Thursday, July 30, 2009

What wine should I serve with this incredible meal?

We've discussed how best to match wines with what you’re serving and it often comes down to individual tastes. But there are some general guidelines that are helpful. I offer these from the Web site of the California Winery Advisor:

"Match rich foods with rich full-bodied wines; sweet foods need a sweet wine; salty foods need a strong, fruit forward wine for balance; fish needs a medium-bodied wine for balance; poultry can thrive with many a bottle; Spicy & Hot foods enjoy the company of lightly sweet, fruity wines with low tannins."

This site goes into much more detail and I would suggest that you make it one of your Favorites because it is an excellent reference guide that you can keep going back to. So click here to go to the site.

This site also lists all the California wine regions, and has extensive information on all the wineries, tours, tastings and wine-country recipes.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Who says KFC is the only finger-licking-good chicken?

Yesterday was a glorious day. My second grandchild, Zoe, came home from the hospital. I offered to make dinner for my son and his wife on their first night home with Zoe. When I asked what they wanted for dinner my son quickly yelled, "Sticky chicken"!

This recipe for sticky chicken came from my mom and was originally called "Brandied Chicken Wings," but when my daughter was 4 years old she continually called it "sticky chicken." The new name stuck to the very sticky chicken.

The original recipe called for chicken wings, which is OK if you are making an appetizer. But chicken legs work much better if you are using it as a main dish.


3-4 lbs. chicken legs
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white wine
4 green onions, green and white parts chopped

Serves 4-5

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, F. Spray 9 x 13 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place chicken legs in a single layer in pan. Mix soy sauce, brown sugar, and wine together and pour over chicken. Sprinkle green onions over chicken and bake in oven for 35 minutes. Turn chicken pieces over in sauce and bake for another 35 minutes, or until soy mixture has thickened and chicken is browned.

These legs are great hot but can also be served cold.

Hopefully, Zoe, eventually will enjoy them as much as the rest of her family does.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sometimes entertaining is simple

There are times when cooking an extravagant meal isn't the right choice. Like the time recently when I was in Pismo Beach. All I needed was a glass of wine and the tallest sand dune on the beach.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rich and gooey Molten Lava Cakes

I came across this fabulous recipe many years ago in an issue of Bon Apetit. It is delicious, easy and impressive. If you like rich gooey chocolate desserts, you will love this gem. I usually make the batter earlier in the day or the day before and refrigerate it. Then I can visit with my friends up until the time the cakes go in the oven.


5 oz.(3/4 cup) bittersweet(not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup all lpurpose flour

Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Butter six 3/4 cup custard cups and dust them well with granulated sugar. Stir chocolate and butter in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted. Cool slightly.

Whisk eggs and egg yolks in large bowl to blend. Whisk in sugar, then chocolate mixture and flour. Pour batter into custard cups, dividing equally.

Bake cakes on cookie sheet until sides are set but center remains soft and runny, about 11 minutes or up to 14 minutes for batter that was refrigerated.

Run knife around hot cakes to loosen and immediately turn cakes out onto plates. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream. Enjoy.

serves 6

I usually wear heavy rubber gloves when turning cakes onto plates to keep from burning myself. It works well to place plate upside-down over custard cup and turn over to shake cake out.

Don't let cakes sit in custard cups too long because they will continue to cook, making them less gooey. Gooey is good. The hardest part about this recipe is judging the time. Since ovens vary slightly, you just have to experiment. If you want it even more rich, add a teaspoon of espresso powder disolved in one teaspoon of hot water, and add a teaspoon of vanilla. Mix these into the melted chocolate.

This goes great with a Ficklin tawny port.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summertime and the farmers market is easy

We're coming up on the weekend and that's a good time to visit one of the many farmers markets in the bountiful San Joaquin Valley. We're so fortunate to have access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that come directly from the farm. This, after all, is the most productive farmland in the world, and it's in our backyard. Take advantage of it.

One of my favorite farmers markets is the Vineyard at Blackstone and Shaw Avenues in Fresno, which is open on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. But I also like the Friday night farmers market in Old Town Clovis and the downtown Fresno market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Sometimes I go to a farmers market with a shopping list, but other times I just pick up what looks appealing and interesting. It's also a special treat to learn about produce I'm not familiar with, such as that offered by Southeast Asian farmers who have begun frequenting the farmers markets in the San Joaquin Valley. They are always willing to give suggestions on ways to prepare their unique vegetables.

At farmers markets, you can get anything you want, sort of like going to Alice's Restaurant. But there's also the traditional fare. Last week I picked up some fresh mushrooms and red onions for a special sandwich.

I sliced up the mushrooms and onions and threw them in a pan with a little olive oil and minced garlic. Oh, did this concoction ever smell devine, and I couldn't wait to taste it. I sauteed this all together until the ingredients were soft. I poured in a little red wine, a dash of salt and some freshly cracked pepper, and let it all cook down for about 10 minutes.

I toasted some French bread and melted jack cheese on top, and then piled the sandwich high with the onion-mushroom mix. It was a great vegetarian meal. Simple to prepare and inexpensive. Best of all, it was yummy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Alton Brown is my favorite celebrity chef

Like many of you, I’m a fan of Alton Brown, who we see regularly on “Good Eats” on the Food Network. I especially like the way he incorporates chemistry and the science of cooking into his shows. He’s been called the “Mr. Wizard” of cooking, and often uses interesting camera angles to explain how things cook. It’s a quirky but fun show that has me hooked.

On a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I got a chance to meet Alton and have my pictured taken with him at a book signing. Here’s the photo from that event. Alton, we’re on a first-name basis, appears every May at the Aquarium’s “Cooking for Solutions” gala.

When we saw him, he even put on scuba gear and ventured into the giant kelp tank in the Aquarium to give one of his lessons. His biography says he did his first scuba dive at age 12 in the Bahamas, and was introduced to the oceans by watching episodes of Jacques Cousteau.

Good Eats is celebrating its 10th anniversary and the Food Network and Alton Brown are planning a special show to mark this special anniversary. The taping is Aug. 29 and six lucky people can win a drawing to be part of the show, which is being taped in Atlanta.

I wanted to share this experience with you and wonder what food shows you like. There are a number of good ones on the Food Network. My family likes “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,”although it bugs us when host Guy Fieri wears his sunglasses backwards on his head. Can't he just take them off or put them in his pocket?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Being creative with tomatoes

Since I am on a tomato kick I must share another fresh tomato recipe. A while back Carla, a friend and co-worker, showed me a cookbook she picked up on an Alaskan cruise with a picture of a wonderful salad built in a hollowed-out tomato. It looked so elegant and fun that I had to try creating my own.

I found some long skinny mushrooms at the local farmers market that added contrast and added sliced orange bell peppers. What I found was using leafy vegetables with different colors.....dark green, light green, purple...made the tomato boats more appetizing. The more color, the better. I used several tongs of spring mixed greens along with one head of leafy lettuce. You won't need a large quantity of lettuce, just a variety of greens with different textures.


6 medium ripe tomatoes, home-grown if possible
Variety of colorful lettuce with different textures and stalk heights
1 orange bell pepper, cleaned and sliced in long strips
1 handful fresh green beans, cleaned and briefly parboiled
12 asparagus spears, briefly parboiled
small bunch of enoki mushrooms, if available.
1 bottle Ken's Lite Accent spray on balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing
Fresh cracked pepper
Shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired

Hollow out one tomato with a 2 1/2 to 3 inch opening cutting straight down sides, leaving the walls thick for support but not cutting through the bottom. If the opening is too big the ingredients will not stand upright, so experiment with one before you cut all 6 tomatoes. Spritz inside of all tomatoes well with dressing and lightly salt inside before you stuff them. Stuff the taller leafy greens in the back and work forward with other ingredients, balancing colors and weight as needed. Tomato boats can be assembled earlier in the day and refrigerated in large deep covered dish. Spritz well with dressing immediately before serving. Top with cracked pepper and shredded parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve with knife and fork.

When using freshly picked vegetables with lots of flavor I prefer to not use too much dressing as it drowns out the fresh clean flavors of ripe produce, but most people prefer more dressing than I do, so be generous with the spritzing and have more available on the table.

Serves 6

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Nothing beats home-grown tomatoes

My garden is producing like crazy this week due to the 100-plus temperatures in California's San Joaquin Valley. My tomatoes are especially plentiful and delicious this season. Nothing beats a tomato that has been allowed to fully ripen on the vine. There is a sweetness and redness to home-grown tomatoes that is unmatched in store-bought varieties.

With the abundance of backyard tomatoes this year, I've had to get busy finding ways to use them. One of my favorite ways of serving vine-ripened tomatoes is in this easy and fresh-tasting Caprese dish.


2-3 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 - 8 oz. tub whole milk fresh mozzarella cheese balls (found at Trader Joe's or many grocery
stores), sliced 1/3 inches thick.

8-10 fresh basil leaves, cut in thin strips.

Olive oil

Balsamic Vinegar

Fresh cracked pepper and salt to taste.

Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick and place two slices in single layers on individual salad plates. Top each tomato with a slice of mozzerella cheese and sprinkle with strips of basil. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top. Sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper and salt. Garnish with sprigs of basil, if you desire.

Friday, July 17, 2009

There's great joy in cooking, entertaining and sharing

With this first posting, I'm going off on a new adventure and writing about my passion for cooking and entertaining. I want to share some of my recipe successes and even failures so that we can learn from kitchen disasters. I hope to make this a community conversation on this subject and hope you will join with me in offering your pearls of wisdom.

For me, cooking is fun, therapy and a creative outlet. I like to experience flavors, colors, textures in my cooking. It gives me joy to share all this with my friends, and I hope to make many new friends through this blog. I have many friends who are great cooks and I plan to share some of their experiences in this blog.

Feeding those we love is one of the basic things that women do. It's in our genes. That's why entertaining has to be part of the equation. We love to cook and we love to share that cooking with others. So we'll be talking a lot about how to entertain.

I love baking (probably because I like sugar so much), but I like all forms of cooking. So we'll discuss everything that relates to cooking and the cooking experience. I live in the San Joaquin Valley of California, which is the most productive farmland in the world. I expect that I will be talking often about using locally grown products in my cooking. I also have a vegetable garden and that will be part of our discussion.

This is going to be exciting. Join with me in this experiment. I think it is going to be a lot of fun.