Category Archives: Food

Szechuan Broth with Duck and Goose Dumplings

Szechuan Broth-Duck Dumplings3
Duck season is almost here and I still had a few teal in the freezer. The kids have been asking me to make some dumplings at home. They love steamed dumplings at Chinese restaurants and wanted to see if I can make a version at home. Not one to shy away from a started looking through a few of my books to see what I want to make. I have made traditional Chinese dumplings at home from Barbara Tropp recipes and was going down the same path but then thought why not make a version that is not easy to find at every good Chinese restaurant in Houston. This recipe from Heston Blumenthal at Home fit the bill. It’s light and refined while still remaining authentically Chinese in flavor, shape and ingredients.

First ting I made was the broth. It’s a pork based broth made from roasted pork ribs and chicken along with onions, ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns to give it that distinctive fragrant zing. The meat and vegetables get de-glazed with Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine). The stock is cooked as usual in a pressure cooker and strained. This makes a delicious stock but taking it one step further towards refinement it gets clarified into a crystal clear consomme.

Szechuan Broth

Blumenthal uses his ice-filtration method to clarify the stock. The liquid is set with gelatin and frozen then allowed to slowly defrost in the fridge in a colander with cheese cloth. The clear liquid drips into the bowl under the colander. This works great but is very slow compared to the agar filtration method I talked about here. The two methods basically work the same way but agar sets at a much higher temperature than gelatin, so it can be easily broken up and allowed to leak clear liquid with no need for the freezing step. So, I went with the agar method and got my nice consomme.

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The filling for the dumplings has three components: the meat, the cabbage and the Shaoxing jelly. I made the jelly first. This is nothing more than the rice wine simmered and the alcohol flamed off then it is set hard in a thin (about 1/4 inch) layer with leaf gelatin. When fully set I cut it into small cubes and reserved them in the fridge.

Rice Wine Gelatin

The cabbage is Savoy cabbage that is shredded and gently cooked in a good bit of very un-Chinese butter. The meat as I mentioned before is wild duck and some wild goose. I ground it up and mixed it with the cooled cabbage, skim milk powder, egg, soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil. I actually made double the recipe and made the other half with pork filling instead of the duck. For each wonton wrapper I put a teaspoon of filling and a cube or two of the rice wine gelatin.

Pork Filling-Duck Filling

Duck Dumplings

To distinguish the pork filled ones from the duck/goose ones I shaped them differently. The duck ones were shaped similar to those in the book, sort of like a bundle or parcel. The pork ones had more of an angular shape. At service time I got the clarified broth nice and hot. I adjusted the seasoning and put it to the side.

Duck Dumplings3 Pork Dumplings

At the same time I got my steamer going and started steaming the dumplings a few at a time. They need about 6 minutes or so to cook through. During that time the wine jelly inside melts and each dumpling just bursts with delicious flavor when you bite into it. They were similar to Chinese soup dumplings. When the kids where ready to eat, I plated a few dumplings in a plate on top of finely shredded  green onions. The I poured the hot savory broth all around. The kiddos expectations were very high so I was glad they went for seconds and thirds. They might not think this is better than their favorite dumplings at Jade Garden restaurant but they definitely will do in a pinch.

Szechuan Broth-Duck Dumplings

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Prawn Linguini: Modernist Pasta, Rich Shrimp Sauce


Jamie Oliver is one of the first ever chef/celebrity who I’ve learned a lot from early on and still really enjoy using his books and cooking style as an inspiration. His recipes rarely disappoint and I think his passion is infectious. This is a dish that sounds so 80’s from his Jamie’s Comfort Food book. However, when properly prepared there is no doubt that it falls under the heading “classic”.


The instigator to making this dish was my mom. I asked her what she wanted me to cook for dinner one day so she can take a break and she mentioned shrimp. After looking through a couple of my books she immediately decided on this one upon seeing the picture. After all it combines two of her favorite food groups, pasta and shrimp.

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Homemade pasta, a wonderful food, can be a simple flour+egg mixture and lots of times that’s what I do. The ratio of flour to egg, using whole egg as opposed to yolks or maybe a combination of yolks, whites and even oil and water. I’ve been messing with the Modernist Cuisine pasta dough for a while now and really like it. It has a nice al dente texture when cooked. Due to a the small percentage of Xanthan gum in there it is very easy to work with without sticking or requiring too much additional flour. It is not really “better” than the traditional pasta dough, just different. Actually, I much prefer a classic dough if making filled pasta like Agnolotti for example. This version works very well here when you want a sturdy, snappy noodle that is still tender and rich. It is another process and cooking technique that has its place in my kitchen.  


I include the recipe for the pasta dough in the bottom of this post. It is not a direct lift from Modernist Cuisine, rather it is adapted from the Modernist Cuisine at Home book with a few changes including the incorporation of semolina in the mix. It works very well but I will probably change something next time I make it. That’s the nature of cooking, change, evolve, test and then do it again. There is almost always room for improvement or customization. An  idea could be to include different flours instead of semolina depending on the sauce, like buckwheat or rye or corn flour….

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The other half of this recipe is the sauce, a rich a deeply flavorful one based on shrimp shell stock. I peeled the shrimp and de-veined them. The shells get sautéed in olive oil with onions. These get cooked with saffron threads, wine, canned tomatoes and anchovies for an extra briny kick. The sauce gets pureed and very well strained. This beautiful shrimp sauce is now ready to go into the final dish.


As the pasta is cooking away I sautéed some garlic and very thinly sliced fennel in olive oil. Earlier when I cleaned the prawns, I chopped most of them and some were left whole for a nice garnish. When the vegetables are soft, I added the prawns and a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes. Last, in goes the prawn sauce. To finish, I toss the al dente cooked pasta in the prawn sauce mixture, plate in warmed plates and garnish with fresh fennel fronds and the whole tail-on large shrimp. Truly a luxurious, delicious and comforting dish.


Modernist Pasta Dough

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

  • 600 gr. All Purpose Flour
  • 30 gr. Semolina Flour
  • 210 gr. Eggs
  • 6.2 gr. Xanthan Gum
  • 120 gr. Water
  • 37.5 gr. Olive Oil
  • 24 gr. Vital Wheat Gluten
  • 6 gr. Salt

Mix in a stand mixer and allow to hydrate for an hour before rolling and cutting.

Chicken, White Wine and Porcini Fricassee, Simple Risotto with Verjus


I cooked this when mom mom was visiting recently. I’m glad she loves Italian food as much as I do and especially risotto, pesto sauces and any form of pasta. Really, who doesn’t? I have a nice pasta dish coming up soon but for now it’s a soul satisfying dish from one of my go-to Italian food resources, the late Marcella Hazan. I flipped through to her chicken section in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and settled on this homey fricassee.  Since mom loves risotto I chose to make a simple one to accompany our chicken dinner.

Chicken Porcini Fricasse Risotto

The chicken dish is based on dried porcini mushrooms and white wine. I soaked the dried mushrooms in very hot water while I got the chicken pieces browned in a hot pan. That pan gets deglazed with white wine and then I add the mushrooms along with their strained soaking liquid and some chopped canned San Marzano tomatoes. The chicken pieces cooked in this mixture while I worked on finishing the risotto.



The risotto is a traditional and very straight-forward preparation. I cooked onions, carrots and celery in a mixture of butter and oil before adding the rice and cooking it for a few minutes. I add wine to that and then gradually add good flavorful chicken stock. I wanted to give the risotto a bit of tartness. So, all the way at the end after adding butter and Parmesan cheese I flavored the risotto with a few splashes of verjus.


Rich, flavorful chicken and a perfect risotto made for a delicious meal. More importantly earned mom’s seal of approval.

Mom’s Cooking

Stuffed Chard

It’s been longer than I normally would like to wait before posting a food related item here. However, I do have an excuse. My mom was visiting from Lebanon. We were busy, had a good time and really enjoyed some fantastic Lebanese cooking from her. I do have a couple of posts that I will be putting up soon but wanted to put up this blurb to highlight some of her food.


My mom enjoys her time in the kitchen. That’s very good for us as we enjoyed some of the dishes that I rarely make or if I do make them they never seem to come out as good as hers.

In an attempt to recreate some of them, I actually sat with her and took some notes about the recipes including her kibbeh with yogurt sauce, mujadarra, stuffed chard leaves (siliq) and even her very simple but damn delicious braised green beans with onions.

Fatayir Jibn (cheese pies)


Kibbeh done in three variations, fried, baked and simmered in yogurt (after frying)

kibbeh-3 ways

Siyadiyeh, the name vaguely translates as “fishermen’s fish”. This one has fried and flaked fish, spiced rice cooked in fish stock and the dish is topped with fried nuts and served with tahini sauce.


She also ventured into the sweet side of things and prepared a couple of her specialties. She made the Atayif (yeast-risen pancakes stuffed with cream) and the decadent Chocolate Cake with Whiskey.

chocolate whiskey cake

Chicken Roulade, Tomato Gravy and Crispy Roast Potatoes

Roulade-Tomato Gravy5

Free range chicken like the ones I get from Yonder Way are delicious. These are birds that were never caged and are free to roam around and be as active as they like. The result is tasty chicken but not one as tender as the fryers you can get from the grocery store. These are a bit leaner too. All that means that I cannot just plonk a chicken in the oven and roast it high and fast and it’s good to go. I usually have to cook them a bit longer or use them for fricassees or stews and such. In this instance I had some time to play around a bit, so on spur of the moment while getting ready to joint the bird I ended up just deboning the whole chicken.

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I had not planned on this dish so I was not sure what the end result will look like. I figured I’ll just choose the flavor profile as I go along. Since the chicken was not going to be “stuffed” with anything like this awesome duck I needed to make sure that the final result is completely encased in skin. So I could not just roll it like a jelly-roll or else I would end up with skin rolled up with the meat where it will never crisp and render. In this case after the bones are removed we end up with more skin that we need. So, what I did was leave the skin attached to one side of the chicken after it was deboned. After seasoning the meat side I rolled it tightly with the skin and cut off the extra flaps. What I had was a nicely rolled chicken with a perfect encasement of skin.

Looking in the fridge and spice cabinet for flavors I ended up with a Spanish profile. I had chopped garlic (of course), smoked and unsmoked paprika, parsley and last but not least home-cured Spanish chorizo. I had cured the chorizo a couple months back from the book Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain by Jeffrey Weiss and still had a 4 inch piece left. I sliced the sausage thin and laid it in two rows down the length of the chicken.

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Cooking the chicken sous vide was the was to go here. It will make sure the chicken is perfectly juice all the way through. I used the Sous Vide Dash app to know for sure when the center of the chicken roll is cooked and pasteurized based on the diameter of the meat in a 150 F/65 C water bath. Before serving I patted the chicken dry very well and cooked it on all sides in a mixture of oil and butter until the skin is crisped and golden brown. This last step would be even more awesome if I had deep fried the chicken roll for a few minutes. I might try that next time around.

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While the chicken was happily cooking I had to think about what to serve it with. Recently I have been very interested in the new Southern cuisine of chefs like Sean Brock and John Currence. Their focus on ingredients, tradition and flavors that pop has been an eye-opener as to how amazing this type of cooking can be beyond fried chicken and okra (although these are awesome too!). Sean Brock’s episodes on Mind of A Chef  are some of the best food television I had ever seen and learned from. In his book (one with the most striking cover BTW), Heritage, Brock has a recipe for tomato gravy that is served with roasted pork, creamed corn and roasted onions. I love that sauce and have made it several times already. So, that’s what went with my chicken.

Roast Onions Roulade-Tomato Gravy

The tomato gravy starts like all gravies, with a starch cooked in a fat – a.k.a roux. In this case cornmeal cooked in bacon fat. Then good quality canned tomatoes are added and the mixture simmers and thickens. The only seasoning here is the bacon fat and some salt and pepper  but the gravy gains a lot from the cooking of the cornmeal and the excellent acidic San Marzano tomatoes. It is so good I could really eat it by itself with a spoon or on some rice. I also made the onions from the same recipe. I prefer to use smaller spring onions for these but I had none on hand. I quartered yellow onions and baked them in foil along with butter and thyme until tender. Before serving I charred the onions in a very hot pan to add some color and caramelized flavor.

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Potatoes would go good with this dish, specifically Heston Blumenthal’s amazing crispy fluffy roast potatoes. The trick here is to boil the potato chunks till they are almost falling apart. This obviously cooks them but also creates a lot of crevices, nooks and crannies that will get very crispy later on. After a cooling period, the potatoes are cooked in a baking pan with a good bit of oil in a hot oven. The process results in amazing crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside golden brown potatoes and they worked great with the lovely chicken and robust tomato gravy.

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Cronuts at Home


According to Chef Dominique Ansel when he created the Cronut he had no clue it would be such a huge phenomenon. He wanted to put a donut on his pastry shop’s menu and figured he’s put a spin on it, thus the Cronut was born. If you have never heard of a Cronut (never heard of it?? Have you been living under a rock?!) it’s a pastry that combines a laminated croissant dough with the shape and cooking process (frying) of a donut.

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In his book, The Secret Recipes, Ansel pens down the various creations that made his shop in NYC so popular including the Cronuts. One of the smartest business moves that Ansel did is to trademark the name “Cronut” so now you see a lot of knockoffs out there but none bear that name at least in the US. This is simply a smart business move and he claims that the recipe itself is not really a secret and he lays out a version of it in the book. I’ve made a quiet a few laminated doughs like puff pastry, danish and croissant dough recipes over the years so I was pretty comfortable working with Ansel’s pastry. If you have never made one of these doughs before it might be a bit more of a challenge to get the Cronuts right on the first try. One mistake with my version was not to roll the donuts thick enough in order to get more lofty Cronut.

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The recipe as outlined in the book takes a total of three days, but really most of it is the dough cooling or resting or proofing in the fridge. To make the dough, a hefty square of butter is encased in a yeasted dough and rolled several times and folded. This is done more in the style of puff pastry rather than croissant since the butter block in laid on the dough in a diamond shape as opposed to having its sides parallel to the dough.

Laminated Dough

After several rolls and folds we get a dough with lots of butter/dough layers. When the pastry is fried the water in the butter turns to steam and lifts the dough layers creating the flaky texture that is the hallmark of these pastries.

On the day of frying, I rolled the butter laminated dough and stamped out donut shapes from it. Now, Mr. Ansel does not tell us what to do with the donut holes we get from this process. I was not throwing them away so they got proofed next to the Cronuts. I fried them up as well and rolled them in vanilla sugar.

Cronuts frying

While the dough was resting and proofing, I made the fillings or ganaches. These are very similar to what Pierre Hermè uses for his lovely macarons. They are basically a type of mousse based on white chocolate and heavy cream, flavored with anything from lemon to chocolate and set with gelatin. I like those a lot because they deliver a bright flavor without being overly sweet or heavy. I prepared two different fillings, one with raspberry jam folded in and the other one a simple vanilla bean flavored ganache.


After frying the Cronuts their sides are rolled in a vanilla sugar mixture. Then the filling is piped in from the top of each one in four spots. This leaves you with holes on the top, so to cover these up Ansel matches a glaze with each pastry that goes right on top. It does not hurt at all that the glaze adds a bit of flavor and looks great too. I created two glazes, the chocolate one went on the vanilla-filled Cronut and the vanilla one went on the raspberry pastry.


Making a laminated dough pastry or fried donuts at home is certainly not something for an everyday breakfast. Making a pastry that combines the two is not particularly difficult and is really worth it if you have some practice and if you spread out the process. The end result was delicious and delightful. The At-Home Cronut Pastry™ (that’s the actual name of the book recipe) had a beautiful texture and flavors that really shined through. It was a perfect special breakfast for all of us and I will be making them again sooner or later. Maybe sooner rather than later since the kids are already asking for them…

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Historic Heston: The Meat Fruit Mandarin

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Historic Heston is chef Heston Blumenthal’s tome to historic British recipes. It is really a gorgeous book, hefty and lushly bound, illustrated and photographed. Chef has been fascinated by old recipes dating as far back as the 14th century that he finds in old British cookery (cookery, love that word for some reason!) books. He then extensively researches them, updates them and most end up on his menu at his restaurant Dinner in London.

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Meat Fruit is probably one of the most famous of such dishes. Curious about other recipes with fascinating names? How about Powdered Goose or Sambocade or Taffety Tart? Well, back to the Meat Fruit, a name that Diana hates even if she loved the actual dish. The idea here is to make mandarin that when sliced into appears to be not a fruit at all. It’s an orb of rich chicken liver mousse with a “skin” made of orange. This is the only such recipe that Blumenthal provides for Meat Fruit but he does mention other variations like a sausage mixture made to look like grapes or apples.

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It’s a relatively easy process to make the mandarins once the chicken liver parfait is prepared and piped into hemisphere molds. The molds are frozen solid and each two hemispheres are then combined to form a neat sphere. Each sphere is wrapped tight and put back in the freezer waiting for the next step.

Mandarin Puree

To make the “skin” of the mandarin I combined a mixture of mandarin puree, gelatin (a whole lot of gelatin sheets), glucose and a touch of paprika for color. I made my own mandarin puree by cooking several of the quartered fruit (peel and all) Sous Vide until they were soft. I blitzed them in the blender to make a smooth puree. I put the frozen parfait spheres on skewers and used that to dip them into the mandarin jelly two times.

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After every dip in the mix the spheres went into the fridge to set for a few minutes. I do think maybe my jelly was a bit thicker than Blumenthal intended. My mandarins’ skin came out a bit thicker than it should be. At this point the chicken liver mandarins need to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours so that the parfait can thaw and soften for service. The final touch, right before serving is to put a small twig into each “fruit” to give it a nice realistic look.

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The finished meat fruit look very convincing and just damn cool. These are not just gimmicks though. I’ve already talked about how delicious the chicken liver parfait is and now with the sharp citrusy mandarin skin it is a complete package. I toasted some good bread (sourdough and brioche), rubbed the slices with herb oil and cut into the Meat Fruit. I cannot think of too many appetizers as impressive as this. It’s a dish that has a rich history, it looks stunning, it’s whimsical and simply delicious.

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