Cooking Quickie: “What does it mean to ‘Butter the Casserole’?”

“Cooking Quickies” are simple cooking questions heard from readers, students and general people. Please send your “Quickie Questions” to

Cooking Quickie:

What does it mean to “butter the casserole?”

This refers to a vessel in which you are putting a mixture of ingredients where they are going cook for a period of time.
What they want you to do is take butter and smear it all over the inside food contact surface.

The purpose is to make the food easy to remove so it does not stick to the inside of your cooking vessel.
I say ‘cooking vessel’ because it can be a heat proof glass dish (aka. Pyrex), a clay dish, a porcelain ramekin, a stainless steel pan, loaf pan etc. There a lot of choices.

Instead of butter you can also spray the inside surface with an oil spray such as PAM. Fewer calories and just as effective.

When making cakes or souffles, you would also dust the butter with flour, sugar, Parmesan cheese as appropriate.

Some pan release sprays have both oil and flour in them, read the labels. These are commonly called ‘Bakers Spray’. Some pan sprays contain alcohol.  I prefer the ones that are 100% oil. The alcohol evaporates leaving a much thinner coat behind which could result in some sticking.

Be sure to look closely at the inside your casserole dish and make sure you got every little place coated with butter.

You can use hard or soft butter (it smears easier), salted or unsalted. You can even use margarine if you want.

Various casserole Dishes

Stone Crab and Mustard Sauce Heaven!

Yesterday I was delirious, lost in Stone Crab and Mustard Sauce heaven.

I spent many years of my young adulthood in Miami. Stone Crabs were a main part of my diet when in season.

Joe’s Stone Crabs on South Beach was an institution even when the neighborhood was not so nice. We ate there often. Every chance I could, I bought them. I made mustard sauce, cut lemons, cracked the claws and man, I was in heaven.

You Floridians know what I mean!

Yesterday when I was in Clean Catch Fish Market, Bill told me they were getting in some big claws in the morning so, how could I resist? I reserved 6 claws. After I saw the size, I cut my order in half. Each claw was nearly a pound or more!

Since he advised me to come after 11. I sauntered in at about 12:30 and sure enough the claws were in. They were easily a pound each. Huge!

There are several things about stone crabs you should know. You always buy them cooked. All you have to do is crack them and eat.

They are harvested one claw at a time. They re-grow what ever claw is taken. Some years it is all left claws others, it is all right claws. You never eat the entire crab, just one claw or the other. The crab is not killed, pissed off, I’m sure, but not killed. Besides, they can regenerate claws so I don’t feel so bad.

I wonder if the claws grow fast to accommodate the size of the rest of the crab. I have never seen claws as huge as these.

Wonder if they grew by the nuclear power plant in Jupiter, FL.

Needless to say they were delicious!

I made coleslaw, oven fried potato wedges, Mustard Sauce, cut lemons, poured  well-chilled champagne.

What a lunch! (Robert is so lucky!)

Mustard Sauce for Stone Crabs

As you may know, I love to make condiments. Here’s a great sauce to add to your repertoire.
  • 1 tablespoon dried mustard (Coleman’s)
  • 1 tablespoon water

Stir together to make a smooth paste.


  • 2 ounces smooth Dijon mustard
  • 4 ounces sour cream
  • 2 ounces mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon for a different flavor and versatile sauce.

Mix everything together an allow the flavors to mellow for at least 30 minutes before serving.

The shells were easy to crack

The shells were easy to crack and to get to the succulent bits of meat

All that remained . . .

Stuffed Shrimp

Stuffed shrimp are so easy to make and are considered a quick and easy meal. While scallops are the original fast food, these don’t fall far behind.

Use the largest shrimp you can afford. I prefer wild caught shrimp. What I have read about farm raised shrimp has me not eating shrimp for the most part. The process of farm raising shrimp is disgusting. I wouldn’t eat them for anything.

Wild caught are another story.

You need to know where the shrimp were caught. Additionally, you need be reasonably environmentally aware of what is going on the in the world so you can make your own decisions as to whether or not you want to eat fish from questionable areas.

I still don’t trust seafood from the Gulf of Mexico or BP for that matter. I do not think the full truth has been disclosed about the Gulf disaster.

Anyway, back to the shrimp.

These are wild caught 16/20 white shrimp from eastern coast of Florida. We have a wonderful fish market in town called Clean Catch Fish Market. They procure only the best seafood from around the world. The prices reflect it too, but so well worth the cost. When I decided to write about stuffed shrimp, I needed the best shrimp I could find. There was only one place to go, Clean Catch.

When buying shrimp, the numbers like 16/20 indicate how many of them are in a pound. 16/20 means there are between 16 and 20 in a pound. The smaller the number, the larger the shrimp.

When you see a size like U-10 or U-15 it means Under 10 per pound or Under 15 per pound which means you are going to get a really big shrimp, almost lobster tail size.

Note: Larger shrimp are easier to peel. If you are so inclined, save the shells for making shrimp stock. Freeze them until you have enough to run a batch.

Smell the shrimp. They should smell like the fresh ocean, not ammonia, iodine or dead fish.

Because only two of us were eating, I got 8 shrimp. No need to buy a full pound.

For this dish, you will peel and devein and butterfly the shrimp. You will leave the first tail section and the tail on for presentation.

Don't cut all the way through, just so it can lay flatInsert your sharp paring knife into the top portion of the shrimp and open the shrimp all the way to the first tail section. This makes shell removal simple, also opens the shrimp so you can remove the intestinal track. (Yup, that’s what that black line is along the back.) Cut deep so you can lay the shrimp flat, also known as “butterfly” the shrimp. Be careful not to cut all the way through.

Rinse under clear cold water. Label and freeze shells for later use.

Make the stuffing. Form into small balls that fit on the back of the shrimp. Fold the tail over the stuffing and spread or fan the tail out so it looks nice.

Place the shrimp on a baking sheet and bake in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink.

Remove from the oven and serve with Lemon Orange Horseradish Sauce and a nice salad on the side.

Stuffing for Stuffed Shrimp

This makes a generous amount. Freeze any left over so you can make stuffed shrimp again soon! Or use the stuffing in another seafood or  in mushrooms or quail.

  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon capers
  • 1 Teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced sweet onion or shallot
  • 1 scallion thinly sliced, from the white tip to the green end, use it all
  • 1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • Zest and juice from one lemon (the zest is a major flavor contributor, don’t leave it out)
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese – optional

Mix everything in a bowl. The mixture should hold together when you squeeze it.

Make small balls of the stuffing mix and place a ball on the back of the shrimp and fold the tail over. Fan the tail.

Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes or until the shrimp are pink.

Lemon Orange Horseradish Sauce

Super simple and versatile. This sauce goes well with these shrimp, coconut shrimp and spring rolls.

1/4 cup orange marmalade

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon horseradish (more or less depending upon desired heat)

Melt over low heat, whisk to incorporate. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. If it gets too gloppy, add a small amount of water.

Spoon the sauce around the shrimp on the plate and serve.

Writing in Cookbooks

Not too long ago, another bloggerThe Ranting Chef, wrote about writing in his cookbooks. He said he didn’t write in books until recently. He came up with a great way of categorizing their favorite recipes and those recipes with the highest ratings were listed in the front of the book by a ranking system he devised.

Writing in cookbooks is a wonderful thing to do. I make notes of variations, adjustments, likes and dislikes. What works and what does not work is also clearly noted.

The only cookbooks I don’t write in are those that I consider “art” cookbooks. Even then, if I make an adjustment of note, I’ll print it along side of the appropriate text.

There is a spiral bound notebook I keep nearby in the kitchen to collect thoughts, ideas and original recipes. I keep post-it tabs on pages I want to find again and again.

My cookbooks are my tools as are my knives and micro-planes. They do you no good if you don’t use them.

Cookbooks are meant to tease you into making something you haven’t tried before. To learn a different technique, style or how to handle a new ingredient. Valuable lessons.

Not all recipes work. When first looking at a recipe, I’ll scan it for technique, style and ingredients and ingredient ratio. After all a recipe is only a mathematical ratio of ingredients with the factor of heat applied.

Many recipe writers don’t understand the complex relationship of ingredients. Considering an ingredients function: liquid, acid, fat, sweeteners etc. and how they interact, and how the ingredients relate to each is crucial for a recipe to work out. I have a text-book that has so many typos in it (shame, shame!) I am not going to use it anymore.

When we discover a recipe in class that isn’t working, we make notes about it directly in the book. Some students look at me as if I just sprouted another head when I tell them to note it “in the book”. The book is a tool and unless you use it, it won’t do you much good.

Leaning on a book  too much instead of learning the essence of the dish, a book becomes a crutch without deeper learning. Learn to scan and analyze what your recipe is trying to tell you. Notice ratio relationships, techniques and methods. Notice ingredient combinations.

Soon you will develop your own recipes and menus from looking at what you have on hand rather than depending on a book to help you decide what to cook.

Learn cooking correctly, you will use a recipe as an idea rather than follow it word for word. If you learn the five basic “Mother Sauces” you will be able to recognize the methods and techniques and be able to say to yourself ” Oh, I know how to do that, it’s a bechamel” and be able to use that as a jumping off point rather than following the recipe exactly.

Most of all, remember not all recipes work.

So, Ranting Chef, I applaud your recipe rating system.

Keep writing and making notes in those books. You won’t need to remember the recipe needs 32 ounces, not 3.

Cookbook Shelf

Cookbook Shelf (Photo credit: LollyKnit)

Thai Style “Green Sauce”

We went to “Thai Taste” for lunch the other day. On the table were several bottles of different sauces. One soy, a hot fiery red sauce and this green sauce. It was simply delicious.

We bought a pint of it to bring home, not only to enjoy over several meals, but to figure out just what is in this Thai Style Green Sauce so I could make it.

Spooning the sauce over rice gave a clear distinctive flavor of all the ingredients. The woman at the restaurant looked quite nervous when I asked her what was in the sauce. “Just jalapeno and vinegar” she said.

Right, I thought, she doesn’t want to revel her recipe.

Something that really bothers me about some cooks is how they “hoard’ their recipes, keeping them secret as if they were some precious commodity. Taking a well-loved recipe to the grave is shameful and is not viewed in a good light, in my eyes anyway.

What is the purpose of keeping recipes for well-loved dishes secret? Is it a control issue? A fear issue? I knew someone once who said they are glad to share recipes but they always leave a key ingredient out.

Why? So that someone else wouldn’t make the dish as good as they can.

That is ridiculous.

So what if someone makes the green sauce at home? I will still come eat at your restaurant. I’m not coming for your green sauce, I am coming for the other things you offer on the menu.

So here is my recipe for Thai Style Green Sauce.

Make it and share. Tell the entire world how to make it, everyone should know.

Thai Style Green Sauce

There are no quantities here, just ingredients. Make a small amount, use it and make more.


  • 1/2 bunch Cilantro, washed
  • 1 green jalapeno pepper, remove ribs and seeds for milder heat, use 2 or more for hotter sauce
  • 2 scallions
  • small handful of both garlic and onion chives
  • 1 clove fresh garlic
  • 1″ piece of fresh ginger, sliced thin so it blends well
  • seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • fish sauce like Nam Pla

Place all the herbs, garlic and ginger into a blender. Add enough rice wine vinegar to cover. Add a generous splash of fish sauce and blend for 2-3 minutes to get it all blended together.

Taste and adjust flavors by adding more fish sauce or more vinegar.

I served this on cedar planked salmon for dinner.

Use the sauce on noodles, over rice, on grilled meats and seafood. It is very versatile and has many uses.

How do you use Thai Style Green sauce?

Potato Chip Cookies

I wrote this post on Potato Chip Cookies before I realized how many others have recently posted recipes for potato chip cookies. In studying some books on food photography, cookies were an “assignment”. These have been on my mind lately and decided to make them for pictures.

Oh well, here is another version that isn’t adapted from Emeril or Smitten Kitchen. Guess a good thing is hard to keep quiet!

We have enjoyed these for years. So addicting and rich a small batch is all you need.

These potato chip cookies are a style of shortbread. There is no salt in the recipe due to the addition of the crushed potato chips. It is a simple and deliciously sweet and salty cookie. They remind me of Pecan Sandies.

The use of baking powder is optional. Using it creates a meringue like texture to the cookie. Quite yummy.

This recipe was discovered in Mom’s Big Book of Cookies which has many delightful cookie recipes, many of which are “kid helper” friendly. I tweaked it a little bit.

If you wanted, you can add some dark chocolate chips to the mix or melt chocolate and dip half the cookie in the melted chocolate.

Or perhaps use pretzels instead of potato chips.

After this potato chip shortbread cookie, maybe a bacon shortbread cookie would be in order. . . just sub out minced crispy bacon for the potato chips and see what you end up with.

Potato Chip Cookies

1/2 cup soft butter

6 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

1/2 cup crushed regular potato chips (non flavored-low fat ones work too)

1 teaspoon baking powder – optional

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350°F
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a silpat silicone  mat
  • Cream the butter and sugar together
  • Add vanilla
  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl
  • Measure the flour, baking powder, if using, chopped nuts and crushed chips into a bowl and stir together well.
  • Incorporate the dry mixture into the creamed butter, sugar and vanilla.
  • Make 1 inch sized balls and place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
  • Using a flat-bottomed glass of cup, flatten each ball, dipping the bottom of the glass into sugar between each cookie.
    • Or you could roll the balls in sugar and then flatten them
  • Bake 10-12 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown.
  • Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before moving the cookies to a cooling rack.

Serve with a tall cold glass of milk.

Rungis Market

Rungis Market is located just outside of Paris, France. It is the largest wholesale food market in Europe. The Tokyo Fish market and Rungis rival by claiming each is the largest in the world.

The Rungis Market has huge areas dedicated to fish, meat, cheese, produce and flowers. The place is a city all its own and that city is mostly alive at the very wee hours of the morning. In fact the fish house closes between 5 and 6 AM. Other houses soon follow.

We joined up with a culinary school from Scotland to make the minimum 20 for our all around tour. Phillipe was our guide for 2 years in a row and quite a good guide too. He told us stories of how the fish they are seeing now aren’t as large as fish they got in the past due to over fishing of certain species such as Tuna and Salmon.He told us of growing fields in northern Africa where acres of produce is grown and shipped in to the market.

This market was once located in the Les Halles area of Paris. The army came in and moved the entire market overnight to the new Rungis location. The entire re-location was hush-hush and only revealed after the move was complete.

We were outfitted in silly thin paper coats for sanitation, ice and water all over the floors (slippery) and fish everywhere being hustled about on flat beds, forklifts and all in a rush to finish their business by 6AM. You had to watch and listen for the ‘beep-beeps’ as the fish were hustled where ever they were rushing them to.

The meat house was akin to being in a nightmare. Meat carcasses hung everywhere – pigs, cows, goats, lamb, and even horse. Although the horse was not in when we were there they do, on occasion, carry it.

One pork house had pig heads in a pile. One guys job was to yank the tongues out and toss the tongueless head into a big wheeled basket full of other tongueless heads. One fell out as it was tossed, the next worker came by and  it out of the way of the wheels and moved the entire grotesque basket to another room behind big blood smeared doors.

I know these are cow heads, not pigs. The pigs were in a pile getting their tongues ripped out, these got the distinction of being hung on steel pegs for some reason.

Later that evening on a menu, when seeing “Tête de cochon”, I thought to myself, yeah, saw that kicked too. Next?

They sell birds with the feet and heads on so the type of bird can be identified.

The produce markets are displayed like incredible masterpieces of produce arrangement. Such beautiful fruits and vegetables!

The cheese house features cheeses aging in all stages. There are several cheese Americans would consider spoiled by the amount of mold forming on the outside rind. There is even one cheese you need to knock the bugs out of before you cut it. It looks like a cantaloupe inside and out. The cheese is very tasty. I wish I could remember the name of it.

My favorite cheese is a goat cheese called “Pouligny St. Pierre”, so yummy.

The flower market is spectacular. I wished I could buy a bunch for my hotel room but, they only sell them by the truck load it seems.

This market is a must visit for food tourists. The only thing is you need to have a group of 20 to qualify for a tour. If you go, ask for Phillipe if he is still there. He is a great guide and speaks wonderful English, and French and probably several other languages as well.

We had the best croissants, hot chocolate and cafe au lait at this market. Phillipe arranged for us to stop in one of the restaurants that serve the vendors after our tour. He had to make a special request because the restaurant was typically closing for the day when we finished with our tour. The restaurant is located next to the fish house.

There were coffee stands and a bar inside the meat house. It was odd to see all the meat workers in their chain mail guards over clothes with scimitars strapped in steel sheaths.

I have to apologize for the quality of the photos here, I was trying to be discrete about taking photos. I must say that considering the job these men do, their all white clothing was actually not too bad.

To to end this lovely visit, the produce and flower pavilions.

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No more “lobster-cide”; I can’t kill lobsters anymore. Being a chef, and an instructor who used to be able to teach such things to poor unsuspecting students, this isn’t something you’d admit out loud.

I was reading Domestic Diva MD‘s post on having to cut up a chicken and kind of understood what she was crying about. I can butcher chicken and birds quite well, it doesn’t bother me at all.

Suppose that is because they are dead when they arrive on my cutting board.

This is a wooden chopping board with a chef's ...

Image via Wikipedia

Lobsters, on the other hand, come in live and kicking and probably pretty frustrated by having their claws banded shut. (thank goodness!) or OUCH! pegged shut. ( The would probably be more angry than frustrated.)

Lobsters shipped for consumption in the United...

Image via Wikipedia

They flicker their feelers at you, roll their odd eyes and foam at the mouth for desire to be back in the water.

They try to walk around so you have to watch them or put them where they can’t get away.They often pack fresh seaweed with them so they have something familiar on their death ride besides a waxed box with ice. That is most likely not the reason, but it is my guess for now.

In order to kill them correctly, you need to rub them between the eyes to calm them down and ‘put them to sleep’ before plunging a 12″ razor-sharp knife into their brains.

“Kills them instantly.” says Eric Ripert

Has he ever been a lobster? How does he know?

I can’t do that anymore. I am bothered by being able to do it in the first place. Once they are dead, no problem, just can’t kill them.

The last time I had to kill lobsters was for a dinner party I was doing for a friend in Atlanta. 14 lobsters for the appetizer.

14 live and kicking lobsters. I could hear them scratching around inside the box, slightly muffled by the seaweed packed in the box with them.

I placed them in the kitchen sink. I got creeped out by so many large weird leggy things scrambling around in the sink, I had to put some of them back in the box.

Then the killing started.

Rubbing the space between the eyes, they calm down. Ready, Aim, Plunge and split the thing in two.

OH! How it writhes and wiggles after!

After forcing myself to do all 14, I was a total basket case. Crying, kneeling down begging forgiveness for taking their lives, who was I after all to decide it was their time to die?

It was quite a horrible struggle emotionally and morally. I won’t kill lobsters anymore.

Not that way. If necessary, I’ll put them into a perforated hotel pan and pop them into a fully active steamer and slam the door shut for 8 minutes.

When I return, voila! Lobster meat. The shells have turned red and there lies the perfect ready to eat lobster, after you rip off its tail and claws.

(I worry about the students who ‘get a kick’ out of learning this. Glad they only get 1 lobster)

Melt some butter and Bon Apetit!

Just don’t ask me to kill them anymore.

This past week

During this past week I have had some time off to get some projects off of my need to do list.

This is what I have been up to:

  • Taxes are done! Until next year. Every year I say I’m going to keep track of records so there isn’t so much to do at the end of the year. Right.
  • Nurturing sourdough cultures into some wonderful bread
    • The cultures had sat in the back of the fridge for over a week, neglected. I was afraid they were dying but after some TLC, Voila! Lively sourdough cultures.
    • I used Amaranth flour and discovered a wonderful green corn silk flavor which turns nutty when toasted
    • I made enough bread for the neighborhood. I love working with the dough. Something about it that I can’t explain
  • Located a commercial kitchen for the production of the condiment line we have been working on for a couple of years.
    • It is amazing how hard these facilities are to find.
    • Now for the details of product liability insurance, leases, USDA labeling compliance etc.
    • Finalizing all of the marketing materials from labels, cards, point of sale materials etc.
    • Lining up spaces in farmers markets to begin marketing
      • Design table display
      • Develop standard product demonstrations
    • Releasing product samples to a sales rep for larger sales and markets
  • Created some great meals that should have been on Spoon Feast
    • Crispy chicken thighs with green Thai sauce over coconut rice
      • Thai green sauce is a recipe in development and simply knock your socks off delicious!
    • Black Bean Soup
    • Grilled Steaks with classic salad and baked potatoes
    • Chicken breasts with lemon rosemary
    • Salmon salad on toasted homemade bread
    • Oven “fried” cod fillets with Thai green sauce (see above) and jasmine rice
    • Deviled Eggs, a true Southern dish

I suppose I should have been blogging about these dishes but didn’t.

I just wanted to cook without documentation.

  • Listened to French moviesall day just to hear the language.
    • I was inspired by Becoming Madame to find more ways to immerse myself into the process of learning French.
  • Registered for a digital photography class Saturday afternoon
    • I am very excited about this one!

I’ll be back on the regular blogging schedule by tomorrow.

In the meantime, the orchid has started blooming, soil is warming, the coffee is hot, and it is going to be a glorious day.

Life is good.