Cookbooks I Love: My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South.


It is hard to believe that the authoritative book My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South is a first book for author Rosetta Constantino, a Calabrian native from the village of Verbicaro.

Rosetta now lives in the San Franciso area, and has collaborated with food writer Janet Fletcher on this lovely, soul-satisfying book. Like many  cookbooks that guide us on an exploration of  the culture and place as well as the food and cuisine, My Calabria introduces us to the cucina povera of this rural region of southern Italy. With a friendly style and the knowledge of a local, Rosetta introduces us to tidbits of culture, local festivals, important regional foodstuffs, and a way of life that is sharply focused on kitchen tasks, food, and seasonally prepared dishes.

I discovered a wonderful review of My Calabria on the blog: The Travelers Lunchbox. This delightful food and travel blog is written by Melissa Kronenthal, a talented writer and photographer. (Sadly, but hopefully temporarily, Melissa seems to have stopped posting to her blogs. This has been one of my favorite blogs and I am a big fan of Melissa’s work.)

Click on this link to read Melissa’s entire review of My Calabria.

I am quoting a portion of what she wrote here: “The heart of this book, though, is its recipes. It’s by no means a comprehensive work nor does it try to be; instead Rosetta has distilled the collection to reflect what makes Calabrian food different and unique, and to explain the what, why and how so that we can really understand the food. Above all her recipes introduce us to the simplicity of Calabrian food and the tremendous respect placed on both quality and thrift. Vegetables are celebrated in dozens of different forms, including fried, stuffed, marinated and folded inside pitta, the local cheeseless double-crusted pizza; animal parts you or I might throw away here feature in succulent dishes like braciole di cotenne, braised pork-skin rolls; and nothing but flour, water and a deft technique are used to make dromësat, a couscous-like specialty of the ancient Arbëresh community. The building blocks of Calabrian cuisine are well-covered too, things like the local hot fennel sausage, home-canned tomato sauce and rustic, chewy pane calabrese.”

This earthy recipe is very southern Italian in feeling, and the preparation of the tomatoes, olives and capers is something akin to combinations that my Grandmother used over the year with various fish dishes. The green olives and the salt-packed capers are both essential to the flavor and spirit of this dish – please do not substitute black olives or capers packed in vinegar.

Pesce Spada Alla Ghiotta

( Swordfish with Olives and Capers )

This dish matches meaty swordfish steaks with a rustic, briny sauce of tomatoes, olives and capers.

  • 4 swordfish steaks, about 6 ounces each and 3/8 ” thick, skin removed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups whole peeled canned tomatoes, drained and minced
  • 1/2 cup large green olives (such as cerignola), pitted and roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons sals-packed capers, soaked and drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Season swordfish with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over high heat. Working in two batches, add swordfish and cook, flipping once, until golden brown and medium rare, about 3 minutes. Transfer swordfish to plate, leaving oil in skillet.

2. Reduce heat to medium; add garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, olives, capers, and the chile flakes and cook, stirring, until tomatoes soften and release some of their juices, about 5 minutes.

3. Return swordfish steaks to skillet, nestling them in the sauce, and all parsley and lemon juice; cook until fish is cooked through. To serve, transfer swordfish to platter and spoon sauce over top.

Truly Extra Virgin Olive Oil

We applaud Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil ( W. W. Norton & Company 2011), for continuing the conversation about deceitful practices and mis-leading advertising claims regarding many of the branded olive oils that are being sold in supermarkets, discount food chains and food warehouses.

Much has been talked about over the past few years in this regard, but this book will finally bring this topic to national attention and to the awareness of the audience that most needs to be informed – consumers.

These branded olive oils are made to be sold cheaply and in huge quantities, and are blended by corporate food companies for their own sales or to be bottled and sold under another brand’s label. These oils are composed of various oils from many sources, and many of these products are not what they seem to be.

Most of these oils are not made exclusively from olive oil – some contain cheaper nut oils. Many of these olive oils, even when composed of olive oils, contain low, industrial grades of oil that do not test positively for purity when examined in a lab. What does this mean? Besides only offering fatty, musty flavors, these olive oils do not contain any of the healthful antioxidants that legitimate extra virgin olive oils are known to have.

The next time you wonder why cheap olive oil is well, cheap, think about why that is and what isn’t in the bottle. As is true for most cheaply made products, buyer beware. These shady olive oil practices by corporations and food packers have been exposed in the past and have been known to us for many years. This is the reason why we have never sold this type of olive oil.

For years, the Olive Center at the University of California at Davis has been leading the charge about deceptive practices in branded olive oil. In April of 2011 they released a study claiming that:

” a great majority of US consumers are paying a premium for mislabeled oil which fails to meet recognized standards and is often rancid or adulterated.” 

According to their testing, they reported that  out of 134 samples of the five top-selling imported olive oils labeled as extra virgin, the Center reported that 73% failed to meet International Olive Council (IOC) sensory standards. The five brands are Filippo Berio, Bertolli, Pompeian, Colavita and Star .

At Cooks Shop Here we are vigilant about the provenance of the extra virgin olive oils that we sell and the people that we support.  Our customers can rest assured that all of our extra virgin olive oils are grown, pressed , and bottled by individual olive farmers or olive farmers belonging to the local co-operative from olives that are grown on their own olive farms in France, Greece, Italy, and Spain.

Our extra virgin olive oils are produced in limited quantities and these producers do not bring in ‘other’ oils to extend their yield. These small-scale artisan producers take pride in their craft and their products, and they do not adulterate their olive oils. These are proud family businesses, many of which have been in the olive oil business for generations.

Most of our producers have websites that explain their craft. They can also be reached via email or telephone, and their farms or olive oil pressing mills can often be visited when visiting their particular regions of Europe.

Many of our producers have earned the right to use the coveted DOP ( protected origin ) mark on their olive oils. Unlike the interest of corporate concerns, the goal of our olive producers is to press delicious, distinctive olive oil that delivers superior, luscious flavor that is indicative of the specific olive varieties used in the oil and the terroir where the olive trees grow.

We carefully & specifically select each extra virgin olive oil that we sell so that each brings to the table the excellent range of flavors that a particular region and country is known for.  These unique terroirs, coupled with the diversity of local varieties of olive trees and their fruit (olives ) add character to the distinctive cuisine of the Mediterranean, and will add delicious flavor and healthful benefits to your food.

For more information about our extra virgin olive oils, please visit our website:

Admiral’s Rum and Brandy Punch

We were thrilled to discover that Imbibe Magazine ( has featured our Admiral’s Rum and Brandy Punch recipe from our book Hot Drinks on their website. Thanks, Imbibe!

Our sure-fire, delicious punch is perfect to serve an apres-ski crowd or when gathering around the fire on a snowy winter day. The warm, sunny color is pleasing and inviting- we named this drink Admiral’s Rum and Brandy Punch after a West Indies-inspired combination of grapefruit, pineapple and rum.

Imbibe - Liquid Culture




Photo by Marshall Gordon
                                                                                                Admiral’s Rum and Brandy PunchTangy flavors of apricot, pineapple and grapefruit mingle with the subtle spices of rum and brandy in this warming winter punch.1 cup apricot puree
2 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup white grapefruit juice
1/2 cup light rum
1/4 cup brandy
Tools: saucepan
Glass: heatproof punch cups or glasses
Garnish: lime wedgesCombine the apricot puree and juices in a saucepan                             over medium heat and bring to a low simmer. Lower                                the heat and simmer gently for two minutes more,                                then add the rum and brandy.                                                                 Place a lime wedge in four heatproof glasses and                                divide the warm punch evenly. Serves four.

Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, Hot Drinks                                      (Ten Speed Press, 2007)

My ‘New’ Green Tea Book

Green Tea: 50 Hot Drinks, Cool Quenchers & Sweet & Savory Treats

A lovely woman who produces a food radio program telephoned me recently to set up an interview about my ‘new’ book on cooking with green tea. She caught me off guard because I don’t have a new book on cooking with green tea. Then I realized she was referring to a book that I wrote in 2006 titled: Green Tea: 50 Hot Drinks, Cool Quenchers and Sweet and Savory Treats ( Harvard Common Press, 2006).

We got it straightened out, had a laugh, and fortunately she still wanted to have the interview.

After this, I started to think about my book and the idea of cooking with tea. Back in 2006, cooking with tea or using tea as in ingredient in cooking and baking was an unfamiliar concept here in the US, and it did not resonate with most. Its not that it wasn’t a good idea – it was and still is a great idea – but only a few short years ago the conversation about tea was vastly different than it is today.

Back then, tea drinking had not yet reached the widespread popularity that it has now, and education about premium tea from traditional places of origin was still in its infancy. Spreading the word about the different classes of tea (green, white, yellow, oolong, black and Pu-erh) was challenging for those of us in the tea business as black tea was the most commonly drunk tea at that time, and the only tea that many people were familiar with.

Fortunately, my book sold well and is still in print –yea!- but I have come to realize that the subject of cooking with tea ( and my book ) was ahead of its time. For Green Tea I developed original recipes in these categories: hot and iced green teas, smoothies, green tea cocktails, savory dishes and sweet endings, and often when I would describe to someone back then what my book was about they would look at me as if I had holes in my head.

In fact, even in Taiwan, where I gave a presentation at an annual tea meeting to a room full of tea growers on the idea of cooking with tea, and where there are dishes that utilize oolong tea in the preparation, many there looked at me as if I had holes in my head, too.

But today, just five years later, the idea of cooking with tea, or using tea as a culinary ingredient, has caught on. Not like wildfire, but with enough traction to be included in various tea conversations and for others to pursue the topic.

Cynthia Gold, the Tea Sommelier at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, has co-authored a book with Lise Stern titled: Culinary Tea: More Than 150 Recipes Steeped in Tradition from Around the World ( Running Press, 2010). This delightful book explores the concept in depth, and provides much guidance for those looking to experiment with all classes of tea in their cooking.

Some restaurants, too, feature tea as an ingredient in various savory dishes and cocktails. Green tea in particular is showing up pretty regularly in sweets and desserts. But I fear such desserts will suffer from over-exposure and incompetent hands, and become culinary outcasts in the same vein as tiramisu, molten chocolate cake, and anything kiwi.

I am reprinting (with permission of my publisher) one of my favorite cocktail recipes from Green Tea: 50 Hot Drinks, Cool Quenchers and Sweet and Savory Treats.

Tropical Sky
( serves 2 )

  • 12 ice cubes
  • 3 ounces chilled green tea
  • 1 cup chilled pomegranate juice
  • 3 ounces gin
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto
  • Maraschino cherries, lemon wedges and orange wedges for garnish

1. Put 4 ice cubes, the green tea, pomegranate juice, gin, and amaretto into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 1 minute.

2. Divide the remaining 8 ice cubes between 2 old-fashioned glasses. Make a skewer for each glass by threading 1 cherry, 1 lemon wedge, and 1 orange wedge onto a decorative cocktail pick. Strain the cocktail into the glasses and drape a fruit skewer across the top of each glass. Serve immediately.

Mexican Food Products from Susana Trilling

I am very excited to have Seasons of My Heart food products from Susana Trilling. Susana is a chef, founder of Seasons of My Heart Cooking School in Oaxaca, Mexico, and author of the vibrant cookbook Seasons of My Heart: A Culinary Journey through Oaxaca, Mexico ( Ballantine Books, 1999)

Susana’s book is a companion guide to her 13-show PBS series in which she shares her deep passion and anthropological knowledge of this fascinating region whose cuisine remains virtually untouched by influences from the outside world. Oaxaca invites a deep appreciation of Mexican culture, and Susana is a gracious ambassador for the region she loves so much.

Susana Trilling

 Those of you who have visited Mexico know that the local markets are wonderful places, and taking the time to stroll around and absorb all you see is a fragrant, colorful sensory event. Spices, foods, fruits, candies, crafts, clay cookware and simple, charming clay dishes and bowls, embroideries and weavings offer serious temptations.

In southern Mexico, in the markets of Oaxaca and the neighboring villages, you will also see quantities of chile-based seasoning pastes – mole* – for sale in rich earth tones of red, brown, and nearly black. The flavors of these moles are as extraordinary as the colors are vivid, and the tastes of each mole will be different one to another.

But each is unique and essential to the traditional cuisine of Oaxaca. Choosing just one mole is never an option when shopping in these vibrant markets!

Mole lovers know that these tasty and essential pastes traditionally take a day or longer to make and require a very long list of ingredients to obtain the proper flavors: fruits, nuts, spices, chocolate and chiles. The flavor of a specific mole is dependent on particular chiles which can be difficult or impossible to find in the USA.

If you rather not spend a day or more in your kitchen making mole from scratch, you can use Susana’s moles to create delicious, authentic tasting dishes for your family and friends.  Susana has created three of the most famous of these mole pastes – Oaxacan Mole Negro (Black Mole), Mole Coloradito, and Mole Rojo (Red Mole) that are made with the right chilies, all natural ingredients and no fillers.  All that is required is that the mole be reconstituted into a sauce and served with a generous portion of chicken, turkey, pork (or a combination of the three). And only you will know that you have Susana at your side!

Another not-to-be-missed item is Susana’s Chintestle (Smoked Chile Paste), something that I now cannot live without! I first tasted this product several years ago when I met Susana at a food conference but there was no way to purchase this product for resale at the time. Believe me, I have thought about this flavorful smoked chile paste more than a few times in the years since!

Lastly, we also have Susana’s chile jellies ( three types…red, green and yellow….which are excellent toppings for soft goat cheese for quick and tasty summer snacks on the patio…with a Margarita, perhaps ?  ) and coarse and crunchy Mexican sea salt to flavor your favorite dishes .

*Chile pepper expert, food historian, magazine editor and cookbook author Dave Dewitt has this to say about mole: “Perhaps the most famous Mexican chile dishes are the moles. The word ‘mole’, from the Náhuatl molli, means “mixture,” as in guacamole, a mixture of vegetables (guaca). Some sources say that the word is taken from the Spanish verb moler, meaning to grind. Whatever its precise origin, the word used by itself embraces a vast number of sauces utilizing every imaginable combination of meats, vegetables, spices, and flavorings–sometimes up to three dozen different ingredients. Not only are there many ingredients, there are dozens of variations on mole–red moles, green moles, brown moles, fiery moles, and even mild moles”.

Please visit our website to read more about these items and to purchase: