Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Me and Seafood Stew – A Love Story

Okay, I admit, there hasn’t always been love between seafood stew and I. In fact early on I was practically repulsed by the mere mention of the name:“Seafood stew”?? - not at all appealing.. kind of like "Fish Tacos".. two things you would not normally pair together. But alas, with age I came to appreciate both the great sophistication and simplicity of this dish. Not to mention the fact seafood stew easily lends itself to modification - and when I’m in the kitchen, I’m all about tweaking a recipe to suit my tastes.

My affection for seafood stew can most probably be traced to a quest for a healthy and delicious seafood dish to make on a rainy day. In my search I came across several recipes for Bouillabaisse and Cioppino, (the French and Italian versions of seafood stew respectively). Not having all the seafood on hand that these recipes traditionally call for, I simply improvised –re-creating the recipe with what I did have on hand.

I started by surveying the seafood I happened to have in my fridge – I found shrimp, practically a staple in my house, and some halibut. I also had onions, garlic and some peppers. Okay, I thought, I can make something with this.
I then proceeded to make my version of seafood stew .. which it turns out, I absolutely adored and now make all the time. To feel the love yourself, I've included my basic recipe below. Of course, the magic is that you can easily substitute ingredients based on availability and/or preference. Here's a good tip - keep some Dry Vermouth in your pantry - which is simply white wine fortified with herbs. It's got great flavor and costs less than $6.00 for a regular sized bottle. You can use it wherever white wine is called for, or even when it's not. Just a word of caution, it's flavor can be stronger, and the alcohol content certainly higher, than your average Sauvignon Blanc, so be sure to start by adding just a little vermouth, and then add more to taste. If you need to add more liquid, try chicken stock, clam juice or just some water.

Lastly, don’t let the long list of ingredients scare you, this recipe is so easy and takes only about 30 minutes to cook from start to finish. Prep time is a mere 5-10 minutes of chopping.


  • Cooking spray (like Pam)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped sweet yellow onion
  • 1 cup chopped green and red bell pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups red potato, cubed
  • 1 28 oz. can of chopped seeded peeled tomatoes in juice
  • 1 1/2 cups clam juice
  • 1 cup dry white wine – or chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 or 5 ‘shakes’ of Tabasco sauce, to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/4 pounds white fish fillets, like cod, halibut or sole or tilapia - cut into 3- x 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 - 1/2 pound shrimp and/or scallops, clams or mussels
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley

  • Coat a Dutch oven with a generous amount of cooking spray and put on medium-high heat.
  • Add onion, red and green peppers, crushed red pepper, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes.
  • Add potato and the rest of the ingredients through the bay leaf; bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes. Stir in fish, shrimp, etc. and sherry; cook an additional 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork and clam and mussel shells open up.
  • Stir in parsley at very end.
  • Serve in bowls with sliced baguette pieces brushed with garlic and olive oil, then broiled for 5 minutes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New! Check out My Recipes on

I've added some of my favorite recipes on the cooking Web site,

My latest entry is an apple cranberry walnut crisp - what better to make this time of year? It's healthy and delicious.. provided you don't eat it with a half gallon of vanilla ice cream...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where Everything is Good And Everyone Knows My Name, Or Should, By Now

Albany's Wine Bar and Bistro located at 200 Lark Street is one of my favorite local places to hang out with friends, relax, enjoy some good food and great wine. It's the kind of place you want to go to unwind after a tough day, or to celebrate with friends. The atmosphere lends itself to both moods. I have to confess I am there at least once a month, and it’s a good thing I don’t live any closer, or I’d be there more often.

The space is the first thing you’ll notice – it’s below street-level and feels a little like walking into a cave – a nice cozy cave with wine bottles all around you. The atmosphere is positively charming and peaceful and relaxing, especially in the winter, when they have the fireplaces going and you’re sitting in a booth covered with throw pillows – it has the feeling of someone’s living room.

After being seated you’re handed a wine list that’s the equivalent of War & Peace, as well as the menu. Since Chef Kevin Everleth took over a few years ago (in late 2007 I believe) the menu has expanded and improved greatly. I understand that the entrée’s in particular are a special treat – but I have to say that when I make a trip to the Wine Bar, it’s all about the wine – this means I start with choosing my wine and then work backwards, usually choosing an appetizer that best suits what’s in my glass. On recent visits I’ve had a splendid Petite Syrah, a refreshing Prosecco, a Syrah from Morocco called “Syrocco”, (the only Moroccan wine on the menu, which yes, is why I ordered it) and many fabulous red Zinfinadels – my red wine of choice lately with the colder weather approaching. I’ve never had a bad glass of wine there, and if I’m ever unsure, I know that the educated staff is always there to help me. Quite remarkable, as most of them seem incredibly young…

After the important choice of wine has been made I can relax and think about food… I rarely miss the opportunity to order the appetizer plate featuring outstanding cheeses, a variety of olives and assorted veggies. The Wine Bar is now also featuring a new plate of 4 spreads I tried on my last visit. It features hummus, baba ganoush, a walnut pesto to die for, and a savory white bean spread. Served with their perfect baguette and olive oil, I convince myself that this is all I need in life… and I wonder– would they let me live there?

I’ve noticed after several recent visits that the menu has changed – always a good sign to see that new, seasonal dishes are being featured – especially for regulars like me, who’ve tried almost all the appetizers and small plates.. the extensive wine list on the other hand, will take some time to get through – which is just fine with me.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Albany Just Might Be Ready For This Place

Tonight was my fourth visit to the recently opened New World Bistro Bar on what's becoming a transformation of Delaware Ave. in Albany - and thank god - it couldn't have come at a better time... well, maybe it could have come sooner...

Anyway I'm always excited to go here - this restaurant's arrival to the area is like the cool kid arriving at the party - and Albany is the party - and in real need of some coolness.. It's a Tuesday night, and at exactly 5:03, as I'm waiting for my friend T. to show up I witnesses a sudden stream of cars into the parking lot - has no one told these people it's Tuesday??? In Albany?? But I'm not complaining, mind you, I was just a little thrown..

T. arrives and it's a good thing she does, because the crowd continues to grow and the hostess isn't confident she could seat us - but after a second look she manages to find a table for two in the bar area. We gladly take it.

The first thing you notice when walking in the door is the palpable energy - of the staff, the patrons, the walls, the tables and the chairs... perhaps a long-forgotten feeling for diners that eat out regularly in the Capital District - but again, I'm not complaining - it's a welcome change. And the food is good too..

We start off sharing the deviled eggs appetizer - which may seem an odd choice, except that these are made so well, I'll likely order them every time. The filling is spicy - probably the result of the addition of some good Dijon, and they're topped with some fish roe - giving that perfect added texture to what is otherwise a soft and creamy bite. And they go perfectly with my house sparkling wine - a great summer choice, light, dry and crisp. It's listed on the menu as a Paul Cheneau Cava, from Spain. I highly recommend it.
For dinner T. tries the "Evita Peron" pizza - and I have to admit I'm jealous after seeing it arrive to the table - this ultra thin, almost cracker like crust is topped with crumbled “Morcillia”, mozzarella, onions, tomatoes, parsley - and again, makes another fabulous summer menu choice.
As you may have figured out after reading previous blog posts, I'm a sucker for tuna - so I opt for the arugula, beets, manchego and sunflower salad topped with blackened ahi tuna, cooked rare. Terrific.. the greens, tossed with an ultra light vinaigrette, are peppery and light, the beets add some substance and the sunflower seeds provide a nice crunch. And don't even get me started on the tuna - fantastic.. pretty much raw inside, the outside with it's crisp blackened crust is a perfect contrast.
Not only was the food a joy, but the service was attentive without hovering - we were left to enjoy our meal and chat for almost 3 hours - even as we watched people lining up to be seated.
So don't miss this place - it's the shot in the arm Albany's been needing for a long time, and I can only hope that it's success creates an environment where more new, bold and exciting restaurants feel they can make it here, in Albany, home of the chain restaurant. And I think we can handle it.. I really do..

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sleepless in Seattle Maybe, But Never Hungry

A recent trip to the opposite coast brought a whole new opportunity in dining experiences - ahhh Seattle.. I think I could live there.. at least for a while.. So sit back and get comfy, this East Coast girl is going to take you on a mini-eating tour of Seattle... so enjoy!
My first night in town, my faithful travel guide and host, D. took me to one of the few places he could think of that served dinner after 10:00pm - hey - it's a long flight in from the east coast - and I was starving! So he took me to a place called The Five Spot in the Queen Anne part of Seattle. It was cozy, comfortable and down right delicious - what a perfect choice for a light dinner. The restaurant apparently has a theme that changes every 3 months - this includes not only the decor but also the menu! When we arrived it must have been "Under the Sea" or something of the sort -fabulous seafood dishes made up the menu and giant paper fish and other sea creatures hung from the ceiling. We started off by sharing an order of fried sardines - served with a horseradish sour cream-type dipping sauce that perfectly balanced out the saltiness of the sardines. This may have been my favorite part of the meal - next I had a smoked salmon (hey, it's Seattle, right?) salad - delicious, intense and fresh - it was like no salmon I had ever had on the east coast - All in all a great late night dinner - it was a playful and truly enjoyable atmosphere ...
The next highlight was dinner the following night at a soul food place called The KingFish Cafe - mmmmm - this entire experience was so satisfying... probably my most memorable meal in Seattle.
D. and I started off by sharing what could of been a meal in itself - the crab and catfish cakes with a homemade tartar sauce. These cakes were incredibly rich and packed with seafood, peppers, spices and just a few lonely breadcrumbs to hold the whole thing together! Anticipating a problem trying to eat my actual dinner, I held back and didn't finish my crab cakes...although it was a tough choice... Which brings us to the next part of the meal - for his dinner D. orders something "light" - Down Home Mac & Cheese - a huge mound of macaroni and 2 cheeses, baked up with peppers and mushrooms... ! This is the true definition of sinful - and anyone with a less forgiving metabolism would of seen the effects of eating such a decadent dish almost immediately - but, sigh... some people are just lucky..

Dinner for me was a griddled catfish with herbed grits and greens. It was so amazing, so homey and just plain delicious that I tried my best to eat it all, but it so substantial, and anything but light.. that in the end, the food won... So did D., as he got my leftovers.. Honestly I think it was all part of his master plan .. ordering that appetizer was his idea after all... hmmmm. Anyway, all is forgiven, because after all I'm a generous person that believes the dining experience is best when shared, and this was a phenomenal meal I won't soon forget.
Next, after an almost impossible mission to try and find a parking spot, we made our way to B & O Espresso - because after a huge meal what do you need more than a rich dessert? I know - nothing.. ! So we sit down and D. doesn't even bother with the menu - he gets his favorite dessert there: "chocolate pot" - and I have to concede - this was probably the best dessert they offer - it looked amazing, oozing chocolaty goodness all over the plate... and I try the flourless chocolate cake - dense, fudgey and delicious, although I can only manage to get 3 bitefuls into my already over-stuffed stomach... and it was hard, but I decide, trying to maintain a good impression, to stop here - or risk popping a button on my already snug fitting jeans.. I'm pretty sure I made the right choice. (I did, right?)
So after what I've managed to eat so far you're thinking - that's it! There's no more room in your stomach, there's no more desire to try anything else, you're sick of food, can't eat another bite - Ha! You don't know me at all do you? I wake up early the next morning with breakfast on my mind... as usual...
So to satisfy my morning bout of starvation, D. takes me on a lovely ferry ride to Kingston to a little French Crepe joint called J'Aime Les Crepes. Now, I've unfortunately never been to France, but the authenticity of these lovely crepes was not lost on me for a second. The batter was light and airy, the fillings, both sweet and savory options, heavenly. I've never had a crepe on this continent that was as good. I opted for a smoked salmon and sour cream dill crepe. D. goes right for the dark Belgian chocolate and banana (he's okay in my book). The crepes are made to order, and huge... we sit out front and enjoy them in the fresh air, as if in a cafe on some fashionable boulevard in Paris, every last bite brought me back (ok, not "back")... ah, je me souviens... Seattle!

I Said it Before, And I'll Say it Again

If you live in the Capital Region, and you own a car - you need to get to the Mountain View Brasserie - no excuses..
Possibly one of the best restaurants in the Northeast is a mere 45 minute ride from Albany - and if you take Route 32 South - bonus! - it's a beautiful ride to boot - you'll meander through gorgeous countryside of southern Albany county and northern Greene County. There are rolling hills, breath-taking views of the Catskill mountains, and farm animals galore. What more could a traveling gourmet ask for but to see a glimpse of what they may well be eating before they even reach their dining destination?

I'll keep this review short, as I did review it in length last year - and I am happy to report that the high standards have not been compromised in the least. Chef Max offers up an inventive but never pretentious menu of seasonal gems like this afternoon's tomato and watermelon gazpacho which I thoroughly enjoyed before my summer meal.
This soup was an amazingly refreshing blend of both sweet and slightly spicy - it was so good, that my companions and I were literally licking our bowls when the waitress came back to clear the table... slightly embarrassing perhaps - but hey - it's probably not the first time she's witnessed such appreciation of something so simple, so perfectly executed.

Onto the main course - what to choose? It all looks good, from options that included roasted shrimp and vegetable risotto, to pork roast with peach and onion marmalade, to salmon with orange and olive butter.. But I finally decide on a lighter dish, given the warm weather, and my goal of losing 5 pounds in the next 2 weeks (ha, wish me luck!). So I choose the broiled scallops over spinach with a warm bacon sherry vinaigrette. I was not disappointed.

The large scallops were perfectly cooked, tender and sweet and not over-seasoned. The warm vinaigrette was a pure pleasure - I would of dipped my fingers in it if it wasn't considered "uncouth".. The main dish was served with a potato gratin on the side that was nicely crisped and browned - very yummy.. And to drink we shared a bottle of chilled rose called Three Saints - lovely, crisp, dry and not sweet at all... and most importantly, a perfect companion to everyone's dinner.

So I was good - I ate about 2/3 of my dinner and brought the rest home - so that I could sample dessert.. I had to.. but I was good - I split it 3 ways, managing the calories while still getting to enjoy a treat that was as expertly made as the rest of the meal - dark chocolate and grand marnier mousse with homemade whipped cream and orange sections. Yet again my dining companions and I found ourselves licking the plate.. hey - it was dark chocolate mousse - you try to restrain yourself..

So as I end this post by saying this is the best, most consistently excellent restaurant in the area - you owe yourself a trip and the chance to discover how hard it really is not to lick your own plate... I dare you..

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sometimes It Is As Good As You Hope It Will Be

There aren't many occasions in life when something happens and it's exactly as you imagine it.. as good as you want it to be, and just how you picture it should be...
I was lucky enough to have that happen on my most recent trip back to the motherland - nyc that is..
My sister and I drove down for a long overdue weekend in the city - and even though this was the city where we grew up, we were determined to act like tourists - And we did - fitting as much as we could into 2 days - and at the top of that list was to eat - and eat we did.
Apart from the deceptively "light and harmless" sangria at a tapas bar and cafe near our hotel, the great breakfast at EJ's - where my sister ate almost the entire bowl of homemade raspberry preserves.. and the obligatory nyc bagels - we had one great dinner down on Bleeker street.

The restaurant was traditional Italian - a recommendation from a trusted source - to whom I am indebted. At 262 Bleeker between Morton and Cornelia sits this unassuming little place - called Pesce Pasta Trattoria - simply put: Fish and Pasta.. and I ask you - what could be better than that?

My sister and I know it's going to be a good dining experience as soon as we walk in and smell the seafood, see the red and white checkered tablecloths, the glasses of Chianti on every table and the attentive waitstaff attending to a full house.

We get the last empty table in the place - after we sit down a line starts to form outside this tiny but apparently popular destination - and it looks like a lot of locals are there - always a good sign.

We start out with some decent Italian bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. After perusing the Appetizer menu just for the heck of it - I order what I knew I would - the stuffed artichoke, based again on that good source and his recommendation. It was a meal in itself, delicious and hearty - the artichoke cooked perfectly - nice and tender with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese - I couldn't stop eating it...

My sister smartly ordered the melon and prosciutto - fantastically light and delicious, it was the perfect blend of sweet and salty.

Dinner took more time to decide on... the menu featured mostly seafood dishes, along with the traditional pasta favorites like lasagna, and veal and chicken dishes too. However, I settle on the "right choice" - a special called Frutti Di Mare served over homemade orrechiette pasta -

My sister orders the Veal Picata (she's a veal freak). Our dinners come out and hers is lovely - the veal tender and perfectly cooked, the sauce light and flavorful - she is happy.

And me? Well I am just ecstatic - by now I'm on my second Chianti facing a platter of what has to be one of the most beautiful dishes that's ever been set in front of me... a melange of mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, white fish and calamari in a sauce that is light and brothy, bursting with fresh seafood flavors, tomatoes, and I'm guessing a little white wine. The seafood was amazing - and abundant - and never overpowered by the sauce it sat in. And I can honestly say I've never had homemade pasta that tasted so... homemade - It was amazing - taste and texture were perfect. I was, at this point in the meal, about to burst - yet I couldn't stop eating - because I knew, just visiting, that I could not bring any leftovers with me.
And that was the only sad part of the story - Oh well, I'll just have to go back and try again...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Grasshopper – You’ve Won Again

The Grasshopper Roll - That’s one of my stand-by orders at Okinawa – a fresh wonderful specialty sushi roll that combines tuna, crabmeat with cucumber and avocado – okay great – now after writing about it, I’m craving it..

Okinawa is a Chinese/Japanese restaurant in a strip mall on Main Street in Wynantskill. (What is it about strip malls anyway? These days some of the best restaurants can be found there – maybe it’s the appeal of a constant stream of traffic or lower lease costs?)

This friendly, neighborhood place is relaxing and friendly – even if you’ve only been once or twice the staff seem to recognize you – and after 5 or 6 visits – you’re practically one of the family. I’ll be quick to point out that while the staff is friendly and accommodating, if you’re in a rush, this may not be the place for you – although take-out orders always seem to be ready on time.

Most customers I’ve noticed go right for the sushi – it’s fantastic – fresh and beautiful and extremely affordable – Although I have personally sampled the tempura which is crisp and light, never heavy or greasy. Dining companions have also ordered Chinese specialties which seem to please as well.

But if you’re looking to start your meal out with a little something before you dive into a main course, consider the pepper tuna salad – it is peppery – but if you like it hot – you’ll enjoy this light dish of raw tuna sliced over a shredded napa cabbage type of veggie. The quality is unmistakable – and raw fish is hard to prepare if it’s not high quality – there are no sauces or gravies to hide beneath.

A typical sushi meal starts with the obligatory iceberg lettuce salad with orange ginger dressing - and no, I am not complaining... followed by a bowl of miso soup - yummmy. Next, for me it's usually the fantastic Grasshopper roll, or the Triple Roll - on the "Specials" board since the day they opened I think.. Anyway it's a fabulous combination of tuna, white fish and crab... or if I opt for a "regular" roll it's almost always the spicy tuna or the smoked salmon and avocado.
And here's a tip for the drinkers in the group - mixing cocktails is not one of Okinawa's specialties.. they have no bartender, so when you do order a mixed concoction you'll sometimes find the waitstaff consulting the "Cocktail HandBook" .. the good thing about this? They really compensate with their lack of mixology with added alcohol - talk about getting a bang for your buck! Try the MaiTai ... just don't try and drive afterwards..

You just can't go wrong at Okinawa - the prices are so reasonable, the sushi always unbelievably fresh, delicious and beautiful, and the service, although not what I would call "lightning fast", is friendly and accommodating.. Just don't go there on your lunch hour... you'll won't make it back before 2pm..

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Can't Stop Eating This Stuff...

I've been making and eating chile for as long as I can remember - and I make a pretty mean chili too - and not only the traditional variety, but I have recently mastered the controversial white bean and chicken chli ("is it really chili?" chili purests may ask - yes, I say, filled with beans, tomatoes and lots of cumin and coriander...) and I have also perfected the healthy turkey chili ...

But the Green Chili - no - that's over my head I thought - green tomatillos- I can't even usually find these- a variety of chili peppers - and who knows what else.. Sure - it looked and sounded fantastic - but I hadn't yet gotten up the courage - or the energy - to try and create this delicious dish... But aha - I don't have to!

Once in a while, as many people who love to cook know, there comes along a pre-made mix, or sauce, or something, that is as good or better than you could make from scratch - I belive I have stumbled on just such a product...

Cookwell & Company makes a Green Chili Mix that is out of this world - I mean, dream about good - crave night and day good - I want to eat some right now good... Seriously.

I stumbled upon this product at my local Hannaford supermarket, thanks to my parents who first discovered it, in the "International Foods" aisle. Upon inspecting the label I learn the ingedients are all natural and include a variety of green chilies, fire-roasted green tomatillos, lime juice, cilantro, onions, garlic, and some chicken stock.

I simply had it with some seared pork and a little sour cream and was in heaven - the smokiness, the hotness, the flavor just fills your mouth and your whole body - it is sooooo comfort food - I imagine it would also be good with shrimp, chicken, or used a as a sauce over rice or fish. Not only is this stuff tasty beyond belief, turns out there's only 45 calories per serving (as is) and contains almost no fat or carbs... a culinary dream come true.

So if you love Mexican food, and appreciate the subtle flavors that different chili peppers can lend to a dish, go get yourself a jar before I clean out the Hannaford supply.. seriously..

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chez Mike Est Tres Délicieux

Who would guess such a culinary gem would be buried in an East Greenbush shopping plaza? Not me - luckily I found my way to this great new restaurant via my parents - the big guns of local culinary expertise..

After several visits to Chez Mike I have found consistently good and inventive "American" food. Case in point is that most dishes are “slow-cooked” and not merely topped with fancy sauces. Local produce is used and menus are seasonal – Chef Mike Cohen is clearly on top of things.

A summertime visit brought me to the homemade gazpacho topped with rich blue crab meat – this satisfying and flavorful soup was an entrée all on it’s own.

An attempt to eat “healthier” the day after Thanksgiving led me to try the Rice Noodle & Tofu Bowl – a wonderful dish of vegetables in sesame-soy broth with tofu and rice noodles. I had to ferociously fend off my dining companions – some of whom are hard-core carnivores – from stealing my dinner. It’s a good thing that when it comes to food, I am clearly stronger than I appear. The dish seems to be a staple on the menu that does seem to feature regular changes – and thank goodness – it truly was a fulfilling experience for the senses – perfectly balanced – light and healthy yet completely comforting.

Dining companions have sampled everything from the burgers – huge and meaty, to the short ribs – rich and saucy, to the brick pressed roast chicken - moist and homey. And fear not, desserts have not been neglected – there is a chocolate cake on the menu that is well worth trying – although I advise you have people to share it with – it is very rich and chocolatey - just like it should be .

The wine list is also very nice – if I were more of a wine expert I could expound here – I will say I have tried several reds, a cab, a pinot noir and a merlot – all were yummy.

In this age of fast food and chain restaurants it’s so nice to have this choice of fine dining prepared by knowledgeable and caring people – I encourage you to visit and support this noble (and scrumptious) cause for yourself…