Saturday, September 23, 2023

Goodbye Summer - Hello Flatiron Steak!

Well, here we are, the last week of summer! I have to admit, after scorching heat and drought, I'm ready to see it go. No more futile watering, pesky mosquito bites, or walking around a little more "dewy" than I prefer! However, one thing I will miss is my recipe for "Ginger-Soy Flatiron Steak with Grilled Green Onions!" This more recent cut of beef, introduced in 2002, discovered by research teams from the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida, and funded by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, is a relatively tender, economical, and flavorful cut of meat. The flatiron steak is one of the most tender cuts from the beef chuck, is similar to a blade steak, but it's been cut flat instead of across the shoulder blade, eliminating the tough seam of connective tissue found in the blade steak. Other names for this cut of beef are top blade steak, top chuck steak, book steak, butlers' steak (UK), lifter steak, and oyster blade steak (Australia and New Zealand). It's even been touted as being as tender as the tenderloin with the taste of sirloin, and has become one of the best selling steaks in the world! 

The flatiron steak likes to be marinated, and is simple to prepare using dry heat cooking methods, like grilling. In this recipe, it is marinated in soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, and cooks in less than 10 minutes! The grilled whole green onions make a nice aromatic accompaniment. Trust me, it is delicious! I like to serve it simply with a green salad or grilled corn on the cob.

Ginger-Soy Flatiron Steak with Grilled Green Onions

Serves 4

For the Marinade
1/2 cup (4 oz) low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger (I grate it on a microplane.)

For the Steak
1, 1 lb flatiron steak
12 green onions, roots removed, ends trimmed
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

For the Marinade
Combine the soy sauce, vegetable oil, sesame oil, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger in a shallow, nonreactive dish just large enough to hold the steak. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Place the steak in the dish, turning to coat both sides. Marinate the steak at room temperature, turning occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate and marinate until ready to use, removing from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before grilling.

For the Steak
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling (over the coals) over high heat (400-450 degrees). Oil the grill rack. Remove the meat from the marinade, discard the marinade.

Grill the steak over the hottest part of the grill, turning once, until nicely charred and cooked to your liking, 4-5 minutes per side. (Do Not Overcook!) Remove the steak to rest. Coat the onions lightly with the vegetable oil and grill, turning once or twice, until softened and lightly browned, 3-4 minutes.

To Serve
Thinly slice the steak across the grain at an angle. Line a serving platter with the green onions, top with the sliced steak, spooning any accumulated juices over the meat.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

My Date with Mrs. Crispy!

After coming home in a rush and no plans for dinner, I was introduced to the wonderful world of "Croque-Madame," via Thomas Keller's cookbook, Bouchon. Somehow the Gods were smiling on me, because I already had everything I needed in my fridge! Perhaps it was a date with destiny? Croque-Madame ("Mrs. Crispy") is related to the Croque-Monsieur ("Mr. Crispy"), with the addition of a fried egg and a heavenly Mornay sauce. The name is attributed to the egg resembling a woman's hat. Not only is this the best ham and cheese sandwich you'll ever have, it is relatively simple, and any leftover Mornay sauce means you can have another! French fries are the natural accompaniment. Trust me, this takes bistro food to a whole other level!

Bouchon Croque-Madame

Serves 4

8, 1/2" thick slices Brioche, other egg bread, or pan de mie (about 4" square)
8 ounces thinly sliced boiled ham
8 slices (about 1/2 ounces each) Swiss cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup Mornay sauce (see below), warmed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    Lay out the bread slices. (I trimmed mine to be exactly 4".) Divide the ham among them, making sure it doesn't extend over the edges of the bread. Place the cheese over the ham. If the cheese is larger than the bread, bend it over to fit.
    Heat two large ovenproof nonstick pans or griddles over medium heat. (If you have only one large pan, made 2 sandwiches and keep them warm in the oven while you make the second batch.) Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to each pan. When it has melted, add half the bread cheese side up to each pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Transfer the pans to the oven for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the cheese.
    Meanwhile, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a large ovenproof skillet and fry the eggs. Cook the eggs until the bottoms are set, then place the skillet in the oven for a minute to set the top of the whites. (We cook the eggs in 4-5" individual skillets.)
    When the cheese is melted, remove the sandwiches from the oven. Place 2 slices together to make each sandwiches from the oven. Place 2 slices together to make each sandwich and put each sandwich on a serving plate. Place an egg on top of each sandwich. Pour about 1/4 cup of the sauce over the white of each egg, leaving the yolk uncovered. Grind black pepper over each egg and garnish the eggs with a diagonal sprinkling of chopped parsley. Serve with frites, if desired.

Mornay Sauce

This luxurious cheese sauce is perfect for gratineed scallops, macaroni and cheese, croque-monsieurs and croque-madames, and crepes.

Makes 2 cups

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced (1/4") Spanish onion
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream, or as needed
1 bay leaf
3 black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper
1/3 cup grated Comte or Emmentaler cheese (Gruyere would work as well.)

Melt the butter in a medium heavy saucepan set on a diffuser over medium heat. (I don't have a diffuser and it worked just as well.) Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the roux doesn't burn or color. (You may have to lower the heat.) Whisking constantly, add the milk and cream and whisk until fully incorporated. Bring to a simmer, whisking, then add the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves. Move the pan to one side of the diffuser, away from direct heat to avoid scorching, and bring back to a gentle simmer. (I transferred it to a new burner on low heat.) Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, reaching into the corners of the pan, for about 30 minutes. (If the sauce does begin to scorch, pour it into a clean pan - don't scrape the bottom of the pan - and continue.)
    Remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt, a grating of nutmeg, and a pinch of white pepper. Strain the sauce, add the cheese, and whisk to melt. Use immediately, or place in a storage container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to keep a skin from forming, and refrigerate for up to a week. If the sauce is too thick after refrigeration, it can be thinned with a little heavy cream.

Recipes from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Pirates, Maroons, and a Serious Jerk!

The original "Serious Chicken," Negril, Jamaica

If you've ever been to Jamaica, you know that "jerk" is serious business! Jerk, the traditional Jamaican barbecue, is a process of marinating meat in a very spicy marinade and then slow-cooking it over hardwood coals. The marinade is a varying combination of green onions, thyme, garlic, citrus juice, scotch bonnet peppers, and a plethora of dried spices, such as nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, etc., but it is the allspice (or pimento, as it is called in Jamaica) that makes jerk jerk. It's exotic, delicious, and very addictive! 

The word jerk is believed to have derived from the Spanish word "charqui," from the Quechua word for beef jerky. (I have also read that it comes from the Dutch word "gherk," meaning pickled or preserved.) According to Traveling Jamaica with Knife, Fork, and Spoon, by Robb Walsh and Jay McCarthy, the origins of jerk began with the buccaneers who used it to preserve meat. In fact, the name buccaneer was from the Arawak (the native inhabitants) word "buccan," for a wooden frame used to smoke meat. Eventually, the Spanish ran off the pirates and inhabited the island along with their slaves. In 1655, the British invaded causing the Spanish to flee, leaving their slaves behind. The slaves fought and escaped by fleeing into Jamaica's Blue Mountains (home of the legendary coffee) to live with the remaining Arawak and became known as the "maroons."

If you've never made jerk before, I have the perfect recipe for you from the now defunct Manhattan restaurant called, appropriately enough, Maroons. The marinade is not as fiery as some and incorporates espresso beans (a nod to the Blue Mountains no doubt) which adds another layer of flavor and helps to mellow the heat. I've adapted the recipe to use espresso powder rather than grinding your own beans and utilizing pork tenderloin eliminates the need to cook it for hours, rather about 20 minutes on a charcoal grill (which I highly recommend) or about 35 minutes in the oven. Mrs. P's Cornbread, made with coconut milk, is a perfect accompaniment and coleslaw (although not traditional) makes a pleasant cooling side. Although you can buy some good jerk marinades at the store (e.g., Walker's Wood), making your own will provide such stellar results that you will take it very serious indeed! Ya man!

Jerk Pork Tenderloin

Serves 6-8 (or halve the recipe for 2-4)

1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground mustard
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly groung black pepper
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon seeded and chopped habanero chile (I use 2 serrano chiles, stemmed but with seeds intact)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 pounds pork tenderloins (about 2, skinny end folded back and tied)

Add all the ingredients, except the pork, into a food processor and blend well until you have a wet paste.

Place the pork in a large glass baking dish or plastic freezer bag and coat with the paste. Cover or seal and marinate overnight.

To cook on grill
Preheat charcoal grill. Place pork over heat and grill, turning every 5 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 140 degrees, about 20 minutes. Slice and serve.

To cook in oven
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Transfer the pork to a rimmed baking sheet and roast until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 140 degrees, about 35 minutes. Slice and serve.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Home Away in Santa Fe!

Entrance to my charming adobe on Canyon Road!
I just returned from a spectacular visit to beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico! I started my visit with a walk along the historic plaza with it's overpriced and mostly imported goods for sale. I then strolled along the Palace of the Governers, which is the oldest continuously occupied government building in the US, built 1609-1610. The Palace of the Governers is your best bet to purchase authentic Native American jewelry, which is strictly regulated by law. Along with visits to the St. Francis Cathedral, the Loretto Chapel with it's magical staircase, the Santa Fe School of Cooking, the Blue Mesa Alpaca Ranch, endless art galleries, and a road trip to Taos, my favorite part was staying in a hundred year old adobe on Canyon Road! Not only did it provide very comfortable accommodations for my family of four, having a kitchen provided a nice respite from what I felt were some pretty disappointing restaurant faire, except for The Teahouse, which was the best meal we had and steps from my adorable casita! 

After returning home with a heavy heart, a Navajo bracelet, and ristras in tow, I wanted a delicious meal that payed homage to the vibrant colors and flavors of my beloved Santa Fe. I searched through my spiciest cookbooks and decided to make "Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers" from Mexican Everyday, by Rick Bayless. While this recipe utilizes delicious roasted poblanos, it is the surprising addition of spinach that makes it truly spectacular! Rick suggests serving this with roasted potatoes, but I feel a light salad and baguette is all that's needed for a vibrant meal that echoes the Santa Fe experience! If I had a restaurant in Santa Fe, I would serve this!

Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers

Serves 4

2 fresh poblano chiles
10 ounces cleaned spinach (about 10 cups)
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1-2 tablespoons masa harina (Mexican corn "flour" for making tortillas) (or all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 cups milk, plus a little more if needed
Four 4-5 ounce (1-1 1/4 pounds total) skinless salmon fillets (snapper, halibut and catfish are also good here) (I didn't bother removing the skin.)
Salt and ground black pepper

Roast the poblanos over an open flame or 4 inches below a broiler, turning regularly until blistered and blackened all over, about 5 minutes for an open flame, 10 minutes for the broiler. (See Techniques for more information.) Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel (or plastic wrap) and let cool until handleable.

Place the spinach in a microwaveable bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the top and microwave on high (100%) until completely wilted, usually about 2 minutes. (If your spinach comes in a microwavable bag, simply microwave it in the bag.) Uncover (or open the bag) and set aside.

Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. Heat the oil in a very large (12-inch) skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium. Add the garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the garlic into a blender. Set the skillet aside.

Rub the blackened skin off the chiles and pull out the stems and seed pods. Rinse the chiles to remove bits of skin and seeds. (Fyi: I was taught to NEVER rinse the chiles under water, so I never do!) Roughly chop and add to the blender, along with the masa harina and milk. Blend until smooth.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the fish liberally with salt and pepper. Lay the fillets in the hot oil and cook until richly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Use a spatula to flip the fillets, and cook until the fish barely flakes when pressed firmly with a finger or the back of a spoon (you want it slightly underdone), usually a couple of minutes longer for fish that's about 1 inch thick. Using the spatula, transfer the fish to an ovenproof plate and set in the oven.

With the skillet still over medium-high, pour in the poblano mixture and whisk until it comes to a boil and thickens, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes to blend the flavors. If the sauce has thickened past the consistency of a cream soup, whisk in a little more milk. Taste and season with salt, usually a generous 1/2 teaspoon. Add the spinach to the sauce and stir until it is warm and well coated with sauce.

Divide the creamy spinach among four plates. Top each portion with a piece of seared fish. (Or, if it seems more appealing to you, spoon the sauce over the fillets.) Serve without delay.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

What I want to eat when it's freakin hot outside!

Today it's 99°, with a heat index of 110°!!!! Ick!  I'm so sick of the heat and the dreaded question of "What's for dinner?"  At times like this, I immediately think of the ultimate, quick, hot weather food from Rick Bayless's Mexico One Plate at a Time. Black bean-chicken tostadas with salsa and tangy romaine makes a perfect dinner that no one in my family will turn down. My version simplifies things by buying packaged tostada shells, a rotisserie chicken, using my favorite salsa, and a couple more tweaks. In fact, this is so fast that I pull this out when I'm in a pinch for time.

Black Bean-Chicken Tostadas with Salsa and Tangy Romaine

One package tostada shells
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1, 15oz can black beans or frijoles negros, drained
Kosher salt
2 cups shredded chicken (use a store bought rotisserie)
3/4 cup mexican crema or sour cream (I can find crema at my local mexican market. It's awesome and worth looking for!)
1 cup or so of your favorite salsa (I like a tomato/jalapeno type for this recipe)
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco, cotija, or even shredded cheddar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups loosely packed, thinly sliced romaine
chopped tomatoes and cilantro for garnish

For the beans:
In a medium saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons canola oil over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmery, add the onion and cook until golden, approximately 7 minutes.  Add the garlic until you can smell it (about a minute, no more).   Then add the beans.  Using a potato masher, mash the beans until they are soft and creamy.  Add a little water, if necessary.  Don't worry about lumps.  It should be lumpy but still smooth.

For the tangy romaine:
Toss the romaine with the vinegar and olive oil and about 1/4 teaspoon salt.

To serve family style (or you can plate to make it more special):
Put out the tostada shells, bowl of shredded chicken, bowl of beans, the tangy romaine, crema, salsa, chopped tomato, chopped cilantro, and cheese. 

To assemble:
Take a tostada shell and spread the bottom with the delicious black beans.  Top with some chicken, romaine, salsa, crema or sour cream, and cheese.  Garnish with the tomatoes and cilantro.  Enjoy and don't forget to tell your kids to lean over their plate!!!

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Who are you calling Shrimp?

People have been eating shrimp since prehistoric times. There are recipes from Apicius, an ancient Roman author, in his cookbook of the same name, compiled in the late 4th and early 5th century AD. Clay vessels with shrimp decorations have even been found in the ruins of Pompeii, from the 1st century AD. "Squilla" is the Latin word for shrimp, while the word "shrimp" is derived from Middle English "shrimpe," meaning "puny person." Don't let these little guys scare you! They may have high levels of cholesterol, but only 1/3 of that compared to an egg. In addition, they are an excellent source of low calorie protein, selenium, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are all very good for you!

I love shrimp, especially grilled! This recipe for "Grilled Herb Shrimp," originates from the New York Times Cookbook. It is so easy and absolutely delicious! First you marinate the shrimp in an herby mustard marinade, then grill it up in a matter of minutes! In addition, any leftover shrimp are delicious cold as a snack,  perfect for jazzing up any salad, or for whatever use you may want! You can skewer the shrimp, as I did here, to make it easier to grill. If you don't have a grill, you can broil them, 3 inches from the flame about 2 minutes a side.

Grilled Herb Shrimp

Serves 6


3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, minced
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 lbs shrimp, peeled (tails left on) and deveined (For information on peeling and deveining shrimp, click my Techniques tab for a very helpful video!)


Combine the garlic, onion, parsley, basil, mustards, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice in a non-reactive (glass) dish. Add the shrimp and allow them to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. (I marinate them overnight.)

Prepare a charcoal grill with hot coals, and brush the grilling rack with oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking. Grill the shrimp for 1 1/2 minutes on each side, or until cooked.

Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties!, by Ina Garten.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Julia Child of Texas

Helen Corbitt was born on January 25, 1906 in upstate New York. After receiving a degree in home economics from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, her plans for medical school fell apart as a result of the Great Depression. She began work as a therapeutic dietitian in New Jersey and New York before being offered a teaching position at the University of Texas in Austin. She reportedly told the Dallas Times Herald, "Who the hell wants to go to Texas?," "Only I didn't say 'hell' in those days. I learned to swear in Texas." Only a few weeks after arriving, she was requested to cater a convention using only Texas products, which in those days was stark to say the least. However, Helen pushed up her sleeves and created a sublime mixture of black eyed peas, garlic, onion, vinegar, and oil, which became known as the legendary "Texas Caviar."

Helen's career took off, working at the Houston Country Club, the Driskill Hotel (where she fed the likes of Lyndon Johnson, who used many of her recipes at the White House), before finding her perfect fit at the Zodiac Room in 1955, at the Neiman Marcus flagship store in Dallas. With her focus on using only the freshest ingredients, the Zodiac Room was a huge success with appreciative Texans. She cooked for movie stars, socialites, royalty, and dignitaries, as well as the general public who could treat themselves at the standup counter on the main floor. According to Stanley Marcus's memoir Minding the Store, after complaining that the Zodiac Room has never showed profit, Helen replied, "You didn't mention money when you employed me. You simply said that you wanted the best food in the country. I've given you that."

After retiring from Neiman Marcus in 1969, she began lecturing around the country and writing cookbooks. Her first cookbook, Helen Corbitt's Cookbook (1957), sold more than 300,00 copies and is a mainstay in many Texas homes. With their worn-out pages still lovingly used today, I would be remiss not to share one of her most famous creations, "Poppy Seed Dressing," used for her "Citrus and Avocado Salad," which I lovingly call "Texas Sunshine Salad." The original recipe calls for Texas's renowned Ruby red grapefruit, but I actually prefer to use navel oranges. The combination of the sweet vinaigrette, creamy avocado, and tart citrus is surprisingly delicious! I find it a pleasing counterpart to Texas and Mexican cuisine, and especially refreshing on frigid winter days to remind us that the summer sun will soon be here again!

Texas Sunshine Salad (Citrus and Avocado Salad)

Serves 4

2 grapefruits or oranges
2 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded, and sliced
Lettuce leaves to form the base of the salad (I use 1 large head of Boston lettuce in this recipe.)
Poppy seed dressing (recipe follows)

First cut the ends off each grapefruit/orange. Set cut-side down on cutting board and run a knife down each side in an arch shape to remove the peel and white pith. With a sharp knife, slice into each section along the inside of each membrane. Repeat with the remaining sections. Set aside. Can be refrigerated until ready to use.

Just before serving, arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter. Decoratively arrange the avocado slices and grapefruit/orange segments on top of the lettuce. Drizzle some poppy seed dressing over the salad, serving extra dressing at the table. Serve at once!

Helen Corbitt's Poppy Seed Dressing

Makes approximately 2 cups (This recipe can easily be reduce by half.)

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon grated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika (optional)
1 cup oil, preferably canola and never olive oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Place everything in a mason jar and shake until emulsified. (Or you can use a food processor if you like to clean them...) Will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Shake before using.

Thanks to Texas Monthly, "Tastemaker of the Century-Helen Corbitt," written by Prudence Mackintosh, December 1999.
Recipe adapted from Helen Corbitt's Cookbook, and Texas Home Cooking.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Sparkling City by the Sea and Fish Tacos!

I am actually on an excursion to my beautiful home town of Corpus Christi, Texas! This fantastic city, known as "The Sparkling City by the Sea," has a lot to offer! Besides stellar sailing, fishing, and bird watching, it is minutes from the stunning Padre Island National Seashore, which is the largest stretch of undeveloped barrier island beach in the world! If that isn't enough, it is home to the Texas State Aquarium, the USS Lexington, the Corpus Christi Marina, the Corpus Christi Hooks (minor league team for the Houston Astros), and the Corpus Christi IceRays, just to name a few! 

But, did I mention the delicious, super fresh seafood? And, with it's close proximity to Mexico, the fantastic Mexican food? Well, I'll fill you in on my trip when I get back! Until then, why don't you try this authentic and excellent recipe for "Fish Tacos!"

Fish Tacos

Makes 8 tacos, serving 4

For the batter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon ground arbol chile or cayenne pepper
1 cup (not the whole bottle) beer, preferably dark, at room temperature

For the creamy salsa
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup plain yogurt

For the fish
3/4 pound red snapper, sea bass fillets, or even cod, skinned and deboned, cut into 8 strips, each 3-4" long and 3/4" wide
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon ground arbol chile or cayenne pepper
Canola oil for frying

For the tacos
8 white corn tortillas, about 6" diameter (or flour tortillas, if you must...)
1/2 head of cabbage, finely shredded
8 lime quarters
Your favorite bottled hot sauce

For the batter
In bowl, stir together the flour, garlic salt, and ground chile. Pour in the beer, whisking to make a smooth batter. Cover and let stand for up to 1 hour.

For the creamy salsa
In another bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, ketchup, and yogurt until blended. Set aside.

For the fish
In a non-aluminum bowl, add the fish strips, lime juice, garlic salt, and ground chile, toss to mix. Let marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Pour the oil to a depth of 1" into a deep, non-stick, frying pan and heat to 350 degrees on a deep-frying thermometer, approximately 5 minutes.

For the tortillas
While the fish marinates and the oil comes up to temperature, heat a comal, griddle, or heavy frying pan over medium heat. When hot, stack 2 or 3 tortillas on the pan and leave for a few seconds. Flip the tortillas, rotating them every second or so until they are hot. Wrap in a dry kitchen towel and repeat with the remaining tortillas. They should keep warm for 10 minutes. If they are to be held longer, wrap a damp towel around the dry towel and place in a 200 degree oven.

Back to the fish
Pat the fish strips dry with paper towels. One at a time, dip a strip into the batter, allowing any excess to drip off, and carefully slip into the hot oil. Do not allow the pieces to touch. Fry until the strips are crisp and golden, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer to paper towels to drain. When all are fried, transfer to a warmed serving plate.

Serving the tacos
Put the Salsa Mexicana, cabbage, limes, and creamy salsa in separate small bowls and set alongside the fish, tortillas, and hot sauce. To build the perfect taco, place a tortilla on your plate, top with a piece of fish, drizzle with the creamy salsa, top with some cabbage, Salsa Mexicana, hot sauce, and a squeeze of lime! Don't forget some icy cold cerveza to wash it all down!!!

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Remember the Alamo!

I think everyone has a place where they instinctually feel at home, for me that is central and south Texas. The kindness and generosity of the people is truly infectious, and not surprising due to the long history of the area! Let's start with the beautiful city of San Antonio! In 1691, a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries came upon the river and Native American settlement on June 13, the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padova, Italy, and named the place and river "San Antonio" in his honor. Following several Spanish missions established in the area, from 1718 through 1731, sixteen families who had been colonists in the Canary Islands, arrived in San Antonio, by royal decree of the King of Spain, and founded La Villa de San Fernando, and established the first civil government in Texas and the San Fernando Cathedral (built between 1738-1750). The San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the United States, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, the Cathedral is the resting place of the fallen heroes of the Alamo, including Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie. If you ever find yourself in San Antonio, besides visiting the Alamo, the San Fernando Cathedral should be on your list!

View of the San Fernando Cathedral from my amazing terrace at the Drury Plaza - San Antonio Riverwalk located in the restored Alamo National Bank Building, Room 971, in the San Fernando Tower! (Great Hotel Room!) 

My favorite part of San Antonio is the enchanting San Antonio Riverwalk, aka., Paseo Del Rio. The San Antonio Riverwalk was transformed in the 1920s, diverting the river's flow and paving over the riverbanks, creating a pedestrian mall, home to galleries, shops, and restaurants, it is a must-see! The oldest restaurant along the Riverwalk is Casa Rio. The restaurant founded in 1946, sits on land first granted title in 1777 by the King of Spain. The existing Spanish Colonial hacienda became the core of Casa Rio, where the huge cedar door and window lintels, the fireplace, and the thick rock walls, are still evident. Although the food is typical, sub-par tourist faire, like most along the Riverwalk, Casa Rio is definitely a place to visit.

View of Casa Rio from the Commerce Street Bridge, the first bridge built to span the river!

So, in honor of San Antonio, I made a classic "Chiles Rellenos," found on any self-respecting Mexican menu! Chiles Rellenos, or stuffed chiles, are one of the most emblematic dishes in Mexican cuisine, with origins dating back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. It consists of roasted poblano chiles stuffed with cheese or meats and covered in an egg batter, fried, and served with a light tomato broth. Because the chiles relleno is traditionally made with poblano chiles, a term used to refer to people and things from the city and state of Puebla, it is widely considered to have originated in Puebla, and is rumored to have been created by the local nuns! This delicious cheese stuffed version is truly simple, no toothpicks, no dipping, no freezing, if you've never made chiles rellenos before, this is your recipe! You'll love it!

Chiles Rellenos

Serves 4

For the Salsa
1 pound Roma tomatoes, cored and halved
1/2 medium white onion, cut into 1/2" slices
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium serrano chile, stemmed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or more to taste

For the Chiles Rellenos
5 medium poblano chiles (I always make an extra one, just in case one tears beyond repair)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season chiles
8 ounces (about 3 cups) shredded Monterey Jack, Chihuahua, or queso Oaxaca cheese
Flour for dusting stuffed pobanos
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, for the egg whites
1 cup canola oil

For the Salsa
Preheat your broiler and arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven.

Place the tomato halves, (skin-side up), onion slices, garlic, and serrano on a baking sheet. Broil until the tomato skins start to blacken and blister, about 7 minutes. Remove from the broiler and transfer the ingredients to a blender. Add the lime juice and salt, and blend into a smooth puree. Taste and season with additional salt or lime to taste.

Transfer to a small saucepan and keep warm over very low heat.

For the Chiles Rellenos
Lay 1 chile on a cutting board so that it sits flat naturally without rolling. Using a sharp pairing knife, make two cuts forming a "T" by first slicing down the middle of the chile lengthwise from stem to tip, them making a second cut perpendicular to the first about 1/2" from the stem, slicing only halfway through the chile. Don't cut the stem end completely off! Carefully open the flaps to expose the interior of the chile, and using a pairing knife and/or kitchen shears, carefully remove all the seeds, ribs, and any core. You can rinse the chile under cold water to flush out any extra seeds. Dry thoroughly with paper towels, inside and out. Repeat with the remaining chiles.

Turn 2 gas burners to medium-high heat. Place 1 chile directly on each burner and roast, turning occasionally with tongs, until blackened and blistered on all sides. Repeat with the remaining chiles. Check my "Techniques" tab for additional guidance on How to Roast a Chile. If you don't have a gas stove, place all the chiles directly on a high oven rack under the broiler, turning occasionally with tongs, until the chiles blacken and blister on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. When the chiles are blackened, place in a large, heatproof bowl, and tightly cover with plastic wrap. Let cool about 15 minutes.

Using the side a knife, can use a butter knife to prevent tearing, scrape away and discard the charred skins. Try not to tear the chiles! Season the inside and outside of the chiles with salt and pepper. Stuff each chile, trying not to tear them, with a quarter of the cheese (about 2/3 cup) and close the flaps over the cheese. Dust lightly with flour to help batter adhere. Set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until lightened in color and frothy, about 2 minutes, set aside. Place the egg whites and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the egg yolks with a rubber spatula until just combined. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until hot, about 4 minutes. Check to see if the oil is hot by submerging the handle of a wooden spoon until it touches the bottom of the pan, the oil is ready if bubbles form around the handle.

Working with 1 chile at a time, drop about 1/2 cup of the egg batter into the oil using a rubber spatula to spread it to about the same size as the stuffed chile. The batter will puff up considerably, it's supposed to! 

Lay the chile, seam-side down on top of the mound of batter.

Drop another 1/2 cup of the batter on top of the chile, spreading it with the rubber spatula to cover the sides and encase the chile.

Cook without disturbing until the bottom of the chile relleno is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Using a spatula and a fork, carefully flip the chile relleno over and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. (If the sides of the chile aren't browned, using a spatula or tongs, carefully turn it onto each side to brown.)

When done, transfer the chiles rellenos to a cooling rack and season with a pinch of salt. You can place them in a low oven to keep warm, while finishing the remaining chiles.

Plating the Dish
Place about 1/4 of the salsa into four individual wide bowls or plates, top each with a chile relleno, garnish with a sprig of cilantro. Serve immediately, passing any remaining sauce on the side. Delicioso!

***You may also be interested in Chorizo Stuffed Poblano Peppers!

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Keep Austin Weird!

In honor of my recent Texas road-trip, I am going to share an excellent recipe for Texas sheet cake, specifically, "The Driskill's 1886 Room Chocolate Sheet Cake!" The Driskill Hotel was built in 1886 in downtown Austin, as the showplace of cattle baron Jesse Driskill. In addition to being a legendary landmark of Texas hospitality, it is listed as a member of The Historic Hotels of America and Associated Luxury Hotels International. If you ever find yourself in Austin, staying at the Driskill will put you in the center of everything, including the Texas State Capital, the Austin Convention Center, Lady Bird Lake, The Long Center, Austin City Limits at the Moody Theater, as well as excellent shopping, dining, and convenient access to the colorful 6th Street Music Scene

Like Austin, known as the "Live Music Capital of the World," and whose motto is "Keep Austin Weird," Texas sheet cake is unique all it's own! You bake an incredibly moist cake in a sheet pan, and while it is still warm, you pour the warm icing over the cake! This cake is so good, it is a cherished recipe of the Heritage Society of Austin! In addition, because this cake is so moist, you can even make it up to 2 days ahead, covered and refrigerated! It's perfect for any celebration!

The Driskill's 1886 Room Chocolate Sheet Cake

Makes one 9"x13" sheet cake

For the Cake
1 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup water
1/2 heaping cup cocoa (unsweetened)
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda

For the Icing
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 heaping tablespoons cocoa (unsweetened)
4 tablespoons half-and-half
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9"x13" cake pan.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the water and cocoa, stirring well.

Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt, and stir them into the chocolate mixture.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and baking soda, add the chocolate mixture, and mix well.

Spoon the cake batter (or gently pour) into the prepared pan, and bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

For the Icing
While the cake is baking, melt the butter with the cocoa in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the half-and-half, and heat it through. Mix in the remaining ingredients, blend well, and remove the pan from the heat.

Finishing the Cake
While the cake and icing are still warm, gently pour the icing over the cake. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Texas Home Cooking, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.

Saturday, May 27, 2023


After a recent trip to Memphis, known for their amazing ribs, I wanted to give it a try! Memphis-style ribs are dry rubbed, smoked, and served with optional sauce on the side, coleslaw, and beans. After decided on which recipe I wanted to try, I began the nasty business of trimming the slabs of ribs. First you lay the slabs, bone-side down, and cut along the line of fat at the base of the ribs. Next you flip the slabs over and cut off the flap of meat in the middle of the rack. Save those portions to grill alongside the ribs. Lastly, flip the slabs over, bone-side up, and remove the membrane from the ribs by sliding a knife under the membrane at the edges and using a paper towel, pull the membrane off. Gross! 

This recipe calls for the ribs to be smoked at medium-low heat, which is 300-350 degrees. My husband was watching me, making me nervous, telling me that the heat was too high! I could tell he thought everything I was doing was wrong. He's like the barbecue police! So, when I served these ribs, I was delighted to hear him say, "These are the best ribs I've ever had!" Success!!! They had the perfect smoke ring, the perfect bite, and a fantastic bark! 

Memphis-Style Spareribs

Serves 4


For the Dry Rub
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground celery seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt

For the Ribs
4 lbs (2 kg) trimmed pork spareribs, in slabs
3 or 4 handfuls hickory chips, soaked in water
Your favorite barbecue sauce, to serve on the side (optional)


Mix all the dry rub ingredients in a bowl, and pat it all over the spareribs, rubbing it in well. Place the ribs in a dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before barbecuing.

Prepare a charcoal grill for barbecuing over medium-low heat (300-350 degrees).

Place an aluminum drip pan half full of water in the center of the fire bed. Sprinkle some of the wood chips on the coals. Place the ribs on the grill rack over the drip pan. 

Cover and grill and smoke the ribs, turning them every 30 minutes or so and adding more wood chips, more coals, and more water to the drip pan as needed.

Continue to cover, grill, and smoke the ribs until they are fork-tender, 2 1/2-3 hours. (I stacked and wrapped the ribs in foil for the last 1/2 hour.)

To serve, cut the slabs into separate ribs and pile on top of a platter and serve proudly!

Recipe from Essentials of Grilling, by Williams-Sonoma.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Wine Doors and Pizza Napoli 1955

I am recovering from Achilles tendonitis after visiting my beloved daughter in the Renaissance city, Florence. What a beautiful city that escapes the modern aesthetic, choosing to live in it's past of medieval and Renaissance history and breathtaking art. I last visited Florence 24 years ago, and I can say nothing has changed! As Emiko Davies says in her lovely cookbook Florentine, " In every nook and cranny, history seeps out onto the well-trodden stone streets and into the every day."

The first time I visited, I was just out of college, newly married, and surprise pregnant with my first daughter. Although it was very early, I was not able to enjoy the wine culture of Florence. Total bummer. Although, this time I was ready for a party and my 19 year old daughter was able to celebrate with me! Perhaps the best time I have ever had! 

I have to admit the weather was a little chilly and rainy the entire trip, with the exception of Rome (which I will post about soon). With umbrella up, I was surprised to stumble upon the most lovely wine door! Completely by accident! These small stone arch doors, which are supposed to mimic the noble Renaissance palazzos to which they are attached, sold wine to passerby's to help struggling aristocratic families sell wine from their vineyards. Brillante!

I happened to stumble onto the wine door on my way to Pizza Napoli 1955, located Via Dei Neri 73/R, 50122, Firenze, Italia. Tired, wet, and hungry, I was met with a chair to rest, glass of wine, and the BEST pizza I have ever had! The best part is that when my pizza de bufala arrived in all it's pillowy glory, it was heart shaped! So delicious! I highly recommend checking it out if you are ever able! Anyway, when I got home I searched how to shape a heart pizza! I still use my go to My Basic Pizza Dough and this video! Mine didn't turn out as good as Pizza Napoli, but they've got 67 years experience! Enjoy!

(This is Pizza de Rossa, my daughter's favorite!)

Friday, April 21, 2023

When in Rome!

Is there a better place than the Eternal City? Everyone should go at least once in their life. It is truly breathtaking and dripping with history. We checked into the Hotel Hiberia located in a palace in the historical center of Rome. The lovely gentleman at the front desk said, "I have given you a room with amazing views!" I thanked him and when we entered our room I was shocked to say the least! Not only did it have views of almost all of Rome's landmarks, it was a corner room with two windows, and the view from the bathroom was just as stunning! My daughter and I now joke that it will always be the best bathroom in the world! Haha!

After a long day of walking and enjoying la dolce vita, we were starving! I knew exactly what I wanted, one of Rome's four classic pastas, "Cacio e Pepe!" Cacio is a local Italian word meaning cheese from the Latin word caseus. So it's basically pasta with Pecorino Romano, black pepper and mixed with pasta water to emulsify into a mesmerizing sauce of simplicity. However, don't let the minimal ingredients fool you into thinking it's easy! It's all about technique and practice!

We ate at L'Hostaria Boschetto in the Monti District. With it's charming stone arches and everything porcini, I highly recommend visiting! I ordered the Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe to see what all the fuss was. Verdict? Delicious! In fact, the couple next to us asked what I ordered and they nodded in satisfaction saying, "It is the best!"

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe from L'Hostaria Boschetto.

I've been testing every recipe out there to achieve the best version for the home cook. I tried one where you toast the pepper then simmer in pasta water, but found it unnecessary. One fidgety one that alternated heat from simmer to off, then on again, etc. only to have the cheese separate into a total disaster! Also, any recipe that calls for olive oil, cream, or anything else would have the Romans throw you in the Tiber River! Romans have an intense loyalty to their culinary traditions! In fact, one of Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy shows featured a restaurant that used half Romano and half Parmesan in their Cacio e Pepe. Gasp! Turns out the Roman's refuse to eat there and it's just for tourists basically now.

After all my testing, I have decided that Katie Parla's "Cacio e Pepe Leonardo Vignoli," from her book Tasting Rome, is the best and easiest to achieve the desired result. While the pasta cooks, you add a ladle full of starchy pasta water to the grated cheese in a large bowl with the pepper and mix. When the pasta is cooked, transfer to the bowl, stirring constantly, adding leftover pasta water as necessary to achieve a smooth sauce. Remember the pasta will continue to absorb water so it's better to be a little more on the "wet" side. The classic pasta for Cacio e Pepe is tonnarelli, which I picked up while there. If tonnarelli is not available, buying a high quality spaghetti (not Barilla or Cervasi) is very acceptable. The strands should look a little scruffed up by the bronze dies to help the sauce adhere. Good luck!

*If you want to practice making a single serving use 3 oz pasta, 2 oz Pecorino, and 1/4 tsp black pepper!*

Simplest ingredients!

Cacio e Pepe di Leonardo Vignoli

Turned out great! Finally!

Serves 4-6 


1 pound high quality tonnarelli or spaghetti
2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano (I recommend purchasing Locatelli Grated Pecorino Romano. I am usually a stickler for freshly grated, but it's a very hard cheese!)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

*Do Not Add Salt except for the pasta water. Pecorino is Very Salty!*


Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a small ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste. (Personally, I have found that adding a regular size ladle of water or two and whisking to a cream soup consistency works just as well.)

When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a juicy sauce that completely coats the pasta.

Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Recipe from Tasting Rome, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill.

*I like Chianti with this recipe.*

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Got Ham?

Sometimes it can be hard to get rid of that leftover Easter ham. Short of casserole-type dishes, which my family hates, pasta dishes, which my husband hates, sandwiches are the last option. However, I have come up with a superb recipe for "Toasted Ham and Smoked Gouda Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions and Arugula." Imagine warm ham and melty Gouda, sweet caramelized onions, tangy Dijon mustard, and peppery arugula. Yum! It's so good that I've made them twice this week! All that's needed is a comforting bowl of soup, or your favorite chips, to complete this simple yet satisfying meal. I promise you will love it!

Toasted Ham and Smoked Gouda Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions and Arugula

Makes 4 Sandwiches.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 slices good quality sandwich bread (I use an Italian style bread.)
Dijon mustard
Thinly sliced ham, enough for 4 sandwiches
4 slices smoked Gouda
Softened butter
4 handfuls arugula

For the Caramelized Onions
In a large saute pan, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter stops foaming, add the onions, salt, and pepper. Stir well and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove the cover from the pan. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a deep golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Place the onions into a bowl; set aside. (Don't bother washing out the pan.)

For the Sandwiches
Take 2 pieces of bread and spread a little Dijon mustard on each. Lay as much ham on one bread slice as you prefer. Top with a slice of smoked Gouda. Top the other bread slice with a quarter of the caramelized onions. Close the sandwich and butter one side. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches.

Heat the saute pan that you used for the onions over medium-low heat. Lay the sandwiches, butter-side down, in the pan. (You may have to do them in batches depending on the size of your pan.) Butter the other side of the sandwiches. Cover and let heat gently until just beginning to brown. Flip the sandwiches over, cover, and continue heating until just beginning to brown. Flip the sandwiches over again, raise the heat to medium, and let toast to golden brown. Turn the sandwiches over and toast the other side until golden brown. Remove the sandwiches to a cutting board. Just before serving, open each sandwich and place a handful of arugula inside. Close the sandwiches and cut on the diagonal, serve.