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Quick And Easy Chinese Spicy Shrimp August 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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The Martin Yan cookbook I snagged a month or so back at a rummage sale for a buck continues to pay dividends.

Tonight I concocted a slight variation on one of his shrimp recipes, and came up with the following:

  1. Peeled/deveined about 3/4 pound of large-ish shrimp (16-20s)
  2. Tossed ’em with a pinch or two of kosher salt, one minced garlic clove, and a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes
  3. The shrimp and seasonings would then get stirfried until practically done in a wok, maybe 4-5 minutes.
  4. Added the premixed sauce: 2 1/2 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp ketchup, 1 tsp hot chili paste, 2 tsp honey.
  5. Thickened it a tad with maybe 1/2 tsp of cornstarch in 1 tsp water.


This was amazingly easy to throw together, and tasted just great. Hints of sweetness with the honey, followed up with a sneaky increase of heat and then a finish of the garlic.

Yan’s version leaves the shells on the shrimp and dusts ’em with cornstarch before wokking ’em with dry red chilis and garlic. But the sauce is the same. The texture on his version would be different, but I’ve never been crazy about leaving the shells on shrimps. If you fry ’em enough and they crispy, fine, but I didn’t trust myself. And I still got what I wanted – shrimp in a thick, clingy spicy sauce.

A recurring motif in this Yan book is also the use of balsamic vinegar and hoisin sauce to create sweet/sour effects underneath chili heat. The Kung Pao recipe uses this, as well as some others, and I discovered it worked rather well. Despite large amounts of chili paste with red pepper flakes on top of it, the dishes do not come out overly hot, but well balanced.

AND my copy is an autographed first edition! Not too bad for a buck.


Best. Latkes. Ever. December 11, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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No, not THAT Latka.

Whenever a Jew holiday rolls around, I inevitably think of potato latkes.

The magical taste of fried potato, and not just the lightly-French-Fried variety… no… this is deep brown crispy golden serious kettle cooked potato chip type frying. It’s what makes it all so so much better.

I’ve tried a few different recipes, but when I thought about the subtleties of what separates the good latke from the great, it all came down to some very simple stuff. Great latkes were bigger & spongier, basically, offering a better interior texture than something that felt more like deep fried mashed potatoes.

So the secret is…. hand shred the potatoes using a box grater. Do NOT use a food processor. I don’t care how much easier it might sound. DO NOT DO IT.

Here’s the Wagstaff method:

  1. I use decent sized Russet baking potatoes, with a ratio of 1 potato to 1 beaten egg in mixing the batter. I’ll get 2-3 large latkes out of each potato, maybe 3 inches in diameter.
  2. Hand shred those peeled russets with a box grater. If you like the latkes with a sweet addition like applesauce, mixing in a small amount (maybe at a 1:4 ratio) of hand shredded sweet potato works well.
  3. Take those potato shreds, throw ’em in a tea towel, and wring the ever lovin’ CRAP out of them to dry them out. You want to remove as much water as you can.
  4. Mix the dried potato shreds in a bowl with the following ratios per potato: 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of flour, a pinch or two of salt & pepper, and 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion.
  5. And here’s the trick to getting the inner consistency right: Add 1/2 tsp of baking powder & 1 tsp of white vinegar to the mix. If you usually have the latkes with sour cream like me, I substitute 1 tsp of a vinegar-based hot sauce like Cholula for the vinegar, and cut down a little on the black pepper.
  6. Mix to form a batter, form patties with your hands similar to hamburger patties, and then fry in a wide pan (in batches if you’re doing a lot) in enough olive oil so that the oil will come up the sides of the pancakes slightly, maybe 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch. The pancakes as they cook will absorb the oil.
  7. Fry about 5 minutes a side on medium heat, and then turn repeatedly until you get the level of brown you want.
  8. Drain on paper towels, keep warm on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven if necessary.

The baking powder/hot sauce or vinegar combo will give you some rising action when you cook them, the interweaving shreds of hand-chopped potato & slightly translucent onion cooked inside give you a great inner texture – you get a smooth & creamy potato flavor, but with some bite…. I guess you could call it “al dente.” And you get the wonderful dark brown crispy fried potato goodness on the outside.

And for me, the hint of hot pepper flavor in ’em with the Cholula combined with the sour cream & onion makes it all very very nice indeed.

And am I the only one out here who thinks that giving chocolate coins to Jewish kids on Hanukkah only confirms a Jewish stereotype? Back when I was a kid, I far preferred the Milton Bradley “Control The Media” board game, myself.

I think the Maccabees did, too. Now eat, bubelah, eat!

Beans On The Side September 18, 2007

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Two easy bean dishes!

Just in time to help you lower that cholesterol, increase that fiber and protein, and fart more than a fat baby! I’m using dried beans for both of these, since they are cheap and last FOREVER. Before you use them, it’s a good idea to pick through them for stones and give them a quick rinse. Remember, you don’t know where the machinery that processed them has been. As far as serving size, I usually use 1/3 cup of dry beans when making them for a side dish. Your mileage may vary.

Spicy Black Beans

First, I give the beans a quick soak by covering them with water with about a half inch to spare and adding a pinch of baking soda to preserve their color. Bring it to a boil and then switch off the heat and let stand, covered, for an hour. Drain the beans and return to the pot with spiffy NEW water to cover them (or broth this time since you’ll be cooking them), some salt and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil again, then lower to a simmer, cover and let cook about a half hour or until the beans are tender.

Then I spice ’em up – I drain the beans again since I don’t like them too soupy, remove the bay leaf and add some salt, pepper, chili powder, and a generous blast of hot sauce (pick your favorite brand). Stir in some fresh chopped onion and red pepper as well, and garnish with green onion after you serve it all over a bed of rice. I realize this isn’t a true Cuban black bean recipe, but it’s yummy and that’s all that counts, isn’t it?

And speaking of inauthentic and yummy, here’s an easy Curried Lentil dish that you can serve over rice or just on its own:

First, sweat some chopped onion in a little olive oil and salt until it starts to soften, then stir in a teaspoon or so of garam masala or a curry powder (or your own concoction of turmeric/cumin/coriander/cayenne) – all to taste, really. Mix this together until fragrant, feel free to add a little minced ginger too, I won’t sue you. Then add the lentils and cover with water with a good half inch of water on top. Bring to a boil, and then let simmer for about a half an hour or until the lentils are tender. At the very end, stir in some chopped tomato (fresh or canned).

Either of these can also be turned into main dishes by increasing the quantity and adding cubed-up and sauteed chicken or some other meat, serving the whole mess over rice or couscous.

These are also easy to experiment with by trying different variations along the lines of whatever you like. Why can’t more women be like that? Oh, those silly restraining orders…

As Easy As Pasta September 13, 2007

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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Never mind the one day Italian pasta strike, here’s a quick one I threw together the other night which turned out rather good:

I sliced up some brown mushrooms and sweated ’em down in a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat. Towards the end, I threw in some canned (non-marinated) artichoke hearts, quartered, just to give them a little “edge.”

Removed the vegetables from the pan, a little more olive oil in, and then some ground turkey, seasoned with salt and pepper. Browned this up and towards the end, hit it with a decent splash or two of a nice dry white wine.

Vegetables back in, a stir or two, and then two cups of the basic tomato sauce I’ve already blogged about. Simmered it for the time it took to boil up some thick spaghetti, and then tossed it all together.

It went very nicely with the aforementioned dry white wine. Sometimes the easiest things to cook are the most delicious.