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. 


Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Best Arista!

Arista is a Tuscan roast pork loin with the ribs attached. It refers to the dish and the cut of pork. The story goes that in 1439, Greek and Roman bishops and cardinals met in Florence to discuss differences between the churches. Of course they were served the classic roast pork loin seasoned with rosemary, salt, and pepper. The Greeks were so amazed by the flavor, that they began to exclaim, "Aristos, aristos!" Arista means "the best" in Greek, and the name stuck. Although, many believe the dish dates further back to the Renaissance. 

If you've never made this cut of pork, you're in for a revelation! It is superior to boneless pork loin. It's more juicy, flavorful, and makes an impressive presentation, perfect for Easter! My favorite recipe for Arista is from Williams-Sonoma. It starts by marinating the pork overnight with thyme, rosemary, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. The next day, dried figs are soaked in sweet vermouth, which are added to the pan juices after roasting to become an incredible sauce further enhanced with stock, demi-glace, fig balsamic vinegar, and butter. My husband said it was the best pork dish he's ever tasted, and I agree! I serve it with roasted potatoes, asparagus, baguette, and a nice bottle of Chianti. It's a perfect holiday feast, guaranteed to make everyone happy! (If you are looking for lamb this Easter, check out my recipes for Grilled Leg of Lamb with Rosemary, Garlic, and Mustard or Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chops on Rutabaga Rosti and Gingered Carrot Sauce!)

Arista (Tuscan Roast Pork Loin)

Serves 6-8


2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt, plus more, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bone-in pork loin roast, about 5 pounds (I buy a "frenched pork rack.")
12 ounces dried figs, halved (I use 9 ounces dried mission figs, and it is plenty!)
1 cup sweet vermouth or water, warmed (Don't use water!)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock (I like "Better than Bouillon" brand.)
2 tablespoons veal demi-glace, homemade or store-bought (I prefer "Demi-Glace Gold" brand.)
2 teaspoons fig balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature


In a small bowl, combine the thyme, rosemary, garlic, and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, pepper, and olive oil. Rub the herb mixture on all sides of the pork loin. Cover with plastic wrap or seal in a freezer bag and refrigerate overnight.

Put the figs in a bowl, add the vermouth and soak for 1 hour. Strain the figs, reserving the soaking liquid.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Put the pork in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone, registers 135-140 degrees, 45-50 minutes more. Transfer the pork to a carving board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add the reserved soaking liquid and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium and add the figs, stock, demi-glace, and fig balsamic vinegar. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and season with salt and pepper.

Carve the pork roast between the bones and arrange on a warmed platter. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve immediately. Be prepared for cheers!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

On the Fourth Day, Let There be Pastrami

St. Patrick's Day and the arrival of Spring mean one thing at my house, homemade pastrami! Pastrami is smoked corned beef that originated from Central Europe and was brought to America by Romanian Jews in the late 19th century. Kosher butcher Sussman Volk, who had immigrated to New York from Lithuania, claimed to have created the first pastrami sandwich in 1887. Volk had inherited the recipe from a Romanian friend in exchange for storing the man's luggage while he was out of the country. (Don't you use your luggage when travelling?) However, this is disputed by legendary Katz's Delicatessen in New York City, who opened in 1888 and claim to be the first. I guess it doesn't really matter since Katz's is still going strong and Volk is just a memory in time.

My husband was the first to discover this recipe for "Close to Katz's Pastrami" from You can check the recipe out there, although it seems a lot more informative and might scare away a pastrami novice, so I've simplified it here to coax you to try it. In fact, I have made a few changes. Instead of smoking the corned beef at 225 degrees, I keep it at 250 degrees. I don't make my own corned beef either, rather I buy it at the store in those cryovac packages, which grocers everywhere are marking down post-St.Patrick's Day. In addition, I recommend making more than one, since it takes a lot of your time! Don't worry, it freezes very well. 

You need to start the process 3 days before you plan on serving. The first day you soak it refrigerated in cold water to help remove excess salt. The second day to pat dry, apply the dry rub, and refrigerate overnight. The third day you smoke it for about 5-6 hours, cool, and refrigerate. And finally, on the fourth day you steam it for approximately 2 hours, then eat! It may seem like a lot of work, but it's so good, you just might become verklempt!

Close to Katz's Pastrami

Makes approximately 4-5 sandwiches. (I like mine with mustard, pastrami, Swiss cheese, and coleslaw on toasted rye. Pickle on the side.)


For the Pastrami
1, 4 lb uncooked corned beef brisket
4 tablespoons freshly coarse ground black pepper
2 tablespoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder

For Smoking and Steaming
Smoker or Grill (I use my beloved Weber, see Gadgets.)
Disposable aluminum drip pan (I use the cheap ones from the grocer for roasting.)
Entire bag of charcoal
4-8 ounces wood chips, soaked in water (I like cherry wood.)
Steamer basket or steamer insert (I use the cheap ones from the grocer and remove the center handle/lifter thingy.)

Day 1: Remove corned beef from package, rinse, and throw away the spice packet. Trim excessive fat off the corned beef and any membrane that might remain. (Leave at least 1/8-inch fat on it!) Place the corned beef in a large pot. Cover it with cold water and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2: Remove the corned beef from the water and pat dry with paper towels. Mix together the pepper, coriander, mustard, brown sugar, paprika, garlic and onion powders. Rub all over the corned beef, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Day 3: Prepare a charcoal grill or smoker for low heat (250 degrees). Place an aluminum drip pan half full of water in the center of the fire bed. Sprinkle some of the soaked wood chips on the coals. Place the corned beef, fat side up, on the grill rack over the drip pan. Insert a grill thermometer, see Gadgets. Cover and smoke the corned beef, maintaining 250 degrees, and sprinkling with wood chips/charcoal occasionally until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Wrap with foil and return to the grill until it reaches an internal temperature of 195 degrees. Remove from grill, let cool slightly, and refrigerate overnight. 

Day 4: Set up your steamer, or bring a couple inches of water in a large pot to a simmer, insert steam basket. (Tips: If you don't have a steamer, you can wad up foil to hold the now pastrami out of the water. I place a piece of foil between the steamer and pastrami to contain excess mess.) Cover and steam the pastrami over medium-low/low heat, adding water if necessary, until it reaches an internal temperature of 203 degrees, approximately 1 1/2-2 hours. 

Let rest on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes before thinly slicing against the grain.

Mazel Tov!

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Time for some Sole-Searching

Sole is a group of flatfish from European coastal waters that can be somewhat hard to locate here in the US. Lucky for me, I have a great fishmonger that stocks it regularly and especially during lent. Lent is a great time to be purchasing fish, as grocers overstock and sell them at almost rock bottom prices. When looking for sole, seek out Dover sole. Dover sole is the most esteemed of the sole family, with a delicate sweet flavor and thin yet firm fillets that hold together very well during cooking. According to Fish Market: A Cookbook for Selecting and Preparing Seafood, by Kathy Hunt, the ancient Romans loved this delicate oval flatfish and called it "solea jovi," meaning "Jupiter's sandal," referring to the king of their gods, Jupiter. Sole is a reference to the Old English term sole or solu, meaning shoe, sandal, or sole. In addition, Dover sole were named after Dover, England, because it was the fishing port that landed the most sole in the 19th century.

This recipe for "Sole with Spinach (Sole aux Epinards)" from My French Kitchen, by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde, is simplicity at its best. The slight bitterness of the wilted greens contrasts nicely to the buttery sweetness of the sole and the creamy shallot sauce is to die for! Not only is this recipe fast and easy, it is perfect for a simple yet elegant multi-course menu. I would start the meal with a small starter, like a small bowl or teacup of Spring Pea Soup or Carrot and Cumin Soup, or a tiny plate of Stuffed Mushroom Caps. I would then dazzle my guests with this recipe and a crusty baguette. For dessert, a beautiful small bowl of Bouchon Strawberry Sorbet or Ginger, Lemon, and Mint Granita will leave you and your guests extremely gratified! Now it's time for you to do some sole-searching!

Sole with Spinach (Sole aux Epinards)

Serves 4-6


8 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 shallots, diced
Drizzle of olive oil
12 sole fillets (Sizes may vary, so approximately 1 1/2 pounds for 4 people and 2 1/4 pounds for 6 people should suffice.)
2 pounds spinach, trimmed and washed
1/3 cup heavy cream
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon juice, to serve


Heat the broiler. Lightly oil the broiler rack and put it in the broiler for a few minutes to heat.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium saucepan, add the shallots, and cook gently for 10 minutes over low heat. Do not allow them to color.

Twist the sole fillets and place them on the heated broiler rack - you should hear them sizzle as they touch it. Broil for 4 to 5 minutes, them remove them. Turn the broiler off.

Place the spinach in a large saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water and cook about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. The spinach should soften and warm but retain its shape and texture. (If it wilts more, that's okay.) Put the spinach in a lightly buttered baking dish or oven safe platter and arrange the sole fillets on top. Place in the turned-off broiler to keep warm. 

Add the cream, salt, and pepper to the shallots and bring to a simmer. Cut the remaining 7 tablespoons of butter into small pieces and whisk a few pieces at a time into the simmering cream. When all the butter is added you should have a glossy sauce. Pour the sauce over the spinach and sole and finish with a squeeze of lemon. Serve immediately!

Friday, February 17, 2023

Mardis Gras and the Best Jambalaya!

Mardis Gras (aka., Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) is February 21, marking the last day of fatty food indulgences before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. While some people around the world celebrate the day eating pancakes, I prefer a delicious bowl of jambalaya! I first acquired a taste for this spicy sausage and seafood-laden dish from a friend in college who made a batch along with freshly baked bread every Sunday. Although I think he used Zatarain's and a tube of Pillsbury, it was always a good time! Just like chili is in Texas, jambalaya is classic Louisiana party food, making it the perfect choice for Mardis Gras!

Jambalaya is a dish steeped in ambiguity. So much so, you can stir up heated discussions regarding just the root of the word "jambalaya!" One theory is that it comes from the Provencal word "jambalaia," meaning mishmash or mixture. Another theory is that it comes from the Spanish word "jamon," meaning ham, combined with "paella," the classic Spanish rice dish. The third theory is that it comes from the French "jambon," meaning ham, with a contraction of "a la" and "ya," the African word for rice. And finally, it might come from the Native American Atakapa tribe's saying, "Sham, pal ha! Ya!" meaning "Be full, not skinny! Eat up!" 

If that's not enough, contrary to popular misconceptions, jambalaya is not specifically a Creole dish. In fact, there are two kinds of jambalaya. Creole which contains tomatoes, and Cajun which does not. I prefer it with tomatoes. I also think the key to a really great jambalaya is tasso. Tasso is a highly seasoned smoked pork. I am lucky to find it locally, but you can order some from Andouille sausage is also authentic; however, if you can't find it or don't want to add it to your Cajun Grocer order, you can substitute Spanish chorizo, not Mexican chorizo, which is not the same thing. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention "the holy trinity." Similar to mirepoix and sofrito, it is the base to most Louisiana cuisine. It consists of finely diced onion, celery, and green bell pepper. I use red bell pepper because I detest green bell peppers in any form. 

Just like cioppino, it's hard to make a bad jambalaya. Jambalaya is very adaptable and can contain shredded chicken, venison, oysters, etc. Feel free to add what you have on hand, or prefer, to make it your own! If it gets too thick, just add some water! So celebrate Mardis Gras this year with a delicious bowl of jambalaya, lots of crusty bread, cold beer, and a bottle of Tabasco (or Crystal) hot sauce. Beads optional!

Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya

Serves 8

1/2 cup tasso (or chopped ham), 1/4-inch dice
14 ounces Andouille (or Spanish chorizo, or other smoked sausage), 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper (or green), chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning 
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 cup long grain rice
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Italian parsley, chopped for garnish

In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the sausage on each side in batches, set aside. Add the tasso, onions, celery, and bell pepper to the pot and saute until tender. Add the garlic and cook one minute. Add the tomatoes (with can juice), stir and break up with a wooden spoon. (An old-fashioned potato masher works great too!) Add the stock, browned sausage, Cajun seasoning, thyme, cayenne, salt, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the cover and raise heat to a boil. Add the rice, stir, cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Taste the rice to make sure it's done!) Remove the lid and add the shrimp. Cook for 5 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through. Remove the bay leaves and serve with a garnish of parsley. Add hot sauce to taste at the table, along with crusty bread.

Monday, February 13, 2023

The Birth of Aphrodite

Botticelli Birth of Venus 450x230 Botticellis Birth of Venus
Birth of Venus, by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1484-86
Botticelli's Birth of Venus is my favorite painting from the Italian Renaissance. Venus, in all her naked glory, is depicted riding to shore on a scallop shell and sea foam, being blown by Zephyrus (who is carrying the nymph Chloris) to be greeted by Pomona, the goddess of Spring. Venus's beauty was so great that wherever she stepped flowers would bloom and sand would turn to grass. Impressive! Venus embodies love, beauty, sex, fertility and prosperity in Roman mythology. She is also known as Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. But do you know the story of her birth?

According to Hesiod's poem, Theogony, Gaia was the primal Greek Mother Goddess, creator of the Earth and all the Universe. Gaia created and married Uranus (primal Greek God of the sky) and had many children. Some of the children became the Titans, three were cyclopes, and three were monsters known as "hecatonchires" (which had 100 arms and 50 heads each), some became giants, and the youngest child, a Titan, was named Cronus. Uranus could not bear the sight of his hideous children, specifically the cyclopes and hecatonchires, and hid them away in the bowels of the earth. Well, Gaia wasn't too happy with this and set out for revenge. She created a flint sickle and with the help of Cronus set up a trap. As Uranus was coming to join Gaia, Cronos castrated him and threw his "stuff" into the sea. The sea began to bubble and foam "from the immortal flesh" and "with it a girl grew." Yes, it was Aphrodite, whose name means "risen from the foam." Wow and gross! That would make an interesting family tree!

Anyway, it was the birth of Aphrodite/Venus gliding on a scallop shell that has given scallops their aphrodisiac reputation. In fact, scallops are believed to raise sexual hormones in men and women, and have the ability to elevate moods! Check and check! This exquisite recipe, from Chef Eric Brenner, for "Seared Scallops, Saffron Risotto and Beurre Blanc" is the perfect Valentine meal! Luscious sweet scallops, served on a bed of creamy saffron risotto, and a generous drizzle of the best damn beurre blanc I've ever tasted is sexy, elegant, and extremely romantic! In addition, you will need to enlist the help of your mate to stir the risotto while you finish the rest! Cooking together is sexy! So, light the candles, pour some wine, and let the pleasure begin!   

Seared Scallops, Saffron Risotto and Beurre Blanc

Serves 4 (I have halved this recipe with great success, if you prefer dinner for two!)

For the Beurre Blanc
1 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons white wine
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 pound (8 tablespoons) butter, softened

For the Saffron Risotto
1 pinch saffron
2 quarts chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup fresh peas
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

For the Scallops
12 dry-packed sea scallops
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Remove and discard the side muscle from the scallops. Set the scallops on a paper towel and allow to come to room temperature while you make the beurre blanc and risotto.

For the Beurre Blanc
Remove the zest from the lemon with a vegetable peeler and place in a small saucepan. Add the juice of the lemon. Place the bay leaf, shallot, wine and vinegar in the saucepan and reduce by half. Add the cream and reduce to less than 1/4 cup. Remove from the heat, strain into another small pan and gradually whisk in the softened butter. Don't let the sauce go over 130 degrees. Do no try to reheat or refrigerate the sauce. (Sounds tricky, but it's not. You can do it!)

For the Saffron Risotto
In a saucepan, combine the saffron and chicken stock and set over low heat until almost simmering. In a medium saucepot, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add the shallots and saute until translucent. Add the rice and saute until lightly toasted, but not browned. Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated. Slowly incorporate the chicken stock a few ladles at a time, stirring constantly, until reduced and the rice is tender. (This can take anywhere from 25-40 minutes. Taste, taste, taste!) When tender, fold in the remaining tablespoon of butter with a rubber spatula. Fold in the peas and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve right away.

For the Scallops
Just before you think your risotto is almost ready, lightly season one side of the scallops with the salt. Heat a heavy skillet until it is screaming hot. (I use my cast iron pan!) Add the 3 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil begins to "dance" (just before smoking), place the scallops in the pan salt-side down. Cook until the scallops begin to caramelize, just a couple minutes. Flip the scallops and immediately remove the pan from the heat. The heat of the pan will cook the scallops through in about 3 to 4 minutes. 

To Plate
Place a 1/2-3/4 cup risotto onto each serving plate. Top each with three scallops. Spoon the sauce around the perimeter of each plate.

Recipe slightly adapted from Chef Eric Brenner.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Love on the Rocks?

When I was in college, getting my degree in Geology, I was required to complete a "field training" course. I signed up for a class with Texas Tech, in which you were expected to map parts of the Colorado Rockies. After arriving a day late, I found myself (backpack and rock hammer in tow) ascending the side of a steep mountain, when I first heard his voice. He offered me a hand, (Thank God!), and then I looked up to see my one true love, standing there in a tie-dye Ben&Jerry's "Cherry Garcia" t-shirt, mirrored Serengeti sunglasses, and a Redskins baseball hat! What a get-up! Six weeks later, we were engaged, and the rest is history.

So, for my handsome man, I'm making "Goat Cheese-Arugula Ravioli with Tomato-Pancetta Butter." This dish tastes so fantastic and is so beautiful! It's perfect for a romantic Valentine's dinner! In fact, it's so perfect, you just may fall in love!

Goat Cheese-Arugula Ravioli with Tomato-Pancetta Butter

Serves 4-6, (Can be made ahead!)


For the ravioli
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large shallots, minced
3 ounces arugula, chopped (about 3 1/2 cups)
6 ounces soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet), crumbled
1/2 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Approximately 30-40 wonton wrappers (from one 12-ounce package)
2 large egg whites, whisked just until foamy

For the tomato-pancetta butter
6 ounces thinly sliced pancetta or bacon, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
6 large plum tomatoes, quartered, seeds and membranes discarded, tomatoes diced small
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

For serving
5 tablespoons butter, melted
12 fresh basil leaves
Fresh thyme


For the ravioli
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add shallots, saute for 10 minutes. Add arugula, toss until wilted but still bright green, about 3 minutes. Transfer the arugula mixture to a large bowl and cool. Mix in the goat cheese and Parmesan cheese. Season the filling with salt and pepper.

Line 2 baking sheets with heavy-duty foil, spray with nonstick spray. (I use 1 baking sheet lined with parchment paper and no nonstick spray. When the first layer is done, I place a sheet of plastic wrap over and stack the second layer on top. That way you can store in the fridge easier.) Place 4 wonton wrappers on work surface, cover remaining wrappers with plastic to prevent drying. Lightly brush entire surface of each wrapper with egg white. Spoon 1 generous teaspoon (I put 1 tablespoon) filling into the center of each wrapper. Fold wrappers diagonally in half, forming triangles. Press edges firmly to seal, avoiding any air bubbles inside the ravioli.

Arrange ravioli on prepared sheets. Repeat with the remaining wrappers until the filling is gone. (Can be made ahead. Cover with plastic and chill up to 1 day.)

For the tomato-pancetta butter
Cook chopped pancetta in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp and brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towel to drain and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from skillet. Add butter to drippings in skillet, melt over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and thyme, saute until tomatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

To serve
Place melted butter in large bowl. Cook half of the ravioli in a large pot of salted boiling water until just tender, about 4 minutes. Using a hand-held strainer, transfer ravioli to a colander to drain, then place in the bowl with the melted butter, toss gently to coat. Cover to keep warm. Cook the remaining ravioli in the same pot of boiling water. Drain as before and transfer to the buttered ravioli. Toss gently to coat. Divide the ravioli among serving bowls. Rewarm the tomato butter over medium heat, add the reserved pancetta and basil, saute 1 minute. Spoon sauce over ravioli. Garnish with thyme and serve! (Don't forget some wine!)

This is an old recipe, adapted from Bon Appetit.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Montezuma, Casanova, and Chocolat

Chocolate has long been recognized for it's powers with love! Aztec ruler, Montezuma, was said to have drank up to 50 "flagons" of chocolate a day to allow him to serve his many wives and lovers! Even Casanova, legendary 18th century lover, held strong beliefs in the power of chocolate! In addition to chocolate's caffeine content, it also contains PEA (phenylethylamine), which when combined with our internal stores of amphetamine heightens our sense of love! It's no wonder with chocolate's association with romance, that it would become the basis for Joanne Harris' novel Chocolat, and the charmingly romantic film adaptation Chocolat. (One of my favorites!)

This Valentine's Day, why not surprise your true love with a decadent cup of "Vianne's Spiced Hot Chocolate?" According to Joanne Harris, this recipe from her cookbook My French Kitchen, is THE recipe from the movie! With it's combination of bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, and red hot chile, it's guaranteed to excite your senses! Joanne suggests serving it in mugs topped with whipped cream, chocolate curls, or a dash of cognac or Amaretto (my favorite)! You can even make it ahead, store in the refrigerator, and reheat it after a lovely night out! What could be more romantic? Happy Valentine's Day!

Vianne's Spiced Hot Chocolate

Serves 2


1 2/3 cups milk (I use half-and-half.)
1/2 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 hot red chile, stemmed, halved, seeded
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet (70 percent) chocolate (I use Ghiradelli bittersweet chips.)
Brown sugar to taste (about 2 teaspoons, or more to taste)
Whipped cream, chocolate curls, cognac, or Amaretto, to serve


Place the milk in a saucepan, add the vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and chile, and gently bring to a shivering simmer for 1 minute. Grate the chocolate (or add the chips) and whisk it in until it melts. If you must, then add brown sugar, but do try without it. (I prefer some sugar added.) Take off the heat and allow it to infuse for 10 minutes, then remove the vanilla, cinnamon, and chile. Return to the heat and bring gently back to a simmer. (At this point, I recommend straining it to ensure it's silky smooth!) Serve in mugs topped with whipped cream, chocolate curls, or a dash of cognac or Amaretto.

Recipe from My French Kitchen, by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Chili Queens and the Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili

Chili con carne (simply known as "Chili") is a Texas obsession, even passing legislation making it the official dish of Texas in 1977! But who do we thank for this deliciously spicy Tex-Mex concoction? Why, the Chili Queens! The Chili Queens were the most beautiful, voluptuous, dark-eyed senoritas who would transport their perfected homemade chili in colorful chili wagons to Military Plaza in San Antonio, Texas, cheerfully serving stockmen, soldiers, rounders, and prowlers. Even Teddy Roosevelt was not immune to their allure! 

The Chili Queens are believed to have been selling their spicy creations for 200 years, but they had sold chili only for the last third of that period, selling strictly Mexican faire before that. Alongside roaming Mariachi bands, they would build mesquite fires on the square to keep the chili warm, light colorful lanterns strewn along their wagons, serving chili to whomever they could charm and convince that their chili was the best. I read an article years ago talking about how masterfully they could handle even the most brutish of men, smiling, inserting fresh red roses in customers' lapels with a lingering touch, craftily picked from a great mass of roses on her bosom! Oh my! With a twinkle in her eye, she nearly always had trouble making change, which was usually not a problem for her smitten customers! The Chili Queens remained a highlight in San Antonio until the late 1930s, when sadly the health department put an end to their time-honored profession.   

I love making chili for the earthy hunger-inducing smells, the fiery flavors, and for the longstanding tradition. So, in honor of my Texas heritage, I give you this:

The Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili:
  1. Thou shalt only use beef, cut into small chunks, never ground.
  2. Thou shalt never include beans.
  3. Thou shalt never use tomatoes, tomato sauce, or even paste.
  4. Thou shalt never include bell peppers. (That goes for salsas as well!)
  5. Thou shalt only use Texas beer. (preferably Shiner Bock)
Got that? Remember that making chili is not an exact recipe. You should gently cook it all day, tasting and adjusting to your likes and dislikes. In addition, this is simple campfire cuisine and should not cost a fortune. Use simple cuts of meat, like chuck. Chili is often best the second day, which makes it easy to remove the fat that will rise to the top and harden after refrigeration. And finally, it is almost impossible to make a bad chili. So, embrace your inner Chili Queen and get cooking!

Chili Con Carne (Chili)

Serves 4-6, can easily be doubled

For the chili:
4 tablespoons canola oil
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1/2" cubes, tossed with some salt and pepper
2 large yellow onions, small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 tablespoons chili powder (Gebhardt, if possible)
2 tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons crumbled oregano (Mexican oregano, if possible)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (this ensures it will not taste bitter)
1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
2 serrano chiles, slit down one side (or whatever chiles you prefer, chipotle chiles work well too)
8 ounces strong beef broth (I add 2 tsp Better Than Bouillon beef base to 8 ounces water)
1 bottle Texas beer (preferably Shiner Bock)
1 tablespoon Masa Harina
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

For garnish (pick and choose as you like):
Sour Cream
Freshly grated Cheddar cheese
Diced Avocado
Sliced jalapeno, seeds and all
Finely chopped red onion
Sliced green onions
Your favorite hot sauce
Oyster crackers
Cornbread (I like the simple Jiffy brand mix, sold at most stores. I always mix in some honey, as well.)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy Dutch oven or large pot. Add the meat in batches to brown slightly. Remove to a plate, or the lid of the Dutch oven! Drain off any excessive amount of fat that may accumulate. Add the onions and garlic to the pot, adding additional oil if needed. Saute until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Return the meat to the pan.

Combine the chili powder, flour, paprika, and cumin. Sprinkle the mixture over the meat. Stir with a wooden spoon, reducing the heat to low, until the meat is evenly coated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the oregano, salt, sugar, cayenne, serrano chiles, beef broth, and beer. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer slowly for at least 2 hours, or all day, until the meat is very tender. (Remember to stir occasionally adding more beer or water, if needed! If it dries out too much, it can burn and ruin your chili!)

Sprinkle in the Masa Harina and cilantro, stirring occasionally and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the serrano chiles and taste and add additional salt, etc., if necessary. Serve with garnishes laid out in bowls, so everyone can garnish as they like!