Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Singing Canaries and Beastly Dogs?

When I first found this recipe for "Pollo Con Migas y Limon (Chicken with Bread Bits and Lemon)," from Penelope Casas, a well respected authority of Spanish cuisine, I saw that it was a traditional recipe from the Canary Islands. This immediately grabbed my attention! After all, the original founders of San Antonio, Texas (one of my most beloved cities, for more see Remember the Alamo!) were transported from Spain's Canary Islands in 1731, to join the existing military/mission community and populate the province of Texas. At the time, low prices in the sugar market caused a severe recession to the islands' sugar-based economy. The decline was caused by successful sugar production in Spain's American territories. It sucks when a government ruins their own economy!

Anyway, although people correctly associate the Canary Islands with canary birds (which were originally brownish green when found on the islands and highly prized for their beautiful singing), the Canary Islands were actually named for their infestation of particularly large and vicious dogs, from the Latin word "canis" meaning dog. Dogs are even present on the Canary Islands Coat of Arms!
So, the islands were named after the beastly dogs, and the birds were named after the islands. Got it?

While this recipe calls for a larger bird, specifically chicken, the addition of ham, onions, and a little white wine makes a very fine dish indeed! Fried bread bits (known as migas and traditional in Spanish cuisine) are perfect to soak up the wonderful flavors of the sauce! Chopped parsley and a touch of lemon brightens the flavors and balances this savory dish! Although this isn't the most beautiful entree to grace your table, no one will care when they taste it! It makes a surprisingly wonderful meal that you will be proud to serve family and friends! I like to serve it with oven roasted potatoes tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a generous pinch of paprika! Yum! What to drink? A Spanish wine, of course!

Pollo Con Migas y Limon (Chicken with Bread Bits and Lemon)

Serves 4


1 cup bread without crusts, torn or cut roughly into 1/2" pieces
2 tablespoons plus 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1, 3-3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into serving pieces (Chicken thighs also work well.)
Flour for dusting
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped Spanish mountain cured ham, prosciutto (which is what I used and was able to find already diced), or capicollo (about 2 ounces)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth, plus more if needed
1/2 lemon, in thin slices
Minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish


Place the bread pieces on a cookie sheet and drizzle with 1-2 teaspoons olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 5 minutes. (It took about 10 minutes in my oven.)

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt, then dust them with flour. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a shallow casserole or large saute pan and brown the chicken on all sides. When the chicken pieces are nicely browned, set aside on a large plate. To the hot casserole or pan, add the onion and ham and saute until the onion has turned translucent. Return the chicken to the pan and pour in the wine and broth and scatter in the lemon slices. 

Bring to a boil, then transfer to a 350 degree oven and cook, uncovered, 45 minutes, adding more broth if necessary. (I added an additional 1/2 cup broth during the cooking time.) When ready to serve, sprinkle with the bread pieces and parsley.

Recipe adapted from iDelicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain, by Penelope Casas.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mexican Pasta?

I am happy to report that I am feeling better, and was actually hungry for lunch! Because I've been under the weather, I really wanted to make myself something comforting and from my childhood, specifically, "Sopa de Fideos!" Sopa de Fideos is a type of "Sopa Seca," meaning dry soup, made with fideo pasta and very popular in Texas. Fideo is a type of Mexican pasta much like vermicelli, which can be substituted easily. In Mexico, this dish is typically served as a second course following a soup course, then a meat course, then concluded with dessert. However, this is a favorite lunch or snack for kids and adults alike.

This recipe reminds me of a passage I read from Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl: An Encyclopedia, which writes, "Because so few cookbooks were published in Spain - John C. Super maintains that there were probably no more than eight cookbooks published in Spain in the first 350 years after the printing press was invented - the transmission of cooking knowledge from person to person was vitally important for the households, palaces, and ecclesiastical institutions of colonial Mexico. Diego Granado's cookbook, Libro del arte de cocina, published in 1614, was one of the first cookbooks used in Mexican kitchens. This book contained a large number of Italian-inspired recipes and thus Italian food influenced Mexican cooking and dining far more than French food did."

This delicious homey dish pays homage to Italian ingredients and illustrates how two food cultures based on very similar ingredients can have such contrasting results. These differences are the consequence of very different culinary techniques, and of course, the use of local herbs and spices. For instance, in Sopa de Fideos, the pasta is fried in oil like a pilaf, then cooked in broth until "dry," as opposed to simply boiling the pasta, as they would in Italy. In addition, with the omission of basil, for instance, cilantro proudly takes over. And finally, as there are endless recipes for Sopa de Fideos, some calling for the addition of diced potatoes, shredded meat, chorizo, and/or chiles, feel free to try it and then make it your own. To truly appreciate this comforting classic, I insist that you garnish it with crema (creme fraiche would be a good substitute), avocado slices, cotija cheese (parmesan would be a substitute), and a sprinkle of cilantro!

Sopa de Fideos

Serves 4


2 tablespoons canola oil
5 ounces fideo (like La Moderna) or vermicelli (if using vermicelli, break the strands in thirds)
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cups chicken stock (If I don't have home-made, I use "Better Than Bouillon" Reduced Sodium Chicken Base)
4 ounces tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste

For garnish: Mexican crema, avocado slices, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped cilantro


Heat the oil over medium heat until shimmery. Add the fideo or vermicelli and stir to coat the pasta with the oil.

Continue to stir and turn over the pasta until medium brown, being careful not to let it burn. Add the tomato, onion, and garlic, and continue to stir for a couple minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Pour in the stock and tomato sauce. Stir in the salt, cumin, and chili powder.

Cover the pan, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

Serve warm, garnished with crema, avocado, cotija, and cilantro.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Roasted with Love - Hoarded with Passion

Authentic New Mexican Hatch Chiles are in stores NOW, and only for a very limited time! These chiles are named after Hatch, New Mexico, where they are grown in the heart of Mesilla Valley. The intense sunlight and cool nights give this chile it's mild-medium heat and unique fruity flavor, which I adore! These chiles are the epitome of New Mexican cuisine. Once roasted and peeled, they are perfect for chiles rellenos, added to eggs, thrown in soups and stews, stirred in cornbread, delicious additions to enchiladas and tacos, and are essential for the distinguished green chile cheeseburger! (A staple in my house!) Truly, the sky's the limit when cooking with these phenomenal chiles!

Because of their very limited availability, most hatch chile enthusiasts roast their chiles in LARGE batches (like 10 pounds or more!), peel, de-seed and freeze them for an entire year's supply! Do I do this? Absolutely! I've been buying them up as fast as I can! When purchasing, look for a bright green color, smooth firm skin, a symmetrical shape (if possible), and a bit heavy for their size. For a few chiles, I use my stove-top gas burner (see Techniques, scroll to the very bottom, it was the first technique I posted!), but for large quantities, I fire-up my grill! Not only does the smell of chiles roasting over an open flame make my heart sing, it adds an authentic smokey flavor, and is the traditional method used in New Mexico! (If you don't own a grill, you can also roast them under your broiler in the oven.) So, make some room in your freezer, grab your car keys, and run, don't walk!

Roasting and Freezing New Mexican Hatch Chiles

As many Hatch chiles you can find!
Plastic wrap
Quart and gallon-size freezer bags (depending on how many chiles you want to preserve)

Heat a charcoal or gas grill to high heat. Once the grill is very hot, place the chiles over direct heat, turning occasionally until the skins are blackened and blistered. (If there are any green spots, the skin won't come off.)

When nice and roasted, place the chiles in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to steam and cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, remove them to a cutting board. Pull out the seed pod and with a knife, cut the chiles in half, scrape off the blistered skin and scrape out the seeds.

Once all your chiles are ready, lay out a piece of plastic wrap. Lay one chile at the end, fold over the plastic wrap, lay another chile on top, fold over the plastic over, lay another chile on top, and continue until you have about 6 chiles nicely packaged. (Layering with the plastic makes it easy to remove one chile at a time, as desired.) Place in a freezer bag and remove any excess air. Once you have all your chiles snuggly packaged, place all the freezer bags into a gallon-size freezer bag, squeeze out any excess air, and freeze to use whenever you like. Thaw before using.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Burn Baby, Burn!

In 1986, Larry Harvey and friend Jerry James created a wooden human effigy, drug it down to Baker Beach in San Francisco, and lit it up in honor of the Summer Solstice. Harvey said, "it was like a second sun brought down to this earth." As crowds gathered and spontaneous singing broke out, Harvey realized that they had instantly created a community of bohemians. This was recreated every year on Baker Beach with the human effigy and crowds increasing each year. These gatherings became known as "Burning Man." In 1990, the Golden Gate Park Police caught wind of the event, and informed them that they would no longer be allowed to burn the man due to the fire hazard to the surrounding hillsides. It was then that Harvey along with the San Francisco Cacophony Society decided to relocate the event to the Black Rock desert in Nevada over Labor Day weekend.

Today, Burning Man attracts upwards of 60,000+ people, creating a self-sustaining city in the desert, made up of artists, eccentrics, and entrepreneurs. With no utilities, everything from water to electricity must be brought in and taken out. Burning Man has become an international stage for art, music, and any kind of self-expression. It was even nominated for a UK Festival Award for Best Overseas Festival. It's no wonder Burning Man's philosophy that "Life is short. Make something amazing. (Then burn it)" appeals to dreamers and doers from around the globe. If you want to check it out, here is the live stream:

*FYI: Check it out Saturday evening, September 3, 2016, to see the Man burn!

So, whether you wish you were there or the thought of spending a week in the searing heat, dust, port-o-potties, and no doubt more than just a whiff of pachouli doesn't excite you, you still must admire the spirit of individuality. Instead, try this deliciously eccentric recipe for "Desert Fire Pasta" via Canyon Cafe. It consists of delicate angel hair pasta, sauteed shrimp, mushrooms, and jalapeno, all tossed in a rich jalapeno cream sauce, and topped with a little Parmesan and a generous spoonful of pico de gallo! Yum! You won't believe how fabulous it is! After all, life is short. Make something amazing. (Then eat it!)

Desert Fire Pasta

Serves 4

For the Jalapeno Cream Sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon butter, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh jalapeno
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
1 pinch cayenne, or more to taste

For the Pasta
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp
3/4 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeno
8 ounces angel hair pasta
1 1/2 cups Jalapeno Cream Sauce
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup pico de gallo

For the Jalapeno Cream Sauce
To make the roux, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, whisk in the flour, set aside.

Saute onion, jalapeno, and garlic in the remaining 1 teaspoon butter over medium heat until the onion is translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Do not let the vegetables brown. Stir in the cream, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and whisk in the roux. Continue to simmer until thickened. Set aside over very low heat while making the pasta.

For the Pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

While the water comes to a boil, heat the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp, mushrooms, and jalapeno, and cook just until the shrimp are opaque. Add the jalapeno cream sauce. Set aside.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water. Drain and add to the shrimp mixture, tossing well to combine. Add the 1/4 cup pasta water to help loosen the sauce. Transfer the pasta to individual pasta bowls and top each with 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan, a sprinkle of parsley, and a generous spoonful of pico de gallo. Serve immediately!

Burning Man Tomato! Ha! Ha!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Nothing is Impossible

The Loretto Chapel Staircase
(The funny thing is that my camera died during vacation
and this is the only picture that came out clear! Kind of weird!)
I recently took a wonderful trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, specifically to visit the Loretto Chapel and its miraculous staircase. The Loretto Chapel was founded by Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy and the Sisters of Loretto who started a school and made plans to build the chapel. After raising 30,000 dollars, Bishop Lamy hired architect Antoine Mouly and his son, Projectus Mouly from Paris, France to build the chapel in the Gothic Revival-style patterned after King Louis IX's Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Construction began in 1873, complete with stained glass from the DuBois Studio in Paris. The chapel was completed in 1878 with the exception of a staircase to the choir loft, which was deemed impossible in the small space and that a ladder would be the only way to access the loft. That is until the Sisters made a novena (nine days of prayer) to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox.

Months later, the unknown carpenter completed the miraculous staircase which features two 360 degree turns with no visible means of support, made with wood not native to the area and only wooden pegs! Apparently the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. The Sisters searched for the carpenter, even placing an ad in the newspaper, to no avail. It then became legend that the carpenter was none other than St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the Sisters' prayer. A true miracle!

Just as the staircase was deemed impossible, so is the classic Mexican dessert - Chocoflan (aka, Impossible Cake). The magic of chocoflan, a combination of cayeta (goat milk caramel), flan and chocolate cake batter miraculously separate into distinct layers during baking, which is why it's also known in Spanish as "pastel imposible," or impossible cake! I've tried many recipes for this delicious dessert, but have determined that the best one is also the simplest. Instead of making the batter from scratch, this recipe utilizes store-bought cake mix and cayeta, making it simple to put together. In addition, this cake needs to be refrigerated for at least 24 hours before unmolding and serving; however, I think it tastes even better if you allow 48 hours in the fridge before unmolding and serving. So, if you are looking for a miracle, perhaps the impossible is just one cake away.

Chocoflan (aka, Impossible Cake)

1 cup cajeta, divided
4 eggs
1, 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1, 12-ounce can evaporated milk
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 package chocolate cake mix (2-layer size) (Plus whatever ingredients as directed on package.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spread 1/2 cup cayeta in bottom of pan. Place Bundt pan in large roasting pan. Set aside.

Beat eggs, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large bowl with wire whisk until well blended. Set aside.
Prepare cake mix as directed on package, adding remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla. Pour batter over cajeta in Bundt pan. Slowly pour flan mixture over batter. Cover pan with foil sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Carefully pour hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up side of Bundt pan.
Bake 1 1/2 hours or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Transfer Bundt pan from water bath to wire rack. Remove foil and cool completely.

Refrigerate at least 24 hours. (I prefer 48 hours!) Loosen cake from sides of pan. To unmold, invert pan onto a serving platter. Remove pan. Warm remaining 1/2 cup cajeta and drizzle over the top. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Rio Olympics: Epic Fail or Sweet Treat?

It's no secret that the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro is a trainwreck! With exposed wires, gas leaks, and a deliberately set fire in the Olympic village (used to rob athletes of their team shirts and laptops), it seems to be running as expected! If that's not enough, besides the collapse of the sailing venue's main boat ramp and water contaminated with raw human sewage "teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria," I can't wait to see how the swimmers will perform without putting their heads under water! Ridiculous! There is no way I will miss the opening ceremony for fear of missing the next cluster that is Rio! 

If you are eager to watch the opening ceremony tomorrow like me, why not serve "Beijinho de Coco" ("Coconut Little Kiss"). Beijinho is a type of "brigadeiro" (Portuguese for Brigadier). Supposedly, the brigadeiro was invented after World War II when milk and sugar was difficult to obtain. So crafty Brazilians combined sweetened condensed milk with butter, cocoa powder, and chocolate sprinkles to create the national truffle of Brazil that is present at most celebrations, especially birthday parties. While I'm sure the chocolate version is delicious, I like the coconut version which can be rolled in caster sugar or grated coconut and then topped with a whole clove (don't forget to remove the clove before eating!). Just beware that these suckers are extremely sweet, so don't go crazy and make too many! Um mundo novo!

Beijinho de Coco ("Coconut Little Kiss")

Makes approximately 20-25, depending on size


1, 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for plate
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut for decorating
Whole cloves for decorating


Bring milk and butter to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the milk has reduced to half and thickened, about 20 minutes. 

Remove from the heat, stir in the 1/4 cup coconut, and allow to cool a bit before pouring into a buttered bowl or on a deep plate.

Chill in the refrigerator until cold, about 2 hours.

With buttered or oiled hands, form milk mixture into tablespoon-sized balls, and roll in coconut flakes.

Stick a clove into each beijinho as decoration.

Recipe from Allrecipes Magazine.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Knock His Socks Off with Copper River Salmon!

Father's Day is Sunday, and there is no better way to celebrate our guys than with Wild Copper River Salmon, just arriving in stores NOW! The Copper River or Ahtna River is located in South-Central Alaska. The Copper River derives its name from the rich copper deposits found along it's riverbanks. This massive body of water has 13 major tributaries, is a mile wide, and runs at 7 miles per hour. It is the 10th largest river in the United States, and is the source of some of the most prized salmon in the world!

Chinook Salmon (or King Salmon) is available from mid-May through mid-June, Sockeye Salmon (or Red Salmon) is available from mid-May through mid-August, and Coho Salmon (or Silver Salmon) is available from mid-August through late-September. It is an incredible source of high-quality protein, extremely rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and is low in cholesterol and saturated fats. It is so good for you, that you won't believe how fantastic it tastes! It may be expensive, but it's worth every penny! This recipe for "Plank-Grilled Salmon with Dill Sauce," is divine and a personal favorite! The salmon is grilled on cedar planks, brushed with a bourbon-maple glaze, and served with lemon wedges and a goat cheese dill sauce! All that is needed is some boiled red potatoes, a crusty baguette, a bottle of Pinot Noir, and your done! Try it! He'll love it! You can thank me later!

Plank-Grilled Salmon with Dill Sauce

Serves 6-8 

For the Dill Sauce
1/4 lb (125g) fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (8 fl oz/250ml) sour cream
1/4 cup (1/3 oz/10g) chopped fresh dill
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and white pepper, to taste

For the Bourbon-Maple Glaze
1/2 cup (5 1/2 oz/170g) pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons bourbon
White pepper, to taste

For the Salmon
1 skin-on salmon fillet, about 3 lbs (1.5kg), deboned (I use small pliers), I used Sockeye here!
1 untreated cedar plank, soaked in water to cover for 4 hours or up to overnight and drained)
Lemon wedges

For the Dill Sauce
In a small bowl, combine the goat cheese, sour cream, dill, garlic, and salt and white pepper to taste and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

For the Bourbon-Maple Glaze
In a bowl, stir together the maple syrup, bourbon, and white pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the Salmon
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling (meaning directly on top of the coals) over medium-high heat (375 degrees F or 190 degrees C). Brush the salmon thickly on both sides with the glaze. Center the salmon, skin side down, on the plank, using additional planks, if necessary.

Cover the grill and cook, brushing occasionally with the remaining glaze, until the fish is opaque throughout and flakes when prodded with a fork, about 8-12 minutes. The plank will char slightly. Using heavy-duty pot holders, remove the salmon, still on the plank, from the grill and set it on a serving platter or cutting board. Serve the salmon hot or warm. To serve, cut the salmon through the flesh into individual portions. Pass the dill sauce and lemon wedges at the table.

Recipe from Essentials of Grilling, by Williams-Sonoma. For additional information about Copper River Salmon, go to

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Invite Sherry Vinegar to Your Next Barbecue!

Sherry vinegar is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated ingredients in the American kitchen. I know this, because it is very hard to locate in my neighborhood, which is graced with Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Straub's; but, it was World Market that saved the day and allowed me to make this spectacular recipe for "Grilled Portobello Mushrooms Stacked with Spinach and Shaved Manchego Cheese!" Not only does this recipe get it's exquisite roots from Spain's legendary Sherry production, it is a vegetarian's dream (or at least a lacto-vegetarian), the perfect entree or first course when cooking outdoors.

Depending on the size of portobellos you buy, which can vary enormously, construct your stacks accordingly. For instance, if you can only find the gigantic mushrooms, just serve one, topped with Manchego, spinach, and the Sherry vinaigrette. Or, if you use medium sized ones, like I did here, stack two. It's very forgiving. I've been making this recipe for years, and even now I am still amazed from the first to last bite! Save money on a steak, you'll be surprised! 

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms Stacked with Fresh Spinach and Shaved Manchego Cheese

Serves 4 as an entree

For the Sherry vinaigrette
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup Sherry vinegar (the original recipe recommends balsamic vinegar as an alternate, but don't do it, the Sherry vinegar is what truly makes it shine!)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

For the mushroom stacks
12 medium-sized portobello mushroom caps, wiped clean (no stems)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound baby spinach, washed and dried
4 ounces Manchego cheese, thinly sliced into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives, for garnish

For the Sherry vinaigrette
Add all the ingredients into a mason jar and shake until emulsified, or whisk in a small bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

For the mushroom stacks
Heat grill to high. Brush the mushroom caps on both sides with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, cap side down, until slightly charred, about 4-5 minutes. (Don't let them burn!) Turn the mushrooms over and continue grilling until just cooked through and starting to soften, about 3-4 minutes longer.

Stack the ingredients on each of 4 salad plates starting with a mushroom cap (cap-side up, making a "bowl"), a slice of cheese, some spinach, and a drizzle of Sherry vinaigrette. Add another mushroom cap, another slice of cheese, spinach, and another drizzle of the vinaigrette. Place a third mushroom cap on top and finish by drizzling with additional vinaigrette and garnish with the chopped chives.

How beautiful!

Recipe adapted from Bobby Flay.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Graduation, Summer, and Brio Pasta alla Vodka

Today is my first official day of summer break! My oldest graduated from High School last Friday (not sure how to feel about that? Am I old? Should I start thinking about a midlife crisis?), and my youngest completed the last day of school yesterday. Yippee! So in honor of the last day of school, I created a recipe for my youngest's favorite dish from Brio Tuscan Grille - "Pasta alla Vodka." After watching a video from the Baltimore News, and searching the internet for copycat recipes, I finally put together what I feel is pretty darn close, pretty darn easy, and pretty darn delicious! I served it with bread and wedge salads with creamy parmesan dressing, just like they do at Brio! I highly recommend you try it! Let me know what you think!

Brio Tuscan Grille - Pasta alla Vodka

Serves 4-5 generously

Generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, enough to cover surface of skillet
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vodka
2 cups Marinara
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 cup mascarpone
1 pound cheese ravioli, cooked according to package directions (I use the family size Buitoni Four Cheese Ravioli.)
4 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves, for garnish
4-5 slices pancetta, crisped in a skillet and crumbled, for garnish
Sprinkle of shredded Parmesan, for garnish

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until just starting to brown, approximately 2 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and saute 1 minute. Add the vodka to the pan and continue to simmer until reduced by half. Add the marinara, salt, pepper, cream, parmesan and bring to a simmer. Stir in the mascarpone until melted. Add the cooked and drained ravioli, stir to coat evenly. Divide pasta in 4-5 serving bowls and garnish evenly with basil, Parmesan, and pancetta. Yummy!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hope your Cinco is Picante!

It's hard to believe it's that time of year again - Cinco de Mayo! My favorite way to celebrate is to make yummy tacos and margaritas! Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE tacos! Recently I bought a cookbook entitled 300 Best Taco Recipes, by Kelley Cleary Coffeen. I was so excited! Unfortunately, after trying a plethora of the recipes, I frankly have not been too impressed. Bummer. However, there is one recipe that my family (sans the vegetarian) and I really like for "New Mexico Picante Roast Tacos." In fact, I think these are my husband's favorite tacos hands down!

The recipe is reminiscent of my earlier recipe for Picante Pot Roast (which is excellent and I still recommend highly), but way simpler. Basically, you braise a chuck roast in a picante sauce/brown sugar/beer mixture until the meat is fall-apart tender. You serve it shredded with lettuce, cheddar cheese, and chopped tomatoes. I also serve it with my favorite salsa, Cholula, guacamole, and my homemade Mexican crema. Flour tortillas are recommended, but feel free to use corn tortillas if you prefer. Alternatively, because this recipe is so hands off (perfect party food), you could make Indian Fry Bread to make Navajo tacos. Whatever you choose, you'll love the simplicity of the recipe and the sweet, savory tacos that result. Happy Cinco!

New Mexico Picante Roast Tacos

Serves 4-6


1 can (12 oz/341 mL) regular or light beer (I prefer Shiner Bock)
2 cups picante sauce or salsa (I use picante sauce, if you can find it.)
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (I use dark brown sugar, because that is what I usually have in house.)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pound boneless beef, chuck or sirloin roast (I use chuck.)
2 cups shredded green leaf lettuce (I use Romaine or iceberg.)
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese 
1 tomato, seeded and chopped (I use 2-3 Roma tomatoes.)
16, 6- to 8- (15 to 20 cm) flour tortillas 


1. In a medium saucepan, combine beer, salsa and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. (At this point, I season the roast with salt and pepper.) Brown roast on all sides. Reduce heat to medium and add beer mixture. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until meat pulls apart easily, 2 to 3 hours. (Alternately, you could pop it into a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 2 to 3 hours, if you prefer.)

3. Remove meat from pot and shred by hand or with two forks. Reserve excess sauce for dipping, if desired.

4. To build tacos, skillet warm tortillas. Divide meat, lettuce, cheese and tomato equally among tortillas. (I just set everything out to let everyone make their own.) Fold tortillas in half. Serve with reserved sauce.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Sour Cream, Creme Fraiche, and Mexican Crema

Here in America, sour cream is the most readily available type of "soured" cream. However, France has it's creme fraiche and Mexico it's crema. Creme fraiche and crema are virtually the same, thanks to European immigrants who migrated to Mexico. Although creme fraiche is delicious, I prefer crema, specifically the Salvadoran variety that has a rich buttery flavor. For years I have been spoiled with the ease of purchasing crema from my local Mexican grocer; but alas, they have closed their doors and my heart sank. 

So what's a girl to do? Go without crema? Impossible! After perusing my French and Mexican cookbooks, I decided to make my own. After all, good abuelas have been doing it for generations. Guess what? It is so simple! All you do is add a little buttermilk to heavy cream in a jar, stir, let sit in a warm spot for 12-24 hours, stir, refrigerate, and voila! It's actually quite amazing! You have to try it!

Homemade Mexican Crema/French Creme Fraiche

Makes approximately 1 cup

1 cup heavy cream
Buttermilk (use 1 tablespoon for creme fraiche, or 3 tablespoons for crema)
Pinch of salt (optional, but I like it better with salt.)

In a sterile jar (I use ones that I've run through the dishwasher), mix the heavy cream with the buttermilk and salt. Place the lid on lightly (it needs to breath) and place in a warm spot. (I set it in my sunny kitchen window.) Wait 12-24 hours until thickened to your liking. Stir and refrigerate until ready to use. Enjoy!
It's thick, rich, and delicious!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Easy Entertaining with Horsey Sauce

Horseradish is the spicy root of the Armoracia rusticana plant, a member of the mustard family. When peeled and grated, it releases a chemical similar to mustard oil, causing nasal irritation and a pleasant bitter taste. For centuries, it has been prized for its medicinal and gastronomic qualities. Early Greeks used it to relieve back pain and as an aphrodisiac. It has also been used to treat coughs, rheumatism, and tuberculosis. Native Americans used to apply freshly grated horseradish to cure headaches. 

During the Renaissance, horseradish consumption spread from Central Europe northward to Scandinavia and eventually to England. By the late 1600s, horseradish was the preferred condiment to beef and oysters by all Englishmen. It was also commonly used by inns and coach stations, who made cordials with it to revive weary travelers. It was brought to North America by early settlers in the colonies. By 1806, it was common in the northeast. Commercial cultivation in America began in the 1850s. Today, southwestern Illinois grows 85% of the world's horseradish! There is even an International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, Illinois each June, complete with recipe contests, live music, and games such as root toss, root golf, and even a root stacking contest!

Horseradish and beef are best friends. They compliment each other beautifully. One of my favorite recipes starring this dynamic duo is from the Culinary Institute of America for "Grilled Steak Salad with Horseradish Dressing." This lovely main course salad is super simple, making it perfect for casual entertaining. I serve it with bread and a bottle of Merlot or red blend. Try it and I promise you will add to your regular dinner rotation! FYI: If you have any leftover dressing, it's great on sandwiches!

Grilled Steak Salad with Horseradish Dressing

Serves 6

For the Horseradish Dressing
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1-2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (Sold in the refrigerated section of your grocer.)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt (I use 1/4 teaspoon) and freshly ground black pepper (I use 1/8 teaspoon), to taste

For the Romaine and Blue Cheese Salad
6 cups romaine lettuce, washed and drained, cut into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2/3 cups crumbled blue cheese (I prefer Roquefort.)
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

For the Grilled Steak
1 1/2 pound flank steak
Drizzle of canola or olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream, mayonnaise, horseradish, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Can be made ahead, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Place the lettuce, tomatoes, and half the cheese in a salad bowl, sprinkle with lemon zest, and set aside. Can be assembled up to 2 hours, refrigerated before serving.

Preheat gas grill to medium-high. If you are using a charcoal grill, build a fire and let it burn down until the coals are glowing red with a coating of white ash. Spread the coals in an even bed. Clean the cooking grate.

Drizzle the steak with oil and rub to coat evenly. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Grill the steak to the desired doneness, approximately 3-4 minutes per side for medium rare.

While the steak is grilling, toss the salad with the horseradish dressing and place on a large platter or individual plates. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest 3 minutes. Carve the steak across the grain and at an angle into thin slices. Arrange the steak slices on the salad, top with the onion slices and the remaining cheese, and serve.

Thanks to for some of the facts in this post.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Mary Had a Little Lamb ... and I ate it!

Once upon a time, a little girl named Mary Sawyer brought her pet lamb to the Redstone School in Sterling, Massachusetts. After a major disruption at school, a young man by the name of John Roulstone who was visiting the school, handed Mary a slip of paper written with the first four lines of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Some say that Sarah Josepha Hale (who is also known for successfully campaigning for the Thanksgiving holiday) composed the remainder of the poem, but some say she was responsible for the entire thing? Hale was credited with creating this classic nursery rhyme, originally titled "Mary's Lamb" which was included in her publication "Poems for Children," first published in 1830. A statue of Mary's Little Lamb still stands in the town center!

The plague reads:
"Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go."
John Roulstone

In addition, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is forever enshrined in history as being the first thing recorded by Thomas Edison and played on his newly invented phonograph in 1876!

Lamb, being a favorite dish for the Easter holiday and an eternal symbol of Spring, was my choice to grace my Easter table! (See my Easter Menu.) This fabulous recipe for "Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chops on Rutabaga Rosti and Gingered Carrot Sauce" from Patrick O'Connell's Refined American Cuisine is so good that you don't feel so sorry for the lamb! What better honor than to serve the chops slathered in brown sugar, Dijon, and chopped pistachios, propped against a fantastic rutabaga rosti, and dressed with a beautiful orange sauce infused with ginger and enriched with buttery creme fraiche! YUM! You have to try this! The gingered carrot sauce can be made a day ahead (always a plus!) and the rutabaga rosti up to an hour ahead and reheated in the oven while the chops rest. The recipe recommends "slipping the meat off 2 of the racks," but in my experience it's easier to leave them intact. And finally, after making this a few times, I recommend halving the amounts of Dijon and brown sugar to 1/4 cup each. Even if you've never made lamb and may be afraid to try, this extraordinary recipe will not let you down!

Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chops on Rutabaga Rosti and Gingered Carrot Sauce

Serves 6

For the Gingered Carrot Sauce
1 quart organic carrot juice
1, 1" piece of ginger root, peeled
1 cup creme fraiche
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
*Note: any leftover sauce goes great with fish dishes!

For the Rutabaga Rosti
2 large Idaho baking potatoes
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and quartered
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1/2 cup clarified butter

For the Lamb
3, 1 1/2 pound racks of lamb, each comprising about 8 rib bones (rack sizes vary depending on your supplier, so allow about 3 rib bones per person)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Dijon mustard (I recommend 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup brown sugar (I recommend 1/4 cup)
1 cup coarsley chopped pistachios

For the Gingered Carrot Sauce
Place the carrot juice and ginger in a 2-quart saucepan and simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the carrot juice is reduced to 1 cup. (This takes me about 1 hour.) Remove and discard the ginger root and, over low heat, whisk in the creme fraiche. Season with salt and white pepper. The sauce may be made in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and rewarmed before serving. 

For the Rutabaga Rosti
Peel the potatoes, leaving them whole. Combine with the rutabaga and steam for 15 minutes. Let cool.

Using a large holed blade of a box grater, shred the potatoes and rutabaga. (I use my food processor.) Fold in the finely chopped onion. Season the shredded vegetables with salt and pepper and form them into 6 cakes.

In a large skillet, heat half of the clarified butter over medium heat. Carefully place 3 cakes in the skillet and brown them on both sides for about 5-7 minutes per side. (Use 2 spatulas to gently flip the cakes so they don't fall apart!) Remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining clarified butter and vegetables cakes. (My skillet is big enough, so I cook them all at the same time.) The rostis can be made up to 1 hour in advance and rewarmed before serving.

For the Lamb
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Place the lamb (fat side up) in a roasting pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove the lamb, place it on a cutting board, and let it rest for 5 minutes. Lay the blade of a sharp knife against the bone and slip the meat off 2 of the racks in one piece, leaving one rack as is. (I don't recommend removing the meat from the 2 racks, unless you're a master butcher!)

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, whisk the mustard and brown sugar together. Using a pastry brush, coat the meat with the mustard mixture, then roll each rack in the chopped pistachios. 

Return to the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the lamb from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice each boneless loin into 6 medallions and carve the bone-in rack into 6 chops by cutting between the bones. (Slice between each bone making individual chops.)

To Serve
Reheat the gingered carrot sauce and the rutabaga rostis. Place a warm rosti in the center of each of 6 serving plates. Rest 2 of the boneless medallions and 1 bone-in chop against each rosti. (Prop 3 chops against each rosti.) Dribble the gingered carrot sauce over each plate, and serve.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Superfood or Crazy Hairy Monster?

In the latest edition of Bon Appetit, they declared coconut as the next cult superfood, proclaiming "Coconut is the next quinoa." I have always loved coconut and decided to look into its health benefits. After perusing various sources, coconut is touted to increase energy, aid in weight loss, prevent infection from bacteria, viruses, and fungi, lower cholesterol, stabilize insulin, and even halt the symptoms of Alzheimer's. Wow! Sounds good, right? Maybe not. According to an article by the New York Daily News, "Coconut is bad for you." Gasp! The article also stated that coconut "is loaded with heart-damaging saturated fat, sugar and calories that hide behind its healthy, food co-op image." In addition, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic's Heart and Vascular Institute stated that she cautioned "patients with high cholesterol or a history of heart disease" not to even toy with coconuts at all. Aw...

At this age of what I consider mass dietary dysfunction, the key to anything is moderation. Good or bad, I will not give up my coconut! Why not try this lighter version of  "Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken Soup" from Cooking Light: The New Way to Cook Light. It is fresh, spicy, and quick! Serve it with steamed rice and sauteed sugar snap peas for a fantastic weeknight meal! Coconut ice cream would be the perfect ending!

Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken (or shrimp) Soup

Serves 4

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
4 teaspoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (3-inch) stalk lemongrass, halved lengthwise and tied together with kitchen twine
2 teaspoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
3 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth (if using shrimp, substitute seafood stock)
1 1/4 cups light coconut milk
4 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken (about 8 ounces) (can substitute cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp, if desired)
1/2 cup diagonally sliced green onions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Heat a dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add mushrooms and next 4 ingredients (through lemongrass) to pan; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chile paste, and cook 1 minute. Add broth, milk, fish sauce, and sugar; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low; simmer 10 minutes. Add chicken to pan; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Discard the lemongrass. Stir in onions, cilantro, and juice.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Posole to Die for!

Posole is a "national" tradition in Mexico and parts of the Southwest, eaten on special occasions such as Christmas. However, this delicious dish has deep, deep Aztec roots. Unfortunately, the facts are quite disturbing, and frankly grotesque! Before the Spanish invaded, and outlawed cannibalism, posole was enjoyed after human sacrifice. Yep! All the remaining bits were relished with lovely creamy bits of hominy, the dried corn kernels of the sacred cacahuazintle variety nixtamalized with alkali. In addition, after human flesh was outlawed for consumption, pork became the meat of choice because according to a Spanish priest, it "tasted very similar." Bacon will never be the same. (I truly hope my vegetarian kid doesn't read this!)

Anyway, back to 2016, phew! I've had this wonderful recipe for years and finally gave it a try. Although not the classic posole of dried chiles, hominy, and pork, this version combines the traditional dried chiles with the ease of Ancho chile powder, readily available canned hominy, pork, and fresh chile poblano! The result is succulent and produces a more modern version of the classic. Traditional garnishes that I think are essential include shredded green cabbage, diced avocado, sliced radishes, a squeeze of lime, hot sauce, and tostadas on the side. If you've never tasted or made posole, I strongly urge you to give this recipe a try! Bissinger's Chocolate Cinnamon Chile Cake would make the perfect ending to a meal steeped in history.

Posole Rojo

Serves 6

For the Stew:
2-3 pounds pork butt, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cups yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups canned hominy, preferably white, if possible
1 cup red bell pepper, 1-inch dice
1/2 cup poblano pepper, finely diced
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 cup Roma tomatoes, large dice
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Garnishes:
1/4 head green cabbage, thinly shredded
1/2 cup radishes, thinly sliced and crisped in ice water
3 avocados, diced
6 lime wedges
hot sauce
tostadas, on the side

Season the pork with the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the pork in batches on all sides. Set aside. (This should take you about 30 minutes!) Add the onion and garlic to the pot and reduce the heat to medium. Saute for 5 minutes. Return the meat to the pot. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover and simmer for about 2 hours or until very tender. Skim off any surface fat.

Add the hominy, red bell pepper, poblano pepper, ancho powder, Roma tomatoes, and lime juice. Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes or until the hominy starts to absorb the flavor of the sauce and thickens slightly. Stir in the cilantro. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper, if needed. Serve in big bowls with garnishes. Yummy!

Recipe adapted from Canyon Cafe: Bringing the Southwest Experience Home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Bonne Femme, Chef Davide, and French Lasagna?

Continuing my exploration of The Bonne Femme Cookbook, by Wini Moranville, I was intrigued by her recipe for "French Lasagna Mardi Soir." Wait? What? French lasagna? That reminded me of an article I read recently, by a mysterious Chef Davide, in which he wrote, "The 16th century Italians did indeed teach the French all about eating well - but it was the French who created a uniform kitchen application which then spread through out the world, thus rightfully creating the grandness of the French cuisine. The Italian masters failed to take advantage of their skill in where such masters eventually had to give way to the virtue of great French cookery applications and uniformity." Wow, what would Batali say? So, okay, French lasagna it is.

According to Wini, a "great lasagna isn't simply about piling on cheese, cheese, and more cheese. The true path to lusciousness" is a creamy bechamel sauce and "a truly amazing cheese. In Italy, that would be Parmigiano-Reggiano; in France, it's often Comte or Emmental." Mardi soir, meaning Tuesday night, implies that this recipe is simple and quick enough to pull together, even on a weekday night. So what did I think? I thought the combination of herbes de Provence and Comte cheese produced a more genteel and lighter version of traditional Italian lasagna, which I really liked! In addition, it was quick and extremely easy! I will definitely make it again! To make it a true French meal, I recommend starting with a small bowl of soup, serving the lasagna with a simple salad and baguette, and finish with a classic French dessert! (Don't forget to check back for the dessert!!!) What to drink? Wine, of course!

French Lasagna Mardi Soir

Serves 4

For the bechamel
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups 2% or whole milk

For the meat sauce
1/2 pound loose mild Italian sausage
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, crushed
1/2 cup dry white wine
1, 14.5 can peeled tomatoes, undrained, pureed in a blender or food processor
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

For the lasagna
6 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles (I use Barilla oven-ready lasagna.)
1 1/2 cups shredded Comte or Emmental cheese, or a combination (about 6 ounces) (I used Comte, exclusively)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the bechamel:
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, a few gratings of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to make a smooth paste. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Do not allow the flour mixture to brown. Gradually whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring, until thick and bubbly; cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat and set aside.

For the meat sauce:
Cook the meat and onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring to break up the meat into small pieces, until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain off all of the fat from the pan. Add the garlic, herbes de Provence, and the red pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the white wine. Bring to a boil and boil until nearly evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the pureed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cook at an active simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Finishing the dish: 
Spread 1/2 cup of the meat sauce in the bottom of a 8" square baking dish-you won't cover the entire surface, but that's okay. Top with 2 sheets of lasagna noodles, side by side. Top with 1/3 of the remaining meat sauce (spreading to cover the noodles as best you can) and then 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Top with 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat the layers (starting with the noodles) twice.

Bake, uncovered, until the lasagna is bubbly and the top is golden brown, 25-30 minutes, covering loosely with foil during the last 10 minutes if the top browns too much. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting into four pieces to serve.

Recipe adapted from The Bonne Femme Cookbook, by Wini Moranville.