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.