Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I was planning to share a couple more recipes before Christmas, but I just don't have enough time! If you feel as overwhelmed as I do, maybe this will cheer you up!

Recipes from my blog that I am making this year:

For Christmas Eve:


Seafood Newburg

For Christmas Morning:

Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyere

For Christmas Dinner:

A Burst of Camembert on Baby Greens


Meringue Mushrooms

Seven Layer Jello

Chocolate Truffles au Naturel

Lacy Nut Cookies

Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

How Napoleon, an Opera, and The Belgian Revolution gave us White Gold

Belgian endives (aka., witloof - "white leaf") are a member of the chicory family, which includes frisee, escarole, and radicchio. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and have a moist, crisp, and pleasantly mild bitter taste. Extremely low in fat and calories, endives are a great source of vitamin A, B, and C, fiber, and are loaded with minerals such as manganese, iron, and potassium. In fact, one head of endive delivers almost 60% of the potassium found in a banana! So beloved in Europe, they were nicknamed "white gold" when they first arrived in Paris in 1872. But where did endives come from?

In 1814, following Napoleon's exile to the island of Elba, the Congress of Vienna united the primarily Protestant state of Holland with the primarily Catholic state of Belgium, creating the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. With the many religious and cultural differences between the northern Dutch and southern Belgians, tensions were high. In 1830, during the Brussels showing of the patriotic- and revolutionary-themed opera The Mute of Portici, the Belgians were so inspired that a riot broke out, thus beginning The Belgian War of Independence. By the end of the year, European nations began recognizing Belgium as an independent country; and, in 1831 the new national congress elected German Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg as their new King. In the spring of the same year, a man named Jan Lammers returned from the war to his farm near Brussels. Prior to leaving, Jan had stored chicory roots in his cellar to later be dried and roasted for use as a coffee substitute. However, to his surprise, the roots had sprouted small, white, leafy shoots. He tried the leaves and endives were discovered! 

When purchasing endives, choose crisp, firmly-packed heads without any discolored spots or insect damage. They are best stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in a paper towel and placed in an open plastic bag. They are at their best November through April, making them a perfect choice for the holidays. One of the easiest, and most delicious ways to enjoy these bitter gems, is to make "Endive Leaves with Roquefort, Honey, and Walnuts." It's a combination that can't be beat! These elegant hors d'oeuvres are a perfect way to start a meal and equally welcome to any cocktail party repertoire.

Endive Leaves with Roquefort, Honey, and Walnuts

Makes approximately 20 leaves


2 Belgian endives, washed and leaves separated
4 ounces Roquefort or other strong blue cheese
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream, or enough to make a smooth paste
2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, chopped (you can also use spiced or candied nuts)


With a sharp knife, carefully cut a small slice from the back of each leaf to ensure they sit flat on a serving tray. Using a food processor or a fork, mix the Roquefort and cream together until smooth. Pipe a small rosette of the cheese mixture at the bottom of each leaf. (I like to top each rosette with a tiny slice of additional Roquefort, because I adore Roquefort!) Drizzle each leaf with some honey. Sprinkle with the toasted walnuts and serve. Enjoy!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bake in Your Pajamas!

As most of the country is being blanketed in a winter wonderland, I was quite pleased to wake up to a snow day (aka., no school)! How wonderful to throw the usual daily grind to the wind and spend the day warm and cozy, and probably in your pajamas! So, with all cares swept away, I always make the ultimate snow day treat, Laura Calder's "Crisp Chewy Meringues!" These light as a cloud meringues have a nice crisp crust encasing a soft marshmallowy interior. These elegant little confections are a favorite of my kids, and are the perfect treat along side a cup of The Best Hot Chocolate

This recipe is very simple, as long as you take the extra minute to sift in the icing sugar and cornstarch. Although this may seem a little fussy, it is essential to prevent unpleasant clumps of icing sugar/cornstarch in the meringues. In addition, instead of hot chocolate, you can serve them with coffee, along side fruit desserts, and even partially dip them in melted chocolate for extra confectionery delight! So, enjoy the surprise day off and treat your family to one of the best meringues you'll ever have! Bring it on Mother Nature, I could care less!

Crisp Chewy Meringues

Makes about 16 cake-of-soap-sized meringues


4 egg whites
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract (or orange flower water, or maple extract, etc.)
Pinch of cream of tartar
2/3 cup (140 g) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (85 g) icing sugar (aka., powdered sugar)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) cornstarch


Heat the oven to 225 degrees F (110 C). Whip the egg whites with the salt to soft peaks, add the vanilla, and continue beating to stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, stir the cream of tartar into the granulated sugar, and whisk into the egg whites a spoonful at a time, until the sugar has dissolved and the meringue is stiff and glossy. Sift together the icing sugar and cornstarch. Sift over the meringue, and gently fold until fully incorporated.

Pipe or spoon the meringues onto 2 parchment-lined (or Silpat) baking sheets.

Bake until cream-colored and crisp on top when tapped, 1-1 1/2 hours. Cool on the baking sheets. Store in an airtight container.

(They remind me of snowballs, but taste much better!)

Recipe adapted from French Taste, by Laura Calder.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving and a Twist on Traditional Stuffing!

This year for Thanksgiving, my husband is going to smoke a turkey breast and ham, instead of roasting a traditional whole turkey. (Sorry neighbors, the smoke will be flowing!) Not only does this provide the option of turkey and/or ham, it allows me to use my oven for all the sides and desserts sans turkey! YES! So, while my Thanksgiving feast is straying from tradition, so is the stuffing. I first saw this recipe in the October 2013 issue of Real Simple for "Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding" and just had to try it. After all, it has all my favorite things: mushroom, leeks, and cheese. Mmm! It was so stunningly delicious that I knew I would be making this savory delight again for Thanksgiving! In addition, it allows me to deplete all the random pieces of baguettes that I always have lurking in my freezer! So, why not throw tradition to the wind (along with some smoke), and mix things up with this exceptional recipe!

Mushroom and Gruyere Bread Pudding

Serves 6


2 tablespoons olive oil
4 leeks (white and light green parts only), cut into half-moons (see Techniques for more about leeks.)
10 ounces cremini mushrooms (aka., baby bellas), trimmed and sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 pound country bread, cut into 1" pieces (about 5 cups) (I use crust-less baguettes.)
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften, 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, tossing frequently, until the mushrooms are tender, 3-4 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly.

Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the bread, Gruyere, and mushroom mixture and mix to combine.

Transfer to an 8" or other 2 quart baking dish. Cover with foil and bake until the edges are set but the center is slightly wobbly, 20-30 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned, 20-25 minutes more. Sprinkle with the chives before serving.

What else am I serving?

and for dessert:

Traditional Pumpkin Pie and Chocolate Ganache Cake (I haven't posted this recipe yet, but will very soon!)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

La Crostata

Nothing says fall to me more than apples! One of my favorite ways to prepare them is to make Ina Garten's "Apple Crostata!" A crostata is a rustic free-form Italian tart, which can be sweet (filled with fruit jams or fruit) or savory (filled with meat and/or vegetables), all tucked into a shortcrust pastry and then baked. This recipe, from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties!, is so simple and wonderful that I make it all the time! The addition of orange zest and a dash of allspice gives it that "je ne sais quoi." I've never served it to anyone who didn't love it!

This recipe makes enough pastry for two crostatas, but you can halve the ingredients for just one. Although, it's so delicious you might as well have the other half waiting in your freezer to make another, or fill it with your favorite jam and top with powdered sugar for a more traditional Italian version. In addition, the most important thing to remember is to keep the pastry COLD or it can melt while baking. Sometimes, I even fill and shape the crostata ahead of time and store in the refrigerator, to be popped in the oven 30 minutes or so before serving. Whether you serve this at a dinner party, casual family meal, or even Thanksgiving, this recipe will not disappoint!

Apple Crostata

Serves 6

For the Pastry (enough for 2)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 pound very cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup ice water

For the Filling (enough for 1)
1 1/2 pounds (about 3-4) McIntosh, Macoun, or Empire apples
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

For the Pastry
Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss quickly with your fingers to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Be careful; the blades are sharp! Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the 1/4 cup ice water all at once through the feeding tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and form into 2 disks. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate one of the disks for at least an hour. Freeze the rest of the pastry.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Roll the pastry into an 11" circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (I actually prefer to roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap and then store it in the refrigerator while I prepare the apples. Remember: cold, cold, cold!)

For the Filling
Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Cut each quarter into 3 chunks. Toss the chunks with the orange zest. Remove the dough from the refrigerator (remove the plastic wrap) and then top with the apple chunks, leaving 1 1/2" border.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Pour into  a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts holding together. Sprinkle evenly on the apples. Gently fold the border over the apples, pleating it to make a circle.

Bake the crostata for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. Let the tart cool for 5 minutes, then use 2 large spatulas to transfer it to a wire rack.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sometimes, Simpler is Better

Now that fall is quickly sliding into winter and the holiday rush is just beginning, it's time for some comfort food that everyone loves, specifically, "Stuffed Shells." Although stuffed shells are more American than Italian, it has everything you could want: pasta, cheese, and hopefully a delicious homemade tomato sauce. I've tried many recipes that include spinach, ground beef, and even sausage, but sometimes simpler is better. These shells are stuffed with a creamy filling of ricotta, Parmesan, and eggs, topped with an easy homemade marinara sauce, and sprinkled with chopped parsley and Parmesan. The result is a "lighter" version that is not forbidding or heavy, and has a burst of freshness from the homemade marinara. Not only is this recipe very satisfying, it's fast and easy! While the sauce simmers, you can make the filling, cook the shells, and stuff them all within about an hour. Then you can cover it and tuck it into the refrigerator until you're ready to bake it, even a day in advance! Serve it with a Caesar salad and garlic bread, and everyone will be happy!

Stuffed Shells with Homemade Marinara Sauce

Serves 8, and can easily be doubled for a crowd.

For the Marinara
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2, 28-ounce cans whole, peeled roma tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

For the Stuffed Shells
1, 12-ounce box jumbo shells
2, 15-ounce containers of whole milk ricotta cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, for serving

For the Marinara
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. When you smell the garlic, carefully (it usually spatters) pour in the tomatoes, juice and all, and remaining ingredients.

Break tomatoes up with a wooden spoon, stir and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover, and simmer for 1 hour. When done, remove the bay leaf and basil sprig and whiz up with an immersion blender (see Gadgets) or blender. Season to taste, if necessary. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Stuffed Shells
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the shells until al dente, about 5-6 minutes. (You don't want them too soft or they can fall apart when stuffing.) Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain again and spread out on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, salt and pepper until well mixed. Fill each shell with a large spoonful (about 2 tablespoons) and lay side by side in a buttered 9"x13" baking dish. (You may have to "stuff" them in, but they will fit.) At this point, the shells can be covered and refrigerated, even overnight.

Pour some of the red sauce over the shells, just enough to cover and moisten them.

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve with the remaining reheated sauce and Parmesan cheese, on the side.

Creamy Goodness!

Friday, October 25, 2013

A French Chef, an Italian Diva, and a Luxurious Lasagna

One of my favorite ways to spend my Saturdays is to cook something elaborate and listen to The Splendid Table on NPR. Last Saturday, Lynn Rosetta Casper spoke to Daniel Boulud, French Chef, author, and owner of his three-star Michelin restaurant Daniel, as well as many more, who was promoting his new book Daniel. I was so inspired, that I pulled out his recipe for "Lasagna with Chicken, Wild Mushrooms, and Fontina Cheese." This bechamel based lasagna combines tender chicken with spinach, wild mushrooms, and an entire pound of fontina cheese! The mixture is seasoned with white wine, nutmeg, and white pepper, then topped off with a generous layer of Parmesan cheese! It's very rich and extremely delicious! Although somewhat time consuming, this luxurious lasagna is the ultimate comfort food! 

After presenting my wondrous concoction, and after my husband took his first bite, he made a reference to Chicken Tetrazzini. What? WHAT? Well, on second thought, given the ingredients, it should be reminiscent of Chicken Tetrazzini; although, much tastier and definitely a more sophisticated presentation. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Chicken Tetrazzini originated in San Francisco and was created for and named after Luisa Tetrazzini. Luisa Tetrazzini was a world renowned opera singer from Florence, who moved to San Francisco to sing in the early 1900s. Her most famous performance was on Christmas Eve in 1910, when she got up on a platform and serenaded an estimated 200-300,000 San Franciscans! She was also the fat lady of "it's not over till the fat lady sings!" No wonder such an uber-rich dish was created for this larger-then-life and deeply revered performer!   

I baked this lasagna in a standard 9"x13" Pyrex baking dish, and it did bubble over a little in the oven. So, if you have a slightly deeper pan, I would recommend using that. If not, place a baking sheet underneath the pan in the oven, to catch any possible drips. In addition, one 9-ounce bag of spinach works well because after you remove the stems, you will be pretty close to the 8-ounces that the recipe calls for. And finally, serve this luscious lasagna with crusty bread or breadsticks, a big green salad, and a bottle of white wine. So, whether you are singing for your supper or feeding a crowd, everyone will love this decadent lasagna, which just might summon an encore!

Lasagna with Chicken, Wild Mushrooms, and Fontina Cheese

Serves 10-12, Can be assembled a day ahead.

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 pound wild mushrooms (I used cremini mushrooms), trimmed and roughly chopped
1/2 pound spinach leaves, stems removed, washed
4 tablespoons butter, plus extra to grease pan
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into approximately 1/2" pieces
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
3 cups milk
1/2 bunch Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
16 dried lasagna noodles
1 pound fontina cheese, cut into small dice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

To cook the vegetables, chicken, and bechamel:
In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and celery with a sprinkle of salt and white pepper, and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, then add the spinach with a sprinkle of salt and white pepper. Cook until the spinach is wilted and the mushrooms are tender. Remove the vegetables from the pot and reserve. (After sitting, my vegetable mixture seemed to release some liquid, which I was slightly concerned about, but didn't cause any problems when added to the bechamel. So don't worry!)

Add the butter to the same pot, and adjust the heat to medium. Season the chicken pieces on all sides with salt and white pepper, and add to the melted butter. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is almost cooked through but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely reduced. (This took about 10 minutes, which made me afraid that the chicken would be overcooked, but surprisingly it remained very tender.) Sprinkle the flour over the chicken, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, allowing the flour to coat the chicken and absorb the liquid. Gradually stir in the cream and milk, scraping the pot to release any cooked flour from the bottom and sides (if necessary, stir with a whisk to break up any lumps). Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, allowing the liquid to thicken. With a spoon or ladle, reserve 1 cup of the liquid. Remove the pot from the heat, and add the cooked vegetables. Add the chopped parsley. Season generously with nutmeg, salt, and white pepper to taste.

To assemble the lasagna:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the noodles for about 8 minutes; they should be not quite cooked through. Strain the noodles in a colander, and rinse in cold water. Drain, then toss noodles with 2 tablespoons of olive oil to prevent sticking. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter a 9"x13" baking pan. Place a layer of 4 noodles on the bottom, overlapping them slightly. Top with one third of the chicken mixture, then one third of the diced fontina. Repeat layering twice, finishing with a layer of noodles.

Spread the reserved 1 cup sauce on the noodles and then sprinkle with Parmesan.

(At this stage, the lasagna can be covered and refrigerated overnight.) Cover with aluminum foil or a lid and bake for 30 minutes. (I would recommend buttering the foil to prevent the Parmesan from sticking once removed.) Increase heat to 400 degrees, remove the foil, and continue to bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes more. (If not browned, run under the broiler for a minute or two, don't let it burn!)

Recipe slightly adapted from Elle Decor.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Batter Up!

The Major League Baseball Playoffs are in full swing, with the Red Sox versus the Tigers and the Dodgers versus the Cardinals, it's time for a baseball party! Sliders (tip: 1 pound ground beef makes 12 sliders), chips, and cracker jacks makes a fun menu, but baseball cupcakes make it a grand slam! While I have nothing against store-bought cake mix, I do detest that miserable excuse for frosting in a can. Yuck! In fact, buy the cake mix, but make James Beard's Butter Cream Frosting, instead. It's so easy! No boiling, no cooking, just cream together butter and confectioners' sugar, mix in some heavy cream and whatever flavorings (e.g., vanilla, instant coffee, liqueur, maple syrup, orange juice, etc.) to create a delicious frosting that will send that canned frosting back to the minors! 

These "Baseball Cupcakes with Butter Cream Frosting" are so cute and just what the catcher called for! In addition, you can add orange food coloring to make "Basketball Cupcakes," or yellow for "Tennis Ball Cupcakes," or make half the frosting black to make "Soccer Ball Cupcakes," etc. It's an easy and fun way to celebrate whatever sport you're into! Oh yeah, one more thing, Go Cards!

Baseball Cupcakes with Homemade Butter Cream Frosting

Makes 24 cupcakes

For the Cupcakes
1 box cupcake mix of choice
White cupcake liners
1 recipe James Beard Butter Cream Frosting (follows)
2 red gel icing writing tubes (available in the cake section of most grocers)

For James Beard's Butter Cream Frosting
1/3 cup softened butter
3 cups confectioners' sugar
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (for alternative flavorings: use 1 tsp. liqueur, or 1 tbs. instant coffee, or 1/4 cup maple syrup omitting the cream, or 1/3 cup orange juice omitting the cream, etc.)

For the Cupcakes
Make cupcakes according to package directions. Allow to cool on wire racks before decorating.

For the Butter Cream Frosting
Cream together the butter and sugar. Then vigorously stir in the heavy cream and flavorings of choice. (For these baseball cupcakes, I just used vanilla extract.) Spread the frosting evenly over each cupcake. Allow the frosting to set. Using the gel icing writing tubes, decorate each cupcake with two semicircles, then add the "stitching" along the semicircles. How fun!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chocolate Truffles au Naturel

Truffles are a subterranean fungus which have been found in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America. The most prized and exceedingly expensive are from France and northern Italy. Truffles grow symbiotically with oak, hazelnut, poplar and beech trees. These gnarly looking lumps, called "the diamonds of the kitchen" by Brillant-Savarin, have a very strong mushroomy, meaty, and earthy taste that is hard to describe, but enhances any ingredient that it touches. For instance, once I was served warm popcorn generously adorned with black truffles and it was astonishingly good!

So, while real truffles are a rare treat for most people, on a regular basis, chocolate truffles are not! In fact, with careful instructions, they are fairly easy to make at home and don't cost a lot! Unlike the fancy, perfectly round, decorated truffles that are mass produced by chocolatiers everywhere, my favorite are chocolate truffles that resemble real truffles, having emerged from the earth covered with "dirt." This recipe for "Chocolate Truffles au Naturel" have a smooth creamy ganache filling encased in a crisp, cocoa-coated chocolate shell. They are quite delicious and positively addictive! You'd be proud to serve these to anyone at anytime!

Chocolate Truffles au Naturel

Makes 30-40, depending on the size (sounds like a lot, but trust me they will be gone very quickly!) (recipe can also be doubled successfully)

For the ganache filling
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons liqueur of choice (e.g., Grand Marnier, Cognac, Rum-which is what I prefer)

For the chocolate coating
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

For the ganache filling
In a saucepan, heat the chocolate and heavy cream over low heat, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Stir in your liqueur of choice. Place the mixture in the refrigerator until it is firm, a minimum of 2 hours.

Cover a baking sheet with a piece of parchment or wax paper. Using two spoon, scoop out and drop mounds of 1/2-1 teaspoonful, depending on the size you wish to make, onto the paper. Refrigerate until very cold or overnight.

When cold, loosen the mounds from the paper and use your fingers to make them as round as you can, if not already so. (This can get messy, but remember these are supposed to look natural, so they don't have to be perfect!) Refrigerate until ready to coat.

For the chocolate coating
Place a jelly-roll pan or plate in the refrigerator to chill well.

Place the chocolate in a oven-safe saucepan and place in a very low oven. Check after a few minutes, stir to see if the chocolate is melted. If not, place back in the oven and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally until melted. (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave over 15-second bursts, stirring after each burst until melted.)

When the chocolate has melted, stir it well from time to time as it cools to body temperature. (This is determined when you notice no difference in temperature when you touch the chocolate with the knuckle of your pinky finger.)

Remove the chilled pan or plate from the refrigerator and sift the cocoa powder evenly over it. 

Remove the truffles from the refrigerator and drop two at a time into the coating chocolate. Using two forks, turn the truffles, coating them well with chocolate. Lift a truffle with one fork, tapping that fork with the other to knock off excess chocolate, then drop the coated truffle onto the pan or plate containing the cocoa powder. Using a spoon, quickly roll and coat with the cocoa powder, then push it to the side. Continue with the remaining truffles. When done, place the pan or plate into the refrigerator to cool completely and firm the chocolate coating.

After the coating has cooled and the truffles are firm enough to handle, using your fingers, palm-side down, shake each truffle to remove excess cocoa powder. Transfer them to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. (They will keep well in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks and can be stored in the freezer for several months.)

To serve, mound the truffles in a serving dish. Can be served at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. They are quite indulgent!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Turkey Burger Chronicles

My family loves to eat burgers, but sometimes I just want something different, that seems lighter, healthier, and with less fat, like a turkey burger. I've ordered many a turkey burger throughout my life, and I've never had one that wasn't dry and flavorless. So, for years I've been trying to make a great turkey burger to no avail. Every recipe I tried turned out dry and flavorless, or too wet that they fall apart, pretty gross. Some recipes rely on chopped vegetables to add moisture, some add soggy bread, and some add yogurt and the like. But I've found the magic ingredient to ensure your turkey burger is tender, moist, and never dry....cornstarch! Cornstarch is used in Chinese cooking not only to create a luscious sauce, but to produce very tender meat with a technique called "velveting," and is the secret to why you can't successfully create good Chinese food at home. But I'll save velveting for another day.

Anyway, by adding cornstarch, which binds to the meat and holds in moisture, you can produce a fabulous turkey burger. If you don't believe me, try my "Turkey Banh Mi Burgers." These Vietnamese-inspired burgers are loaded with basil, garlic, green onions, and a dash of chili sauce. Yum! The burgers are served nestled onto hot chili mayo laden buns, topped with yummy pickled carrots, sliced cucumbers, and a sprinkle of cilantro. It's a combination that's exotic, refreshing, and quite delicious. For those who like it extra fiery, sliced jalapenos can be added as a garnish. I like to serve these with diced cantaloupe on the side. Sounds odd, but it really goes together nicely! While these may not be the "healthiest" turkey burgers out there, they are definitely the very best!

(How Pretty!)

Turkey Banh Mi Burgers

Makes 4

For the Hot Chili Mayo
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (I like Tuong Ot Toi Vietnam Chili Garlic Sauce)
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt

For the Turkey Patties
20 ounces ground turkey
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
4 garlic cloves, minced (see Techniques)
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (see above)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Pickled Carrots
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt

For Cooking and Assembly
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 burger buns of your choice (I like sesame seed buns)
Thinly sliced cucumber
Chopped cilantro
Thinly sliced jalapeno (optional)

For the Hot Chili Mayo
Stir all the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill. Can be made a day ahead.

For the Turkey Patties
Gently mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Divide mixture into fourths and shape into patties of appropriate size to fit the buns. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes before cooking. Can be made a day ahead.

For the Pickled Carrots
Toss the carrots, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Allow to sit for 1 hour or so, tossing occasionally.

Cook the Turkey Patties
Using a large, wide skillet, preferably non-stick, heat the sesame oil over medium-high heat. When hot, using a spatula, carefully lift the turkey patties and place them in the pan. Cook on the first side until browned, about 6 minutes. Carefully flip the patties over and cook another 6 minutes, or until cooked through. (You can make a tiny cut with a knife to check that they are done.) Transfer to a plate.

To Assemble
Spread each side of the buns with the hot chili mayo. Place a turkey patty on each bottom bun. Arrange cucumber slices on the top bun. Drain the carrots and divide evenly between the four patties. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How a Plumber and His Ranch Changed American Salads Forever!

In 1954, a man named Steve Henson bought a 120-acre ranch near Santa Barbara, California, which he named Hidden Valley Ranch. Yep, the same guy who created Ranch dressing! Steve, along with his wife Gayle, tried to create a successful dude ranch; however, with the remote location and meager advertising, the ranch was soon wreaking havoc on their bank account. But every cloud has a silver lining. After repeated requests by the guests to purchase his signature salad dressing, which he created in Alaska as a plumbing contractor to coax his burly workers to eat their greens, it became obvious that the money was in the dressing and not the ranch. Ranch dressing soon became the most popular dressing in America, perfect for buffalo chicken wings, dip for crudites, and basically a great way to get kids and adults alike to eat their greens!

In 1972, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing was sold to Clorox, who developed a "shelf stable" version, by adding additives and stuff you probably shouldn't be eating. According to some reports, the version sold today is a mediocre attempt at Henson's original. For the life of me, I don't understand why people buy salad dressings anyway? It is so much easier to whip up at home, tastes better, and you know what's in it! This is how I make my Ranch dressing, and not with sour cream or yogurt, but with buttermilk, just how Henson wanted it! It's the buttermilk that gives it a slight tang and makes it super delicious! Besides buttermilk is low in calories, has less fat than whole milk, sour cream, and most yogurts, is easily digested, great for those who are lactose intolerant, helps reduce heartburn and indigestion, and even provides relief for ulcer sufferers! What's not to love? So, go on and give it a try. I've never served it to anyone who didn't absolutely love it!

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Makes enough for 1 green salad


1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk, or more to reach desired consistency
1 garlic glove, minced (see Techniques)
2 green onions or scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Optional additions, depending on what you feel like or have on hand: chopped chives, chopped dill, a dash or two of Tabasco sauce, a pinch of Paprika, chopped green chile, crumbled blue cheese


In a bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and buttermilk until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Macque Choux! Gesundheit!

While I've been trying to get over a nasty chest cold, I still found the energy to utilize fresh Hatch chiles (see Roasted with Love-Hoarded with Passion and The Great Green Chile Quest), this time in Macque Choux! Macque choux, pronounced "mock shoe," is a corn-based side dish traditional to southern Louisiana. The origins of this Cajun specialty are a bit unknown; however, it appears that the dish was embraced by the Acadians (French immigrants from eastern Canada) who, after being moved out by the British, settled in Louisiana and learned it from the local Native Americans. There are a plethora of recipes for macque choux, but all contain corn, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, herbs, spices, and usually some Tasso ham. 

This recipe for "Hatch Chile Macque Choux" is yet again another version I'd never seen before, so I had to try it! It utilizes fresh Hatch chiles (which hopefully you have all ready to go in your freezer), bacon, a little lager, NO tomatoes (gasp!), and enriched with heavy cream. I served it with some seared scallops and a garnish of fresh chives. Very pretty! However, this fiery version (which really helped open my sinuses) really over-powered the delicate flavor of the scallops. Shrimp, crawfish, chicken, and some potatoes can be added to create a "main meal." If you prefer not to use the green chiles, substitute tomatoes for a more authentic dish. Any leftover macque choux makes a welcome addition to cornbread!

Hatch Chile Macque Choux

Serves 4


4 slices bacon, chopped
3/4 cup red bell pepper, diced (if using tomatoes instead of green chile, substitute a green bell pepper instead...to keep the colors pretty!)
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup lager
4 cups corn (preferably freshly cut from 3 or 4 ears of corn, see Techniques)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, deseeded, and sliced (optional, can be replaced with diced tomatoes)


Saute bacon over medium heat until crisp. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add the red bell pepper and onion to the pan. Cook and stir until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the lager and deglaze by stirring and scraping all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking until the lager is nearly evaporated. Add corn, cream, and Tabasco. (If using tomatoes instead of chiles, add them here.) Bring to a simmer and cook until cream is thick enough to leave a trail on the back of a spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and stir in the Hatch chiles, if using.

Recipe courtesy of Central Market.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Great Green Chile Quest

Wow! That's a lot of chiles! Besides roasting, peeling, and freezing Hatch green chiles (see Roasted with Love - Hoarded with Passion), another great way to preserve them is to make Mark Miller's "Green Chile Sauce," from his cookbook Coyote Cafe. This recipe takes 4 pounds of green chiles and turns them into an incredibly delicious and very spicy condiment, perfect for eggs, potatoes, chicken, etc., not to mention makes a lovely base for New Mexico's beloved Green Chile Stew. I like to make a batch and freeze it in ice cube trays. That way I can use a little or a lot, depending on my desire. Remember to be creative with this fiery Green Chile Sauce, like add a cube to some cream to make a creative sauce for pasta and chicken, mix in a couple of cubes with a pound of ground beef for burgers, add some to your favorite corn bread recipe or Corn Souffle, etc. This recipe roasts the chiles under a broiler, but feel free to fire up your grill (as I prefer) for the smells of authentic New Mexico!

Green Chile Sauce

Makes about 4 cups


4 pounds fresh New Mexico green chiles (or Anaheim chiles, with 3 or 4 jalapenos)
8 cloves garlic, roasted, peeled, and finely chopped
4 cups water
4 teaspoons roasted Mexican oregano (rubbed between the fingers, but not too fine)
1 teaspoon roasted ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt


Roast the chiles under the broiler for about 5 minutes, until lightly blackened. Place in a plastic bag or closed container and allow to steam until cooled. Remove the blackened parts without washing (to preserve the oils). Place the chiles and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and chop at a medium setting (do not puree). Warm before serving.

*To freeze the sauce in ice cube trays: fill ice cube trays, freeze, pop out of trays and store double wrapped in freezer storage bags.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Lucky Tomato

It's funny how things change over time. For instance, once it became accepted that tomatoes were not poisonous (see Tomatoes To Die For), the once shunned fruit became a symbol of luck and prosperity! In fact, it was customary to place a tomato on the mantle of a family's new home, blessing their new life. When tomatoes were not seasonally available, tomato sized balls of red fabric were stuffed with sand or sawdust and used in the place of the real ones! That is why pincushions became the iconic red tomato! Who knew?
Not traditional is this recipe for "Provencale Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce!" I've been making this sauce for years, ever since I discovered it in an old 1998 Gourmet magazine. Unlike my Fresh Tomato Marinara, in which the tomatoes are peeled and cooked on the stove top, this recipe roasts the tomatoes along with a whole head of garlic and seasoned with rosemary and thyme. Because it is not necessary to peel the tomatoes, this is the perfect recipe to use up random size and types of tomatoes, like cherry tomatoes! Once tender, all the roasty goodness is blended together with an unconventional acid source - freshly squeezed orange juice! I know it sounds weird, but it really works! This recipe is a nice alternative to traditional tomato marinara! It's so good, you'll want to freeze some for a burst of summer one cold, wintry day!

Provencale Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Makes about 3 cups (enough for 1 pound pasta)

Olive oil
1 head of garlic
4 pounds home or local-grown fresh ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, or to taste (1 orange should have enough juice.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and lightly oil 2 shallow baking pans with the olive oil.

Separate the garlic head into cloves, discarding the loose papery outer skins but keeping skin intact on the cloves, wrap in foil, crimping seams to seal tightly. Cut the tomatoes in half and arrange in one layer, cut-side up, in the baking pans. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons each of rosemary and thyme evenly over the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. (I drizzle over a little more olive oil before baking.)

Put the foil-wrapped garlic in one of the baking pans with the tomatoes and roast together in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, switching position of pans halfway through roasting, about 45 minutes total, or until the garlic is tender and the tomatoes are slightly charred. Unwrap the garlic and cool slightly. Peel the skins from each garlic clove and force pulp with warm tomatoes and herbs through a food mill. (I don't own a food mill, so I just whiz it up in a food processor or blender.)

Finely chop the remaining teaspoon of rosemary and remaining teaspoon of thyme and stir into the sauce with the orange juice. Season sauce with salt (about 1/2 teaspoon) and pepper and reheat if necessary. Sauce keeps covered and chilled, 4 days or, frozen, 4 months. Reheat sauce over low heat and reseason with orange juice, salt, and pepper, to taste.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tomatoes To Die For

These days, it's hard to believe that tomatoes were once thought to be poisonous, feared to cause appendicitis and stomach cancer. Even in 1519, when Cortez brought tomato seeds back from Mexico (where they are native) to Europe, they were only grown as an ornamental curiosity. Not surprisingly, Italy was the first country to embrace and cultivate tomatoes in Europe. However, in America, we have to thank Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, New Jersey for bringing the tomato to America from abroad in 1808. In September of 1820, Colonel Johnson set out to prove that tomatoes were not poisonous once and for all! With a horrified crowd of over 2,000 people, believing he was committing public suicide, complete with a band playing mournful tunes, Johnson stood on the steps of the Salem county courthouse and consumed an entire basket of tomatoes! Guess what happened? He didn't die or have any ill effects! News spread and America's love affair with tomatoes began!

One of the best things about summer are home-grown tomatoes. These sweet, juicy, and sometimes deformed looking varieties are a real treat and their flavor cannot be duplicated any other time of year. Luckily, tomatoes are prolific performers in the garden, so why not capture their flavor in a home-made, from scratch, "Fresh Tomato Marinara!" This is my favorite version, which I make a lot during the summer, package in quart-size freezer bags in 1 1/2 cup sizes (enough for 1/2 pound of pasta), to enjoy during the dreary winter months! Remember to label them, remove any excess air, and lay them flat in the freezer so they don't take up much space. It tastes so fresh, you may never buy store-bought again!

Fresh Tomato Marinara

Makes about 3 cups (enough for 1 pound of pasta)

3 pounds home or local-grown fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled (see Techniques) and cut into 3-4 chunks each (Don't use cherry tomatoes because the tomatoes have to be peeled! Save them for "Provencale Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce.")
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced (see Techniques)
1/2 cup water or tomato water from blanching
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh basil (See Got Tomatoes to see what I consider a sprig of fresh basil!)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. When you smell the garlic, add the tomatoes, bay leaf, sprig of basil, the oregano, and 1/2 cup tomato or plain water. Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer, partially cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add the remaining seasonings (salt, pepper, sugar) and continue to simmer another 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and basil and whiz up with an immersion blender (see Gadgets) or leave chunky, if you prefer.

*Notes: If your tomatoes just don't have enough flavor, you can add a little tomato paste. If you like, you can add 1 teaspoon of vinegar (like balsamic) to the finished sauce. I prefer it without. This sauce is also great on pizza!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Parchment Paper Primer, and Presents for Everyone!

Wild salmon is just about gone, so if you're lucky enough to find some, I strongly suggest you try my version of "Salmon en Papillote," which translates to "salmon in parchment." This is a traditional French technique in which fish, vegetables (like the zucchini growing in my yard!), and seasonings are steamed in a parchment package. Although you can cook any meat "en papillote," it is especially well suited for cooking fish and seafood, keeping it moist, flavorful, and best of all, extremely healthy!

But what is parchment paper, anyway? Don't confuse writing parchment (made from animal skin) with the cooking parchment, which is made from cellulose (cotton and wood). It is amazing stuff! But who do we have to thank...why, John Mercer! John Mercer was born in Lancashire, UK, in 1791. He began his career as a weaver, then calico-printer, and then became a chemist. He introduced many new processes into calico-printing, but the invention for which he is best remembered is that of "mercerising" cotton. Mercerising (aka., mercerizing) is the process of treating cotton fibers with a caustic solution, making cotton fabric softer, stronger, lustrous, and easier to dye. Incidentally, the same experiments led to his creation of how to make cooking parchment paper, which he patented in 1850. This type of parchment paper is greaseless and non-stick, making it ideal in the kitchen. Thanks, John!

This delicious recipe is so fast and easy! Tear the parchment into about 16" sheet rectangles, per package, fold in half and cut into a half-heart shape, just like in grade school. The shape is not only traditional (which I love), but makes it easier to seal, than say a rectangle. Place the sublime mixture of sauteed julienned carrots, leeks, and zucchini in the center of each half heart, top with the salmon seasoned with a little salt and pepper, a lemon slice, a spoonful of white wine, and a drizzle of olive oil. (Feel free to experiment with your favorite flavors!) You then hold the edges together and start to fold and seal, from the top of the heart to the bottom in about 1" increments, in which at the end you just twist and fold the paper under. Pop the parcels on a sheet tray and in the oven, for about 15 minutes, and you're done! To serve, slide each parchment parcel on to each plate and cut open! You'll immediately be seduced by the fantastic aromas, to a moist delicious dinner, that has virtually no clean-up! It's like a present on every plate!

Salmon en Papillote

Serves 4


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and cut into julienne
2 small leeks, washed and cut into julienne
2 small zucchini, washed and cut into julienne
4 lemon slices
1-1 1/2 pound wild caught salmon fillet, skin-on, deboned, cut into 4 equal portions
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons white wine (serve the remainder with dinner!)
Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
Parchment paper


Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat, and gently fry the vegetables together until al dente (erring on the slightly undercooked side). Season with salt and pepper.

Cut or tear 4 pieces of parchment, approximately 16" wide. Fold each in half to form a wide rectangle, then cut half a heart shape from the top and around the open edge, so that when you open it out, the parchment will be shaped like a heart.

Arrange one-quarter of the vegetables in the center of one side of each heart. Set a fish fillet on top of each.

Season with salt and pepper, and top each portion with a lemon slice and a drizzle of olive oil. Add one tablespoon white wine to each portion.

Fold over the other half of each parchment, aligning the edges. Working from the top edge of the heart, make small, tight folds all the way around each package, in approximately 1" increments, to seal it, leaving plenty of room for the papillotes to puff up with steam during baking. Set on a baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes. Let sit a few minutes before transferring the packages to plates and serve.