Monday, December 28, 2009

Rack 'em up

Now that the holidays are almost over, let's get back to the business of serving up great recipes. Today's recipe was featured at a fabulous party I attended. Rack of lamb is so quick, easy, and Ooooh, so delicious.

I'm amazed every time I have rack of lamb at just how tasty it is, and I want to take in every bit of its ample flavor. If lamb is on the menu, I know I'm going to have a wonderful time. I'm not sure if it's the rack, the wine, the pool table, or the company that make the evening so special. Together, they add up to a memorable time. Just like sinking the 8 Ball in the corner pocket.

Today's rack of lamb chefs are Dandee Danny and Easy Eddie. They are pros at the barbeque, and take their job very seriously. They move with lightening speed (quite apparent from the blur of their hands in the photo). They're masters on a mission and won't slow down until the cooking's done... or until one of them needs another beer. Looks like they're also fixing some crab cakes to go with the lamb that's on the grill.


4 racks of lamb
3 bulbs of fresh garlic, peeled
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup rosemary leaves
salt and pepper

Blend garlic, olive oil, rosemary leaves, salt and pepper in food processor. Process. Add more olive oil, if necessary, to make it the consistency of pesto. Rub on top and bottom of rack of lamb. Marinate at least 12 hours (or overnight) in refrigerator.

Barbeque on hot barbeque for 20-25 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so. Try to keep the bones off the grill by propping them, if necessary. Test for doneness by poking with fork. If they no longer feel rubbery, they are done.

Serves 8

Monday, December 21, 2009

This isn't your typical boring rice recipe

Every year the girls in my office combine our resources and get a nice gift for our boss for Christmas. We struggle every year with what to get, but we somehow manage to pull something together at the last minute that's unique and personal.

This year someone heard him say he wanted to spend more time cooking, so we ran with that. We got him a variety of wonderful cook books, a bamboo cutting board, and a high quality knife. We also decided to include a recipe card booklet filled with favorite recipes from everyone in the office.

I was in charge of putting the recipe booklet together. I loved this job because I got to see everyone's contribution. Boy, we have some wonderful cooks in our office. Every recipe sounded fabulous. (In fact, I copied them all just for my own personal use.)

I wanted some pictures in the recipe booklet of the completed recipes, so I made some of the recipes just so I could take photos of them.

Today's recipe is one I made just so I could take a picture. However, this baked rice dish was so delicious I decided to change my Christmas Eve dinner menu entirely. I'm now going with a Mexican theme for Christmas Eve dinner, and I'm building my whole menu around this rice dish. It was that tasty!

I should have expected it to be great since the recipe was from Cyrhen (one of the greatest cooks I know). The picture of this recipe doesn't do it justice. It's a recipe you will be asked to make over and over again.


2 cups cooked rice
2 poblano chiles*, charred and chopped
(or 1 large can of green chiles)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
3/4 cup corn
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cop chopped cilantro
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add chiles and saute 1 minute. Mix together cooked rice, corn and sauted mixture. Mix in sour cream, cilantro. Stir in grated cheese.

Turn mixture into a buttered 2 quart dish and bake at 325 degrees until sides are light brown and rice is heated through. About 25 minutes.

Serves 4

*To char poblano chiles (aka, pasilla chiles) broil under hot flame until skin is black and bubbly. Turn over as needed to char all sides. Place hot blackened chiles in paper bag or foil and seal until cool enough to work with. Peel of blackened skin and remove seeds (I usually rinse seeds off with water). Chop chiles to desired size.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Coctel de Camarones (shrimp cocktail)

My friends and I got together for an appetizer party this weekend. Everything was so delicious. I ate so much I couldn't eat again for 24 hours. Seriously!

The last three times this group has gotten together this dish was requested. It's so fresh and flavorful. But how can anyone go wrong with shrimp, avocado, and cilantro.

COCTEL DE CAMARONES (shrimp cocktail)

2-3 lbs.frozen shrimp, large or medium, cooked, cleaned, deveined.
1 bottle Clamato juice
1 small bottle clam juice
1/4 bottle ketchup
1 Tbsp. (+ or -) Tabasco, to taste*
3 lemons
4 tomatoes, diced
3 cucumbers, diced
2 avocados, diced
2 ribs celery diced
2 green onions
1/4 bunch cilantro
1 bottle shrimp cocktail

Rinse frozen shrimp thoroughly and let set in cold water for 10 minutes.

Place shrimp in large bowl. Add Clamato juice, clam juice, ketchup and cocktail sauce to shrimp. Add Tabasco and squeeze lemon juice over the top. Add diced tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, celery, and green onions in bowl and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves about 12

* Another option is to finely dice 2 jalapeno peppers instead of using Tabasco.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What to do with leftover ham bones

When Thanksgiving weekend is over and most of the leftovers are gone, there are usually two things left in my refrigerator...a turkey carcass and a ham bone. I used to always make turkey soup and throw away the ham bone. But the last few years I've tossed the turkey, hung onto to ham bone and made split pea soup.

Most ham bones have enough meat left on them to make a great split pea soup. The salty smoky flavor of ham blends perfectly with split peas and is a nice change from the turkey flavors. The beauty of split pea soup is that it's easy and healthy. There are some basic ingredients, but like most soups, you don't have to do much measuring. Just throw in the amount you I think sounds good.


2 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 large potatoes, cut bite-size
1 ham bone with meat attached
3 bay leaves
3 cups water
1 lb split peas (green, or yellow and green mixed)
1 tsp. dried thyme

In a very large pot saute onions carrots, and celery in olive oil until vegetables begin to brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add ham bone, bay leaves and water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low for 2 hours, or until ham is tender. Remove ham bone and any chunks of ham and cool.

While ham and bone are cooling add split peas and thyme to the pot and cover. Simmer 1/2 hour. Add potatoes and simmer another 1/2 hour, or until peas soften and dissolve. Cut up cooled ham and add it to the pot and cook 15 more minutes. Remove bay leaves. If soup is too thick add more water. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

This soup warms you from the inside-out on these cold December nights. It's hearty and robust. Serve it with a loaf of crusty french bread and a bottle of sauvignon blanc or gewurztraminer.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Persimmon cookies make a great gift

My mom's persimmon cookies recipe card is one of those cards that's extremely stained and faded. That tells me that it was used frequently. Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas she would bake batch after batch of persimmon cookies and put them in little tins. She gave the filled tins to the postman, Fuller Brush man, Avon lady, sanitation workers, newspaper boy, and all the neighbors. She was quite popular around the holidays.

I'm not as energetic as Mom was, but I do make a couple batches of persimmon cookies every year. I give some away, but keep them mostly for myself. I love the spices in this recipe and the soft moistness of the cookie. Since they keep well in the freezer, I usually make a double batch.


1 cup ripe* persimmon pulp
1 tsp. baking soda (over pulp)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat pulp, baking soda, sugar, shortening, and egg together thoroughly until creamy. Add salt, flour and spices . Fold in nuts and raisins. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet and bake 12-15 minutes.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

*Ripe persimmons are very soft and gushy. If your persimmons aren't ripe, put them in the freezer and freeze overnight. When they are removed from the freezer and thawed, they will be soft.

The large round persimmons become soft and are best for baking. The small flatter persimmons are crisp and are better for eating raw. Don't use the small, flat ones in baking.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mount(ain) of olives

I have lived in my neighborhood for four years and (I'm ashamed to say) really haven't taken the time to get to know my neighbors. Last month one neighbor, Izabel, came over and asked if I was going to use the olives that were ripe on my olive trees. All I ever do with my olives is rake them up off the ground after they fall and complain about the mess they make on the concrete. She said her husband loves olives and she would like to try curing them. I saw an opportunity to not have olive stains all over my concrete this year and said, "They're yours!"

We got our buckets and started picking. I was surprised at the mountain of olives my two small trees produced. The next day I went over to Izabel's home to learn her method of curing. But, more importantly, I learned about Izabel.

Izabel and her husband, Paul, lived in Lebanon for most of their lives. There they owned a button-making factory and five retail button stores. They would import raw materials from Europe, and export goods to many of the Arab countries, and were quite successful. Unfortunately, in 1974 a civil war broke out in Lebanon. They tried to ride out the war, but after ten years of living in fear and uncertainty they fled their country. They brought their four children, and only what they could carry on their back, to the United States and started a new life.

Curing olives was a new adventure for Izabel, as well as for me, but she knew people who knew how to do it and wasn't afraid to try. She patiently walked me through the process she learned from her friends and answered all my stupid questions with grace. She had me come over each time she did something new to the olives so I could take pictures. About three weeks into it she said the olives she used from my tree really weren't big enough to go to all this trouble. They should have been more meaty to make it worthwhile. Ah! Live and learn.

Still, the whole experience was priceless to me, but not only because I learned how to cure olives. It was priceless because I got to know Izabel, a delightfully talented and artistic woman filled with wisdom, compassion and a rich life story. Getting to know her made me realize how important it is to connect with the people with whom we share this world. If she hadn’t come across the street and asked if I had plans for my olives, I probably would have never heard her interesting life story, seen her beautiful art, or eaten the delicious fruits of her garden. Those are the things that are priceless… that, along with Izabel.

Izabel's olives were very tasty little morsels, but they were small. My project over the next year (along with getting to know more neighbors) is to learn what kind of soil amendments will help plump up next years olive crop. Then we can try it again.


Place olives in large plastic tubs and wash under warm water for several minutes to remove all the dust and dirt. It isn't necessary to remove the leaves, as they can add flavor to the final product. Spread olives in a single layer on sheets of paper towels on top of newspaper. Let olives dry for about one week, or until they are wrinkly and shriveled. Poke each olive with a fork to puncture the skin.

For every six pounds of olives, add 2 pounds of coarse sea salt and toss the olives in the salt to mix them together( toss like you would if you were winnowing wheat). Toss the olives every day. After 3-4 days rinse one of the olives off and taste it. When you can taste the salt inside the olive after rinsing it off you are ready for the next step.

Place the salted olives in a colander to drain for 2-4 days. Liquid should slowly drip out of the olives. Wash again in hot water to rinse off excess salt after several days. Add 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar and 3 Tbsp. olive oil and toss. Place in zip-lock freezer bags and place in the freezer. Take them out of the freezer as needed and thaw. Toss them with a little more olive oil. Enjoy.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Roasted vegetables...easy as 1, 2, 3

Roasted vegetables are perfect for the holiday dinner table. Winter vegetables have an earthy character to them and roasting brings out the deep flavors. I roasted a medley of veggies on Thanksgiving that I thought were complementary to each other. They turned out colorful and flavorful.

These veggies are fast and easy to prepare... less than 10 minutes to get them in the oven. You can combine just about any of your favorite veggies, or roast a single vegetable if you choose.

I roasted these vegetables earlier in the day and warmed them up in the microwave just before serving them. I felt they were overcooked, but I still got compliments. I would recommend roasting them right before you serve them for optimum texture and flavor.


1 lbs. brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
4 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 red onion, cut into chunks
2 cups cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 zucchini, cut into 1" pieces
Olive oil
Garlic powder
salt and pepper, to taste
( you can also add any seasoning you like; rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place cut vegetables on a cookie sheet and drizzle olive oil over them. With fingers, toss vegetables in olive oil to cover vegetables evenly. Sprinkle with garlic, salt and pepper (or other seasonings as desired), and toss again.

Place vegetables in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until desired crispness and color is reached. Serve hot.

Serves 4-6

Friday, November 27, 2009

If life gives you lemons, make a lemon cake

It was my boss' birthday so I asked him what kind of cake he wanted. "I like lemon cake, but with a good buttercream frosting," he said. So, that's what he got.

I found this recipe in the Cake Mix Doctor's Cookbook. It's a cookbook of recipes starting with a basic cake mix, but adds a little something here and there to make it just a little different. I doctored the recipe even more than what the cake doctor called for. I hope she doesn't mind. I'll let you know if it's worth making again.


1 box yellow cake mix
1 package lemon gelatin, 3 ozs.
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup hot water
4 large eggs


4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray tube pan with vegetable oil spray, then dust with flour. Shake out excess flour. Set aside.

Place hot water in mixing bowl and sprinkle lemon gelatin over it and stir for 30 seconds. Add cake mix, oil, and eggs. Beat for 1 minute, then scrape down sides with rubber spatula. Beat 2 more minutes. The batter should look thick and well blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth top and place pan in oven.

Bake cake until it is light brown and just starts to pull away form the sides of the pan, about 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool.

With wooden spoon, mix softened cream cheese, butter, lemon juice, and powdered sugar in bowl until smooth. Add more powdered sugar or lemon juice to adjust consistency. Stir in lemon zest. Set aside.

Run a sharp knife along edge of the cake and invert it onto a serving platter. Let it cool completely. Spread frosting over the top of the cake, allowing some of it to run over the sides and run down slightly. If you have some extra lemon zest left over, sprinkle over the top.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The apple pie of my eye

I've been baking this unique version of apple pie ever since I saw it on the cover of Bon Appetit in 1993. In many ways, this pie represents our Thanksgiving holiday. The magazine article explains the recipe, and its symbolism, quite well:

"Thanks to the native Wampanoags, the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 were quickly introduced to such important New Work foods as cranberries and corn. The newcomers returned the favor by planting apples, which flourished and were soon available in many American varieties. This wonderful holiday pie, with its cornmeal crust and mixed-fruit filling, celebrates that early culinary sharing. It's a delicious combination of some of our most traditional American flavors."

This pie takes a little more time than your traditional apple pie to prepare. Cutting out the leaves for the top crust is worth the time and effort because the end result is so pretty. The crust is not a flaky crust like most of us are used to. It's a heavier crust that has a definite texture of cornmeal, but I really liked the change. The rustic flavors of this pie blend very well together.


2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
5 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, room temperature
6 tablespoons (about) buttermilk

1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
3 pounds Pippin apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1/2 cup dried currants
5 tablespoons all purpose flour

For crust:
Mix first 5 ingredients in processor. Add shortening and cut in until mixture resembles coarse meal. Blend in enough buttermilk by tablespoons to form dough that begins to clump together. Gather dough into ball; divide in half. Flatten each half into disk. Wrap each disk in plastic and chill 45 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead.)

For filling:
Position rack in lowest third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Coarsely chop cranberries with sugar and pumpkin pie spice in processor. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add apples, currants and flour and toss well.

Roll out 1 dough disk between sheets of waxed paper to 13-inch round. Peel off top sheet of paper; invert dough into 9 1/2-inch-diameter deep-dish glass pie dish. Peel off paper. Fold under overhanging dough to form double-thick edge. Crimp edge. Roll out remaining dough disk on lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch-thick round. Using 3-inch-long leaf cookie cutter, cut out leaves. Using knife, mark veins in leaves. Slightly mound filling in pie dish. Arrange leaves around edge of pie and all over top, overlapping decoratively. Brush pastry all over with buttermilk.

Place pie on baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes. Cover pie with foil and continue baking until juices bubble thickly and crust browns, about 35 minutes more. Transfer pie to rack and cool 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Creamy, dreamy cream puffs

Even though cream puffs look complicated to make, they are much easier than you’d think.

The pastry only has five ingredients; water, butter, flour, eggs and salt. The filling can either be whipped cream, pudding, or a combination of both. If I have the time, I make the pudding from scratch. If I’m in a hurry, I use Jello pudding mix and fold in Cool Whip.

All that is required for the chocolate glaze is melting chocolate chips in hot whipping cream and adding a little corn syrup. It’s all that easy!


½ cup (1 cube) butter
1 cup water
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease large cookie sheet. Melt butter in water and bring to a boil. Add all of flour at once and stir until mixture leaves sides of pan. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition until smooth. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls 3 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake in 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 300 degrees and continue baking for 40 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool.


¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
¼ tsp. salt
2 eggs
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
4 oz. Cool Whip
In a cold medium saucepan,whisk flour, sugar, and salt together until blended well. Add eggs and whisk until smooth and then mix in milk. Heat mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil and stir for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap. Cool in refrigerator. Gently stir in 1/2 of 8 oz. Cool Whip.

Cut top 1/3 of cream puff off and gently press down or remove excess dough. Fill puff with cream filling and place top back on.


½ cup whipping cream
1 cup chocolate chips
½ tsp vanilla.
1 Tbsp. corn syrup

Heat whipping cream until beginning to simmer. Remove from heat and add chocolate chips and stir until melted and smooth. Spread over filled cream puff and refrigerate until ready to serve.


If you want to do something different, you can make a ring of cream puffs. Just flour greased cookie sheet and draw a 7" ring in flour. Drop 10 mounds of cream puff batter equally around circle. Edges will be touching. Bake as directed. Cool. Cut off top 1/3 and fill with cream filling. Top with chocolate glaze.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Roasted stuffed pumpkin makes a beautiful bowl

Most women buy themselves a new outfit or a new pair of shoes when they have a little extra money at the end of the month. Anyone that knows me, knows my weakness isn't clothes or shoes, it's dishes. I don't have room to store anymore of them in my pantry or cupboards, but that doesn't always stop me.

When someone told me about using a real pumpkin as a serving bowl I was intrigued. At first I thought what a cool and unique idea. Then I realized an extra bonus... I wouldn't have to store it. When I'm done with it I can just throw it away. So, the day after Halloween I was knocking on the gate of the pumpkin patch to see if I could get some great deals on pumpkins.

I found directions for roasting a stuffed pumpkin at I made a stew in the crock pot before putting it in the pumpkin to bake, but soup, mashed potatoes, or a vegetable casserole would work well in a roasted pumpkin too. The pumpkin kept the stew warm and well insulated while the pumpkin baked to a glazed-like texture. The end result looked like a ceramic dish and made a beautiful centerpiece.


1 (8-9 lb.) pumpkin
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Soup or stew of your choice.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove top of pumpkin by cutting a circle on an angle around stem with a small sharp knife. Scrape out and discard seeds and fibers from inside pumpkin (including top)with a spoon. Do not discard top. Sprinkle inside flesh with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Place pumpkin on a large shallow roasting pan or a sturdy pizza pan. (I used a sturdy pizza pan so I wouldn't have to transfer the hot pumpkin on to something else when it came out of the oven.)

Carefully scoop hot pre-cooked soup, stew, or mashed potatoes into prepared pumpkin. Place top on pumpkin and rub outside of pumpkin with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Place a piece of foil over the stem to prevent it from charring. Place filled pumpkin in oven and roast for 45-60 minutes. It will be heavy, so be careful.

Carefully remove baked pumpkin from oven. I scattered colorful fall leaves around base of pumpkin to hide pan. Then sit back and listen to the oohs and aahs from your guests.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Beerock and roll

Since I have a hefty dose of German blood running in my veins (a long with a potpourri of other blood) I ate lots of German food growing up. Of all the German dishes my mom prepared, my all-time favorite was beerocks. Mom usually made them when we were having company, which irritated me and my siblings. That meant we would have to share them with others and there wouldn't be as many left over.

Now that I'm and adult, my daughter and I make beerocks about four times a year. That isn't as often as we would like, but that's not because we don't love them. It's because they take so much time, and we make such a mess in the kitchen.

Beerocks are a Russian-German dish of yeast bread dough filled with meat, cabbage, onions, and seasoning. The original recipe for beerocks was thought to have been brought to mid-west America by the Volga Germans in the 18th century. There are several pronunciations and spellings of the word beerock (bierrock, berrock), but most Americans don’t care how they are spelled or how it’s pronounced. They just know they love them.

There are several ways of preparing beerocks. I prefer using chopped up chuck roast that has simmered in a crock pot all day, but my family likes them better with ground chuck. The advantage of using ground chuck is that it decreases the preparation time by about 4-5 hours.

These Russian-German pockets of goodness freeze up nicely so I always make a double batch. They are so popular in my house that they never make it passed a week in the freezer, no matter how many I make.


3 loaves frozen bread dough (3 lbs. Brigeford) available at any supermarket.
2 pounds ground chuck
1 head cabbage, sliced
2 yellow onions, diced
Salt & Pepper, to taste
variations: Ground allspice, garlic, or cayenne pepper to taste.

• In a very large skillet, brown ground beef. Drain off most of fat. Add onions and saute until tender.
• Add the shredded cabbage and cook until limp.
• Add salt, pepper to cabbage mixture and let stand until cool slightly.

• Cut the frozen loaves into 6 sections each, working with one at a time.
• Roll out each section into an 6 inch circle on a well floured bread board and rolling pin. Place 2-3 tablespoons of filling onto the circle (pinching in four seams meeting in the center) and seal up well, pinching tightly so no juices can escape. Set the Beerocks on greased cookie sheet to rise again for 15-20 minutes. Place in 350 degree oven on lower rack and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until nicely browned.

• If you like a crusty beerock, spray the rolls with water just as they begin to brown. This may be repeated during the browning process.

• Serve hot.

Makes 18

Sometimes I add some 1/2-1 cup mashed potatoes (or instant potatoes) to help hold the meat and cabbage together and keep them moist.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This is not your ordinary Campbell's soup

I have so many friends that are great in the kitchen. Last month I told you I wanted to share some of their recipes and wisdom on this blog. That is what today's blog is about.

My guest chef is Cyrhen. For those of you who follow this blog, you will recognize her name. She is a frequent follower and one of my best supporters. She has been a dear friend for over a quarter of a century (kinda scary, huh). She throws fabulous dinner parties and does everything with perfection, down to the smallest detail.

I'll never forget the time she put little edible flowers in every single ice cube... or the time she ornately hand-painted a personalized wine glass for every guest. When you attend a party at Cyrhen's it's a deliciously delightful experience, and everyone goes home with a unique handmade gift of some sort. She really knows how to host a party.

Last week Cryhen was telling me about a Mexican pork soup/stew she created. Knowing her and her ability to work magic on food (or anything else she touches), I told her "I'd love to try it." So, the next day there was a bowl of pork soup waiting for me. Oh, my! It was delicious.

This recipe is a cross between a black bean and corn soup and a spicy pork stew. All of the flavors blend together so nicely. If you love the flavors of pork braised in wine, cumin, poblano chilies, and cilantro you will love this recipe.


-1 1.5-2 lb pork tri-tip (or any cut of pork you like)
-1/2 bottle of red wine
-1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
-3-4 poblano chilies*, coarsely chopped
-1-2 Jalapenos, seeded, finely chopped
-5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
-2 cans black beans
-1 bag of frozen corn ( I like Trader Joe's roasted)
-5-6 cubes of Knorr chipotle seasoning, crumbled
-Cumin (1/2- 1 tsp. or to taste)
-Cilantro, coarsely chopped ( 1/4 cup or to taste)
-Cotija Cheese

In a large crock pot, add 1/2 bottle of wine, the minced garlic and chopped onion, add pork and top with 3-4 of the Knorr chipotle seasoning cubes, cook until pork is done, but not shreddable.
Remove pork and set aside to cool slightly. Drain any fat from crock pot if necessary. To the crock pot add the chopped poblano chilies, black beans, corn, jalapeno and remaining Knorr seasoning cubes. When the pork is cool enough to handle, chop into bite sized chunks, and return to the crock pot. At this point, add water as needed to make a soup/stew broth. Cook on low until poblano chilies are tender. Add cumin and adjust seasons to taste (I added some Cayenne and a touch of garlic salt). Before serving stir in chopped cilantro (this flavor is a personal preference, but I added a lot!). Garnish individual bowls of soup with crumbled cotija cheese. ENJOY!


*Poblano chilies are also called pasilla chilies and can be found in most supermarkets.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cooking's kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you.

Halloween is a fun time to make crazy treats for kids. With the surplus of books out there filled with spooky Halloween food it's not hard to get fun and easy ideas. Calico is going to be a spider for Halloween this year so we decided to make spider cupcakes.

We used a boxed chocolate cake mix and a tub of pre-made chocolate and vanilla frosting. Easy, easy. All you have to do is prepare cupcakes following the box directions, cool, and frost. Then the fun begins.

We used a variety of candies (chocolate licorice, candy corn, chocolate sprinkles, and Necco candies) to decorate the frosted cupcakes. For the spider legs** we cut the licorice in half lengthwise and crosswise. For the eyes, we used Necco candies, but Red Hots would work well too.

We dyed some of the vanilla frosting orange just for something different. Kids love watching the white frosting turn orange with just a few drops of food coloring. Coconut can also be dyed for different effects. The possibilities are as vast as your imagination.

** For all you entomologist out there that want to be anatomically correct, put eight legs on your spider cupcakes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Calico knows how to make a great salad

Calico, my sous chef, loves to help in the kitchen. The thing is, she's amazingly great at cooking. This day was a special day because she was going to make lunch for someone very important to her, her mom.

She wanted to make a salad, so we made our grocery list and headed to the market where she selected the ingredients.

Calico knows the importance of reading all the labels to check for healthy ingredients and freshness.

When we got home she quickly got to work mixing, tasting, dripping, tasting, sloshing, and tasting. She feels it's important to taste things after each addition just to make sure it's perfect.

She doesn't stop tasting until she is satisfied with the results...or full. Whichever comes first.

A great chef knows when she needs to take a break and rest. A well-rested chef is less likely to make mistakes. We all know mistakes can leave even the greatest chefs crying on the floor in the middle of the kitchen. So, naps are very important.

After Calico's rest she is ready to serve her mom lunch. The salad she chose to make was quick and easy, and except for the cutting, she did it all herself. Not bad for a 2 1/2 year old.

Calico's mom loved the salad so much she asked her for the recipe.


2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes
5 1/2 oz. fresh mozzarella balls
2 avocados
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. coarse-grain mustard
several fresh basil leaves torn into small pieces
20 black olives
salt and pepper

Cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces and place in a large serving dish. Drain the mozzarella balls and add to tomatoes. Cut avocados flesh into bite-sized pieces and add to salad.

Mix oil and vinegar, and mustard together in a small bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle over the salad.

Sprinkle the basil and olives over the salad and serve at once.

Serves 4

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kickin' corn chowder

I love soup. When the weather starts to cool down I immediately start thinking about what soup I feel like making. Sometimes I just throw everything left over in the refrigerator in a pot with water, add a little of this and that and call it a meal. Other times I stick to a recipe.

I found this recipe years ago in an old issue of Bon Appetit. This corn chowder has become one of my go-to recipes when I want to make something special. It's a nice blend of flavors with just the right amount of spiciness.


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 large poblano chilies,* seeded, chopped
2 14 3/4- to 15-ounce cans cream-style corn
1 16-ounce package frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 14-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth
1 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Mix 2 tablespoons butter and flour in small bowl to blend; set aside.

Finely chop onion and celery in processor. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion-celery mixture and chilies; sauté until soft, about 6 minutes. Add creamed corn and next 5 ingredients; bring to boil. Reduce heat. Whisk in butter-flour mixture and simmer 15 minutes to blend flavors. Add shrimp and 4 tablespoons cilantro; simmer until shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle chowder into bowls. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro.

Yield: 12 first-course servings, or 6 main-course servings

* Fresh poblano chilies, often called pasillas; available at Latin American markets and some supermarkets.

* For a nice variation, substitute chipotle chili powder for the cayenne pepper.

* I've made it without the cream, to reduce the calories, and without the shrimp for my vegeratian friends. It was great both ways.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The aroma of chicken cacciatore fills the air.

It's said that our sense of smell can elicit stronger memories than any of our other four senses, and I believe it. For me, few things bring back the memories of childhood as vividly as the aroma of chicken cacciatore filling the kitchen.

I remember my Mom's electric skillet filled to the brim with chicken, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers. She would have it bubbling all afternoon. My siblings and I were like Pavlov's dogs salivating from the aroma, anxiously anticipating dinnertime.

My daughter's boyfriend, Cory, had this simmering on the stove when I got home from a wonderful weekend in Monterey. I'm posting his recipe, but it smelled just like Mom's. All the childhood memories flooded my senses and was the perfect ending to an incredible weekend. Thank you, Cory.


4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 large white onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell papper, seeded and chopped
1 red bell papper, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 cup mushrooms sliced
2-16 oz. cans stewed tomatoes
1/2-3/4 cup red wine (chianti preferred)
1 Tbsp. fresh basil.
salt and pepper, to taste

Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and season with salt and pepper.
Heat olive oil and brown chicken. Remove chicken and drain fat, leaving 1 Tbsp. fat in pan. Add onions and saute 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir 2 minutes. Add peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes. Return chicken to pan and add wine and fresh basil. Cover and simmer 40 minutes. Remove lid and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until liquid is reduced. Season with salt and pepper if needed. Serve over cooked rice or pasta.


If you really want to maximize your cooking experience while making chicken cacciatore, sip on a glass of chianti.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Friends are like penne from Heaven

Friends are incredible gifts, and I have been blessed with many over the years. Fortunately for me, most of these friends are incredible cooks. Put us in the same room, and we'll soon be talking about food. We even talk on the phone before we get together about the food we are going to eat when we get together. We love to prepare and eat food!

After one of our recent food conversations, I got an idea. Wouldn't it be fun to spotlight guest chefs on this blog? Most of my girlfriends know more about cooking than I do so why not share their experience and knowledge with my dear readers so we all can benefit from each other.

Today’s recipe is from a friend I played soccer with 25 years ago. Laurie and I were on a women’s team called the Goal Diggers. I was one of the worst players on the team, Laurie was one of the best. She has carried her soccer skills into the kitchen. Instead of dribbling soccer balls, she’s drizzling olive oil, and a whole lot more.

This meaty penne pasta dish is a family recipe that Laurie has tweaked in her own stylish way. Like many great cooks, she doesn’t often use printed recipes. The knowledge is in her blood and she goes by instinct. These measurements are approximate, so feel free to increase or reduce the ingredients to your liking.


2 -28 oz. cans Tomato Sauce
½ cup Red Wine
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 lb. Ground Italian Sausage
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium White Onion
4 cloves Garlic
Fresh Rosemary Sprig
Fresh Oregano Sprigs
1 lb. Penne pasta

Brown beef and sausage in a frying pan, drain fat, and set aside.

Mince onion finely in food processor

Saute minced onion and chopped garlic in olive oil. Once onion is translucent, add tomato sauce, stir to mix. Add desired amount of red wine, salt and pepper. Add browned beef and sausage. Add whole sprigs of rosemary and oregano. Cook on low heat for 2-3 hours. Sauce always tastes better heated up so I usually prepare the night before, let cool in fridge overnight, then put back on the stove the next day. Prepare penne pasta al dente. Before mixing sauce with pasta, pull out the herb sprigs.

Serves a crowd.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bundle green beans for flavor and style

Beans, beans, the magical fruit... You know the rest from that old schoolyard rhyme. So green beans are our recipe of choice today.

Beans are a fruit, according to the botanists, because beans bear seeds. The same goes for avocados and tomatoes. But in 1893 The U.S. Supreme Court decided that the tomato was a vegetable since it wasn't sweet. It took a Supreme court decision to determine this? Justice Gray also declared that cucumbers, squash, peas, and beans are vegetables.

The distinction was necessary so the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans could be established. You know... the RDA suggestions of three to five vegetables and two to four fruits a day.

This green bean recipe meets one of those daily requirements. My lovely daughter-in-law, Nessie, served these at a holiday dinner two years ago and they have since become a family tradition. We served them the other night and guests are still raving about them. I think you will, too.

They make a gorgeous presentation, as you can see in the photo above.


1 lb. fresh green beans
olive oil
salt and pepper
bacon, raw

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Blanch green beans for 3 minutes. Toss them in olive oil and salt and pepper. Bundle 10 (+or-) together and wrap 1/2 piece of bacon around bundle. Place in roasting pan and cook 10-20 minutes or until bacon is cooked.

For a variation I sometimes add dried basil or tarragon with the salt and pepper.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Best flank...point-blank

Flank steak is my go-to recipe when I’m having a crowd and want to serve something tasty and easy.

Flank steak is commonly used to make fajitas in Mexico and stir-fry beef in Chinese cooking and other Asian cuisine. It is a thin, flat strip of beef that is generally tougher than other cuts and requires methods of cooking and preparation that maintain moisture, such as braising, or marinating overnight. Because of its toughness it is best cut in thin strips across the grain when serving.

I still remember the day I first tasted this recipe, over 40 years ago. I was 12 years and on vacation visiting family in Salt Lake City, Utah. I remember the wonderful flavor and how tender the meat was (and the fact that we got to play on a slip-and-slide placed on the side of a steep grassy hill that caused us to continue to slide 30 feet beyond the end of the yellow plastic strip). Those were fun times.

This recipe requires the flank steak to marinate overnight, which contributes to the tenderness and flavor. When it comes time to barbecue all you have to do is take it out of the marinade and throw it on the grill.


1 flank steak, about 1.5 lbs.
Meat tenderizer

¼ cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp. warmed honey
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 ½ tsp. garlic powder
1 ½ tsp. ground ginger
¾ cup oil
1 finely chopped onion
1 tsp. freshly cracked pepper

Sprinkle flank steak generously with meat tenderizer and stab tenderizer into meat with a fork. Repeat on other side. Place flank steak in a large Ziploc freezer baggie.

Combine all of the ingredients of marinade and pour over flank steak in baggie, allowing marinade to cover all surfaces. Refrigerate overnight, Turn the bag over in the morning so marinade can soak into other side of meat throughout the day.

Remove flank steak from baggie and place on a hot grill and barbecue 5-6 minutes per side for medium doneness. Slice ½ inch thick against the grain on a slight diagonal. Serve immediately.


Serve over a bed of pilaf with a glass or two of Armida pinot noir.

Pray for leftovers, because this makes the best leftover steak sandwich in the world. Or, place some strips on top of your favorite salad greens. I usually double the recipe to insure I have some for tomorrow.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Is it a pie or a cake?

You want dessert, but you can’t decide if you want cake or pie, vanilla or chocolate. Well, Boston cream pie has it all! This recipe has vanilla cake layers, a chocolate cake layer, and a vanilla cream filling. To top it off, it’s drizzled with a rich chocolate glaze.

This dessert will satisfy your cake/pie/chocolate/vanilla craving with one bite. But one bite won't be enough.


1 yellow cake mix
1 1/3 cups water
1/3 cup oil
3 eggs
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder

¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
¼ tsp. salt
2 whole eggs
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 Tbsp light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two round 9” cake pans and set aside. Mix cake mix with water, oil, and eggs as directed on the cake mix box. Pour 2/3 of cake batter into one pan. Add 2 Tbsp cocoa powder to the remaining cake batter still in bowl. Pour into other round cake pan. Place both round pans in oven and bake as directed on box, except the chocolate layer will require about 5 minutes less time than recommended and the vanilla layer will require about 5 minutes more time than recommended. Cake is done if toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cake cool.

In saucepan mix sugar, flour, and salt together. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and stir until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk remaining ½ cup milk with eggs until smooth. Add to saucepan and whisk constantly until thick and bubbling. Stir for 2 more minutes, then remove from heat. Add vanilla and butter. Place plastic wrap directly on filling to prevent skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool. (if you prefer, you can use some packaged vanilla pudding mix instead of making the filling from scratch, Follow directions on the box, but add 2 Tbsp. more milk than called for, and 1/2 tsp vanilla).

Warm whipping cream, corn syrup, and chocolate chips over low heat until melted and smooth.

Remove vanilla cake layer from pan and split it into two even layers. Place bottom half, cut side up, on cake platter and top with half of cooled cream filling, smoothing evenly to edges. Cut off top of chocolate layer to make bottom layer flat and about ¾” thick. Discard top part of chocolate layer (or, just eat it). Place the chocolate layer on top of filling. Top with the rest of cream filling and smooth to edges. Place last vanilla layer on top of filling and press slightly to stabilize layers. Chill cake for 15-20 minutes. Pour warm glaze over cake, smoothing it to edges. It’s OK for it to drip down the sides.

Serves 12

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The making of taralli...a dying art

I was invited to spend Sunday morning at my Italian relative’s home. I'm not related to this family by blood, but by a long history of friendship between our families that has spanned over half a century. They were going to make taralli, and asked me to join them. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to witness this old Italian tradition.

Taralli is a cross between a pretzel, a cookie, and a biscuit. It was first introduced many centuries ago in the Puglia Region of Italy. It gets it’s unique flavor from a combination of flour, white wine, olive oil, and anise or fennel seeds.

Making taralli is not an easy undertaking. It takes time, patience, experience, and the cooperation of many hands working together. Great-grandpa Nick was the head chef and did the vast majority of the work, but the rest of the family was quick to jump in to help when needed, or to banter back and forth to keep things moving along.

There seemed to be an unspoken understanding in the kitchen while Nick worked… he was teaching his family how to carry on this beautiful cultural tradition. While watching this labor of love, I realized I was witnessing the passing of the torch. I think everyone sensed it because even amid all the ribbing, there was a reverence and respect for Nick, the tradition, the knowledge, and the job at hand. It was beautiful, and I feel blessed to have witnessed it.


2 tsp. dried yeast
1/2 cup white wine, warmed
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 cups LaPina flour
1 Tbsp. crushed anise (or fennel)
2 tsp. salt

Stir yeast and ½ tsp. sugar into ¾ cup warm water (110 degrees) and let stand until dissolved. Stir to mix.

In a large bowl stir together flour, crushed anise, and salt. Add remaining water, wine, oil and yeast mixture and stir until soft dough is formed. Place on a floured surface and knead until elastic. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.

Divide dough into small pieces. Roll a piece into a long strip, about the thickness of your middle finger. Cut into lengths of 7-inches and cross the 2 ends over and press loop together gently with a quick tap. The taralli should be in the shape of the pink breast cancer bow.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cover oven racks with chicken-wire to prevent taralli from falling through racks. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, over medium high heat. Add the taralli, a few at a time. When they rise to the top, remove with a slotted spoon and place them on a clean counter or cookie sheet to dry slightly. Repeat with rest of taralli. After 10-15 minutes, turn the taralli over on dry surface to allow them to dry on the other side.

Place boiled and dry taralli on chicken-wire covered oven rack and place in preheated 375 degree oven. Bake until golden and crisp, about 40 minutes.

Let them cool gradually. Serve at room temp.


Taralli is great when served with a salad or soup. But the flavor of taralli is at it's absolute peak when paired with a glass of pinot grigio and shared with friends that feel like family.