Friday, April 15, 2016

Lightly Fried Monkfish Fillets (serves 2 as part of a shared meal)

I had forgotten how tasty monkfish is until I made it recently for my husband. Check out my previous post Monkfish and Lemon Caper Sauce. This Lightly Fried Monkfish Fillets dish is so easy that I didn't think it was worth the trouble to write it down. I had a few scallops leftover so I decided to keep everything simple and season both the scallops (6 sea scallops) and the monkfish (purchased 2 fillets which came to about a pound) with just salt and freshly ground black pepper. I fried them in a little oil until they are just cooked. Towards the end of cooking the monkfish fillets (due to the thickness they take the longest to cook through) I drop in the chopped white onion and chopped scallions to cook. You can serve this with anything. Of course I prefer this with freshly cooked rice and lots of extra vegetables on the side.

Shoyu Tako Poke (appetizer for 2)

This appetizer is inspired by the numerous poke dishes that my husband and I often eat in Hawaii. Poke is a raw fish salad or appetizer served in Hawaiian cuisine. The term pokē means to cut or slice. The first thing that I normally do after stepping foot on Hawaii's soil is to visit the deli counter at the local grocery (preferably in the morning) for freshly made poke. Usually there is a variety of them made from crab, ahi (tuna), salmon, and tako (or octopus). Typically I get a few small containers of different types and we eat this with piping hot rice and some home-made salads for lunch.

If you do not have access to kukui nuts (or candlenuts) you can use other types of nuts or seeds that you prefer. Check out my previous post on How to Roast Kukui Nuts (Candlenuts). It is not necessary to use Hawaiian sea salt for this dish. If you have another type of sea salt you can lightly crush it and add to this dish. If you don't have sea salt then just use what you have available in your kitchen.

mix all ingredients together
Shoyu Tako Poke (appetizer for 2)


1 1/2 pounds cooked baby octopus or tako, cut into bite size
2 Tbsp chopped roasted kukui nut (about 2 whole nuts)
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped scallions
1/8 medium sweet onion, sliced
2 tsp shoyu (or soy sauce)
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp crushed Hawaiian sea salt
Juice from about 1/3 of a small lime
Sriracha sauce (add as much as you want in the mixture and to garnish)


Mix all ingredients together. Adjust the season according to your taste. Plate and drizzle with more sriracha sauce if interested. Serve right away.

Scallop Patties (makes ten 2-inch patties)

scallop patty on shrimp cracker

If you ever purchased scallops to cook, chances are once home you peel off the catch muscle. This is the tough fiber that sticks out the side of the round scallop muscle. Most people eat the soft round scallop muscles and discard the tough catch muscle. Check out my previous post on How to Cut the Scallop Muscle Out of the Shell for more detail. Recently I bought 10 pounds of fresh-off-the-boat scallops from F/V Rimrack (located in Rye Harbor, New Hampshire). I rushed home with my cooler full of this fresh seafood, removed the catch muscle from each one, wrapped 10 scallops in a plastic wrap, double bagged them and threw them in the freezer to be eaten over the next few months...hopefully I ration these until the next scallop season. At the end of my cleaning and portioning session I had about 3/4th of a pound of the catch muscles. To me it just wasteful to discard them so I decided to make delicious patties out of them instead. You can make the patties however large or small. I made ten small ones (about 2-inch lengths) and put some on shrimp crackers. They are so tasty and you would never know that you are eating what some people would considered trash! 

The relish garnish (seen on above photo) was made using diced tomato (seeds removed), diced white onion, a little chopped scallion, a little salt and a little lime juice. The red sauce is just extra sriracha sauce. The shrimp crackers are gifts from my relatives in Vietnam. Soctrang, Vietnam makes the best shrimp crackers. Because they are hard and dried they will essentially last for a long time--well past their expiration date (my belief).

catch muscles (scallops)
mixture for scallop patties
Scallop Patties (makes ten 2-inch patties)


About 11 oz of catch muscles of scallops, rinsed and removed any sand bits
1/4 cup kelp or another type of seaweed you like, chopped (I used kelp for this recipe)
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp sriracha sauce
3 Tbsp chopped scallions


1) Put the scallops and seaweed in a food processor and pulse a few times until minced.
2) In a small bowl, add the pureed scallops and seaweed. Season with fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, sriracha sauce and scallions. Mix everything until well blended.
3) Heat a pan with a little oil and drop a spoonful of patty on the hot pan. After a few minutes flip it over and gently mash the top down a little to flatten it. Once both sides are cooked and golden brown remove from the pan. Serve them however you please.

Cooked Baby Octopus

Honestly I don't think I really knew how to cook octopus until last November when I was on Maui. A friend gave me a little octopus and a few small eels he captured while out diving. I braised all of them together for about half an hour and I noticed how tender the octopus turned out. Since then I learned that 1/2 hour is the key to cook the octopus. Recently I purchased some baby octopus at an Asian Market (in Cambridge, Massachusetts). These were already cleaned with the mouth pieces removed. Once home I rubbed them with some vinegar and salt and then rinse them in cold water to give them a thorough cleaning. I then put them in a pot with just enough water to submerge them and gently boil them for about 30 minutes. The result yields very tender octopus. Although don't be surprised to see that the octopus shrinks by about half after cooking. You can use these cooked and tender octopus in many dishes. Or you can just eat them with your favorite dipping sauce. They make a great snack or treat!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hoisin and Honey Roast Wild Duck (a very small appetizer for 1-2)

This is my first flight to table dish and I mean it literally! If you have been following my blog you may have seen my previous post on How to Prepare a Whole Bird for Consumption. A huge thank to my friends Jim and Karen for saving the unlucky duck that crashed and died outside their home for me. This is what I call good friends!

Because this duck lived a life in the wilderness it ate mostly seeds and plants as I saw when I was performing what I joked was my bird autopsy. As a result the meat is very lean as expected. If you think this bird has enough meat for a meal for even one person you are mistaken. I would call this dish a small bite. I can guarantee that after you eat this dish you will still be quite hungry! 

To be honest my mother was a bit horrified when she learned I had cooked a dead duck from the wild. She is concerned that it may be sick with some virus. I am sure she is thinking the bird flu. I argued that the food (meat, seafood, vegetables and etc) we eat in this world may be contaminated with all sorts of chemicals, bacteria or viruses and we have no way of knowing how bad they really are. This meat I had probably contained much less toxins than what I consume on a daily basis. Let's be realistic here, unless you are totally self-sufficient and grow all of your food organically for your own consumption you really do not know every detail of your food ingredients including the spices. In recent years I met only 2 people who claimed to be totally self-sufficient and they are located in Hawaii. One was able to grow everything he needed on his land on the Big Island, until Pele came and engulfed his entire land with hot lava, that was the end of that. However, he perseveres and since then is slowly growing some plants with what little soil he has been making from compost. The other person told me he is able to grow everything he needs on his land on Maui. I can tell you that not being able to eat clean or natural food is a real concern for many of my relatives living in Southeast Asia. They have no other choice but to eat the meat, seafood and vegetables that have been exposed to large amounts (often times unregulated) antibiotics, fertilizers and other potentially harmful chemicals.

My mother was curious to know if my husband ate any of the duck. She seemed surprised when I shared with her that not only did he eat the meat, kidney, heart, gizzard, there was even part of the tail that he thought was tasty! I have a feeling that she thinks I have gone off the deep end or that I am coercing my husband to eat things he normally would not do on his own. OK, I assure you I did not tie him up (well, so far I have not) and force feed him any of my dishes. He ate everything on his own free will...perhaps since there is really nothing else to eat in the house. 

marinaded duck ready to be baked in the oven
Hoisin and Honey Roast Wild Duck (a very small appetizer for 1-2)


1 wild duck, de-feathered and cleaned (How to Prepare a Whole Bird for Consumption)
Salt and pepper
1/2 onion, sliced
3 thin slices of ginger
1 tangerine peel
Juice from 1/2 tangerine
2 skewers
About 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
About 1 Tbsp honey
Drizzle of olive oil
1 sheet tin foil


1) Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F.
2) Sprinkle the interior of the cleaned duck with salt and pepper.
3) Stuff the duck's cavity with onion, ginger, tangerine peel and juice.
4) Close the cavity by skewering the skin seal it together.
5) Rub the exterior of the whole duck with hoisin sauce and honey.
6) Drizzle the duck with some oil. Season the entire duck with more salt and pepper.
7) Roast the duck breast facing down (I used a roasting pan with a rack), cover the top with a piece of tin foil to prevent it from drying out.
8) Bake for about 30 hour.
9) Flip it to its back and bake for about another 30 minutes or until the breast is cooked.
10) Remove the foil and brown the duck by broiling it for about 2 minutes on each side.

*Test for doneness by piercing a sharp knife into the thickest part of the duck which is the breast.

How to Prepare a Whole Bird for Consumption

One morning our friends Jim and Karen texted my husband asking if we were interested in what they think is a duck. Apparently an unlucky bird flew into their house window, collapsed and died. We responded back with a definite "yes" and asked them to save the bird in the shade outside (as the temperature outside was slightly above freezing--as cold as the refrigerator). After I worked a busy shift at the clinic we drove to Jim and Karen's for a short visit and to collect the bird. Jim had it resting in a beer box on the porch. When I poked at it I was not surprised to find it already in a state of rigor mortis. 

this duck flew to its death and became my meal

Although it was stiff it looked fresh and healthy from the dim porch light shining on it. At first look I was sure it was a pheasant with its long and colorful feathers on its head and wings. However, upon full inspection in good light it turns out to be a duck. I did some research and came to a conclusion that it was a wood duck. Jim believes it broke its neck when it crashed against his house. I agreed this is most likely the origin of death as it probably flew head on into a glass window. Whatever the exact cause of its untimely death I am an opportunist and an optimist and I like to turn this bad situation into a more positive one. Due to the poor outcome for this duck my husband and I were able to sample a small but tasty appetizer!

If you have never prepared a whole duck, chicken or any birds in the past--de-feathering and gutting can be quite tedious for any first timer, but a simple process and anyone can do it. Growing up in Vietnam I observed my father perform such a task once on one of the chickens from our land. For the 36 years living in the United States my father bought a live duck only once and kept it in the house for about 24 hours--when I was about 12 years old. Of course it was just that one time Aimee, my childhood friend and next door neighbor happened to come over and caught a glimpse of it. She came up to me and demanded why we have a live duck in our tub. Even at that age I knew it was not normal to keep a live duck in the house that is not a pet in Bangor, Maine. I don't recall what I told her but I clearly remember that I did not want to tell her the truth for fear she would be traumatized for life or worse, turn herself into a vegetarian! Not that being a vegetarian is bad. I just did not want my family to be responsible for that outcome.

I am sure there are many better methods to prepare a live bird. Some of you may think this is not the best or most humane way but this is how I recall it to be done when I was a child of about 6. Of course I may have it all wrong and I may be making it up as I blog! The wings are tucked tightly by its sides so they will not be flapping during the procedure. The whole bird is held down with the lower extremities of whoever is performing such a task. The neck and beak are held firmly in place with one hand and with the other hand holding a sharp knife to make a clean partial slit across the throat deep enough to sever the major vessels. The bird is held so the head is tilted and the body is higher than the head in order for gravity to help drain the blood from the body into a bowl. This blood will be coagulated, cooked and eaten later. 

The next step is de-feathering or hand plucking the feathers from the body--for me it's the most time consuming. First start with boiling some water in a large pan or pot. Once the water boils turn the heat down a little and dip the bird's body in for about 20 seconds. This may require several dips especially if the bird has thick feathers. Be sure to dip just long enough for the feathers to come off the bird easily with a slight tug but not long enough to cook the skin or meat. Use your fingers to gently pull off the feathers away from the body, a small section at a time until you remove all of the feathers, long and fine. You may use tweezers to help remove some of the short feathers. Try to keep a good pair of tweezers in the kitchen for such purposes and not use the same one you pluck your own eyebrows. If you do this and I catch you, you can be certain I will not be returning for a second meal at your house. I can tolerate many things but not this one.
dip the duck in hot water to remove the feathers
(photo courtesy of my husband Paul)

Save the feathers if you want to use them later for other projects. I kept them on a cookie sheet to dry completely before bagging them. Some of the colorful feathers may be used to make fly fishing baits, earrings, hair decoration, some sort of art projects or other creations. The fluffy fine feathers may be used for insulation of coats or jackets. Although what I have is not enough for even an arm of a coat,  perhaps it may be sufficient for one child size earmuff! I wonder which one of my nieces or nephews will want to wear it?

plucked feathers drying on cookie sheet
After the bird is completely bald (free from even the fine feathers) then slice open the cavity (using scissors or a sharp knife) below the breast. 

-remove all feathers, long and fine
(photo courtesy of my husband Paul)
-my mother gave me the set of duck measuring spoons
(located in the background)

once all the feathers are removed this how clean it should look
For this duck I sliced open the entire center of the breast since I treat this more like an autopsy. I want to inspect the entire interior and look for any abnormalities. Fortunately I did not notice anything obvious. Remove all the organs, tongue and clean them if you want to save them for eating. Remove and discard the intestines. Cut out the end piece that is part of the intestine located at the middle of the tail. Trim off the nails if interested. Keep anything you want to eat--generally the tongue, heart, kidneys, gizzard, liver, the tail and if you are lucky some eggs. I prefer to keep the head to tail and feet intact as a reminder that my duck does not always just miraculously appear from a market.

opened cavity with heart, kidneys, and gizzard

The gizzard had only seeds and partial digested grass and plants. For the gizzard I sliced it open and removed the partial digested food bits, peeling the thin yellow visceral or covering and discarding it.

peel away and discard the thin yellow
visceral or covering from the gizzard

Well this is all there is to prepare a whole bird live or freshly killed prior to cooking. As for this duck, it is as natural and organic as one can get!

Addendum: I just completed making a feather hair piece (see photos below). I hand sewn the feathers on to an old metal barrette to secure the feathers.

feather hair barrette (front view)
feather hair barrette (back view)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Papaya-Banana Blossom-Tako Salad (serves 6)

When I am on Maui I have access to many green papayas and banana blossoms. I love to use these ingredients in various dishes to keep my meals diverse--in salads, soups or even stir-fries. On my most recent trip to Maui I saw some sliced cooked octopus (also known as tako) already in a package ready to eat for sale at one of the large local markets. If you don't like octopus or have a problem with availability then you may use either cooked shrimp or a combination of cooked and sliced cooked pork (normally from boiling or steaming). I like to keep a stash of freshly shredded banana blossom and green papaya that I have prepared in bags and stored in my refrigerator to create a quick meal. I have never seen anyone make a salad using this combination before but I made it numerous times and liked how it turned out--tasty, crunchy and visually appealing. Sometimes I prefer to pre-season the salad right before serving as in this recipe. This way my salad still retains its crunchiness. I start by adding a tablespoon of fish sauce, a few large pinches of sugar and juice from a lemon or lime. I don't add extra water since the squeezed out shredded papaya and banana blossom still have some in them. I give everything a good toss to mix all the ingredients together and give it a taste. I then adjust the taste after this initial seasoning. There should be a balance of sweetness, saltiness and sourness. You can also make the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (my version which tends to be more sour according to my mother) or Vietnamese Chili and Garlic Dipping Sauce--Auntie's Style (my maternal eldest aunt's version) and pour it out onto tiny sauce dishes. People can dip the salad into the sauce as they eat or pour the amount they prefer on their salad. Since not everyone eats hot chili I usually let the individual person add this to his or her own plate. The peanuts can be added by the individual as well especially if someone in your party has allergies.

Check out my other posts on How to Shred a Green Papaya, How to Prepare a Banana Blossom, and Roasted Peanuts.

Papaya-Banana Blossom-Tako Salad


1 large banana blossom, shredded (about 3 handful of banana blossom)
1 medium sized papaya, shredded
1/2 lb sliced cooked octopus, may add more if interested
Mint leaves, shredded or chopped (add as little or as much as you prefer)
About 1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce
About 1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
Juice from 1 large lemon or lime
Roasted peanuts, chopped or lightly crushed
Chili pepper or Sriracha sauce


In a large bowl (preferably glass) add the blossom, papaya, octopus and mint leaves. Season with fish sauce, sugar and juice of lime or lemon. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Scoop some out onto a plate. Sprinkle with roasted peanuts and chili pepper if interested.

cardinal perched on feeder
*The above photo is a cardinal sitting on my bird feeder. The clump of white fluff next to the bird is snow. We had a recent snow storm on April 4, 2016. This makes me wish I could be on Maui enjoying the warm weather again.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Monika's Inspired Polish Cheese and Potato Pierogi (makes about 100 dumplings)

pierogi--made using hand-roll (with rolling pin) pierogi skin
Monika was born and raised in Poland before she came to the United States at the age of 19. She attended nursing school in the United States. She and I met while working in a busy Emergency Department in a large Boston hospital. I left the ED in 2010 but she continue to work there. Although the job is quite stressful she loves being an ED nurse. Occasionally as Registered Nurses in the ED we sometimes float (or work in another area) to the Observation Unit where patients stay overnight to be monitored. The job there is often not as stressful or as busy as down in the main ED. I remember while working a night shift in Obs we got to talking about making pierogi--a Polish dumpling usually filled with various tasty ingredients. Monika makes her dumpling dough using just flour, room temperature water and an egg. She makes a well in her flour and then adds an egg inside. She would slowly work the flour into the egg and then add a little water until a soft dough is formed. Her filling consists of a combination of either cheese and potato (sometimes sauteed onions) or sauerkraut and mushrooms. She said the cheese has to be a special type known as farmer cheese. You may purchase this in a grocery store such as Market Basket (in the specialty cheese section) if you live in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. People use other cheese such as mozzarella but farmer cheese is the preferred. She seasoned the filling with just salt and a lot of pepper. She said she would never buy the frozen pierogi. She prefers to make her own from scratch and freeze them despite juggling a full schedule--wife, mother of 2 children (a 10 year old daughter and 8 year old son) and working full-time in the ED. She and her husband speak Polish with their children and keep many of their Polish foods, traditions and heritage alive. After making the pierogi, she boils them and lets them cool. Right before eating she sometimes fries them in a little oil and garnishes with a little sauteed onions. She emphasized that the onions must be cut into squares. Recently she and I were chatting online and this time I told her I am going to make pierogi and call it the Monika's Inspired Polish Pierogi. She laughed and said she looks forward to seeing my post. Thank you Monika for the inspiration and keep doing great work in the ED! We need more caring nurses like you in the field!

Monika's Inspired Polish Cheese and Potato Pierogi (makes about 100 dumplings)

pierogi dough
Pierogi Dough (enough for about 42 dumpling skin if hand-roll or about 60 if using a pasta maker)


2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup for dusting and for rolling out the dough
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg, room temperature
About 1/2 cup of lukewarm water


Sift the flour and salt together on a flat clean surface into a mound. Make a well in the center. Crack the egg inside the well. Take a fork and slowly work the flour into the egg. Slowly add water (a few drizzle at a time) until a dough is formed and there is no more flour left. Knead the dough until it is soft and pliable, about 10 minutes. Let the dough rest under a slightly wet towel for about 20-30 minutes.

*I boil the potatoes while I work on the dough. I let the dough rest while I make the filling. I use a cookie sheet to make the dough (put a moist towel under so the sheet does not slide around when you knead the dough). This way everything is contained and I have less to clean up later. For the dough I keep a cup of lukewarm water next to me but ended up using slightly less than 1/2 a cup. Each of my dumplings is 3-inch in diameter. I cover the rest of the dough that I am not currently using under a moist towel to prevent it from drying out. Do not discard any of the small pieces of leftover cut dough. Keep these pieces under the towel. They can be kneaded again and rolled out to form more dumpling skin. You may add a few drops of water if the dough appears to be getting hard or a little dry. Remember the dough should always be soft not hard. After making the dough a few times you may not even need a recipe!
*The first day I made only one batch and roll each dumpling skin out using a rolling pin. When I hand roll the dough the above recipe yields only 42 dumpling skin with about 1 teaspoon of dough leftover. The next day I made another batch and rolled the dough into sheets using a pasta maker. This process is easier, quicker and yields a lot more skin--61 thin dumpling skins with about a teaspoon of dough leftover. With the second batch I made a slight change by dissolving 1/2 teaspoon of salt in with a cup of lukewarm water. Again I used nearly 1/2 a cup for the dough and the rest was used to help wet the dumpling skin edges to help seal them. This time the skin edges were harder to seal since I used some of the flour to dust in between the skins to prevent them from sticking to one another.

cutting the rolled dough
pierogi skin
pierogi--made using a pasta maker to roll the pierogi skin
*When I was in Toronto I spoke to a Ukrainian-Canadian woman who was making the pierogi and she informed me her dough contains only flour and water, no eggs. Her freshly made pierogi were excellent without the eggs. So, if you have allergies to eggs or prefer not to eat them you can make the skin without them. You probably will use more water to form your dough.

Pierogi Cheese and Potato Filling (enough for about 100 dumplings)


2 lbs potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 lb farmer cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper


Gently boil the potatoes (partially covering the pot with a lid) for about 1/2 hour or until they are soft and fork tender. Use a fork to skewer into the center of the largest potato to test for doneness. When it is done the fork should easily go through the potato. Drain and let the potatoes cool before handling them. Peel them and put them in a large bowl. Use a fork to mash them. This way there will be small chunks of the potato. Slice the cheese and add them to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Use a fork to mash and mix all the ingredients together until well blended.

*It's difficult to judge how many dumplings you will end up with when making the filling. I normally like to divide the filling into quarters and start with a quarter batch at a time. This way I get an idea of how many I can get per quarter batch.
*You may preform the dumplings by taking about a tablespoon of the filling and form an oval shape. Do this until all the filling is gone. Wrap the little dumpling filling in plastic and refrigerate if not using it right away. 
*This dumpling filling is not too salty. You may certainly adjust the saltiness according to your taste.

Sauteed Onion Garnish (enough for about 50 pierogi)


1 Tbsp oil
1 large onion, peeled, cut into squares
1/4 tsp salt
1 small bunch of scallions (green parts only)


Heat a medium sized pan over medium heat. Add oil once once the pan is hot.
Add onions and salt. Saute until the onion is light golden color. Add scallions and turn off heat.

*Monika does not add the scallions to her sauteed onions. I like to add this for a little color. You may also use fresh chopped chives to garnish.
*This recipe is easily double.

uncooked pierogi
To Form the Pierogi, Boil & Fry Them

Roll out the dough as thin as you can. May dust a little flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Cut the rolled out dough into a round shape. I use a 3-inch metal disc to cut the dough. However, you can use anything that is round to cut. Put about a tablespoon of the filling in the middle of a cut disc. Close the dough by folding it in half and pressing firmly with your thumb and index finger at the center. Continue to press firmly to seal the edges while allowing the air to escape the sides. Gently boil (turn the heat down slightly if the water boils too hard) the filled pierogi until they float to the top. Let them continue to boil for about 1 to 2 more minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon. Fry them in a little oil (about a teaspoon) until they are slightly golden on each side. Serve with a dallop of plain sour cream and a little of the sauteed onion.

*On a recent trip to Toronto I noticed some of the places that serve pierogi add a dollop of plain sour cream on the side. My husband and I like the taste of the sour cream so I add it to my pierogi. You can eat the pierogi after boiling. However, I prefer them lightly fried. I used about a teaspoon of oil to fry 6 to 8 of them at a time. After I take the fried pierogi out of the pan I turn off the heat. I then return the pan to the stove, add a little of the Sauteed Onion Garnish into it and stir it around to reheat it before pouring it on top of the pierogi.