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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About Foie Gras

Seared Foie Gras with Mango Peach Chutney

On July 1, 2012 producing, selling and buying foie gras is going to be illegal in California.

Foie gras, or “fat liver,” is a specially fattened and rich liver created by a process called gavage: overfeeding ducks with corn so that their liver grows to four times its normal size. This technique was developed by the ancient Egyptians who observed that fattening of the liver in wild ducks who were gorging themselves before beginning their yearly migration.

The result is richer, more buttery and delicate than a “normal” liver. Historically, this practice was done with geese, but the far more gentle ducks are used today. Geese can be very aggressive and cantankerous. Foie gras along with truffles and saffron are expensive delicacies and what we might call “luxury” foods. Foie gras traditionally is served barely seared or made into a pâté (terrine) or mousse.

Animal rights activists deplore gavage as animal brutality, due to the force feeding procedure and possible health

A chef at Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa plates Foie Gras

consequences to the duck or goose of an enlarged liver. To others, this argument seems moot, as the bird is raised for slaughter and not longevity; and ducks and geese have a long, collagen lined esophagus that can accept a feeding tube without pain or damage (think of a pelican swallowing a fish). In fact, visits to a duck farm that produces foie gras will show the ducks, which are free-range, patiently waiting for their human feeder each day.

There have been bans of production and serving of foie gras, most notably in Chicago in 2006 (the ban was repealed in 2008), and the quickly approaching ban in California. I personally love foie gras and see it as an artisanal product. Of course each of us will have to make up our own minds about its consumption and our ethical position. I just wish the same kind of energy were put toward banning the much more corrosive conventional farming practices for animals like chicken and pork that are much more important in the American diet.

What are your thoughts?

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Watermelon Salad


From a recipe by moi made by a student in my Salad Workshop at Chef’s Conference at UMass Amherst.


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Roasting, Poaching and Toasting Garlic

Photo from lburiedpaul

A simple way of taming garlic’s sometimes dominating flavor is to roast, poach, or toast it first.  When you cut into raw garlic you break the cell walls and it immediately begins to oxidize.  A product of that oxidation is the development of hot, often funky flavors that can overpower a dish. By applying heat, the enzymes that account for those flavors are neutralized, and the garlic will remain sweet and delicate.  This is especially important for things like pesto which often is made in big batches and stored refrigerated or frozen for later use.  You definitely don’t want the garlic to take over down the road.  With all of these methods, garlic can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container for at least a week.

To Roast Garlic:  Slice off the top quarter or so of each garlic head to expose the cloves.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Loosely but completely wrap each head in a piece of foil and roast in a preheated 400-degree oven or until garlic is very soft and lightly browned, about 45 minutes or so.  To use simply squeeze the buttery soft garlic out of the head just like you’d do toothpaste.

To Poach garlic: Separate cloves but don’t peel.  Place in a small saucepan 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 and now easily remove husk.

To Toast garlic:  Separate the cloves and place them unpeeled in a dry sauté pan over moderate heat.  Shake and turn them occasionally until the cloves develop toasty brown spots on the skin.  Remove, cool and the skin will easily slip off.  The additional benefit of this method is that you’ve added a lovely toasty flavor to the garlic.

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Mexican Corn on the Cob

Mexican corn on the cob with mayo, cotija, chile powder and a squeeze of lime.


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All About Asparagus- Part 3

Wash asparagus just before cooking to remove any bit of grit left from the sandy soil it is usually grown in.

Asparagus does not usually need to be peeled unless you get a particularly stringy spear. This is despite the many recipes that call for this step.  If it’s really fresh it should be nice and tender.  To double check:  after you cut off the woody end, cut a small piece and eat it. Make your decision about peeling then.  The exception is if you are doing the shaved salad below or using fresh white asparagus which should always be peeled according to Harold McGee and others.

If the white woody base is still there when you buy asparagus then this has to be removed. Either chop it off, or snap the asparagus by holding the bottom and near the top with your hands — the idea is that it should snap right at the point where it starts getting tough.  Drawback to this is that you’ll probably waste more of the tender spear than if you just cut the tough white base off with a knife.  To be sure that you are into the tender part cut off a little of the base and eat it to test.

There are lots of ways to successfully cook asparagus.  The key no matter which method you use is to make sure that you don’t overcook.  The goal of “crisp-tender” should always be in your mind.  Time will of course depend on the thickness of the spear.

Blanching:  Drop the trimmed spears into boiling salted water and cook until just tender.  If not eating right away then plunge into cold water to stop the cooking and set the color.  Old recipes sometimes called for using baking soda in the cooking water to help preserve the color and soften the vegetable.  While the former might be nice the latter isn’t.  Most of us like our asparagus with a firm texture.  Also baking soda destroys acids like Vitamin C.

Steaming:  Takes a little longer than blanching but the rationale is that it retains more nutrients.  There are asparagus steamers on the market in which you place the asparagus vertically with a little water in the bottom.  The thicker bottoms get more heat than the tops and in theory this will evenly cook the whole spear.  I use my Chinese bamboo steamer with good results.

Grilling:  One of the simplest and best ways, to my taste, to cook asparagus is to give it a light coating of olive oil and grill it.  Grilling brings out the sweetness and I prefer it to steaming or boiling which seems to bring out more of the “vegetal” notes.  I’m convinced too that keeping the asparagus away from water seems to minimize that interesting condition called “asparagus pee”.  I won’t go any further but see if it works for you!

Roasting:  Similar to grilling except in the oven.  Place the oiled and seasoned spears in a loose single layer on a baking sheet and either cook in a hot oven (450 degrees or more) or cook under a preheated broiler until just begin to brown.  You’ll need to turn them a couple of times.

Stir Frying:  You’ll need to cut the asparagus stalks into shorter lengths and then stir fry.   You can either blanch the asparagus before stir frying which will cut down on time or you can just do it from raw.  Up to you.

Microwaving:  A great way of cooking asparagus which both preserves color and minimizes nutrient loss.  Rinse, place in a microwave proof bowl, cover with plastic and cook till its crisp tender.
And now some recipes to try.  Enjoy!

Serves 6
The sweet spot for frying anything is 350 – 375 degrees.  Ideally you should have a deep fry thermometer of some kind to regulate.  If you don’t you can use a small cube of fresh bread to test or, as my grandmother did, put the handle end of a wooden spoon into the hot oil and if it bubbles nicely you are good to go.  It’s important here to peel the asparagus so that the coating will stick to it.

3 cups or so vegetable oil for frying
1 pound or so big but tender asparagus peeled spears, woody ends removed (see side bar)
3/4 cup flour seasoned generously with salt and pepper
2 large eggs beaten with 2 tablespoons water
2 medium limes
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Smoked paprika aioli (recipe follows)

Heat the oil in a small saucepan to 375 degrees.
Test the asparagus to make sure it’s not tough or stringy.  If so peel it first using a vegetable peeler.  Cut asparagus into 2-inch lengths.
Place seasoned flour on a small plate. In a small bowl combine the egg mixture with the juice of one of the limes.  Cut the other lime into 6 wedges.  Place the panko on another small plate.

Dredge the asparagus first in the flour and shake off any excess.  Then, dip into the egg mixture and finally into the panko to nicely coat.  Fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Remove and drain briefly on paper towels.  Serve immediately with the lime wedges and the smoked paprika aioli.

Smoked Paprika Aioli
Makes about 3/4 cup
4 large poached garlic cloves
1 tablespoon or so olive oil
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons smoked paprika or to taste
Drops of lemon juice to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a mini food processor and pulse till smooth. Store refrigerated for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to blend before using.

Serves 8 – 10 as a side dish
You’ll note there is no cream or milk in this variation of scalloped potatoes.  It’s very simple to do and you could add some chopped fresh or sun dried tomatoes and other herbs if you liked.  Be sure to use a fragrant, fruity olive oil for best results.
2-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
2 pounds young asparagus, woody ends discarded and cut into 1-inch lengths
3/4 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
2 cups coarse bread crumbs such as panko
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2-1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino cheese (about 6 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1-1/2 cups pitted and chopped black olives such as Cerignola or Oil Cured

Bring 6 – 8 quarts of salted* water to a boil.  Slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds add to boiling water, cook for 2 minutes and then remove with a strainer and cool on a baking sheet.  In the same boiling water, blanch asparagus for 2 minutes, drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking and set the color. Set aside.

Oil a 3 quart, 3-inch deep baking dish with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil.  In a separate bowl mix the bread crumbs with the parsley, thyme and the Pecorino.  Spread 1/3 of the potatoes in a single layer in the bottom of the baking dish, season generously with salt and pepper and top with 1/3 of the bread crumb mixture.  Spread half of the asparagus and olives over this along with a third of the remaining olive oil and top with another layer of the potatoes, duplicating the first layer.  Top with the final layer of potatoes and the bread crumbs drizzled with remaining olive oil.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 60 minutes or until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown.  Serve warm.
* For blanching use sea salt and add enough so that water tastes like the ocean.

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First berries of the season at Santa Barbara farmer’s market. Yum!


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