About Me

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I have recently developed this huge passion for cooking, even though I've been cooking since i was 15 and have been a chef for the last 10 years. I think I am addicted to it. Or am I addicted to eating my cooking? Either way, I want to share my experiences with whom ever is interested. That is why I started this blog. Currently I am self employed as a private/personal chef and a stay at home dad. I am very thankful to have ended my restaurant career not so long ago! It's a hard life, especially when your trying to raise a family! I live in Naples, Florida where I met my beautiful wife while working at a yacht club about 3 years ago. We now have a little 6 month old daughter and life as we know it has changed forever ( for the better)! There is something going on in the food world that is very exciting! People are starting to open their eyes a little. We're going back in time, back to the farm, back to the dinner table. Something that has to be done in my opinion. I spent a lot of time at the dinner table as a child and thought is was very beneficial in how I ended up. The thing I like best about being a chef is that I will never learn it all. Ever!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Q Foods

There's not a lot of foods that begin with the letter Q.  Lets see, there's quail, quiche, quince, and quesadilla.  But the one I want to talk about is Quinoa.  Pronounced (KEEN-wah), it is new to the American market.  It was a staple of the ancient Incas, who called it "the mother grain."  I cooked with this ingredient for the first time the other day.  There is really nothing I could compare it to. In South American cuisine it is used extensively.  Hailed as the "supergrain of the future," quinoa contains more protein than any other grain.  It's considered a complete protein because it contains all eight essential amino acids.  It is also higher in unsaturated fats and lower in carbohydrates than most grains, and it provides a rich and balanced source of vital nutrients.  Yea, but how does it taste?  Good question!  To me it doesn't taste like much on its own, which makes it very versatile.  It has a delicate flavor (some people would say bland) and is often compared to couscous.
It's very easy to prepare, just like rice, but it cooks in about half the time.  I bought it at Costco, of all places,  in a 2 pound container, so I will be able to play with it for quit a while.  It can be served in any fashion: side dish, salad (like tabouleh), entree, soup, even in puddings.  It is also eaten for breakfast, like oatmeal.  I followed the directions on the back of the package and then tweaked it a little bit.  You can probably find it at any specialty store like Whole Foods.

Simply prepared, place quinoa in a fine strainer and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear.  Drain well after rinsing.  Using 2 cups of liquid per cup of quinoa, combine the liquid and quinoa in a saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, covered, until quinoa is tender but still chewy and a white spiral-like thread appears around each grain, about 15 minutes.  For a richer flavor, quinoa can be toasted (Pilaf) in a dry skillet for a few minutes before cooking.  Stir continuously during the toasting to prevent burning and to toast the grain evenly.  If you want something a little fancy try this:

Quinoa with Toasted Almonds and Cranberries
1 cup quinoa
1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Soak quinoa for 1/2 hour in cold water.  Rinse thoroughly.  On medium heat, stir and toast the sliced almonds until golden.  Stir and roast the quinoa until dry and turning color.  Transfer toasted quinoa and toasted almonds and cranberries to a 2 quart saucepan.  Add chicken stock, salt, bay leaf and cinnamon stick.  Bring to boil, cover and turn heat to simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat, remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Fluff gently with a fork and serve.

For more recipes visit http://www.savvyvegetarian.com/vegetarian-recipes/basic-quinoa.php

Live well
Eat well
Be well

Chef Don Paleno

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to cure the Monday blues. Rice Pudding of course!

Rice pudding is to Mexicans what mashed potatoes are to Americans-the ultimate comfort food.  Apparently, there are A FEW restaurants in Mexico where you won't find this creamy deliciousness of a  dessert on the menu.  My fellow amigos would call this arroz con leche or rice with milk.  I'm sure every family in Mexico has their own recipe just like every family in America has their own recipe for mashed potatoes or tomato sauce.  The way this dessert smells and tastes, with the vanilla and cinnamon, are gonna take all your trouble away!
In my opinion, it is very easy to make (if your not in a hurry) and not that expensive either.  I was given this recipe from a friend/coworker down here in South Florida.  He said his mother would make this every Sunday and he would look forward to it all week.  You can alter this recipe however you want.  Personally, I don't use any coconut milk or coconut and I don't add the raisin & rum mixture.  Just Jasmine rice, milk, cinnamon sticks, orange peel and vanilla is all I use.  It makes me smile just thinking about it!  Something about the Jasmine rice though, makes it very aromatic.
I hope you all enjoy this post.


Chef Don Paleno

Mexican Coconut Rice Pudding                  Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Water                                                   3 cups
Whole peel of 1 orange, pith removed
2 Cinnamon sticks (each 3 inches long)
Pinch of salt
Long-grain rice (Jasmine)              1 ½ cups
Golden Raisins                                  ¼ cup
Candied orange peel, cut into ¼-inch dice             ¼ cup
Shredded coconut                           ¾ cup
Dark rum                                             ¼ cup
Milk                                                       5 cups
Coconut milk                                      1 cup
Sugar                                                     1 ¼ cups
Pure vanilla extract                         1 tsp
Half-and-half                                     ½ cup

1.        In a large heavy pot, combine the water, orange peel, cinnamon sticks and salt.  Bring to a boil, add the rice, and stir.  Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
2.       While the rice is cooking, toss the raisins, candied orange peel, and ¼ cup of the shredded coconut with the rum.  Set aside.
3.       When the rice is ready, add the milk, coconut milk, sugar, and dried fruits with rum to it.  Increase the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened, about 50 minutes.  If the liquid boils rapidly, reduce the heat to low.
4.       When the pudding is done, carefully skim off the thin layer of skin that may have formed on the top.  Remove from the heat and discard the orange peel and cinnamon sticks.  Stir in the vanilla.  Cool the pudding slightly.
5.       While the pudding cools, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
6.       Toast the remaining ½ cup shredded coconut in a small pan n the oven until golden brown, about 5 minutes (watch carefully).
7.       When the pudding has cooled slightly, stir in the half-and-half.  Serve lightly chilled or at room temperature, sprinkled with the toasted coconut.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stone Crab: Florida Seafood and Aquaculture

Stone Crab: Florida Seafood and Aquaculture

Joe's Stone Crab Dinner

Hello everyone! I thought it would be fun to blog about Stone Crab Claws today. I have some friends from Asheville, NC that are staying in SW Florida for the season (Jan.-Mar.). They've never had them and I'm thinking most people haven't. Especially if you live in the mountains like they do. I'm going to prepare them dinner Friday night and we will be having stone crab claws as an appetizer.

My first encounter with stone crab claws was when I was working as a sous chef at Tarpon Cove Yacht club in Naples, FL. about 3 years ago.  For Friday night Happy Hour we would prepare a huge platter of cooked crab claws served ice cold with cocktail sauce, fresh lemon and fresh horseradish.  The members would flock over them like buzzards over fresh road kill.  They are available fresh or cooked.  I suggest the cooked.  They cook them right after harvest to keep the meat from sticking to the shell and to crack these things open is an art, especially if your trying to get the entire claw out in one piece.  But if your interested in learning, here's a video on how to crack the claws: http://www.ehow.com/video_2335959_cracking-florida-stone-crab-claw.html.
There's a million things you can do to these, but I think I will be having mine with a little dijonaise sauce and probably an ice cold glass of chardonnay! Perfect for a hot winter day in Southwest Florida.


Chef Don Paleno

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Patty's Day is right around the corner

I grew up in a family that always celebrated St. Patrick's Day to the fullest.  With beer, corned beef and cabbage!  But we have always bought our beef already corned and I wonder if it would be worth it to try and do it myself.
Corned beef is made from beef brisket.  The brisket comes from the breast section under the first five ribs.  It is usually sold without the bone and is divided into two sections.  The flat cut has minimal fat and is usually more expensive than the more flavorful point cut, which has more fat.  So, the one with more fat and more flavor is cheaper?  Work for me!  Brisket requires long, slow cooking and is best when braised.  Braising is a cooking method by which food (usually meat or vegetables) is first browned in fat, then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time.  The long, slow cooking develops flavor and tenderizes foods by gently breaking down their fibers.  Braising can be done on top of the range or in the oven.  A tight-fitting lid is very important to prevent the liquid from evaporating.

Most corned beef recipes call for brining the meat for up to 10 days.  Whats  a brine you say?  A brine is a strong solution of water and salt used for pickling, preserving and tenderizing foods.  Herbs, spices or a sweetener such as sugar or molasses is sometimes added to flavor the brine.

The recipe i'm going to be using is from the man himself, Alton Brown.  His recipe got all rave reviews and I challenge anyone to join me in making your own corned beef!  Don't forget to have some Guinness Stout close by!  Heck, I might even try cooking my beef in Guinness:)


  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons saltpeter
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • 12 whole juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 pounds ice
  • 1 (4 to 5 pound) beef brisket, trimmed
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped


Place the water into a large 6 to 8 quart stockpot along with salt, sugar, saltpeter, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. Seal and lay flat inside a container, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine.
After 10 days, remove from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water by 1-inch. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

Cheers Everyone!
Chef Don Paleno

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cooking Classes

Well, I've been doing this cooking class for 3 of the last 4 months which was started by the wonderful Lauren McKyton. She started a cooking club for mom's and hosts them at her house. She and I decide on a theme/cuisine and get advice for recipes from some of the members of the club. It only costs 10 dollars, I buy the groceries and do a demonstration of about 3 or 4 recipes.

The first one I did was an Asian theme. I did 3 appetizers, one was crab rangoons (with fresh jumbo lump crab meat, none of that fake crap!), we made some chicken potstickers from scratch and we tried to replicate the lettuce wraps from P.F. Changs.

The recipe for the crab rangoons:

Yield: 44 - 48 Crab Rangoon

8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces fresh crab meat or canned crab meat, drained and flaked
1/2 teaspoon Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1 - 1 1/2 green onions, finely sliced
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon red onion, chopped

1 package wonton wrappers
1 small bowl filled with water for wetting wontons
Oil for deep-frying

Combine the crab and the cream cheese. Mix in the remaining filling ingredients one at a time.
On a flat surface, lay out a wonton wrapper in front of you so that it forms a diamond shape. Wet the edges of the wonton.
Add a heaping teaspoon of filling to the middle, and spread it out toward the left and right points of the diamond so that it forms a log or rectangular shape (otherwise the wrapper may break in the middle during deep-frying).
Fold over the edges of the wrapper so that it forms a triangle shape. Seal the edges, adding more water if needed.
Cover the completed Crab Rangoon with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out while preparing the rest.
Heat wok and add oil for deep-frying. When oil is ready (the temperature should be between 360 - 375 degrees), carefully slide in the Crab Rangoon, taking care not to overcrowd the wok. Deep-fry until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning once. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Cool and serve.

(To make ahead: The filling can be prepared up to a day ahead of time and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, or the wontons can be filled and refrigerated up to one day ahead of time before cooking. The wontons can also be prepared up to the deep-frying stage and frozen for up to 3 months. Cook the frozen wonton according to the instructions above, adding a few minutes to the cooking time).

I wouldn't change anything about this recipe. I've never had crab rangoons with fresh crab, they were Amazing! But you have to eat them right out of the fryer.

As for the potstickers we made, they were pretty labor intensive! Especially making the dough, then rolling it out and cutting into circles. It was a good thing we had about 10 ladies helping out. Well worth it in the end! Here is the recipe, we used chicken instead of pork:

Pork and Ginger Pot Stickers with Spicy Soy Dipping Sauce
Yields: 20-25 pot stickers
Napa Cabbage, finely chopped                       4 cups
Salt                                                                  1 T
Ground Pork (not too lean)                             ½ pound
Fresh Ginger, finely chopped                          1 ½ T
Garlic, finely chopped                                     1 ½ T
Soy sauce                                                        2 T
Sesame Oil, toasted                                        3 T
Egg, lightly beaten                                          1
Water                                                              2 C
AP Flour                                                           4 C
Salt                                                                  ½ tsp
Dipping Sauce:
Soy sauce                                                        1/3 C
Rice Wine Vinegar                                          1/3 C
Scallions, green parts, sliced                          1/3 C
Sesame Oil, toasted                                        1 T
Sambal Oelek                                                  1 T

  1.  To make the filling, combine the cabbage and 1 ½ teaspoons of the salt in a large bowl and toss together; set aside for 30 minutes.  Transfer the cabbage to a clean dish towel or cheesecloth, gather the ends of the cloth together, and twist to squeeze as much water as possible from the cabbage (this will make the filling more cohesive.)  In a second large bowl, combine the cabbage with the pork, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons of salt, and egg and mix.
  2. To make the dough, bring the water to a boil.  In a large stainless-steel bowl, combine the flour and salt.  Slowly add the boiling water in ¼-cup increments, mixing with chop sticks until a ball is formed and the dough is no longer too hot to handle.  All the water may not be needed.  Knead the dough on a floured work surface until it becomes smooth and elastic, 15 to 20 minutes.  Form the dough into a ball, return it to the bowl, and cover it with a damp cloth.  Allow the dough to rest for 1 hour.
  3. To form the wrappers, add more flour to the work surface.  Divide the dough in half.  Shape one portion into a log and roll it back and forth under your palms to make a thin sausage shape measuring about 1 inch in diameter.  Cut into ½-inch pieces.  One by one, stand each piece on end, flatten the piece with your palm, and roll out to form a circular wrapper about 3 inches in diameter and 1/16 of an inch thick.  Repeat with the remaining dough.
  4. To fill the pot stickers, place about ½ tablespoon of the filling in the center of each wrapper.  Avoid getting filling on the edges of the wrapper, which would prevent proper sealing.  Fold each wrapper in half to form a half-moon shape.  Seal the top center of each dumpling by pressing between the fingers and, starting at the center, make 3 pleats, working toward the bottom right.  Repeat, working toward the bottom left corner.  Press the dumplings down gently on the work surface to flatten the bottoms.
  5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Add the oil and swirl to coat.  When the oil shimmers, add the pot stickers, flattened bottoms down, in rows of five, and cook in batches without disturbing until brown, about 6 minutes.  Add about ½ cup of water and immediately cover to avoid splattering.  Lift the cover and make sure about 1/8 inch of water remains in the pan; if not, add a bit more. Steam until the pot stickers are puffy yet firm and the water has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.  If the pot stickers seem done but water remains in the pan, drain it and return the pan to the stove top.
  6. Continue to cook over high heat to allow the pot stickers to recrisp on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer the pot stickers to a platter and serve with the dipping sauce.
  7. To make the dipping sauce, combine all the ingredients and blend well

Like I said, it was a lot of labor but well worth it in the end!  Browned and crisped on the bottoms, steamed, and recrisped, gives them a great textural mix.

As for the lettuce wraps, I found this recipe online and I thought they were amazing.  I would like to compare them side by side.  These might be better?

Wanna-be PF Chang’s Lettuce Wraps Recipe
Pouring sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons gluten free tamari (or regular soy sauce if you’re not concerned about gluten)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon hot water
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
Chicken Stir-fry
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed to 1/2″
1 – 8oz can sliced water chestnuts, minced to the size of corn kernals
1/2 cup mushrooms, minced to the size of corn kernals
1/2 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
6 large leaves of iceberg lettuce or nappa cabbage
Stir-fry sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

Begin by making the pouring sauce. In a large bowl, dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup warm water, then add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice and sesame oil. Mix well and throw in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
Combine 1 teaspoons hot water with dijon mustard and garlic and set this aside in small bowl.
Combine oils and add to wok or large frying pan. Heat oil over high heat until it glistens, about one minute. Add chicken and saute until cooked through, then remove from the pan and cool. Keep oil in the pan, keeping it hot over a low flame.
Prep the stir fry sauce by mixing soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice vinegar in a small bowl.
Take pan that you cooked the chicken in (with the still warming oil, riiiight?) and turn it up to medium-high heat. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, wait one minute, and then add chicken, garlic, onions, water chestnuts, mushrooms, and the stir-fry sauce you prepared earlier. Stir-fry everything until the mushrooms have cooked, about four minutes, and remove to a serving dish.
Add mustard/garlic mixture to the pouring sauce, 1/2 a teaspoon at time to taste.
Serve stir-fry with iceberg lettuce or nappa cabbage leaf wraps and top with pouring sauce.
You can do the same thing with ground beef, if you like – here’s the red meat version: