Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

My kitty, Audrey, likes Halloween, too!

Today, I'm giving you the most delicious soup recipe! It is great on a chilly day, like Halloween! Fresh vegetables, fresh herbs, a hint of crushed red pepper, and awesome homemade croutons really make it sing. Even my carnivore husband loves it!

(Oops! I forgot the fried sage leaves in the picture!)

Superb Squash Soup with the Best Parmesan Croutons

Serves 8, great leftover for lunch!


For the soup:
Olive oil, like WeOlive oil
16 fresh sage leaves
2 red onions, peeled and chopped
2 sticks celery, trimmed and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 1/4 pounds butternut squash, onion squash, or musque de Provence, halved, deseeded and cut into chunks
2 quarts good-quality chicken or vegetable stock

For the croutons:
Extra-virgin olive oil
16 slices ciabatta bread
1 chunk Parmesan, for grating


In a very large saucepan on medium heat, add a couple glugs of olive oil. Add the sage leaves and fry for around 30 seconds or until dark green and crisp. Quickly remove them with a slotted spoon to a bowl lined with paper towels - you'll use these for sprinkling over the soup at the end. In the pan you'll be left with a beautiful flavored oil.

Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary, chile  and a good pinch of salt and pepper to the pan. Cook gently, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are sweet and soft.

Add the squash and the stock to the pan, bring to a boil and simmer for around 30 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, make the croutons. Drizzle a little olive oil over the ciabatta slices, and press some grated Parmesan onto each side. Place in a non-stick pan, without any oil, and fry until golden on both sides.

When the squash is soft and cooked through, remove the rosemary sprigs and whiz the soup with an immersion blender or standard blender and pulse until you have a smooth puree. (Be careful when blending hot liquids.) Most importantly, remember to taste and season it until it's perfect. Divide the soup between your bowls, placing 2 croutons on top of each. Sprinkle with a few of your crispy sage leaves and drizzle with a swirl of good-quality olive oil.

Recipe adapted from "Jamie at Home" by Jamie Oliver.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I Believe!!!

*I do not own the copyrights to the following videos or music. The videos are from, courtesy of Fox and KMOX, and the music is "Dark Horses" by Switchfoot, from their album "Vice Verses."*

Thanks to zsisgreat, whoever you are!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Olive Oil Tasting? YES!!!

I'm very familiar with wine tasting, but olive oil tasting? Never, until now! During my recent jaunt to California, I was encouraged to visit WeOlive in San Luis Obispo. They were more than delighted to offer me an olive oil tasting of various Californian olive oils. It was an eye-opening experience to realize the dynamic diversity of various olive oils. In my euphoria, I dropped a pretty penny on four bottles, which WeOlive was more than happy to ship to my home. Some of their products are available online, if you feel the urge.

Well, with my spanking new bottles of premium, high-quality olive oil, fresh from California, I was inspired to make Joanne Weir's recipe for "Feta Preserved in Fruity Virgin Olive Oil with Summer Herbs". Preserving feta this way transforms it into a firmer, more flavorful cheese, great enjoyed with crusty bread, olives, roasted peppers, and capers. I also couldn't resist adding a bow to show that it makes a great gift!

Feta Preserved in Fruity Virgin Olive Oil with Summer Herbs

Serves 6


3 sprigs fresh oregano
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs savory (optional)
3/4 pound feta cheese
extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs rosemary, for garnish


With the spine of a chef's knife, tap the herb sprigs gently to bruise the stems slightly.

Warm 1 cup of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the herbs and heat just until the herbs sizzle, 30 to 60 seconds. Do not boil the oil! Remove from the heat and let cool.

Place half the herbs and olive oil in a 1-pint jar. Cut the feta to fit into the jar. Add the remaining herbs and oil to the jar. Add enough additional oil to cover the feta completely. Cover the jar and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 weeks.

To serve, bring the feta to room temperature and place on a platter. Discard the herb sprigs. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the oil over the cheese. Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs, garnish with rosemary sprigs, and serve.

Recipe by Joanne Weir, Weir Cooking: Recipes From The Wine Country.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's NOT Rice-A-Roni!

I don't know who those people are, but Rice-A-Roni is NOT the San Francisco treat, it's Cioppino! Cioppino (chip-pee-no) is a seafood laden stew developed by Portuguese and Italian fishermen who settled in San Francisco in the late 1800s. Supposedly, the fishermen would "chip in" portions of their daily catch to create this regional dish. I found this spicy tomato based stew on menus everywhere in California, so I gave it a try.  It was delicious and began to search for the perfect recipe. There are tons of versions, some use fennel, some use Pernod (that anise flavored liquor), some used green bell peppers, some used white wine, and some used red.  How to choose? Well, since this is my first attempt, I decided to use the most basic version I could find. (I'm sure that's how they did it originally.) I did read that, as long as it contains dungeness crab and is served with sourdough bread, you cannot make a bad cioppino! So here goes:

(Mussels would probably look more beautiful!)


Serves 6


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 cup onion, diced
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups white wine (Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc)
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 can (28 oz) tomato puree or tomato sauce
2 cups water, clam juice, fish or seafood stock, plus more as needed to adjust thickness
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
5-6 thin slices of lemon
8 oz fresh halibut, cod, salmon, cut into 1-inch pieces or any other white fish
1 cooked Dungeness crab (about 2 lbs), cracked and cleaned, or 1 lb frozen crabmeat thawed (I couldn't find Dungeness, so I used King crab)
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb fresh clams or mussels (I used little neck clams)
8 oz fresh sea or bay scallops
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (Italian parsley, basil, and/or tarragon)
1 loaf sourdough bread (to serve)


In a large pot or dutch oven, over medium, medium-low heat, add the olive oil and butter. Add the onion, celery, and a pinch of salt. Saute until translucent, but not brown, about 6-7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Next add the wine and bring to a simmer. Then throw in the bay leaf, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir and add the tomato puree (or whatever you're using) and 1 cup of the stock/water/fish/clam juice. Raise the heat to medium and bring to a boil, turn heat to low and simmer for about 35 minutes. If it looks too thick, you can thin it out with an additional 1 cup of water or stock, if you wish.

Now taste it to see if it needs any additional salt. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the lemon slices and white fish, bring to a simmer. Next add the crab and shrimp. Stir and add the clams or mussels and scallops. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes or so. (You'll know when it's done when the clam or mussel shells are opened.) Discard any unopened clams or mussels - don't eat them! Add the fresh herbs and taste for salt, pepper, and additional red pepper flakes, to taste. Serve with a crusty sourdough loaf.

Few! I did it! That wasn't hard! How did it turn out? Well, like I read, you can't make a bad cioppino! Delicious! Try it! Use whatever seafood you like!

Recipe adapted from Chef John of

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

So Many Wines, So Little Time

Continuing my brief excursion through the California Central Coast, I visited the Edna Valley Vineyard in San Luis Obispo. I strongly recommend you check out their website at It really is a beautiful setting! Anyway, we sauntered into the Tasting Room to partake in a wine tasting! We got to try 6 varieties. (I really liked their 2009 Fleur de Edna Chardonnay.) It was really fun! If you ever get a chance to go, I definitely recommend it!

All those grapes got me thinking about Laura Calder's "Wine Jelly with Grapes." This unusual dessert is definitely eye-catching and truly delicious! It calls for dry white wine or sparkling wine, so I used my favorite, champagne! It is a sophisticated dessert, for adults only! 

Wine Jelly with Grapes

Serves 6


1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons water
1 cup/200 g sugar
2 cups/500 ml dry white or sparkling wine
About 15 ounces/420 g small, seedless red and green grapes
3/4 cup/175 ml heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar, more to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or Cognac


Stir the gelatin into 2 tablespoons of water and set aside to soften. Put the sugar and wine in a saucepan and heat to dissolve the sugar. Do not boil. Remove the wine from the heat and whisk in the gelatin until completely dissolved. Cool.

Arrange the grapes in 6 ramekins or tea cups. Pour over the wine mixture. Cover and chill several hours to set. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the molds and dip the bottoms into hot water for a few seconds, then invert onto serving plates.

In a bowl, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and flavoring to serve alongside.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Magnificent Hearst Castle

I've been running around the California Central Coast and was lucky enough to tour the Hearst Castle! This amazing place, nestled in the hills of San Simeon with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, is part of the California State Park system. In 1919, William Randolph Hearst, son of a wealthy miner, began construction with famed architect Julia Morgan to build his dream home. By 1947, they had created an estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways. The main house, "Casa Grande", along with three guest houses were designed in a Mediterranean Revival style, inspired by a Spanish cathedral. The estate is filled with European and Mediterranean art and antiques. Here are a few of my pictures:

Casa Grande!

The Dining Room!

Place settings in the dining room; apparently,
Hearst really liked Del Monte "Catsup" and French's mustard!

The Neptune Pool!

One of many breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean;
which, should be enjoyed with my favorite cocktail:



One bottle of your favorite champagne


Poor into a nice champagne flute, pretend this is your home, and enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Those Sexy Spears

In honor of my brother-in-law's wedding, I'm going to share my most favorite pizza recipe - Asparagus, Prosciutto, and Truffle Oil Pizza. It may sound odd, but it is AMAZING! Asparagus has been long known as an aphrodisiac. In fact, it is rumored that French lovers dined on three courses of it the night before their wedding!  Did I mention that my husband goes crazy for this, too! (Wink, Wink!) Make it and let me know! Congratulations, Matt and Lindsay!!!

Asparagus, Prosciutto, and Truffle Oil Pizza

Makes 1 large pizza.


1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 - 10 asparagus spears, ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces on the diagonal
3/4 cup coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup coarsely grated fontina cheese
6 paper-thin slices prosciutto, cut into 1-inch strips
1 - 2 tablespoons truffle oil (not optional)


Prepare pizza dough. Combine the garlic and olive oil and let stand for 30 minutes. In a bowl, combine the fontina and mozzarella. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender, 3-4 minutes. Drain and cool. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with rack on the lowest setting. When the dough is ready, roll it out as thick or thin as you like it. Place it on an oiled baking sheet. Brush the dough with the garlic-infused oil. Sprinkle the cheese over the dough. Top with the prosciutto and asparagus. Bake according to My Basic Pizza Dough instructions. When done, drizzle with truffle oil. A glass of white wine makes this even more romantic!

Recipe adapted from Joanne Weir's, Weir Cooking: Recipes From The Wine Country.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Knead Dough?

Pizza dough? I make pizza at least once a week. It's fun and I find it useful to get rid of those pesky leftovers. First things first, YOU NEED TO MAKE THE DOUGH! I've tried tons of recipes from Lynn Rossetto Kasper to Mario Batali, but I always find myself going back to my old standby, my basic pizza dough. It's easy and delicious. I used to swear by my pizza stone, but I've abandoned it and adopted Lynn Rossetto Kasper's method of using baking sheets.  It's easier to handle and really does make a better crust. Give this dough a try and I promise you'll do it again!

My Basic Pizza Dough:

Makes 2 large pizzas, (or in my house, 1 large for me and my husband, and two small personal pizzas for my kids)


3/4 cup hot water, about 100 degrees (my hot tap water is hot enough)
2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast 
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (or "00" flour, if you're lucky enough to find it)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for oiling


First mix the water, yeast, and honey in a small bowl or measuring cup. It should get foamy on top. If it doesn't, throw it out and buy new yeast. 

In an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, (this can be done by hand if you don't have one), dump in the flour and salt. Pour in the yeast/honey/water mixture and olive oil and mix until it pulls away from the bowl. Depending on the humidity, you may need to add a little water if it looks dry. You want the dough moist and slightly sticky.

Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 5 minutes. (It's good for your arms.)  Place the dough in a large, lightly olive oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area for 45 minutes to an hour, or until doubled in size.  (If you're not ready to make the pizzas, the dough can be held here for hours.)

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and set the rack as low as possible in the oven.  Punch down the dough and divide in half.  Knead each half a minute and shape into balls.  Cover with a kitchen towel.  Let rest for about 20 minutes.

Next, oil two baking sheets. Using a rolling pin, roll out each pizza dough. (You can make it thin or thick, however you like it.)  Place each pizza on a baking sheet and top as desired.

Finally, bake each pizza for about 8-10 minutes. Now using an oven mitt and spatula, slide the pizza off the baking sheet and directly on the oven rack. Bake for 1-2 minutes. Remove the pizza by sliding the baking sheet under it and then slide the pizza onto a cutting board. You're done!  Time to eat!!!

Keep checking my blog, I'm going to share my favorite pizza recipes!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Disco Apache

Roasted potatoes are delicious, but they don't add much pizazz to your plate. If you're serving your potatoes with, say roasted chicken, the plate looks as bland and appealing as this:

Instead, make these beautiful roasted vegetables from Laura Calder's French Taste. I like the contrast of colors and textures. It really takes your plate from blah to fantastic! Oh, and they taste great, too!

Roasted Vegetables:

Serves 6


6 small potatoes, peeled and cut into medium wedges
4 carrots, cut in half crosswise, then halved lengthwise
3 leeks, trimmed and cut into logs
2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 bay leaves
1 branch of rosemary, cut in three


Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread over a baking sheet. Cut the butter into little pieces, and scatter over top. Tuck in the herbs. Bake until tender and slightly caramelized, about an hour, tossing occasionally.

*Don't forget to remove the bay leaves before serving!