Archive for the ‘Main Courses’ Category

Cooking Pan Roasted Halibut w/ Zucchini Crudo, Cous Cous and Swiss Chard

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Cooking with Carl Mindling

I met a fellow foodie Carl Mindling at our favorite wedding networking event – Martini Madness – that a friend and a great San Francisco wedding coordinator Duncan Reyes puts together. My wife Lisa Whalen is a San Francisco wedding photographer and we frequently go to wedding professionals networking events together, and through these events have met a number of individuals who truly appreciate the “art” of entertaining, and share my love of all things food & wine related.

I was immediately intrigued when Carl Mindling approached me a few months ago about an idea of creating dinner parties together. I love cooking and I love collaborating with others and immediately saw so much creative potential in this idea.

So after we picked our dinner date (May 15th) and invited some of our friends we shortly started brainstorming ideas about what to cook and the theme of the dinner. I volunteered to cook fish and host the party at my place (which later I decided to move to my great friend Robin’s house – THANK YOU,  Robin!!)

I love cooking fish – as most of my close friends know I am a huge sushi fan, and some of my favorite meals have centered around yummy slabs of salmon or tuna… But for this dinner I wanted to cook a less fatty, sleeker white fish. First I thought I would make a sea bass with beurre blanc, but once I got to the store I realized that wild halibut was fresh and in season. So I picked out eight great fillets for eight great friends whose company I really enjoy.

I shortly realized that I never really cooked halibut the way I envisioned it done for this dinner party. I’ve  made a few good recipes before including Halibut with Cabbage and Shitake Mushrooms and Halibut crusted with herbs and nuts, but I really wanted to make something new – something that would be exciting for me as well as for my guests. So a few days before our dinner I experimented and just took a few of my favorite flavors and tried to imagine what would put a Mediterranean twist to cooking this fish. And here we are:

Pan Roasted Halibut

Pan Roasted Halibut


Combine in a bowl:

3 tbsp Olive Oil

Juice of 1 Lemon

1 tsp of Capers

Chopped Mint

½ Thin sliced Jalapeno

2 Rosemary twigs

2 tsp of white balsamic vinegar

½ tsp honey

Salt & pepper to taste

To Do’s

I marinated the fish in this dressing for a few hours.

First time I made this fish I enclosed it in parchment paper and baked it to perfection for 12 minutes. But for our dinner, I wanted more of a classic presentation, so I first seared the fish in a dash of oil on one side to get a golden crust, then finished it in the oven on a bed of fresh fennel. I enjoyed the more tangy flavors of jalapeno and capers working together with the earthy rosemary and the bright and fresh mint. Carl made perfect cous-cous to go along the fish, which we put on a bed of simply boiled (about five minutes) swiss-chard.

Here are a few more pictures from our dinner:

Cous Cous by Carl Mindling

Cous Cous by Carl Mindling

Zucchini with olives and mint

Zucchini with olives and mint

Tomato, Olives and Mozzarella Skewers by Carl Mindling

Tomato, Olives and Mozzarella Skewers by Carl Mindling

Tips & Tricks:

Before searing the fish, make sure to remove it from the sauce and pat it dry. Fish must be dry when it hits the pan, otherwise it won’t sear.

Make sure the pan is perfectly preheated; otherwise the fish will stick to the pan. I used my All-Clad copper-core saute pan to really control the temperature, and not overcook the fish so I could get a crispier edge. Cast iron skillets will give a slightly moister but equally great feel to the fish. Please spare the fish and your guests the torture of non-stick pans!

Sear on just one side for 3-5 minutes and bake at 450 for 7-8 minutes, its better to undercook, then overcook the fish.

I use grape seed oil for searing because it has least flavor of all oils, has one of highest heat indexes and doesn’t flavor the fish too much (as it will occur with olive oil)

Swiss-Chard: Boil water, add teaspoon on salt and add chard. Boil for 5 minutes, remove, drain access water and season with a splash of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a dash of olive oil, salt pepper.


Cooking Halibut with Cabbage and Shitake Mushrooms, in Parchment Paper.

Thursday, October 29th, 2009


I will say it right off the bat –  the original dish is from the menu of one of my favorite hang-out spots in Carmel, CA, called Flying Fish Grill. If you live on the west coast – get your ass there NOW (make a reservation before you go – this ain’t Olive Garden) It is a spectacularly unique seafood place with an Asian twist, an interior and décor as unique as the menu and a fabulous local wine list. Flying Fish cooks this a bit differently than I do (sauce, etc)  – so try their fish if you can, as it is simply outstanding!  (my recipe is an interpretation of the original, so if you have an opportunity to try the real deal, go for it)


The reason I decided to play around with their recipe in the first place is because I had never cooked halibut before. For over 30 years I thought I was allergic to white fish and recently discovered I actually no longer am. So, in short, I needed to test a few things out about halibut before experimenting with my own recipes: cooking time, temperature, texture, sauce ideas and oiliness of the fish. I wanted to work off of a recipe I knew I liked and that “worked” before plunging into my own improvisations. In fact, my  #1 piece of advice for entertaining guests is this: never cook something for guests you’ve never cooked before. It’s a sure way to make an ass out of yourself.


Halibut is a very firm, lean, large flake fish with practically no specific scent other than the freshness of the sea (provided you know how to buy fish!) It is in fact ideal for any sauce you can imagine, since it easily absorbs flavor. Since trying this out, I’ve experimented with many more variations of roasted or broiled halibut with pesto, preserved lemon, simple soy, ginger and chilly or just nuts and herbs.  


Halibut Cooked in Parchment Paper

Halibut Cooked in Parchment Paper


 2 lb Pacific Halibut, cut into 1/2lb filets

¼ head of cabbage

shitake mushrooms (2 per filet)

Soy sauce, dash or rice vinegar

Fresh Ginger minced

Sesame oil

Salt, Pepper

Few chilly flakes or Japanese pepper


Parchment Paper

Method: Bake / Broil

Cookware: Oven, Pizza Stone or Cookie sheet

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Sauce: Combine 3 tbsp soy sauce, a ¼ tsp of minced ginger, dash of vinegar and a dash of sesame oil & chilly flakes, season with pepper.

Wash filets, pat dry and salt generously with salt. Set aside in  fridge for up to 3 hours, pull out about 30 minutes before you start cooking. First thing you gotta do is get the parchment paper ready: Take a large square of paper and cut a heart shape about 3 times larger than the fish filets. Fold the sheet in half. Take a teaspoon of sauce and smear a small amount (about the size of the filet) on one side of the folded parchment paper. Cut cabbage into 2 inch slices & slice the shitake mushrooms. Arrange cabbage in a square, mimicking the shape of the filet, then add shitakes and finally the fish. Top with a few dashes of sauce. Fold second half of the parchment paper over the cabbage, mushroom and fish stacks and roll up the edges around the heart, (starting at the bottom of the “heart”) until you have a semi-circular looking shape to the parchment. Repeat with the rest of your fish and place parchment packages on a pizza stone or cookie sheet. Cook the fish for 10 minutes at 500 degrees for a perfectly cooked filet. Do not overcook; texture of the fish must be soft and creamy inside.


Serve with Asian style cole slaw, wild rice or noodles, or just a simple vegetable stir fry.


Tips & Tricks:


The most important thing about fish is avoiding overcooking: simply cook less time than you estimate. In my experience,  10-12 minutes for a 2” thick filet of halibut or salmon yields the best results.


Selecting fish: I buy my fish on farmers markets (my #1 preference) or Whole Foods (my #2 preference), unless I detour to Half Moon Bay or a real fish market. My experience with conventional supermarkets is: you just can’t trust them. Sometimes the fish is good, sometimes it’s not. If you decide to go via the Safeway route ask to smell the halibut – it should smell like ‘nothing.’


Pike Baked Moscow style

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

This Central European classic dish is complements of my Mom & Dad, as they actually go fishing for pike, which is a vicious and strong fish with a torpedo-like shape and big, sharp teeth. It is fairly hard to fish, as it tends to fight as you try to get it ashore. I remember years ago my grandfather telling me that catching a pike is tricky and you gotta ‘tire’ it for hours in water before you get it out. Here in the United States it can be found in the Great Lakes and other larger lakes. However, I strongly suspect that in your case, a trip to a fishmonger or a grocery store would do.

If you can’t find pike, you can try substituting it with catfish or other flaky, low-fat, lean-meat white fish.

This dish itself embodies central European approach to making food  – simplicity of ingredients and preparation methods, including the sour-cream sauce, widely used for cooking throughout eastern and Central Europe.


4-5 pike fillets

4-5 potatoes cut into ½ inch round slices

1 large onion thinly sliced

white mushrooms –  around ½ pound

¼ cup chicken or vegetable broth

6 ounces sour cream

bay leaf

salt & pepper, nutmeg

white wine

The Prep:

1. Cut potatoes into ½ inch slices and fry in olive oil or butter for about 10 minutes until half-done.

2. Sauté onions for a few minutes until translucent in a heavy sauté pan, then add mushrooms and cook together until mushrooms turn golden brown. Set aside.

Sour Cream Sauce:

Mix ¼ cup of any stock (vegetable or chicken broth) with 6 ounces of sour cream and simmer it until it gets thicker.  Add nutmeg, bay leaf, pepper and pour a splash of dry white wine into the sauce.

The Fish:

An average-sized pike (5-6 pounds) should be cut into filleted pieces.  Add salt and pepper, then fry the fish in vegetable oil until it gets a brown gold crust.  Put the fish in the center of the baking pan (you can use ceramic or earthenware) and surround it with slightly fried potatoes cut in circular slices. Cover the fish with fried mushrooms and onions, and then drown the stuff with sour cream sauce with nutmeg.  Bake the fish in the oven for 25 minute at 375-400 decrees.


Trumpet Mushroom & Truffle Oil Risotto

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Recently I have been experimenting a lot with Risotto. From trying different stocks / fumes (which are always the soul of your risotto) to playing around with various combinations such as basil, sun dried tomato & pine nuts, or fennel, saffron & mushroom, or perhaps shrimp stock, chilly and sun dried tomato, my personal discovery is this: less is more. My recent favorite is a simple risotto with finely diced sautéed fennel root, butter and pine nuts. Sometimes I top it with a few dashes of truffle oil or Trumpet mushrooms sautéed in butter. Risotto is one of the dishes that definitely benefits from butter. Whereas I still use it sparingly I usually add around 1-2 teaspoons for the proportions below.



1 ½ cup of Arborio Rice
4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock or shrimp fume, or water or mushroom infused liquid *
1 cup of cheap light white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, etc)
¼ cup of toasted pine nuts
1 cup of diced fennel root
1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese
Trumpet Mushrooms
Butter, Salt, Olive Oil, Truffle oil (optional)

Methods: Sauté, Simmer, Fry
Cookware: Heavy Stainless Steel or Copper Sauté Pan.

Preheat a large Sauté Pan, Rondeau or a cast iron braiser pan. Sauté fennel on medium heat in butter and oil for around 5 minutes, adding a pinch of salt, making sure fennel is translucent and tender but not browned. Add a bit more butter and stir in rice. Coat rice in butter and sauté, stirring constantly, until rice turns translucent and absorbs the fat. This process should take 2-3 minutes or so. Make sure not to brown or burn the rice. Slowly add the wine and keep stirring risotto until wine is almost completely absorbed.

The trick with making risotto is to never let the pan get quite dry and never drown the rice in liquid. Start slowly adding warmed up stock a ladleful at a time to your risotto, stirring constantly, making sure (whatever you do – please make sure of that!!!) that you do not let the liquid dry out completely. Your rice should always be covered with a little liquid. Keep repeating these steps, stirring constantly and watching risotto until all stock is absorbed. (25-30 minutes, depending on choice of cookware) Right before the stock is all absorbed, preheat a copper or cast iron skillet to med-high heat.

Slice a few trumpet mushroom in half and slice some more in thinner 1 ½ – 2 inch slices. Sprinkle with salt and sauté in butter and oil, turning the large mushrooms only once on the side, thus browning them well. Meanwhile finish risotto, by adding a little bit more butter and Parmesan cheese. Let the butter melt, stir in all the cheese and make sure all liquid is “almost all” absorbed. I always leave a little liquid in and take risotto off heat – it will absorb completely in the next 5-10 minutes as it stands. Finish the mushrooms, making sure they are golden brown on both sides. Stir in the thinner mushroom into risotto, and add the thicker pieces on the top, to garnish the dish. Stir in freshly toasted pine nuts. This is the time to add a few drops of truffle oil. I recommend you taste your risotto as is prior to doing it, as you might not like the strong flavor of truffles.

In any case, if you choose to use truffle oil, add just a dash and maybe only to half of risotto. You should serve it immediately, don’t let it wait too long.

Tips & Tricks:

I use, and only suggest using, heavy cookware made of cast iron, copper or tri/ 5 ply steel. (sauté pan is my choice, although I also use a enamel coated cast iron rondeau – shallow sides, wide shape)

Non-stick pans are bullshit: they are too light, burn your food and are not healthy for you. If you use something that is too thin and light, odds are it will burn your risotto or your liquid will evaporate too quickly, leaving risotto too al-dente (not fully cooked, in plain English)

If you let your pan get dry the starch of rice will burn, causing it to get clumpy and sticky.
If you drown the pan in liquid, rice will get mushy. You gotta keep the perfect balance, always adding liquid slowly, warm and never letting the rice dry out completely.

Stock is important – care to make your own, homemade, good tasting stock. Store bought stocks are usually an over-salted, dried out cubes or sodium-ridden powders not worth cooking with. I don’t salt stock when I make it.

Salting rice is important – it does something to make it taste better.  I usually add around a teaspoon for the proportions above.

* Take dried mushrooms (porcini, etc, be careful with shittake as they are highly flavorful) pour a cup of hot water over them and let stand for an hour. Use water as part of stock.


Spicy Thai Seafood

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

There are so many ways of making this type of dish – it can be a blog entry every day for many months. From what type of starch to use to how to marinate your seafood, there are so many great choices and the cool part is – none of them would be wrong!

Important things to understand about this dish are: it’s a spicy dish – it needs chilies! It’s a flavorful dish. It will need basil, ginger, galangal and lemongrass – all of which are flavorings associated with Thai food. It MUST have fresh seafood! Fresh seafood is the key – always buy the best seafood you can find. I get mine in Whole Foods or my local Chinese market. I do not recommend buying seafood in standard supermarkets – no matter what tricks you use it is still frozen, cheap seafood. Your dish will need rice or pasta and a few nice vegetable selections: I use baby corns, bamboo shoots or water chestnuts.

Spicy Thai Seafood

Spicy Thai Seafood


Shrimp ½ -1 lb

Scallops ½ – 1 pound

Calamari (cut into rings)

Ginger (1 large clove)

Red Thai Chillie peppers (crushed, or fresh, or whole) a teaspoon, or 4-5 small pieces, or 1 fresh pepper

6-8 basil leaves

Soy sauce (2 table spoons)

Coconut Milk ½ can

Sesame oil – 1 tsp

Turmeric ½ tsp

Method: Pan fry, sauté

Cookware: Wok or Saute Pan

Cook linguini pasta or rice in advance, as directed on the package. If cooking linguini, (which is what I do) cook it 5 minutes in advance.

Combine seafood in a colander, peel shrimp, pour a ½ cup of salt on seafood and run cold water over seafood for 10-20 minutes. Make sure to wash all salt out. This method gets rid of all impurities in seafood – a cleaning method. Wash out carefully and pat dry. Mix ginger, chillie flakes, basil, turmeric paste (see tips & tricks below), soy sauce and sesame oil. Whisk in and add seafood to it. Marinate for 30 minutes or more.

Heat oil in a wok or a large sauté pan, lift up seafood from marinade with a slotted spoon and brown your seafood on very high heat, just until well browned. Add your choice of vegetables at the same time. Add marinade and coconut milk and steep for a minute or two and take off heat. Pour over seafood and serve immediately.

Tips & Tricks:

I do use pasta, not rice noodles. Why? Linguini works best for me. It just gives the right taste and texture. My second choice is brown rice or a mixture of brown and wild rice.

Salt out you seafood for at least 10 –20 minutes: it’s the key to making great seafood. Not only does it make seafood taste better, but the texture improves as well. It’s an ancient Chinese method. You might as well use it. I do, and it works.

My personal trick is this: I find there is a difference in how you make your curry. I take basil leaves, turmeric, chilies and ginger and using pestle and mortar create a paste or curry that will be the base for this dish. Its different from using a grinder, blender, chopping etc – you gotta use pestle and mortar.

Flash fry seafood first in hot oil and brown, then add sauce and lower heat to steep seafood in your marinate. I brown scallops first, and then add shrimp & squid. I find that scallops need to cook a few minutes longer. Good luck – this dish is really good when its got a kick to it – have fun with that chilly!


Fran’s Thanksgiving Lasagna

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Thanksgiving is a special holiday for my wife and me. First, we get to go and hang out with her whole family in New York; second we really enjoy visiting New York City, and finally there is Fran’s lasagna night! (which we do every year in addition to our traditional Thanksgiving dinner) New York of course is a land of great bagels and pizza and excellent Italian food, but it’s a real treat when your Italian food comes from the source – an Italian family. Italian food over all is very simple to make, yet it’s very hard to find good Italian food in this country. (Hell, it’s even hard to find in New York) The reason for that is that most people try to add more to Italian food that it needs to have. The beauty of an Italian meal, as with many things in life, is in its’ simplicity.

So here is a real-deal, New York style slice of Italian pre-Thanksgiving celebration on Long Island, which became a family tradition:

Frans Meat Lasagna

Fran's Meat Lasagna


Sautéing, Stewing, Baking

Fran Cooking

Fran Cooking


Sauté pan, Large Saucepan or Dutch Oven

(Fran says:)

4 28 oz cans of Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes

or San Marzano whole tomatoes put through a food-mill (this is really important!)

3 pounds lean ground beef

1 lb sweet Italian sausage links chopped with casings removed

5 cloves of garlic chopped

1 medium onion finely chopped

Olive oil

Salt, pepper, basil to taste

Brown meat in a separate pan in a small amount of olive oil, and set aside.

Cover bottom of a large heavy bottom saucepan or Dutch oven with olive oil. When hot add onion and sauté until soft, add garlic until light golden color then add crushed food-milled tomatoes, salt and pepper and basil. (Both dry or fresh basil work, but Fran prefers dry) Bring tomato sauce to simmer then add browned meat. Cover and simmer for approximately 2 hours stirring occasionally. Adjust with salt and pepper to taste.



Cooked lasagna pasta

Tomato sauce (above)

Ricotta mix: Ricotta (3lb) + 1egg + ½ cup Parmesan Cheese – well mixed

parmesan, mozzarella cheese

In a Lasagna pan add a little of Fran’s sauce on the bottom, then add a layer of cooked Lasagna pasta, ricotta mix, mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Add a layer of sauce and repeat the process. Top layer should have sauce on it. Cook for a few hours and add cheese on the top at the last 15 minutes.

Tips & Tricks:

Use only high quality canned Italian plum tomatoes (like San Marzano)

Simmer on low, never boil your sauce

Use heavy cookware – it will prevent your food from burning or hot spots.

Keep it simple.