and I’m happy to report that I actually made it myself.  It’s slightly Asian in its feel, and it goes incredibly well with quick-sauteed spinach and garlic and a Thai version of my legendary (according to me) cold sesame noodle salad.

So here is my latest adaptation of a published recipe, from Cooks Illustrated to my kitchen to yours.


Cedar-Plank Grilled Salmon


1 2½-foot x 6-inch unfinished cedar plank (courtesy of Lowe’s Home Improvement)

2 cups white wine

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1½ tablespoons rice vinegar (buy from an Asian market, not the grocery store)

1 tablespoon dark toasted sesame seed oil (also from the Asian market)

½ teaspoon hot chili oil

1/3 cup light soy sauce

¼ cup chopped chives

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (from the root)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2½ – 3-pound salmon fillet (one piece, head end is best–I got mine at Costco)


  1. Soak the cedar plank for at least an hour in room-temperature water and 2 cups white wine. Fully submerge the plank in the water; weight down if necessary.
  2. Mix together the vinegar, oils, soy sauce, chives, ginger, and garlic in a 1-gallon zipper-close bag. Roll the salmon fillet small enough to fit into the bag. Zip the bag, turn it over a few times to mix and coat the salmon, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, up to but no more than an hour.
  3. Preheat an outdoor grill to medium heat. Place the plank on the grates. The plank is ready when it starts to smoke.
  4. Place the salmon fillet in the plank and discard the bag and marinade. Close the cover and grill for 20-25 minutes, until the fish is done (when you can flake it with a fork).
  5. Remove the salmon from the grill, cover loosely with foil for 5 minutes, then cut into serving-size portions and serve immediately.

You can make an extra half-batch of the marinade, set aside, and serve in small dipping bowls with the salmon. It is loaded with flavor.

If you want the Thai version of the Sesame Noodles, search on this site for that recipe, then add 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce to the sauce recipe, and julienne broccoli stems, 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (Thai basil is best), and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro to the noodles before adding the sauce.  It’s a nice change of pace, and will win raves.

Turkey Burgers With a Surprise

We don’t eat red meat.  But you knew that.


 So when cookout season rolls around, burgers become a production, and what a production these burgers are!  Full of veggies and flavor, and if you serve them on crusty artisan rolls with thick slices of tomato, Boston lettuce, and a slather of homemade mayonnaise, well then, who needs beef! Not me!  Try these.  I think you’ll be wonderfully surprised!

Turkey Burgers with Zucchini and Carrot


1 pound ground turkey

1 medium zucchini, grated

1 medium carrot, grated

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

¾ teaspoon dried thyme

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 egg

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 slices crusty bread or 4 artisan rolls

4 small leaves Boston lettuce

1 large slicing tomato, sliced thick

1 red onion, sliced

For the mayonnaise:

  • 1-1/4 cup of light olive oil, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 1 lemon, juiced


Heat broiler. In large bowl, combine turkey, zucchini, carrot, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and egg. Form into 4 patties

Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the patties, turning once, until no pink remains, 4-5 minutes preside.

Meanwhile, place the bread on a baking sheet and brush with the remaining olive oil. Broil until golden brown and crisp, about 1½ minutes.

Transfer the bread to individual plates. Slather the bread with the mayonnaise. Top with the lettuce, tomato, onion, and burgers.

For the mayonnaise:

  • Place the egg, 1/4 cup of olive oil, mustard powder, and salt in a mixing bowl, blender, or food processor. Mix thoroughly.
  • While the food processor or blender is running (or while mixing in a bowl with a stick blender),  slowly drizzle in the remaining cup of olive oil.
  • After you’ve added all the oil and the mixture has emulsified, add lemon juice to taste, stirring gently with a spoon to incorporate.
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