Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gone Fishing


 I do wish my life looked as peaceful as this serene photo, but truthfully, it's been a chaotic week, with Dr. C and I have new flooring installed, and every day has been something different to deal with and today at least a 2 day delay while some under floor issues are dealt with.  I'll be very happy to get my house back; the upstairs carpet went in without a problem, and I've been spending the days trying to get all the books back onto the bookshelves and our clothes in the closet.  My kitchen counters are piled high with the things that came out of my china closets; and it's a LOT of stuff!  So, no cooking this week, although tomorrow night I'll get to teach at Great News, my favorite class, the Farmer's Market Bag class. Today in the NY Times they mentioned the (in)famous Sumo citrus---these behemoths are a lunch and they are so delicious and they are in this week's bag!   

 I just love the slogan here; enormously good to eat--they aren't kidding!

My friend the bear has the right attitude; hang loose, and it will all work out!  Have a great week, I'll try and get back with some recipes next week. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

One Mahvelous Cake

This is a photo of a cake I baked for my Orthopedist and her crew on Friday; it's called The Arlene Dahl cake, and of course it has a story! 
 About 10 years ago, a friend had rented her home to Lorenzo Llamas and his production company to film an episode of his show Renegade at her house.  It happened to be her sons' birthday, and the family was told it could not use the kitchen, and so I made this chocolate cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting, and brought it over.  Lorenzo's mother, Arlene Dahl was standing  in the kitchen when I arrived and swooned over the cake.  She asked if she could have a piece, and I said we'd have to ask the birthday boy, who was happy to oblige after we lit a few candles, and sang happy birthday.  
Arlene Dahl pronounced the cake, "mahvelous".  This chocolate cake is simple, but absolute addictive.  It was the cake we'd bake for my daughters' birthdays and I've adapted it to lots of different iterations, including a caramelized banana chocolate cake that I taught to the students in my class on Thursday.  I hope you'll try it, it's worth waiting for!

The Arlene Dahl Cake
Makes two 9-inch round cakes, or 1 13-by-9-inch cake
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup Ghirardelli ground chocolate
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk (or a scant cup of whole milk with 1 teaspoon lemon juice)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 recipe Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. 
  2. In a large bowl, stir whisk together the flour, sugar, chocolate, and baking soda. Stir in the oil, buttermilk, eggs, water, and vanilla, then, using. 
  3. With an electric mixer, blend on low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. 
  4. Place the cake on a rack and let cool completely, then remove from the pan.
  5. Do-Ahead: At this point, you can cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze for 2 months.   Defrost before continuing. 
  6.  Frost the cake or serve plain with vanilla ice cream and the hot fudge sauce. Variations:
  7.  This cake can also be prepared in two-9-inch round pans, and baked for 30 to 35 minutes. If you are baking it in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish, allow it to cool completely in the pan before frosting. If you prepared two 9-inch round pans, let them the cake cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove transfer from the pans to a wire rack to cool completely.  
  8. Cooks' Note:  Ghirardelli ground chocolate is NOT cocoa powder; it can be found in the baking section of your supermarket, or here.    Vanilla paste is vanilla beans chopped in an emulsion, giving you a great punch of vanilla flavor.  It is available at gourmet retailers, or here.   
Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine
5  to 6 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla paste or vanilla extract
Milk, as needed

  1. Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and butter in a medium-size bowl. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat until the mixture is of spreadable consistency.  If the frosting is too thick, beat in some milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.
  2. Do-Ahead: At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months. I recommend you soften it at room temperature after it’s been refrigerated, so it’s easy to spread.
 On Thursday I made this caramelized banana upside down cake and it was a winner!  This is the remains of the day.  I'll post the recipe in a few days.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blustery Days Call for Soup

Yesterday was cold, rainy and windy here; the perfect day to make some soup.  I'm a fan of wild rice, and usually cook up batches and freeze them for just this sort of occasion.  Dr. C and I sat down to a lovely bowl of creamy chicken and wild rice soup last night and it was food for the soul, full of chunks of chicken, wild rice, flavored with thyme and a few vegetables it made the wild weather outside seem to calm down and it warmed us up!  I sat at my desk yesterday wearing a long sleeved T-shirt, sweater and polar fleece, and woolly socks, and still didn't feel warm till I ate this soup.  The soup is certainly open to interpretation, you can add your favorite veggies, leave out the mushrooms, and can leave it meatless if you would like, but make it for the ones you love, they will love you for it!
Creamy Chicken with Wild Rice Soup
Serves 6 to 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, or olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup petite size frozen peas, defrosted
1/4 cup frozen corn, defrosted
1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice
2 cups cooked chicken, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a 4-quart soup pot, melt the butter, and saute the onion and thyme together for 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent.  
  2. Add the mushrooms and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to soften.  
  3.  Add the celery and carrots, and saute another 3 minutes, to soften the vegetables.  
  4. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth and stir until the mixture comes to a boil.  (If you would like to cook this in the slow cooker, at this point, transfer the mixture to the slow cooker and add everything except the cream; add the cream just before serving.  cook the soup on high for 2 hours, low for 4 hours)
  5. Add the peas, corn, rice and chicken, and stir to blend.  Add the heavy cream, and cook until the soup is at serving temperature (about 5 minutes)  Season the soup with salt and pepper, and serve.  
Today was a gorgeous day; after the rains, the sun shines on everything and you can see forever; it's a great day to live in San Diego!

Sunday, February 12, 2012


When we think of biscotti, we usually conjure up the hardtack like cookie that comes alongside a cappuccino or an espresso.  The word biscotti means cookies, so not every biscotti is hard, and saw-dust like.  Biscotti can be filled cookies, with pastes of dried fruits and nuts, they can be rolled cookies at Christmas time, or they can be crispy (note, not hardtack) to be dipped into a dessert wine.  The shape of the biscotti we see in the US is a traditional shape used to dip into a wine glass, but biscotti come in many shapes and sizes.
This week our family from Italy was here in San Diego for a visit, and after lunch I served an assortment of biscotti along with fresh fruit for dessert.

The chocolate and pistachio biscotti (which are not pictured above since they were scarfed down in minutes) were the winner, and that recipe is so darned easy, the dough can be made ahead and frozen, and you can make and bake them and then freeze them for snacking any time. The dough is so great, you will want to have some in your freezer when you get a yen for sweet and salty chocolate.  Here they are out of the oven. 

I adapted this recipe from one in Fine Cooking Magazine.  Theirs called for cinnamon, and walnuts.  I liked the espresso and pistachio combo and so did everyone else!

Salted Pistachio Chocolate Biscotti
Makes about 40

 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon espresso powder 
2 teaspoons vanilla paste or vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 cups chopped roasted salted pistachios 

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and confectioners' sugar until smooth.  Add the egg, espresso powder, and vanilla, and beat until combined.  Gently stir together flour, cocoa powder, and pistachios, until the mixture is well combined.  Shape the dough into a log 1 1/2-inch in diameter.  Refrigerate for 4 hours. (the dough can be frozen for up to 3 months---defrost in the refrigerator overnight before baking)  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line 3 baking sheets with silpats, aluminum foil or parchment.   Remove the dough from the refrigerator and slice 1/4-inch thick, and arrange on the baking sheets 1-inch apart.  Bake the cookies 8 to 10 minutes, the pistachios should begin to color, and the edges of the cookies will begin to set.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, before removing from the cookie sheets to cool completely on racks.  The baked cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 6 weeks. 
Buon Appetito!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Food Coma

Food this weekend rates right up there with the Iron Chef and Top Chef contests. Whose wings will be the best?  What are they cooking next door?  What about dessert?  Super Bowl weekend, kitchens are sizzling with cooks trying out new recipes, and bringing back those tried and true recipes that have worked for years.  No matter who you want to win, it's really all about the food this weekend.  

Having gone to high school and college in Boston, my allegiance goes to the Patriots, since my adopted home town San Diego Chargers are not in the big game.  For that reason we are having lobster rolls, along with Berkshire St. Louis ribs brushed with Big Bob Gibson's BBQ sauce and potato salad.  They will have to roll me to the couch and leave me there until the end of the game!

Two lobster tails will make about 3 cups of salad.

Super Lobster Rolls
Serves 4
Two cooked lobster tails (or about 1 pound lobster meat)
2 ribs celery, minced
1/2 cup mayonnaise (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
few drops Tabasco
4 hot dog rolls
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Chop the lobster meat coarsely.  

Add the celery, mayonnaise, lemon zest and Tabasco, stirring to blend.
Brush the inside of the hot dog rolls with some of the butter, and grill over medium high heat until golden brown. 

Fill the rolls with the lobster mixture and serve.

Cook's Note:  In New England they make a hot dog roll with the sides shaved off--this makes grilling them easier, and there isn't so much bread.  You have to order them from a purveyor on the East Coast to make an authentic lobster roll.  We made do!      

Berkshire St. Louis Ribs
Serves 8 
Two racks St. Louis, or Spare Ribs 
1/2 cup all-purpose BBQ rub (use your favorite--there are a lot of them out there, or you can make your own---I'm fond of Big Bob Gibson's BBQ rub and BBQ sauce) 
1 1/2 cups apple juice, beer, or chicken broth
2 cups BBQ sauce (your choice here)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  
Rub the ribs with the BBQ rub, and place in a roasting pan.  Pour in the juice, beer or broth, cover tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil and roast for 2 hours.  At the end of the cooking time, remove the ribs to a platter, and pour the juices into a fat separator.  
Preheat the grill or broiler and brown the ribs for 3 to 5 minutes on each side.  Brush with some of the BBQ sauce when the ribs come off the grill, let the ribs rest for 5 minutes, cut into portions and serve and serve more BBQ sauce on the side.  

Cook's Note:  Berkshire are an heirloom breed of pig, and the meat is sweet, succulent and amazing.  You will never go back to ordinary pork in the grocery store once you've tasted these!   

Whatever you are eating this weekend, I hope it's been a good one for you and yours, and that your team wins! For the potato salad recipe click here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What's For Dinner?

There are days around here where my creativity has ebbed, and I feel like dinner is the last thing I want to make.  Today was one of those days; I'm working on a power point presentation, and by the time I got to the kitchen I wasn't sure what we would have for dinner.  I sure hoped it wasn't what was in that cauldron!

In the pantry/fridge I had Italian sausage, this cute little butternut squash, rainbow chard and left over penne.  I decided to make a dish that I have adapted from Lynne Rosetto Kasper the amazing author and radio hostess of The Splendid Table. She cooks like I do, with fresh ingredients, and she doesn't fuss a lot with the ingredients.   I love the technique of roasting the vegetables before adding them to the pasta--I highly recommend that you try it sometime!

Penne with Sausage, Chard and Sweet Squash
Serves 4 to 6

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 cloves of minced garlic
2 cups finely chopped butternut squash
One bunch rainbow chard, or Swiss chard, or black kale, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
pinch red pepper
1 pound bulk Italian sausage (either sweet or spicy--your choice)
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 pound penne pasta cooked 3 minutes short of al dente
1/4 cup finely shredded Asiago cheese plus more for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with a silicone baking sheet or aluminum foil.
In a large bowl, combine the onion, garlic, squash, chard, oil, salt and pepper, tossing to coat the vegetable with the oil.  Bake the vegetables for 15 to 17 minutes, until the squash is tender, and the chard is crispy.  

While the vegetables are roasting, cook the sausage, in a deep skillet, breaking apart any large chunks.  

Drain off any excess fat from the sausage.  Add the chicken or vegetable broth and pasta and keep warm.

When the vegetables are tender, add them to the skillet with the penne, and toss to coat with the sauce, and vegetables.  If the pasta absorbs too much of the liquid in the pan, add more broth, or some of the pasta water.   Toss in the cheese, and stir until the cheese has melted.  

Enrich the sauce with additional broth, pasta water, or heavy cream. 
Have a great weekend! 

Where's The Beef?

On Monday night Dr. C. and I took at class at Great News here in San Diego given by Stan Glenn and Chris Brill the guys at Iowa Meat Farms/Siesels meats.  These two men teach you more about meats than you will ever learn in culinary school and the class is terrific; that said, I'm not sure I'll eat meat again until next week, I'm still on overload! 
Stan mentioned that the price of beef was going to sky-rocket, and if you've been to the store lately, you've seen the spike in price.  The cattle supply is dwindling due to lots of factors: droughts, pasture land lost in wild fires, and foreign demand.  Outbid by the Japanese, Koreans, Mexicans and Russians for beef, there is now less beef in your market than there was in the 50's.  

A spokesman for the livestock Marketing Information Center says that many supermarkets are cutting steaks thinner, and major steakhouses are serving dinners on smaller plates with more vegetables---charging higher prices. 

Experts say it may take up to three years for the beef supply to restore the herds to their pre-drought, wild fire levels.  That means your meat loaf will cost a bit more in the future.
OOOPS, I mean THIS meatloaf.

Sticking to cheaper cuts you can make some stunning dinners from chuck roast, and bottom round which are available everywhere.  My favorite way to use a chuck roast is for a riff on Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon.
Delicious the day it's made, it's actually better the next day.  Marinating it the night before gives the meat a special flavor and making it in your slow cooker will give you extra time during the day to soak in a hot tub, or do errands. 
 Ode To Julia Boeuf Bourguignon
Serves 8

4 tbsp (/60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups/ (7520 ml)   full full-bodied red wine, such as French Burgundy, or Merlot, Zinfandel, or Chianti (see Slow Cooker Savvy)
2 medium shallots, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp (4.8 g) dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp (7.2 g) salt
1/2 tsp (2.3 g) freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds lb (/1.80kg8 kg) beef chuck or shoulder roast into 2-inch pieces, trimming the fat
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp beef (45 ml) soup base, or demi-glace (see slow SlowCooker Savvy)
4 tbsp/55 g (45 g) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 pound lb (/115 g)   pearl onions, peeled
1 pound lb (/450 455 g) Cremini cremini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
2 tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour (optional)

1.      In a large bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the oil, the wine, shallots, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.
2.      Place the short ribs into in a 1-gallon zipper zipper-top plastic bag, and pour the marinade over the ribs. Seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours.

3.      Strain the marinade into a small saucepan, and bring to a boil.

4.      Add the soup base or demi glace to the marinade and set aside.

5.      In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil, and brown the short ribs, a few at a time, transferring them to the insert of a 4 to 6-quart4- to 6-qt/3.5- to 5.5-l slow cooker when they are  done.

6.      Pour the marinade into the pan and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Transfer the marinade, to the slow cooker insert.

7.      Cover and cook on low for 10 hours, or on high for 5 hours, until the meat is tender.

8.      Remove the meat to a platter, and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Strain the sauce juices into a fat separator, or skim the fat from the top of the sauce and set aside.

9.      In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium high medium-high heat, and cook the onions for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms have turned golden. Add the sauce to the onions and mushrooms and bring the sauce to a boil.

1   If you think the sauce is thick enough to your liking, return it to the slow cooker along with the beef.

11 Otherwise, in a small bowl, knead together the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the flour. Whisk in the butter mixture, add 1 teaspoon at a time, and continue whisking until the sauce returns to a boil and is thickened.

12  Return the sauce and the short ribs to the slow cooker and keep on the warm setting until you are ready to serve.This is delicious served with Boursin mashed potatoes!

Slow Cooker Savvy:
The Savvy: The type wine you use here makes all the difference in the world; use a full bodied red such as a French Burgundy, Chianti, Zinfandel or Merlot. Wine that has too much tannin, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, will give the stew a “wine-y” flavor. To counter act this I recommend that you stay away from Cabernet Sauvignon; although Cabernet blends will work.
More Savvy:  Use a soup base such as Superior Touch, Better than Bouillon or a demi-glace such as Provimi or More Than Gourmet, rather than stock or broth.  Cheaper cuts of meat like Chuck will render a lot of liquid, if you add still more, it will become watered down.


This recipe is from my upcoming book, Mediterranean Slow Cooker which will be out in October, 2012.  Take a look at this cover!