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Cooking Lessons (July 5, 2004)

Brand new to the kitchen? Or perhaps you're feeling a touch rusty and want to brush up on culinary techniques? Who doesn't, now and then – and several excellent cookbooks have just arrived to help. Award-winning food writer John Ash, who pens a regular column for the LA Times when he's not teaching at the Culinary Institute of America or directing things culinary at Fetzer Vineyards, has for us Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher.

It's a wonderful read, with three main parts: the first is Flavour-Maker Lessons with such things as vinegars, oils and explanations on the types, plus scrumptious exotic vinaigrette recipes, marinades, simple savoury sauces and seemingly almost all the foods that go with them. Part two is Technique Lessons – soup basics to soufflés to pot roasting – and part three covers Main Ingredients. Novice in the kitchen or experienced cook, you'll be off to the markets in a flash, list in hand, wanting to try John Ash's recipes and ideas. We've been already, and we're doing Saigon Shrimp tonight!

But what about dessert?

Another great "starter" cookbook comes from veteran Canadian journalist Cinda Chavich, whose articles and recipes have graced The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine Magazine, the CBC and the Wine Spectator. She presents us with The Girl Can't Cook: 275 Fabulous No-fail Recipes a Girl Can't be Without! John Ash loves what Cinda has produced, saying "Cinda's book is a godsend for those who are intimidated by cooking but the experienced cook will find lots of tasty recipes to chew on too. All the recipes are logically organized and don't require that you do everything from scratch!"

We thought Monda Rosenberg, Food Editor of Chatelaine Magazine, summed it all up perfectly: "Want to eat what the premier food writer in Canada cooks? From curling up with bistro-style food to super-fast sophisticated dinners, this beautifully crafted book by Cinda Chavich is a must!"

We agree! Now on to Cinda's easy-as-pie Peach Cobbler! But first, the main course.

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (58 KB)


Saigon Shrimp with Rice Sticks and Nuoc Cham Sauce

Ash says that many of the classic flavours and ingredients of Southeast Asia come together in this bowl. "The sauce is a favorite that I make up in larger batches and often toss with cooked thin noodles like Japanese somen for a quick small meal. Rice sticks which are made from rice flour come in a variety of widths and lengths. While the widest varieties need cooking like other dried noodles, the very fine ones are typically just soaked in warm water before being added to soups, stir fries or other preparations. You can also make this dish with bean thread noodles."

Enough, John, let's eat!

Serves 4 to 6

  • ¼ lb thin rice stick noodles or vermicelli
  • 1½ lbs medium shrimp, brined if desired, peeled, deveined and patted dry
  • 2 tsp Asian fish sauce
  • 2 tsp peeled and finely minced fresh ginger
  • 4 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
  • ½ cup garlic chives or 1 cup scallions (green parts only) cut into ¼-inch lengths
  • ½ cup Nuoc Cham Sauce (see below)
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped toasted peanuts
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • Garnish if you like with fresh mint sprigs

Cover the rice stick noodles with warm water and soften for 20 minutes. Drain and arrange on a serving platter.

Toss the shrimp with the fish sauce and ginger and set aside. Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat and add 2 Tbsp of oil. When hot, quickly sauté the bean sprouts and chives for about 20 seconds. Spoon the cooked vegetables over the noodles.

Add the remaining 2 Tbsp of oil to the wok and sauté the shrimp over high heat until they just turn pink, about 2 minutes.

Arrange over the rice sticks and vegetables and top with several spoonfuls of Nuoc Cham Sauce and a sprinkling of peanuts and cilantro.

Garnish with mint sprigs if using, and serve immediately.

Nuoc Cham Sauce

  • 2/3 cup Asian fish sauce
  • 2/3 cup rice vinegar
  • Fine grated zest and juice from large limes
  • 2 tsp seeded and finely minced hot red chilies
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 5 Tbsp sugar, or to taste

Combine all the ingredients and stir or shake to dissolve the sugar. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to five days. Makes about 1½ cups.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
An off-dry white wine with good acidity: Ontario Semi-Dry Riesling, Riesling Kabinett from the Rheingau or Mosel, Viognier from the Languedoc.


Peach Cobbler

A cross-cultural meal for sure, so what... While traditional peach cobbler is always served with real southern barbecue, for my mind this divine deep dish desert makes a fine summer finish to any dinner! Cinda says it serves 6 to 8; we think 3 to 4 is more like it, especially with the ice cream... aw, go on, seconds are waiting!

  • 6 large fresh peaches or nectarines, peeled (about 5–6 cups)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
    Biscuit topping
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 5 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cold shortening, cubed
  • 3 Tbsp cold butter, cubed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • Good vanilla ice cream

To peel the peaches, drop them into a pot of boiling water for 20 seconds. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and quickly rinse them under cold tap water. The skins will peel right off (it's not necessary to peel nectarines). Cut the fruit into wedges and place in a bowl, discarding the pits. Toss the peaches with the sugar, flour and salt. Pour them into a 6-cup shallow baking dish. Dot with butter.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. To make the topping, put the flour, salt, 3 Tbsp of the sugar and the baking powder into the work bowl of your food processor. Add the shortening and butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. You can also do this by hand, using a pastry blender.

Beat the egg and milk lightly and add to the dough, stirring quickly to form a smooth stiff dough. Break off little chunks of dough, press them into flattened "cobbles" and cover the entire dish, overlapping the dough as you go. Sprinkle the top with the remaining sugar. Bake for 35–40 minutes, until the cobbler is browned and bubbly. Cool for 20 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
Ontario Vidal Icewine, Select Late Harvest Riesling.


We wish to thank Random House Canada and Clarkson N. Potter for permission to publish material and photographs from Cooking One on One: Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher, by John Ash. © 2004 by John T. Ash and Amy Mintzer. Photographs © by Joel Barnhurst.

We wish to thank Whitecap Books for permission to publish material and photographs from The Girl Can't Cook: 275 Fabulous No-fail Recipes a Girl Can't be Without! By Cinda Chavich. © 2004 by Cinda Chavich.

We wish to thank the California Cling Peach Board for permission to publish the photograph of peaches.


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (58 KB)




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