Gluten Free Dishes for Holiday Gatherings

As we gather for the holidays with friends and family for great meals and get togethers, you may find that some of your guests are on a gluten-free diet. It is becoming more common as an increasing number of people discover they are allergic to gluten.  Some folks choose to adopt this way of eating for its health benefits.

Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is the ingredients that give dough elasticity. It is sometimes added to foods for thickening or a flavoring ingredient. People who have been diagnosed with celiac disease have a high sensitivity to gluten. Eating a gluten-free diet has been linked to a decrease in cholesterol levels, and some feel it increases their energy and efficiency levels. Gluten is also used in a variety of processed foods, so by avoiding those, you avoid eating gluten as well as many other bad ingredients.

This month I’ll be teaching cooking classes at Rancho La Puerta , a health resort and spa in Baja,Mexico. We’ll be making some gluten-free recipes in one of these sessions, and I would like to share some of those recipes with you below. These will be great dishes to make for holidays and throughout the year. They will satisfy guests who are following a gluten-free diet, and those who are just looking for great food to eat!


Makes enough to fill a 3-cup mold or dish

The simplicity of this recipe belies its great taste. Serve with crisp non-gluten croutes, toasts or crackers of your choice and, as the French do, with some little cornichons and grainy mustard on the side.

1 ounce dried wild mushrooms such as porcini
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped shallots or green onions (white part only)
1-1/4 pounds thickly sliced fresh wild or exotic cultivated mushrooms*
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons curry powder or to your taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup toasted, preferably unsalted cashews
2 tablespoons toasted nut oil such as walnut or olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed herbs such as parsley, chives and/or basil
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rinse the dried mushrooms quickly and let soak in warm water to cover for 15 minutes. Drain, squeeze dry and chop.

Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over moderately high heat. Add the shallots, all mushrooms, garlic, curry and cumin and sauté and stir until mixture is just beginning to brown and all liquid has evaporated.

While mushrooms are cooking add the cashews to a food processor and process till finely chopped. Add oil and continue to process to make a paste or butter. Add the mushroom mixture and process till almost smooth. Stir in the herbs and zest and season with salt and pepper to your taste and place in a 3-cup pate mold or other ceramic dish. Can be stored covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Allow to return to room temperature to serve.

*A caution here – - only use wild mushrooms that you are certain are edible. If you are not a hunter you can certainly substitute wild or cultivated mushrooms found in the market such as chanterelle, shiitake, cremini, portabella, oyster, etc.

Serves 4 – 6

Brining is a terrific way to add flavor and succulence to not only shrimp by poultry, pork, and finned fishes. Note that kosher salt is called for in this recipe. If using sea ordinary table salt reduce the amount of salt to 1/4 cup. Also note that I’m asking you to save the shrimp shells. They can be used to make a delicious shelf fish stock for use in other recipes. Store them frozen until you are ready to make stock.

For the Brine
1/3 cup each kosher salt and brown sugar
1 quart cold water

For the Marinade
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 pound large shrimp (16 – 20 per pound) peeled and deveined (save the shells!)
Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

Garnish: Sprigs of cilantro

Prepare brine by stirring salt, sugar and water together until dissolved. Add shrimp and refrigerate for 20 minutes or so. Mix the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove shrimp from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Toss with the marinade to coat the shrimp and marinate for up to 1 hour, refrigerated.

Grill shrimp on both sides over medium hot coals (or alternately under a hot broiler) until they are just cooked through, about 3 minutes total, turning halfway through. Place shrimp on plates and top with the salsa and cilantro sprigs. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 1 cup

This is a quick little sauce of Spanish origin that is delicious on all kinds of grilled, pan seared or roasted meats, fish and vegetables. Note that I’ve used blanched or roasted garlic rather than the fresh raw type. I think this is especially important if you are going to make the sauce ahead. Over time, raw garlic can become harsh and hot. Blanched or roasted garlic maintains its more subtle and sweet flavor and doesn’t overpower the sauce as it sits.

2 cups coarsely chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or mint
4 (or more) anchovy fillets in oil
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons blanched or roasted garlic (see note below)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2/3 cup or so fruity extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add the parsley, anchovies, capers, garlic, basil and zest to a food processor or blender. With machine running, slowly add the oil until just blended. Sauce should still have a little texture. Season with salt and pepper. Can be stored covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.

To blanch garlic, separate cloves but don’t peel. Place in a small sauce pan and cover with at least ½ inch of cold water. Place on stove over high heat and bring to a boil. As soon as water boils, drain and repeat process one more time. Rinse to cool off cloves. Remove husk from poached garlic and store covered in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To roast garlic, cut off top quarter of a whole head to expose each of the cloves. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap loosely in foil and roast in a preheated 375-degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes or until garlic is soft when gently squeezed. Store covered in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Squeeze out as needed.





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Bacon Recipe Contest Winner

Me and my radio co-host, Steve Garner, broadcasting from the finals of the Bacon Recipe Contest for The Good Food Hour

Earlier this month my radio co-host, Steve Garner, and I hosted a Bacon Recipe Contest on our radio show, The Good Food Hour on KSRO in Sonoma County. We had some great entries, and did the difficult work of narrowing them down to four finalists. The contest was held November 3rd at G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa, and one delicious winner emerged.

Bob Cronbach created two recipes that can be served separately, but served together, they earned him the Grand Prize! As a child, Bob was once crowned the “Junior Pancake King”, and says these recipes were

Bob Cronbach and me interacting during the Bacon Recipe Contest finals

inspired by his early cooking experiences and experiments. The Apple Bacon Fritter is versatile since it could be served plain as a snack, or dusted with powdered sugar or served with maple syrup and fruit, it could be served for breakfast. Serve it with his Maple Bacon Pecan Ice Cream, and you have a dessert that will really impress your holiday guests! There were a total of four winners chosen, and you can find all of their recipes on KSRO’s website.

All of the Bacon Recipe Contest Finalists with hosts- Laurie Figone, me, Marna Hill, Bob Cronbach, Steve Garner, and Olarn Tonverapongsiri

This was our 26th Recipe Cooking Contest and we’ve always had a great time with these.  I am sad to say this will be the last cooking contest we will host on KSRO, as the station recently cut our radio show and has replaced it with syndicated programming. I feel that local media programming is just as important as buying local produce and supporting local businesses. The Good Food Hour may re-emerge in another form, but in the meantime, you can always keep in touch with me here and on my Facebook page.

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

The winning dish!

Bacon Apple Fritter

4-5 Thick cut slices of Applewood Smoked Bacon
3 medium sized, firm apples
1 cup of Bisquick
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
4 cups of oil, preferably peanut or corn

In a deep fryer or deep sauce pan, heat oil to 350 degrees

Dice the bacon and cook over medium heat to crispy lardons. Remove with slotted spoon and place on paper towel to drain. Set aside to cool.

Peel, core and dice apples, approximately 1/3 inch. You should have about 4 cups.

Combine and mix all dry ingredients.

Whisk together the wet ingredients, then combine with dry ingredients. Stir bacon and apples into the batter. You want a thick batter, and you may need to add more Bisquick or milk as needed.

When oil is at right temperature, drop batter into the oil, 1 tablespoon at a time. Do not crowd. Brown one side, then turn. Remove to paper towels with slotted spoon to drain. Between batches, monitor oil temperature and adjust flame as needed.


Maple Bacon Pecan Ice Cream

1 cup grade B maple syrup
4 cups half & half
2 tablespoons strong, cold coffee or espresso
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
5 egg yolks
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon (about 6 slices)
¾ cup Pecans

Special equipment: candy thermometer, ice cream maker

In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, reduce the maple syrup to 1/2 cup. Set aside.
Over moderate heat in a medium saucepan, heat the half-and-half and coffee with 1/2 cup sugar until hot and just bubbling around the edges.

In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks with 1/2 cup sugar, then add 1 cup hot half-and-half mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour the whole egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon and registers 170 degrees F on a thermometer. Do not let the mixture boil!

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl and whisk in the maple syrup. Cover with parchment paper letting the paper touch the surface of the mixture, to prevent a skin from forming. Chill the mixture until very cold, at least 6 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Line a rimmed sheet pan with heavy foil. Place a baking rack over the lined sheet pan and arrange the bacon slices across the rack next to each other. Bake until crispy, about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, finely chop.

On the 2nd rimmed sheet pan, spread out pecans and bake with Bacon 6-10 minutes. Check at 5 minutes and shake pan to prevent burning and to get an even roast. When roasted, let cool, chop, and set aside.

Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, 20 to 30 minutes and at the last minute, add the pecans and bacon and let churn until just combined. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze.

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Got Bacon? And a Great Recipe?

Photo from GoodNCrazy

For more than 26 years I have been co-hosting a Saturday morning show called “The Good Food Hour” on KSRO, a local Sonoma County radio station. Each year, my co-host, Steve Garner and I, host a cooking contest and this year we’ve decided to feature an ingredient that’s near and dear to most of our hearts: Bacon!

The minute you hear it sizzle in the hot pan, or take in its intoxicating smell while it’s cooking, bacon invokes passion in many of us. It is truly nature’s perfect food, and you will find it in a four-star restaurant, to a Sunday morning breakfast at a local diner or even at home. In addition, the versatility of bacon is unmatched. From appetizers (remember rumaki?), soups, salads, breads and spreads, breakfast and main dishes, vegetables, even desserts, something with bacon always gets my attention.

Four finalists will assemble at G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa on Saturday November 3rd at 11 a.m. where their dishes will be tasted live during The Good Food Hour broadcast. The panel of judges will include me, Steve Garner, and a panel of celebrity judges. Winners will be selected during The Good Food Hour, from 11am to 12 noon. Prizes include gift certificates, cookbooks, wine, and cooking classes!

Your original and creative bacon must be received by Wednesday October 31, 2012 at 5 p.m. You may email, mail, or fax your recipe entries to:
KSRO Recipe Contest
P.O. Box 2158, Santa Rosa, CA 95405
Fax: 707- 571-1097

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Judging the Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest


I recently had the honor of judging the Third Annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest . Six finalists were chosen to prepare their dishes for myself and four fellow food savvy judges including Liam Mayclem from CBS 5’s Eye on the Bay ; Lynne Char Bennett, food writer and test kitchen director, San Francisco Chronicle; Ken Frank, chef and owner of Napa’s La Toque restaurant ; Carolyn Jung, author of the Food Gal blog ). Our assignment was to make decisions based on taste, use of fresh, local ingredients, appearance and appeal, simplicity, and ease of making, and originality.

Liam Mayclem and myself in front of The Culinary Institute of America after judging the Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest





In the end, it was Merry Graham of Newhall, CA who won with her Lemon Hoisin Glazed chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice. Mary’s recipe beat out nearly 1,200 West Coast recipes to win the $10,000 grand prize and a one-year supply of Foster Farms fresh chicken. Her recipe featured

Merry Graham was the winner of the Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest, and received $10,000 and a year’s supply of Foster Farms chicken

locally grown ingredients including lemons, asparagus and of course, Foster Farms fresh chicken.

“This recipe started out as something my family loved and I kept working on it until I felt it best represented the flavor and integrity of the fresh ingredients,” said Mary.

Mary’s recipe is below if you’d like to make it for your family. Also, stay tuned for more chicken and other poultry reipes. My new book, Culinary Birds, will be out early fall of 2013.


Lemon-Hoisin Glazed Chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice

Serves 4 – 6

6 Foster Farms chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1” chunks
2 ¼ tsp salt, divided
1 tbsp minced ginger root
4 cloves garlic, chopped, divided
3 tbsp peanut oil, divided
6 green onions, chopped, with whites and greens divided
1 1/2 cups jasmine rice, rinse well and drained
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice, divided
2/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tbsp honey, divided
1 large lemon or two small, finely grate zest
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, divided
2 tsp black sesame seeds
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
1/3 cup roasted salted almonds, roughly chopped

Mix chicken, one teaspoon salt, ginger, and half of the garlic. Set aside.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, warm one tablespoon peanut oil. Stir in onion whites, remaining garlic, and jasmine rice. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes or until beginning to toast. Add broth, half of the lemon juice and one teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 15 minutes. Uncover, fluff with fork, stir in dried cherries, sesame oil, and remaining green onions. Set aside.

In large frying pan over medium high heat, warm one tablespoon peanut oil. Add chicken and cook, stirring frequently, for 6 minutes or until no longer pink on the outside.

In small bowl, stir together vinegar, Hoisin, one tablespoon honey, remaining lemon juice, half of the lemon zest and 1/4-teaspoon red pepper flakes. Add sauce to chicken in pan and continue cooking for 10 additional minutes on medium. Raise heat to high and cook for 2-4 minutes until sauce on chicken is dark and has thickened. Sprinkle chicken with black sesame seeds. Remove pan from heat, set aside and keep warm.

In second large frying pan, warm remaining peanut oil over high heat. Add asparagus, remaining honey, red pepper and remaining salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2-4 minutes, or until asparagus is tender.

To serve, plate rice on serving platter. Top with half of the cilantro, almonds, and roasted asparagus, Top with chicken pieces. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and lemon zest.


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John Ash and fellow chef and friend, Mei Ibach, pose with salmon dishes made at the Windsor Certified Farmer’s Market, August, 2012. Photo courtesy: Rick Tang

I recently demonstrated this recipe at the Farmer’s Market in Windsor, CA, near my home in Sonoma County. We used salmon that was line-caught locally in Bodega Bay. Before you purchase any seafood, I recommend consulting first with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch chart, which can be found online, or you can download a free pocket guide or an app for your phone.

Chef John Ash talks about sustainable seafood at the Windsor Certified Farmer’s Market. Photo courtesy: Rick Tang

This Japanese Style of roasting works equally well on fresh halibut or sea bass. I serve the resulting fish hot or at room temperature, either as the center of the plate or as part of a salad. If you are doing this fish on the barbeque, a technique that I find helpful is to place the fish skin side down on a sheet of heavy aluminum foil and cook it indirectly and covered over a medium heat. The foil prevents the fish from sticking or burning (because of the sugar in the marinade).

John demonstrating sustainable seafood recipes at the Windsor Certified Farmer’s Market. Photo courtesy: Rick Tang

If you are broiling, do the same thing and be careful not to get the fish too close to the broiler element so that it can cook without burning. I’d allow at least 4 inches between the fish and the heat source. You can serve the salmon as is, or with a noodle salad. I’ve included the recipe if you decide to do the latter. Enjoy!


Japanese Roasted Salmon served over Soba Noodle Salad. Photo courtesy: Rick Tang

Japanese Style Roasted Salmon

Serves 4

4 five ounce fillets of wild salmon with skin on
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake or dry white wine
1/4 cup mirin
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons chopped green onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
Zest and juice of one small lemon
Soba Noodle Salad (recipe follows)

Season salmon with salt and set aside.

Combine marinade ingredients stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour marinade over fish and marinate refrigerated for 2 – 4 hours. Turn fish occasionally.

To serve: Roast salmon in a preheated 450 degree oven or alternately broil or grill salmon until just done, about 4 – 5 minutes depending on thickness. Be careful not to overcook. Salmon should still be translucent in the center. Serve with Soba Noodle Salad, if desired.
Soba Noodle Salad

Makes 3/4 cup or so

1/4 cup Dashi or defatted chicken stock
2-1/2 tablespoons white (Shiro) Miso
2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce, preferably low sodium
1/3 cup or so canola or other neutral vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped sweet pickled ginger

Add the stock, miso, vinegar and sesame oil to a mini processor or blender and with motor running slowly add oil to form a creamy dressing. Add ginger and pulse a couple of times to very finely chop and incorporate. Store covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Pulse in a blender if sauce separates to bring it back together before serving.

4 ounces dried soba noodles
2 cups peeled, seeded cucumbers, sliced on an angle
1 cup green onions, whites and green tops sliced on the bias
1 cup daikon radish or sunflower sprouts, gently packed
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
Japanese seven-spice powder (Togorashi), to taste (optional)
Bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Separate the noodles and drop them into the boiling water, stirring once or twice. When the water begins to boil, add 1 cup of cold water. Repeat this procedure twice cooking until the noodles are just tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain in a colander. Rinse with cold water until completely cooled, tossing gently to remove surface starch and drain well.

Toss the noodles with the dressing, cucumbers and onions. Top with the sprouts, sesame seeds, and a pinch of seven-spice powder.
Recommended Wines: Soft reds like pinot noir or merlot are nice with this salmon as long as you don’t allow it to become too sweet. A drier style Gewürztraminer or Riesling, especially those from Alsace, are also delicious with this dish.

John Ash (c) 1994
Revised 1/08


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A Special Event to Celebrate Tomato Season

Have you always wanted to have a big-name chef cook you dinner in a gorgeous setting? If so, I have a great opportunity, and you would be helping some great kids at the same time.

This year Kendall Jackson Winery has added a new Friday night event to its 16th Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival. It’s called Chef Tables in the Vineyard and it’s scheduled for the Friday September 14, 2012. It is a benefit for the Cooking with Kids Foundation, and it will be a fun evening with Guy Fieri, Mario Batali, and more than a dozen other Bay Area chefs including yours truly. Each chef is preparing a special menu for the guests at their table made with local ingredients, and served in Kendall Jackson’s Estate Vineyard.

The Heirloom Tomato Festival the next day is always a sell-out event that highlights the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes we grow here in Sonoma County. There are a few tickets left for both events, but they will go fast! Here is one of the dishes I’ll be creating for the Chefs Tables in the Vineyard event. Hope you’ll come and let me make it for you!


Serves 4

Picture by Jihad Hamad

Chickpea puree (recipe follows)
1-1/2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and sliced
Fresh basil oil (recipe follows)
1 pound fresh buffalo mozzarella, drained and sliced
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted blanched almonds
Slivered meaty black olives such as Cerignola
Corn, Daikon or sunflower sprouts

Spoon the chickpea puree onto plates. Lay the tomatoes decoratively on top and drizzle the basil oil attractively around. Lay the mozzarella slices on top of this and sprinkle on a little sea salt and black pepper. Garnish with almonds, olives and sprouts.

Chickpea Puree:
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice or to taste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree until very smooth.

Fresh leafy herb oils (basil, mint, chives, cilantro, parsley, shiso, etc.)
3 cups lightly packed herbs, large stems discarded
2 cups or so cups olive or canola oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Blanch herbs in salted boiling water until they turn a bright green (about 5 seconds). Drain and plunge immediately into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. This blanching step inactivates the enzymes which causes the herb to turn brown and develop an oxidized flavor.

Squeeze herbs as dry as you can and add to a blender along with enough oil to cover by at least 2 inches. Puree to make a smooth paste. Strain thru a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth or alternately let sit for a few hours and then decant the oil off the solids. Oil should be a very bright green and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper if desired and store covered in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

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 Wonderfully versatile piquillo peppers come exclusively from the small northern Spanish region of Navarra. Nestled between the borders of southern France and Basque territory, the town of Lodosa thrives on a busy trade in piquillo peppers. The peppers take their name from their distinctive, narrow, triangular shape: Piquillo means “beak” in Spanish.

At first glance, piquillos look like a variant of sweet bell pepper, but just one bite will tell a different story, as the familiar sweetness gives way to a sneaky heat. Navarra’s piquillo peppers are traditionally roasted over a beechwood fire, which adds a delectable smokiness to their bouquet. The final product is then packed whole in its delicious juices, ready to be sliced, stuffed and puréed into a variety of delicious dishes.

I’ve also included a recipe here for making leafy herb oils. This is a great way to use fresh herbs, and the oil can add a new dimension of flavor to grilled meats, fish, and vegetables. Let me know what creative uses YOU find for using fresh herb oil.


Serves 12 as a Tapa

Seek out a good herbed fresh goat cheese or alternately, mix in your own favorite fresh herbs. Piquillo peppers are available canned or jarred. Save any of the leftover garlic scented olive oil for other uses such as frying potatoes.

10 ounces fresh herbed goat cheese
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
12 whole piquillo peppers
1/3 cup fragrant extra virgin olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
12 Caper berries, drained
Fresh Basil Oil (recipe follows)

Mash the goat cheese in a bowl with the zest. Stuff the whole piquillos three-quarters full with the mixture and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and fry the garlic until lightly golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Drizzle the peppers with some of the oil and briefly broil in a preheated oven. If cheese oozes out just push it back in.

To serve: Use a spatula to transfer to a platter or individual plates and top with the fried garlic and a grinding or two of pepper. Serve with a caper berry or two, if desired.

For leafy herb oils
I suggest using basil, mint, chives, cilantro, parsley, shiso

3 cups packed herbs, large stems removed
1 – 2 cups olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Blanch the herbs in lightly salted, boiling water for 2 – 3 seconds. Drain and immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. This blanching step inactivates the enzymes that cause the herbs to turn brown and develop an oxidized flavor.
Squeeze the herbs very dry with your hands. Chop and add to a blender along with enough oil to cover by 2 inches. Blend to make a paste. Let sit for an hour or two and then strain thru a fine mesh strainer or a coffee filter. This might take an hour or two depending on what you are using to strain the mixture. Season with a little salt and pepper if you want, and store covered and refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. Return to room temperature before using.


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Watermelon with Chili Salt

Photo from moreno0101

   It’s going to be another hot couple of days here in Northern California!  I know most of the country has had their share of hot weather this summer.  Here is a quick, delicious recipe that will help cool you down, but still keep a little spicy heat too.

Watermelon with Chili Salt is a traditional street food in Mexico, and it’s an amazing combination of flavors.  Stir together 2 teaspoons of good sea or kosher salt along with1 teaspoon pure chili powder such as Ancho.  Sprinkle watermelon slices with the chili salt and squeeze a few drops of lime juice over.


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Fresh from Alaska

Yours truly with a fresh ling cod

I’ve just returned from an annual class I do at the Talon Lodge  in Alaska. This gorgeous place is located on a private island near Sitka and offers magnificent views of the stunning scenery. Guided fishing trips here are a lot of fun, and educational. For the classes I teach, we have a full gourmet kitchen to work in, and help educate participants in making wise, sustainable choices when cooking seafood, so we can help take care of our oceans.

Wild caught salmon from Alaska is considered one of the best seafood choices you can make, and it tastes outstanding. That is what I recommend when making this recipe. Enjoy!


Group shot with a fresh caught Halibut, and wild Alaskan salmon


Gorgeous silver salmon, fresh from the Alaskan waters

Serves 4

This is a very straightforward recipe that I like a lot. The sauce goes equally well on anything quickly sautéed,  like chicken breast, pork tenderloin medallions or vegetables. Try experimenting with different fruit vinegars of which there are many on the market. A brand that I recommend is Cuisine Perel who have a killer pear vinegar along with several other flavored vinegars . Remember that vinegars can have different strengths and you will want to adjust the amount to your taste.

3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 – 3 cups packed green shrimp shells
1/4 cup chopped shallots or green onion
1/4 cup or so pear or other fragrant fruit vinegar
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Brown sugar
1/2 cup diced fresh pears (or whatever the vinegar is made of)
4 six ounce salmon fillets, skin on preferably
Butter braised spinach (recipe follows)

Garnish: Fresh tarragon or chervil sprigs

In a heavy sauté pan heat two tablespoons of the butter and one tablespoon of oil over moderately high heat. Coarsely chop shells and add to the pan along with the shallots and stir until lightly colored. If using shrimp paste add when shallots are almost done. Add the vinegar and stock and reduce over high heat until sauce thickens slightly, about 4 minutes. Strain, pressing down on the solids and return to pan and add the cream. Reduce again to a light sauce consistency. Stir in herbs and season to taste with salt, pepper and, depending on the sweetness of the vinegar, a bit of brown sugar to taste. Set aside and keep warm (can be made ahead and gently reheated). Stir in diced fruit just before serving.

Note: Depending on strength/flavor of the vinegar you can whisk in a tablespoon or so into the sauce at this point for a more piquant finish. Sauce may “separate” or look curdled. Don’t fret! Simply buzz it back to life with an immersion or regular blender.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Add remaining butter and oil to a heavy oven-proof sauté pan and quickly sauté salmon skin side up until lightly colored, about 2 minutes. Turn salmon skin side down and place in the preheated oven until just cooked through but still rosy in the center, about 5 minutes. Arrange a mound of spinach on warm plates, place salmon on top, spoon warm sauce around and garnish with herb sprigs. Serve immediately.
Butter braised spinach

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups baby spinach (loosely packed)
Drops of fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large sauté pan heat the butter and olive oil over moderately high heat. Add spinach a toss quickly to wilt, about 1 minute. Be careful not to overcook or spinach will weep. Season to taste with drops of lemon juice, salt and pepper and serve immediately.

This guy lives at Fortress of the Bear, a place that rescues bear cubs.


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Cold Soups for Hot Weather

As the temperature goes up, the last thing most people feel like doing is a lot of cooking. This time of year cries out for make-ahead dishes like cold soups. I’ve included several of my favorites below. They are great to begin meal or picnic and some can even be the meal! Being a wine guy, I’ve also added some wine recommendations. The old conventional wisdom was that one didn’t serve wine with soup. What’s with that? Why deny yourself a nice chilled glass of something special to complement these delicious bowl fulls!

Photo from adactio


Serves 4

This is a quick, and simple soup. It’s a wonderful base to which you can add all manner of things including cooked shrimp, sautéed mushrooms, spring peas, etc. I often will drizzle on a little fragrant nut oil as a garnish. Serve the soup chilled or at room temperature. We don’t always think about room temperature soups but it’s a nice variation on a warm day.

1 pound trimmed zucchini
2-1/2 cups rich chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon seeded and minced serrano chile, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 cups good quality buttermilk
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro or mint and lime or lemon wedges

Chop zucchini in large chunks. Add broth to a soup pot, bring to a boil and add zucchini. Reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until zucchini is barely tender but still bright green. Off heat and cool.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a small, non-stick frying pan. Add onion, chile, fennel, cinnamon and cumin, and sauté until onion is soft but not brown and spices are fragrant.

Put both mixtures into a food processor and pulse until well chopped but still with some texture. Pour into a bowl and stir in buttermilk and season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill for at least 2 hours. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of cilantro and added drops of lemon or lime juice to taste.

Recommended Wine: The tart buttermilk, fresh herbs and spices would go best with a crisp, clean chilled white wine with similar flavors such as a Sauvignon Blanc. Italian whites such as Pinot Grigio and Spanish whites such as Albarino would also work fine.



Photo from Robert Verzo

Serves 6 – 8

The combination of the cucumber and honeydew is an intriguing flavor combination and also visually interesting. Being a west coast boy, I think Dungeness crab is the best, but use whatever you like. I’ve used cream here to add richness to the soup. You could also leave it out or substitute buttermilk if desired. All are good. I recommend serving this in wide shallow bowls for best dramatic effect!

2 quarts roughly chopped peeled and seeded English (burp less!) cucumbers
1 quart roughly chopped and seeded ripe honeydew melon
3 tablespoons or so fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
Drops of hot sauce
10 ounces fresh picked crab meat (1 cup or so)
3/4 cup seeded and diced yellow and/or red tomatoes
1/2 cup diced firm ripe avocado
2 teaspoons each chopped fresh chives and tarragon (or basil)

Garnish: Fresh herb sprigs and/or chopped nasturtium flowers and leaves, if available.

Add cucumbers, melon, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and sugar to a food processor and puree until smooth. Strain through a medium strainer pushing down on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in cream and season to taste with salt and hot sauce. You should end up with about 1 quart of soup. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Gently combine the crab, tomatoes, avocado and herbs. Season to taste with salt, hot sauce and lemon juice. To serve: Gently press crab mixture into a 1/4 cup or so measuring cup and unmold in the center of a large, flat soup plate. Ladle chilled cucumber mixture around and garnish with herbs and/or nasturtiums.

Recommended Wine: There is a bit of sweetness in this soup and you’d want to try to find a nice chilled white with a similar level. Look for a Chenin Blanc, Riesling or Gewürztraminer that has a bit of residual sugar in it.




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