Monday, March 25, 2013

Where's Spring?

Well, my kids were supposed to go back to school today, but after a foot of snow, they're having a snow day! In addition to just having a week off for Spring Break, I feel like I'll never get them back to school! My normal routine is shot! So, while they're outside making an igloo, I thought I'd make us "The Best Hot Chocolate!" This decadent recipe is a far cry from the powdered mixes with dehydrated marshmallow pellets...ick! High quality dark chocolate, cocoa powder, and cream make this hot chocolate very rich and satisfying! Not only is it delicious after a chilling afternoon in the snow, for breakfast alongside beignets or croissants, it also makes an elegant after dinner drink, no additional dessert needed! Once you try this, you'll never buy the box stuff again!

The Best Hot Chocolate

Serves 4-6


4 cups/1 liter whole milk
1 cup/250 ml heavy cream
3 ounces/80 grams best-quality dark chocolate
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tablespoons sugar


Put the milk, cream, and chocolate in a saucepan and heat gently until the chocolate has melted. Combine the cocoa and sugar in a small bowl and stir in just a bit of the milk mixture to make a smooth paste, then stir that paste back into the warm milk. Continue heating, now whisking constantly, until the chocolate milk is hot and frothy. Ladle into cups, and serve. Mmmmm!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring Break and a Posh Picnic Recipe

I've been enjoying spending time with my kids this week during their Spring Break! Although we've filled our time doing school projects, dentist appointments, and a marathon Monopoly game, we did happen to find one day of pleasant temperatures, perfect for a picnic! We packed lemonade, grapes, pretzels, brownies, and adorably cute and equally delicious "Chicken Chile Cheese Cups." These bite-size treats make wonderful picnic food but work equally well for cocktail parties, tailgates, block parties, or appetizers for a proper meal! These tiny quiches, that utilize store-bought mini phyllo cups, can be made ahead and frozen for up to 2 weeks, then simply reheated in the oven! How convenient! In addition, no picnic is complete without packing some bottles of bubbles! Happy Spring!

Chicken Chile Cheese Cups

Makes 30 cups


2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup cooked chicken, finely diced
1, 4 ounce can diced green chilies
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
30 mini phyllo shells


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, and pepper. In another bowl, toss together the chicken, chilies, cilantro, and cheese.

Place the phyllo shells on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spoon 1 rounded teaspoon of the chicken filling into each shell, then add about 1 teaspoon of the egg mixture. (Pour it in slowly so it doesn't run over the edges!) Let the shells sit for about a minute so the egg can settle to the bottom. Then add about another teaspoon of egg to each shell (slowly), filling it close to the top.

Bake the cups until the custard is set, about 15 minutes. After the cups have cooled, freeze them for up to 2 weeks. To serve, simply reheat them in a 350 degree oven until heated through, 10-15 minutes.

How cute!

I found this great recipe from!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Patience, Grasshopper! and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

If you're like me, you're spending your Saturday patiently waiting for your Steak, Guinness, and Cheese Pie to work it's magic in the oven for tomorrow's excellent Irish Menu, perfect to celebrate St. Patrick's Day! So, while I wait and wait and wait for my brisket to become perfectly tender, I made myself the classic green cocktail, the "Grasshopper!" This minty chocolaty concoction, created in New Orleans, is so very simple and satisfying! It's like an Ande's mint in a glass! What's not to like? It makes a perfect after-dinner drink or night cap, especially after a long day of parades and festivities! Slainte!


Makes 1 drink, can be doubled, etc.


2 oz. green creme de menthe
2 oz. white (or clear) creme de cacao
2 oz. half-and-half or cream


Combine all ingredients with some crushed ice in a cocktail shaker and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oh Brick, You're My Gyro!!!

I've always loved the exotic flavors of a well made gyro, pronounced "year-oh." These delicious lamb and pita sandwiches go way back to the Arabs (who call them "shawurma"), the Turks (who call them "doner kebabi"), and the Greeks (who call them "gyro"). These all consist of seasoned slices of meat (usually lamb) skewered and cooked on a vertical rotisserie, not unlike "tacos al pastor" in Mexico, which was created by Lebanese immigrants. Greek historians attribute the origin of the gyro to the army of Alexander the Great, who skewered their meat on long knives and cooked it by repeatedly turning over an open fire. 

The gyros that we know today are a more recent invention by Greek restaurants in the United States since the 1970's. There is a great debate whether they began in New York or Chicago; however, it was in Chicago that gyros became mass produced, by Gyros, Inc., et al., who ground beef and lamb trimmings and shaped them into "cones" that were then sold to Greek restaurants throughout the country. In fact, according to Mr. Parthenis, Gyros, Inc. engineer, "the first gyros ever shipped out of Chicago we put on a Greyhound bus, headed to Atlanta. Frozen in a double corrugated box, with the luggage." Either way, I didn't realize you could successfully make your own until I found this recipe for "Gyro Meat with Tzatziki Sauce" from Alton Brown, which, requires a BRICK! Yes, I said, a BRICK! You mix everything in a food processor, cook in a loaf pan, cool with an aluminum foil wrapped brick on top, then slice and serve when ready. I prefer a mix of lamb and beef, and to fry the slices in a little olive oil per order. This recipe serves 6-8, so you'll be able to store the loaf in the refrigerator and make a gyro in a matter of minutes! If you like gyros, you'll love this authentic tasting recipe! It's delicious!

Gyro Meat with Tzatziki Sauce

Serves 6-8

1 medium onion, finely chopped or shredded
2 pound ground lamb (I recommend 1/2 lamb, 1/2 beef)
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 tablespoon dried ground rosemary
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Tzatziki sauce (recipe below)
Pita bread, sliced onion, tomatoes, feta cheese, lettuce, and/or french fries (which is typical of some establishments!), however you prefer

Process the onion in a food processor for 10-15 seconds and turn out into the center of a tea towel. Gather up the ends of the towel and squeeze until almost all of the juice is removed. Discard juice.

Return the onion to the food processor and add the lamb (and beef, if using), garlic, marjoram, rosemary, salt, and pepper and process until it is a fine paste, approximately 1 minute. Stop the processor as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the mixture into a loaf pan, making sure to press into the sides of the pan. Place the loaf pan into a water bath and bake for 60-75 minutes or until the mixture reaches 165-170 degrees. Remove from the oven and drain off any fat. Place the loaf pan on a cooling rack and place a brick wrapped in aluminum foil directly on the surface of the meat and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 175.

(If you don't have a brick, I'm sure something flat and heavy would work just as well!)

Slice and serve on pita bread with tzatziki sauce, onion, tomatoes, and feta cheese.

Tzatziki Sauce

Makes 1 1/2 cups

16 ounce plain yogurt
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
Pinch of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Squeeze of fresh lemon
1 teaspoon finely chopped dill or mint (I prefer dill)

Place the yogurt in a tea towel, gather up the edges, suspend over a bowl (in a colander), and drain for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Place the chopped cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard the liquid. In a medium bowl, combine the drained yogurt, cucumber, salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon, and dill or mint. Serve as a sauce for gyros. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Food Grinder, A Burger Fail, and A Luscious Ragu alla Bolognese

After purchasing some ground beef from a reputable grocer, in which I discovered bits of bone and God knows what else, I pledged to grind my own meat from now on! So, last weekend I purchased the food grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer,

various cuts of beef per Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook where he gives a detailed tutorial on meat grinding, and made his version of a hamburger.

Well, the meat grinder worked very well, but apparently I didn't get the perfect ratio of meat to fat (should be about 80/20% for a juicy burger), because my burgers turned out to be hockey pucks! ****! I'll keep working on it and fill you in when I figure it out perfectly.

After my burger fail, I still had about 1 pound of my freshly ground lean beef blend (sirloin, spare ribs, and chuck), so I decided to make "Ragu alla Bolognese." Bolognese is a rich thick meat sauce originating in or around the city of Bologna in northern Italy. Ingredients for this traditional sauce include ground beef, pork, and sometimes chicken livers, slowly simmered with the classic soffrito of carrots, onions, and celery. White or red wine is used to deglaze, then beef broth is added and some milk. The sauce sometimes contains tomatoes, which is hotly debated! When making a Bolognese, it is best to use a lean grind of meat and to let the sauce simmer and simmer and simmer for hours. In addition, it is always served with the regions specialty pasta of an egg-rich tagliatelle or lasagna, never durum-rich spaghetti which is from the south! Apparently it doesn't matter which Nona you ask, everyone says their version is traditional and the best! In fact, in the "Classic Pasta" Issue #110 of Saveur, they included six different recipes for this luscious meat sauce! Either way, set aside a lazy day and enjoy this hearty and lovingly made pasta dish with your friends and family! They'll love it and you'll never buy jarred or frozen again! In fact, make extra and freeze it yourself!

Ragu alla Bolognese

Serves 4 (as main course) or 6-8 (as first course)

For the sauce
2 oz thick-cut pancetta, 1/4" dice (or 2 oz thin slices, diced)
2 small carrots, 1/4" dice
1 celery stalk, 1/4" dice
1 yellow onion, 1/4" dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 lb (250 g) ground (minced) beef
1/2 lb (250 g) ground (minced) pork (or use all beef, if preferred)
1/2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) red wine (I like Chianti in this recipe) (Serve the remainder with the pasta!)
1, 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained, seeded, and chopped (I prefer San Marzano, if available)
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium beef broth, plus extra, if needed (I like Better Than Bouillon Beef Base)
1 cup (8 fl oz/500 ml) whole milk
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For serving
1 lb (500 g) fresh egg pasta (tagliatelle, fettuccine, or papparadelle)
1 cup reserved pasta water, if needed
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated, for serving

For the sauce
In a large, wide, heavy-bottomed nonreactive pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When melted and foam begins to subside, add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally  until all the ingredients are very tender, about 30 minutes. They should be a rich golden brown and smell like caramel. (If they begin to brown too much, reduce the heat and add a spoonful of water to slow the cooking.)

Add the ground meat(s) to the pan and stir well. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring often to break up the meat lumps, until the meats are lightly browned, crumbly, and their juices have evaporated, about 10 minutes. (Don't let the meat get crisp or dark brown, or they won't absorb the other flavors in the sauce, affecting the desired creaminess of the finished dish.)

Deglaze with the wine, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, breaking up with a wooden spoon, 1 tablespoon of the tomato paste, the broth, the milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Heat until small bubbles begin to form on the surface, then reduce heat to very low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour. (If the sauce becomes too dry, adjust with extra stock.)

Taste after the first hour of cooking and add the additional tomato paste, if desired. Partially cover the pan and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, smashing the meat and vegetables with the back of a wooden spoon (helps make sauce creamier), adding more stock if it becomes too dry, for about 1-2 more hours. When ready, taste and adjust the seasonings (salt, pepper, nutmeg), if needed. Skim off any grease on the surface. Cover and set aside.

Finishing the dish
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup pasta water. Add drained pasta to the sauce and toss well to coat, adding some of the pasta water if needed. Every strand should be evenly coated. Serve immediately, passing the cheese at the table, if desired.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sugar and Spice Makes Everything Nice!

Concluding my "Chilly Chile Menu," which started with an exciting Southwest Caesar Salad followed by a comforting Green Chile Chicken Lasagna with Goat Cheese, I wanted to end this heart warming menu with a spectacular dessert, specifically "Bissinger's Chocolate Cinnamon Chile Cake!" Bissinger's Handcrafted Chocolatier has been a venerable St. Louis institution since 1927, with a long history dating back to the early 1600's France, when the Bissinger family was honored the title of "Confiseur Imperial" or "Confectioner of the Empire" by King Louis XIV! Who better than Bissinger's to create this enlivening cake with just a hint of cayenne chile pepper to give it that "je ne sais quoi?" This recipe is so simple and a refreshing change to traditional chocolate desserts. Bissinger's suggests serving this dense chocolate concoction at room temperature with custard sauce, warmed along side thinned orange marmalade, or with fruit sauce and berries. This cake is so addictive and the perfect ending to any Mexican or Southwestern menu. Once you try it, it will become part of your permanent repertoire!

Bissinger's Chocolate Cinnamon Chile Cake

Serves 8-10


8 ounces Bissinger's 75% Dark Chocolate (Don't tell, but I used Ghirardelli chips!)
8 ounces butter, at room temperature
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Butter and dust with flour a 9" cake pan with sides at least 2" high. Line the bottom with parchment paper (cut to fit).

Melt chocolate in microwave (carefully, 30 seconds at a time, stirring until melted but not hot) or in a double boiler.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 4 minutes until well blended and lightened in color. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat for one minute after each addition. (If the mixture looks curdled, don't worry, it will come back when flour is added.) Reduce speed to low and pour in cooled chocolate. Mix just until blended.

Combine flour, cayenne and cinnamon. Add to chocolate mixture and mix on lowest speed just until blended. Remove bowl from mixer and lightly fold batter together. Pour into prepared pan.

Place on rack in preheated oven. Bake 25-30 minutes until it loses its sheen and rises slightly. (It took 35 minutes for my oven, for a toothpick to come out clean.) Remove from the oven and allow to cool on wire rack. 

Cool completely before removing from pan. Invert to another serving plate, remove parchment, and dust with cocoa powder or powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature with custard sauce, warmed and thinned orange marmalade (excellent with the spice) or fruit sauce and berries.

(It cuts so nicely!)

Recipe courtesy of Bissinger's Handcrafted Chocolatier.