Tuesday, July 29, 2014

But Wait . . . there's more!

There is more! This photo was taken Friday morning at a facility where I've been teaching for seven years now.  After our lesson I had to hurry off to the Dragon Boat Races in Long Beach California.  Hence my delay in writing. 

Now I have to hurry and get to the office.  But there is definitely more to show and tell.  The rainbow of produce you see here was about $41.00 and some change worth, transformed into creative works of edible art by 24 young adults. 

Wait until you see . . . . . . .

Monday, July 21, 2014

Picnic Recipes

Preparation for Crudites

Mis en Place for Cannellini Hummus


2 cans cannellini beans drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil + 1 tablespoon sesame oil
6 cloves garlic                 zest and juice from 1 large lemon
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary      salt and pepper to taste
1)    Place beans, oils, garlic cloves, rosemary leaves, lemon zest and juice into food processor.
2)    With motor still running, slowly drizzle in oils
3)    Using rubber spatula, carefully scoop hummus into serving bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper
When ready to serve drizzle small amount of additional oil over top


8-10 slices sourdough bread                 ½ cup apricot jam
10-16 oz thinly sliced ham (I used veggie-chicken at the picnic)
2-3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
10-12 oz Brie cheese                            fresh arugula
·        Panini press                             unsalted butter

1)    Lightly butter one side of each slice of bread
2)    Layer as much or as little ham/chicken onto half of the bread slices – buttered side
3)    Arrange 2-3 slices of brie cheese on top of ham
4)    In small mixing bowl combine apricot jam and mustard – spoon about 2 spoonfuls of this mixture on top of cheese slices
5)    Add small handful of arugula to cheese and meat
6)    Top each half with remaining buttered bread – buttered side down
7)    Place one sandwich at a time in heated-greased Panini press until golden
1 commercial pie crust – thawed               1 can peach pie filling
1 tablespoon cinnamon                             ½ cup pecan bits
1 egg whisked-for brushing pastry           flour for rolling pie crust
1)    Roll out the pie crust on floured counter until ½ larger in size
2)    Using a 2 ½ -3” cutter, cut out 16 rounds
3)    In medium sized mixing bowl combine cinnamon and pie filling
4)    Spoon peach filling onto center of half pie crust rounds
5)    Using your forefinger, run a small amount of water around edge of each peach topped round – top with remaining rounds so you have 8 filled tartletts.
6)    Using the tips of a fork, crimp edges of each tartlett closed
7)    Brush lightly with whisked egg
8)    Bake in pre-heated oven 12-16 minutes, until golden brown
                                                          Serve w/vanilla anglaise
Vanilla Anglaise
4 egg yolks        ¼ cup super fine sugar    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup whole milk     ½ heavy cream
1)    In medium saucepot bring milk and cream to a simmer – do not allow to
2)    Meanwhile whisk egg yolk and sugar together until eggs turn a pale yellow.
3)    Once milk/cream mixture is simmering and eggs are pale yellow, whisk in about 2 tablespoons of warmed milk/cream mixture into eggs – tempering them so when added to saucepot the eggs won’t curdle.
4)    Once eggs are tempered, using a wooden spoon, stir into saucepot of milk/cream, add vanilla extract
5)    Continue stirring until mixture thickens – it should coat the back of your spoon
6)    Allow to cool and refrigerate until ready to use



Sunday, July 20, 2014


Who would argue that one of the best picnic scenes ever, is in the movie “Armeggedon” with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler?  The most romantic march of animal crackers I’ve ever seen!  Or in “Pretty Woman” when Julia Roberts takes time to teach Richard Gere the basics in good picnic’ing.  First; remove your shoes.  And finally, for those of you old enough to remember, Yogi and Boo-Boo, the Black Belt Masters in rounding up pic-a-nic baskets throughout “Jellystone Park.”  Hidden from the Park Ranger, Yogi would gleefully imbibe on the treasures within while Boo-Boo wrung his paws in worry.   

     Yesterday I was able to enjoy a fabulous late afternoon picnic with friends at Spring Mountain Ranch.  Just a few miles from my home, where the July temperatures take a reprieve from the red zone of the thermometer,  we gathered together to share food, wine and the musical “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” under the evening stars.  A dear friend purchased my ticket so in keeping with my favored way of thanking people I claimed dibs on preparing the food.  My friend eats vegetarian and has one of the most well developed palates I know.  I have one other friend like Cheryl, who can discern the subtleties of lesser-known seasonings, spices and herbs.  These two women spur me on to create intrigue and mystery into my food, while maintaining good flavor without going too far.  Often times in our efforts to fashion a unique and different dish, we cooks can take things to the extreme using myriad of ingredients, resulting in a mish-mash of taste.  No, my goal was to assemble a picnic basket tantamount to my gratitude.  One even Yogi would find so numinous he’d invite Mr. Ranger over to share and taste. 

     I decided to craft a combination of sweet, savory and spicy.  Out of respect in our attempts to eat somewhat healthy I gathered a collection of hearty vegetables; carrots, radishes, celery and yellow bell pepper.  Displaying them in one of my flower pots I use only for food, would entice even those with aversions to platters of crudités.  Of course I needed something to scoop them into.  Hummus is pretty common these days, so to make mine a little less so, I prepared a cannellini and rosemary version.  Lots of garlic, sesame seed oil and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice, this made for a bright and clean taste.  Sandwiches are also mainstays on most picnic blankets.  Though I prefer them warm they travel well and can be equally tasty at room temperature,  I decided on Panini, (Italian for “small sandwich).  Ordinarily I would use layers of thinly sliced ham, but for these I used a vegetarian chicken substitute, which worked very well.  I placed the rounds of “chick-n” between two slices of lightly buttered sourdough bread.  Topped it with slices of Brie then added dollops of my apricot and mustard spread.  A handful of arugula and into the Panini press it went.  I have to tell you, hot from the press, these piccolo panino were the bomb!  The melty Brie cheese oozed over my tongue followed by the intermingling of apricot and mustard.  Really quite amazing if I do say so myself.  The addition of the spicy and peppery arugula offset the sweetness of the jam perfectly. 

     We had already finished off the first bottle of white wine while snacking on our appetizer and had moved on to a nice pinot which we savored until just before the show started.  Then, as dusk settled over our exposed toes and the mountains behind us took on an indigo hue, I pulled out dessert.  Not known for my kinship with baking I wanted to keep this simple to prepare and easy to eat.  It was with pride I presented to my cohorts, miniature turnovers.  I purchased commercial pie pastry, rolled it out and cut sixteen 3” rounds.  In the center of eight rounds, I placed a spoonful of peach pie filling mixed with cinnamon and pecan bits.  I then put the remaining eight rounds on top of each and using a fork pinched the edges closed.  A light brushing of egg and water with a sprinkling of sugar then into the oven for about 15 – 20 minutes.  I prepared a “dipping sauce” of vanilla crème anglaise to veil any evidence of my ineptitude for baking.   These were really good. 

    It seemed our hike around the ranch followed by a gratifying picnic erased the typical residual of too much wine.   So for the remainder of the evening we sipped water, fingered a few more bites here and there of what food was left and yes, there was tiny bit more of the grape poured into our glasses.  I love picnics. 

Some unexpected friends we met who came to enjoy the show.  Obviously they also know how to throw a good picnic.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recipe for Polenta w/Roasted Red Bell Peppers & Poached Eggs


2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth                                                1 1/2 cups water
2 cups cornmeal white or yellow                                                         1 large Bay leaf
1/4 freshly grated Parmesan cheese                                       4-6 leaves fresh Basil-chiffonade
1 red bell pepper roasted,( you can used some from a jar)            salt and pepper to taste
4-6 poached eggs

1) In large saucepot, bring the broth to gentle boil, reduce heat to low
2) In large measuring cup, combine 1 cup of the cornmeal with 1/2 cup of the water.  Stir with fork until will blended.  Add this mixture to simmering broth
3) Drop in Bay leaf, using wooded spoon, (the old Italian way), or balloon whisk, continue stirring cornmeal throughout preparation.
4) Meanwhile, prepare a large skillet by greasing lightly, with unsalted butter or use a large non-stick skillet and don't grease it.  Fill skillet with just enough water to cover eggs, (your approximation).  Bring water to gentle simmer.
5) Return to your polenta and slowly whisk in remaining cornmeal and just enough water to create a creamy mixture.
6) Cracking eggs one-at-a-time, onto a small plate or saucer, slide each egg into the simmering water.
7) Continue to check on your polenta, now stirring in grated Parmesan cheese, and more liquid if needed.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
8) When polenta is at your desired consistency, ( I like mine soft and creamy), remove Bay leaf, then pour onto serving platter.
9) Using slotted spoon, carefully remove poached eggs from skillet and arrange on top of polenta.
10) Dice roasted bell pepper and sprinkle, decoratively over eggs and polenta.  Do the same with the basil.
11)  Season lightly with a little more salt and pepper.  Serve

* Note:Chiffonade is easily done by taking 4-6 basil leaves, place one on top of the other and roll them up like a cigar.  Then using a sharp knife, cut across into thin slices.  When you separate the basil leaves you have delicate cuttings to arrange on your polenta.
** Note, Note: I often stir in about 1/4 cup of half and half into my polent for an even softer, creamier texture.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Just 5 ingredients plus seasonings

     These are terms not usually associated with food.  But when applied to the preparation of a dish, the result can indeed become extraordinary.  While I am down with going on search and seizure missions to find authentic file, (FEE-lay), powder when preparing my friend Jeremiah’s gumbo or driving to where there’s water to buy the freshest Opah, (Moonfish), for poaching, or putting out more than a few dollars to purchase an electric raclette to cook up the traditional Swedish appetizer of the same name,  it is those dishes with five ingredients or less that seem to appease the most ferocious of appetites, the most sophisticated of palates and the most picky of eaters. 
     After a tough week of work, family matters and fiscal responsibilities, the usual stress factors we all encounter during the course of any given week, I yearn for uncomplicated food.  For me Monday and Tuesday nights may be a light meal I’ve prepared for myself in an earnest attempt to “nail it” as my “Fitbit” encourages.  By Wednesday or Thursday I’ve resorted to my old stand-by of “Slam Eating.”  A technique I honed while raising four children.  This minimalistic style of meal preparation and consumption entails grabbing whatever is mold-less and free of funny smells from the refrigerator then standing over the kitchen sink, rapidly and without fanfare or etiquette, biting into and inhaling my dinner.  This tactic is also used when I have to hurry home and get right back out the door to attend a meeting, class or practice.  Yes, memories of baseball games, recitals, and back-to-school nights dance in my head as I shove a variety of food items ranging from Boursin cheese smeared on crackers to pesto aioli scooped into the two halves of a large avocado to left-over barbecued chicken rolled into a flour tortilla . . . cold.  But I am not a complete animal.  To the right of my sink in a real glass, is a complex Pinot Noir, perhaps an Argentinean Malbec or when eating tuna from the can with a bit of garlic vinaigrette stirred in, a nice Sauvignon Blanc from northern California.  By Friday, I’m on the couch with a bowl of cereal.  No wine.  While those meals are definitely simple they’re hardly satisfying. But the weekend is here I am refreshed and enthusiastic about preparing something wonderfully unpretentious for myself and my friends. 
     I’ve prepared polenta.  This adaptable and yielding cornmeal mixture, (yellow or white), consoles and soothes the harried spirit.  Without fail, I find myself embraced in appreciation of the elegance this Italian staple expresses as it unfolds across the platter when poured from the saucepot in full, round waves of yellow-gold.  Like a buxom woman who is both beautiful and confident, polenta can arrive at your table as breakfast fare, a side dish or the foundation upon which a rich Bolognese, steak au poivre medallions or stuffed and seasoned pork chops are to be displayed and embellished.  Polenta is a combination of only a few basic ingredients coming together and offering the best of simple abundance.
     My polenta arrived at the party as a side dish.  A swirling mixture of yellow and white cornmeal loving whisked with chicken broth and seasonings. I am diligent in my attendance to the saucepot, stirring with my wooden spoon adding more liquid as the mixture thickens, careful to not allow clumping or excessive sticking.  At the end of cooking I add grated Parmesan cheese and on occasion, a splash of half and half.  Thick and creamy, our amalgamation is festooned with roasted red bell peppers and poached eggs.  Polenta truly is the manifestation of less being more than enough. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Redirected Potato Salad

Approximately twelve hours ago a display of colourful explosions were seen and heard by locals along with hundreds of gaping tourists.  Still evident this morning as they were yesterday, oversized marshmallow clouds are nudging against one another in our Las Vegas sky.  Some blended with a soft charcoal grey amid the white.  The surge of rain that emerged from the desert sky was no deterrent to the show of patriotism each of the Big Name Hotels executed one-by-one along the Strip.  What was once a stiff competition of sight and sound has become a well choreographed, sequential dance of sparkling lights literally shooting into the atmosphere.  Seemingly high above the beam that extends from the Luxor, diminishing if only for a few moments, the horizontal movement of Neon below.  It was loud and exciting.  In today’s aftermath of sparklers and those things that “pop” when thrown to the ground I grab my broom to sweep it all away, as I ponder.   My morning is focused on prepping for that other 4th of July weekend tradition, the family barbeque. 

     A couple of weeks ago, I showed off and shared with you the barbeque event spent with friends when I prepared a sumptuous Paella.  This afternoon my grandson, children and their dad will arrive with coolers and appetites in tow to enjoy a more traditional barbecue menu.  Grilled chicken slathered with a rich and smoky homemade sauce, (after the meat is will almost fully cooked and not moved every three minutes).  Grilled corn-on-the-cob, husks tied back in semblance of a hemp-belted skirt.  Then spread with my compound butter of grated Asiago and fresh cracked pepper.  Of course there will be burgers and dogs, but I’ll include a few large Portobello mushrooms on the grill for my non-meat eaters.  Spheres of melted Provolone will sit atop each mushroom and beef/pork patty, with a dollop of my “secret sauce,” a pesto aioli.  Green salad and fresh watermelon, (which I’ve decided to grill), will abound amid the chips and dip. 

     But the one side-dish my family most associates with the 4th of July is potato salad.  Yes, that pell mell of starch, hard boiled eggs and mayonnaise, along with a vegetable or two, if you count black olives as vegetables.   Unfortunately I have among my four children one who has never liked mayonnaise.  Growing up his lunch sandwiches were prepared with mustard only.  This resulted in our refrigerator going beyond the standard trifecta of condiments; ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.  We had whole grain mustard, spicy mustard, honey mustard, Grey Poupon even champagne mustard.  Sometimes our son opted out of any condiment smeared on the two slices of bread bookending his lunch meat. 

    With his then small pudgy hand the spreadable gauntlet was thrown years ago.  Since I am always up to the task of doing my very best to create recipes for those who claim they don’t like something, I strive to come up with adaptations or well disguised ingredients to entice their wary and reluctant palates.  Obviously a new fandangled potato salad recipe is long overdue.  In years past I have tried adding bacon, pickles, more eggs, less mayonnaise.  I’ve labored, whisking together home-made mayonnaise.  Once I prepared a potato salad that completely omitted mayonnaise and used bacon fat, vinegar and mustard instead.  He was thrilled but no one else at my picnic table was.  They said it was good, but it wasn’t regular potato salad.  

     This year I am going to camouflage and conceal that rich mixture of egg yolk and oil by redirecting this now, grown man’s taste buds.  I am going to give his mouth such a thrill he’ll never know what hit him between the gums.   

     Now done with my sweeping, I’m inspired to go for hot and firey.  Flavors his Puerto Rican tongue can rejoice in.  I’m going to give him and the rest of the family, a fusion of taste that will first yell HOT! - then HERBAL! - then SMOOOTH!   I am going to use just a little mayonnaise, (to appease the other members of our clan), but the cloak and dagger of my efforts will come from the jalapeno, cilantro, black beans and sour cream. 

   This is what I gathered together;

about 4 lbs of Red Bliss potatoes, (you want waxy ones; Red or New, Yukon Gold)

1 large can of black beans – rinsed                                 ½ large red onion – medium diced

½ - 1 fresh jalapeno pepper – seeds and ribs removed, minced -  (I suggest wearing gloves)

½ cup fresh cilantro – chopped                                                 3 cloves garlic – minced

¼ cup mayonnaise                          ¾ cup sour cream                       1/8 cup mustard

salt & pepper to taste                    pinch cayenne pepper               zest from 2 limes

*capers – optional


This is what I did;

1)      Cleaned the potatoes, then rough cut into easily eaten cubes – all about the same size

2)      I placed my steamer basked into a pot and filled it with only enough water to just touch the bottom of the basket.  I salted the water, then brought it to a boil.

3)      Once the water was boiling, I lowered the heat to a simmer, then using tongs lowered the basket into the pot. I filled the basket with about 1/3 of the potatoes.   Covered the pot and let the potatoes steam until tender – about 12 minutes.  It took about 3 batches, but trust me, steamed potatoes make a real difference in taste and texture.

4)      Meanwhile I combine beans, onion, ½ the cilantro, garlic & jalapeno,( the HEAT), and zest of one of the limes into a large serving bowl , season with salt to taste and set aside

5)      When all the potatoes were steamed I season with salt and pepper, allow them to cool, then added them to the serving bowl mixture.

6)      Gently, I folded in the mayo, mustard, sour cream, (the SMOOTH), remaining cilantro, (the HERBAL), and zest of second lime

7)      I seasoned with the salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.

Now, Puerto Rican food is traditionally NOT spicy so all this heat is a bit of a deviation.  To bring my potato salad home a bit, I decided to add 2 tablespoons of capers.  This serves to give the tang we usually get from pickles and is a tribute to my Nana’s use of either green pimento-stuffed olives or capers in her arroz con pollo.  They’re going to love this!