Monday, November 24, 2008

Roquefort Grapes

I attended a Waterford Crystal event at Macy's last week and Chef Bernard from the Marine Room made the appetizers for the event. This particular one was a hit. It's so simple, yet very elegant especially if you serve it on your most expensive Waterford crystal. The version that Chef Bernard made was made with goat cheese instead of Roquefort, so you can change it up if you like. These would make excellent hors d' oeuvres at a cocktail party.

INGREDIENTS (makes 30 grapes)

  • 30 large red or green seedless grapes
  • 2/3 cup cream cheese
  • ½ cup Roquefort cheese or your favorite blue cheese
  • 1 cup crushed, toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Place walnuts in a single layer on a medium baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.

In a food processor, coarsely chop toasted walnuts. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Wash grapes well. Pat dry. Combine cream cheese and Roquefort in mixing bowl until smooth.

Coat each grape with cheese mixture.

Roll each grape in the chopped walnuts. Place on wax paper and chill in the refrigerator until serving.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Seared Scallops with Sweet Potato Gnocchi

A few weeks ago I made a sweet potato pie and I had some leftover mashed sweet potatoes. So, instead of throwing the leftover potatoes away, I made these lovely sweet potato gnocchi. They are so delish, and billowy and sweet, but not too sweet, and I thought "what can I pair them with?" And the first thing that came to mind were sweet, fresh scallops. Try to get the larger scallops, if possible, and try to get each about the same size. I added dried cranberries at the last minute to the brown butter-sage sauce (recipe follows), but this is entirely optional. I just wanted to give it some nice color and contrast of flavor...and it was SO GOOD!

INGREDIENTS (makes about 24 gnocchi)

  • 1 1/2 cups of mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1 to 2 cups flour

Place the mashed sweet potatoes in a bowl and blend in the salt, nutmeg, and egg. Mix in the flour a little at a time until you have soft dough. Use more or less flour as needed.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. While you wait for the water, make the gnocchi. On a floured surface, roll the dough out in several long snakes, and cut into 1-inch sections. Pass through a gnocchi press or roll over a fork.

Drop the pieces into the boiling water, and allow them to cook until they float to the surface. Remove the floating pieces with a slotted spoon, and keep warm in a serving dish. Serve with seared scallops and sage butter sauce.

Note: you can freeze the uncooked gnocchi, if you have any left. Cook them for 5 to 6 minutes in boiling water.

Seared Scallops

INGREDIENTS (serves 4)

  • 8 large sea scallops
  • Clarified butter or ghee
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Most scallops you buy at the store have been soaked in a liquid solution that keeps them looking white. So you'll need to drain and rinse them thoroughly, then pat them dry with paper towels before seasoning them. Make sure they are as dry as you can get them. Season scallops with salt and pepper.

Heat a nonstick sauté pan over high heat and add a tablespoon of clarified butter or ghee and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. The butter/oil needs to be very hot before you add the scallops. You want to see just a little bit of smoke.

Place 4 scallops in the pan (you need to cook in batches so pan does not get overcrowded) and don't touch them! I know you'll be tempted to move them, but believe me it'll be worth it if you don’t. Be strong!

Wait two minutes, and then check the bottom of scallop to see that they have a nice caramel-colored crust, and then flip them over. Depending on how thick your scallops are, you want to cook for another minute to two minutes, but no more than 3. Remove scallops and tent with foil and finish cooking the rest. Serve immediately with the gnocchi and brown butter-sage sauce.

Brown Butter-Sage Sauce


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 fresh sage leaves, chiffonade
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of pine nuts
  • Pinch of brown sugar

With a paper towel, wipe the same pan you cooked your scallops in add the butter and melt on medium heat, bordering on medium-high. Add the sage leaves and pine nuts. Keep turning the pan so that everything gets coated. Keep cooking until butter begins to foam a little and it starts to turn slightly brown. At this point, add the brown sugar and keep cooking and stirring until sugar melts. Remove from heat immediately and drizzle some of this sauce over gnocchi and scallops.

You can also serve the gnocchi with the brown butter sauce sans the scallops and it makes a great lunch!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chiles en Crema

If you're adventurous and you like Mexican or Latin food, then this recipe may be up your alley. This is a great side dish and believe it or not, it goes great with turkey or chicken. My mom made this dish for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago and it's been a hit every since. She gave me the recipe last week and I recreated it last night. I used 3 very large Poblano peppers, which is just enough to feed 3 to 4 people. This is a super easy, low maintenance recipe and you only need 5 ingredients. The pomegranate seeds are not required, I just added them to make my plate look pretty.

INGREDIENTS (serves 4)

  • 4 large fresh Poblano pepper, charred and peeled and seeded
  • 1 white onion, cut into half moons
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2/3 cup crema (you can find crema Mexicana in most grocery stores in the refrigerated section)
  • 2/3 cup grated Cotija cheese + more for sprinkling
  • salt

Char the pepper over your stove top or under your broiler. Once they are nicely charred, place them in a plastic bag and seal it. Wait 10 minutes, and then peel off charred skin. Remove stem and seeds inside. Chop up the pepper in a rough chop. Set aside.

In a skillet heat the tablespoon of olive oil on medium. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt and sweat for about 10 minutes. Raise temperature to medium-high and sauté another 2 minutes. Add the chopped up peppers and let sauté a couple of minutes more, until everything gets nice and hot.

Lower heat to medium again and add the crema and cotija cheese. With a spatula, fold in all the ingredients until it all gets nicely mixed. Let it come to a light simmer (but don't boil), then remove from heat. You can serve immediately, or sprinkle a little more cotija on top and place the skillet (it has to be oven proof) under the broiler and let it broil for 5 to 8 minutes or until top gets bubbly and toasty. How easy was that?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Spaghetti and Meatballs, Part Deux

You know, I'm kind of digging Chef Anne Burrell. She has a new show on the Food Network and she's very down to earth, funny, her food is fabulous and she seems to have ADD, but it works for her. She made this homemade meatballs and marinara sauce on her last show and I just couldn't believe how simple and easy she made it seemed. So, of course, I had to try it, and yes, it was easy. It was simple. It's true what your mom says: sometimes the best food comes from the simplest ingredients. Anyway, if you plan to make this recipe, I suggest your start early because the marinara does need to simmer a few hours. Don't forget the Chianti, because spaghetti and meatballs begs for it!

INGREDIENTS (makes 18 - 20 meatballs)

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, 1/4-inch dice
  • Salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Marinara Sauce, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil, about 1 tablespoon, add the onions and bring to a medium-high heat. Season the onions generously with salt and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes. The onions should be very soft and aromatic but have no color. Add the garlic and the crushed red pepper and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool.

In a large bowl combine the meats, eggs, Parmigiano, parsley and bread crumbs. It works well to squish the mixture with your hands. Add the onion mixture and season generously with salt and squish some more. Add the water and do one final really good squish. The mixture should be quite wet. Test the seasoning of the mix by making a mini hamburger size patty and cooking it. The mixture should taste really good! If it doesn't it is probably missing salt. Add more. Add more anyway.

Shape the meat into desired size. Some people like 'em big some people like 'em small. I prefer meatballs slightly larger than a golf ball. Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and bring to a medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides. Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked all the way through. Add them to your big pot of marinara sauce. If not using right away, they can be frozen for later use. Serve with pasta and sauce or just eat them straight out of the pot!

Marinara Sauce (makes 2 quarts)

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 pound diced pancetta
  • 2 large Spanish onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 Bay leaves
  • 4 large garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
  • 4 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum San Marzano tomatoes

Coat a large saucepot with olive oil and add the pancetta. Bring the pot to a medium-high heat and cook the pancetta for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, season generously with salt and stir to coat with olive oil. Cook the onions for 6 to 7 minutes stirring frequently. The onions should become very soft and aromatic but have no color. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes stirring frequently.

Pass the tomatoes through the food mill. Be sure to pass all of the pulp through the holes leaving only the stems and the seeds, and be sure to scrape the pulp off of the bottom of the food mill. That's all of the big money stuff! Add the tomatoes to the pot and rinse out 1 of the empty tomato cans with water and add that water to the pot (about 2 to 3 cups). Add the bay leaf. Season generously with salt and TASTE IT!!!! Tomatoes take a lot of salt. Season in baby steps and taste every step of the way. Cook the sauce for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally and tasting frequently.

Use the sauce right away on pasta or for any other tomato sauce need. This sauce can also be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for a few days and freezes really well.

Recipe courtesy Anne Burrell

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holy Mole Experiment

Perhaps you may think I'm a bit crazy trying to make mole from scratch, and perhaps you are right. If you decide you want to try to make homemade mole you will need: patience, a well ventilated kitchen, your mise en place ready, and a huge stock pot.

Also, mole is one of those sauces that can be adjusted to your taste. If you don't want to add cilantro, you don't have to; you can use toasted cashews if you want; want to add Mexican oregano? Go ahead. It's just one of those recipes that can be customized to your liking, and the one below is basically what I thought up. Make sure you finely grind your spices before you start so that they are ready to go (I used my coffee grinder for this). And soak your dried chiles 10 to 15 minutes before you start so that they soften a little. The measurements below are approximate because mole is definitely an "eye ball it" type of recipe.

Lastly, if you've never had mole before, I suggest you go to a good Mexican restaurant and try it out first. It's definitely one of those dishes you either hate or you love. There are no in-betweens. The sauce is sweet, spicy, smokey, nutty, chocolatey and somewhat herbally. Serve mole over tortillas filled with refried beans, called enmoladas, or over cooked chicken or turkey or seafood. The recipe below made about 8 cups of mole. I poured most of it into 8oz containers and froze it since I'll be distributing some to my family. Have fun!


  • 1 cup peanuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tortillas, torn apart
  • 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 large white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined and roughly chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup chicken base or bouillon
  • Mole Spices consisting of:
    1. 1 tablesspoon cinnamon
    2. 1 tablespoon corriander
    3. 1 tablespoon Thyme
    4. 1 tablespoon Majoram
    5. 4 cloves
    6. 1/2 Tsp. Allspice
    7. 2 Star anise
    8. 10 peppercorns
    9. 1/2 tablespoon cumin
    10. 1/2 tablespoon Mexican Oregano
  • 10 dried Pasillas, stemmed and seeded and softened in 6 cups hot water
  • 4 dried Guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded and softened in 2 cup hot water
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 Bunch Cilantro
  • 1 Bunch Epazote (optional)
  • 1 Bunch parsley
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 discs of Mexican Chocolate, chopped (La Abuelita brand, if possible)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Hickory smoke liquid
  • Salt to taste

In a large stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high. Add the torn tortillas and lightly fry up to soften. Add the garlic, onion, tomatoes and jalapenos, mole spices and 1 teaspoon salt. Saute for 8 to 10 minutes, or until everything is softened. In the meantime, chop up the softened pasilla and guajillo chiles.

Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and chicken base. Next add the chopped up passillas and guajillo chiles, and also add all the water the chiles were soaking in. Next add the chopped peanuts and walnuts, raisins, cilantro, epazote, parsley, brown sugar, both types of chocolate, hickory smoke and vinegar. Bring to a boil then simmer for 1 hour. Remove cinnamon stick and bay leaves.

With a heavy-duty hand blender, blend all ingredients in the pot, just until everything is broken down into smaller pieces. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if needed. Simmer another 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool for half an hour.

Now, blend the mole in batches in your regular blender. Start on low and slowly move it to high this way you won't get too many spills. Be careful because mole is still warm. Blend until you can get a smooth, thick consistancy. Let cool to room temperature then store in containers and freeze.

To make Enmoladas:

  • 2 tortillas
  • Refried beans
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup mole
  • Queso fresco

Heat up homemade or your favorite refried beans. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat up 2 teaspoons olive oil on medium-high. Add 1 tortilla at a time and fry for 40 seconds on each side, or until they turn slightly golden and are pliable.

Place tortillas on serving plate and fill each one with refried beans and fold tortilla, like a taco.

In the same skillet (you should still have some oil left) add the mole and fry it up until it begins to bubble. Pour the mole over the refried bean tacos and then sprinkle queso fresco over it and enjoy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sweet Potatoe-Apple Pie

Note: yes, I know I misspelled potato, but that's because the cook who wrote this recipe (Frank Davis' mom) gave it this title...and I'm maintaining its integrity.

I went to the dentist last week and the dental assistant, Robert, is a big foodie like me. Every time I go see them—yes, unfortunately I need a lot of dentistry work—we always chat about food, new or interesting recipes we've tried, compare restaurants, talk about new cookware we've bought, you know, your typical foodie talk.

This last visit Robert mentioned he wanted to make dessert for Thanksgiving but wanted to try something different. He mentioned a sweet potato pie, but he thought it would be too passé. Well, it just so happens that my husband got a really interesting sweet potato pie recipe from Frank Davis, the cook in the USNS Arctic, and, let me tell you, it's not passé at all. Frank's mother wrote this recipe and it was passed on to him. So, we're really lucky to get a copy of it.

The apples in the pie really make a difference and it gives the pie a texture you're not expecting. This was really good, and super easy to make. If you're going to put whipped cream on it, I suggest you put the real stuff because the canned stuff just won’t do it justice.


  • 2 medium apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (I used Gala apples, but Granny Smith will work also)
  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pastry shell
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed (2 cups)
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon + more for apples
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg + more for apples
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

First, cover the edges of the pastry shell crust around with foil.

Sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg over apples and gently toss. Place apples at bottom of pastry shell (try to lay them down neatly).

In a mixing bowl combine mashed sweet potatoes, eggs, heavy cream, brown sugar, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon salt and blend until smooth with a rotary beater. Pour mixture over apples in pastry shell.

Bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Remove foil from crust and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until knife inserted just off the center comes out clean. Cool at room temperature, serve and enjoy.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Seriously Good Oxtails

Oxtails are one of those foods that take me back to my days in the Bahamas. When we lived there we used to eat curried oxtail and rice all the time since it was always available and it was relatively inexpensive. However, finding oxtail here in California was very difficult. It wasn't until I went to the Middle Eastern/Mexican market (yes, we have one of those here) that I finally found it at $3.49 a pound. I only got one pound, and got the larger pieces (joints) that have more meat on them. My oxtails were done in 2 hours, so check yours after two hours, but you want them to be tender and almost falling off the bone, kind of like osso buco. This is a really rich and heavy dish, and a French Bordeaux goes surprisingly well with this meal.

INGREDIENTS (serves 2)

  • 4 oxtails pieces (the larger joint pieces, that are about 2" in thickness)
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • Curry powder
  • Soy sauce
  • 1 large garlic clove, very finely minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced into half-moons
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Trim fat from oxtails. Season each oxtail generously with kosher salt, ground black pepper and a pinch of curry powder on each one. Place them in a broiling pan and add a dash of soy sauce on each oxtail. Then top each oxtail with the minced garlic. Top with onions and bay leaf. Add water to fill pan 1/4 of the way to the top. Cover pan with foil and bake until oxtails are tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Remove foil cover from meat and brown in oven for an additional 5 to 8 minutes. Serve rice alongside ox tails.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Hallowe'en Pumpkin Soup with Smoked Bacon

I first heard of Chef Neven Maguire a few years ago when I visited Ireland with my husband. Neven had a cooking show on television there and I found it quite amusing and he made really good dishes. Then, last year when I visited my in-laws in Minnesota, I noticed Neven Maguire's cookbook at their coffee table. By now, of course, I had to have the cookbook because it is full of classic yet simple Irish and International recipes--and this recipe is one of them. So, long story short, my husband went through so many hurdles to get me Neven Cooks! But I finally have it now and I will cherish it forever. On a sad note, I lost my camera, so these pictures are not very good since I had to take them with my mobile phone.

INGREDIENTS (serves 6)

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 oz. raw, smoked bacon (about 4 strips, I used Hickory Smoked Bacon)
  • 2 lbs. pumpkin flesh, peeled, de-seeded and cubed
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 pints low sodium chicken stock
  • 3 ounces heavy cream
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of ginger
  • Pinch of allspice
  • Pinch of ground coriander
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • A couple of tablespoons of whipped cream, for garnish
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish

In a large, heavy saucepan melt the butter on medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper and sweat for 5 minutes. Add the bacon and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Turn heat to medium-high and add the cubed pumpkin. Sweat for 6 to 8 minutes to release flavors. Add tomato paste and stir for 2 minutes. Then pour in the stock and an additional 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus one pinch of nutmeg, ginger, allspice and coriander and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Bring to a bubble then simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until pumpkin is fork tender. Lastly, add the heavy cream and simmer a few more minutes. Blend the soup in batches with your blender (or use a hand blender, if you have one) and keep simmering. Taste soup and season more, if needed.

To serve soup, pour into bowls and place a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle a few toasted pumpkin seeds on top. Serve with warm bread.