Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Hors d'oeuvre Focus: Phyllo Cups

Phyllo cups are handy to keep around during the holidays. You can buy them pre-made or save a little money by making your own using flat sheets of phyllo pastry. I demonstrate how easy it is to make the cups yourself on the video.

You can make the phyllo cups in advance and store them up to one week in an airtight container so they are ready to use when you need them -- whether friends drop by unexpectedly or you're making appetizers for a holiday party.

They can be filled with any number of savory and sweet concoctions like blue cheese mouse with crispy bacon, chicken salad with sliced grapes, bay shrimp with cocktail sauce, not to mention chocolate mousse with powdered sugar or even your favorite pie filling with a smidge of whipped cream. Just use your imagination!

Phyllo Cups with Goat Cheese and Red Pepper

One of my favorites is a simple one - Goat cheese with roasted red peppers. Here's the recipe.

Phyllo Cups with Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers
Makes 20

4 sheets of phyllo dough pastry
4 tbsp melted butter
8 oz herbed or plain goat cheese crumbles or Boursin Cheese (optional)
1/4 c roasted red peppers, minced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Thaw frozen phyllo dough. Bring to room temperature before using. When you are working with the phyllo do, be sure to keep it covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap so that it doesn't dry out.

Layout a large sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Peel off 4 sheets of pastry and arrange them in a single stack on top of the waxed paper.

Fold the stack in half lengthwise so it resembles a book. Be careful not to crease the sheets.

Working quickly, unfold the top half sheet of pastry and brush with melted butter. Fold back the next sheet and brush with butter. Continue until one side of the book is completely coated except for the top sheet. Repeat the process on the other half of the pastry. When all the sheet are coated, THEN brush the top sheet with melted butter.

Cut the layered phyllo into 3" squares. Using a wine cork or your fingers, gently press the pastry squares into mini muffin cups. The edges will be fluted.

At this point you have two options: bake the unfilled cups or fill each cup with 1 tbsp of goat cheese or Boursin Cheese and bake.

Bake unfilled cups for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool completely, and then gently remove from the muffin cups. Fill with your favorite salad or mousee or store in an airtight container at room temperature up to one week.

Bake cheese stuffed cups for 12 to 15 minutes. Garnish with some roasted red pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.

What is your favorite filling for phyllo cups?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Topping It All Off - Mashed Potato Martini Bar

Article also available on


The holidays are usually a mix of family and friends. If you find yourself needing a crowd-pleasing party food, I've got just the ticket. A Mashed Potato "Martini" Bar! (Don't worry, I am not referring to potato vodka. This idea is kid-friendly.) I am talking about build-it-yourself party food.

Mashed Potato Martini Bars are a big trend right now. They're an inexpensive option but one you can make look elegant. And everybody loves mashed potatoes.

So what is a Mashed Potato Martini Bar? It's mashed potatoes served in martini glasses with a salad-bar-style collection of toppings. It's also super fun and interactive for guests.

Here's what you need:

Martini Glasses - make it fun and festive. It's not just a mashed potato bar, it's a mashed potato martini bar. If you don't own a set, pick up some mismatched ones at a thrift store.

Mashed Potatoes - your favorite recipe. You'll need about 1/2 to 1 cup per person, depending on what else you are serving. You can keep the potatoes warm in a chafing dish or slow cooker.

Now you just need to put out a bunch of your favorite potato toppings. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
  • Freshly Grated Cheeses (Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Parmesan - Whatever You Like)
  • Sour Cream or Your Favorite Potato Chip Dip
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Whipped Butter or Flavored-Butter
  • Chives or Green Onions
  • Pesto Sauce
  • Gravy
  • Cheese Sauce
  • Cloves of Roasted Garlic
  • Chili
  • Beef Stew
  • Caviar
  • Minced Ham
  • Crumbled Bacon
  • Garlicky Sautéed Shrimp
  • Corned Beef Hash
  • Sun-Dried Tomatoes
  • Sour Kraut
  • Sliced Kielbasa or Polish Sausage
  • Steamed Broccoli
  • Roasted Red Pepper Strips
  • Sautéed Mushrooms
  • French Fried Onions 

Topping ideas are limitless. Try to offer at least 5 or 6 different choices so you're guest can get creative. I've seen people top their mashed potatoes with cheese, and that's it -- and others go through like it's a sundae bar, putting everything on it.

When your guests arrive, give them a brief overview of how to make their mashtini or better yet, be the first to go through the line. It'll show your guests what to do, plus nobody likes to be the first to do something at a party.

Plan for people to have seconds. You may even want to enforce a "two drink minimum!"

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bubbling Over with Holiday Cheer - A guide to buying and serving sparking wine

You say "Champagne" but you might be buying "Sparkling Wine." So, what's the difference? Chef Erin gives a quick overview of sparkling wine, how to open and serve it, and a recipe for a champagne cocktail.


You've heard the old saying, "location, location, location" when it comes to real estate or business matters but how about wine? Well, it's the same for a number of wines including champagne. The French state that you can't call your sparkling wine champagne unless it comes from the champagne region of France. Although we use the term interchangeably, true champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. Other countries produce champagne-style wines but in deference to France call them by different names: Spain makes Cava, Italy makes Spumante or Prosecco, Germany has Sekt and America makes sparkling wine/but I've also seen some labels that call themselves "California champagne."


The cheaper the champagne the larger the bubbles. There are a number of different methods to get the bubbles into sparking wine. With cheaper sparklers, carbonation is shot into the bottle with a pump. Quality sparking wines are made in the traditional French method called méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle-- a time-consuming process that allows the bubbles to form through natural fermentation.


Like any other wine, champagne varies in body from light to full. It also varies in sweetness from dry to sweet. The driest champagnes are called extra brut, followed by brut, extra dry, sec, demi-sec and doux. Each of these terms refers to the residual sugar in the wine. Extra Brut wines have 0 to 0.6% sugar while a Doux style will have more than 5% sugar. Everything else falls in between.


Champagne should be served chilled between 40 and 50 degrees F. Cold subdues the flavors in the wine so cheap sparklers should be quite chilled while better vintages can be served at 50 degrees F. A good champagne should be refrigerated for about 2 hours prior to serving. That should ensure just the right temperature.


Although it's fun to "pop" a bottle of champagne the proper method of opening sparkling wine is to twist the bottle gently to release the cork. There is a demonstration in the video.


To open a bottle of sparkling wine:
  • Pull the zipper (the serrated foil around the neck of the bottle) and remove the foil.
  • Twist the tab and remove the metal cage from the cork.
  • Hold the cork and twist the bottle (not vice versa). You'll hear a quiet hissing sound as the cork release. Frenchman say that opening a bottle of champagne should sound like the contented sigh of a woman. Those Frenchman...gotta love 'em.
  • To pour, hold the bottom of the bottle. Your thumb should rest in the punt (the dent in the bottom of the bottle.
  • Pour each glass half way full. Once the bubbles have settled, fill the glass the rest of the way.
Some notes serving:
  • Using flutes (tall, slender wine glasses) keeps the bubbles from dissipating too quickly. Old-fashioned wide-mouthed champagne glasses let the bubbles get away twice as fast.
  • Be sure that your glasses are free from dust and soap scum. Both destroy the bubbles in the wine.
  • You might want to invest in a metal champagne stopper. It will keep the bubbles in place for another day.
I can't always afford an expensive sparkling wine, so I like to make a champagne cocktail.

All you need is a bottle of sparkling wine. I usually use brut or extra dry, myself - a few sugar cubes and a bottle of Angostura Bitters. Drop a sugar cube into a champagne flute, add two dashes of bitters and top with sparkling wine. Delicious!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash with Apples & Dill

Roasted vegetables are one of the biggest trends of 2010. I've developed a simple roasted vegetable recipe that will be perfect side dish for your holiday meal. I think you'll enjoy the subtle sweetness of the roasted squash and apples. It's much less cloying that some traditional squash or sweet potato dishes. The dill is an unusual addition to the recipe and really brings out an herbaceous quality in the apples.

Serves 8

8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
4 cups Butternut squash, medium dice*
2 cups sweet onion (e.g. Walla Walla; Maui; Vidalia, etc.), medium dice*
3 cups apples, medium dice*
1 tbsp fresh dill, minced
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Set aside.

Combine squash, onions and 6 tbsp melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Toss gently to coat.

Spread squash mixture onto a buttered baking sheet. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the squash is just tender, approximately 20 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from the oven. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Uncover the squash. Toss apples with the remaining 2 tbsp of melted butter. Add buttered apples to the roasted squash on the baking sheet and return to the oven. Bake uncovered until the apples and squash begin to brown in spots, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Sprinkle the dish with fresh dill and salt and pepper to taste. The dish can be served immediately or at room temperature.

Note: If you roast this dish in the morning before putting your turkey in the oven, you can let it sit at room temperature until serving or refrigerate and reheat it while you are making your gravy.

*medium dice = 1/2 inch cubes

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gravy Grievances Be Gone

Does the thought of making homemade gravy freak you out? Does your gravy come out lumpy or greasy?   Do you secretly keep canned gravy in the pantry, just in case?  Chef Erin Coopey of Culinary Artist Enterprises gives you 3 simple tips for making fool-proof gravy every time!

Gravy seems to be one of those kitchen mysteries for many people. Really it's just a simple pan sauce and with a few helpful hints you'll be making gravy like a pro.

The basic recipe for turkey gravy is:

1/4 cup fat (reduced pan drippings)
1/4 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

When you have finished roasting your turkey, remove it from the pan along with any onions or other vegetables you may have cooked it on. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked vegetables so that you leave as much jus (drippings) in the pan as possible.

Place the roasting pan over a couple burners on your stovetop. Reduce (simmer) the drippings over medium-high heat until you have about 1/4 cup left in the pan.

Lower heat to medium. Add 1/4 cup of four and stir until the flour becomes a smooth paste.

Very slowly, add chicken broth to the flour paste while whisking constantly. Don't be afraid to stop adding broth for a moment until you can whisk the mixture smooth. The key to smooth gravy is constant whisking.* Continue to whisk until you have added all four cups of broth. If you like other flavors in your gravy, such as pureed giblets, fresh herbs or wine, feel free to add them at this time. Reduce heat and simmer until the gravy reaches the desired thickness.

Finish with salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 cups.

*If you do end up with some lumps in your gravy, simply pour the gravy through a sieve before serving. No one will know the difference!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You Go Grill! - Grilled Cheese Makes A Comeback

Grilled Cheese with Apple Butter
A friend of mine recently told me about a restaurant in San Francisco that only serves grilled cheese sandwiches. Apparently customers are lined up out the door. In fact, there are a number of these gooey enterprises popping up all across the country. We're talkin' food carts to gourmet panini shops. Build your own, to crazy creative concoctions. I've seen everything from the classic American cheese version, to brie, raspberry and chocolate chip "Sweetest Things." There's even an annual Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles.

It seems fitting doesn't it? We're all stressed out about the economy and we just want to return to a simpler time when mom made grilled cheese on white bread and served it with a cup of tomato soup. Heidi Gibson, Commander-in-Cheese of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco, affirms that it's more than just the food, they are trying to create "a feeling of relief [like] you are back in your mom's kitchen..."

I was inspired to come up with my own grilled cheese opus - Sharp Cheddar and Apple Butter. Old timers will tell you that you should always serve apple pie with a wedge of cheddar cheese. The sharpness of the cheddar compliments the apple-y cinnamon-spiced tang of the apple butter.

Here's how to make it: Start with slices of French bread, butter the outside of each slice. Then, spread apple butter on the inside of each slice. Top the apple butter with sharp cheddar and grill to perfection. You can throw a little bacon on it if you are feeling more adventurous.

Imagine the combination -- the salty, sweet-smoked bacon melted into the tangy sharp cheese with the sweet spice of apple butter tying it all together. Tastes like fall, doesn't it?

What's your favorite grilled cheese sandwich? Do you stick to tradition or experiment?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Glorious Garlic: Tips for Working with Fresh Garlic

I realize that sometimes it's easier to grab the granulated garlic shaker than to peel and chop a clove of fresh garlic but trust me the fresh garlic flavor and versatility make it worth the effort.

Always try to purchase garlic from the bulk bin versus bagged garlic. This helps to ensure that the garlic you buy is fresh. You can sort out the best garlic by following these hints. Always choose a large head of garlic with tightly packed cloves and white papery skin. Avoid garlic with loose cloves and damaged or discolored skin.

If you happen to purchase a head of garlic that has begun to sprout simply break the gloves apart and plant the in your garlic or window box. In a few weeks, you'll have garlic chives to snip.

Did you know that the finer you chop garlic, the stronger the flavor becomes? The oil in the garlic is released when you chop it, which gives the strong garlic aroma. A whole clove of garlic will impart milder flavor, while minced garlic will be more pungent.

Peeling garlic can be a hassle. If you are preparing a recipe that calls for whole garlic cloves like 40 Clove Garlic Chicken, try using a garlic peeler to remove the skin. If you don't have a garlic peeler, separate the cloves and place them in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over the cloves and allow to sit for 1 minutes. Drain the boiling water and then cover the cloves with cool water. When the cloves are cool, peel away the papery skin and use as desired.

I love the flavor of roasted garlic. Roasting mellows the sharp, pungent flavor and leaves you with creamy, aromatic goodness. It's wonderful in mashed potatoes, with roasted chicken, and in savory custards. It also makes a to-die-for accompaniment to cheeses and crackers. Try smearing it on crusty slice of French bread topped with goat cheese or cream cheese. Yum!

Roasted Garlic Heads

Roasted Garlic
Whole Fresh Heads of Garlic
Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut off the top third (the stem end) of the head of garlic to expose the cloves. Leave the head in tact and attached by the root. Peel away any loose papery skin on the outside of the head. Place the heads of garlic in a ceramic container. Pour olive oil over the garlic until there is about 1/2 inch of oil in the bottom of the container. Cover the container with aluminum foil and bake for about 1 hour until the garlic is soft and lightly browned.

Carefully remove the softened garlic from the oil. The cloves should release the creamy garlic with a gentle squeeze.

You can also use the garlic-infused oil to make Caesar salad dressing, to sauté chicken or fish, or brush vegetables for grilling. Store the oil in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Redfield Farm Apple Butter

I just finished reading Redfield Farm, a novel about a Quaker woman and the underground railroad, written by my mother, Judith Redline Coopey.
(Incidentally, it's wonderful!) I don't know whether I was influenced by a passage in the book or by the crispness of the autumn air outside my window but I decided I wanted to make apple butter. 

Years ago my mother gave me an ancient, crumbling, Quaker cookbook from the 1800's that belonged to her mother. It only seemed fitting to consult it for a recipe for apple butter. I adapted this recipe from that book but streamlined it by incorporating a slow cooker. It's so simple and rustic, perfect for the new crop of fall apples in the markets. And, the smell of baked, tart apples and spices will fill your kitchen with autumn warmth. 

So, in honor of Ann Redfield the heroine of Redfield Farm,
and my mother, I present
Redfield Farm Apple Butter!

Redfield Farm Apple Butter
Makes 2 pints

2 pounds of Granny Smith Apples, washed, quartered and cored
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 inch cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
4 whole allspice

In a large saucepan, combine the apples and water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer until the apples have softened to the consistency of applesauce.

Pass the apples through a sieve or food mill.  Stir in the sugar and spices and pour the apple puree into a slow cooker. Set the temperature on low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 hours.

At this point you can can the hot apple butter in Ball jars, or simply cool the mixture and store it in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. 

Try it on a grilled cheese sandwich with sharp cheddar, alongside a pork roast, or smeared on toast!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Potato Pointers - Waxy vs. Starchy

Although you can use any potato you choose, you will get the best results following the suggestions below:
  • Use starchy potatoes like Russet/Idaho or Purple Potatoes for mashed, baked, roasted, and deep-fried potato recipes.
  • Use waxy potatoes like White Rose, Yukon Gold and Red Potatoes for sautéed/pan-fried, roasted, boiled, and potato salad recipes. If you use waxy potatoes for mashed potatoes, don't over mash them or they will get gummy.

Making your own French fries is simple and you will be giving your family a healthier alternative to commercial fries loaded with modified food starches and trans fats.

French Fries with Truffle Salt & Parmesan

4 large russet or other starchy potatoes, peeled or unpeeled
and cut into 3/8 by 3/8-inch thick sticks
2 quarts canola oil
Truffle salt or garlic salt
2 tbsp parmesan cheese

Heat oil over medium-low heat in a deep heavy pot* with a candy or deep-frying thermometer, or in an electric deep fryer, until the thermometer registers 275 degrees F.

Add the fries, in small batches, to the hot oil. Fry/blanch, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft and limp and begin to turn a pale blond color, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or fry basket, carefully remove fries from the oil. Spread the fries out on a cookie sheet in a single layer so they don't stick to one another.

When ready to serve the French fries, reheat the oil to 375 degrees F. Transfer the blanched potatoes to the hot oil and fry again, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper lined platter and sprinkle with Truffle Salt and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

*If you are frying in a heavy pot or Dutch oven, be sure that you have at least 3 to 5 inches of space between the top of the oil and the top of the pan so that the oil doesn't overflow when frying.

Note: Truffle salt is available at gourmet markets and specialty shops. If you don't find it in your neighborhood try substituting garlic salt instead.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Blackberry Season is Here!

It's blackberry season! Chef Erin shares tips for storing fresh blackberries as well as a couple of her favorite recipes.

Savory Blackberry Sauce
for Salmon, Duck or Pork 
Serves 4

2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
pinch of white pepper
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cold
1/4 tsp red wine vinegar

Simmer the blackberries, sugar and water in a saucepan until the berries are soft and starting to fall apart (about 5 minutes).Take off the burner and put the blackberries into a sieve. Use a wooden spoon or rubber scraper to push the berries through until you have extracted all the liquid. Discard the residue.

Put the liquid back into the saucepan and bring to heat. Whisk in the lemon juice, cornstarch or arrowroot, and white pepper. Heat until it begins to thicken slightly.

Remove from heat and whisk in butter and a dash of red wine vinegar. Add a little salt, if desired.

Spoon over roasted or grilled salmon and it's also wonderful on duck breast or pork tenderloin.

Blackberry Brandy

2 cups fresh, crushed blackberries
1 cup sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups brandy, divided

Add sugar to boiling water and stir until dissolved. Gently crush the blackberries. Using your hands is fine! Pour the sugar water over the crushed berries.

Pour the mixture into a glass jar, add 1 cup brandy and seal the jar and shake gently. Place the jar in a cool, dark cupboard for 1 week. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve or cheese cloth. Add the second cup or brandy.

Sip on it's own or blend with vanilla ice cream for a decadent smoothie!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lavender & Anise Seed Crusted Rack of Lamb with Goat Cheese Custards

Sometimes inspiration strikes at the most unexpected moments. That's what happened when I was trying to develop a recipe for a Grenache for a Buscador Wine. I had been experimenting with berry infused sauces and spicy dishes but hadn't happened upon that "ah ha" moment I was looking for. With just a tiny bit of wine in the bottle and the afternoon drawing to a close, I decided to call it a day. I went to my refrigerator and pulled out a tiny wedge of Rollingstone Creamery's Anise and Lavender Goat Cheese, smeared it on a cracker, took a sip of the remaining wine and - Blamo! - discovered my muse.

The next day I created this Lavender & Anise Seed Crusted Rack of Lamb with a Goat Cheese Custard. The lavender highlighted the floral qualities in the wine while the acidity of the goat cheese balanced the dryness and tannins of the wine.

Grenache on it's own is not a common wine. It's typically used in Rhone-style blends. If you are interested in learning more about Grenache, check out my blog in the wine section of the SheSpeaks Special Edition or The Wine Pairing Chef blog.

As we creep toward Fall, I envision a dinner table with candles, a cozy autumn meal. I find myself craving roast meats and creamier side dishes. This recipe fits the bill. Trying pairing it with a Grenache or another Rhone-style dry red wine.

Lavender & Anise Seed Crusted Rack of Lamb
with Goat Cheese Custard

Lavender & Anise Seed Rack of Lamb with Goat Cheese Custards
Serves 4

4 teaspoons dried culinary lavender
2 teaspoons anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 1 1/4 -1 1/2 pound racks of lamb, trimmed

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine all ingredients in small bowl. Smear paste over meat portion of lamb.

Place lamb, paste side up, in small roasting pan or baking sheet. Roast lamb until thermometer inserted into lamb registers 135°F for medium-rare, about 25 minutes. Transfer racks to a cutting board, lightly tent with aluminum foil and let rest 10 minutes.

Cut lamb between bones into chops and serve with Goat Cheese Custards (recipe below).

Goat Cheese Custards

3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3.5 ounces goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoons white pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Add milk, cream, salt, pepper and garlic powder to a heavy sauce pan. Crumble in goat cheese. Bring mixture to just a boil, stirring constantly. The goat cheese should be melted and smooth. Remove pan from heat.

Whisk the eggs and egg yolk in a medium bowl until smooth and creamy. Slowly whisk in hot milk until well combined. Strain mixture into a pitcher and then divide among 4 ramekins.

Place ramekins into a roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake custards for 25 minutes until set. (To confirm, insert a sharp knife into the center of one custard. If the knife comes out clean, the custard is cooked.) Remove from roasting pan and let cool while roasting the racks of lamb.

To turn out, run a sharp knife around the edge of the ramekin to loosen the custard. Gently invert the ramekin onto the serving plate. Custard should slide out, if not, lift one edge and use a knife to coax the custard loose.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Gluten-Free Beer Battered Fish

With all the focus on gluten-free diets, I thought I'd take a stab at a recipe that you don't normally find G-Free alternatives for. This gluten-free beer battered fish rocks! Honestly, I'd challenge anyone to detect a difference in taste between this batter fish and one made with regular flour!

Gluten-Free Beer Battered Fish
Oil for deep-frying (about 6 cups)
1 1/2 lbs skinless fish fillets like cod, flounder or talapia
3 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
Salt & Pepper to taste

For Batter
1 cup Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour
1 cup cornstarch
3/4 tsp xanthum gum
1 12 oz gluten free beer* or 12 oz club soda
1 large egg
1 tsp kosher salt

Combine the flour, cornstarch, xanthum gum, G-free beer or club soda, egg and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Heat oil to 375 F in a deep Dutch oven or deep fryer.

While the oil is heating, pat fish fillets dry with paper towels. Season with Old Bay Seasoning, salt and pepper. Drop the fillets into the batter and toss to coat evenly.

When the oil is hot, lift the fillets one by one into the batter with tongs. Let excess batter drip off before lowering the fillets into the oil. Tip: Swish the fillets back and forth in the hot oil for a few moments before letting go.  It helps to prevent sticking to the pot or fryer basket. Fry until the fillets are golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Serve with tartar sauce and lemon wedges!

*There are a number of Gluten-Free Beers on the market these days.  I've tried the recipe with Bard's The Original Sorghum Malt Beer (formerly Dragon's Gold).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fresh Herb Focus: Parsley

As seen on Edition August 6, 2010

When you think of parsley, do you think garnish? Poor parsley...relegated to the edge of our plates, just a touch of color -- nothing more. (Sigh.) Well, here's bit of trivia for you, just 2 tbsp of parsley gives you 150% of your rda of Vitamin K and almost 17% of the recommended Vitamin C. It's a natural breath freshener and, besides that, according to ancient beliefs a wreath of parsley wards off drunkenness. (Sorry I can't be held responsible for the efficacy of either wives' tale, if you choose to test them.)

There are two kinds fresh parsley available commercially - curly and flat leaf a.k.a. Italian parsley. Flat leaf parsley has a slightly stronger flavor than curly parsley but they are otherwise interchangeable. Both have a slightly peppery flavor with hint of celery. In addition, parsley is nearly the least expensive fresh herb, which is always a bonus.

Now how about a few ways to use it? Toss minced parsley with buttery new potatoes or piping hot french fries for an herbaceous bump. Try a Tabbouleh Salad with minced parsley, couscous, cucumber and tomato. Use parsley stems in your homemade stock to impart flavor without coloring the broth. Make Persillade, a French combination of parsley and garlic, for fresh fish or oysters.

My favorite parsley recipe is an Argentinean sauce called Chimichurri. The Argentines are famous for their barbecuing, and this sauce is the perfect match for a juicy steak or grilled chicken. Since it's barbecue season, I thought I'd share the recipe with you. I suggest you try it with a glass of Argentine Malbec - not enough to warrant a parsley wreath, mind you!


1Tbsp dried oregano leaves
2 Tbsp water
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, remove the thickest stems
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp sherry vinegar*

In a small bowl, combine dried oregano leaves and water. Stir and let stand for 15 minutes. In the meantime, wash the parsley by placing it in a bowl of cold water and swishing it around. Dry the parsley by patting it with paper towels or spinning it dry with a salad spinner. After the oregano is moistened, combine it with parsley and garlic in a food processor. Process until the parsley and garlic are finely minced, about 3 to 5 minutes. Next, transfer the parsley mixture to a small bowl and stir in the olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes.

At this point you can refrigerate the chimichurri for up to 3 hours. Allow it to return to room temperature before you serve it. When you are ready to serve, simply stir in the sherry vinegar.

*For me, the sherry vinegar really enhances this dish but if it's not available in your local supermarket you can substitute red wine vinegar.

How many of you buy only dry parsley? Can you think of other ways to use fresh parsley?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Little Love to Share - Hearty Supper Salad

As seen on Edition July 30, 2010

The unbearable heat blanketing much of country has reminded me of my summers growing up in Wisconsin. My mother, ironically, never cared for cooking so we rotated through a consistent menu that I could probably recite even today.

When the sticky Midwestern summers were bogging us down, my mom always made a variety of cold salads gleaned from sixties cookbooks or peeled from food labels to avoid heating up the kitchen. For the next several nights, we'd serve ourselves a salad smorgasbord for dinner. A typical salad sampler would include classics like macaroni salad, potato salad, and tuna salad and we'd occasionally have beet salad or sour kraut salad. But the salad we all loved best was "Hearty Supper Salad."

These days, as soon as the temperature rises I start craving the stuff -- no kidding. Remember the blog I wrote a few months ago about food memories letting me down? Well this one, emphatically, does not. I love this stuff. My husband loves this stuff and, soon enough, I think you'll love this stuff too.

My mother got the recipe while watching a local television morning show in the mid-sixties. I have decided to make it my mission to revive our beloved "Hearty Supper Salad."

This is the original recipe and, frankly, I wouldn't change a thing. So do me a favor? Don't substitute any of the low fat alternatives when you make it the first time. Savor the delicious innocence of a quintessential middle-American-childhood-church social-picnic-salad. You don't get that much sour cream and cheese in a serving anyway, so live a little.

Hearty Supper Salad

1 cup elbow macaroni
2 cups diced ham
1 1/2 cups diced cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped celery
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup sweet pickle relish

1/2 cup sour cream
2 tbsp yellow mustard

Cook elbow macaroni as directed stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite. Rinse with cold water and drain well in a colander set in the sink.

Combine macaroni, ham, cheddar cheese, celery, onion and sweet pickle relish in a large bowl. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and yellow mustard. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients, toss until ingredient are completely coated with dressing. Cover and chill for at least one hour prior to serving.

Do you have any salad recipes that have passed down through your family? Please share your recipes!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Don't Be Intimidated By Wine Tasting!

Modified article also available on Special Edition

You know what drives me nuts? Wine snobs. Don’t let them intimidate you! I once took a wine class from Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible, and she said that the best thing about wine is that learning about it is “purely hedonistic.” Isn’t that charming?

As Americans, I think we sometimes feel like other countries have a sophisticated advantage over us when it comes to wine. We may not drink wine around the family table as children but there’s no reason to feel intimidated and here’s why, as Karen MacNeil implied, drinking wine is fun, so learning about wine should be fun too.

You are probably thinking; “I don’t even know how to discuss what I taste.” You don’t need to be able to describe wine you are drinking in terms of its nuances, complexity or bouquet (nose) right away. I once did a wine tasting with a woman who described a wine as a “picnic in the park.” This wine reminded her of good times with friends; something she might drink on a sunny day or at a barbeque. That was perfect! She probably remembers the pleasant experience of that wine to this day.

Even Karen MacNeil doesn’t simply rely on traditional descriptors. I’ve heard her refer to Sauvignon Blanc as “stiletto heels” while Chardonnay is more “voluptuous like Marilyn Monroe.” Great visuals, don’t you think? You might not have tried Sauvignon Blanc before but from this description you can guess it’s a bit sassy, more challenging that a typical California Chardonnay.

I hope to give you a little information and a lot of courage. Don’t listen to those people who insist that they “only drink big, full bodied reds.” It doesn’t mean they know any more about wine than you. There is a world full of good wines out there – big red to light white to dessert wine. I like what New York wine merchant, William Sokolin, said about good wine, “What is the definition of a good wine? It should start and end with a smile.”

Smiles in place? Let’s start by learning the basics of wine tasting. Learning to taste wine is really just about stepping back and thinking for a moment before half of your glass is gone. Be thoughtful; take time to smell the roses or, in this case, the rosés. For simplicity, I will break down the tasting process into three steps – Sight, Smell and Sip.

Sight: Take a look at the wine in your glass. When you are participating a formal tasting, it is typical to look at wine over a white cloth or mat so that the background doesn’t influence the way the wine looks. Even if you don’t have a white mat handy, take a good look at the wine. How would you describe it? What color is it? Does it sparkle or look cloudy? Does it appear thick/opaque? As you learn a little more about wine, you’ll begin to notice common characteristics that may give hints to its age, style, and varietal.

Now, give it a smell. Don’t swirl yet. Just put your nose into the glass and sniff. Note what smells come to mind. Now, place the glass on a flat surface and give it a vigorous swirl. Smell again. Do you pick up anything different? Maybe it just smells like wine to you? That’s fine. As you practice you’ll start to identify different fragrances. Maybe you’ll find that a wine reminds you of a flower like rose or honeysuckle. Maybe it will remind you of fruit like cherries or apples. You might come across a wine that smells like fresh cut grass, a banana, or even Paas egg dye. Again as you practice this, you’ll begin to notice more. Each time a smell jumps out at you, try to remember it. This is how you’ll build your scent memory – the beginning of the ability to describe wine like the pros.

Okay, okay…it’s time to sip. Does the wine taste the way it smells or is it completely different? Did the wine remind you of anything like a picnic on a sunny day or a chocolate covered-cherry? Sip again and try to let a little air in your mouth before you swallow. Does the air change the flavors? How does the wine feel in your mouth? Does it seem heavy or light? After you swallow, breathe out through your nose. Does the taste of the wine linger?

Now think back on the whole experience: how the wine looked, smelled, and tasted. You’ve just taken your first step toward “professional” wine tasting. The tasting process can be more involved but you’ve got the basics. Now you just need to practice. Sight, Smell, Sip -- that’s really it. Follow the advice of wine expert, Alexis Lichine, "When it comes to wine, I tell people to throw away the vintage charts and invest in a corkscrew. The best way to learn about wine is the drinking."

Do you ever feel overwhelmed or intimidated about wine? Do you have any tips to help other readers?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Guacamole! Ole!

As posted on Special Edition June 30, 2010

On a recent trip to San Antonio, my husband and I were walking along the Riverwalk when we passed a Boudro's Texas Bistro. A waiter with a cart full of ingredients was chopping an avocado into a bowl of fruit juice. Table-side guacamole. I was sold.

This isn’t your typical avocado paste. It’s a chunky colorful blend of avocados, tomatoes, and chiles. The twist is a combination of orange and lime juice – slightly sweet, aromatic, and tangy. It’s like summer in a bowl!

I’ve recreated the recipe for you. It’s my new favorite and I hope it will be yours too.

Guacamole Naranja
Guacamole with Orange Juice -This guacamole has
a juicy, coarse texture that is closer to salsa than a paste.

¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
½ tsp salt
1 large or 2 medium avocados
2 roma tomatoes, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced*
½ to 1 serrano chile, roasted, seeded and minced*
¼ cup diced red onion
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Tortilla chips for dipping

Combine orange juice, lime juice and salt in a medium bowl. Stir until salt is fully dissolved. Halve the avocado(s). Remove the pit and scoop the flesh into the salted juice. Use two butter knives to ruggedly chop the avocado. This guacamole is rustic so don’t worry about precise cuts.

Next, stir in the diced tomatoes and chile. Add a little chile at a time so that you get just the right amount of heat. Then add the red onion and cilantro and stir to blend.

Serve with tortilla chips and a frosty margarita!

*Roasting Tomatoes and Chiles - Line a cast iron or heavy sauté pan with aluminum foil. Heat the pan over medium high heat. Add the tomatoes and chiles to the pan. Use tongs to turn often until they are charred on all sides and starting to soften, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel away most of the charred skin using a sharp pairing knife. Then, slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, scoop away the seeds and dice. When the chiles are cool, slice in half lengthwise and use the tip of your pairing knife to scrape out the seeds and ribs. Mince.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Play with Your Food

With kids out of school for summer, I’ve been thinking about kid-friendly food. The classic conundrum seems to be the struggle between what kids want to eat, and the nutritious food we want them to eat. So I asked myself, "why, can't nutritious food be kid-friendly too?"

Kids want to eat food that’s fun and that tastes yummy. Who can blame them, really? Don’t we all want fun, yummy food, at least some of the time? Take dipping, for example. Isn’t it more fun to dip and dunk what we eat? Can you think of food that you dip that doesn’t taste better? Come on! Chips and dip, so much yummier than chips alone! How about chocolate fondue with strawberries? Juicy strawberries dipped in decadent chocolate…That’s food I’d play with.

Another delightful dipper is chicken tenders. You've probably been tempting to sneak a couple off your child's plate from time to time but then the guilt of fried food takes over and you stop yourself.

Well, I’ve come up with some chicken tenders that are so good you won’t want to share them with your kids! These dunkable delights are coated with herby yogurt and cornflake crumbs, so you get the tang of ranch dressing with a satisfying crunch. The trick is more flavor, less fat. Try dipping them in my Gingered Honey Mustard dipping sauce.

Chicken Tenders with Gingered Honey Mustard

1 c plain yogurt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp minced fresh chives
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast tenders
2 c corn flake crumbs
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
Gingered Honey Mustard, recipe below

Preheat oven to 425°

Combine yogurt, parsley and chives in medium mixing bowl. Add in the chicken strips and mix to thoroughly coat. Combine cornflake crumbs, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. One at a time, drop chicken strips into crumbs to bread lightly.

Place onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake for 12–15 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

Gingered Honey Mustard

1/4 c yellow mustard
1/4 c honey
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper, optional

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Do you have any tricks for kid-friendly food that's fun and nutritious? Share your favorites with us

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Best Burger Ever!

It's BBQ season again! Time to dust of the grill and get down to some serious summer feasting.

Burgers are classic American BBQ fare. I'm sure that there have been many heated discussions about what constitutes the best burger. The best beef to use. The best cut to grind. The ratio of fat to lean. Charcoal or gas. "Must use" condiments. Ultimately, I think most will agree that the burger has got to be juicy and flavorful.

I'm here to tell you that regardless of all the rest of the choices this one little tip is going change the way you eat burgers forever. Juicy, flavorful, burger nirvana! So, what's the secret to the Best Burger Ever? Get out some extra napkins because this tiny pat of heaven is gonna rock your burger world.

The Best Burger Ever!

2 pounds ground beef (or turkey)
Burger Nirvana Butter, recipe below
Salt and pepper
4 hamburger buns, your favorite
Burger condiments, your choice

Fire up the grill or preheat your grill pan.

Divide the ground beef into four equal portions. Slice four pats of Burger Nirvana Butter, about 1/8 to 1/4 thick each. Make an indentation in the center of each burger portion, and place a pat of Burger Nirvana Butter into the indentation and shape meat into a patty. (Be sure that the butter isn't sticking out anywhere.) Season each patty with salt and pepper.

Grill burgers to the desired doneness - about 7 minutes per side for medium, or 10 minute per side for medium well. Remove from grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes. In the meantime, spread a little of the Burger Nirvana Butter on the inside of the hamburger buns and toast lightly on the grill or grill pan. Top with the burger and your favorite condiments, serve and wait for the "oohhs" and "aahhs!"

Makes 4 8-ounce burgers.

Burger Nirvana Butter

2 sticks butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp minced shallots
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

Chop the butter into chunks. Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the butter at medium speed until it softens and lightens in color, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic, shallots, parsley, and mustard to the whipped butter and beat for another 1 to 2 minutes until blended. Scrape the butter from the mixing bowl onto wax paper or plastic wrap. Use the edge of a baking sheet to form the butter into a tight log. Chill for 2 hours before serving or freeze for up to a month.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fresh Herb Focus - Chives

I thought it would be nice to take a closer look at some fresh herbs this spring and summer. I am going to be focusing on a new herb every week or so. Since I have beautiful purple chive blossoms in the back yard, I thought it would be nice to start with them.

Chives are some of the most under utilized herbs, don't you think? I bet many of you don't consider chives beyond snipping them onto a baked potato, but they are quite versatile. Their flavor is a cross between onion and garlic, without being as assertive as either of their cousins.

Chives are exceptionally easy to grow and they are perennial so they'll keep coming back year after year. You can even grow them on your windowsill. For those of you who've only seen chives in plastic cases at the grocery store, chive blossoms look like delicate lavender pompoms. To keep your chives growing happily, you should divide the bunches every couple of years by digging them up, chopping them in two, and replanting them. (Early spring is best for this.) Harvesting is easy too. Simply snip off as many stems as you need with a sharp pair of scissors.

Even if you don't grow your own chives, there are plenty of reasons to purchase them. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Use the chive blossoms in salads. They are pretty and edible. Or, submerge the blossoms in a jar of vinegar. Store the vinegar in a dark place for two weeks until the flowers have turned white and the vinegar is pink. Use the infused vinegar for homemade vinaigrettes.

  • Tie small bundles of vegetable sticks (carrot, zucchini, yellow squash) together with a long chive and then steam them.

  • Make chive oil by pureeing a large bunch of chives (about 1 oz) in a blender with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Strain through a fine size and season to taste with salt. This bright green oil can be used to garnish appetizers and soups, or as part of a homemade vinaigrette. Store in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

  • Snip chives over buttery corn on the cob.

  • Toss a teaspoon or two of minced chives into beaten eggs. Use them to make an omelet with a cream cheese filling.

  • Make your own chip dip. Simply mix a tablespoon of minced chives and a teaspoon of grated onion into a cup of sour cream, season to taste with salt and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice for zing. You'll have a delicious dip that's not filled with artificial flavors.

  • Smash yukon gold potatoes with chives and butter for a flavorful alternative to your regular mashed potatoes.

  • No time to bake from scratch? Top refrigerated biscuits with minced chives and shredded cheddar cheese (or roll inside crescent rolls) and bake according to manufacturer's directions. Your family will think you went out of your way for them.

  • Can you think of any creative ways to use chives? What other herbs are you interested in learning more about?

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Winning Combination with Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc

    The week before last, I attended a week-long class at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, CA - Food and Wine Pairing for Chefs. On the final day of the class, we had a "quick fire-style" competition. We were each given a bottle of wine, a protein item, and two hours to create a recipe that married the two. 

    I received a bottle of Whitehall Lane Winery's '08 Sauvignon Blanc and sturgeon.  After tasting the wine and taking a walk through the schools herb garden, I created a recipe for bite-sized Sturgeon Tostadas with Melon Salsa.

    Long story short, I was awarded the best-pairing of the competition!  Quite an accomplishment considering that the Culinary Institute of America is the premier culinary school in the country. I couldn't have been more proud. 

    Whitehall Lane Winery is currently promoting the recipe at the winery and I wanted to share it with you too!  So, without further adieu, here is my award winning wine pairing recipe for

    Sturgeon Tostadas with Melon Salsa 

    Makes 24
    1/2 honeydew melon, peeled and finely diced
    1/2 c minced red onion
    1 c minced red bell pepper
    1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
    3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
    1 Tbsp rice vinegar
    1 tsp kosher salt
    2 Tbsp finely minced lime zest, for garnish

    2 tsp lime-infused olive oil*
    2 sturgeon filets, each 6 to 8 oz., with skin removed**
    salt and pepper, to taste

    4 thin corn tortillas, each 6 inches in diameter
    canola or peanut oil for frying
    sea salt (optional)

    In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the honeydew, red onion, red bell pepper and cilantro. Stir in the lime juice, rice wine vinegar and salt. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving for best flavor.

    To make the tostadas, stack the tortillas in 2 equal piles. Cut each pile into 6 pie-shaped wedges, or small circles. Note: If you decide to cut small circles, you may need additional tortillas to make 24.

    Add oil to a deep fryer or heavy fry pan to a depth of at least 1 inch and heat to 375°F. Add the tortilla pieces a few at a time and fry, tossing them, until golden brown. Be careful not to let them darken or they will taste bitter. Lift out and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sea salt while still hot.

    Preheat an oven to 450°F. Season the sturgeon filets with salt and pepper to taste. Heat lime olive oil in an oven-proof sauté pan over medium-high heat.

    Add the filets and sear until the fish is pale gold, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the filets over and transfer the sauté pan to the oven and bake the filets until the flesh is opaque on the outside but still slightly translucent in the center, about 2 to 3 minutes. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

    When you are ready to serve, slice the filets cross-wise into thin wedges. Top each tostada with a wedge of sturgeon, top with a small spoonful of melon salsa and sprinkle with lime zest. Pour your guests a glass of Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc and enjoy!

    *Note: Lime-infused olive oil is available in specialty stores. However, you can also make your own by adding lime zest directly to olive oil and heating the oil in a sauce pan on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.

    **Note: If sturgeon is not available, swordfish or another firm white fish can be substituted.

    Check out In Good Taste Wine Pairings for
    additional wine-pairing recipes!

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    Farmers Market-Inspired Spring Dinner

    Last Sunday I took a walk through my local farmers market. We've had a mild winter and warm spring up here in the northwest and I wanted to see what was fresh. Among the many flower stalls, fish mongers, and bakeries were the first signs of spring. I found a plethora of spring greens including mizuna, arugula, and mache. Herbs were in abundance - fresh chives, sorrel, mint, and chervil, to name a few. There were a variety of new potatoes as well including dutch babies, red-skinned, and fingerlings.

    I also found some young, tender leeks. We don't eat leeks as often in America as they do in Europe. It's a shame because they are a delicious vegetable; an elegant member of the onion family. Their flavor is more subtle and sophisticated than their strong cousins. Leeks are also an excellent source of vitamin c, iron, and fiber.

    Inspired by my experience, I started to envision a spring menu. The lovely leeks, fresh spring herbs and greens, baby potatoes...the menu practically wrote itself.

    Farmers Market-Inspired Spring Menu

    Braised Leeks
    Mixed Spring Greens with Fresh Goat Cheese
    Steamed Baby Potatoes with Mint Butter
    Herb-Crusted Rack of Spring Lamb


    Braised Leeks
    8 small to medium leeks
    1/2cup finely diced onions
    1/4 cup finely diced carrots
    1/4 cup finely diced celery
    2 Tbsp. butter
    1 cup chicken broth
    4 slices of French bread, optional
    kosher salt and pepper to taste


    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    To prepare the leeks, trim off the dark green stalks. Without cutting entirely through the root, slit the leeks lengthwise and rinse under cold water to remove all of the dirt.

    Blanch leeks for about 30 seconds and shock in an ice bath. Cut through the remaining tip of the leek and remove the roots.

    Next, melt the butter in a small sauté pan. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook over medium low heat until the onions become transparent, about 10 minutes. Spoon the cooked vegetable mixture into a medium-size casserole dish (one just large enough to accommodate your leeks). Place the blanched leeks on top of the vegetables and then add the chicken stock, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with the French bread (delicious when the dish is finished) or foil. Bake until leeks are tender, about 35 minutes.

    To serve, lift off the toasted bread, and spoon the leeks onto plates. Garnish by spooning the chopped vegetables over the leeks. Serve with the toasted bread. Serves 4.

    Have you visited a farmers market yet this year? What inspired you? Please share your favorite spring dish or menu idea!

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Savory Cheesecake Bites

    These little cheesecakes a easy and elegant way to start a meal.  Top them with the Spiced Rhubarb Compote recipe below or use them as a garnish on a mixed baby green and herb salad.

    Savory Cheesecake Bites
    Makes 24

    1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
    3 tbsp melted butter
    8 oz goat cheese, at room temperature
    8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
    2 large eggs
    1/2 tsp dried thyme
    1/4 tsp white pepper
    1/2 tsp kosher salt

    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Using 1 tbsp melted butter, brush the cups of a 24-cup mini muffin pan (1 3/4" x 3/4" cups) and set aside.

    Place walnuts in a food processor and process until the walnuts are finely chopped. Pour the finely chopped walnuts into a small bowl, drizzle the remaining 2 tbsp of butter over the nuts and mix until thoroughly combined. Spoon 1 tsp of the mixture into each muffin cup. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the walnut mixture into the bottom of the muffin cups to make the crust.

    Beat the goat cheese and cream cheese with a mixer until smooth. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well. Add the thyme, white pepper and salt and combine well. Spoon mixture into the prepared pan.

    Place the prepared pan in a roasting pan or deep sheet pan. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water half way up the muffin cups. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until the cheesecakes are set.
    Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. To serve, run a thin sharp knife around the sides of each cheesecake.  Serve as an appetizer (see the photo below) or garnish for a salad.

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    Put Some Zing in Your Spring!

    As I sat thinking about spring vegetables for this blog, my first thoughts were about fresh asparagus. Then I thought, "everyone thinks asparagus in spring." Everywhere I turn there's an asparagus recipe. It's not that I don't like asparagus. I love it. I just didn't want to offer the ubiquitous asparagus recipe when there are so many other vegetables popping up in the springtime. So what could I suggest that was unique?

    The answer came to me while walking through my neighborhood. I noticed a home with planter boxes overflowing with tawny-pink rhubarb stalks and was inspired.

    Rhubarb is one of those often overlooked vegetables but it's delicious, simple to work with, and a great source of potassium and vitamin C. The early pink stems are the best for cooking. You'll definitely have to add some sugar to offset their natural tartness though. Oh! Do remember that the stems are the edible portion of the plant so trim away all the leaves before cooking.

    I'm sure that moment I mentioned rhubarb many of you thought of pies, but since I am not much of a baker I decided to develop a different type of recipe - a Spiced Rhubarb Compote.

    If you like tangy, sweet and sour sauce, you'll love this compote! It's quick, easy, and so versatile. I've spooned over roasted pork and duck, served it as a condiment for a glazed ham, and topped savory goat cheese cheesecakes with a dollop. So yummy!

    Spiced Rhubarb Compote

    6 cups diced rhubarb stalks (about 2 lbs)
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    1 cup water
    1 cup cider vinegar
    1 tsp ground ginger
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1/4 tsp ground cloves
    1/4 ground allspice
    1 pinch of nutmeg

    Combine all the ingredients in a large sauce pan. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the rhubarb is tender, about 20 minutes. Simmer a bit longer to thicken, if you like.

    The compote can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold and will keep up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

    What are some of your favorite springtime vegetables? Share a recipe with us!

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Adios Queso Dip!

    While having lunch with my husband a few weeks ago, I noticed the appetizer menu included queso dip and chips. By the description, I was assured that the "queso" dip was made with a liquid cheese-type product - some gooey molten mixture of picante sauce, cheese flavoring, and oil.

    We didn't order the appetizer but it stuck in my mind. So much so, that later that day I found myself buying a box of shelf-stable cheese product and a can of spiced tomatoes to make my own "queso" dip. You might be appalled to learn that a trained chef would succumb to thoughts of faux cheese and salty chips but I have to admit that I am occasionally tempted to stray.

    I think it's the food memory that pushes me over the edge. There are certain junk foods from my youth that hold a mystique. They were the special treat, the comfort food, the guilty pleasure. Here's the kicker though, my memory has the tendency to exaggerate goodness. My food memory gets wrapped up in other elements - who I was with, what I was doing, where I was.

    My fond memories of queso dip were colored by the fact that the last time I ate it was about 13 years ago while living in Japan. My father used to send me care packages of western food. I think he would actually ship me food that he wished he could eat but that my mother wouldn't let him buy. Boxes would come loaded with spiced pork shoulder in a can, faux cheese, cured sausages and more. I would laugh every time I opened a package from him. I would have rarely eaten these items had I been in the US but here they were laid out like pirate's treasure in the foreign land. A glorious reminder of my distant homeland. When presented with snack mixes of toasted soybeans and dried fish, I can't tell you what a wonderful treat crappy queso dip was to me and my western friends!

    So, on a rainy afternoon in March, called by a distant siren song of my junk food memory, I made the cheesy, salty, spicy goo was lousy! I mean really a let-down. Perhaps it was the absence of laughing friends, plenty of beer, and Japanese game shows in the background, but sadly my food memory did not stand up to reality. I should have left that bright yellow box on the shelf of my mind but I tempted fate. I thought it was the food that I savored but it was so much more.

    Have you ever revisited a favorite junk food only to find that it wasn't as good as you remembered? Or was it? Share your favorite junk food memory!

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    Romantic Dinner In

    My husband and I have a little romantic ritual. Each year for Valentine's Day, instead of going out, paying high prices, and getting mediocre service at a restaurant, we stay home. Doesn't sound romantic yet? Just wait.

    We dress up as though we're headed to a fancy restaurant. We light candles, play our favorite music, open a nice bottle of wine, and have a romantic dinner at home. With a little planning you can have the same experience. I promise it will be stress-free.

    Here's a sample menu for your romantic Valentine's Dinner In. It's not the most original menu but the main focus is ease. Remember, low stress equals romance!

    Shrimp Cocktail a la Gazpacho or Mushroom Toasts (see recipe under Seasonal Food Guide - Fall post)
    Mixed Green or Iceberg Wedge Salad
    Steak with Blue Cheese Butter & Baked Potato
    Something Chocolate

    Everything I am suggesting can be done ahead of time so you can enjoy your evening. Here's how it breaks down.

  • Shrimp Cocktail a la Gazpacho
    Here's little twist on a classic. Buy 8 to 10 jumbo, cooked, peeled shrimp (or uncooked, if you prefer to steam them yourself), a hot-house cucumber, cocktail sauce and lemon. Wash and finely dice about half of the cucumber. Spoon the diced cucumber into martini glasses or wine glasses, top with a couple tablespoons of cocktail sauce, and hang the shrimp off the rim of the glass. Garnish with a lemon slice or lemon twist and refrigerate until dinner.

  • Mixed Green or Iceberg Wedge Salad
    If you are making a simple mixed green salad, try your own vinaigrette (see recipe under Guiltless Gourmet post) or just purchase a favorite. Place a handful of mixed baby greens onto two salad plates, garnish with tomato if you wish, and place the salads (without dressing) in the refrigerator until dinner.

    If you would prefer the iceberg wedge salad, purchase a small firm head of iceberg lettuce and cut it in half vertically through the core. Create a wedge by cutting one half vertically again. Trim away the sliver of the core. Place each wedge onto a salad plate, garnish with your choice of crumbled bacon, chopped hard-boiled eggs, sliced green onions and tomatoes. Refrigerate without the dressing until dinner, then serve with a good quality bottled or homemade bleu cheese dressing.

  • Steak with Blue Cheese Butter
    If you haven't made a compound butter before, you'll be surprised how easy it is. You can create all kinds of flavors and they can be stored in your freezer for months wrapped in plastic. This particular butter is wonderful on green beans and baked potatoes, as well as steak.

    Combine 4 ounces (1 stick) of room temperature butter with 4 ounce of crumbled blue cheese, 1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots, and cracked black pepper to taste. Blend until relatively smooth, however some blue cheese chunks are good. Spoon onto waxed or parchment paper and roll snuggly into a cylinder shape. Refrigerate until firm.

  • Now, all you have left is to wash and prepare your potato for baking and season your steaks. Put your potato in the oven a half an hour before you plan to start your shrimp cocktail that way it will have been in the oven for a full hour by the time you are ready for your main dish.

    Here's how the evening will go. You will come into the kitchen looking beautiful. Your significant other will hand you a drink and a kiss. Together you'll bring the Shrimp Cocktail to the table. Perhaps your significant other will clear the table and bring out the salad? Together you'll cook your steaks, top them with a pat of the amazing Blue Cheese Butter you made earlier and enjoy them with your baked potatoes.

    Dinner will end with something chocolate - your choice! Maybe a hot fudge sundae or a fancy dessert from the gourmet market? In the end, you have had a romantic evening for a lot less than you would have paid at your local restaurant. So when the mood strikes you, head upstairs!

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    The Season Food Guide - Winter

    I can just imagine you walking around the grocery store past anemic tomatoes, tasteless strawberries, and unripe cantaloupe thinking, "I can't wait until Spring so I can get some ripe fruits and vegetables." Don't succumb to winter vegetable doldrums. You can find produce that is at it's peak this time of year too. You just have to know what to choose.

    When you think about winter produce, try to imagine a fruit cellar filled with hearty items designed to last until spring. Winter produce can be satisfying, comforting, and delicious. Seasonal crops include: avocados, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, fennel, grapefruit, greens, kale, mushrooms, oranges, pears, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, and watercress.

    Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy winter vegetables:
    • Watercress Salad with Avocado and Grapefruit
      This salad is filled with bright flavors to liven a cold winter palate.

      Using a sharp chef's knife, trim away the peel and excess membrane from a ruby red grapefruit. Carefully remove the individual segments by slicing along both sides of the separating membranes. Set grapefruit segments aside. Halve an avocado lengthwise, remove the pit and slice the fruit into lengthwise segments. (Hint: If you aren't going to assemble the salad immediately, squeeze a little grapefruit juice from the remnants of the fruit over the avocado slices to keep them from browning.) Toss 4 handfuls of watercress, or other bitter greens, with your favorite balsamic or champagne vinaigrette. Divide greens among 4 plates. Arrange avocado and grapefruit slices on top of the greens, alternating slices for color. Top with a bit of freshly cracked black pepper and serve.
    • Sautéed Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta
      Fresh brussel sprouts are nothing like the sour, overcooked vegetables of your childhood. If possible, buy them on the stalk.

      Blanche brussel sprouts in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Dice 4 oz. pancetta or thick-cut bacon. Sauté pancetta in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until lightly browned. Add 1 minced shallot, about 1 tablespoon, and sauté until translucent. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta and shallots from the pan and set aside. Add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar to the pan and reduce until it is slightly syrupy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan. When the butter is melted, return the brussel sprouts and pancetta mixture to the pan. Toss or stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper and you are done.
    • Creamed Cabbage
      I learned this recipe while working at a resort on Mackinac Island after college. It's simple and tastes amazing.

      Sauté 1/2 cup diced red onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until translucent in a large sauté pan. Mix in 1 cup heavy cream, and white pepper and salt to taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes to thicken. Stir occasionally to avoid scorching. Shred or chop half a small head of green cabbage. Blanche the cabbage in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes until tender. Add cabbage to the thickened cream. Finish with a touch of cracked black pepper and serve.
    What are your favorite winter vegetable recipes?