Monday, November 30, 2009

Quality vs. quantity

With the Thanksgiving feast making its way to our midsections, I decided a recipe from French Executive Chef Michael Pieton, menu mastermind at Arizona's Boulders Resort and Golden Door Spa, would be most appropriate.

After all that excess, a small dish where flavor satisfies is what the dietitian ordered. We can thank Chef Michael's mother in Normandy for the skill to produce that. This is one of the most popular dishes at the resort and The Golden Door.

Crab and Avocado Tower
Serves 4

4 slices smoked salmon
1 avocado, finely diced and soaked in the juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup light sour cream
3 TBS chives, finely chopped
4 tsp. caviar
salt & pepper
Combine crab, sour cream and chives; season to taste. Place 3 oz crab meat mixture in the bottom of a ring mold. Top with a slice of smoked salmon and press down firmly. Top with the diced avocado, garnish with caviar and cilantro leaves. Squeeze avocado sauce around the plate.

Avocado Sauce
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 avocado
1 serrano chile
handful of spinach leaves
2 TBS cilantro
2 mint leaves
1 cup chicken stock
juice of 1 lime
salt & pepper
Saute garlic and shallot until softened. Place this and all other ingredients in a blender. Process until smooth. Season to taste and add to plate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sweet staff of life

If bread is the staff of life, Bread Pudding has to be the comfort food crown. There are as many recipes for this classic as there are grandmothers and mothers. And a big thank-you to them all.

Especially Mama Kay, the grandmother of Justin Pfeilsticker, executive chef at Trader Vic's at Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona. 

As Chef Justin writes, "My grandmother Mama Kay was the Southern chef in the family. She grew up in Jackson, Miss., before moving to Arizona. I remember her making a bread pudding with like a praline on top of it."

Sad but familiar tale, he loved the bread pudding but never got the recipe because she cooked from her heart and never wrote them down (oh, for a recipe for my Nanny's gumdrop cake). When he opened his first restaurant, Cafe 181, in Chandler, Chef was determined to recreate her bread pudding.

"I now believe I came up with a close replica ... but of course it's never the same as Grandma's."

Put your heart in it and this version maybe come one of your family's favorite flavor memories.

Justin's Bread Pudding

2 cups sugar
5 beaten eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla
1tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups cubed Italian bread
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
1/4 lb softened butter
1 cup chopped pecans

Prehat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13" x 9" by 2" deep pan.
Mix together sugar, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, milk and cream in a bowl then pour mixture over bread in a large bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes.
In another bowl, mix together brown sugar, butter and pecans.
Spread bread mixture evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle pecan mixture over the top and bake for 40-45 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Pour sauce over a piece and top with vanilla ice cream.

1/2 cup rum
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 lb butter, cubed
In a small sauce pot simmer rum and reduce by half. Add brown sugar and salt and cook until sugar dissolves. Add butter slowly until incorporated but don't let it boil.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Out of Your Gourd

Executive Chef Urs Balmer, who brings his Swiss heritage of fine cuisine to the
Sheraton Universal in Los Angeles, has been treating diners to a pumpkin-inspired seasonal menu this fall.

His lasts through Dec. 19, but you can prepare these dishes year-round.

Pumpkin Raviolis with Squash Ratatouille
Serves 6

2 oz. shallots, chopped
1 oz. garlic, chopped
2 oz. brown sugar
4 oz. butter
4 lbs. pumpkin meat, diced
1 qt. chicken stock
Heavy cream, Panko breading
salt, pepper, nutmeg

Saute the shallots, garlic and pumpkin in butter, sprinkle with the sugar and let it caramelize.
Add chicken stock and let it simmer on low heat until liquid is evaporated.
Blend the mixture in a food processor. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Add some cream and Panko breading to get the right consistency.

Won Ton wrappers
egg wash

Place 1-1.5 oz. of the mixture on a won ton wrapper. Egg wash the sides and cover with another won ton wrapper. Press sides together and cut into a round shape.

Boil the raviolis for 3 minutes, place on a plate and garnish with the squash ratatouille.

Drizzle with sage brown butter.

Sage Brown Butter

8 oz. butter
30 fresh sage leaves
Melt butter until golden brown, add the sage leaves and saute until they become crispy.

Squash Ratatouille

2 oz. shallots, chopped
1 oz. garlic, chopped
8 oz. yellow squash, finely diced
8 oz. zucchini, finely diced
8 oz. tomatoes, peeled and finely diced
Saute all ingredients in butter; season with salt and pepper.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Cream Fraiche and Chives

Serves 6

2 medium butternut squash
1 oz. garlic, diced
4 oz. shallots, diced
1  medium carrot, diced
1 medium leek, white part only, diced
1 cup white wine
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
Sour cream

Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Place on a sheet pan brushed with olive oil and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Let cool and scrape the meat out.

Saute the garlic, shallots, carrot and leek in butter on low heat. Add the squash meat, white wine and chicken stock and simmer for 40 minutes.

Puree in a blender and strain. Add the cream and boil for 10 minutes.

Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Garnish with sour cream and chives.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cazuela - Drink Healthy

Sailors and pirates would have found this the perfect way to avoid scurvy.

The Saturday night I dined at El Parian in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Mexico, three to four mariachi bands were circulating at all times in the huge restaurant. I found  Cazuela the perfect way to deflect the dissonant sounds of dueling bands.

It is traditionally served in soup bowl-sized vessels with a straw

El Parian Cazuela

 For each person, include
 2 oz Tequila   
1 dash Salt   
1 slice Lime   
1 slice Grapefruit   
1 slice Lemon   
1 slice Orange   
1 tsp Grenadine   

Squirt and mineral water

 For each slice of fruit, squeeze in another slice or two worth of its juice into pitcher or the traditional, large shallow clay bowl each person gets. Fill serving glass or bowl with salt, tequila, grenadine and fruit slices. Fill to top to taste with Squirt, a bit of mineral water and/or more tequila. Add wide straw and serve.

This is a good drink to serve at family gatherings where children are included. Make a big pitcher full without tequila and let the adults add liquor to taste.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Italian Comfort Food

Ah, Italia. Have its residents ever cooked anything that wasn't delicioso?

You can do it, too, thanks to Ashley Bartner who, with her husband, Chef Jason,  own the popular La Tavola Marche Agriturismo and Cooking School in Piobbico. They shared a pair of their wonderful recipes.

Stuffed Tomatoes
Pomodori Ripieni

serves 4

4 ripe round tomatoes (about the size of a tennis ball)
4 TBS rice
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
clove of garlic, skin removed
herbs of your choice, I use basil or parsley
olive oil
salt & pepper

Wash your tomatoes & slice off the tops; with a spoon, hollow out the flesh of the the tomato being careful not to pierce the cup you are making.

Save the pulp & juice, pass through a food mill or give it a turn in the food processor, blender, etc.

In a small pot, brown 1 clove of garlic in a glug of olive oil.

Remove & discard.

Then on low heat, slowly sauté your onion until it is translucent - approximately 10 minutes.

Add in your rice & sauté for 1 minute, then raise heat & add tomato pulp.

Season with salt & pepper.

Bring to a low simmer for a minute or two. Remove from heat and add in herbs.

NOTE: If you are using a different rice other than long grain white rice, you will need to par-cook the rice first, for example brown rice, wild rice, etc.
Also this is where you can be creative. Incorporate shrimp with the onions or a little ground veal or sausage if you like; also veggies work great too.

Spoon mixture into cups of tomatoes and replace the tops of the tomatoes.

Bake in a casserole dish with a little olive oil rubbed on the bottom at 375 F/ 190 C for 20-30 minutes.

When the rice is cooked and the tomatoes have started to split it’s done.

Serve hot warm or cold with a drizzle good olive oil atop.

Stuffed Eggplant

Says Ashley: "Oh these are goooood! Just like a little mini quiche tucked into nice little eggplant 'shells' just beggin' to be eaten!  This is a great go-to recipe for a dinner party or when you want to make a few dishes a bit earlier since it's served at room temp. Also a hearty fill for the vegetarians out there (not that there are any in Italy!)."

Serves 4

4 eggplants
3 Tbs olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 red or green bell peppers, halved, seeded & chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, diced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tbs Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt & pepper

Halve the eggplants lengthwise & scoop out the flesh without piercing the ‘shells’.

Chop the flesh & save the shells.

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until soft. 

Add the chopped eggplant flesh, celery, bell peppers and tomatoes, season with salt & pepper and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush an ovenproof dish with olive oil. 

Remove the pan from the heat & stir in the eggs.  Fill the eggplant shells with the mixture and place in the prepared dish.

Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake until golden & bubbling!

Remove from the oven and let cool.
Serve cold/at room temperature.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Anything but Ordinary Chips

Potato chips are not what come to mind when you walk into the elegant Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, FL, but Executive Chef Steve Schoembs prepares an appetizer of them that more than matches the facility in taste.

A look at Chef Steve's bio gives you the how and why. The Palm Coast native's resume includes the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY; cooking with French master Roger Verge in Mougins; absorbing the culture and flavors of Heidelberg, Germany; cooking in Hawaii and running his own restaurant and catering business.

His Bleu Chips are favorite appetizers at Hammock Beach.

Bleu Chips

Potato Chips
8 Russet potatoes
soybean oil

Slice potatoes thin on a slicer or mandolin, fry in soybean oil at 350 degrees until crisp and golden brown.

Buttermilk Dressing
1  11-oz log of goat cheese
2 cups mayonnaise
2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
1 TBS black pepper
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup finely cut chives
bleu cheese
basil, finely cut, for garnish

Mix all ingredients except chives in food processor until pureed. Remove then add chives.
Top a generous portion of potato chips with some of the buttermilk dressing and some crumbled bleu cheese. Bake for 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Garnish with finely cut basil and serve.

Watch them disappear.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quick Appetizer a la Hacienda el Carmen

We were a batch of hot, tired travelers who had flown to Guadalajara, Mexico from Canada, California, D. C. and Florida among other places via one to three planes (starting as early as 3 a.m.) then had ridden through afternoon rush hours traffic on what should have been a 45-minute drive to reach Hacienda el Carmen.

Assembling under the shade of the outdoor arcade for dinner, we were a motley crew more than ready for a bath and bed.

No one from the kitchen spoke much English, we were too tired to dredge up much Spanish so when we understood the word "avocado" in relation to the appetizer, that was what we selected.

Served cold, vaguely familiar and refreshing, the dish was a hit.

The next morning - refreshed and ready to go

When I later asked Chef Manuel Rodriguez how it was prepared, his answer surprised me with its simplicity.

Easy Appetizer from Hacienda el Carmen

1-2 fresh avocados, cubed or sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 can hearts of palms, drained
1/4 bell pepper, minced
2 cups ketchup
1 cup white wine

Mix ketchup and wine, pour over avocados, palm hearts and pepper. Serve cold in appetizer-sized glasses.

I've since tried this at home but fearing ketchup would be too sweet, used V-8 juice instead. Next time I'll use ketchup and mix in wine to taste.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blue Bicycle: Sophisticated Cuisine in Thunder Road Country

The Blue Bicycle, a chic bistro in Dawsonville. GA., is one of that area's many surprises. Between the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, Forest Hills Resort, the great folk art gallery Around Back at Rockys Place and the Kangaroo Conservation Center, there's lots for travelers to do in Dawson County.

I capped a recent visit there with lunch at Blue Bicycle where I was fascinated with the stories of Kati Owen and her husband, chef supreme Guy.

Thanks to Kathy Witt and to Marty Williams at the Dawson County Convention & Visitors Bureau for talking Guy into sharing this recipe.                             

                                                                                                                                                 Berkshire Pork Osso Bucco

Serves 6

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

6 each 1 lb Berkshire pork shanks (fresh not smoked!)
Salt and white pepper
½ cup flour for dredging
½ cup peanut oil for frying

2/3 cup (1 medium) yellow onion diced fine
1/3 cup (1 medium) carrot diced fine
1/3 cup (1 rib) celery diced fine
2 to 3 cloves garlic minced very fine
¼ tsp red chili flakes or more to taste

½ cup dry white wine
1 – 28 oz. can Italian-style tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock
Zest of one-half of a lemon
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh thyme or ½ tsp dry
1 sprig fresh rosemary or ½ tsp dry
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a 10-inch fry pan over medium high heat with the peanut oil to frying temperature (350 degrees F).  Season the shanks with salt and pepper and dust them lightly with flour.  Gently place half the shanks into the oil.  Do not over crowd the pan; you can do them in two or three batches if necessary.  Brown them on all sides and then remove them to a separate oven-proof pan or casserole large enough to hold all the ribs plus the liquid.  I use a turkey roaster for this.

Once all the shanks have been browned reduce the heat to medium and pour off all but about two tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion, carrot and celery and sauté the vegetables for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally until they are golden brown; scrape loose any brown bits that may have stuck to the pan.  Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook for another minute.

Add the wine and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the wine to half of its original volume and then add the tomatoes, lemon zest, chicken stock, and herbs. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.  Remember that the sauce will reduce some during cooking and will intensify the flavor as it reduces.  You can add more salt and pepper at the end so don’t over season at this point.

When the sauce comes to a full boil carefully pour it over the shanks.  There should be enough sauce to come about half way up the sides of the meat; it should not cover it completely.  Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid or aluminum foil and place in the pre-heated oven and cook for three hours.

After three hours remove from the oven and check for tenderness.  Meat should be falling from the bone at this point.  Remove the shanks to a warm platter and hold.  Remove the herb stems and bay leaf from the sauce then reduce by about one-half.  Check seasoning and return the shanks to the sauce.  Hold in a warm place.


1-½ cups yellow polenta (grits)
6-8 cups chicken stock
Salt and white pepper to taste (about 1 ½ tsps.
2 oz. shredded parmesan cheese
1 TBS sweet butter

In a 2-quart sauce pot heat the stock to a boil then slowly whisk in the polenta. Cook the polenta at a moderate heat until thickened.  If it becomes too thick or is not tender, add a little hot water and continue to cook until satisfied with the consistency.  Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese then the butter.

½ bunch Italian parsley, de-stemmed
Grated zest of ½ lemon
1 small clove garlic

Combine everything in the bowl of a food processor and pulse process for 30 seconds.

To serve: Portion the polenta into 6 pasta bowls.  Top each with a pork shank, divide the sauce among the 6 bowls and top with plenty of gremolata.   Serve broccoli rabe, broccolini or spinach on the side

For information on Dawson County, contact Marty at 1-877-302-92711,
For information on The Blue Bicycle, go to