Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life


I hope you and your family are having an awesome Retro Christmas! If by chance you find little hands that are in need of an activity, and a gingerbread house is too ambitious, make a sugar castle instead! Buy a couple packages of sugar cubes and a container of white frosting. Fill some sandwich bags with some of the frosting, snip off a tip and let them build! A candle in the center makes a creative centerpiece! This castle is complete with snowmen from past school art projects, (notice the French snowman on the right, complete with a beret! Ha! Ha!), what could be better???

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read my blog, and I hope you and yours the merriest Christmas of all!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Love-Sick Boy and Moldy Cheese!

Roquefort cheese, a sheep milk blue cheese from the south of France, is considered one of the world's finest cheeses. Roquefort was first mentioned by Pliny the Elder (Roman author, naturalist, and philosopher) in 79 A.D., and is made exclusively from the milk of the red Lacaune, the Manech and the Basco-Bearnaise breeds of sheep that graze on the plateau of Rouergue, Causses in the Aveyron. By European law, the cheese must be aged in the natural Combalou caves of Rouquefort-sur-Soulzon. Legend has it that the cheese was discovered by a love-sick boy, who abandoned his lunch of bread and cheese in the caves, to meet a beautiful girl he saw in the distance. After returning to the caves a few months later, he found his plain cheese had transformed into Roquefort. Of course it would be a boy who would taste moldy cheese after months of rotting in a cave!

Roquefort is wonderful paired with fruit, nuts, and honey. Try this "Roasted Pear Salad," from My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking, by John Besh. This spectacular salad made with roasted pears, blue cheese, endive, honey, and pecans is my new winter favorite! It is so delicious, everyone goes crazy for it! This salad will definitely be gracing my Christmas table!

Roasted Pear Salad

Serves 8

For the pears
4 ripe pears, halved and cored
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar

For the vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pecan oil (walnut oil works well, too!)
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Creole mustard (I use regular mustard, e.g., Grey Poupon.)
1 shallot, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad
5 heads Belgian endive, cored and leaves separated
2 large handfuls mixed bitter green leaves
2 cups blue cheese, crumbled into chunks (I prefer Roquefort!)
1/2 cup pecans, toasted (walnuts would work well, too.)

For the pears
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl, drizzle the pears with the olive oil, sprinkle with the sugar and salt, and toss to coat well. Transfer the pears to a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. (It took my pears 20 minutes.) Allow the pears to cool. Set aside.

For the vinaigrette
Whisk together the olive oil, pecan oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, and shallots in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the salad
Combine the endive leaves and bitter greens in a large serving bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss to coat well. Wait until just before serving to top with the pears, blue cheese, and pecans.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" and an Outstanding Coffee Cake!

Don't ask me why, but every time I make this "Cranberry Pear Coffee Cake," it always makes me think of "a partridge in a pear tree," from "The Twelve Days of Christmas." I read an interesting article by a man simply known as Chuck, who apparently did a lot of research regarding the origins and meaning of the song. I'll try to simplify what I read: "The Twelve Days of Christmas" evolved out of the popular culture of the Middle Ages and Tudor England, and is believed to be of French origin. It was sung and altered for over two centuries before finally being published to the version we know now. There is some belief that the song is littered with Christian symbolism (e.g., the partridge in a pear tree symbolic to Christ on the cross) to secretly teach children the faith when Catholicism was illegal in England. However, during the holiday season, beginning on Christmas Day, elaborate feasts, dancing, music, and partying were a big part of the holiday. Birds in particular were the preferred entree at that time, explaining why the first seven stanzas of the song involve different types of birds. I'll break down the song now:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree. - partridges and pears common in England during the holidays, popular main course;
On the second day...., two turtle doves, - symbol for love and peace, given to be pets and show admiration;
On the third day...., three French hens, - reference to three main varieties of French chickens at the time (remember French origin), the Crevecoeur, Houdans, and the La Fleche, I'm sure all quite tasty;
On the fourth day...., four calling birds, - reference to "colly" or "collie" birds, (aka., blackbirds) which were plentiful and common food at the time;
On the fifth day...., five golden rings, - reference to ring-necked pheasants, (aka., golden birds) usually served to nobility at that time;
On the sixth day...., six geese a-laying, - common barnyard fowl at the time, kept to slaughter or collect eggs, and is still a traditional Christmas entree;
On the seventh day...., seven swans a-swimming, - associated with royalty and even eaten by royalty, in fact, by law (The Act of Swans, passed in 1482) any unmarked swans (nicks in the bill) were automatically property of the crown;
On the eighth day...., eight maids a-milking, - basically, code for "a roll in the hay" with an unmarried  maiden. They had to find a husband somehow!;
On the ninth day...., nine ladies dancing, - reference to noble ladies tearing up the dance floor;
On the tenth day...., ten lords a-leaping, - reference to leaping dancers (called morris dancers) who performed leaping dances between courses;
On the eleventh day...., eleven pipers piping, - common professional musicians at the time, not only in Scotland, but in England and France as well; and finally,
On the twelfth day...., twelve drummers drumming, - on the last day of the Christmas celebrations, known as the Twelfth Night, drummers were used in combination with trumpets, to announce the serving of the next course, especially the final dessert of "Kings' Cake," still made for Mardi Gras in the US.

So, now you can sing the song and actually know what it means while you make this exceptional coffee cake, loaded with tangy cranberries, sweet pear, and finished with a brown sugar topping! Perfect for early holiday mornings (kids!!!) along a nice strong cup of coffee!

Cranberry Pear Coffee Cake

Serves 6-8, *You will need a food processor for this recipe!

For the topping
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
1 firm ripe pear, cored

For the cake
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 8 or 9" round cake pan.

For the topping
Process the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter in a food processor until crumbly, about 10 seconds. Set aside. Using a slicing disc, slice the pear (may have to cut to fit in the feed tube, don't worry, it won't matter what the slices look like!). Set aside.

For the cake
Remove the slicing disc and insert the multipurpose blade. Add the sour cream, butter, sugar, and egg. Process to mix well, about 20 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl after 10 seconds, if necessary. Add four, baking powder and soda. Process until just combined, about 10 seconds. Add the cranberries. Pulse 10 times, about 1 second each time, until coarsely chopped.

Spread the batter in the baking pan. Arrange the pear slices over the batter. Sprinkle the topping over the pears. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

*You can make this coffee cake the night before, cover, refrigerate, and rewarm, uncovered, in a warm oven the next morning!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Get Your Kids Cooking with Tom Colicchio

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know who Tom Colicchio is, from his Craft and Colicchio and Sons restaurants to Bravo's Top Chef, just to name a few. Not only has Tom received five James Beard medals for his high-class comfort food, he makes exquisite "Pan-Roasted Carrots!" This unbelievably simple recipe, which came from the New York Times, is a standard on my holiday table. Long thin carrots, slowly roasted with fleur de sel and pepper until tender and golden brown, then enhanced with aromatic rosemary, honey, and a pat of butter! Delicious!!! 

If you can't find sweet thin carrots and have to use larger ones, cut them into quarters lengthwise. In addition, if you don't have fleur de sel (which I highly recommend), sea salt will work just fine. Not only are these a wonderful addition to any meal, my oldest kid loves to make these, something any parent likes to see! Thanks Tom!

Tom Colicchio's Pan-Roasted Carrots

Serves 4


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
16 long, thin carrots, peeled and trimmed (leave a little of the green tops, so cute!)
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper
4 rosemary sprigs
4 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon butter


In a large saute pan, heat the oil over low heat. Add the carrots and fleur de sel and pepper to taste. Cook, turning the carrots occasionally, until tender and golden brown on all sides, 15-20 minutes.

Add the rosemary during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Just before serving, add the honey and butter and mix well. Serve hot with an additional pinch of fleur de sel.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tres Delicieux!

With the holidays upon us, we all need some stellar recipes that are fool-proof, delicious, and perfect for friends and family! One of my absolute favorites is "Coq au Riesling!" (My husband goes crazy for this!) This fantastic dish comes from the Alsace region of France and is similar to Coq au Vin, but made with Riesling rather than red wine. As I've talked about before, braising is an excellent technique for cooking chicken, see "Lacquered Chicken" and "Braised Paprika Chicken." Not only does the chicken remain incredibly moist, it makes the most addictive creamy sauce! Coq au Riesling is traditionally served with buttered egg noodles, but I like it just as it is with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the sauce. Add a salad and a bottle of Riesling, and you'll have a meal that is chic and sophisticated! 

Coq au Reisling

Serves 4


6 chicken legs, split at the joint (I usually make this with 8 chicken thighs instead, with great success!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons Cognac (I like Camus VS.)
1 cup dry or off-dry Riesling (I like Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington state.)
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 pound mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream (I actually prefer Mexican crema, specifically "Salvadorian" variety, if available, which I think is more flavorful than readily available American creme fraiche from Vermont, or the "Mexican" variety crema.) 
A squeeze of lemon juice (optional, but I like it!)
Chopped fresh parsley or tarragon, for garnish


*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Season the chicken legs with salt and pepper. Melt half the butter with the oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat, and brown the chicken on all sides, working in batches. As the chicken browns, remove it to a plate. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan, and saute for 1 minute. Pour over the Cognac to deglaze. Put the chicken back in. Pour over the wine and stock, and simmer* until the chicken is tender, about 30 minutes, turning once. (To check if the chicken is done, cut a little slit underneath next to the bone. *No need if you finish it in the oven!)

*My preferred technique is to place the (oven-proof) pan in a pre-heated 350 degree oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes. This method is easier and creates a more crispy skin. The thighs are always fully cooked and the pan sauce perfectly reduced.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a frying pan over medium heat, and cook the mushrooms until golden. When the chicken is cooked, remove it to a serving platter, and cover with foil to keep warm. Boil the cooking liquid down to sauce consistency. Stir in the creme fraiche and the mushrooms. When hot, taste, and correct the seasonings, adding a squeeze of lemon if you think it needs it. Pour the sauce over the chicken, scatter over the parsley, and serve. Mmmmmm!

Recipe adapted from French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating, by Laura Calder.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ancient Chinese Secret!

Braising, from the French word "braiser," is a combination of dry heat cooking (searing to create a flavorful crust and appealing color) and moist heat (by adding liquid, covering, and cooking gently over low heat). Usually, the resulting liquid is then boiled down to create a luxurious sauce. It is one of the best techniques to create delicious moist meat. Braising is especially well suited for pieces of chicken, which can be difficult to cook without drying out.

This recipe for "Lacquered Chicken" is a fabulous example! The chicken is marinated in a combination of Chinese five-spice powder and soy sauce, then seared and braised. Finally, a combination of honey, sugar, and balsamic vinegar is added to create a syrupy sweet-and-sour sauce that is unique and delicious! Chinese five-spice powder is usually a blend of ground fennel seeds, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and Szechuan pepper corns, although other variations may include ginger, nutmeg, white pepper, and turmeric. Chinese five-spice powder compliments the five principal tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty) and is designed to provide the perfect balance of yin and yang. After endless research, I was unable to pinpoint any history regarding the creation of this wonder powder, so for now, it remains a mystery. 

Lacquered Chicken

Serves 4


8 chicken thighs, excess skin trimmed
6 tablespoons soy sauce, preferably low sodium
2 tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 plus 1/4 cup water
2 sliced scallions, for garnish


Place the chicken thighs in a dish large enough to hold them snugly. Combine the soy sauce and five-spice powder and pour over the chicken, turning to evenly coat. Leave to marinate on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour, turning occasionally.

Heat the oil over high heat in a large saute pan with a lid. Brown the chicken thighs on all sides. Pour over the 1/2 cup water, cover, lower the heat to low, and braise, turning often, until the meat is tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar and honey in the 1/4 cup water. Uncover the pan and pour it over the chicken thighs. Raise the temperature to high and boil, without the lid, to reduce the sauce to a syrupy consistency, turning the chicken to lacquer them in the sauce. Add the balsamic vinegar, mixing well. Serve with white rice, garnished with the scallions, and extra sauce on the side. Yum! 

Recipe adapted from French Food at Home, by Laura Calder.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Truly Mexican!

Concluding my week of essential Mexican recipes, I must include "Guacamole Taquero (Taco-Shop Guacamole)." Guacamole Taquero is more a silky sauce than a chunky guacamole. Made with tangy tomatillos, epazote or cilantro, creamy avocado, and spicy serrano chiles, it adds a spicy kick to tacos, like Pork Carnitas, as well as grilled meats. This recipe is so simple, and because of the acidity of the lime and tomatillos, it does not oxidize like guacamole, and can be stored in the refrigerator and brought to room temperature before serving. 

This recipe comes from Truly Mexican, by renowned Chef Roberto Santibanez of Fonda in New York City. If you like Mexican food, this beautiful cookbook would be a welcome addition to your collection! (Just thought I would throw that out there with Christmas coming soon!)

Guacamole Taquero (Taco-Shop Guacamole)

Makes about 2 cups.


1/2 pound tomatillos (5 or 6), husk removed, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
6 large (about 3 1/2 inches long) fresh epazote leaves or 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 small garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped white onion
2 fresh serrano (preferred) or jalapeno chiles, stems removed, coarsely chopped, including seeds, or more to taste
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon fine salt, or 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 small ripe Mexican Hass avocado, halved and pitted


Put the tomatillos into a blender jar first, then add the epazote or cilantro, garlic, onion, chiles, lime juice, and salt. Puree until very smooth, at least a minute. Scoop the avocado flesh with a spoon into the blender jar and blend until smooth. Add a little water, if necessary, to achieve a pourable texture. Season to taste with additional chile, lime juice, and salt (if needed), and blend once more.

Told you it was easy and the color is fantastic!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rinse and Repeat!

Now that I have provided an outstanding recipe for Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo), I will share my favorite recipe for "Mexican White Rice (Arroz Blanco)." When I first came across this recipe from Pati Jinich, I was on it like white on rice. (Sorry, I had to throw that in!) What first caught my attention was the addition of celery and lime, which I have not seen in other recipes. Not only do these additions provide essential vitamins and minerals, they also provide fantastic flavor to what sometimes can be pretty bland. This recipe uses only 1 serrano chile, which provides a hint of flavor and almost no heat. If you want it spicy, add more chiles. 

As I discussed before, all good Latina cooks know to wash the rice in a colander under cool water until the water runs clear. Because this recipe is for white rice, I soak the rice in warm water for about 5 minutes, then rinse under cool water. Not only does this remove impurities (you'll be amazed at what is released!) and phytic acid (which inhibits the absorption of nutrients), it is essential to produce perfect, light and fluffy rice. Why not give it a try alongside Enchiladas Suizas? You'll love it!

Mexican White Rice (Arroz Blanco)

Serves 8-10


2 cups long-grain white rice, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes, then rinsed in a colander until the water runs clear and drained (I like La Preferida or Texmati brands.)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 celery stalk, cut in half
1 fresh parsley sprig
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt, or more to taste
1 serrano chile


Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmery. Add the rice and cook, stirring softly for 2-3 minutes. Incorporate the onion and stir, from time to time, until the rice begins to change to a milky-white color and feels and sounds heavier, as if it were grains of sand; about 3-4 more minutes. Pour in the chicken stock, along with the celery, parsley, lime juice, salt and whole chile.

When it comes to a rolling boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and cook until the rice is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. If the rice grains don't seem soft and cooked through, add a bit more chicken broth or water and let it cook for another 5 more minutes or so.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork when ready to serve.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Demystifying Mexican Rice

I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving! I did! My husband smoked our turkey this year and it turned out moist and flavorful, and it made the most delicious The Great-After Thanksgiving Turkey Enchiladas! Yum! The traditional accompaniment to enchiladas is rice, not any rice, Mexican rice. Traditionally, tomato based dishes are served with "Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)," and non-tomato based dishes, like Enchiladas Suizas, are served with "White Rice (Arroz Blanco)." Mexican rice should not be confused with the pre-packaged rice mixes labeled "Spanish Rice," loaded with dehydrated bits of bell pepper and tastes nothing like authentic Mexican rice.

Although I am not of Mexican heritage, I did spend a lot of my youth lingering in many Latina kitchens. The version of Red Rice I always saw was rice simmered in a tomato broth, enhanced with chiles and parsley or cilantro, and flecked with cheerful diced carrots and peas. The secret that all good Latina cooks know is to wash the rice in a colander under cool water until the water runs clear. In addition, some Latina cooks soak the rice in warm water for 5 minutes or so, then run the rice under cool water. I don't know why, but I just rinse the rice for Red Rice and soak and rinse for White Rice. Either way, Mexican rice is easy, seductively delicious, and perfect along any Mexican faire.

Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)

Serves 4-6


1, 15 ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
3 tablespoons chopped white onion (it must be white, not yellow!)
2 small garlic cloves
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup medium or long-grain white rice, rinsed in a colander until the water runs clear and drained (I like La Preferida or Texmati brands.)
2 cups chicken broth or water
1/3 cup frozen peas
1/3 cup peeled and diced carrots (diced to approximately the same size as the peas)
3 serrano chiles, slit down one side
6 fresh cilantro sprigs, tied together (or parsley, if you don't like cilantro - gasp!)
Kosher salt
Lime wedges, for serving


Put the tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a blender and process until smooth. Set aside. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmery. Add the rice and stir regularly until it just starts to change color and looks milky-white, about 5 minutes. Try not to allow the rice to brown. Add the tomato mixture and stir gently to blend. Add the chicken broth or water, peas, carrots, chiles, cilantro or parsley, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Taste the broth and add more salt if needed, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes.

Uncover and stir carefully so that all of the broth is mixed in (most will have been absorbed). Re-cover and cook until all the broth is absorbed, about 10 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Before serving, remove the cilantro and fluff the rice with a fork. You can remove and discard the chiles if you like, or use them as decoration on top of the rice. Serve with the lime wedges to squeeze over the rice.

The rice keeps in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat it in a 350 degree oven with a sprinkle of water, covered, until heated through, about 30 minutes.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Chinatown - It's a Wrap!

Concluding my week of chicken salad recipes, I thought I would throw you a curve ball, specifically "Chicken Lettuce Wraps!" These saucy concoctions are so savory and delicious, I truly crave them regularly. With the combination of ground chicken, ginger, scallions, water chestnuts, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, and oyster sauce, all nestled in beautiful butter lettuce cups, they make a perfect lunch, appetizer, or with a bowl of rice, noodles, or soup, an excellent dinner!

This recipe comes from San Francisco's Chinatown, via Joanne Weir, which got me thinking... Are these an American bastardization or are they authentic Chinese? Turns out, lettuce wraps are an authentic Cantonese dish called "sung choy bao," as well as similar lettuce wrapped dishes showing up in Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisine! So, wrap away without condonation! Not only are these quick and easy to make, but a welcome addition to any home-cook's repertoire!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Serves 4-6


2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound ground dark meat chicken (Pork or turkey work well, too!)
8 scallions, white and green parts, minced
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup water chestnuts, chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (I grate mine on my microplane.)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce, or more to taste
1 large head butter lettuce, leaves separated


Warm the oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, scallions, and cornstarch and cook, stirring constantly, until the chicken is cooked and broken into pieces, 3-4 minutes. Add the water chestnuts, soy sauce, ginger, oyster sauce, and chili garlic sauce and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

To serve, take 1 lettuce leaf at a time and spoon a heaping tablespoon of the chicken mixture into the center. Wrap the lettuce around the filling and serve.

Recipe adapted from Weir Cooking In The City, by Joanne Weir.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ultimate Chicken Salad

Chicken salad has been popular in America since colonial times. According to food historians, the first American version of chicken salad was served by Town Meats in Wakefield, Rhode Island, in 1863. The original owner, Liam Gray, combined leftover chicken with mayonnaise, tarragon, and grapes. It became so popular, that the meat market was converted to a delicatessen! Sadly, Town Meats closed a few years ago.

For an excellent and dressed up version of standard chicken salad, try Tyler Florence's recipe for "Chicken Salad and Cranberry Brie Toast." It is absolutely delicious! Tyler recommends poaching a whole chicken for this recipe, and I agree! Not only is the chicken moist and fall off the bone tender, but you get the bonus of having a very tasty chicken stock to use later. (Might come in handy with Thanksgiving almost here!) This chicken salad is fantastic on its own; but, with the addition of cranberry sauce, apple slices, and brie, it is outrageously good! I like it open-faced (as I saw him do on his show), with a piece of buttered sourdough, a tablespoon of cranberry sauce, apple slices, chicken salad, and brie, run under the broiler to slightly melt the cheese, and garnished with parsley. This recipe is for sandwiches, so do whatever you like.

Chicken Salad and Cranberry Brie Toast

Makes 4 sandwiches.

For the Poached Chicken
1, 2-3 pound whole chicken
1 gallon water
2 carrots, cut in 2" pieces
3 celery stalks, cut in 2" pieces
1 onion, halved
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
2 turnips, halved
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
10 peppercorns
3 bay leaves

For the Chicken Salad
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
Kosher salt
About 1 cup mayonnaise
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 celery stalks, small diced
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded chicken meat, roughly chopped
8 slices sourdough bread, cut 1/2" thick (or 4 if you make it open-faced)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup cranberry sauce
1/2 pound brie
1 green apple, thinly sliced

For the Poached Chicken
Put the chicken in a large stockpot and cover with 1 gallon of cool water. Add the vegetables and herbs and bring the pot up to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim well; then simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes, skimming frequently as the oil rises to the surface. When done, remove to a platter and set aside to cool. Strain the liquid and reserve it for use as chicken stock. Shred the chicken meat and discard the skin and bones.

For the Chicken Salad
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Roughly chop the walnuts and then gently toast in a dry skillet over medium heat until they brown and are slightly fragrant. Season walnuts with salt once they are finished toasting. Add the walnuts, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, celery, parsley, olive oil, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a large mixing bowl and combine. Fold in the shredded chicken and set aside while you prepare the bread.

Toast the bread in a hot oven until golden. Smear each piece with a little butter and then a tablespoon of cranberry sauce over 4 pieces of bread. Lay the 4 cranberry-smeared pieces out on a sheet tray and top each piece with 2-3 slices of thick-cut brie. Pop this back in the oven for a minute or 2 so the cheese is slightly melted and creamy. Remove from the oven and top with a few slices of green apple. Top with a scoop of the chicken salad and cover with the other half of the bread to complete the sandwich and serve.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Techno Chicken!

Kids are picky and sometimes it's difficult to get them to eat stuff that's good for them. I know! However, there is nothing technical about getting your kids to eat this "Kid-Approved Chicken Salad," full of chicken, apples, and celery! This chicken salad makes a perfect lunch, tucked inside mini-pita pockets or mini-ciabatta rolls lined with some butter lettuce! Perfect for small hands and packed with all they need to get them through the afternoon! For more adventurous kids, feel free to add chopped fresh herbs, chopped walnuts or pecans, or even swap the mustard for 1 teaspoon curry powder! The variations are endless!

Kid-Approved Chicken Salad

Makes 1 1/2 cups


1/2 cup cooked chicken, small dice
1/2 cup apple, small dice
1/4 cup celery, finely diced (so they don't recognize it!)
1/4 cup plain yogurt or mayonnaise
2 teaspoons grainy or Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Mini pita bread or ciabatta rolls, for serving
Butter lettuce, for lining the bread (keeps the bread from getting soggy!)


In a bowl, combine the yogurt, mustard, and lemon juice and mix until smooth. Add the chicken, apple, and celery and toss until evenly distributed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Open one side of your mini pita or cut almost all the way through your mini ciabatta roll (leave some of the bread intact to keep the chicken salad from falling out), Line with a lettuce leaf, and fill with some of the chicken salad. Wrap with some aluminum foil and tuck it inside a sandwich bag. Refrigerate until ready to go!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post-Election Depression?

Last weekend, I was listening to NPR about how passionate both sides were for Romney and Obama. One story was about a man who apparently makes excellent bbq and was resolute for Romney. Upon learning that his brother-in-law was voting for Obama, the man declared that if Obama won his brother-in-law could still come over to his house and eat whatever his wife made, but would NOT be allowed to eat his fabulous bbq for the duration of Obama's term! Ha! Ha!

Being a native Texan, I'm naturally inclined to not wanting the government controlling every aspect of my life, so I'm disappointed. Plus, the economy sucks! So to help deal with my shock and melancholy, I made a perfect anti-depression dinner: "Camembert Salmon with Leeks." Salmon, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to combat depression as well as being good for your heart and blood pressure, and leeks, containing flavonoids that help prevent the breakdown of serotonin and dopamine, two key brain chemicals responsible for happiness. This outstanding dish really did make me feel better and the Pinot Noir didn't hurt either! 

(Even my picture looks sad....)

Camembert Salmon with Leeks

Serves 4

For the Leeks
6 leeks
canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Salmon
4 salmon fillets (about 1/4-1/2 lb each), with skin
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon canola oil (also good for depression)

For the Camembert Sauce
8 oz Camembert
1/2 cup cream (or more if needed)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cider vinegar, or more to taste

For the Sauteed Leeks
Slice 5 of the leeks into rings and wash in bowl of warm water, allowing the grit to sink to the bottom of the bowl. (For more, see Techniques.) Melt the butter in a large skillet and gently saute the leeks until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the Fried Leeks (optional, but is delicious!)
Cut the remaining leek into very thin slices, wash, drain, and separate with your fingers. Heat about 1 1/2" of canola oil in a saucepan over high heat. When the oil is very hot and a test leek slice sizzles immediately upon entering the oil, begin to deep-fry the thin leeks in batches until they're crisp and golden, about 30 seconds. Remove the batches with a slotted spoon or tongs and drain on paper towels. Season with salt. Set aside.

For the Camembert Sauce
Unwrap the cheese, remove the rind (or your sauce will be lumpy), and cut into large pieces. Place with the cream in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally, to melt. When smooth, season with salt and pepper. Taste, then add the vinegar. If you'd like it slightly more acidic, add a bit more vinegar.

For the Salmon
Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over high heat until the skin of the salmon touched to it sizzles immediately. Cook the salmon skin side down until done to your liking, about 6-8 minutes. (This technique, known as "unilateral," is common in France, and keeps the salmon slightly rare and very moist inside. If you don't want to try it, just flip the salmon over halfway, and cook until done to your liking.)

Plating the Dish
Rewarm the sauteed leeks and sauce, if needed. Divide the sauteed leeks evenly among 4 plates, forming a circle, leaving the center of the plates clear for the salmon. Lay a salmon fillet in the center of each plate. Spoon around the sauce and garnish with the fried leeks. Serve immediately. Yum!

Recipe adapted from French Food at Home, by Laura Calder.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Perplexing Pork

Let's be honest, people overcook pork! It was always the USDA standard to cook pork to a whopping 160 degrees. This was due to Trichinella spiralis, a nasty parasite that was prevalent in pork in the early- to mid-20th century. However, due to changes in feeding, hygiene, and strict meat inspection requirements, trichinae is virtually non-existent. So much so, that the USDA officially lowered the temperature recommendation for cooking pork to 145 degrees. According to the USDA, trichinae is killed at 55 degrees C or 131 degrees F. (Ground pork should still be cooked to 160 degrees.) With that in mind, we must consider that the internal temperature of any meat, when left to "rest," will not only let the juices be reabsorbed but raise the internal temperature. Even a small steak or single piece of chicken will rise at least 3-4 degrees, while a larger cut of meat, like a large roast or turkey can rise as much as 10-15 degrees. So while the USDA recommends 145 degrees, many chefs like Bourdain, Keller, and Ruhlman recommend internal temperatures of about 135 degrees and letting it rest 10 minutes, to create perfectly moist, delicious, and safe pork. 

Don't believe me? Try Ruhlman's excellent recipe for "Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Garlic, Coriander, and Thyme." Pan roasting is the combination of two dry-heat techniques: saute and roast. Meat is first seared on the stove in a saute pan, then is turned and finished in the oven. Keep in mind that you will need a heavy oven-safe pan. I like to use my cast-iron frying pan. Love that pan! This is my new "go-to" recipe for pork tenderloin which can be successfully altered with different herbs and spices. It's a fabulous technique and the results are quick and delicious! Roasted vegetables make the perfect accompaniment.

Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Garlic, Coriander, and Thyme

Serves 4


One 1 1/4 pound pork tenderloin
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted and crushed in a mortar with pestle or on a cutting board with a pan, or roughly chopped with a knife
1 teaspoon canola oil
4 tablespoons/55 grams butter
3 garlic cloves, partly smashed with the flat side of a knife to open them up but not flatten them
3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 1/2 teaspoon picked thyme
Zest from 1 orange


About 1 hour before cooking the pork, remove it from the refrigerator and season it with salt and pepper and the coriander seeds. Pork tenderloins have one end that tapers. Consider folding the tapered end over onto the meat and tying it with butcher's string so that the tenderloin has a uniform thickness. (I tied mine.) Alternately, you can leave it as is (it will be medium-well done by the time the tenderloin is medium-rare), or you can cut off the end and save it for another use.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C/gas 4.

Put an ovenproof saute pan that's large enough to contain the tenderloin over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil. When the oil is hot, lay the tenderloin top-side down in the pan. Let cook, without moving it, until it is browned, 1 to 2 minutes. (It took about 3 minutes for me.) Add the butter, garlic, and thyme sprigs to the pan. Turn the tenderloin.

When the butter has melted, spoon it all over the tenderloin and slide the pan into the oven. After several minutes, remove the pan and baste the tenderloin.

Squeeze it. It should still be fairly squishy (rare). Return it to the oven for another few minutes. Baste again if you wish.

Remove the tenderloin from the oven. The total cooking time should be about 10 minutes. The tenderloin should still be somewhat pliable but beginning to show signs of firmness. If you must, check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer; it should be between 130 and 135 degrees F/54 and 57 degrees C. (I must, and I pulled it out at 135.)

Baste the tenderloin again, add the thyme leaves to the butter in the pan, and set the pan aside for 10 minutes.

To serve, cut the tenderloin crosswise into slices about 1/2" thick. Drizzle some of the herbed basting fat over the slices and sprinkle some orange zest over the top before serving.

Recipe from Ruhlman's TWENTY, by Michael Ruhlman.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yoko, Bento, and Not Boring Lunches!

I recently read a children's book called Yoko, by Rosemary Wells. In the story, Yoko takes all her favorite things for lunch, like sushi, to school and all the kids make fun of her, until, of course, they taste it! It's one of my kids favorite books! However, I was horrified when my kids told me their lunches are boring! Boring? After feeling a little hurt, I decided not only to give them more exciting lunches, but to start the art of making Japanese box lunches, known as bento. I have to say that at first I thought it would be difficult and another dreaded chore, but I actually find it fun and my kids love to help! So, in honor of Yoko, let me show you how to make my version of a California roll. Once you have all the ingredients and cook the rice, it is so simple, and far cheaper than any store-bought. Boring lunches? Not any more!

California Roll: Sushi 101

Makes 1 roll

For the sushi rice (makes enough for 3 rolls)
1 cup white sushi (short-grain) rice
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt

For the sushi
Bamboo sushi mat (available at most grocers)
Rice vinegar
1 sheet, Toasted Nori Seaweed (comes in a pakage of 10, 8"x7" sheets)
1/2 carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1/4 English cucumber, cut into thin matchsticks
1/4 ripe avocado, cut into strips
Cooked crab meat, or imitation crab sticks (cut in half)

To serve
Soy sauce (save those little packets from take-out), pickled ginger slices, wasabi (optional), and toasted sesame seeds (optional) 

For the sushi rice
Place 1 cup of uncooked rice in a sieve and rinse until the water runs clear. Transfer the rice to a saucepan and add the 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, give the rice a quick stir, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, undisturbed, until all the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Set the rice aside to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar and salt dissolve, about 2 minutes. Let cool. Transfer the cooked rice to a wide, shallow, glass dish and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Slowly pour in the vinegar mixture while slicing the spatula through the rice. Do not stir. Cover until ready to use. If refrigerated, add a sprinkle of water and microwave until slightly softened.

For the sushi
Make sure to have all your ingredients ready. Including a cup of water with a splash of vinegar, to put your rice paddle or spatula into. This helps you spread out the rice without it sticking. In addition, some recommend placing a piece of saran wrap over the mat, but I think it's easier without it. It's up to you.

Place the sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the bamboo mat, making sure the edge of the 7"-side lines up with the edge of the mat. Using a rice paddle or spatula, spread the nori with the rice, a little at a time, until almost fully covered. Leave the top 1" of nori uncovered. Don't worry about the edges, they will be trimmed off anyway.

Place some of the carrot, cucumber, avocado, and crab down the middle of the rice. Don't over-stuff or the sushi won't roll up neatly.

Using the mat, roll and enclose the filling with the first roll and press gently on the mat to secure the roll.

Next, raise the end of the mat slightly to prevent the mat from being rolled into the sushi, and continue rolling until all the nori is rolled up. Gently squeeze to secure the roll. If the very end of the nori does not seal completely, dampen slightly with a little water to adhere.

Allow the roll to rest a few minutes to "set" before cutting.

Trim off the messy ends and cut into 8 even pieces. Sprinkle each piece with a pinch of the sesame seeds. If you're not going to serve it immediately, roll the sushi log in saran wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Simply remove the plastic, cut, and serve. It sure makes a nice bento box!

Lucky Kids!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Almost a Gastrique

A gastrique is a French syrupy sweet and sour sauce made with caramilized sugar and deglazed with vinegar. Other elements can be added, such as stock, fruit, and wine to produce a plethora of varieties. One of my favorite recipes, from Mark Bittman of The New York Times, is for a mysterious, dark and delicious "Pinot Noir Syrup." Although vinegar is not used to deglaze in this recipe, it does start with caramelizing sugar. Caramelizing sugar can seem scary, but as long as you watch it very closely and are prepared to turn down the heat if it begins to brown too quickly or begins to smoke, it really is a skill worth tackling. If on your first attempt, the sugar burns, throw it out and try again. It's just sugar. In this recipe, it is served with simple roast salmon steaks, but it would be equally delicious on any roasted meat, especially pork. The syrup can be made ahead and any leftover can be refrigerated for another tasty meal!

Roast Salmon Steaks with Pinot Noir Syrup

Serves 4

1/2 cup sugar
2 cups Pinot Noir
1 fresh rosemary sprig, plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped
4 salmon steaks (about 1/2 pound each)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Put the sugar in a heavy saucepan, preferably nonstick with rounded sides (I don't have one), and turn the heat to medium.

Cook, without stirring (just shake the pan occasionally to redistribute the sugar) until the sugar liquefies and begins to turn brown, about 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and carefully add the wine. Turn the heat to high and cook, stirring, until the caramel dissolves again. Then add the rosemary sprig and reduce over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is syrupy and reduced to just over 1/2 cup, 10-15 minutes.

Heat a nonstick ovenproof skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke. Season the salmon on both sides with salt and pepper, then put it in the pan; immediately put the pan in the oven. Cook for 3 minutes, then turn the salmon and cook for another 3 minutes. Check to see that the salmon is medium-rare or thereabouts (it should be) and remove it and keep it warm, or cook for another minute or two if you like.

When the sauce is reduced, stir in the balsamic vinegar and butter and turn the heat to medium-low.

Cook until the butter melts, add some salt and pepper, and remove the rosemary sprig. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve over the fish, garnished with the chopped rosemary.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bitchin' in my Kitchen

Over the weekend, I was able to get my hands on Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen Cookin' For Trouble, and let's just say it had me bitchin' in all the wrong ways! I like Nadia and find her outrageous cooking show, "Bitchin' Kitchen," quite entertaining! I even record it! As I sometimes do, I let my kids pick a recipe for me to make them. After all, they put up with a lot of fussy food, and sometimes I just want to make them happy. So, what did they pick? "Meatloaf w/ Awesomesauce." Now, I do make meatloaf from time-to-time, and never realized how fabulous my recipe was until I made Nadia's. For starters, there were absolutely no herbs or seasoning, besides salt and pepper, in her recipe. In addition, I found an ERROR! After watching her show, in which she made this very recipe, it was brought to my attention that her recipe from her cookbook says to add 1 entire cup of water to the "awesomesauce." Guess the result: watered down sauce and mushy meatloaf. Ick! I find it extremely irritating when any cookbook author is not meticulous about the final product. After all, people spend their hard-earned cash on not only the cookbook, but the ingredients as well. So, while I will still enjoy Nadia for her humor, I will not waste my time and money on any of her recipes again, except for her "Thai-Italian Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce." They're really yummy!

After taking a deep breath, I have provided my recipe for "Bitchin' Meatloaf with Awesomesauce." I like to enclose three eggs inside, I think it's a Sicilian thing, but it is optional. Either way, this meatloaf is by far the best meatloaf you've ever tasted!!!

Bitchin' Meatloaf with Awesomesauce

Serves 6


2 lbs ground beef chuck
3 slices of bread, soaked in milk just to cover, squeezed dry, and torn into little bits
2 eggs (for the beef mixture)
1 yellow onion, finely minced
1 tablespoon mixed dried herbs such as sage, oregano, and thyme, or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs of choice
4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 peeled hard-cooked eggs, optional (See Techniques for how to make perfect boiled eggs!)
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons plain white or apple cider vinegar


Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and lightly grease the foil.

In a bowl, combine the meat, bread, eggs, onion, herbs, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands. (Gross, but it's the only way!) Form the meat mixture, on the baking sheet, into an oval loaf. If you like, place the eggs in a row down the center of the loaf as you form it. (I like to form 1/2 the beef mixture, then place the eggs, then cover with the remaining beef mixture.)

Mix together the ketchup, brown sugar, and vinegar. Coat the entire meatloaf with the sauce.

Bake until cooked through, about 1 1/4 hours. Let stand for 15 minutes, then slice and serve.