Kimchi Tofu Stew (Sundubu Jigae)

I’ve always been big fan of Korean food, but had never made any dishes at home. I always went out to a local restaurant. I assumed it was very complicated, but in fact, the basics are quite simple. 
 
The key, as with all cooking, is to have excellent and authentic ingredients. Most areas will have a Korean market and that will be your one stop shop for all of your ingredients. Additionally, the produce is usually excellent, very fresh and a faction of the price of a large grocery store.
This recipe came from my follow foodie Kenneth, and it is a dish called Sundubu Jigae. I also picked up a great cookbook from Maangchi. It is well written and very easy to follow. I highly recommend it. Its called Real Korean Cooking and she also has a wonderful blog. 
 
Ingredients 
1 Tbsp Hot Korean Pepper Flakes, or more to taste.
1 tsp Toasted Sesame Seed Oil
1 1/2 cup Fish Stock, low sodium
1/2 Onion chopped
2 Garlic clove chopped
1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil 
1 Green Onion/spring onion chopped
1 cup well fermented kimchi chopped
1 tsp light Soy Sauce, try a Korean brand, they are sweet and smoky.
1/2 tsp Sugar or substitute
1 package Soft Tofu
2 Eggs, cracked into a cup. Always a good idea to avoid any shells.
Splash of Red Boat Fish Sauce
Mix the pepper flakes and toasted sesame seed oil into a paste and set aside. In a heavy based pan, such as Le Cruset, heat the oil to medium and fry onion and garlic until soft.
Add kimchi and stir for a minute. Add 1 cup of fish stock, cover and cook for 7 minutes over medium heat. Then add soy sauce and sugar and mix. Gently add in the tofu and break it into large chunks. Add rest of stock and pour the hot pepper mixture on top and gently stir in. 
Add the cracked eggs and cover. Let it cook for a few minutes until the egg just sets. Sprinkle with green onion and fish sauce and serve with brown Jasmine rice.
 
Note: There is no additional salt in this recipe and it is not needed, as you have the soy sauce and the fish sauce at the end. Try to get a low sodium stock, as then you have control of the saltiness. You can always add salt, but you can’t take it away.

Nonna’s Stuffed Shells with Marinara

This is the kind of comfort food that I really enjoy cooking. It is the kind of food your Nonna would make on Sunday, and it is both comforting and very tasty.

It takes a little prep time, but I find the end result really satisfying. It’s still amazing to me how such simple ingredients can transform into something so incredibly good.  And, they are wonderful the next day, if they last that long.

Ingredients

1 12 oz box of Jumbo Pasta Shells

2 Egg Yolks
1 Egg
1 Package of Ricotta Cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated.
2 cups Mozzarella Cheese, grated.
1/4 cup Parsley, chopped.
Freshly grated Nutmeg, just a bit, or a pinch.
1/8 tsp Oregano
3-4 cups Marinara, good quality store bought is fine, but feel free to make your own if you’re inspired.

Begin by boiling water in a large pot, once the water is boiling, salt it generously and add the shells. Give it a soft stir, but don’t disturb the shells too much. Timing is critical here, because if you over cook the shells, you will have a mushy mess.


Follow the package directions and cut the highest time by half and start tasting for doneness at that point. Example, the package of shells I used said 10-13 minutes. I started tasting at 7 minutes. Had I cooked them for even 10 minutes, they would have been too soft. I found 9 minutes was perfect.


When they are cooked very al dente, pour them into a colander and rinse them well with cold water. Separate them with your fingers and continue to rinse until they are cool. As they are rinsed, they will not stick together.


Beat together your two egg yolks and your egg and them fold in the ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella. Add in salt, pepper, parsley and nutmeg. Put this mixture into a gallon freezer bag  and twirl the bag to make a piping bag, then cut a 1/2 inch corner off the end to fill the shells.


Put about 1 1/2 cups of you marinara on the bottom of your baking dish and then take each shell and pipe in the ricotta mixture. Squeeze the shells slightly and lay them next to each other in the dish. 


When all the shells have been filled, or you are out of room, sprinkle on the oregano add the rest of the marinara and add more Parmesan and or mozzarella cheese. Cover tightly with foil and into a 375F oven for 35-40 minutes. Cook until it is bubbling. Remove from the oven, uncover and let it rest for 5 minutes and serve. Makes 4 hefty portions.

Fresh Tomato Tart

This is very easy to prepare and a great way to use up tomatoes. If you can’t find wonderful summer tomatoes, it really isn’t worth the effort. The key to this is the freshness of the ingredients. 
There is one step that is very important, and it’s how you prepare the tomatoes. You need to follow this, or you will end up with a slimy mess. 
 
To prepare your tomatoes, slice them 1/4 inch thick and lay onto paper towels, do one layer of tomatoes then add more paper towels and another layer of tomatoes, etc. They can rest there while you prepare everything else. This just absorbs some of the juice, so you get full flavor, without soft puff pastry.
 
 
This can easily be made vegan by using Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, which is surprisingly vegan, and subbing a non dairy Parmesan, such as Go Veggie. 
 
Ingredients 
 
1 package of Puff Pastry, thawed. This takes about 2 hours in the refrigerator. 
3 medium sized Heirloom Tomatoes, sliced and prepared as described above.
2 Tbsp Olive Oil, with 1 clove Garlic, crushed. 
Fresh Basil 
Parmesan Cheese
1/4 tsp Salt, or to taste.
Black Pepper, freshly ground. 
1 tsp Chili Flakes, or as desired. 
Parchment Paper, cut to fit your rimmed baking pan. Slight overlap is totally fine. 
1 tsp AP Flour
 
Preheat your oven to 375F. Put the oven rack on the center rung. 
 
Begin by sprinkling about 1/2 of your AP Flour on the parchment paper. Lie your puff pastry onto the parchment paper, dust your rolling pin and gently roll out the pastry to the proper size, to match your pan. 
 
Gently place the parchment paper with pastry onto your baking pan. Brush the pastry with 1/2 of your olive oil mixture. 
 
Arrange half of your basil onto the pastry and arrange your tomatoes in one layer. It’s okay to overlap slightly if you have extra tomatoes. Add your salt, black pepper and chili flakes. 
 
Add the rest of your basil and then drizzle the rest of the olive oil mixture on top and add the Parmesan cheese. 
 
Bake following the package directions, but 375F for 30-35 minutes is usually good. Remove from oven, let it rest for 5 minutes and serve.

Sicilian Eggplant Caponata

This is a very popular dish in the south of Italy. There are many variations, and many contain olives and capers. I have made it following these recipes and they are very good, but I was wanting something with a sweeter undertone and packed with umami. 
 
 
So, I chose to follow a traditional recipe and then use raisins for sweetness and finished with Asian fish sauce. 
The ancient Romans frequently used a condiment called garum. It was basically a fermented fish sauce, made from many different types of fish. There were many different recipes for garum and some were very expensive. They liked to put it on a variety of dishes. I find Asian fish sauce to be a good substitute for garum, based upon the descriptions I\’ve read. 
 
If you want a more authentic “garum”, there is an Italian company called Nettuno that makes a product called Colatura di Alici, and it is a lighter version made from anchovies and very good.
You can order it from Gustiamo from this link https://www.gustiamo.com/colatura-anchovy-sauce-from-cetara-by-nettuno/ For this recipe I used Red Boat Fish Sauce, which is from Vietnam. 
Ingredients
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic
1/2 Onion, chopped
1/2 Red or Yellow Pepper, chopped. 
1 large Eggplant, peeled and cubed. 
3 cups Cherry Tomatoes, pierced. 
1/2 cup Marsala Wine
1/4 cup Raisins
1 tsp Chili Flakes, or to taste. 
1 Tbsp Fish Sauce 
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper 
 
Add your olive oil to a large sauté pan over medium heat. This is a slow food process, so the slower it cooks, the better. Add your onions and peppers and sauté until translucent, add you garlic and lightly sauté. Add a pinch of salt and some black pepper. 
 
Add in your cubed eggplant, stir and coat well. You will notice that the eggplant will absorb most, if not all, of the oil. Don\’t panic and add more oil, because the wine will fix that. Cook until the eggplant is translucent. Then, add your Marsala wine. Keep sautéing until the wine reduces by about half. 
 
Add your cherry tomatoes, which you have pierced with a paring knife. This prevents them exploding as they cook. Add your raisins, chili flakes and your fish sauce. Drop the heat down to a very low simmer and adjust salt as needed. This is a good time to start your pasta water. 
 
Cook until the smell becomes less raw and more combined. It should smell like a mixture of ingredients, not just one particular ingredient. I like to crush the cooked cherry tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. 
 
Drain your pasta, add your caponata and serve with Romano or Parmesan cheese, as desired. Some Italians do not not like to mix seafood or fish dishes with cheese, so it’s your choice. I think it works very well. Bon appetito! 

Homemade Cajun Spice Seasoning

With so many spice mixes out there, it might seem redundant to make your own, but it is a lot cheaper and you will know exactly what’s in it.  Additionally, you can control the salt content.
 
You will need a basic coffee grinder, but it’s minimal investment to buy two. One for coffee beans and one for spices. Not kidding, I’ve had my Krups grinders for 20 years. 
 
Feel free to adjust ingredients and quantity to suit your taste. This will keep well for many months in the pantry. 
 
1 1/2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Smoked Paprika 
1 tsp Oregano 
1 tsp Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Black Peppercorns 
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper 
1 whole Clove, optional
 
Add all ingredients into a coffee/spice grinder. Grind until a fine powder. Use as desired. Makes a wonderful marinade with olive oil for broiling most anything. 
 

Homemade Mac Cheese – Yes, it is this easy and really good.

Yes, you can make your own mac and cheese and it’s vastly better than store bought. Be creative with your choices of cheese. 
 
I’ve used smoked Gouda, Gruyere and even Blue Cheese. Their are no solid rules here. 
Just make sure it’s good cheese, and make sure it’s shredded or cubed. For shredding, I find the food processor with the shredding disk is very helpful. 
 
 
It is easy to make this vegan, so if you want a vegan mac and cheese, go for it. Just sub out the butter with Earth Balance, the milk with soy milk and cheese with non dairy options. Nutritional yeast is a helper here to give that cheesy flavor. 
 
I’ve made it both ways, and both are very good. 
 
Ingredients 
 
3 Tbsp Butter or Earth Balance
3 Tbsp Flour
2 cups Milk or Soy Milk, warmed.
2 cups Shredded Cheese or Daiya Cheddar.
1 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast, if making vegan. 
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese or Go Veggie Parmesan, for topping
Salt and Pepper
1 lb Pasta, Shells, Farfalle or Fusilli are perfect. 
 
Preheat your oven to 400F. Start the water for your pasta. When boiling, add salt and then add your pasta.
 
Then melt butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Stir for 2-3 minutes to create a light roux. Add the warmed milk and keep stirring until it thickens. Add the cheese, nutritional yeast, black pepper, reduce the heat and gently allow it to melt. 
 
When your pasta is cooked slightly more al dente than normal, drain and add it to the cheese sauce. Stir and coat the pasta and then transfer to a baking dish and top with Parmesan cheese, cover and into the oven for 20 minutes. 
 
Then remove and allow to rest covered for 5 minutes. Serve in bowls with extra Parmesan Cheese or Go Veggie Parmesan. 
 

Fast and Easy Marinara

So many people go out for Italian food that is average at best. You can make your own at home and it’s so much better. Here’s a recipe for a basic marinara that is fast and amazing.
Ingredients
1 28 oz can Muir Glen Whole Tomatoes
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp Salt
1 clove Garlic, peeled and crushed with side of your knife
Freshly ground Black Pepper
1/2 Onion, peeled and dropped in whole.
1 sprig fresh Basil
Put tomatoes in a saucepan, crush them with your hands. Add all other ingredients and gently simmer for one hour. Fish out the onion, garlic and basil and serve sauce over a high quality pasta like De Cecco Penne, Rigatoni or Spaghetti and sprinkle with Parmesano Reggiano. 

Hint: If you want to really make it amazing, finish it off in the pan with a little of the reserved pasta water. Just undercook the pasta by about two minutes. Use a Pyrex measuring cup to dip out about 3/4 cup of the boiling pasta water. set aside. Drain the pasta and add it back to the original pan and add a little bit of marinara and continue cooking on low heat for two minutes adding the pasta water a little bit at a time and finish with cheese.

Eggplant Parmesan – Big Taste, Fewer Calories

This is easy to pull together and has a rich bold flavor. As you are not frying the eggplant, but rather baking it, the overall result is much lighter than a traditional eggplant Parmesan, and saves a lot of calories.

I am a big fan of home made marinara. However, I find that if something is baked with other ingredients for a long time, the difference between a quality store-bought marinara and homemade is minimal.

As you will note in the ingredient listing, it is very easy to make this a totally vegan recipe. All you need to, is sub out the dairy ingredients for non-dairy ingredients. 
 
Ingredients 
 
1- 9×14 Pyrex baking dish
1 large Eggplant, firm with no soft spots. 
Olive Oil 
Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
2 large jars Marinara, Rao\’s is very good
6 Tbsp Pesto
2 tsp Chili Flakes
2-3 cups Mozzarella or Daiya Mozzarella 
1 package/tub Ricotta or Tofutti Cream Cheese
Freshly grated Parmesan or Go Veggie Parmesan
No bake Lasagna sheets
 
Note: You should not need any additional salt, as you will have salt from the eggplant, pesto and marinara.
 
Peel and slice the eggplant. Place around outside of a colander and salt on both sides, so it can sweat out any bitterness. After 30 minutes  remove, pat dry and brush with olive oil and place into a 385F oven for 30 minutes. Turning, half way through the cooking time. 
 
Mix the marinara, pesto and chili flakes together in a large bowl. 
 
To assemble the dish, add a layer of marinara mixture to the bottom of the baking dish, add no bake lasagna sheets, then more marinara, eggplant and mozzarella and dot with ricotta. Grate parmesan over all and continue layering until the dish is about 1/4 from the top. Finish with any leftover cheese. 
 
Cover and bake for 30 minutes in a 385F oven, remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Seafood Paella

I can’t imagine many dishes that court more controversy amongst purists than Paella. It is the soul of Spain and as such, opinions regarding its preparation are strong. Even its regional origins are arguable, but I believe that the arguments for it originating in Valencia ring true to me. 
As I don’t often eat meat, I do occasionally enjoy seafood, I wanted to create a seafood version that would be as authentic as possible without the meat and the open fire. 
If you’re not familiar with paella, it is traditionally cooked in a very large flat open pan and over an open fire. It is not soupy or soft, but rather the rice is crunchy around the edges and perfectly separated. The meat is mostly chicken, rabbit, chorizo and occasionally snails. It’s a true culinary treasure. 
 
 
 
 
As I do not have a dedicated paella dish and open fires are not really a viable option, I found a nifty hack that gives very good results. 
 
 
If you are a meat eater, then there are ample recipes online for a totally traditional Valencian paella. 
Ingredients 
1 1/2 lb Firm White Fish. Cod, Monkfish and Hake are all good choices.
3/4 lb Shrimp, cleaned and deveined. 
1/2 lb Bay Scallops 
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves Garlic, chopped 
1 large Onion, chopped
1 tsp Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
1 can of diced Tomatoes, Muir Fire Roasted would be ideal. 
1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
1/2 cup White Wine
2 cups Spanish Arroz or Paella rice. In a pinch, medium grain rice can be used. 
4 cups Seafood Stock warmed. 
2 Bay Leaves
1 ample pinch Saffron, crushed and mixed with a little hot water.
1 cup frozen Green Peas
1 small jar pimento stuffed Manzanilla Green Olives
Lemon wedges for garnish
Place the olive oil in a cast iron casserole (Le Cruset is perfect) or some pot with a cover that can go from stovetop to oven. 
Over medium heat bring the oil up to temperature, add the garlic and chopped onion and 1/2 tsp of the salt and black pepper, sauté until the onions are soft. Then add the smoked paprika and bay leaves. Sauté for 2-3 minutes and add the tomatoes and wine and cook until it reduces a bit. About 10 minutes. Taste and if it needs it, add the remaining 1/2 tsp of salt.
Then add the rice and coat thoroughly. Add warmed stock and saffron, mix well and then add the peas and olives and bring to a slight simmer. 
Add the seafood, gently pushing it into the broth. Fish first, then scallops and finally the shrimp.
Cover and put into a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking for 15 minutes. 
Remove from oven, recover and allow to rest on stove top for 5 minutes. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve.
Wine: Albarino is a good match as is a Rose’.

Masala Gravy – Indian Base Sauce

One of the challenges with Indian cuisine is the prep. However, with some planning, you can have amazing homemade Indian food, without too much work.

You can easily take this recipe and make it times four, to have masala paste or gravy left over. It stores well in the fridge or you can freeze it as well.

Note: A dedicated coffee grinder for spices is essential. I’ve had a Krups for 20 years.

Ingredients

Group 1
2 Tbsp. Coriander Seeds
2 Tbsp. Cumin Seeds
1 Tbsp. Black Peppercorns
1 tsp Cloves
2 Bay Leaves
1 Onion, chopped
4 inch piece of Ginger, peeled
3 Garlic Cloves
1 tsp Salt
4 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp. Black Mustard seeds
6 fresh Curry Leaves
Group 2
1 Tbsp. Turmeric, ground
2 tsp Fenugreek, ground
1 tsp Cardamom, ground
1 tsp Cinnamon, ground
2 tsp Cayenne Pepper, ground
1 14.5 oz can of crushed or chopped Tomatoes
Roast all whole spices from first group in 350F oven until just starting to omit fragrance. About 4-5 minutes max. Remove and set aside to cool.
In a small food processor or mortar and pestle, grind/pound the onion, ginger, garlic and salt into a puree.
Heat 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil in pan, and add black mustard seeds and cook covered until they pop open. Then add in fresh curry leaves and sauté until they slightly brown. 

Add the onion puree mixture and continue gently cooking until mixture is soft and very slightly browned.

While the onion puree mixture is sautéing, grind all of the roasted whole spices into a fine powder. Add in the second group of ground spices and then add all to the onion puree mixture and gently sauté. Do not let it burn. If it seems dry, add a little water.

Add in your tomatoes and you now have a masala gravy that can be used to create a multitude of different dishes. You can add any meat, seafood, or as I do, sweet potatoes, potatoes, okra or paneer.