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