Showing posts from December 16, 2007

Reduced Balsamic Vinegar

Because I like to use vinegars with less of an edge, I used to buy saba and aged balsamic vinegar. Problem is, they're expensive. $25.00 - $75.00/pint.

There's no substitute for saba or aged balsamic vinegar, but I discovered a way to use ordinary balsamic vinegar and increase its flavor.

Buy the cheapest balsamic you can find. At a restaurant supply store like Smart and Final, you can buy a gallon of balsamic vinegar for under $20.00.

Pour the vinegar into a large pot and put on the lowest flame possible. To avoid a "cooked" flavor, all you want to do is accelerate evaporation.

A gallon of vinegar will take 10-15 hours to reduce the balsamic to 20% of the original volume. Taste the vinegar. You're done when it has a slightly sweet flavor.

Wet a piece of cheese cloth and put it inside a funnel. To get rid of any solids that might have built up, pour the reduced balsamic through the cheese cloth. Pour the "syrup" into squeeze bottles, the kind you…

Duck Legs & Thighs with Winter Vegetables

The first time I cooked duck, I was completely freaked out. "Duck!" seemed way too exotic, too odd, too French for me to deal with. Duck had too much tradition behind it. Chicken was my safe-zone fowl.

Anyway, I took the plunge and cooked a whole duck. It turned out...ok. There's all that fat to deal with and the fact that the whole bird is dark meat. After dozens of outings, I figured out how to cook duck, and, I have to say, duck is great. Taste-wise it's midway between chicken and beef, but better than either.

To the point: cooking a whole duck is an obligation. Cooking duck legs and thighs is a lot more normal. Think "chicken" and it won't seem so special, but the end result will be.

The duck we get comes from Vietnamese markets where the cost per pound averages $2.25. It's easy enough to buy a half dozen legs and thighs (they come together) and freeze them. The easy way to do that is to wash and pat dry each leg/thigh, lay it on a piece…

Easy-to-Make Lavash "Pizza"

When we were packing for the trip, my job was to go through the refrigerator and bring everything with us that would go bad if we left it home: arugula, apples, parsley, lemons, bacon, eggs, sausages, hot dogs, hamburger meat...all that went into the car.

Way in the back of the refrigerator I found a Ziploc bag oflavash I'd bought from an Armenian market, The Golden Farm, in Glendale three weeks ago. The good news about lavash is you can eat it freshly baked and weeks later, at least if you grill it.

Fresh lavash comes in a plastic bag, with 2-4 sheets inside. The sheets of lavash are huge: 4 feet by 3 feet. Grilled the way I'm talking about, 1 sheet will feed 4 people. Usually a package costs between $1.00-$2.30 in Middle Eastern Markets.

At those prices, lavash is a bargain.

Grilled lavash for appetizers:

Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil onto a flat plate. Season with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. To prep the lavash for grilling, cut the sheet into 2&quo…

Shucking Oysters

Shucking oysters is easy but as everyone who's ever done it knows, it's a hassle, that's why there are oyster bars. Buying your own oysters is a lot cheaper, so it's worth doing when you have time to spend in the kitchen.

Everyone has their own way of opening an oyster. I learned mine many years ago when I was writing an article about Vietnamese fishermen on the Texas Gulf Coast. This was back in the late '70's when some Vietnamese had been given government grants to relocate along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. There was friction with the locals who didn't like the increased competition and the cultural differences. It's actually a fascinating story about "unintended consequences" after the Vietnam War....I'll save that for another time. The point is, I met a young fisherman, Bobby, who took me with him on his boat to go oystering. Part of my job was shucking the mountain of oysters we dredged up. He gave me the oyster knife I …

Oyster Stew

Good oysters are a rare treat.

Eaten raw with a classic tomato-based cocktail sauce they're delicious. Especially with an ice-cold shot of tequila.

On a cold day, though, oyster stew is the way to go. Satisfying and comforting, the best stews, like the ones served at the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar, are prepared as simply as possible.

My recipe is a variation on that theme.

Oyster Stew

Yield: Serves 4

Time: 60 minutes


6 oysters, raw, shucked, the nectar strained and reserved
1 medium sized, Yukon potato, peeled, finely diced (1/2 cup)
1 small yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped (1 tablespoon)
1 garlic clove, peeled, finely chopped
2 sprigs, parsley, finely chopped, stems and leaves (1 tablespoon)
1 small carrot, finely chopped (1 teaspoon)
2 fresh shiitaki mushrooms, washed, julienned
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce
1 cup homemade chicken stock
1 cup water
1/2 cup cream or half and half


In a medium siz…

Today in Carlsbad

A week's vacation in Carlsbad near Del Mar, along the coast of California, about 90 minutes south of Los Angeles.

My wife Michelle, our teenaged son, Michael, and his two football buddies, Chris and Spencer, we're spending the week in a 2-bedroom time share. Doing nothing more stressful than taking walks along the beach, watching dvds, reading, watching tv, and cooking. Michael and his friends will go surfing, see movies, and work out in the exercise room. Usually our other son, Frank, would come along, but he's backpacking with friends on a five week trip in Southeast Asia, taking a 10 day bus trip up the Vietnamese coast, staying in Tokyo for a couple of days, looking around Cambodia, and ending up in Thailand.

Michelle will spend most of her time reading novels. I'll do some work by email, but mostly I'll be cooking.

Driving south from LA on the 405, we stopped at several places along Bolsa Avenue in Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese community in the United…