One of the Oldest Recipe on Record: Gingered Chicken Soup with Red Lentils

Browsing a Chinese food blog last night, I was reading about one of the world’s oldest recipe with great interest, a gingered chicken soup with lentils, a godsend for those of us who have the symptoms of an early cold. This recipe is thought to be at least 3,000 year-old and could be as old as 6,000 (lentils have been around for 12,000 years!) I love ginger and use it as much as I can (same with turmeric). So I’ve followed the recipe to a T (except for the addition of potatoes which came from the New World).

Into the pot went the following: (all chopped up roughly) 6 carrots, 4 celery sprigs, 8 large potatoes, 2 leeks, 1 fennel bulb, 2 parsnips, 2 onions, 12 garlic cloves, salt & pepper to taste (celery salt & crushed black peppercorns) half a bunch of fresh basil, a large bulb of finely chopped ginger, half a glass of Tamari Organic soy sauce (although the recipe called for plain soy sauce), two large handful of red lentils and a whole, free range chicken. Cover with water and bring to the boil slowly, ever so slowly, occasionally skim and when done pull the chicken out, shred the meat and put it back into the broth, simmer for a couple of minutes and serve with crusty brown bread. There’s nothing like a good steaming bowl of chicken & vegetable soup to warm the heart and soul. And the red lentils are divine when cooked this way. Couldn’t take a pic, it went too quickly!

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Smart Times or How I learned to Get the Better of my Refrigerator, a Tiny Play in one Act.

This mini play, a homage to both Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, is set in a kitchen, a modern job filled with blond wood, black marble and stainless steel.


Fredo, a brand new “smart”, interactive refrigerator with attitude and a vast array of apps, and Tyler Moore, a thirty-something smart-ass architect with culinary aspirations who is desperately trying to win back his girlfriend, Marina.


- Kitchen – An agitated Tyler comes home carrying a large bag of groceries, drops it on the table by the refrigerator. He takes out his smart phone, flashes an accusatory look at Fredo.

Tyler: Every man has his particular idée fixe, Fredo. Mine is an unambiguous relationship with my refrigerator: you keep track of your contents, I replenish. Simple. I don’t need you sending out disrupting messages to my girlfriend. Why did you have to send one about the eggs? Why?

Fredo: Sir, I merely wanted to alert you to the fact that the butter you brought in was out of date, and contained too much sodium. Sodium is terribly unhealthy…

Tyler, cuts in:We’re talking about the eggs and my girlfriend Marina.

Fredo: I beg your pardon, Sir. Two of the eggs were cracked…

Tyler, cuts in: So you would have to post it on her Facebook timeline, would you? Dude, this is out of bounds…

Fredo: Sir, I answer to my factory given name, Fredo. It is my duty to check that every item deposited within my confines is of a good quality and current…

Tyler, cuts in again, opens the salad crisper in the fridge, takes out a carton of eggs and a large piece of uncut bacon, and shuts the door with a bang: I know that, it came with the manual! However I didn’t read that my girlfriend’s Facebook posts would be peppered with your commentaries about what I should eat! Marina said she counted seventeen posts regarding the freshness of my vegetables and the amount of cheese and butter I buy. This is unacceptable behavior from a fridge, however smart it may be.

Fredo: Sir, with due respect, I am programmed to inform you of the freshness of every single product that enters these doors.

Tyler, takes off his jacket and starts peeling and chopping two onions: Yes, I’m aware of that, but you are not programmed to hack into my twitter account and notify the world of the state of my groceries. And my weight! I am not fat…..just…never mind. Some of my friends are making fun of these tweets! This is how gossip starts, you know.

Fredo: Sir, it is written that a troublemaker plants seeds of strife and gossip separates the best of friends.

Tyler: Jesus! Where do you get this from?

Fredo: I believe it is from the Bible, Sir. It is a large book written largely…

Tyler, cuts in: I know what it is, Fredo. Your programmer must have been nuts or perverse.

Fredo: Sir, I do not understand…

Tyler: (shouts) Religion should not be inserted into kitchen appliances and above all  discretion about its owner should apply!

Fredo: Sir, I do not grasp the concept of religion. It is alien to my remit.

Tyler, turns on his gas cooker, puts a cast-iron pan onto it and add a dollop of butter then the onions: What should be alien to your remit is posting stuff about what I should eat. I am a grown man for fuck’s sake, I don’t need a refrigerator to tell the world that I may be eating fatty food… (cuts a couple of generous bacon slices, adds to the onions)

Fredo: Sir, I do worry about your intake of grease. There is no need to add butter to fry bacon.

Tyler: Really? How would you know? You’ve never tasted my food (adds extra butter for the hell of it and breaks four eggs in the middle.)

Fredo: No, sir. Data provided by the manufacturer shows how to maintain homeostasis…

Tyler: Homeowhat?

Fredo: Homeostasis, Sir, to put it plainly it is the body’s status quo. You may want to know the difference between homeostatic eating and hedonic eating: one should eat for the body need rather than eating for pleasure…

Tyler: Well, I like my eggs to be happy…they need butter and the bacon needs buttered toasts...(sticks four toasts in toaster).

Fredo: Sir, if I may point out, this is the second breakfast you’re having…

Tyler: (explodes) So fucking what?! I can have as many as I want! There’s no law against a multitude of breakfasts! None! Besides, it’s lunch time anyway.

Bip bip: Fredo’s screen display gets an incoming message.

Fredo: Sir, Miss Marina has emailed a suggested diet containing most members of the cruciferous family…

Tyler: (interrupts) Really! Crucifuckingferous rabbit food! Even Bush didn’t like broccoli…I like meat and I’m not going to change my diet for anyone. (Scrambles the eggs and adds a pinch of sea salt.)

There is a twirl of activity on Fredo’s screen display. A tweet is sent out. Tweet! And the toasts are ready. He places the toasts on a plate.

Tyler: Where is this tweet going? (Pours the entire content of the pan into over the toasts, gets a beer from the fridge and starts to eat like a man who hasn’t had a meal in days.)

Fredo: Sir, I am replying to Miss Marina’s email. She had also inquired about the availability of alcohol-free beer…

Tyler: (chokes on his food) What do you mean…alcohol-free beer?

Fredo: Sir, as I understand this is part of Miss Marina’s reconciliation with your good self. She calculated the beer you tend to drink has over 6% alcohol and the one she suggests has none and tastes wonderful. It’s called…

Tyler: (cuts in) Don’t care, I don’t drink piss! Never will. And I like wine. Have the two of you plotted about alcohol-free wine as well?

Fredo: Sir, if you are trying to make amends with Miss Marina I’m afraid you will have to forego with alcohol and unhealthy habits…

Fredo: (cut ins) Such as? (Doesn’t wait for a response, gets up, walks to the stove, picks up the cast-iron pan and bashes it several times against Fredo’s digital display.) Who’s the smarter one now, eh?



Welcome to brave new world! So, someday you’ll walk into your home and announce that you’d like to have a relaxing evening. Your home will respond by playing your favorite soothing music, dimming the lights, adjusting your house thermostat and asking if you’d like to order the usual from your favorite Italian or Chinese takeout restaurant. It might even ask you about your day and, based on your response, recommend either aspirin or a glass of your favorite wine. The various kitchen appliances will chime in and perhaps, might even argue about this and that and life will never be the same.

God help us all.



Talking refrigerators: Samsung’s new refrigerator launched in early 2011 features a touch screen and access to apps – you can check the weather, update friends on your social networks and leave notes for the family – while you decide what to make for dinner tonight. However, that is far from how technology can enhance your refrigerator. CEDIA predicts in five short years, your refrigerator will complete a shopping list for you based on what has been used in your refrigerator.
• No more cords: Wireless inductive power is not expected to hit the market for another 6-12 months, but this technology can eliminate cords in your kitchen. Cordless blenders, cordless toasters, cordless electric knives… you can even charge your smart phone and tablet by just laying it on the countertop.
• Smart appliances: Your dishwasher, washer and dryer will soon be talking to your local energy company to run at “off peak” hours and help you achieve savings on your electric bill.
• No more window treatments: Dimmable windows have already been introduced in airplanes and luxury car sunroofs. Windows can be programmed to dim in the summer to reduce AC costs.
• Induction cook tops: Your countertop will become your cook top. With induction cooking, a high frequency magnetic field moves molecules back and forth rapidly creating friction. This causes the pan to become hot (the pan must have some steel in it to be a conductor). The benefit of induction cooking is 90% of the heat goes into the pan, saving energy. – See more at:





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A Fish Curry, Thai Style

Having spent many years in Australia I became enamored with Asiatic food. Sydney boasts some of the best Eastern eateries in the world: Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, regional Chinese, Thai and I even came across a Mongolian restaurant some years ago. The fish market is the largest market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the world’s second largest seafood market in terms of variety outside of Japan so just about anything that comes from the sea is on display. I had the fortune to travel to most of the Asian countries, sampling their offerings and, whenever I was allowed, watching how it’s done.

The following recipe is so simple that anyone with the ingredients and a pot can rustle up this tasty fish curry. I spent an hour in a Thai friend’s kitchen as he was preparing  this dish, drinking a few bottles of Tiger beer and chatting while it simmered.

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A Culinary Tour of the Maghreb

When I turned seventeen, as part of having successfully finished my end of school exam, one of my uncle took me to Tunisia for a week of R&R. That same uncle had taken me to Senegal a few years earlier, and my encounter with an elephant foot was part of an entry in this book titled “On Strangely Esoteric & Exotic Foodstuffs.”

Tunisia made a huge impact on me with its rich history, the constant explosions of colors, the sparkling Mediterranean sea, the ruins of Carthage and beyond Tunis, its capital, the road leading to the beautiful sea-side village of Sidi Bou Said lined with olive groves, citrus orchards and endless vineyards, its remarkable architecture, beige sun baked bricks set in geometric patterns, Moorish arches and high vaulted ceilings, the throngs of shops offering locally woven carpets, Berber jewelry and ornaments…and the smells, and the food, the glorious food!

Let me tell you about my North African adventure as seen through the eyes of an excitable youth with a ravenous appetite.

Algerian desert

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The Pope of Gastronomy

I’ll say it right from the start: I blame Fernand Point for my appreciation of great food, and some of my girth, even though I have never met him! When I was eight or nine my favorite aunt packed me in the backseat of her enormous American sedan, a Buick I think, and along with her boyfriend we set off very early in the morning for the town of Vienne, some 40 kilometres below Lyon, to dine in a hugely famous restaurant she had visited several times and revered it on the altar of her gourmand god. Great food is, as she explained, her true religion: sous-chefs were her priests, patissiers and sauciers were her cardinals and Fernand Point was her pope. She had been talking about this culinary trip for some time and wanted me to acquaint myself with what she termed the greatness of the upper palate…or something like that. As kids of my age were always up for a bout of gluttony I heartily went along with the idea of a long voyage even though I had a tendency to throw up my breakfast if the ride is fraught with turns and ups and downs, which it is invariably the case unless one takes the autoroute but my dear aunt preferred the route nationale, meandering through verdant hillsides under our Provencal Attic blue sky, stopping at rustic auberges for refreshment and local pastries.

The great man himself above, in his younger days, never far from a magnum of Champagne.

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A Luxurious Crab & Truffle Risotto to Die For

With the festive season just around the corner here is a dish that combines gravitas, extravagant ingredients, is relatively easy to make and will impress your mother-in-law to no end! No mother-in-law? Then impress your friends with your grasp of this tricky but tasty first course. There are two kinds of people, my great-grandmother would say, those who present this at the start of a promising dinner and the fools who would dare to serve it up as a main course. She had a point. It is somewhat filling.

If you really want to learn how to do this properly have a read at this earlier piece which will explain how to select the grain, make the stock, select the cooking pot and the manner in which risotto must be handled.  After all it is a capricious dish and requires total attention, a tad like looking after your favorite pet. Or a demanding partner.

With this risotto I would use the carnaroli grain, easily obtainable in good delis and online shops. I prefer it to arborio for its grain length and starch content, and when cooked slowly it remains firm, not at all mushy. It truly deserves slivers of truffle and fresh crab meat.The first pic shows how to flavor the rice simply: stick a whole truffle in the jar for a few days before making it. It will impart a subtle scent to the grains, and make your truffle work harder as it is an expensive item. You can buy a whole truffle online here (UK) and here (US). It’s not cheap but this is a dish that you will not forget. Also resist the temptation to use saffron. I know it would look prettier but it will take some of the truffle flavor away. Simplicity is all.

For 6 to 8 persons (you can stretch it to 10 if needed) you will need: 1 whole truffle, 750 grams of carnaroli, allow 50 grams of fresh crab meat per person (can be bought in good supermarkets but don’t fall for the tinned stuff, tasteless), 50 grams of the best butter you can find, 100 grams (or 6) shallots (finely minced), a dash of extra virgin olive oil, a small glass of Madeira (I did try this with a glass of Champagne instead but I think it’s best to drink it and use Madeira as it goes well with the intense flavor of the truffle), and finally 3 pints of a good chicken stock mixed with a pint of shellfish stock (all stocks recipes are in the first link above). Sea-salt to taste. I would stay away from black pepper for the same reason as the saffron.

How to proceed: first, you must take care of yourself. A nice glass of Champers will do wonders for your concentration as the preparation & cooking of this dish will take the best part of an hour. Ok, I lied, make it two glasses!


Take the truffle from the rice and slice it as finely as you possibly can (that scene in Goodfellas comes to  mind, you know the one where Paul Sorvino slices the garlic clove with a razor blade). In your heavy-based pot, over medium heat (remember, this is not fast food), pour 2 tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil with a small knob of butter, add the minced shallots and cook till translucent but not brown. Add the rice and stir for a few seconds before adding the Madeira. Then pour a third of the mixed stock and stir. Add two thirds of the sliced truffle (keeping the remainder for garnish). Simmer till it’s all gone, stir, and add more stock until it’s done. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes, depending on your elbow work, then mix in the crab meat (having made sure there are no bits of shell in it), add the rest of the butter and olive oil. Stir well, take the pot off the stove, let it sit for 20 seconds and serve, adding the last of the truffle slivers as garnish.

Next Friday I will repost the Provencal Christmas piece, a yearly event. Well, Christmas does come once a year.

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How to Make a Provencal Olive Tart, Anchovies Optional…

Provence, once upon a time, was populated about fifty thousand years ago by the Neanderthals, and was still valued in the Neolithic period and the Iron Age. Later it was part of Gaul, the land of the Voconces tribe and then became Romanised in the 1st century BC. What does this have to do with an olive tart recipe? Well, I like history, particularly my Provencal culture, taught to me by my great grandmother who could recite poetry in its original language and prepare local dishes like no one else. Additionally, having read widely about Provencal lore I finally traced the origin of the tart to the many food markets that started from around the twelfth century in and around the Mediterranean regions. Large crowds hailing from every village and hamlet attended the major markets of the largest towns, usually on Fridays and Saturdays.

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Just When You Thought Nitrates Were Bad…Bacon is Now Healthy!

Loaded with saturated fat and sodium, bacon, salami, prosciutto (and I love all three) and other cured meats have been long considered artery-clogging and terribly unhealthy due to the use of nitrates and nitrites in the curing process, however one must remember that humans have been curing meat for millennia, and that civilization depended on the ability to preserve food by curing it for most of human history and that if it were so complicated and dangerous we probably wouldn’t be here, would we?

Well, as the dude would say, “new shit has come to light!” New research on nitrates and nitrites show that it is in fact not bad for us. Far from it. Continue reading

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Bitter Lemons, Mediterranean Musings and Two Recipes

I’m a big fan of Lawrence Durrell’s writings, and in particular of his travel books. I’ve reread “Bitter Lemon” recently and it led me to read a raft of Mediterranean writers, some I worshiped as a young man like Camus, Moravia, Consolo, Fazio and many more. It struck me that in all of their work the two main symbols of the Mediterranean soul are the olive and the humble lemon. The sun comes in at third place.

One thing leading to another, I came across a list of available ingredients in ancient Greece with the lemon figuring almost in all of their raw and cooked dishes which doesn’t surprise me as lemon juice was liberally squeezed on just about everything that was edible and they still do this to this day. Not only it lifts dishes with its pungent acidity it is also incredibly healthy which might explain longevity in some Greek islands notably Crete.

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Bouillabaisse, the Rolls-Royce of Seafood

I’ve been asked to write the best Provencal recipe for a good friend. There are quite a few that come to mind but I’ll settle on this one: so Provence’s most illustrious dish, our fabled Bouillabaisse, will be revealed in its splendour in this post. I could rhapsodize about this endlessly as it is truly the Rolls Royce of sea-food dishes as the title implies. And it is not that hard to prepare and cook. The gathering of all the required fish & shellfish and ingredients takes longer. This dish is prepared in every fishing port along the coast of Provence, although it is usually thought to have originated in Marseilles. Popular Marseillaise legend tells us that the Goddess Venus served bouillabaisse to her husband, Vulcan, to lull him to sleep while she consorted with Mars. Tricky gods, to be sure, not unlike our politicians.

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